Mamitu Daska takes the 2011 edition of the Freihofer's 5K in Albany (© Steve Jacobs, sjpics.com)
A record 4816 women jammed the streets of downtown Albany, New York, this morning for the 33rd running of the Freihofer's Run for Women 5K, and it was Mamitu Daska, 27, from Ethiopia who proved swiftest of them all, dominating the race from the outset and crossing the finish line comfortably ahead to claim a first place prize of $10,000.
The Freihofer's Run for Women 5K is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.
At the 10 a.m. starting time, crystal clear skies greeted the field, which included Daska, who had placed second in 2009 and third in 2010; three-time past winner, Benita Willis (formerly Johnson) from Australia; and, defending champion and course record (15:12) holder Emily Chebet from Kenya. A powerful US contingent also toed the line, featuring 2009 US Cross-Country champion Emily Brown, Nicole Blood, formerly from Saratoga Springs, and Megan Hogan, formerly from Ballston Spa. Both Blood and Hogan have emerged in recent years as powerful forces on the US distance running scene.
The opening half-mile of the race, with the long climb up Madison Avenue, revealed little, as a cluster of contenders jockeyed for position. Shortly after, Daska forced her way to the forefront and, from that point on, was never headed. Chebet and the emergent Aheza Kiros from Ethiopia — winner of the celebrated Carlsbad 5000 earlier in the year — attempted to cover the move. Although they stayed close early on, Daska's strength was such that there was little they could do.
The first mile marker was passed in 5:06 with Daska maintaining a two-stride lead and Chebet and Kiros running shoulder-to-shoulder. Behind them, the field of contenders had already been consigned to race for minor placings.
Through the rolling hills of Washington Park and out onto Washington Avenue, Daska continued to press her advantage. At two miles, a split of 10:04 signified a significant increase in pace, though it made little difference. The leader remained composed, adding meters to her advantage with every stride. As the lead trio swept back into Washington Park — greeted by the cheers of those at the rear of the field — Chebet made an attempt to gain back the ground she had lost. She gained a small advantage on Kiros, but that was all she could manage, and quickly lost it again. Back onto Madison Avenue for the half-mile stretch towards the finish line, the winner was assured.
While Chebet and Kiros battled for second, Daska charged onward in splendid isolation. At the line, her winning time of 15:19, gave her a four second advantage over Kiros who, in turn, carved a six second margin over the weakening Chebet.
"The race was good, the course was good, the weather was good," commented Daska through interpreter, Sabrina Yohannes, after the race. "I've run this race three times. I'm very happy that I won. I could tell that they couldn't keep up after the first mile, so I kept going."
The second placed Kiros had a different perspective. "I was watching out for the Kenyan who won last year," she stated, implying that while she was focusing on Chebet, Daska stole away. "This was a race that I could have won and should have won."
Chebet, the defending champion, was disappointed, though she explained that injury had blighted her recent training. "It was very tough for me," she explained. "I have had a knee injury since last year. The pace was very hard." This was her first race since competing in Germany several weeks ago.
Though the focus was on the leading African trio, this year's Freihofer's race saw some breakthrough US performances. Alissa McKaig, a member of the US team that won bronze medals in this year's World Cross-Country Championships, stole fourth place just before the line from local favorite, Megan Hogan. In doing so, McKaig became the highest-placed American since this race was opened to international runners in 2005. Hogan had little cause for disappointment, though. Her fifth place finish — along with the 9th place of Emily Armstrong-Peyton and the 11th place of Emily Brown — allowed their club, "Team USA Minnesota," to take the Freihofer's team title and the $1,000 bonus that went with it.
Edward Parham (organizers) for the IAAF
Leading Results -
1. Mamitu Daska (Ethiopia) 15:19 $10,000
2. Aheza Kiros (Ethiopia) 15:23 $5,000
3. Emily Chebet (Kenya) 15:29 $3,000
4. Alissa McKaig (USA) 15:53 $2,000
5. Megan Hogan (USA) 15:55 $1,000
6. Diane Nukuri Johnson (Burundi) 15:57 $750
7. Everlyne Lagat (Kenya) 16:02 $500
8. Tigist Tufa (Ethiopia) 16:05 $300
9. Meghan Armstrong Peyton (USA) 16:13 $250
10. Risper Gesabwa (Kenya) 16:15 $200