Kibet's strategy results in winning kick

Posted: September 17, 2007

JULIUS KIBET briefly raised his arms triumphantly as he snapped the tape at the finish line of the 30th annual Philadelphia Distance Run yesterday.

Two seconds later, Tom Nyariki crossed the line shaking his head.

Kibet had sprinted by Nyariki, his fellow Kenyan, on the race's final turn, capturing his second Distance Run victory in 1 hour, 2 minutes and 2 seconds. He also won the 13.1-mile race in 2004.

Pamela Chepchumba, also of Kenya, topped the women's field in 1:08:45, besting the second-place finisher by 9 seconds.

But it was the men's finish that had all the drama.

As the leaders headed into the homestretch at Eakins Oval, Nyariki held a 5-yard lead on Kibet and 10 yards on John Yuda, of Tanzania. Nyariki, not quite sure of the exact location of the finish line, slowed coming around the final turn. By the time he realized the finish line was still several yards away, Kibet had zoomed ahead.

"The confusion at the end cost me the race," said Nyariki, who is blind in his right eye.

Kibet was not so sure of that statement.

Kibet said he knew Nyariki had a strong kick, so he waited until just the right moment to pass him.

"I worked really hard to come to the finish line," Kibet said. "I know when you cross that line, that is when you finish the race. But before you finish through, the race is not yet done.

"I knew if I had gone in front of him [earlier], he would have beaten me to the finish line."

Though the race finished dramatically, it began cautiously.

A group of about 35 runners stayed together through the first several miles, which took them along the Parkway and past city landmarks Love Park, City Hall, Independence Park and Washington Square before heading back to the Parkway and onto Martin Luther King Drive.

Kibet said no one was bold enough to challenge the group pace.

"If one guy tries to push, then all of them go there," he said. "Nobody wanted to push, so we grouped each other."

The group ran fairly slow (by elite runner standards), crossing the 10-kilometer mark in 30:31. Had they stayed at that pace, the leader would have crossed in about 1:04:15, the third slowest winning time in race history.

At that point, Kibet upped the pace. The pack ran each of its next 3 miles under 4:40 as it thinned to about 15 runners by the Falls Bridge.

By the 10-mile mark, Kibet and Nyariki headed a group of six runners as the race drew closer to its climatic finish.

"When we came down the hill , I tried to come with him," Kibet said. "Because I know when you get to the [final turn], there is still 50 meters remaining."

Nyariki, who was racing in the Distance Run for the first time, wished he knew that.

"The only thing that makes me upset is that I missed directions," he said. "It's not that I was tired, but I don't think I knew the race."

Chepchumba, the women's winner, also experienced her first Distance Run but with better fortune.

She said she began her final push at the 11-mile mark and did not receive much of a threat to her lead.

"The course was wonderful," Chepchumba said. "I've never run on a course like this. I was very happy with it.

"The course is really flat and most of the people are cheering. I love it."

A strong contingency of followers came out to support Roxborough native Claire Duncan as she raced to an 18th-place finish with a 1:18:46, tops among the city's female residents.

"It was awesome," Duncan said. "Running around and people [were] yelling my name. I turned around and still had no idea who it was. You'd see people you didn't even expect to see out there."

The 2006 Penn Relays steeplechase champion said she ran the first mile in 6 minutes and kept that pace the entire time.

"It's kind of funny," Duncan said. "All in all, it's probably one of the easiest races I've ever run. I guess that's what they say it's like when you're doing well."

The race certainly wasn't the easiest for Michael Geiger, but the Medford, N.J., resident said he enjoyed the experience of being one of 36 runners to run the race for the 30th time.

"I ran quite a bit slower this year, but this is probably the best one we've ever had," Geiger said. "Best weather - low humidity, low temperature. It was a great day."

Geiger finished in 1:56:55. At each mile-marker, he would touch a small charm attached to his waist. His daughter Amanda, 17, wore the charm, the Chinese symbol of love, when she and three of her friends were killed by a drunk driver in 1999 in North Carolina.

"I dedicate every mile to Amanda," he said. "That's what I do now." *

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