Sambu, Saina Win 2014 New Balance Falmouth Road Race
Senbeta and McFadden both set course records to mark 40th running of wheelchair division
Posted Monday, 18 August, 2014
FALMOUTH, Mass. (August 17, 2014)—Stephen Sambu ran away from the field, Betsy Saina prevailed in a spirited battle, James Senbeta and Tatyana McFadden marked the 40th running of the wheelchair division with a pair of course records, and Meb Keflezighi had just plain good old fun in the 42nd New Balance Falmouth Road Race this morning.
Winning the men’s race in 31:46 was Stephen Sambu, the 26-year-old Kenyan who owns the fastest 10K time in the world this year (27:25). Sambu’s 45-second margin of victory, over defending champion Micah Kogo of Kenya (32:31) is the second-largest in race history.
The outcome was never in question, at least not in Sambu’s mind. “I was confident,” he said, “because I was feeling good all the way.” By Mile 3, Sambu had helped whittle the pack to four, including Kogo, Emmanuel Bett, and Kennedy Kithuka. Kithuka, the 2012 NCAA Cross Country Champion who was making his road-racing debut, would be gone by the time the quartet turned onto Surf Drive; Bett would fall off the pack soon after. By Mile 4, Kogo felt himself flagging and he, too, would lose contact, thanks to a 4:28 mile by Sambu.
By the time Kogo recovered, Sambu “was far away,” said the two-time New Balance Falmouth Road Race champion. A 4:24 mile will do that.
Bett would hang on to finish third in 33:01, with Ben Bruce fourth in 33:21.
The women’s race was a much closer affair, with Saina managing to escape from Great Britain’s Gemma Steel to win in 35:56, with Steel just seven seconds back, in 36:03, and American Molly Huddle not far behind , finishing third in 36:15—just two seconds off the fastest-ever time by an American woman here, Lynn Jennings’ 36.13 in 1992.
At Mile 3, after 5:12 early miles, Huddle seemed to be in control of a pack of seven, focusing on the tangents, with Emily Infeld shadowing her and Steel looking strong. Then, at Mile 4, Steel tried to break away.
“I was doing everything I could to get the right corners, but these Kenyan women don’t give up,” said Steel, coming off perhaps the biggest victory of her career two weeks ago at the TD Beach to Beacon 10K.
With sharp elbows and determination, Steel fought to hold her ground, but instead of Steel breaking away she was joined by Betsy Saina for a 5:06 fourth mile that split the pack in two. A three-time NCAA Champion while competing for Iowa State, Saina trains with the American Distance Project in Colorado Springs, Colo., and posted a strong runner-up finish at the B.A.A. 10K in June, so Steel knew enough to consider her a threat.
So did Huddle, despite setting two American Records this summer, who began to fall back. “I couldn’t respond at mile four,” she said. “It was a rough last three miles.”
She refused to give up, but with Steel tucking in behind Saina for a 5:02 mile five, the American who last fall posted a world best 12K slipped back for good. Steel and Saina would duel the last mile, with Saina finally pulling away.
“I felt it was one of my toughest races ever because the road was wide open until the end, when it was just the two of us,” said Saina.
Neither Senbeta nor McFadden saw anything like a challenge in either the men’s or women’s wheelchair division, but their victories were hardly without excitement. For Senbeta, it was his third try for a win here, after a sixth-place finish in 2012 and runner-up spot last year, and he had to defeat defending champion, five-time Falmouth winner, and course record-holder Krige Schabort to get it. His winning time of 23:32 broke Schabort’s previous mark of 23:35.
“I started thinking after I heard I may have set a course record that I should have pushed harder at the top of that last hill and made it even faster,” said Senbeta, of Champaign, IL.
McFadden, the three-time Paralympic gold medalist who last year became the only athlete to win the Grand Slam of the London, Boston, Chicago, and New York marathons, celebrated her Falmouth debut with a course-record win in 27:06, shattering the previous mark of the fabled Candace Cable, 28:20 set back in 1991.
“I saw a few guys ahead, and I was really just trying to catch them, and that was a lot of fun,” said McFadden, whose time would have been good enough for fourth in the men’s race today.
Speaking of fun, 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi, safeguarding a tight hamstring, chose to run for fun instead of competing to win, and he certainly seems to have succeeded. Starting out with race director Dave McGillivray, he finished the race with Joan Samuelson in 43:32 (“She made me work hard to catch up”), then doubled back to cross the line again with McGillivray.
In between, he had a blast.
“It was great to talk to people, run with people excited to be running with me, I can “high five” with them as I come by and say “nice job,” he said. “One lady, I told her ‘when you get to the top of the hill, relax,’ and she said ‘I’m fine, I’m fine,’ and then I said, ‘It’s Meb! Oh, never mind! I want to listen to that advice.”
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