She endured humid conditions to defend her crown.
By Chris Lotsbom
(c) 2011 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved. Used with permission.
NEW YORK — Linet Masai dominated the 40th edition of the NYRR Mini-10-K here, overwhelming a star-studded field that included twelve Olympians and six world championship medalists.
As the gun fired under cloudy skies, no athlete wanted to test the steamy conditions. With 96% humidity, and a temperature feeling more like 85°F than 66°F, the pack slowly made their way up Central Park West. Entering the park after a pedestrian mile of 5:31 was the lead pack of fifteen led by South Africa’s Irvette van Blerk and New Zealand’s Kim Smith.
With the group beginning to thin out bit by bit, defending champion Linet Masai kept her position tucked in on the inside of the road. The 21-year-old reigning IAAF World 10,000m champion came in with a similar strategy to what played out in last year’s race, where she broke away at the North end of the park and never looked back.
“I had a plan to push maybe at the 5-K, but I saw at the start that the race was a bit slow, so I thought I had to push early,” she said.
But just before the two mile mark, Masai changed her pre-race plan. The pace was not to the Kenyan’s liking, so she went to the front and asserted her speed. Behind Masai was Belainesh Gebre, 2011 Carlsbad 5-K winner Aheza Kiros, 2010 IAAF World Cross Country Champion Emily Chebet, 2010 ING New York City Champion Edna Kiplagat, as well as Smith. After covering the second mile in 5:08, Masai’s move dropped only Smith, who fell back to lead the main chase pack.
After cresting the park’s North Hill, the biggest in Central Park, it was clear the winner would come out of the lead pack of five.
Passing halfway in 16:04, Masai went back to her original strategy– to push at 5-K. Ascending the hills of the East side, Masai looked as if she was casually running, form flawless except for a slight crossing of the arms. Her toes were the only part of her feet touching the ground, making a pitter-patter noise on the still-wet pavement from rain the night before. Over the toughest mile on the course, Masai extended her lead to 20 meters. That’s when she knew she had the victory.
“At two miles, I saw that I was pushing, and the other ladies were dropping.”
Behind Masai, Kiros and Gebre were battling for second, though Kiros still had thoughts of reeling in Masai for the victory. Trading places twice, the two ran side-by-side for a short while, as Masai passed the famous Fred Lebow statue across from Engineers Gate, decorated with a “T1FG” bib-number [This 1’s For Grete] in recognition of Grete Waitz, the five-time champion of the race who died of cancer in April.
The only thing that would get in the way of Masai today was a tiny branch, which Masai brushed with her right shoulder while passing the Central Park Boat House at five miles. But that didn’t even phase her.
Breaking the tape in 31:40, a full 29 seconds ahead of second place, Masai earned her second Mini title, collecting the $10,000 the first place check in the process.
“I am happy that I have come to win this race. This race was good, I love this race,” said the joyous victor. “The weather was tough today, I tried to push up at two miles, and it was difficult, but I am happy.”
Next up for Masai is the Kenyan Trials for the IAAF World Championships on July 15 and 16, where she plans to run the 5000m. But if it was Masai’s choice, she would double in the 5000m and 10,000m.
“In Kenya, they don’t allow anyone to double. If they allowed it, I would do it,” said the very shy Masai.
In second, Kiros prevailed in 32:09, just one second ahead of Gebre. For the second straight weekend, the 29-year-old Ethiopian finished as runner-up; last week at the Freihofer’s Run for Women in Albany, she placed second to Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska.
“I don’t know where I will be running next, but wherever it is, I will be going to win, said the Ethiopian.
Rounding out the top-five were Kiplagat (32:24) and Chebet (32:31). The first American finisher was Magdalena Lewy Boulet, tenth in 33:09.
Returning for the first time since giving birth to daughter Piper in February was American record holder in the marathon, Deena Kastor. Knowingly not in the best racing shape, Kastor was pleased with her finish in 25th place in 35:00.
“It was a tough effort for me,” said the Olympic silver medalist from Athens. “I am just really excited to be back at it. But I am satisfied with my race, and I know I have some work to do.”
The biggest surprise of the day was Liliya Shobukhova. The reigning World Marathon Majors champion and runner-up at April’s Virgin London Marathon finished 28th in 35:31, more than three minutes behind Masai. Shobukhova never played a major factor in the race.