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Dr. J. on Running

Syracuse Festival of Races

Kenyans Race to Impressive Showing

Published October 4, 1999 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

The story in the seventh running of the Syracuse Festival of Races may have been the controversy surrounding the winner of the men's race. After distancing himself from the chase back by about one hundred meters, Sammy Ng'eno made a wrong turn at the end of the race, then took a shortcut on the grass to enter the home stretch.

Runners often take wrong turns in road races and suffer the consequences. As Ng'eno approached the final turn at a pace of four minutes per mile, excited marshals and cheering spectators may have directed him off the course.

The incident may be inconsequential given Ng'eno's substantial lead over his chasers. However, his winning time of 13 minutes, 44 seconds over the 5K course was just six seconds shy of the course record of 13:38 set in last year's race by Peter Githuka. A new race record would have earned Ng'eno a $1,000 bonus to go with the $800 he won for first place. As race officials scrambled to estimate Ng'eno's net time and the length of his race, 381 additional runners followed the certified course into the finish line.

On a cool cloudy morning that proved a runner's delight, the men's race featured the deepest field in the race's history, with a large contingent of Kenyan runners. One mile into the race, an intimidating pack of 12 Kenyans led the field, followed by a chase pack sporting Syracuse Chargers Track Club singlets.

Twenty-three-year old Mike Melfi of Syracuse was the first American, finishing ninth overall in a personal record time of 14:40. He was followed closely by Greg Lyons, Brian Clark, Derek White, Scott Weeks, Matt Annabel, John Trowse and Chris Getman, all finishing in the top 20.

Among the masters, 43-year-old Bob Carroll of Forrestville continued his amazing season, winning in a time of 15:19.

In the women's race, 330 runners were content to follow Kenyan Eunice Sagero on the out-and-back course, as she took an early lead and won by a 47-second margin in 16:07. Twenty-five year-old Sagero recently moved to the U.S. to train and race.

Buffalo's Vicky Mitchell, the race's first-ever winner in 1993, was this year's runner-up. Mitchell patiently compensated for a slow start, eventually passing Canadian Sarah Dupre and favorite Molly Watke. Michelle Lafleur of Memphis was the first local runner (sixth in 17:23).

Kristin Schiesswohl, the winner of this summer's Chase Corporate Challenge, finished ninth in 17:42 following an outstanding half-marathon in last Sunday's Philadelphia Distance Run. Mary Beth Romagnoli and the Swarts twins, Heidi and Heather, rounded up the local contingent in the top-20 finishers.

The showdown between Canadian Diane LeGare and Pompey's Patti Ford for the master's title dissipated when Ford developed severe abdominal cramps midway through the race. LaGare won in 17:53, with Endicott's Suzanne Myette a distant second in 19:00. Ford finished third master in 19:12, almost two minutes slower than her recent performances.

In addition to the men's and women's competitive 5K races, the Syracuse Festival of Races featured the increasingly popular children's 3K fun and fitness run.

The Festival's emphasis on youth fitness also featured the M&T Bank "Run to Your Dreams Program." This program brought many of the Festival's top elite runners to 30 local schools as motivational speakers over the past few days.

Video footage of the race can be viewed on the world-wide web at TrackMeets.com.

Kamal Jabbour watched the Festival of Races from the 1-mile mark, cheering on family and friends. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains TrackMeets.com, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at jabbour@syr.edu.


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