MANCHESTER, CT (24-Nov) -- While their respective track seasons did not get them to the Rio Olympics, both Ben True and Emily Sisson continued to command respect on the roads this year, winning today's 80th Manchester Road Race with style. On a very cold and cloudy New England Thanksgiving Day, True won here for the second time in a nail-biting sprint finish over Olympian Leonard Korir, while Sisson got her first Manchester win by a comfortable margin. Both athletes earned $4000 in prize money.
PHOTO: Leonard Korir, Chris Thompson and Ben True setting up for the final sprint of the 2016 Manchester Road Race (photo by David Monti for Race Results Weekly)
True Loses Prime But Wins When It Counts
True, 30, beat one of the best men's fields ever assembled here, which included 2016 Olympic medalists Galen Rupp and Paul Chelimo. Rupp, who finished third in the Rio Olympic Marathon in only his second attempt at the distance, was the first key athlete to fall out of contention today, dropping back in just the second mile of the 4.748 mile (7.7 km) race.
Wearing a fabric facemask to warm the near-freezing Connecticut air, Rupp --who suffers from asthma-- was trying to avoid an attack. He was with the main group of contenders through the first mile (4:31), but suddenly lost contact as the field began the long climb up Highland Street to the two mile-mark. He simply couldn't breathe.
"He had an episode today," said Rupp's longtime coach Alberto Salazar in a brief telephone interview with Race Results Weekly after the race. "He took precautions, staying inside and wearing the mask, but cold dry air is the worst."
As Rupp fell off the pace (he would finish tenth), True and Chelimo began an impromptu battle for the $1000 prime at the two-mile mark, dubbed 'King of the Hill' by race organizers. In a very physical battle, Chelimo muscled himself ahead of True to pick up the check, using his left shoulder and arm in his final lean to the blue stripe painted on the roadway.
"There was a little shoving which I wasn't very fond of," True said of the intermediate sprint. "I figured I was leading the whole hill, and might as well go for that as well."
The sprint at two miles morphed into a breakaway for True, 2012 Manchester champion Aaron Braun, and Korir as the leaders turned left on Porter Street for the big downhill back to the center of town. Chelimo was a few steps back with British Olympian Chris Thompson, as was local favorite, Donn Cabral, who grew up in nearby Glastonbury.
The third mile went into the books at 4:25 with Korir, True, Thompson, Chelimo and Braun all still in contention. Cabral, who fell back, would finish sixth. As the course flattened out, Thompson saw a chance to break the race open, throwing in a surge, after managing the big climb and downhill.
"I spoke to my coach last night, and we just went, there's so much we're going to have to think on our feet with," Thompson told Race Results Weekly. "Every time there was a hill my body responded because I'm getting fit."
The surge came at the right time for True and Korir who matched Thompson's move, then left the Englishman behind as they made the final turn on to Main Street into the finish stretch. True wasn't sure about Korir's leg speed, so he decided to wait figuring he could take him in the final, uphill sprint.
"It was all about judging that long straightaway," True recounted. "I just tried to be as patient as I could be. I think he was trying to do the same thing." He continued: "I'm surprised he came back at me so hard at the end."
Thompson fell back to third, and True and Korir duked it out right to the line, with True on the left and Korir on the right. Both men were given the same time: 21:31. True was ecstatic.
"It's great, you know?" said True, his long brown hair hanging into his eyes. "I took quite a bit of time off and just started coming back again. I'm just trying to use this as the starting point for next year, and kind of forget all about last year and look to the future."
Thompson was timed in 21:35, followed by Chelimo then Scott Fauble, both timed in 21:29. Braun took sixth in 21:41.
Sisson Dominant In Women's Race
Sisson, 25, had an easier time that True today. Running comfortably up the Highland Street hill in the lead pack which included Jordan Hasay, Sarah Pagano, and Edna Kiplagat, Sisson felt strong. She had already won the USA 10-K road running title last month in Boston in a personal best 31:47, and her confidence grew with each step.
"You hear so much about going up that hill and not going too hard, I think we were pretty good about keeping in control going up that hill," Sisson told Race Results Weekly. "I felt really good."
Using the downhill and the men around her to her advantage, Sisson took command of the race. Not leaving anything to chance, she continued to press the pace.
"I wasn't sure how close Jordan was, or anybody, I just tried to run in-control to the finish. I think when I saw the finish line I was pretty excited because this is a big deal."
Sisson pushed up the final grade and broke the tape in 24:08, the fastest winning time here in six years. She was especially proud of her victory because one of her training partners, New Zealand's Kim Smith, had won her twice in 2004 and 2005. Like Sisson, Smith also went to Providence College and is still coached by Ray Treacy.
"It's really cool, it's something special," said Sisson as she waited for a radio interview to begin. "Kim used to talk about Manchester at P.C., just living in New England everyone knows Manchester, everyone knows their Manchester time. It's pretty special."
Pagano, who won the Half-Marathon on Monterey Bay on November 13, finished second in 24:19, a mark fast enough to have won here in each of the last five years. Hasay took third (24:27), Kiplagat fourth (24:34) and two-time British Olympian Eilish McColgan took fifth (24:39).
Behind the main action, former Runner's World Editor-in-Chief, Amby Burfoot, 70, finished the race for the 54th consecutive time.