NEW YORK (AP) – A Brazilian man finished strong to stun the favored Africans, ending their decade-long hold on the New York City Marathon. A Latvian woman ran away from the field to win her second straight title, and later wondered why no one challenged her.

And, despite another day of disappointment for Americans, marathon rookie Lance Armstrong thrilled the crowds Sunday in what he called “without a doubt the hardest physical thing I have ever done.”

Marilson Gomes dos Santos of Brazil made a remarkable New York debut, breaking away from the lead pack in the last quarter of the race and holding off an all-star field of challengers to become the first South American to win the race, man or woman. Gomes finished in 2 hours, 9 minutes and 58 seconds.

Women’s defending champion Jelena Prokopcuka sped away early and ran alone at the end, becoming the first woman in more than a decade to win two straight titles in New York. She won in 2:25:05.

Armstrong crossed the finish line in 2:59:36 seconds, barely meeting his goal of breaking 3 hours. The seven-time Tour de France champion struggled at times, but – as he has so many times on his bicycle in the Alps – found the energy to meet the challenge.

He was battling shin splints and had never before run longer than 16 miles.

“I didn’t train enough for a marathon,” he said, his right shin heavily taped as he shuffled into a post-race news conference. “In 20 years of pro sports and endurance sports, even the worst days on the Tour, nothing felt like that or left me the way I feel now.”

In the final mile, as the race headed back into Central Park, Gomes surrendered about half the 30-second margin he had built over the Kenyans. He glanced over his shoulder several times, at one point doing a double-take when he saw a figure right behind him. But it was a woman runner, who had started a half-hour before the men.

“It wasn’t a surprise, to win a marathon you have to have courage and today I had courage,” Gomes said through an interpreter. “I pushed the pace to get less people in the (lead) group. I kept pushing and they kept staying behind.”

It certainly was a surprise to defending champion Paul Tergat, who acknowledged later he didn’t know much about Gomes. He and Kenyan compatriot Stephen Kiogora worked together to push Gomes at the end, but ran out of room. Kiogora was second in 2:10:06, while Tergat was third. Kenyan men also took the fourth, fifth and seventh spots, with Olympic champion Stefano Baldini of Italy in sixth.

The top American was Peter Gilmore, who finished 10th in 2:13:13. U.S. runner Dathan Ritzenhein, making his marathon debut, was 11th in 2:14:01. Meb Keflezighi, who was third and second the last two years, finished 21st while battling a case of food poisoning.

The women’s race became little more than a coronation after Prokopcuka made her bold move away from the lead pack, crushing the hopes of Deena Kastor, the world’s top-ranked marathoner, who was favored to become the first American woman to win the race since 1977.

Prokopcuka led nearly from start to finish on a perfect day for a marathon – cool, cloudy and little wind. Kastor finished sixth in 2:27:54. Prokopcuka is the first woman to win two straight titles since Tegla Loroupe of Kenya in 1994-95.

A record 38,368 runners started the race.

Armstrong was 856th, and several other celebrities also finished, including mountain climber Ed Viesturs (3:15:25), former Olympic gold-medal gymnast Shannon Miller (4:17:47), model Kim Alexis (4:39:49) and Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee (5:33:43).

The U.S. drought grew by another year. No American has won the New York City Marathon since Alberto Salazar in 1982, and no woman has won here since 1977. Until 1977, every New York race by won by an American man and woman.

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“We will be competitive again,” said Salazar, who helped pace Armstrong, “but it’s unrealistic to think we will ever dominate marathoning again.”

In the men’s race, a pack of nine runners led for the first three-quarters of the race. Gomes made his move heading into the Bronx, quickly opening a half-minute lead and maintaining it for the next few miles.

Wearing black gloves and sleeves up over his biceps, a black cap and yellow tank top, Gomes came across the finish line with his arms raised, then made the sign of the cross. Wide smiles crossed the Kenyans’ faces as they finished behind the winner and immediately embraced Gomes, who wore a pained look.

Prokopcuka separated from the other favorites in the opening few strides of the race on the Verrazano Bridge, and joined Tatiana Hladyr of Ukraine in a breakaway as the race wound through Brooklyn. By the time the race reached Manhattan, the two Eastern European women had built their lead to 40 seconds.

They kept pouring it on, extending their lead to nearly 90 seconds – more than a quarter-mile on the streets of New York – as they headed into the Bronx and then back into Manhattan, where Prokopcuka moved away from Hladyr for the final segment.

Prokopcuka broke the tape and kept on jogging for a few strides, bouncing on the balls of her feet as she pumped her fists in the air. She later said she had no idea why the other top runners didn’t stay with her from the start.

“I didn’t understand what was going on. It was a situation I couldn’t understand,” she said.

Hladyr finished second in 2:26:05, exactly a minute behind Prokopcuka. A pair of Kenyans, four-time Boston Marathon winner Catherine Ndereba and 2006 Boston winner Rita Jeptoo, were third and fourth. Katie McGregor, an American making her marathon debut, was ninth.

Kastor had vowed to run a tactical race, and said the other top women’s runners may have done the same thing – worrying so much about each other that perhaps they didn’t take Prokopcuka’s break seriously enough.

“I think we were being a little tentative, and by the time it was ready to roll it was too late,” she said. “Tactically, this was a very strange race. There were so many respectable women out there that everybody was waiting for somebody else to make a move.”

The women’s and men’s winners of the race, whose primary sponsor is Dutch financial services company ING, earned $130,000.


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