NEW HAVEN, Connecticut -– Olympian Molly Huddle broke away early and never looked back, while Jared Ward used a late race kick to edge his competition, as both came away victorious Monday morning at the USATF 20 km Championships in New Haven, Connecticut, hosted by the Faxon Law New Haven Road Race.
The USATF 20 km Championships are the eighth stop on the 2015 USATF Running Circuit. The top 15 finishers at each race on the circuit qualify to compete in the 2015 .US National 12K, which takes place on November 15 in Alexandria, Virginia.
A near perfect morning of race conditions led to some fast times and great racing, but it was Huddle making a statement early on by pulling away from the field and running alone nearly the entire way.
The defending champion gapped the chase pack ever so slightly by mile two, putting a few strides on fellow Olympians Janet Bawcom and Amy Cragg, along with Brianne Nelson and USATF Marathon champion Blake Russell. Each mile, Huddle put a few more seconds on the field and by the 10 km marker, Huddle had nearly 75 meters on the rest of the field.
Behind Huddle, Bawcom and Nelson pushed away from the rest, running together and battling, while Russell and Neely Spence Gracey settled into the fourth and fifth position, as the chase pack faded back.
Huddle continued to push the pace, building a lead to 100 meters, then 200 meters and as the finish line neared, Huddle looked as strong as when she started, cruising down the final stretch and winning with ease in 1:06:26. Huddle’s victory is the first women’s repeat win in USATF 20 km Championship history and the fastest winning time since 2003.
Bawcom, who won the race in 2011, put in a surge late to break Nelson, as the two finished second and third, well ahead of the rest of the field, in 1:07:26 and 1:07:28 respectively.
Behind the leading trio, Spence Gracey pulled away from Russell over the final miles to finish fourth overall in an impressive 1:08:02, while Russell held off a late race charge from Tara Welling to place fifth in 1:09:00 to Welling’s 1:09:12.
Rounding out the top ten, Alisha Williams ran to a seventh place finish in 1:09:51, Maegan Krifchin finished eighth in 1:10:04, Katie DiCamillo placed ninth in 1:10:12 and Maddie Van Beek finished tenth in 1:10:26.
Unlike the women’s race, the men’s race had a tight pack of talent running together through the half way mark. Three-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein led early on, as fellow Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, reigning USATF Marathon and 15 km champion Ward, Luke Puskedra and Sam Chelanga also pushed the early pace. For Chelanga, it was his first USATF championship race since becoming a U.S. citizen earlier in the year.
As a pack of ten passed through the half way 10 km point in 29:50, the pace slightly increased, reducing the field down to eight. 2014 USATF Marathon champion Tyler Pennel shot to the lead, but Ritzenhein quickly responded, again taking over pacing duties.
Just past the 15 km mark, the field charged a downhill section of the course, which saw Abdirahman fall off the pace, along with a few others, reducing the field down to five. As Puskedra and Pennel dropped off the back, it was Ward, Chelanga and Ritzenhein up front heading into the final mile of the race.
With a half mile to go, Ritzenhein tried valiantly to pull away from Ward and Chelanga, but he simply couldn’t break his younger competition. Chelanga put in a move which pushed Ritzenhein out the back, leaving just Ward as his final challenger.
Ward and Chelanga battled into the final homestretch, until Ward put in one last decisive move, pulling ahead of Chelanga ever so slightly, a lead he would never relinquish, as he won his third USATF Running Circuit title in 59:24. Chelanga had to settle for second in 59:25 while Ritzenhein held on gamely to finish third in 59:27.
Puskedra and Pennel finished a close fourth and fifth, showing their strength as the second half of the USATF Running Circuit season starts to heat up, finishing in 59:30 and 59:35. Abdirahman hung on to finish sixth overall in 1:00:09.
Jim Spisak ran a strong second half of Monday’s race to nearly catch Abdirahman, placing seventh in 1:00:12, while Fernando Cabada, Ahmed Osman and George Alex finished 8-10, finishing in 1:00:16, 1:01:08 and 1:01:10.
With his win, Ward increased his USATF Running Circuit lead to 78 points, over double the point total of second place Matt Llano (37 points). For Nelson, her third place effort pushes her point total to 48 points, surpassing now second place Laura Thweatt’s 40.5 points.
The ninth stop on the USATF Running Circuit takes place on Sunday, September 20, as the USATF 5 km Championships take place in Providence, Rhode Island.
About the USATF Running Circuit
The USATF Running Circuit is a USA Track & Field road series featuring USATF championships from one mile through the marathon and consistently attracts the best American distance runners with more than $500,000 to be awarded in total prize money. A total of $45,000 in prize money will be awarded at the USATF 20 km Championships.
The first ten U.S. runners earn points at each USATF Running Circuit race. For the USATF 20 km Championships, scoring is set as 15 for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1, with those earning the most points receiving prize money at the end of the series.
The mission of the USATF Running Circuit is to showcase, support and promote U.S. runners. Since its inception in 1995, the USATF Running Circuit and its races have provided over $7 million to U.S. distance runners.
Contributed by Scott Bush