Keflezighi repeats as USA 8 km champion; sets USA Championship record
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
USA Track & Field
By Jim Gerweck, Running USA wire
NEW YORK - (March 27, 2004) - Just call Meb Keflezighi the master of USA Road Championships. The man who won three road titles last year (8, 15 and 20 kilometers) has duplicated two thirds of that success in 2004, defending his USA 8 km title in Central Park in course and national championship record time under near-perfect racing conditions on Saturday.
The win comes two weeks after his USA 15 km Championship four-peat at the Gate River Run in Florida, and less than two months after finishing second at the U.S. Men's Olympic Marathon Trials in Alabama. Keflezighi, 28, ran the fastest 8 km of the year in 22:16 on roads still damp from overnight drizzle but with the warmest conditions (temperatures in the low 50s) the race has enjoyed in its three year history. That broke Tim Broe's course record, set at the inaugural running in 2002, by 10 seconds and earned Keflezighi a $1000 bonus to go with his $5000 first place prize. In addition, the Mammoth Lakes, Calif. resident grabbed the $500 prime for being first to the 5 km split, reached in 14:04.
"In a USA Championship, you run first to win, and not worry about the time," said Keflezighi who also won three U.S. road titles in 2002. "But about 200 meters from the finish people were yelling that I could get the record, and I would have hated to not try and miss it by a second."
The Team Running USA athlete's time is the fourth fastest ever run by an American, and was 12 seconds better than his winning mark here last year.
The fast times were engendered by the weather and Anthony Famiglietti, who was third at the first edition of the race but missed last year due to an injury incurred in his primary event, the steeplechase. Famiglietti who lives in Knoxville, Tenn. often visits his girlfriend who lives in Manhattan and does frequent training in the park, and in this case familiarity with the course brought success.
"When I saw the first mile split (4:38) I wasn't worried because I knew we'd pick it up, especially with the great field that was running," said the 2002 USA steeplechase champion.
Famiglietti, along with Keflezighi and road race debutante Bolota Asmerom, really began cranking the second mile (9:03). Shortly thereafter, Abdi Abdirahman, who had chased fellow Olympian Keflezighi right to the line at Gate River, dropped out as a back injury suffered at last week's World Cross Country Championships flared up.
By three miles (13:35) only the trio of Famiglietti, Asmerom and Keflezighi were left, and the latter threw in a short surge to nab the prime. "I wasn't thinking about it until 10 meters before," he said.
That seemed to settle the overall outcome, as Famiglietti dropped back ("I just wanted to settle in and react to the rest of the race," he explained) but Asmerom pulled alongside near 6K, which seemed to give Keflezighi a jolt of adrenaline. "I was pretty much going all out, but that gave me a boost," continued Keflezighi. "I have to credit both those guys for making the fast times."
That surge sealed the deal for Keflezighi, but Famiglietti regrouped and caught Asmerom in the final 400 to tie the old CR and provide a huge boost of confidence in his training. "I thought I was in great shape based on my workouts, but your first race back is still your first race, so you never know."
For Asmerom, his first major road race was an enjoyable experience. "It's so much more fun than track," he said. "You can kind of look around at the trees and the birds, just relax. It feels so natural."
Rounding out the top five, a hard charging Ryan Kirkpatrick nipped last year's runner-up, Chad Johnson, by a second.
"The third time was a charm," said NYRR CEO Allan Steinfeld. "When you get fast people together under good conditions, you get a great race. And I can tell you, this definitely isn't the last time we'll do this."
As part of the 2004 USA Running Circuit, a USA Track & Field road racing series featuring USA Championships from 5 km to the marathon, the top 10 U.S. runners earned valuable Circuit points at this national championship. With his win (worth 15 points), Keflezighi increased his USARC lead over Alan Culpepper and Dan Browne, 54 points to 30 and 20 points respectively.
The 2004 USARC offers a record $818,700 in guaranteed prize money with a final $12,500 grand prix purse ($6000, $4000 and $2500) for the top three men and women point scorers overall. At each USARC race, the first ten U.S. runners earn points (15 points for first, 12 for second, 10 for third, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1), and Circuit points will be doubled at the USA Marathon Championships. The next Men's USARC race is the Papa John's 10 Miler on April 10 in Louisville, Ky.