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Philadelphia Marathon: Diriba Yigezu wins men’s race; Feyne Gemeda breaks women’s record

Feyne set the female course record, beating the previous one by three seconds, while Yigezu improved upon his third place finish a year ago.

Diriba Degefa Yigezu is the first male runner to cross the finish line on Eakins Oval and win the Philadelphia Marathon with a time of 2:16:30,  on November 24, 2019.
Diriba Degefa Yigezu is the first male runner to cross the finish line on Eakins Oval and win the Philadelphia Marathon with a time of 2:16:30, on November 24, 2019.Read moreMICHAEL BRYANT / Staff Photographer

An expression of relief and achievement swept across the face of Diriba Degefa Yigezu as he crossed the finish line first in the Philadelphia Marathon on Sunday with a time of 2 hours, 16 minutes, 31 seconds.

Last year, the Ethiopian finished second in the Philadelphia Marathon’s 8K event. He was so disappointed he decided to run in the marathon the next day but finished third with a time that would have won the race the year before.

In 2019, there was cold wind and rain but no disappointment. Yigezu, fittingly wearing bib No. 3, was all alone on top.

“It feels really good, I trained really hard,” said Yigezu, who took the lead just before the seventh mile and never lost it. “The rain made it very hard but I got through. ... It just feels so good.”

Minutes later, the bundled-up crowd on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway witnessed dramatic history as Feyne Gudeto Gemeda beat the female course record by 3 seconds with a time of 2:32:48.

Gemeda knew what was at stake and pushed hard through the last few hundred feet before falling to the ground just past the finish line. With the Ethiopian flag draped around her back, she was able to rise to her feet minutes later to celebrate her achievement.

“I’m very happy with the record,” Gemeda said through an interpreter. “I was training very hard. I was pushing to run under 2:32 but the rain and wind was very challenging so I’m happy with how I finished.”

Ethan Rissell was the first Philadelphian to cross the finish line, with a time of 2:35 even. The 30-year-old previously lived outside of Harrisburg and in Conshohocken but moved to Roxborough in January.

Rissell’s friend told him Saturday night that he had a good chance to finish first among Philadelphians. Through the last 10 miles of his third marathon, he said it was all he could think about.

“I was on the fence about doing a marathon this fall," Rissell said. “Doing the Philly Marathon was a big factor because now it feels like my hometown race. It’s really awesome.”

Lauren Kelly finished first among Philadelphia women with a time of 2:52:25. Michelle Wheeler took the wheelchair title with a time of 2:31:49. Phoenixville’s T. Lawrence Way, at 71, finished first among hand cyclers at 2:37:59.

The misty rain blowing through chilly early-morning winds didn’t deter thousands of spectators whose ponchos and bright jackets created a bright rainbow lining along the track. Hundreds of volunteers in neon vests trudged through the Benjamin Parkway mud and directed the eager supporters, unfazed by the conditions.

“This is running weather,” shouted one volunteer. “What could be better?”