Tum, Chepkurui are Cherry Blossom winners

By Jim Hage
Monday, April 12, 2010

The Kenyans and Ethiopians, fierce competitors on the track and in cross-country, brought their rivalry to the roads of Washington at Sunday's 38th Credit Union Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

And even after relatively unheralded Kenyan Stephen Tum outsprinted the two Ethiopian pre-race favorites, Lelisa Desisa and Tilahun Regassa, little seemed settled when Desisa filed a protest alleging that Tum had obstructed his final few strides. Referee and chief judge Ed Murray said he would review videotape of the finish and issue a ruling, probably on Monday.

Though the post-race paperwork turned anticlimactic, the race itself proved scintillating, with Tum, Desisa, Regassa and three-time champion John Korir, from Kenya, trading positions and reeling off 4-minute 30-second miles. Tum's unexpected finishing surge -- he covered the last mile in 4:25 -- put him at the tape a scant stride and one second ahead of Desisa. Tum's time of 45:43 trails only Ismael Kirui's then-world record of 45:38 set in 1995 on the all-time Cherry Blossom list.

"Even at the end, I don't know if I win," Tum said. "Even right now, I'm not sure. . . . I'm not believing it."

Regassa, who ran a world-leading 59:17 half marathon in January, finished third in 45:50 and Korir took fourth in 46:05; it was Korir's fourth attempt -- and at age 34, perhaps his final -- to join Bill Rodgers as the event's only four-time winner.

Regassa and Desisa "were just waiting for the finish," said Tum, 24. "They were talking, working together the whole time. They didn't know me. They said, 'Who is this guy?' "

Kenya also claimed the top spot in the women's race, with Lineth Chepkurui, 23, taking her third straight Cherry Blossom title in 51:51, her fastest run here by more than 90 seconds. Chepkurui's countrywoman and training partner, Julliah Tinega took second in 52:39, ahead of Ethiopians Belainesh Zemedkun and Misker Demessie, third and fourth in 53:22 and 54:37.

Chepkurui moved into the lead at Mile 4, passed the halfway mark in 25:35 and extended her lead all the way to the finish. "I'm grateful to win," Chepkurui said. "This is a big, long road race." Chepkurui finished fifth at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland last month; she was fourth in 2009.

Kelly Jaske, from Portland, Ore., ran 54:40 to take fifth; she was the first American, thereby doubling her prize money. Jaske ran most of the race with Samia Akbar, from Herndon, who finished seventh in 54:46.

"I just tagged along with Samia," said Jaske, 34. "She surged ahead at the end and I thought she had me."

Joan Benoit Samuelson, 52, the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist, ran 60:52 to finish 18th in her first Cherry Blossom race. She beat all 40-year-olds and set a U.S. age-group record for 10 miles, shattering the mark of 62:01 set by S. Rae Baymiller in 1994.

Samuelson started in the second wave with the open men rather than with the elite women, "and still went out way too fast," she said. "But I'm delighted to officially get the record. I would have been ecstatic to break 60 minutes . . . but today went okay."

Ray Pugsley, 41, from Potomac Falls, Va., won the masters division for a second consecutive year, running 52:08 -- the same time he recorded last year.

A record 15,694 finished the race.

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