NEW YORK (06-Nov) -- On a clear and cold morning here, Weini Kelati and Drew Hunter were crowned USATF 5-K Champions at the ninth Abbott Dash to the Finish Line 5-K, the appetizer for tomorrow's 50th running of the TCS New York City Marathon. On the net-uphill course from the United Nations to Tavern on the Green in Central Park, Kelati set a new course record of 15:18, running away from the field. Hunter prevailed in a mass sprint where the first five men finished in just a two-second span. Both athletes earned $12,000 in prize money, part of a $60,000 total purse, the largest of any 5-K in the world.
PHOTO: Weini Kelati wins the 2021 Abbott Dash to the Finish 5-K in a course record 15:18 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Kelati, 24, who only became a U.S. citizen last June and transferred her allegiance from her native Eritrea, dominated the women's competition. The 2019 NCAA cross country champion for the University of New Mexico, made her intentions clear at the start. From the gun, she made the hard right turn onto East 42nd Street and quickly built up a gap on the field. She said that her hard workouts in Flagstaff, Ariz., where she trains with the Under Armour-sponsored group Dark Sky Distance, put her in a confident mood.
"The confidence comes based on my training," Kelati told Race Results Weekly. "I've been working out with the guys, so if I can keep up with them, why not just push it from the beginning? That's what I did."
Within two minutes, the other women were running for second. Erika Kemp of the Boston Athletic Association High Performance Team quickly adjusted her race plan.
"I mean, I half expected it because she ran so fast the other weekend," Kemp said, referring to Kelati's dominant victory at the Boston 10-K For Women on October 16, where she broke Molly Huddle's course record by three seconds. She continued: "You just kind of run the race you're in. She was so far ahead that she was not in my race today."
Kelati ran north on Avenue of the Americas and through Midtown Manhattan alone and maintained her pace. Her lead was growing with every kilometer.
"When I get into the race I didn't know how it was going to play out," Kelati observed. "I was going to run my race and take it from that. When I see it, it felt good. I'm going to keep pushing and finish it strong."
The course enters Central Park at about the 3-K mark, and immediately goes uphill on the park's service road behind the Central Park Zoo. Kelati navigated the tricky and sharp left turn at the top of hill, then used the downhill in the fourth kilometer to pick up some additional time. She was running fast enough to threaten Molly Huddle's 2017 event record of 15:24 and was not letting up. Kelati swept around the right-hand bend at the bottom of the park, then up the hill to the finish without slowing. Her time of 15:18 put her well under Huddle's record.
"It's my dream," said Kelati about winning her first-ever USA title.
Behind Kelati, a fierce battle was playing out for the remaining spots on the podium. Kemp charged up the final hill to try to get second, but a huge surge by miler Grace Barnett in the last 50 meters pushed Kemp back to third place. Barnett, who trains with the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, Calif., got second in 15:45, and Kemp finished one second behind her. Barnett said her plan was to remain patient, then use that final hill to pass any challengers.
"We were doing a lot of hills (in training) so I was ready for that," she said.
Farther back, Natosha Rogers of the Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project got fourth in 15:48 and Lauren Paquette of Hoka Northern Arizona Elite was fifth in 15:49.
PHOTO: Drew Hunter wins the 2021 Abbott Dash to the Finish 5-K in 13:53 (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)
Hunter, 24, of the Tinman Elite group in Boulder, Colo., had a completely different race plan than Kelati. The 3:56 miler was looking to stay with the lead pack throughout the race, cover any significant moves, and not show his cards to the end.
So, when two-time Olympic medalist Paul Chelimo sped away from the field at the gun, Hunter held back. Chelimo, who won the bronze medal at 5000m at the Tokyo Olympics, wasn't sure how his body would react after taking some down time after Tokyo and slowly building back up.
"I was trying to go for it, but my body was just not ready yet," Chelimo told Race Results Weekly.
The race soon got back to one big pack and basically stayed that way until about 800 meters from the finish. At that point, 2016 Olympic 1500m champion Matthew Centrowitz decided to make his play for victory. He put in a surge, but it might have come just a little too soon.
"I'm still finding it really hard to gauge road races, and how far away you are from the finish line," Centrowitz explained. "I knew we were close, but I think I might have made my move one hill too soon."
Hunter positioned himself right in the center of the roadway, and timed his final push to the line perfectly. His plan was working out, and he just needed to finish what he started. He was worried about Centrowitz, who was on his right, and his legendary kick.
"I thought Matt was going to blast me, but he didn't," Hunter said.
But it was close. Hunter broke the tape in 13:53 and both Centrowitz and Hunter's former training partner Sydney Gidabuday were given the same time. It was Hunter's first race since February, and his first win since February, 2019, when he won the USATF indoor title for two miles.
"I'm happy not to be a spectator in the race and I'm happy to compete for the win, and come out on top," said Hunter. "I think that's kind of my goal this year; just remember how to win. I ran for the win and it worked out well."
Centrowitz, who did not advance out of the semi-finals in the Olympic 1500m last August, was clearly satisfied with his performance. He didn't regret making his move a little early because he didn't think it would have changed the result.
"Honestly, I don't think it really mattered," he said. "I think Drew had a couple of gears still on me. I was just happy to put up a good fight and rally for second."
For Gidabuday, his third place finish was sweet. When he last ran The Dash he finished dead last in 20th place, 70 seconds behind the winner.
"That was the start of a bad season, now I'm on the up," said Gidabuday. "I definitely needed that."
Graham Crawford of the Reebok Boston Track Club (13:54) and Eric Avila of the Golden Coast Track Club/adidas (13:55) rounded out the top-5.