NEW YORK (AP) Arcs of red, white and blue balloons spanned the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, and 50 doves fluttered overhead just before the race.
Off to their left, 25,000 runners had a clear view of lower Manhattan where the World Trade Center once stood.
This New York City Marathon was unlike any other, and not simply because both winners set course records yesterday.
Tesfaye Jifar of Ethiopia and Margaret Okayo of Kenya pulled away for comfortable victories in an event dedicated to victims of September 11 under the motto “United We Run.”
Jifar completed the 26.2 miles in 2 hours, 7 minutes, 43 seconds; Okayo finished in 2:24:21.
As they ran, the colors of the U.S. flag were everywhere along the route through the city’s five boroughs: on shirts, shorts and hats worn by runners and on signs held by fans.
Even the course lines painted on the asphalt were red, white and blue.
“It was very moving. Every time I went by a firehouse, I couldn’t help but tip my hat,” said 1984 Olympic champion Joan Benoit Samuelson, who finished 21st in the women’s division.
“The crowds were thicker than I can recall being along First Avenue and in the Park when I’ve run here before. I hope this will help in the healing process for the city.”
About 10 people ran in place of relatives killed September 11, including Ralph Maerz, a 56-year-old ex-smoker whose 29-year-old son Noell died in Tower 2.
Also in the race were Sen. Bill First, Tennessee Republican, and Claire Fletcher, assistant to CBS News anchor Dan Rather. Fletcher tested positive for skin anthrax last month, among the first cases made public.
The number of participants was about 5,000 fewer than expected, which race organizers attributed to fears about safety.
Runners were told not to accept cups of water from spectators. The unprecedented marathon security also included more than 2,800 police officers, bridges closed to traffic, and a ban on private airplanes over the route.
The champions’ performances were impressive, both generated in part by midrace breakaways under clear skies and with barely a breeze. Their times perhaps were helped by the first change in the course since 1977: Organizers eliminated a hill near Central Park, making for a flatter finish.
Asked if she would have broken the course record if that hill were still part of the race, Okayo didn’t hesitate: “No, no way.”
Jifar was the first Ethiopian to win the race, and he broke the 12-year-old course record of 2:08:01 set by Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa.
Okayo separated herself from other top women at about the 15-mile mark, shedding her black wool gloves as the temperature approached 60. She trimmed 19 seconds off the race record set by Australia’s Lisa Ondieki in 1992.
Jifar and Okayo each won $80,000 for finishing first, plus bonus money ($50,000 for him, $35,000 for her) for setting course records. It was the fourth time in the 32 editions of the race that the men’s and women’s course records were broken on the same day.
Jifar’s first competitive race was just three years ago and he never had won a marathon. His older brother, Habte, is a world-class 10,000-meter runner and persuaded Tesfaye to try the sport.
Jifar finished seventh at the World Championships in August, but he looked like an experienced marathoner yesterday. He stayed right with the early leaders, then separated from his final challenger, Kenya’s Japhet Kosgei, with about three miles left.