Cherry Blossom Race Takes a Turn

Lineth Chepkurui makes her move in Mile 8 and was never challenged, finishing 18 seconds ahead of the next runner.
Lineth Chepkurui makes her move in Mile 8 and was never challenged, finishing 18 seconds ahead of the next runner. (By Jahi Chikwendiu -- The Washington Post)
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By Jim Hage
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 7, 2008

On a new course that started and finished near the Washington Monument, the 36th Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run crowned new two new champions, Ridouane Harroufi and Lineth Chepkurui -- and may have heralded a changing of the guard among the world's top distance runners.

Harroufi, 26, from Morocco, an accomplished international road racer competing for the first time in Washington, helped force a quick early pace that winnowed the lead pack of 12 through the first five miles, covered in 23 minutes 5 seconds, to just three at Mile 9.

"The whole last mile, I think I can win," Harroufi said. "I was in control all the time."

With 500 meters remaining, Harroufi made the final turn from the Tidal Basin onto 15th Street and sprinted away from Kenyans Nicholas Kamakya and Sammy Kipketer, waving his right arm in triumph before breaking the tape in 46:14. Runner-up Kamakya finished one second back and Kipketer took third in 46:20.

Three-time defending champion John Korir, 32, finished seventh in 46:30, failing for the second straight year to join American Bill Rodgers as the only four-time Cherry Blossom champio n. Korir had predicted that his training, sporadic because of civil unrest in Kenya, would keep him out of the winner's circle.

The women's race was a more tactical affair. An elite women's only start -- with no men to force the pace -- resulted in a large pack of nine that dawdled through the opening five miles, averaging 5:33. Aside from Chepkurui, 20, who finished 14th for Kenya in the world cross-country championships last month in Scotland, most formidable among the group was her countrywoman and two-time marathon world champion, Catherine Ndereba. Another Kenyan, Angelina Mutuku, who has been running well this spring, and Lidia Simon, from Romania, also ran close.

Colleen de Reuck, 43, formerly from South Africa but now a U.S. citizen and winner of the 2004 Olympic trials marathon, ran well off the pack. But de Reuck's racing salad days are behind her: At the 1996 Cherry Blossom, she set a then-world record of 51:16 and nine months ago gave birth to a second child.

Eight miles in, Chepkurui made a strong move that quickly gapped the pack. When Mutuku drew slightly closer, Chepkurui spied her with a glance and immediately picked up the pace again, effectively ending the competition. She finished in 54:21, 18 seconds ahead of Mutuku.

"At the end of the race, I tried to sneak out," said Mutuku, who finished second and is married to the men's runner-up Kamakya.

Simon finished third in 54:41 and Ndereba fourth in 54:52. Chepkurui "was very fast at the end," said Simon, who could have been speaking for Ndereba as well. "I cannot do that. . . . I'm a marathoner."

Anita Giusti, 32, from Mountain View, Calif., was the top American, 11th in 57:07. De Reuck finished one place back in 57:17 and decided immediately afterward that she would not defend her title in the marathon trials April 20 in Boston.

Steven Crane, 26, from Silver Spring, outkicked Crosby Freeman, from San Francisco, to finish 13th in a personal-best 49:41. As the first American, Crane won a trip to the Cherry Blossom's sister race next winter in Japan.

Although the weather was cool, damp and breezy, many of the approximately 10,000 runners voiced satisfaction with the conditions and the new layout, which featured a good tour of the monuments and a trip along Hains Point, where the blossoming cherry trees nearly formed a tunnel. "That was the point," said race director Phil Stewart. "We wanted to have a presence on the mall and showcase the blossoms, and I think that worked."

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