Kara Goucher kicked off her quest for a third consecutive U.S. Olympic team berth on Sunday by winning the Big Sur Half Marathon on Monterey Bay in Monterey, Calif., in 1 hour, 11 minutes and 13 seconds. With her strong effort, the 37-year-old resident of Boulder, Colo., stamped herself as a prime contender heading into the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
Goucher and men’s winner Elisha Barno of Kenya pulled away from deep fields to record the second-best race times ever and capture the overall titles ahead of nearly 7,000 runners at the 13th annual race through downtown Monterey and Pacific Grove and a finish line at Fisherman’s Wharf on Monterey Bay. A $20,000 purse of prize money and bonuses, the largest for a half marathon in the western U.S., was distributed among the top eight male and female runners and top three masters runners along with bonuses for the top three American finishers and any U.S. runner who qualified for the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials at the race.
“This is the starting place for me leading up to the (Olympic) Trials. It’s a good place to start; it’s the fastest I’ve started in years,” said Goucher, who placed second at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon and 11th in the marathon at the 2012 Olympics. “I thought this course was going to be easier than it was, but I love a challenging course.”
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In the men’s race, a pack of eight runners broke away after a conservative first two miles. The international field included five Kenyans, a Moroccan, a Canadian, and an American. Among them were two-time defending champion Jacob Chemtai and Nelson Oyugi, runner up in the last two races. After the turn-around near mile eight along the crashing waves of the Pacific Ocean, Barno and fellow Kenyan Macdonard Ondara, winner of the event in 2007 and 2010, pushed the pace to drop the rest of their rivals. Barno pulled away in the last mile to win in 1:03:04, the third fastest winning time ever. Ondara held on for second in 1:03:31. “I see the ocean, the birds flying and the people cheering the athletes so that made me run faster,” Barno, 30, said.
The next five runners had a great battle to the finish with only 31 seconds separating third through eighth place. Morroccan Karim El Mabchour outkicked American Scott Bauhs by two seconds to finish third in 1:03:54. Bauhs’1:03:56 was not only good for fourth place overall, but he also won bonuses as the first American and for qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials by breaking 1:05.
The women pushed their pace right from the start with Goucher who was using this event as an important test of her Olympic Trials preparation. Ethiopian Simegn Yeshanbel, Kenyan Hellen Jepkurgat, and fellow American Kristen Zaitz spent time alongside Goucher for the first eight miles before she pulled away over the last five miles to win comfortably. Yeshanbel held on for second in 1:12:47 and Zaitz held off Jepkurgat to finish third in 1:13:02 to Jepkurgat’s 1:13:18.
In the masters division for runners age 40 and over, Kenyan Meshack Kirwa finished eighth overall and shattered the male masters record by over six minutes in 1:04:25.
The masters women’s race saw five-time master’s division winner Christine Kennedy of Los Gatos, Calif., add a sixth crown. Kennedy, 60, ran 1:27:26, which was 15 minutes under the old course record for women 60-64. She now holds the record for four different age groups.
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