Defending champion Johnson places sixth; record field of more than 4,000 women over-run the streets of the state capital
From Ed Parham
ALBANY, N.Y. - (May 30, 2009) - On Saturday morning, Teyba Erkesso, 26, from Ethiopia won the 31st edition of the Freihofer's Run for Women 5K, capturing a $10,000 first prize, but it was only after a down-to-the-wire tussle with her compatriot Mamitu Daska.
Much of the pre-race speculation centered on Benita Johnson who returned to Albany in an attempt to retain the title she had won in each of the three preceding years. Having not raced at all in the past six months, however, the 30-year-old Australian did not have the sharpness to become only the third women - after Lynn Jennings and Marla Runyan - to win this race four times.
With a record 4,028 women going to the starting line, including invited professional competitors (nine Olympians) from 11 countries, it was inevitable that the opening half mile would see a congested knot of runners at the front of the field. Although it had thinned by the time the leaders entered Washington Park and reached the first mile (5:09), even then 10 runners held close formation, with Erkesso and Daska at the leading edge, but with Rose Kosgei (KEN), Millicent Gathoni (KEN), Genoveva Kigen (KEN), Ashu Kasim (ETH), Dulce Rodriguez (MEX), René Kalmer (RSA), Mariya Konovalova (RUS) and Johnson all within footsteps of each other.
It was approaching the 1.5 mile marker that Johnson, the defending champion, started to feel the pace. A testing incline shortly before leaving the Park saw her lose a meter on the leading pack and, thereafter, she was never on terms. "I struggled up that first hill," she stated after finishing sixth in a time of 16 mniutes.
By the time the frontrunners had reached two miles (10:07), the contenders had been pruned still more. At this stage, only four remained - Erkesso, Daska, Kosgei and Kigen - and it was assured that there would be an African winner for only the second time in this race's history; Asmae Leghzaoui from Morocco was the first, in 2005.
Into the final mile, it was Erkesso who was the aggressor, despite the fact of having already raced twice in the previous eight days - a 10K in Ottawa on May 23rd and the BolderBOULDER 10K in Colorado on May 25th, a win and a runner-up finish. Clearly, those outings had drawn no potency from her sting. As Erkesso upped the ante, Kigen and Kosgei were dropped, leaving only Daska, 25, with a shot at the victory and one of the largest 5K winner's prize purses in the country. Once Erkesso decided that it was time to go, however, she dashed her compatriot's hopes with brutal finality.
That point came with just 400 meters remaining and the finish line within sight. Erkesso unleashed a long drive for the line that quickly opened five meters, and which had stretched to three seconds by the time she broke the finish line tape. The winner's time of 15:27 was the equal seventh fastest in race history. Daska finished at 15:30, with Kosgei third in 15:39 and Kigen fourth in 15:41. First American finisher was Tera Moody, 28, from Boulder, CO, who placed 13th in 16:25.
The Masters race, for women aged 40 and over, was decided by a single second, with four-time Olympian Colleen De Reuck, 45, the holder of the world record at this distance, edging Ukraine's Anzhelika Averkova, 16:39 to 16:40.
The race amongst the over-50 was also a nail-biter, though for a different reason. Joan Benoit Samuelson, a racing legend and the winner of the 1984 Olympic Games women's marathon, had her sights set on her own U.S. over-50 record of 17:24. Benoit Samuelson, 52, came up just short, though, winning her age-division, but missing the record, with a time of 17:28.
The Freihofer's Run for Women incorporates a Community Walk and Run for Kids. This year, the USATF national 10K race walk was also part of the schedule. Of special significance was the bid by 2000 Olympian, Tim Seaman, 37, from Imperial Beach, CA, to secure his 36th U.S. title. Seaman was successful, turning back the challenge of Allen James, 45, from Sanborn, NY, to cross the line in 42:56 with an advantage of well over two minutes. Teresa Vaill, 46, formerly from Pine Plains, NY, now living in Gainesville, FL, took the women's title in 46:44.
"In the 31 year history of the Freihofer's Run for Women, I have to say that this year's race was one of the very best," stated race director, George Regan. "We had a gorgeous day, a record turn-out, a super-deep elite field, and a race that went to the wire. What more could you ask? It was a great day for Albany."
For photos of this year's race, go to: www.FreihofersRun.com.
31st Freihofer's Run for Women 5K
Albany, NY, Saturday, May 30, 2009
1) Teyba Erkesso (ETH), 15:27, $10,000
2) Mamitu Daska (ETH), 15:30, $5000
3) Rose Kosgei (KEN), 15:39, $3000
4) Genoveva Kigen (KEN), 15:41, $2000
5) Ashu Kasim (ETH), 15:53, $1000
6) Benita Johnson (AUS), 16:00, $750
7) Jane Gakunyi (KEN), 16:07, $500
8) Dulce Rodrigues (MEX), 16:07, $300
9) Millicent Gathoni (KEN), 16:10, $250
10) René Kalmer (RSA), 16:14, $200
MASTERS (40 and older)
1) Colleen De Reuck, 45, CO, 16:39, $750
2) Anzhelika Averkova, 40, UKR, 16:40, $500
3) Joan Benoit Samuelson, 52, ME, 17:28, $350
4) Trina Painter, 42, AZ, 17:33, $200
5) Carmen Troncoso, 50, TX, 17:43, $100
Complete results at: www.FreihofersRun.com.