RIGA - Latvia's Jelena Prok-opcuka brought a wave of attention to the small Baltic state after winning the New York Marathon on Nov. 6. The Jurmala resident finished the 42-kilometer race with a time of 2 hours 24 minutes and 41 seconds. She is the first Latvian to ever win the famous marathon.
"This is a big victory for such a small country," Prokopcuka told the New York Times.
The day was humid for November, but this didn't seem to bother Prokopcuka. As soon as the marathon's starting pack began to filter out, she didn't waste a minute to pull ahead. While the nine leading women crossed the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge, Prokop-cuka was already on their tail.
The Latvian, who finished last year's New York Marathon in fifth place, surprised the thousands of spectators - few of whom had ever heard of the country 's as she flung her body across the finish line. Just three seconds later, Kenya's Susan Chepkemei glided past the flashing cameras in second place. The African was also runner-up last year.
"New York is a very important, huge marathon. Now maybe I want to win in Chicago, Boston and London," Prokopcuka told the Reuters News Agency.
The 29-year-old may have become Latvia's most celebrated athlete, her smile lighting up sports pages across the world.
"She is very popular [in Latvia]; people come up to us all the time," her husband, Aleksander Prokopcuk, who holds the Latvian record in the marathon, told the New York Times. "Especially in the past year, since she started to run the marathon."
Prokopcuka's husband is also her coach and training partner.
In what is only her fifth major marathon, the Latvian showed phenomenal strength. Although a cramp in her right side caused her to drop back late in the race, Prokopcuka gradually overcame the pain and surged ahead to claim her victory.
The defining moment came in the final mile, when Prokopcuka pulled up to the heels of Chepkemei. With eyes straight ahead and arms flailing, the Latvian surged ahead of her competitor, and maintained a lead until the finish line.
Prokopcuka won her first major marathon earlier this year in Osaka, Japan. She will receive $130,000 for winning the New York Marathon.