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Desisa, Smith Win B.A.A. Half Marathon

Kim Smith and Stephen Sambu capture B.A.A. Distance Medley crowns.

Kim Smith and Stephen Sambu capture B.A.A. Distance Medley crowns.

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

BOSTON — Lelisa Desisa and Kim Smith prevailed victorious at the 13th running of the B.A.A. Half Marathon on Sunday, both setting new course records in the process. New Zealand’s Smith also won the B.A.A. Distance Medley and its $100,000 prize, as did Kenya’s Stephen Sambu on the men’s side.

PHOTOS: 2013 B.A.A. Half Marathon


Lelisa Desisa has found a home in Boston. In April, the Ethiopian 23-year-old won the 117th Boston Marathon, then returned two months later to place second at the B.A.A. 10K. On Sunday, Desisa claimed yet another victory in the Massachusetts capital city, setting a new course record of 1:00:34 to win the B.A.A. Half Marathon.

“When I win I am happy,” said the quiet Desisa. “I like Boston. I like the people of Boston. And I am one of the people of Boston.”

Desisa used his adoration for the city — and the support shown from its citizens — to win the 13.1-mile contest through the Jamaica Plain and Dorchester neighborhoods.

Coming into the race, Desisa –the only man entered to have run under 60:00 for the half-marathon — was battling a head cold. He wouldn’t let any illness get in between him and the $6,000 first place prize, though.

Sticking with a large lead group through the opening miles, Desisa was building up as much energy as he could for the race’s final stretch. At ten miles — hit in 46:04 — he was right where he wanted to be: among a pack. Joining him were Kenyans Daniel Salel, Stephen Sambu, Sam Chelanga, and Lanni Rutto. Notably missing was Ethiopian Gebre Gebremariam, who stopped between miles six and seven.

“The three or four guys from Kenya are very fast so I follow them. Then after ten miles I ran to win and ran as fast as possible,” he said.

Though Desisa was increasing his pace, he couldn’t quite shake Kenyans Salel and Sambu. For Salel and Sambu, more than just the B.A.A. Half Marathon title was on the line. Both were in contention for the three-race B.A.A. Distance Medley crown and it’s $100,000 prize, the largest non-marathon award in road racing.

Entering today’s contest, Sambu held a 26-second advantage on reigning B.A.A. Half Marathon champion Allan Kiprono, and a 32 second cushion on Salel. One male and one female with the lowest cumulative time between April’s B.A.A. 5K, June’s B.A.A. 10K, and today’s B.A.A. Half Marathon would earn the $100,000 check.

Time to worry about prize money would come after the race’s conclusion, though.

Running through the Franklin Park Zoo with roughly a mile remaining, Desisa managed to pull away from both Kenyans. Crossing the finish in 1:00:34, Desisa had broken the previous course record by a whopping minute and ten seconds.

All Desisa could do was emphasize his love of Boston following the win.

“I see when I won Boston Marathon in 2013 that they give me support,” he said. “I am happy when I see the people of Boston.”

Will Desisa return to Boston for next April’s Marathon? Count on it.

“I will come back to Boston. I win, and will do more training to do Boston again,” he said. “I will come again.”

Salel, second, and Sambu, third, were given the same finish time of 1:00:41. Place didn’t matter to Sambu, though. All he cared about was the Medley standings, which he clinched with ease.

“When I entered the stadium I knew I was going to win,” said Sambu, who trains with Olympians Abdi Abdirahman and Bernard Lagat under coach James Li in Arizona. “When I was over there I knew I was going to win so I was very happy.”

With the $100,000, Sambu plans to build a water filtration and purification system at home in Eldoret, Kenya.

“I am so happy because now I am going to Kenya and bring clean water, give back,” said the recent graduate of the University of Arizona.

Rounding out the top five were Chelanga (fourth, 1:01:04) and Rutto (fifth, 1:01:32). Sixth went to last year’s champion in Allan Kiprono, while Jeffrey Eggleston crossed as the top American, seventh in 1:03:41.

“I was in really good shape coming into the race, getting ready for the ING New York City Marathon,” he said. “It’s a pretty good day, a great tune up heading into New York City.”

Aaron Braun placed ninth, and gave props to the top finishers.

“Running 61 low or 60-high, 60-mid here is like running 59-flat on a fast course,” he said, noting how hilly and challenging the course is. “I didn’t expect it to be that fast.”

Smith Defends Distance Medley Crown

For the second consecutive year, Olympian Smith asserted her dominance at the B.A.A. Half Marathon, claiming victory in a course record time of 1:09:14. The 31-year-old resident of Providence, R.I., led from start to finish, going on to successfully defend not only her race title, but also the B.A.A. Distance Medley crown.

With her win, Smith becomes only the second women’s champion in race history to win the B.A.A. Half Marathon two years in a row.

“It’s really cool!” Smith said moments after breaking the finish tape. “Living in Providence and coming up here to race was an easy choice… It’s just amazing.”

Shortly after leaving the start in Boston’s Franklin Park, Smith found herself out front with Ethiopia’s Aheza Kiros and Kenya’s Alice Kimutai tagging alongside. The three would pass five kilometers in 15:52, then five miles in 25:39.

Running in her first race since June’s B.A.A. 10K, Smith came into today’s event holding a one minute, eleven second advantage in the B.A.A. Distance Medley standings. Knowing she would have to push the pace for her chance at the $100,000 grand prize, Smith kept her foot on the gas pedal, leading every step of the early miles.

“I just tried to set a pretty decent pace and drop them,” Smith said. “The first 10K was pretty fast.”

Together through 10 kilometers in 31:48.7, it appeared Smith and Kiros would race neck-and-neck through the final half of the contest. But moments before reaching the seven mile mark, Smith put any thoughts of a duel to rest. Pumping her arms ferociously, the three-time Olympian eased away from Kiros. A five second lead soon became ten seconds, then 34 seconds at the nine mile mark.

“Once they dropped off I knew they must be tired, and I felt pretty good at that stage. I thought ‘I think I got it,'” Smith said.

Watching from the lead vehicle, Smith’s manager Ray Flynn noted that Smith was well under her pace from a year ago, when she won in 1:10:57.

“That’s gone,” said Flynn, speaking of Caroline Rotich’s course record time: 1:10:52.

Smith wound up being one minute and 38 seconds ahead of Rotich’s mark, breaking the tape with 1:09:14 reading on the clock. Though she easily secured the course record, Smith said it was never on her mind.

“I knew I was running pretty fast going through 10K. I didn’t really worry about course records. I just wanted to win,” she said. “I was just running and felt pretty good.”

Defending her race title and picking up the B.A.A. Distance Medley victory was a thrill, Smith added.

Behind Smith, Kiros would finish second in 1:10:03, with Kimutai third in 1:10:37. Kristen Fryburg-Zaitz was the top American in fourth, timing 1:13:12.

“It’s always great when you can be the first American,” said Fryburg-Zaitz. “I’m thrilled to be at this race and be here for Boston. With what happened in April, this is just a great opportunity to prove how strong American distance runners are.”