NEW YORK -- The gloves came off in the New York City Marathon.
After some early jostling and a late fall that hurt the legs and hopes of two contenders, Joyce Chepchumba of Kenya pulled away from her last challenger with a fierce charge Sunday for her first victory in two years.
She finished in 2 hours, 25 minutes, 56 seconds, in temperatures in the 40s and no wind. Los Angeles Marathon champion Lyubov Denisova of Russia was next, 21 seconds behind. Olivera Jevtic of Yugoslavia was third, despite taking a tumble.
Marla Runyan, the first legally blind Olympian and attempting a marathon for the first time, was the top U.S. finisher. She was fifth overall, just ahead of defending champion Margaret Okayo.
Rodgers Rop of Kenya won the men's title in 2:08:07. Countrymen Christopher Cheboiboch (2:08:17) and Laban Kipkemboi (2:08:39) followed. Rop won the Boston Marathon in April.
For the first time, the top women started about 30 minutes ahead of the men. The idea was to give the women a chance at the spotlight, and also to allow them to run without having to navigate crowded roads.
Still, there was some bumping. About 10 miles in, European champion Maria Guida of Italy crossed in front of Runyan and both slightly stumbled.
They threw their arms out to regain balance, and neither fell. Guida did quit a few miles later, though.
Most significantly, Jevtic and Kerryn McCann of Australia were part of a spread-out lead pack of eight runners at the 21st mile when their feet tangled at a turn.
Both fell face down, one on top of the other. Jevtic, running her first NYC Marathon, got right back up and immediately moved just off the shoulders of leaders Denisova and Chepchumba. McCann scraped her knee, was in tears, and limped slightly as she ran. The commotion allowed the two front-runners to break away.
Chepchumba and Denisova were going stride-for-stride into the 24th mile. That's when the Kenyan made her move.
She pulled off her black wool gloves, threw them down, and looked over at Denisova as if to say, ''OK, no more kidding around!'' And with that, Chepchumba pulled away, putting a comfortable margin between herself and Denisova just before entering Central Park.
Rop, who lives part of the year in Germany, is just the fourth man to win at Boston and New York in the same year.
He made his first serious move on the downhill stretch just after the leaders crossed the 59th Street Bridge into Manhattan about two-thirds of the way through.
While others would occasionally pull alongside him, he was clearly in control over the final 5 1/2 miles. Cheboiboch also pulled off his gloves as he made one last try to catch up, but he couldn't.
Rop was near the lead for most of last year's race, too, but was hampered by leg cramps and finished third behind Tesfaye Jifar (who dropped out this year at about the halfway mark with stomach problems).
It's the first time since the United States did it in 1975 that one country swept the first three men's places.
Like Rop, Chepchumba has had success elsewhere. She was the bronze medalist at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, won the Tokyo Women's Marathon that year, and captured the marathons at both London and Chicago in 1999.
But she's always come up just short in New York, having finished fourth in 1995, third in 1996, and fourth last year.
''This time was my time,'' Chepchumba said.
The top female entrants were the only runners at the starting line at 10:35 a.m. Everyone else started about 30 minutes later.
So instead of a jostling pack of thousands crossing a bridge en masse at the outset, a group of 25 women propelled themselves along the span -- like a collection of friends out for a run on a Sunday morning.
''A lot of the girls were watching each other a little. That's why I think the pace was not so fast. They didn't want to run away and be out there on their own,'' said Olympic 5,000-meter silver medalist Sonia O'Sullivan, who was 12th Sunday.
It's not the first time the idea was raised.
In the first NYC Marathon, in 1970, just one woman entered, and she didn't finish. At the 1972 marathon, organizers wanted to give the six female participants a 10-minute head start. But the women sat at the starting line in protest -- one holding a sign that read, ''Hey, this is 1972,'' -- and waited to start running at the same time as the men.
This year's entrants were in favor of the change, with O'Sullivan saying during the week: ''It becomes more of a proper race when it's women only.''
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