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Stephen Sambu wins record fourth straight Falmouth Road Race

By JOHN CONNOLLY | Boston Herald (Tribune News Service) | Published: August 20, 2017

FALMOUTH — Kenya's Stephen Sambu became the first man in the 45-year history of the Falmouth Road Race to win four in a row as the 29-year-old former University of Arizona star out-leaned Leonard Korir of the U.S. at the tape in a time of 32:14. Sambu snapped a tie with local hero Bill Rodgers (1974, 1977-78) and Kenyan course record-holder (31:08) Gilbert Okari (2004-2006).

“I felt the pressure especially when I was going to sleep last night. There was pressure to win four and it's not easy. So, I said if I get it fine, if not it's OK. I'm going to come back next year and go for five. It's special,'' Sambu said.

Korir, a naturalized citizen who runs for the U.S. Army's World Class Athlete Program and is based at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Colo., was awarded the same time for second place.

Sambu's winning time was the slowest for the men since 2001 when fellow Kenyan John Korir clocked 32:26. It was due in part to a 74-degree temperature and high humidity (77-percent humidity) that left most participants feeling the heat.

The Sambu-Korir duo broke from a chase pack of six after two miles and made it a two-man affair, dropping 4-time U.S. Olympian Abdi Abdirahman (4th, 33:04) and early leader Luis Vargas (3rd, 32:53), a former NC State standout, just before the course reached the 4-mile mark near Shore Drive. Sambu motioned continually for Korir to help with the pace-setting but the Army soldier declined as the pair covered consecutive mile splits of 4:42, 4:38, 4:40, 4:34, 4:36.

“He knows the last miles. He wanted me to get away from my kick. I said, 'No.' I wasn't falling into his trap. Unfortunately, it didn't work out,'' said the 30-year-old Korir, who just returned from representing the United States at the recent World Championships in London where he finished 13th in a career-best 27:20.18 for 10,000-meters. “I think it was a little humid. This course has many hills and I don't like hills. He was so prepared.”

Sambu, a 9-time All-American at Arizona, was frustrated that Korir wouldn't share the pace. The conditions even had Sambu stepping in front of a mist spray provided by a spectators' garden hose.

“It was tough. You can't change somebody's running style. From the beginning I was telling my friend to go,' but he didn't want to do it,' said Sambu, who picked up a a first place prize of $10,000 from a total race package of $126,000 supplied by sponsor New Balance. “I was not happy. I told him like five times. After five miles I said, 'Just go.'”

The men's start was held up for 8 minutes, 16 seconds due to buses transporting runners that were delayed by traffic on the course. That caused a snafu in the unique “countdown bonus” that jump-starts a clock for 5 minutes, 27 seconds once the first women crosses the line. The 5:27 is the average annual difference in winning men's and women's time. The first man man would have to finish less than 5:27 after the first woman to win the bonus.

Sambu was unable to beat the clock. That enabled defending women's champion Caroline Chepkoech of Kenya to take home a first place prize of $10,000 for running 35:53 plus the "countdown bonus" of $5,000. Chepkoech pulled away after two miles from Mary Wacera of Kenya (36:53) and 2015 Falmouth champ Diane Nukuri of Burundi (36:57) to post the biggest margin of victory for a women's winner dating to 1982 when Joan Benoit (36:33) beat New Zealand's Dianne Rodger (37:41) by a margin of 1:08.

“I am happy to win again. I like the hills. I like the flat,'' said 23-year-old Chepkoech, who trains in Iten, Kenya.

U.S. women featured a strong showing behind Jessica Tonn (6th, 37:49), Neely Gracey (7th, 37:52), Natosha Rogers (8th, 38:07), and ex-Harvard runner Lindsey Scherf (10th, 38:23).

“I really think that we were working together as a group,'' said Gracey, the daughter of 1991 World Championship marathon bronze medalist Steve Spence. “I know I'm not very fast. So I tried to pull away on the final hill and Jess has some wheels and caught me on that last little bit. So, it went as expected, I guess.”

Daniel Romanchuk of Urban, Ill., set a course record to win the men's wheelchair division in 23:16 while Tatyana McFadden of Clarksville, Md., returned to re-claim the title she won in 2014-15 in 27:36.

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©2017 the Boston Herald

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