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February 20, 2004
A constellation of international road racing stars will shine in San Juan this weekend for Rafa Acosta, the race director of the World Best 10K, a 6.2-mile run on the Moscoso Bridge.
Great Britains Paula Radcliffe set a world record on the bridge here last year, finishing the distance in 30 minutes, 21 seconds. Radcliffe is back to defend her title Sunday, leading a field that includes such elite runners as Ethiopias Berhane Adere; Lornah Kiplagat, of The Netherlands; Kenyans Edith Masai, Isabella Ochichi, Margaret Okayo, Jane Kiptoo, Madeline Chemjot and Mestewat Tufita as well as South Africas Elana Meyer and Russians Galina Alexandrova, Tatiana Khmeleva and Natallya Berkut. Radcliffe was named Runner of the Year in 2003 by just about every running magazine that ranks runners and with good reason.
Her accomplishments last year include a world record in the London Marathon (2:15.25) and another at five kilometers on the road (14:51). She won the half-marathon title (65:40) as well as her second European cross-country title. She won gold at the IAAF World Half Marathon (1:07.35) as well. Her 30:21 clocking on the bridge last year was officially declared a world record by the IAAF in January of 2004 after the IAAF changed its ruling to ratify speed records set during road races as world records.
Just so Radcliffe doesn't get complacent in San Juan, race director Acosta has also brought in the Runner of the Year runner-up, Ethiopia's Birhane Adere. On Jan. 31, 2004 Adere set a world indoor record over the 5,000 meters in 14:39.29. Her time was more than eight seconds faster than the previous best of 14:47.35, set five years ago by Romanias Gabriela Szabo. Whats even more remarkable is that Adere ran the final 3,000 meters alone, much in the same way Radcliffe did on the bridge last year.
Adere set a championship record and was the gold medalist at last year's IAAF Worlds in the 10,000 meters as well as the gold medalist at the IAAF World Indoor championships in 3,000 meters. She finished second to Radcliffe at the IAAF World half marathon and clocked the world's fastest indoor times for 3,000 meters (8:31.73), 5,000 meters (14:48.21) and 10,000m (30:04.18). She tied the 5-K road world record (14:54; which Radcliffe beat in September.
Adere also handed Radcliffe the English runners only loss of the year in the the 10K leg of a European race, ekiden, which Adere ran in 30:12. Adere also doubled at the Paris World Championships in 5,000 and 10,000 meters. In all, Adere finished first 14 times, and among the top three 18 times at distances of 1,500 meters to half-marathon, according to Road Race Weekly.
Because the Puerto Rican running scene for decades emphasized mens racing (the San Blas International Half Marathon pays scant attention to its womens race), spectators in San Juan are used to cheering on the men while the women get lost in the crowd. Last year, Radcliffes world record almost went unnoticed by fans, even though she came in right on the heels of the elite men.
This year, however, spectators will get to watch the womens race unfold thanks to race director Acosta. Following the lead of the Boston and New York Marathons, the women will start four minutes prior to the men, which will give crowds a chance to watch Radcliffe in her attempt to shatter her own world record.
While all eyes will be focused on the women, the mens field is none too shabby.
On the men's side, Kenyas Paul Tergat heads the field along with defending champion Hendrick Ramaala, of South Africa. Tergat set a world record in the Berlin Marathon this year in 2:04.55, beating the previous record by 43 seconds. He was ranked fifth among the world's elite in 2003 and was fourth in London (2:07.59).
The rest of the Kenyans confirmed are Abraham Chebii, John Korir, Benjamin Limo, Paul Koech, Gilbert Okari, Gilbert Koech, Joht Itati, Simon Maina, Cathal Lombard, Patrick Nthiwa, Albert Cohepku-rui, Molugeta Wondimu, Martin Lel, Paul Biwott, Robert K. Cheruiyot and Linus Maiyo. Ethiopians Sileshi Sihen and Dijene Birhanu are also set to run as is Tanzania's John Yuda.
Chebii was ranked seventh in the world in 2003 with seven first place finishes at 3,000 and 5,000 meters. He beat Haile Gebrselassie twice and Kenenisa Bekele, the 2003 Runner of the Year, once. Chebii won the Kenyan national championships at 5,000 meters and ran the 5,000 meters in under 13 minutes four times in 2003.
Countrymate Martin Lele was the gold medalist at the IAAF World Half-Marathon Championships, finishing in 1:00:49. He won the New York Marathon in 2:10.30 and the Rock 'n' Roll Half-Marathon (1:01:27) and the Lisbon Half-Marathon (1:00:10).
On the heels of the elite runners Sunday will be a record 10,000 participants, up from nearly 8,000 of last year. Its testimony to Acostas perseverance that he can draw so many locals either walking and running especially in an era when the Puerto Rico Health Department estimates that 67 percent of the islands population is overweight.
"The elite runners give this race so much prestige, but the greatest draw as always is the massive participation of the entire Puerto Rican people, including entire families," Acosta said.
Miguel Cotto fights in Las Vegas Saturday night versus Dominican Victoriano Sosa. Cotto (18-0, 15 KO) has spent this week in Las Vegas undergoing his final preparations and saying little on his own behalf, as is his custom prior to a fight.
"Sosa is a great fighter who always comes prepared but were confident that the training and conditioning will result either in a knockout or a decision because were prepared to go the 12 rounds," said Cotto from Las Vegas earlier in the week.
Sosas record is 37-2-2, 27 KO, but has fought mostly in his native Dominican Republic. The 1992 Olympian is moving up from 135 pounds and is 1-2-1 in his only four fights stateside.
Gabrielle Paese is the Assistant Sports Editor at the San Juan Star. She is the 2000 recipient of the Overseas Press Club's Rafael Pont Flores Award for excellence in sports reporting. Comments or suggestions? Contact Gabrielle at email@example.com.
Her Column, Puerto Rico Sports Beat, appears weekly in the Puerto Rico Herald.