American All-Comer’s Records Topple In Philadelphia

Mathew Kisorio (left) and Sammy Kitwara (right) battle for the win in Philadelphia. Photo: Duncan Larkin

It was a repeat victory for Mathew Kisorio and a redemption for Kim Smith.

Written by: Duncan Larkin

Pointing to the sky and flashing a large smile, Mathew Kisorio of Kenya broke the tape at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon on Sunday. His winning time, 58:46, broke the U.S. All Comer’s record that had been previously held by Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie who set it at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Half Marathon in 2006. Kisorio also broke his own course record and ran the fourth-fastest half marathon in history.

“I am very, very happy indeed,” Kisorio, the winner of last year’s race, said as soon as he crossed the line in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum. “I have just run my personal best.”

Race-day conditions were near perfect for the runners with temperatures in the 50s and a slight breeze blowing from the Northeast.

Though Kisorio made it look easy, the race was hardly a cakewalk. From the starting gun, he had just one man to contend with: 58-minute half marathoner Sammy Kitwara. After shaking off a 20-man strong pack in the opening miles, it ended up coming down to a footrace between Kisorio and Kitwara. For the rest of the race the two runners, who called each other “best friends” afterwards, were practically glued to each other’s hips. Stride-for-stride they raced through downtown Philadelphia and out along Kelly Drive that winds along the Schuylkill River.

The pace was relentless as the two Kenyans clicked off sub-4:30 miles.

By the time the pair crossed the 10K mark (27:48), there wasn’t a runner in sight behind them. Kisorio continued to look back for phantom competitors, while Kitwara’s head remained fixed straight ahead.

The race’s dynamic remained unchanged until the final mile when Kisorio tested his compatriot with a quick surge. Kitwara countered and the two went side-by-side again. It wasn’t until the final hill in the last half mile that the race was decided with Kisorio once again testing Kitwara. But this time, Kisorio’s surge worked and he edged ahead as the finish line appeared.

“I saw that hill and I knew that I could win the race then,” said Kisorio. “I was confident from my training and was confident I could beat him [Kitwara] at that point.”

Kitwara crossed the line a second behind Kisorio in 58:47. Finishing a far distant third, was Kenya’s James Mwangi who clocked 1:00:42.

The top American in the race was former Villanova standout Bobby Curtis, who placed ninth in 1:01:42. Curtis, who ran his debut half marathon today, is now setting his sights on the ING New York City Marathon. “I’m in the middle of heavy marathon training right now, so this is a very respectable time,” Curtis said of his race. “It’s a home course for me, so it’s nice to have people screaming my name out there.”

In other American men’s racing news, Adam Goucher succeeded in qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials, running 1:04:53. Goucher, a former star at the University of Colorado, was using the race as a comeback. He needed to run under 1:05:00 to qualify for the Trials. “I just barely got what I needed,” a pleased Goucher said afterwards. “It was great getting out there and racing again.”

Depending on how he feels, Goucher says he may next race the U.S. 10-Mile Championships on October 2 in Minneapolis.

In the women’s race, New Zealand’s Kim Smith shattered her own U.S. All-Comer’s mark, winning the race in 1:07:12. She bettered her previous mark by 36 seconds, which she set at Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras in February. Like the men’s race, it came down to the end with Smith holding off Ethiopia’s Werknesh Kidane in the last mile.

“She was stuck to me like glue,” Smith later recalled of Kidane, a 2:26 marathoner. For Smith her victory and record are especially sweet. Earlier this year, the New Zealand record holder was forced to drop out of the Boston Marathon after leading for over 18 miles due to a calf injury.

“Boston was a the biggest setback of my career,” Smith recalled. “I struggled mentally after that race. I nearly felt like quitting the sport and so this win today was a redemption of sorts for me.”

Werknesh Kidane ended up taking second place in 1:07:26, while Bizunesh Deba, also from Ethiopa, took third in 1:09:53. The top-placing American female was Maegan Krifchin who was fifth in 1:11:04.

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