bdi Nageeye and Ruti Aga are two of the top favorites to win the men’s and women’s races at Sunday’s New York City Marathon Credit: Wikipedia

The TCS New York City Marathon, one of the world’s largest and most galvanizing sporting events, is returning this Sunday for its 50th anniversary running after being cancelled last year due to the global COVID-19  pandemic. The race was also called off in 2012 in the aftermath of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy.

Runners spanning broad ethnic, national, gender, religious and socio-economic demographics will gather in what has become a symbol of unity. The diversity of the Marathon produces numerous compelling human interest stories, inspiring accounts of runners overcoming adversity, improbably conquering seemingly unbeatable challenges, and many raising money for a multitude for worthy causes.

Meticulously operated by the New York Road Runners, the 26.2 mile, five borough test of endurance and willpower, which begins at the foot of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge on Staten Island and ends in Central Park, will see the number of participants reduced from the usual mid-to-high 50,000s to the low 30,000s this year. The last time the NYC Marathon was staged, Nov. 3, 2019, a world record was set for marathon finishers as 53,627 successfully completed the course.

At the highest level of the contest, Kenyans Joyciline Jepkosgei and Geoffrey Kamworor emerged victorious in the men’s and women’s elite divisions respectively. Switzerland’s Manuela Schar captured the women’s wheelchair race while Mount Airy, Maryland native Daniel Romanchuk broke the tape for first place in the men’s wheelchair competition.

Some of distance racing’s best will line up for the resumption of the sport’s foremost installment of the World Marathon Major, a six-race marathon series held over six weeks. New York is fifth on the schedule, following Berlin (Sept. 26), London (Oct. 3), Chicago (Oct. 10), and Boston (Oct. 11). The last, Tokyo, which was slated for Oct. 17, was postponed to March 6, 2022 as a result of a surge of the Delta variant of COVID-19, leading to a ban of international runners if it were held this year.

Conversely, New York will be stacked with global entrants. The men’s elite runners will include 39-year-old Ethiopian, Kenenisa Bekele, one of the greatest long distance performers in history. Bekele is a three-time Olympic gold medalist, winning the 10,000-meters at the Athens Games in 2004, and both the 5,000 and 10,000 in Beijing in 2008. His two signature marathon victories came in Berlin, Germany in 2016 and 2019.

Others who have the ability to stand atop the podium are Somali-born Dutch runner Abdi Nageeye, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea, the 2016 New York titleist, and Girma Bekele Gebre of Ethiopia, who was third in 2019.   

The women’s race may be more gripping as pre-race favorite, Kenyan Peres Jepchirchir, Ethiopia’s Ruti Aga and Abadel Yeshaneh, and Kenya’s Viola Lagat—younger sister of Bernard Lagat, a two-time Olympic medalist in the 1,500-meters—and Nancy Kiprop. American Shalane Flanagan, the 2017 New York champion, will be seeking to achieve the remarkable feat of finishing six marathons (Berlin, London, Chicago, Boston and Portland) in a period of six weeks when she competes on Sunday.

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