By Barbara Huebner
ATLANTA -- July 4, 2019 -- In a historic day for both the AJC Peachtree Road Race and the sport, Rhonex Kipruto ran the fastest 10K ever on U.S. soil and the winners in all four divisions of the AJC Peachtree Road Race broke event records, each earning a $50,000 bonus in honor of the 50th Running of the July 4 classic.
Kipruto, a 19-year-old Kenyan who has been dazzling far beyond his years on the both the road and track at 10,000 meters, hit the tape in 27:01, three seconds faster than the previous fastest time in the U.S., the 27:04 run by Joseph Kimani in 1996 at this race. On that day, the temperature at the start was 63 degrees; yesterday it was 77 degrees with 79 percent humidity.
"It was hot," said Kipruto, who nonetheless blasted a 4:11 second mile, leaving his pacemaker behind. After his brother, Bravin Kiptoo, dropped off just after 5K, it would be a solo effort the rest of the way, hitting 5K in 13:12 - well below event-record pace, but with a much-tougher second half of the course remaining. He went through four miles in 17:18, and at five miles (21:51) was slightly off the pace needed.
But then came the downhill finish, and the ultimately successful race against the clock began in earnest as spectators roared him on to the tape.
"I am happy for [the bonus] because when I was coming here I was coming for a course record, and I thank God for that," he said after a modest-but-beamingcelebration at the finish line
Kiptoo would finish second in 27:31, the fourth-fastest performance in race history, with Kennedy Kimutai (27:56) in third. Colin Bennie was top American, in 29:12.
If the men's race was a one-man show, the women's was a fight to the finish, culminating in a victory for Brigid Kosgei in 30:22, breaking Lornah Kiplagat's 30:32 event record from 2002 by a hefty 10 seconds.
"I want to say thank you to the people who were cheering us all the way," said Kosgei, who brought the fastest 10K personal best (29:54, #2 in history) but is now seen as primarily a marathoner after victories in Chicago (2018) and London (2019). "They say "try, try, try," and I was so happy for those people."
A pack of four Kenyans - Kosgei, Fancy Chemutai, Agnes Tirop and Caroline Chepkoech Kipkirui - would hit 5K in a breathtaking 14:57, 38 seconds ahead of the event record. Kipkirui would fall back just after four miles, leaving the last three to duke it out the rest of the way, and at five miles (24:44) the chance for a record was fading just as the epic battle began.
First Kosgei pushed the pace - trying in vain to erode the kicks of the other two. ("I just moved, and they were not leaving me. Everyone is trying to be in position because they were trying for the record.") As the trio turned the corner from Peachtree to 10th Street for the final, downhill 1,030 meters, the effort was showing on Kosgei's face but she nonetheless seemed to take command as Chemutai fell back.
Then, suddenly, Kosgei wilted. First Chemutai, the fourth-fastest 10K runner in history, passed her. Then Tirop, the 2015 IAAF World Cross Country Champion and 2017 World Championships bronze medalist at 10,000 meters, did the same. Grimacing, Kosgei fought back. Again Chemutai faded, and it was down to two: Kosgei and Tirop, shoulder to shoulder, laboring mightily for the win - and, astonishingly, the event record, which was suddenly back on the table thanks to the scorching battle for the line.
Kosgei would hit the tape an instant before Tirop, with both women given the same time. Chemutai ended up third, in 30:32 - which equaled the mark of Kiplagat. The top American was Emily Sisson, seventh in 32:02.
The wheelchair races followed a similar pattern, with Daniel Romanchuk taking control on Cardiac Hill midway through the race to win easily in 18:11, smashing the event record of 18:38.06 set by Saul Mendoza in 2004. Marcel Hug of Switzerland was 20 seconds back, in 18:31, with Canada's Josh Cassidy third in 19:32.
"It still hasn't entirely sunk in yet," said Romanchuk, 20, both of his third consecutive Peachtree victory and the payday, the largest ever in wheelchair racing thanks to the bonus. "It was a fast day and a great field. I was just sprinting all the way to go as fast as I could. It was very strong record so I knew it had to be an all-out effort."
Meanwhile, the women's race was another three-way battle, this time among seven-time Peachtree winner Tatyana McFadden; defending champion Susannah Scaroni, and 2013 Peachtree winner Manuela Schar of Switzerland. In the end, it would be Schar who prevailed, her winning time of 21:28 shattering the event record (22:09.97) of her countrywoman Edith Hunkeler, set in 2009. McFadden (21:29) and Scaroni (21:30) would also finish under the old mark, with only two seconds separating first and third.
"It's amazing," said Schar, a marathon specialist who has won 10 of the past 13 World Marathon Majors races. "I was just happy to win it because it was such a tough race. I haven't been in many races that close. To get that bonus is huge."
"Huge" is an apt description of the day.
"We set out to invite the best of the best athletes in our sport to this year's event in both the footrace and the wheelchair race, with the hope that they would put on a show for Atlanta in our 50th year," said Rich Kenah, executive director of Atlanta Track Club and race director of the Peachtree. "They put on more than a show: they put on a fireworks display. Four-for-four in a record chase in the 50th Running of the world's largest 10K is like batting .1000 in the World Series."