Kipyego, Marofit Dominate Manchester Road Race

Wire-to-wire wins highlight 74th edition of popular Thanksgiving Day race.

Kenyan Sally Kipyego just missed Emily Mondor's course record in winning the 74th Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Jane Monti
Kenyan Sally Kipyego just missed Emily Mondor's course record in winning the 74th Manchester Road Race on Thanksgiving Day. Photo: Jane Monti

Wire-to-wire wins highlight 74th edition of popular Thanksgiving Day race.

Written by: David Monti
(c) 2010 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.

MANCHESTER, Conn. — Both Sally Kipyego of Kenya and Mourad Marofit of Morocco overwhelmed their rivals here today, winning their respective divisions of the Manchester Road Race going away.  Today’s was the 74th edition of America’s most venerable Thanksgiving Day road race, run over a hilly 4.784 mile course on a seasonally cold and cloudy day.

For Kipyego, the 2008 NCAA Cross Country Champion for Texas Tech who now runs for the Nike Oregon Track Club in Eugene, the victory was expected.  She easily had the fastest 5,000-meter personal best in the field (14:38.64), and from the firing of the starter’s pistol she was running mostly against the clock.  Although she came within eight seconds of the late Emilie Mondor’s course record of 23:59, Kipyego did not attack the course as coach Marc Rowland had suggested when they spoke on the phone last night.  She had heard about how hilly the course was and wanted to be cautious.

“It was easier than I expected,” said the smiling 24 year-old after the race.  “I think I was anticipating it to be so hard, and I thought the hill was just going to just kill me.  But when I finished it, it felt great.”

Kipyego ascended the final hill on Main Street smoothly to finish in 24:07, a full 42 seconds ahead of second place Delilah DiCrescenzo, the American steeplechaser who lives in New York City.  Amy Mortimer of Leonardsville, Ks., finished three seconds behind DiCrescenzo and proclaimed after the race that she was now a 5,000-meter runner.

“I ran like a 40 second PR on the course!” exclaimed Mortimer who used to live in Providence, R.I., about 85 miles east of here.

Slightly disappointed that she had not tried for the event record, Kipyego was nonetheless happy to remain undefeated on the roads.  “Anytime I can get a win I’ll take it,” she said.

Marofit’s victory –and mere presence at the race– was a surprise.  David Prindiville, an oral surgeon who coordinates the elite athletes for the race, didn’t accept Marofit, a 13:02.84 5,000-meter runner, into the race until a few days ago.

“It was this week; I think it was Monday,” Dr. Prindiville recalled of his conversation with Marofit’s agent, Larisa Mikhailova, a Russian who is based in Hebron, Ky.  “She had this Moroccan and said, ‘He can win your race.’  I said, ‘I don’t have any Moroccans so let’s do it.’  That night I put my elites in (to the race committee); he was the last elite.”

Unlike Kipyego, Marofit burst into the lead right from the gun.  The only athlete to go with him was former N.C. State star Bobby Mack, and the pair quickly built a 20-meter lead on a chase pack of about 15 runners.  They rolled through the flat first mile in 4:23, while the rest of the pack stayed back and tried to figure out if they should give chase.

“I thought he was going to come back, you know?” said defending champion Haron Lagat of Kenya after the race.  “There was no one who was helping me so I did the whole job for the second group.”

Mack stayed close to Marofit up the one-mile climb on Highland Street to the highest point on the course, covering the second mile in 5:07.  But when the two leaders turned left on Porter Street, Marofit bolted down what is the course’s steepest hill, dropped Mack, and quickly built his lead to 13 seconds on the field.  Lagat, who was surrounded by strong athletes like Americans Brent Vaughn and Patrick Smyth and Irishman Martin Fagan, was powerless to close the gap because Marofit barely slowed in the flat fourth mile (4:26).  The Moroccan, wearing a black fleece headband pulled down low on his forehead, was already flashing the thumbs-up sign to the cheering spectators.

“Ce n’est pas grand athlètes (there are no big athletes),” said Marofit, 28, in French shaking his head with satisfaction after the race.

With his victory assured, Marofit veered to the left side of the course so he could slap hands with fans on his way down Main Street to the finish.  He glided up the final hill, not worried about the pack sprint which had begun behind him, and broke the finish tape in 21:38.  Prindiville said he was the first wire-to-wire men’s winner here since Phillimon Hanneck set the course record of 21:19 in 1995.

The pack sprint had its own drama because eight men all had a chance at second place.  Elbows began to fly, and one athlete even said he was cut off just steps from the line.  When the dust cleared, it was the former Dartmouth standout Ben True who did best, finishing second in 21:43.  Irishman David McCarthy, Ugandan Harbert Okuti, American Stephen Furst, Vaughn, Lagat, and Mack all finished in that order over the next three seconds.

“My season was so long,” lamented Lagat who had spent most of the summer traveling in Europe as a pacemaker in steeplechase events.  “So, I started my running only about three weeks ago.  So, I’m pretty happy about it.”

Marofit, who won the Rothman Institute 8K in Philadelphia last Saturday, has plans to make a serious move to the marathon, he said.  He ran the Marrakech Marathon last January, finishing seventh in 2:12:34, but would like to run the ING New York City Marathon next year like his friend, Abderrahime Bouramdane.