Daska Defends Freihofer 5K Title
ALBANY, N.Y. - June 2, 2012 - A wet and overcast morning did nothing to dampen the intensity of competition in the 34th Freihofer's Run for Women 5K, held on Saturday morning on the streets of Albany. Close to 5,000 women lined up on Madison Avenue, adjacent to the Empire State Plaza, in the heart of the New York state capital. Among them were some of the world's finest middle and long distance runners, including defending champion Mamitu Daska from Ethiopia, three-time race champion Benita Willis (Australia) and a host of others, all with their eyes on the first place prize of $10,000.
Despite the intentions of anybody else in the elite field, however, once the gun sounded, this race was all about the defending champion. Twelve months previously, she had been aggressive from the opening strides; this time around, she was even more so. As the field charged through the opening uphill 600 meters, Daska was immediately at the forefront, joined only by her compatriots Alemitu Abera and Ashu Kasim, plus Kenya's Genoveva Kigen, Jellilah Tinega and Gesabwa Risper. Nearing the one kilometer mark in Washington Park, that group was down to just Daska, Kigen and Abera, and, by one mile (5:00) the leader was in unquestioned control.
So early in the race, nothing could be set in stone; but, as the defending champ forged onward, the only indication that there might be some question in her mind came from the occasional backward glance over her shoulder.
Leaving the rolling pathways of the Park and turning onto Lake Avenue, Daska, 28, was in total control. Behind her, Kigen and Abera were forced to deal with the challenges of Kasim and Risper, not to mention an emergent phalanx of Americans, fronted by Michelle Frey, Laura Thweatt, Rebecca Donaghue and Lindsey Scherf. Willis was also in the mix; though, for once, she was not the sole Australian, being joined by her compatriot Lara Tamsett.
That battle was for the minor placings, however. At the forefront, Daska was all alone and unchallenged. As she passed two miles (10:01 - a second mile of 5:01), the question began to emerge: could she challenge the blazing fast course record of 15:12, set by Emily Chebet in 2010? On that occasion, Chebet had closed with a lightning fast final kilometer: 2:41. Chebet had also had late race company. Daska was flying solo.
Even so, with 1K remaining, the record was within her grasp. It's a long way home, however; and, with no one to challenge her, even a runner as dominant as Daska sometimes has to concede. Although she blasted the long downhill stretch to the finish line, her finishing time of 15:20, missed the course all-time best by eight seconds. That was hardly cause for disappointment; the re-crowned champion still held a massive 17 second margin over second placed Kasim (15:37), who prevailed in the battle for the minor placings over Abera (15:41).
"Even under these weather conditions, I enjoyed the race and I feel good about it," commented Daska. "I'm very happy to have won for the second year. I did feel confident, but the fans along the course made me even more confident, and that helped me to win. I was most fearful of the other two Ethiopians."
Kasim, who experienced some back pain immediately before the start, had hoped for a different result. "I thought I would catch her," she stated, "but I was a little tired." Among the American hopefuls, Frey fronted one of the finest domestic Freihofer's performances in some years. Her sixth place finish (16:03), led four Americans into the top 11. Last year there were three in 10.
The Masters race among competitors aged 40 and above was a true nail biter. Sheri Piers, 40, coached by Benita Willis and the first placed American overall at this year's Boston Marathon, held a marginal lead for much of the race, though she was shadowed all the way by 41-year-old Dorota Gruca from Poland, a 2008 Olympic marathoner. In the latter stages, however, Gruca's strength told the tale and she crossed the line 10 seconds up, 16:50 to 17:00. Third place went to last year's winner, Lisa Harvey, 42, from Canada (17:22).
"I'm happy I could win," exulted Gruca. "My training has been going very well. I ran a smart race and I was a little careful in the first mile. I'm used to this humidity; I'm training in New Mexico. The girl I ran with [Piers] did a great job."
"Every year at this race, I feel that I've witnessed something special in our city," enthused Race Director George Regan. "All these events have become so dear to the people of Albany, that it's now a part of our culture. Our elite athletes are welcomed so warmly, and they come back again and again. Our race field gets bigger every year and we do all that we came to make everybody know how special they are. And the competition simply gets better and better. This year, the rain made no difference at all. We had a fantastic race, and a fantastic day. It was a great day for Albany."
34th Freihofer's Run for Women 5K
Albany, NY, Saturday, June 2, 2012
1) Mamitu Daska, Ethiopia, 15:20, $10,000
2) Ashu Kasim, Ethiopia, 15:37 $5000
3) Alemitu Abera, Ethiopia, 15:41, $3000
4) Gesabwa Risper, Kenya, 15:47, $2000
5) Genoveva Kigen, Kenya, 15:53, $1000
6) Michelle Frey, USA / MN, 16:03, $750
7) Jelliah Tinega, Kenya, 16:07, $500
8) Lara Tamsett, Australia, 16:14, $300
9) Laura Thweatt, USA / CO, 16:15, $250
10) Rebecca Donaghue, USA / PA, 16:17, $200
MASTERS (40 and older)
1) Dorota Gruca, 41, Poland, 16:50, $750
2) Sheri Piers, 40, ME, 17:00, $500
3) Lisa Harvey, 42, Canada, 17:22, $350
4) Kara Haas, 41, MA, 17:30, $200
5) Lori Kingsley, 46, NY, 18:18, $100