At the start of the 2012 UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, the buzz was all about the U.S. Men’s 2012 Olympic Marathon team of Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall, and Abdi Abdirahman, who would be competing in the same race for the first and probably only time between January’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston and the London Games this August. But at the finish, it was an Italian champion, an Iona College standout from Kenya, and an American Olympic hopeful who stole the spotlight and the podium.
Tesfaye Girma, 29, of Ethiopia and the local West Side Runners team, took an early lead that grew to as much as 10 seconds and lasted until the five-mile mark, where he was finally caught by Daniele Meucci, 26, of Pisa, Italy, and Leonard Korir, 25, of Kenya and New Rochelle, NY, who then battled for the lead throughout the final mile. They were neck-and-neck with a half-mile to go...and with a quarter mile...and then Meucci produced an explosive kick in the final stretch to take the victory in 28:28, with Korir just 1.26 seconds behind in second place.
The first Italian champion of the UAE Healthy Kidney 10K, who will represent Italy in the 10,000 metres in London, described his first time in New York City as “Wonderful,” noting that he is in good shape but not yet at his peak, with more work still to be done.
It was just the beginning of a big day for Korir. First, the All-American and two-time NCAA Division I champion graduated into the ranks of professional runners with a strong debut in Central Park. Then, after accepting his second-place award, he headed over to the Jacob Javits Convention Center to walk in the graduation ceremony with his Iona College classmates, where he'll be awarded a degree in political science.
“I think I’m having a good day today,” Korir said with a smile before announcing his hopes to continue running professionally.
Bobby Curtis, 27, of Ardmore, PA, took the final podium spot with a finish worthy of his track credentials. He ran in a large pack behind Girma until the group descended Cat Hill along the East Drive, where he fell back to fifth and appeared to be slipping from contention. A cramp hindered him for about a minute, but the 2008 NCAA 10,000m champion rallied, moved into fourth place with 800 meters to go, and then surged ahead of Girma to cross the line in 28:37. He will train at altitude in Mammoth Lakes, CA, for four weeks before heading to the Olympic Trials in Eugene, OR, where he will hope to qualify in the 10,000m.
The marquee trio of Keflezighi, Hall, and Abdirahman, who will represent the United States in the Marathon at the London Games, spent much of the race in the lead pack before it began to string out in the third and fourth miles. Abdirahman was the first of the group across the line; his time of 28:56 was good for fifth place. Keflezighi was seventh in 29:08, and Hall took 15th in 30:15.
While none of them made the podium, the powerhouse trio was in good spirits following the race, happy to have accepted an invitation from NYRR to run in a city that they love and that loves them right back.
“New York is just so special--I don’t know if I would have come otherwise, to be honest. You just cannot say no to New York Road Runners when they invite you to a race,” said Abdirahman at a post-race media conference, joking that he would run in another race next week if NYRR had one. From the back of the crowd, NYRR president and CEO Mary Wittenberg shouted, “We do!”
The UAE Healthy Kidney 10K is sponsored by the Embassy of the United Arab Emirates in honor of of the country's former leader, the late Sheikh Zayed bin Sultan Al Nahyan, who benefited from American expertise and knowledge when he was treated for kidney disease; he lived for more than 10 years after his diagnosis. Proceeds from the race support the American Kidney Foundation.
Abdirahman, Keflezighi, and Hall all agreed that they are focused on London and eager to begin serious training in the hopes of a top showing on August 4.
Said Hall, “It wasn’t a great run for me today, but it’s fun to be out with these guys and take in New York. I have a lot of special memories of Central Park.” Hall set the current Olympic Trials Marathon record of 2:09:02 in 2007 to qualify for his first Olympic team, the 2008 Beijing Games, on a course that was run almost entirely in Central Park.
“I’m very pleased with today,” Keflezighi said. “You’ve got to start somewhere. [The Olympic Marathon] is three months from today, and that’s my goal.”
Abdirahman agreed. “We all have one goal--to be fit when August 12 comes. Hopefully we’ll be at the closing ceremony with the three of us at the podium together. That would be a dream come true so, hey, you’ve got to dream!”