- The Washington Times - Monday, April 3, 2006

Both Gilbert Okari and Lidiya Grigoryeva had every right to be tired before their performances yesterday at the 34th Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run.

Okari flew in from his homeland of Kenya on Friday. And two weeks ago, Grigoryeva outran the field at the City of Los Angeles Marathon in dramatic fashion, netting a $100,000 bonus.

Yet neither runner needed an excuse; both sprinted away to win the $6,000 first prize.

Okari, the 27-year-old who finished fourth last year before winning the Peachtree Road Race 10K and the Boilermaker 15K in July, sized up the men’s field before throwing in a blistering 4:20 last mile to win in 47:25, nine seconds slower than last year.

“All these guys, we know each other,” said Okari, who has raced everybody in the top five at least a few times in the past two years. “I also trained very hard before coming here. Endurance and speed.”

Meanwhile, Grigoryeva already had crashed the finishing tape moments before Okari sped down the last stretch past the Ericsson Circle into West Potomac Park, compliments of a separate start for a couple of dozen elite women for the first time in race history.

Grigoryeva, too, left the field behind, finally shedding runner-up and fellow Russian Alevtina Ivanova with closing miles of five minutes and sub-five. Because of the advance start for the women, the race can be deemed a “women’s only event” on a loop course — the first time in a 10-mile race.

The IAAF does not recognize the 10-mile distance for official world records. But the independent Association of Road Running Statisticians does, so Grigoryeva’s time of 52:11 is a pending ARRS world record for the distance.

“I love running in women’s-only races,” Grigoryeva, 32, said through an interpreter. “You can see everybody out there. It is like the Olympics and the world championships.”

Fittingly, Kathrine Switzer, who made history as the first woman to run the Boston Marathon with a race number in 1967 and six years later was the first female winner of the Cherry Blossom race, held the finishing tape.

Grigoryeva was considered a wild card because the 10-miler was on the heels of her fast 2:25:10 clocking at Los Angeles.

“One of the things, physically, I wasn’t pushed at 100 percent in Los Angeles,” said Grigoryeva, who comes from the city of Cheboksary, as does Ivanova and other world class Russian runners. “So I had some energy left for this race.”

In just a mile and a quarter, the two Russians had broken away from the pack and by five miles (26:30) they had put more than a minute on two Romanians, 2000 Olympic marathon silver medalist Lidia Simon and 2002 Cherry Blossom champion Luminita Talpos.

Ivanova hung on until nearly out of Rock Creek Park at eight miles before Gregoryeva’s surges dropped her 28 seconds back by the end in 52:39.

It took the men a little longer to sort it all out. There were nine in a pack as they crossed five miles in a fairly slow 24:18, then the surging began into the slight headwind in Rock Creek Park. At the turnaround at 6, the racing intensified yet with two miles to go, five men — Kenyans Okari, Samuel Ndereba, Reuben Kibet Chebii and Wilson Komen and Japan’s Kazuo Ietani — still were in contention and running 4:41 miles.

But Okari charged toward the finish, leaving Ndereba (second in 2004 in 48:14 and fresh off a win last weekend at the Azalea Trail 10K in Mobile, Ala., in 28:35), Chebii and Ietani (11th here last year and seventh in 2004) chasing in vain.

Matt Downin (48:43) and Turena Johnson Lane (55:42) were the top Americans. Downin earned an invitation to compete in the 2007 Himeji Castle 10-mile, the sister race.

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