It was tearful, unexpected and stunning.

Before fellow Ethiopian and 2010 ING New York City Marathon champion Gebre Gebrmariam met with the media to discuss his surprising victory, Haile Gebrsalassie, considered the greatest long distance runner ever, emotionally revealed that his first marathon in the five boroughs would be his last as he is retiring from the sport.

There was enough conjecture to fill the 35th floor of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel on Columbus Circle, which served as the media headquarters. When word spread that Gebrsalassie had an MRI on his right knee the day before the marathon and subsequently had fluid drained, speculation was that he was compelled to start the race primarily to honor the reported six figure appearance fee paid to him by race director Mary Wittenberg.

For years Wittenberg had been tireless in her efforts to convince the world record holder in the discipline (2:03:59 set in Berlin in 2008) to take on arguably the most grueling major marathon course of them all. When he finally did, the 37-year old Gebrsalassie was unable to finish and pulled up at the sixteenth mile, roughly ten short of completing the race after persevering for 1:19:40.

“Well, I’m a little bit disappointed. Disappointed {in} myself,” said Gebrsalassie as tears welled in his eyes. “I thought the {knee discomfort} was not that serious. Okay, well, whatever this is, things happened that I cannot change.

“…I myself don’t want to complain anymore after this, which means it’s better to stop here…I never think about {retiring}. But for the first time, this is the day.”

It was also the day for Gebrmariam, who was running his first marathon anywhere but with a starkly contrasting result to Gebrsalassie’s.

Taking control of the race in the final three miles of the 26.2 mile terrain, the 26-year old reigning world cross country champion broke the tape in 2:08:14, a solid distance ahead of Emmanuel Mutai of Kenya, who came in second in 2:09:18, and third place entry, Kenyan Moses Kigen Kipkosgei, who clocked 2:10: 39. The 2009 champ, American Meb Keflezighi, was sixth in 2:11:38.

“It’s my first marathon, and I’m number one here,” said a beaming Gebrmariam. Paying homage to Gebrsalassie, he humbly expressed. “Haile is {the} king.”

But at the end, it was Gebrmariam who wore the crown.