Thousands of runners from across the world compete in the New York City Marathon each year, but this year, the runner to emerge victorious made modern history for the United States. Shalane Flanagan has become the first American woman to win the popular annual marathon in the past 40 years. The last American woman to win the event was Miki Gorman in 1977.
Flanagan, a four-time Olympian, completed the women's event with a time of 2 hours, 26 minutes, 53 seconds, according to USA Today, defeating Kenyan competitor Mary Keitany, who came in second to Flanagan after winning the New York City Marathon for the past three years. Flanagan's time is the second fastest time ever clocked by a U.S. woman in the race.
36-year-old Flanagan had previously come in second place in the 2010 marathon, and her win on Sunday was clearly an emotional experience. As she crossed the finish line, Flanagan had tears in her eyes, crying, kissing the pavement, and wrapping herself in an American flag when she realized that she had come first in a race with over 50,000 competitors.
This was Flanagan's first marathon since her 2010 race, after a fracture in her lower back kept her out of the Boston Marathon and other professional competitions.
The race seemed close from the start, with a pack of nine women of various nationalities remaining close to the head of the pack, their eyes set on dethroning Keitany. Many miles later, at the 21-mile mark, the pack whittled down to just three of the top competitors: Keitany, fellow Ethiopian runner Mamitu Daska, and Flanagan. According to the New York Times, all three runners traded the top position for the final few miles until Flanagan broke away from the others as they passed Fifth Avenue on the 24th mile, ultimately being the first woman to cross the finish line.
"It's indescribable," Massachusetts native Flanagan told the Boston Herald. "It's a moment I'm trying to soak up and savor."
She went on to say, ""This is the moment I've dreamed off since I was a little girl."
According to the Herald, Flanagan had previously mentioned that she would retire professionally if she won the New York City Marathon; However, she did not immediately make an announcement about her professional future on Sunday.
Of course, this is far from Flanagan's first medal. She is currently the American record holder in the indoor 3,000 meters and the indoor 5,000, and she also won a bronze medal that was upgraded to silver in the 10,000 in the 2008 Olympics. Additionally, she was the sixth-place finisher in the Rio Olympics marathon last summer.
Flanagan wasn't the only participant to taste victory. On the men's side of the race, Kenyan runner Geoffrey Kamworwor was the winner after completing the race with an unofficial time of 2 hours, 10 minutes, and 53 seconds. And in the wheelchair races, Switzerland swept the category, coming up first in the men's and women's categories.
Still, Flanagan's New York City victory brought a triumphant end to a race that had previously been marred by security concerns after a motorist killed five pedestrians in Lower Manhattan just five days earlier. The police reportedly used snipers, aviation units, undercover officers, and "blocker cars" — sanitation trucks filled with sand — to prevent potential terrorists from driving into crowds of people.
"New York City said strongly we're not giving into terrorists," New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said. "That's a message we're sending the whole world."
According to de Blasio, an estimated 2 million spectators lined the race course on Sunday.