- The Washington Times - Friday, March 30, 2007

Samuel Ndereba has been second-fiddle two of the past three years at the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run since coming to race in the United States in 2004.

The Kenyan who trains with many of his countrymen outside of Philadelphia thinks that this year might be different.

“Yes, maybe I can win,” the 30-year-old Ndereba said about tomorrow’s footrace starting at 7:55 a.m. and ending in the District’s West Potomac Park. “Because I ran a good 10K and I’m on a very good program. I’m in my best shape, but even if I don’t win, I will run my best time.”

The 10K to which Ndereba refers is the Azalea Trail Run 10K in Mobile, Ala., where in his first race of 2007 last week he eked out his second triumph in as many years, running the 20th fastest time in the 30-year history of the race in a personal best 28:01.

But he will have to outrun a bevy of Africans and two elite Japanese distance stars to earn the crown in the 35th running of the Cherry Blossom.

One of those Africans — John Korir of Kenya — will attempt to keep alive a freak of a streak. He has won this race in every odd year since 2001, while adding a runner-up performance in 2002 and a third-place effort in 2000.

The last time the 31-year-old Korir won, Ndereba trailed a competitive pack in ninth. He said he has been training with John Itati — who finished 10th that year — both in Kenya and for the week he has been back in the States, working with the faster Itati on his speed as he prepares for his debut marathon at Boston on April 16.

“That has been a bit of tradition in his family,” said Ndereba’s agent, Lisa Buster, who also manages Samuel’s older sister Catherine, a four-time Boston Marathon champ and 2004 Olympic silver medalist. “He’s always said he’d run his first marathon at Boston.”

Another of Ndereba’s training mates, Linus Maiyo, will be making his Cherry Blossom debut.

Takahashi Takeshi and Kouji Kageyama have committed, complements of top finishes at the Cherry Blossom’s sister race, the Himeji Castle 10 Mile, on Feb. 11.

Arlington resident Chris Graff appears to be the top American in the field, capped off at 10,000.

Top prize is a check for $6,000, excluding time bonuses.

The elite women’s race will be competitive, but 24-year-old Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso, who finished second at the Cherry Blossom in 2002 by just five seconds in a time of 52:55, could likely emerge victorious. Erkesso won the short course race at the 2004 World Cross Country Championships and ran personal bests in the 10K (31:41.26 in 2004) and half marathon (1:10:00 in 2005). She led off the 2007 season with a 1:11:03 half on Feb. 9.

Erkesso could be challenged by Tatyana Petrova, a Russian woman training in Germantown. Petrova, 23, finished fourth in this race last year, but ran well at Azalea last weekend, copping second in 32:10.

Romanian Lidia Simon, 33, who finished third at the Cherry Blossom race last year, also will look to place higher.

Victoria Jackson appears to be the favorite among Americans.

For the 35th running, a number of past winners have been invited back, including former South African and now U.S. citizen Colleen DeReuck, who set a world record of 51:16 at the 1998 race. Three-time champion Lisa Rainsberger (1985, 1989-90), Jon Sinclair (1987), Bill Rodgers (1978-81), Carl Hatfield (1975-76), and Kathrine Switzer (first women’s champion in 1973) also have been invited to participate.

The race will be televised on local ABC affiliate WJLA Channel 7 in a half-hour special at noon on April 7.

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