UTICA — With the race fully in hand, 22-year-old Ethiopian Tilahun Regassa looked to the energetic and inspiring crowd and blew them a kiss as he approached the finish line.
It was a sweet ending to an even sweeter victory for Regassa.
Regassa led the field of elite runners for most of the featured 15-kilometer race during Sunday’s 35th annual Boilermaker Road Race and easily bested the field with his time of 43 minutes, 1 second.
Kenyan runners took the next five spots. Runner-up Peter Kirui, who was coming off a first-place finish at Atlanta’s Peachtree 10K road race on Wednesday, finished with a time of 43:33. Shadrack Kosgei was third with a 43:36 time, while Daniel Salel was fourth with a 43:43 time, and Silas Sang was fifth with a 44:16 time. Kosgei was third last year and in 2010.
Regassa was sixth at Peachtree on Wednesday, and said he was favoring his leg during the Atlanta race earlier in the week. But said he felt no pain on Sunday, and that led to his victory.
"I was running together with the winner this week from Atlanta, I know him, and I was running injured in Atlanta, today I felt better, and I knew I could beat him. It was not a race that I thought he could win, but I felt confident I could be at the lead of the race," he said through an interpreter after his first Boilermaker road race.
Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia, who came in fifth place for the women two years ago at the Boilermaker, outlasted the women’s field this year with a winning time of 49:26.
She was coming off a first place finish at Peachtree where she finished ahead of Lineth Chepkurui by one second with a time of 32:22. Chepkurui was 13th for the women during the Boilermaker.
Daska’s triumph on Sunday capped off consecutive victories for the Ethiopian in a matter of five days.
"I think I’m doing very good training in the gym, my coaches and teammates have been working with me very hard and very good, but I’m talented so that’s why I’ve been good. Today I’m happy, but in the future I would like to run faster and better," she said through an interpreter.
"I was thinking a lot about the weather. Whether it was going to be raining or getting hot, but everything was ok, so really my goal was to win. I don’t really have any technique that I use to win races. I just go out there and do it," Daska added.
Daska ran the Boilermaker two years ago and came in fifth place. This was her second time running the Utica road race, and she added that this time she got behind the crowd to carry her to victory.
"The course was very difficult. The crowd was very good, they supported me, and they encouraged me to go on. I appreciate that," she said.
Regassa is a half-marathon specialist with a personal best of 59:19. He previously won races in 2010 at the Bolder Boulder 10K, a half-marathon in Abu Dhabi and the Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans. Regassa said he was hurt most of last season, which also kept him from qualifying for his country’s Olympic team. He said it was a nerve issue in his side.
He decided to push everything he had on Sunday.
Regassa led at the end of the first, second and third mile markers, but really began to pull away from the field of 12 elite runners when he began the fourth mile mark heading into the Valley View golf course.
Regassa extended his lead by roughly 60-yards when he began his climb up into the start of the golf course, and then heading downhill out of Valley View, he built a lofty 100-yard lead and finished with a time of 23:10 at the five mile marker.
Kirui, trailing in second place and noticeably favoring his left side of his body while running, wouldn’t falter and closed Regassa’s lead to just 45 yards, but then he slowed up and Regassa went unchallenged the rest of the way building a lead by as far as 250 yards of separation.
Regassa’s led left him in contention for Leslie Desisa’s course record set in 2010 with a time of 42:46. He was one second off Desisa’s pace at the six mile mark, and two seconds off the pace at the nine mile marker, but fell just 15 seconds off of tying the course record.
He kept looking back despite the large advantage, but said it’s a habit of his to look back and see how far of a lead he puts on his competition, and said his decision to run out ahead at the start of the fourth mile leg of the race was what he had planned.
"I’m always like that. To push out to a fast lead and then have everybody follow me. That’s when I decided to go. When I moved in front of them, I knew I was going to win the race. Everything was wonderful. The people and the course. Everything was very nice," said Regassa.
Kirui, who took second in the Boilermaker back in 2010 after losing to Desisa by two seconds, said after the race that he was a little stiff from the start of the race after a quick turnaround to compete at the Boilermaker from the Peachtree event.
"I tried to come back around the six mile mark. I was tired from Peachtree a few days ago. I needed the extra rest, I usually get seven days, and I was tired," he said.
"I was feeling some pain in my legs. It stayed with me the whole time. I tried to come back, and push it, but the pain was too much to get it and go, so I let him (Regassa) get ahead and take the win," Kirui added.
Matthew Lack from Opotiki, New Zealand won the wheelchair event with a time of 36:41, while Jonathan Gauthier from Salt Lake City, Utah came across first in the 5K event with a time of 16:11.
Viacheslav Shabunin from Russia was the male master’s winner with a 48:39 time, and Tetyana Mezentseva from the Ukraine was the female master’s winner with a 52:44 timed finish.
Ian Burrell was the top male American finisher with a 46:08 time, and Kathleen DiCamillo was the top female American finisher at 51:24.
A cash prize of $6,00 was awarded for first place in the 15K event for both men and women winners, $3,500 for second, and $2,000 for third place. Master — aged 40 and above — men’s and women’s winners received $1,500 for first place, the top American male and female got $1,000 for their accolades, and the top wheelchair winners got $2,500 for their first place finishes.
A record 14,000 persons entered into the 15K race, and a total of 11,360 finished the race.
The record for most finishers during the Boilermaker was in 2010 with 11,525 finishers.
In 2010 the Boilermaker saw four records fall. The men’s and women’s course records, a record number of participation in both the 15K and the 5K events.
The 15K saw a historic record-setting number of entrants with over 14,000 signed up to run.
It was 66 degrees and under cloudy skies at the start, and the sun began to crack through a half hour later as thousands of spectators came out in droves to cheer on the participants along the entire 9.32-mile course.
The defending men’s and women’s champions from last year did not compete in this year’s Boilermaker. The 2011 men’s winner, Ridouane Harroufi, originally entered in this year’s event, but withdrew after being involved in an automobile accident early last week.
Last year’s women’s winner, Alice Timbilili, a Kenyan Olympian in the 10,000 meters event in 2000 and 2004, did not return for unknown reasons.
The top Rome finisher was Josh Olney, who was 61st overall with a chip time of 52:49.