NOTE: This story was written remotely --Ed.
(04-Jul) -- As she approached the finish line of this morning's AJC Peachtree Road Race 10-K in Atlanta, defending champion Senbere Teferi of Ethiopia was doing some quick math. She checked her watch more than once despite running full speed and being chased by two rivals, compatriot Fotyen Tesfay and Kenya's Jesca Chelangat. She knew that in addition to the first place prize of $10,000 there was also a $5,000 bonus for breaking Brigid Kosgei's 2019 course record of 30:22.
PHOTO: Fotyen Tesfay wins the 2023 AJC Peachtree Road Race 10-K. (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Track Club)
But in an unfortunate moment of confusion, the 28 year-old adidas-sponsored athlete never finished her well-calculated sprint to the tape. Instead, she made a hard right turn just meters before the finish line following one of the motorcycle escorts off of the course. While a volunteer shouted to her to turn around, Tesfaye streaked to the finish line to get the win in 30:44. Chelangat got second in 30:46 and, remarkably, Teferi quickly got back on course to take third in 30:47, likely the fastest 10-K ever run by a woman who made a wrong turn.
"I was really upset by Senbere's mistake because she was in the front and she was leading but she took that last turn (off the course)," Tesfay said in her post-race interview with the help of a translator.
Tesfay, who also represents adidas, was part of a four-woman lead pack which hit the 5-K point in 14:59. Besides Teferi and Chelangat, another Kenyan Dorcas Tuitoek was also with the leaders. Tuitoek would soon be dropped, and by the 8-kilometer point (about 24:55) only the trio of Tesfay, Teferi and Chelangat remained in contention. Teferi was the leader into the final left turn onto 10th Street.
"All three are still in this race," said Olympian Carrie Tollefson on the race broadcast. "All three look good."
Just past the 30-minute mark, Chelangat fell back and out of contention for the win. Tesfay remained with Teferi, but did hesitate or break her stride when her compatriot made the wrong turn.
"I saw the finish sign in front of me and pushed ahead," said Tesfay. "But I was really upset because I really planned to stick with Senbere for the finish."
Tuitoek, who ran most of the second half alone, got fourth in 31:13 and another Kenyan, Vicoty Chepngeno, got fifth in 31:23. The top American Was Annie Frisbie of Minnesota Distance Elite/Puma who finished 14th in 32:20. The top Atlanta-area finisher was Emma Grace Hurley of the Atlanta Track Club's Elite Team who finished 16th in 32:28, a personal best.
There were no wrong turns in the men's race, but that contest also came down to a wild sprint finish. Defending champion Gabriel Geay of Tanzania made a big surge with 24:44 showing on the clock and had perhaps a 5-meter lead after the final turn onto 10th Street. He was already sprinting full-out, and it became clear that the adidas-sponsored athlete might have mis-timed his sprint as his gait started to stiffen. Meanwhile, three other athletes --Ethiopia's Nibret Melak and Jemal Yimer, and Kenya's Charles Langat-- were making up ground. Langat came up on Geay's left and the Asics-sponsored runner was in full flight with his eyes on the tape.
"When we were approaching the finishing, like 600 meters (out), they start kicking," Langat said in his post-race broadcast interview. "So, I decide to stay at the back of them, and something like 400 meters we start kicking for the finishing. It was so hard."
PHOTO: Charles Langat wins the 2023 AJC Peachtree Road Race 10-K ahead of Gabriel Geay (left, second place) and Nibret Melak (right, third place). (Photo courtesy of Atlanta Track Club)
Langat just edged past Geay before the line to get the win in 27:43. Melak nearly got past the tall Tanzanian too, but the photo finish revealed that Geay got second and Melak third. The top-3 men all received the same time, the first time that has ever happened at the Peachtree which was founded in 1970.
"I was not expecting (to win)," Langat said. "You know, yesterday I talked with my manager and I promised maybe I would win the race. I was not expecting by myself, because when we were something like 5-K we were still in a big group. I say, I will be lucky to be on the podium."
For Langat, 27, today marked his first Peachtree win in what was his second USA road race this year (he was also fourth at the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in April). Like Tesfay, Langat won $10,000 and his time was a personal best.
Down the finish order, Yimer got fourth in 27:44, and Kenya's Edwin Kurgat --the former Iowa State star-- took fifth in 27:50. Andrew Colley of ZAP Endurance in North Carolina was the top American in 13th place in 28:48.
The elite wheelchair races had a lot less drama. American Daniel Romanchuk won for the sixth time in 19:30, beating compatriot Aaron Pike by exactly 30 seconds. Susannah Scaroni, the reigning Boston Marathon champion, got her third Peachtree win in 22:13. Kendall Gretsch was a distant second in 24:39.