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Fast Field Lined Up For Falmouth

Defending race champions, Olympic medalists, $90,000 prize purse and more at the Cape Cod summer tradition.

The 38th edition of the CIGNA Falmouth Road Race is set for this Sunday with a professional field that will feature the defending champions, a pair of Olympic marathon silver medalists and, possibly, the first American men’s champion in more than 20 years.

The world’s best and thousands of recreational runners will once again gather for the annual Cape Cod summer tradition. The 2010 action begins at 10:00am at the drawbridge in Woods Hole when the field of 10,000 sets out on a scenic seven-mile course that ends at the ball field by the beach in Falmouth Heights.

Falmouth is one of the top non-marathon events on the international circuit and past champions have included Hall-of-Famers and Olympic gold medalists. Prize money totaling $90,300 will be at stake, with $10,000 each going to the Open division champions. There is also $29,600 for the top U.S. runners, including $5000 to the first American man and woman.

The course records are long-standing: Gilbert Okari of Kenya holds the men’s mark at 31:08, set in 2004, while Lornah Kiplagat of Kenya set the women’s record of 35:02 in 2000.

Defending champion Tilahun Regassa of Ethiopia headlines the men’s Open division, which also includes 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medalist Meb Keflezighi of Mammoth Lakes, Calif.

In the women’s race, Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia returns to defend her crown against a strong lineup of challengers highlighted by Catherine Ndereba of Kenya, a four-time Falmouth and Boston Marathon champion, and two-time Olympic marathon silver medalist.

Last year, Regassa followed in the footsteps of countryman Tadese Tola to become the second Ethiopian man to win at Falmouth. Regassa, just 19 at the time, turned the men’s race into a one-man sprint, bursting from the starting line and never looking back. He spent the final mile waving and blowing kisses to the thousands of spectators lining the course. His winning time of 31:41 was the fastest since Okari’s record run and the second-fastest in 13 years.

Regassa has continued in fine form this year, running a personal best 27:52 for 10,000 meters in March and 59:19 for the half-marathon in July. In addition, he was Dick’s Sporting Goods BolderBOULDER 10K runner-up in May and third at the ING Bay to Breakers 12K.

No American man has won at Falmouth since Mark Curp in 1988, but Keflezighi returns looking to improve on a pair of runner-up finishes (2007 and ’08). He was fifth last year, and then went on to win the ING New York City Marathon in the fall, becoming the first American to rule in the Big Apple since Alberto Salazar in 1982. The Mammoth Track Club athlete was fifth at the Boston Marathon in April (and the second American).

Along with Keflezighi, other U.S. challengers include past top 10 Falmouth finishers James Carney and 2010 USA 10K champion Ed Moran, and newcomer Mo Trafeh, born in Morocco but raised in California. Trafeh won the USA 15K Championship earlier this year and was the first American (10th overall) at the Boilermaker 15K on July 6 in Utica, N.Y.

A new Ethiopian who has emerged this season is 20-year-old Lelisa Desisa who won the Ottawa 10K (28:08) and BolderBOULDER 10K in May and set a course record in winning the Boilermaker 15K in 42:46.

Falmouth has a rich history of Kenyan champions (16 in all). They will be well-represented again, led by Edward Muge, third last year, and Samuel Ndereba, sixth in ’09 and fourth in ’08. Muge led the 2008 race until succumbing to the heat, wobbling off the course and into an ice bath.

Other Kenyans to watch are Peter Cheruiyot Kirui, winner of the Lilac Bloomsday 12K and Bay to Breakers 12K and Boilermaker 15K runner-up; Shadrack Kosgei, first at the Steamboat Classic four-miler, and third at the Boilermaker 15K; Olympian, former New York and London Marathon champion Martin Lel and James Koskei, the 2002 Open division winner at Falmouth and defending Masters champion.

The women’s field could be one of the deepest ever. Daska, fourth here in 2008, was dominating last year as she became the first Ethiopian woman to win at Falmouth. She pulled away from the pack in the third mile and cruised to an easy victory. Her winning time of 36:23 was a whopping 51 seconds in front of runner-up Rebecca Donaghue, a University of Massachusetts graduate from Stowe, Mass. Donaghue could be Falmouth’s first U.S. woman winner since 1985.

Daska earlier this year won the BolderBOULDER 10K and was second at the Freihofer’s Run for Women.

Ndereba, one of the most decorated champions in the sport, will be back on the starting line looking for her fifth Falmouth crown. In addition to a pair of Olympic medals, she is a two-time marathon gold medalist at the World Championships and the former world record holder in the marathon (2:18:47). Her victories at Falmouth span 11 years, from 1996 to 2007.

Another popular Falmouth champion, Colleen De Reuck, is also returning. A native of South Africa and now a U.S. citizen living with her family in Boulder, Colo., De Reuck has been on four Olympic teams and has one of the most impressive resumes in the race’s history. She is a two-time Open division winner and has finished runner-up four times. In 12 appearances at Falmouth she has been in the top five nine times. Last year, at the age of 45, the she finished a remarkable fifth in the Open division, second among U.S. women and won another Masters crown. She collected prize money in all three classes. Earlier this year she won the Copenhagen Marathon, running 2:30:51 on a tough course, where she was beaten by only six men.

Other U.S. women who should be in the thick of things is Kate O’Neill. O’Neill, a former Massachusetts high school star from Milton and Yale graduate, was a 2004 Olympian. She was second at Falmouth in 2004 and third in 2007.

Other women to watch include:
* Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya, winner of the Lilac Bloomsday Run in a world record 38:10 for the 12K distance. (Daska was second in the race). Chepkurui also won the Bay to Breakers in another world record 38:07.

* Mara Dibaba of Ethiopia, who earlier this season set the Ethiopian half-marathon record of 1:07:13.

* Edna Kiplagat of Kenya, third at Falmouth last year and third in 2006. She won the Boilermaker 15K in a course record 47:57 and won the Honda Los Angeles marathon (2:25:38).

* Benita Willis, a three-time Australian Olympian (at 5000, 10,000 and marathon) and former world cross country champion.

* Azalech Woldeselasse of Ethiopia, who was fourth in the Paris Marathon in 2:25:34

Among the seniors in the race will be three of the most decorated runners in American history: Olympic gold medalists Frank Shorter and Joan Benoit Samuelson, and four-time Boston and New York marathon winner Bill Rodgers. Shorter has won Falmouth twice, Rodgers three times and Benoit Samuelson six times.

CIGNA is now in its fifth year as the title sponsor. More than 2,000 volunteers provide the support system for race weekend. Proceeds from the race support youth athletic programs in the town of Falmouth and other nonprofit community groups.

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