Rowbury, Baddeley Take Fifth Avenue Mile Titles

Start of the women's race. Photo: Laurel Wassner

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New York, September 26, 2009—Both pre-race favorites were in contention with 200 yards left in the men’s and women’s professional races at the 2009 Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile, and they both looked poised to win—but so did a pack of other runners in each race, and the contests came down to a matter of inches.

The women went first, at 12:45 p.m. Shannon Rowbury, 25, of San Francisco, CA, pulled away from 2008 winner Lisa Dobriskey of Great Britain and 2006 winner Sara Hall of Mammoth Lakes, CA, to win by less than one second in 4:23.3. The race was so close that Dobriskey, Hall, and fourth-place finisher Christin Wurth-Thomas of Springdale, AR, all ran 4:23 as well; Dobriskey was given second place over Hall by less than one-hundredth of a second.

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The early pace was set by 2008 1500-meter Olympian Erin Donohue of Haddonfield, NJ. She kept the lead for almost three-quarters of the mile, and then Hall came from sixth place to the front. Rowbury and Dobriskey, the 2008 IAAF World Championships bronze and silver medalists at 1500 meters, needed all the sprint speed they could find to reclaim the top two spots from Hall.

Shanno Rowbury won the women's race. Photo: PhotoRun.net

Rowbury, who was a close second to Dobriskey in last year’s race, was glad to be back. “This is the best way for me, especially as an American runner, to end my season,” she said. “I’ve been living in southwest London and racing since the beginning of July, and I’m just really happy to be back in front of an American crowd.” Dobriskey, too, had been trying to get back to America: “I enjoyed my experience here so much last year, and I wanted to do the New Year’s Eve run but I was injured, so NYRR rescheduled my flight for the [Reebok Grand Prix], and I was injured again, so they rescheduled my flight again and finally here I am.” Hall was in New York for two reasons: On Thursday, she and her husband, U.S. Olympic marathoner Ryan Hall, announced the formation of The Hall Steps Foundation, a charitable initiative that will fund programs to create a better life for youth living in poverty. “I’m actually sad to be going home today,” she said. “It’s been such a great week here in New York.”

No one who’d seen the women’s race would have guessed that a race just as close would follow. But as the professional men reached the three-quarter-mile mark 20 minutes later, six Olympians and a 20-year-old Kenyan could have been covered by a beach umbrella. At the front of the phalanx was the favorite, two-time 1500-meter Olympic medalist Bernard Lagat of Tucson, AZ, who had lost here last year by one-tenth of a second. Running nearly stride-for-stride with Lagat from the start was Kenya’s Boaz Lalang; one step back were Oregon Track Club teammates and 5000-meter World Championships finalists Matt Tegenkamp and Chris Solinsky.

Then Australian 10,000-meter record-holder Collis Birmingham came up on the far right and took the lead. He held it for about 100 meters before Lagat and Lalang pushed ahead again, and the pair looked like one-two finishers—until U.S. Olympic 1500-meter Olympian Leonel Manzano, started his trademark finishing kick and passed Birmingham on the outside. He, Lagat, and Lalang flew toward the finish three abreast. Who would take it?

Andy Baddeley won the men's race. PhotoRun.net

Andy Baddeley. The British miler, who had looked calm and relaxed throughout the race, made a perfectly timed shift to top speed with less than thirty yards left and passed all three of the leaders. He crossed the line with a pump of his fists in 3:51.8 to beat Lalang (3:52.07) by two-tenths of a second; Manzano (3:52.24) and Lagat (3:52:74) followed.

Baddeley turned out to have run exactly according to plan. “I know a lot of people start to go with 200 meters left in a road mile,” he explained, “but for me that’s too early…even 100 to go is too early. I was waiting until the last 50.” Manzano was humble: “I didn’t really know what to expect in this race because it was my first road mile. I was just trying to get into the mix.” He thanked the awards-ceremony crowd in English and Spanish, after which Baddeley remarked, “I’m just struggling to speak English right now.” As for Lalang, who clearly has a big future in this race and elsewhere, his acceptance speech was succinct: “I like being in New York. It’s a good place.”

The pro races capped a day in which 3,793 runners, from age 8 to age 93, ran in a total of 15 divisions. Because the inaugural event was run on September 26, 1981, this was the Fifth Avenue Mile’s 28th birthday.

Story Courtesy of New York Road Runners: NYRR.org

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