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Bawcom Sets U.S. Record At Cherry Blossom 10-miler

Arizona native betters Sally Meyerhoff's mark by more than a minute.

Arizona native betters Sally Meyerhoff’s mark by more than a minute.

(c) 2013 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission

WASHINGTON — Close finishes in both the men’s and women’s races and a U.S. record by Janet Bawcom were the highlights of Sunday’s 41st Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10 Mile here.

The overall titles went to two Kenyans, Caroline Rotich and Daniel Salel, and the latter didn’t know he was the winner until more than 30 minutes after the race because the finish was so tight. Bawcom won the U.S. Championship for women, contested at this event for the first time, and collected the biggest check here: $9,000 in prize money and record bonuses.

Women First

The women’s elite race went off 12 minutes ahead of the elite men and the masses, and a big pack of 25 athletes stayed close together as they ran into southerly winds from the start adjacent to the Washington Monument. The first two miles passed in 5:19 and 5:28, respectively, and the field seemed content to key off of Rotich, who won the ING New York City Half-Marathon on March 17. Three-time Cherry Blossom champion and Kenyan compatriot Lineth Chepkurui ran to Rotich’s right, and IAAF World Cross Country Championships bronze medalist Belaynesh Oljira stayed close behind her.

Bawcom, an Olympian from Flagstaff, Ariz., and the recently crowned U.S. 15k road running champion, stayed tucked in the pack, biding her time.

“I’ve raced Caroline quite enough to know what she’s going to do in a race,” Bawcom told Race Results Weekly at the finish line. “I knew she was going to pull away and make a big move, and I was just waiting to run my own race, for sure.”

Bawcom was right. Rotich continued to lead through halfway at a fast enough place (26:46) to cut the pack down to 13 women, then ran 5:12 for the sixth mile to truly break up the field. Oljira stayed close to her as did Bawcom and Kenya’s Risper Gesabwa and Millicent Kuria.

By the 7th mile (5:22), Rotich’s pace was fast enough to shake everyone but Oljira, who ran right on the Kenyan’s heels. The women stayed close together until the little uphill in the last half-mile just before the final 200 meters to the finish. Rotich knew this was the time to strike: Oljira was faster, but she was stronger.

“I was just, like, have to do it right here,” Rotich recalled thinking as she approached the hill. “I knew there were a lot of 10k runners, and Ryan (Bolton, her coach) said you’ll have to push all the way.”

Rotich crested the rise with a little gap on Oljira, then mustered a surprising sprint to hold off the Ethiopian (who has a 30:26.70 10,000m best) and get the win in 52:46. Covering the final mile in a very quick 4:57, she claimed the $8000 first place prize.

“Since I won New York two weeks ago I have had my confidence with me and run as hard as I can,” said the Mizuno-sponsored athlete.

Oljira got the runner-up spot, three seconds behind, and Gesabwa was a clear third in 53:22. Bawcom held off a strong sprint by Kuria to get fourth overall and win the U.S. title. Her time of 53:28 broke the late Sally Meyerhoff’s national record for an all-women’s race by 70 seconds, allowing Bawcom to pick up an extra $2,500 bonus.

“It feels great, awesome,” Bawcom said of getting the record.

Brianne Nelson of Golden, Colo., continued her rise to national class status, getting second in the championship division (7th overall) in a career best 54:01. Sarah Crouch of Blowing Rock, N.C., got third (9th overall) in 54:15, also a personal best.

Men Tangle At The Finish

Kenya’s Allan Kiprono won this race last year in course record time, so he knew how to set himself up for the finish. This year, after trading surges with compatriot Daniel Salel in the last mile, Kiprono thought he was well-positioned for victory.

“I know the finishing here because it was not my first time running,” Kiprono said.

The organizers were somewhat late in stretching the tape for the men’s finish on the right side of the roadway. As Kiprono and Salel came over the final rise, Kiprono was on the right with a straight run for the tape. Salel, who was making his 10-mile debut here, was in the center of the roadway and was forced to angle to his right in order to hit the tape.

“I went out (left), then I saw the finish line was this way,” Salel said motioning with his hand. “I was not sure about it.”

Kiprono had a slight lead in the final five meters, held up his arms, and showed two fingers on his left hand to signify his second victory here. But a second later, Salel lunged through the tape on his left, brushing the tape-holder and getting the narrowest of victories. A shocked Kiprono ran straight into a photographer and crashed to the pavement.

“Yes!” exclaimed Kiprono when asked if he thought he had won the race. “I didn’t know what happened. After crossing the line he was next to me.”

Salel was timed in 46:06.0 and Kiprono in 46:06.5, the first man getting $8,000 and the second $4,500.  Kiprono’s training partner Lani Rutto finished third (46:44), while former University of Arizona standout Stephen Sambu, also of Kenya, got fourth (46:59). The top American was Tyler McCandless in 8th place getting a personal best of 49:01.

“I’m happy,” said a smiling Salel when he was told he was the winner.