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Preview: Huddle Seeks BAA Half Marathon Win

The American recently won the U.S. 5K and 20K titles.

The American recently won the U.S. 5K and 20K titles.

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

On Sunday, the 14th annual B.A.A. Half Marathon, presented by Dana-Farber Cancer Institute and the Jimmy Fund, will be run along Boston’s Emerald Necklace Park System. The final Boston Athletic Association road race of the year will showcase Olympian Molly Huddle as well as 2013 Boston Marathon winner and reigning B.A.A. Half Marathon champion Lelisa Desisa, among others. In advance of the race, Here are six storylines to watch for come Sunday.

Huddle/Daska Rematch

At the B.A.A. 5K on April 19, Molly Huddle came from behind in the final kilometer to snag a victory from the grips of Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska. Since then, the pair dueled at the Oakley NYRR Mini 10K, which Huddle won in a personal best of 31:37.

Daska returns to Boston coming off her second consecutive B.A.A. 10K win (an event record of 31:04 on June 22), while Huddle broke the tape first in 15:10 at the USA 5K Championships on Sept. 21, held in Providence, R.I., where she lives and trains.

It will be interesting to see if the Huddle and Daska race toe-to-toe the whole way, and who prevails in the end at Franklin Park. Huddle has only raced one half-marathon—a third place finish in 1:09:04 at this year’s NYC Half in March—while Daska holds a lifetime best of 1:08:07 from 2009.

If either Huddle or Daska claim the laurel wreath, they’ll take home a $20,000 bonus in addition to the $10,000 winner’s check. Because both have already won a B.A.A. Distance Medley event this year (Huddle the B.A.A. 5K, Daska the B.A.A. 10K), each qualify for the series incentive bonus.

RELATED: Huddle Wins U.S. 20K Championship

Stephen Sambu And Lelisa Desisa Meet Again

Just like on the women’s side, a memorable matchup is set up for the men. Last year’s champion and event record holder Lelisa Desisa returns, as does two-time B.A.A. 10K victor and 2013 B.A.A. Distance Medley winner Stephen Sambu. In 2013, Sambu edged Desisa by nine seconds at the B.A.A. 10K, dethroning that year’s Boston Marathon champion.

Twelve months ago, the pair toed the line against each other once again, this time at the B.A.A. Half Marathon. Desisa won the rematch by seven seconds, establishing an event record of 1:00:34 in the process. Sambu placed third in a personal best of 1:00:41, a step behind fellow Kenyan Daniel Salel (who also finished in 1:00:41).

Sambu has proven his prowess on the roads of Boston this year, setting an Association of Road Racing Statisticians World Record and U.S. All Comers Record for 8K en route to winning the B.A.A. 10K in a world leading 27:25. He also won the Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod by a whopping 45 seconds.

On the opposite side of the spectrum, Desisa has had a quiet year since winning the RAK Half Marathon back in February. He was unable to finish the Boston Marathon in April, and is now prepping to run the TCS New York City Marathon on Nov. 2.

Look for the pair to battle once again, with Desisa’s event record in their sights. If Sambu places first overall, he’ll earn a $20,000 bonus for winning both the B.A.A. 10K and B.A.A. Half Marathon in the same calendar year.

RELATED: Sambu Enjoying ‘Breakout’ Season

Don’t Forget Salel

While big names like Desisa and Sambu may overshadow him, Daniel Salel shouldn’t be forgotten. Finishing second in 2013, Salel showed he has what it takes to race up front. In 2014, he has placed second at the Cherry Blossom 10 Miler in Washington, D.C., and secured top-five finishes at both the B.A.A. 5K (fifth, 13:31) and B.A.A. 10K (third, 27:41).

Salel surely has found a niche running on the streets of Boston: his lifetime bests at 5K, 10K and the half marathon were all set at B.A.A. events.

Betsy Saina Debut

Making her half marathon debut is Betsy Saina. The former Iowa State Cyclone has raced extremely well both on the track and roads this year, picking up wins at the Falmouth Road Race and Rabobank Tilburg Ladies Run. In the latter, held on Sept. 7 in the Netherlands, Saina clocked a world leading 30:46 for 10K.

Saina was second at the B.A.A. 10K in 31:10 behind only Daska, and fourth at the B.A.A. 5K adrift of Huddle, Daska and Sentayehu Ejigu (15:16 her time). She could very well pull off the win in her first try at the distance.

Worlds Silver Medalist Mary Wacera

Mary Wacera burst onto the scene earlier this year at the IAAF World Half Marathon Championships, taking the silver medal in a lifetime best of 1:07:44. Since then she’s finished on the podium at three high-profile American road races, winning the Lilac Bloomsday Run 12K in Washington (39:36) and the Utica Boilermaker 15K in New York (50:14), and placing third at the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K in New York City (31:52).

This will be Wacera’s third half marathon of the year, and her first B.A.A. event. The last women’s winner to hail from Ethiopia was Belainesh Gebre in 2009.

RELATED: Photos From The Half Marathon Worlds

New Women’s Champion

It is assured that there will be a new winner on the women’s side, as two-time defending champion Kim Smith of New Zealand is unable to compete. A month ago, Smith underwent left ankle surgery and is now recuperating at home in Providence, R.I.

With Smith out, the door is left wide open for a new champion. Could Huddle—Smith’s close friend and training partner—keep the crown in the same training group, under the guidance of Ray Treacy? Or will there be an East African champion for the fourth time since 2007?

Smith holds the women’s event record of 1:09:14, set in 2013. If anyone dips under that mark, they’ll take home a $10,000 record bonus.

The B.A.A. Half Marathon expects a race record 8,000 competitors for Sunday’s race.