A wet and overcast morning did nothing to dampen the intensity of competition in the 34th annual Freihofer’s Run for Women (5km) – IAAF Silver Label Road Race, held this morning on the streets of Albany (2).
Close to 5000 women lined up on Madison Avenue, adjacent to the Empire State Plaza, in the heart of the New York state capital. Among them were some of the world’s finest middle and long distance runners, including defending champion, Mamitu Daska from Ethiopia, and three-time champion Benita Willis of Australia.
Despite the intentions of anybody else in the elite field, however, once the gun sounded, this race was all about the defending champion. Twelve months previously, she had been aggressive from the opening strides; this time around, she was even more so. As the field charged through the opening uphill 600m, Daska was immediately at the forefront, joined only by her compatriots Alemitu Abera and Ashu Kasim, plus Kenya’s Genoveva Kigen, Jellilah Tinega and Gesabwa Risper. Nearing the one kilometre mark in Washington Park, that group was down to just Daska, Kigen and Abera; and, by one mile (5:00) the leader was in unquestioned control.
So early in the race, nothing could be set in stone; but, as the defending champ forged onward, the only indication that there might be some question in her mind came from the occasional backward glance over her shoulder.
Leaving the rolling pathways of the Park and turning onto Lake Avenue, Daska was in total control. Behind her, Kigen and Abera were forced to deal with the challenges of Kasim and Risper, not to mention an emergent phalanx of Americans, fronted by Michelle Frey, Laura Thweatt, Rebecca Donaghue and Lindsey Scherf. Willis was also in the mix; though, for once, she was not the sole Australian, being joined by her compatriot, Lara Tamsett.
That battle was for the minor placings, however. At the forefront, Daska was all alone and unchallenged. As she passed two miles (10.01 – a second mile of 5:01), the question began to emerge: could she challenge the blazing fast course record of 15:12, set by Emily Chebet in 2010? On that occasion, Chebet had closed with a lightning fast final kilometre: 2:41. Chebet had also had late race company. Daska was flying solo.
Even so, with 1K remaining, the record was within her grasp. It’s a long way home, however; and, with no one to challenge her, even a runner as dominant as Daska sometimes has to concede. Although she blasted the long downhill stretch to the finish line, her finishing time of 15:20, missed the course all-time best by eight seconds. That was hardly cause for disappointment; the re-crowned champion still held a massive 17 second margin over second placed Ashu Kasim (15:37), who prevailed in the battle for the minor placings over Alemitu Abera (15:41).
"Even under these weather conditions, I enjoyed the race and I feel good about it," commented Daska. "I’m very happy to have won for the second year. I did feel confident, but the fans along the course made me even more confident, and that helped me to win. I was most fearful of the other two Ethiopians."
Kasim, who experienced some back pain immediately before the start, had hoped for a different result. "I thought I would catch her," she stated, "but I was a little tired." Among the American hopefuls, Michelle Frey fronted one of the finest domestic Freihofer’s performances in some years. Her sixth place finish (16:03), led four Americans into the top 11. Last year there were three in 10.
Organisers for the IAAF
RESULTS 1 Mamitu Daska Ethiopia 15:19.1 2 Ashu Kasim Ethiopia 15:36.7 3 Alemitu Abera Ethiopia 15:40.2 4 Gesabwa Risper Kenya 15:46.1 5 Genoveva Kigen Kenya 15:52.4 6 Michelle Frey USA 16:02.2 7 Jelliah Tinega Kenya 16:06.6 8 Lara Tamsett Australia 16:13.8