She broke the tape in 15:18.5 to win by 4 seconds.
Written by: Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
ALBANY — Under a crystal clear blue sky here in the New York State capital, Mamitu Daska won the 33rd Freihofer’s Run for Women in commanding fashion. After finishing second in 2009 and third in 2010, the 27-year-old Ethiopian made her third trip to Albany a success, pocketing the first place prize of $10,000.
As the leaders began the ascent up from the start on Madison Avenue, no one seemed to want to take the lead on the most significant hill of the 5K course. Shortly thereafter, hometown favorite Nicole Blood found herself in front. Sporting a Kinetic lightning bolt on her shoulder– the symbol representing her pride for being an alumna of Saratoga Springs High School, only 30 miles North of here — Blood found herself in front of a pack of 13.
Cresting the top of the hill and preparing to enter Washington Park, the East African contingent made their presence known. Recent Bolder Boulder 10K runner-up Daska, defending champion and course record holder Emily Chebet, and Carlsbad 5000m champion Aheza Kiros began to separate themselves from the rest of the field, made up mostly of Americans. At the 1K mark, Daska injected a short surge to speed up the dawdling pace, gaining five meters on the field.
By the time the shy Ethiopian reached the mile mark in 5:06, she had lengthened her lead slightly, with Kiros and Chebet working together trying to maintain contact. About 40 meters behind, Zap Fitness’s Alissa McKaig, Team USA Minnesota’s Megan Hogan, and Burundi’s Diane Nukuri-Johnson were also working together, doing anything they could to chip away distance from the lead pack.
Through two miles in 10:04, Daska was ready to make her move. Looking back once, she noticed the gap back to Chebet and Kiros had grown, and that was her queue to keep the hammer down. She noted that she was worried the two would come back and catch her.
“After a certain point, I had seen that they weren’t able to keep up,” she said through an interpreter. “I saw that I was alone, that they were pretty far back, so I just kept going.”
With her arms swinging fiercely in front of her red vest, Daska held her largest lead at the 4K mark. By that time, it was a race for who would take second place. Chebet, who revealed post-race that she has been dealing with a left knee issue recently, was barely holding on, while Kiros was ready to pick the pace up. The only problem was that Kiros did not know how much running was left. Having not run the course prior to race-day, the Ethiopian was not sure when to start her kick. Once she recognized her surroundings and saw the finish banner ahead, it was too late to make a move for the win.
“I kinda felt like I still had time, but then all of a sudden when I looked it was ending, and at that point I couldn’t catch up any closer,” said Kiros, who owns a 5000m personal best time of 14:56.
Daska ended up breaking the tape alone in 15:18.5, the third fastest time in race history. Kiros finished three seconds back in 15:22.1, while Chebet coasted in third at 15:28.7. The win adds to Daska’s success on American soil; she’s finished in the top-three seven times in American races over the past two years.
“The race was very good, the course was also very good, and the weather was also great,” said the new champion, only the second Ethiopian to ever win here (the first being Teyba Erkesso in 2009. “This is my third time running this race, the first time I was second, the second time I was third, so I am very happy that this time I won.”
The race for the top American spot was a mere replay of the Invitational Elite 5000m track competition held at the Mt. Sac Relays on April 15. In that race, Hogan and McKaig battled the whole way, with McKaig catching the Balston Spa, N.Y., native in the final meters to win 15:28.30 to 15:29.12. Hogan, who only began running four years ago while at Mount Ida College in Mass., was hoping to reverse the results here in her home state. She was in position to do so coming down the final homestretch, with about a ten meter lead on the North Carolina-based McKaig.
But McKaig refused to let her win. Pumping on all cylinders, the 25-year-old who was recently named to Team USA for the IAAF World Track Championships in Daegu caught her meters from the finish. McKaig finished in 15:52.9, with Hogan in at 15:54.5.
“With that hill, I was like ‘I gotta use it’,” said an out-of-breath McKaig. “I didn’t really think I could catch Megan, but then I was like ‘I’m just gunna make it hurt a little and find that next gear.’” McKaig plans to go on and compete in the 5000m at the USA Championships in Eugene next month, while Hogan will toe the line in the 10,000m at the same meet.
In sixth was Nukuri-Johnson, who trains in Iowa but competes for Burundi. Her time was 15:56.6, the final person to break 16-minutes.
Other notable finishers included three-time Freihofer’s champion Benita Willis in twelfth (16:26), Oregon Track Club’s Blood in 16th (17:05), and 14-year-old Alana Hadley 28th in 18:02. The race recorded a record amount of registrants, with more than 4,800 participants.