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Bawcom Breaks U.S. 10-Mile Mark At Cherry Blossom

Christo Landry won the men's USA title in 46:41.

Christo Landry won the men’s USA title in 46:41.

(c) 2014 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

WASHINGTON D.C.—Olympian Janet Bawcom broke her own USA 10-mile record and retained her national 10-mile title while placing second overall at the 42nd Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run on Sunday. About 16,000 athletes competed in the race, known as the Runner’s Rite of Spring, on a clear, crisp and windless spring morning in the U.S. capital.

Bawcom, 35, who lives and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz., was looking for a fast time right from the gun. Wearing a pink and black Nike racing uniform, she immediately took the lead of the all-women’s elite race, followed closely by Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska and Makida Abdela, Kenya’s Aliphine Tuliamuk-Bolton, and American compatriot Sara Hall, who had just returned from a training camp in Addis Ababa. Hall, 30, who has spent most of her career running much shorter distances on the track, said she was feeling good and decided to be aggressive today.

“I’m getting used to these longer races,” Hall explained to Race Results Weekly. “There’s two different ways you can approach it: you can go with it or you can just focus on the USA’s. And I was, like, I’m just going to go for it.”

Through three miles (15:55), Bawcom, Tuliamuk-Bolton and Daska kept the pace high, and soon both Abdela and Hall had drifted back and out of contention. The trio hit 5 miles in a quick 26:04, and Daska was starting to get impatient. Four minutes later, she upped the tempo, making a statement.

“I was leading, but at the same time I was expecting someone to come up,” she said through a translator.  “I waited, but now I knew I was in control.”

Running alone, Daska left Tuliamuk-Bolton and Bawcom behind. She put in one more strong surge just past the 7-mile mark, and both of her rivals quickly turned their attention to racing each other. Bawcom knew she had the USA title well in hand, but hoped to double-up on her prize money (the race offered both open and American prize money) and collect an American-record bonus. With Daska too far ahead, she slowly caught Tuliamuk-Bolton and prepared herself for the final push to the finish. With 800 meters to go, Bawcom made a strong move into second place.

“I saw them fading back, so I just stayed behind her for a little bit to just compose myself,” Bawcom said. “Then, I was like, I just have to put my head down and go.”

The final 400m has a short rise, then a slightly longer downhill to the finish, and Daska negotiated that section of the course easily.  She managed a 63-second final 400 to win in 52:05, the fastest winning time here since 2010, and became the first Ethiopian woman to win here in seven years. She said she didn’t take anything for granted in the final stage of the race.

“I looked behind, she no come,” Daska said in English of Bawcom. “I think in my mind I’m number-one.”

Bawcom crossed next in 52:12, smashing her national all-women’s record from this race last year by 76 seconds. Tuliamuk-Bolton got third in 52:16, and Hall finished fourth in 52:54, also under Bawcom’s previous record. Hall was thrilled.

“I’m really happy I just stuck my neck in it,” Hall gushed. “Being on American record pace in a race like that, I think that’s the first time I’ve been on it that long. I’m real excited about just where I’m at right now.”

Daska won $8,000 in prize money, while Bawcom earned a total of $12,000: $45,00 for second place, $5,000 for being the top American, and $2,500 for breaking the USA record.

The men’s race, which also featured a USA championships division, played out similarly to last year’s contest with a torrid sprint finish. Kenyan Daniel Salel, who was awarded the victory last year in a photo finish over compatriot Allan Kiprono, this time did battle with rising star Stephen Sambu, a former University of Arizona runner and the 2013 B.A.A. Distance Medley series champion. This time Salel ended up second, and both he and Sambu were credited with same finish time of 45:29, the second-fastest winning time ever at this event.

“I like fast races,” Sambu told Race Results Weekly, trying to catch his breath. “I like when we start hard; I like hard races.”

But Sambu said he was also ready to sprint, if needed. Finishing fourth here last year, he knew that Salel had the experience on this course to time his finish perfectly.

“I was so careful about that,” Sambu said. “He was right on my shoulder all the way. So, I was waiting for him, waiting for him, until about 300 left.  Then, I start kicking hard!”

Like Daska, Sambu won $8,000 in prize money in what was his second victory—and third podium finish—of the year. Allan Kiprono, last year’s runner-up, got third in 45:47.

A little less than a minute back, Christo Landry, 27, of Ann Arbor, Mich., was the surprise winner of the USA title in a very solid 46:41, the sixth-fastest time ever by an American (fourth-fastest on a record-quality course). The Mizuno-sponsored Landry called his first national title a “monkey off his back.”

“Every race there’s some hard decision you have to make, and mine was right around 5K where I said I’m going to go with this group and see what happens,” Landry said in his post-race interview. “I might blow up, but if you don’t take chances, why are you out there?”

Second place in the USA division went to former Oklahoma State standout Girma Mecheso, an Ethiopian-born runner who has had USA citizenship since 2010. Just back from a training camp in Ethiopia where he trained under Haji Adilo, the coach of 2011 TCS New York City Marathon champion Firehiwot Dado, Mecheso was happy with his 47:22 result.

“The race was great, the sun was great, everything was feeling great,” Mecheso told Race Results Weekly.  “This is my first race as a professional.”

In all, 25 men broke 50 minutes.