NEW YORK >> Geoffrey Mutai looks unbeatable again.
The New York City Marathon returned Sunday after a one-year absence, and the Kenyan star won it for the second straight time. Countrywoman Priscah Jeptoo rallied from behind in the women’s race for a Kenyan sweep.
Runners and fans came back, undaunted by tight security, after the 2012 cancellation and April’s Boston Marathon bombings.
The last time the NYC Marathon was held, Mutai broke the course record in 2011. Last year’s race never happened because of Superstorm Sandy. And after the attacks in Boston, barricades blocked off much of the park Sunday, and fans waited in bag-check lines to get in.
Still, there were plenty of spectators to urge on Jeptoo to chase down Buzunesh Deba, a Bronx resident who finished runner-up for the second straight time in her hometown race.
Nobody was catching Mutai, who pulled away around Mile 22 and beat Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede by 52 seconds. On a windy morning, Mutai’s time of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 24 seconds was well off his course record of 2:05:06 set in nearly perfect conditions two years ago. He’s the first man to repeat in New York since Kenya’s John Kagwe in 1997-98.
“To win this course twice, it’s not easy,” Mutai said. “For me, it’s a glory.”
Jeptoo trailed Deba by nearly 3 1/2 minutes at the halfway point. She made her move as the race entered Manhattan after a race official on a bike told her how big the gap was.
“I train well, and I was in good shape,” she said. “So I tried to push myself to see that I am supposed to close the gap before they reach 40 kilometers (25 miles). When they reach 40 kilometers, it could be difficult for me to close the gap.”
Deba was slowed by stomach cramps, and Jeptoo passed the Ethiopian with just more than 2 miles left. The 2012 Olympic silver medalist and 2013 London Marathon champ, Jeptoo won in 2:25:07 to clinch the $500,000 World Marathon Majors bonus.
Last year’s events in New York incensed many residents and runners, but there was little sign of those sour feelings Sunday. City and marathon officials initially vowed that the race would go on, and New Yorkers balked at the idea of possibly diverting resources amid such devastation. But by the time the decision to cancel was made, many out-of-town entrants had already arrived in the city.
Plenty came back a year later. A record 50,740 runners started.
The women’s race played out almost identically to the last NYC Marathon two years ago. But this time, Deba was the pursued, not the pursuer.
In 2011, Mary Keitany took a big early lead, and Deba and countrywomen Firehiwot Dado chased her down. Dado, who won that day, was 14th Sunday as the defending champ.
This time, Deba and training partner Tigist Tufa separated themselves right from the start. Deba wound up finishing 48 seconds behind Jeptoo, while Tufa fell back to eighth.
“That’s my plan,” Deba said. “I need to run my best time. My training is very good. I prepared very good.”
Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, who won the race in 2005 and ’06, placed third at age 37, returning to the podium after the birth of her son.
Kebede, the London Marathon champ, clinched the $500,000 bonus for the World Marathon Majors men’s title. South Africa’s Lusapho April was third.
Mutai proved again that when he’s healthy, he’s the best in the world. He ran the fastest marathon in history, 2:03:02 in Boston in 2011, which didn’t count as a world record because the course is too straight and downhill. He also won in Berlin in 2012 but dropped out of the London Marathon earlier this year because of injury.
Tatyana McFadden of Maryland won the women’s wheelchair race after taking the titles in Boston, London and Chicago earlier this year. No other athlete has won those four races in the same year. Marcel Hug of Switzerland was the men’s wheelchair winner.
Runners, professional and amateur, said they felt safe on the course. Security was tight from the moment they arrived at the start. They were corralled into long bag-check lines, and officers and volunteers repeatedly reminded them to keep cellphones out.
Elizabeth Hutchinson of Seattle recalled the joy at the starting line in Boston this year. People were handing out sunscreen, Band-Aids and energy gels with a smile.
On Staten Island, she said, “the machine guns are very visible.”
“The atmosphere is so different,” she said, “It kind of makes me sad.”
Near the finish, Ashley O’Brien of Brooklyn was ready with a bullhorn to cheer members of her running group, the Hudson Dusters. She got teary-eyed remembering the events of the past year.
“It’s a nice time to all come back together,” she said. “You still remember why it was canceled last year and you remember Boston. So it’s a little bittersweet.”
Associated Press Writer Meghan Barr and freelance writer Michael Casey contributed to this report.