Cape Elizabeth, ME – 33 years ago on August 5th a young woman from Cape Elizabeth, Maine wrote her name indelibly into athletics history by winning the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles. She trained for that effort along the streets of her hometown, streets that this August 5th will play host to the 20th running of one of the nation’s premier 10k road races.
The TD Beach to Beacon 10k began as a great notion that over its two decade life has lived up to its founder’s hopes and more. Joan Benoit Samuelson‘s hometown race has proven to be among the new American road race classics, taking its place alongside such legendary first boom generation runs like the Falmouth Road Race on Cape Cod and the Bix 7 Road Race in Daveport, Iowa, races Joanie helped put on the map with her victories and personality.
For its 20th running, 117 legacy runners and five former champions lead thousands more on the trek from near Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light in Ft. Williams Park. Local star Ben True will attempt to defend his title from 2016, when he became the first American to win the prestigious international race. But Ben will have his hands and legs full.
“The race is steeped in history,” said Ben at the press conference at Ft. Williams Park, site of the iconic finish line in the shadow of the Portland Head Light, oldest commissioned light house in America. “It’s been a pleasure and honor to compete here.”
A North Yarmouth, Maine native and Dartmouth grad, Ben is coming off a disappointing 4th place finish at the USATF Nationals 5000, one place off the World Championship team going to London. There are plenty of contenders for the title, including 2015 champion and three-time runner up Stephen Kosgei-Kibet of Kenya who was sick last year and couldn’t run. But there are two guys True will have a particular eye on.
“I have raced (Stephen) Sambu enough times that I know he will try to get rid of me before the last quarter mile. And Leonard Borsoton is an extreme talent. No doubt the first 5k will be quicker than in the past.”
Stephen Sambu is a Kenyan who lives in Tucson, Arizona. A University of Arizona grad, Sambu has always raced well in New England, winning the BAA Half-Marathon and 10k, and in two weeks will be going for his fourth Falmouth Road Race title on Cape Cod. But 2017 is his first visit up to Cape Elizabeth in Maine.
Four times since 2014 Ben and Stephen have tussled at the BAA 5k on Boston Marathon weekend. Ben has beaten Stephen all four times by a total of five seconds, going 1-2 in 2015 and 2017, 2-3 in 2014 and 2016. They are 1-1 over 10k, with Ben and Stephen given the same time (28:13) at the 2015 NYRR Healthy Kidney 10k, with Ben, again, getting the win.
But watch out for this Leonard Barsoton guy. The 22 year-old Kenyan took silver at the 2017 IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Uganda, and recently placed fourth at the Kenyan World Championships Trials. He also has the second fastest road PR in the field at 27:42 behind Sambu’s 27:25 from the BAA 10k in 2014 (thank you Karen Locke).
There’s a bunch of other guys too, but I’m at a dinner party and I can’t linger too long on the story, because my wife is going to give me a hard time. (That’s a joke, btw). Let’s move the women.
If Mary Keitany doesn’t defend her title I’ll eat my shorts. She broke the course record last year at 30:45 and is coming off of 31:20 win at the New York Mini 10K in June. There, she beat fellow B2B contender Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia by nearly a minute. So she’s in killer shape. Not to mention she’s a three-time London and three-time New York City Marathon champion and ran 2:17:01 in London in April the world record for an all-women’s marathon. She would be the odds on favorite to win the World Championships Marathon in London, but she has her eye on a fourth New York City Marathon title in November.
2013 champion Joyce Chepkirui of Kenya has returned, too, as has 2015 winner Wude Ayalew of Ethiopia who took second to Keitany last year, but by 54 seconds.
Add two time Olympic 5000 meter champion Meseret Defar of Ethiopia, American 2008 Olympic 10,000 silver medalist Shalane Flanagan, Boston Marathon third placer Jordan Hasay – who says she’s ready for a PR (31:39) – and it’s a loaded women’s field.
But Keitany is my pick. We will see how it plays out tomorrow from Crescent Beach to the Portland Head Light. Thanks for the first 20 Joanie. They’ve all been beauties, shining like gold.