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October 7, 2013

Ethiopians dominate Pit Run

By Rob Centorani Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — ONEONTA — It seemed everywhere you turned Sunday at Neahwa Park, the conversation centered on the government shutdown.

Well, not really.

But the partisan bickering in Washington did have a profound impact on the 20th edition of the Pit Run.

Neither the winner nor the runner-up in the featured 10-kilometer race was supposed to be zipping through the streets of Oneonta on Sunday. Had they been elsewhere, Paul Mwangi’s course record would still be intact and third-place finisher Girma Gebre would have celebrated a victory.

Gridlock wouldn’t allow it.

Winner Haile Mengasha and runner-up Ayele Feisha were scheduled to run the Woodrow Wilson Bridge Half Marathon on Sunday in Maryland. That’s also where women’s champion Meseret Basa was supposed to be. That race was postponed because of the shutdown and rescheduled for Nov. 10.

So the likes of Speaker of the House John Boehner, Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Majority Leader Harry Reid and President Barack Obama —names that have surfaced often since the shutdown started Tuesday — helped to shape the 2013 Pit Run.

Instead of one Ethiopian-born standout in Oneonta, there were four.

And they were a lot better than everyone else.

The quartet, which is represented by Alem International Management and trains in New York City, combined to win $2,000.

Mengasha, 27, earned $500 for the victory, $100 bonuses for leading after the first, third and fifth miles, and another $100 for setting a course record. He crossed in 29 minutes, 53 seconds — 20 seconds faster than the previous record set by Mwangi in 2003.

Basa, 25, won for the first time in the United States. Running her first competitive 10K, she crossed in 36:36, well ahead of women’s runner-up Rebecca Metzler of Hamilton, who finished in 40:09.

“I’m very happy,” said Basa, who earned $800 — $500 for the win and $100 bonuses for leading after miles 2, 4 and 6.

Feisha, 25, finished five seconds behind Mengasha and earned $200.

Gebre, the lone member of the Ethiopian contingent who was scheduled to be here, placed third in 31:20, good for $100. He finished one spot ahead of 2012 champion Josh Edmonds, who crossed in 32:48.

Feven Alem, the agent for the four standouts who doubled as an interpreter, said the three men had a plan before the race and stuck to it. Though Mengasha and Feisha finished five seconds apart, they weren’t competing with one another. Alem said they determined before the race that Mengasha would be the winner.

The goal for the group was getting the course record. With Mengasha’s personal best over 6.2 miles of 28:30, it didn’t figure to be a problem.

“Before the race, they couldn’t understand why the course record was over 30 minutes … until they got out there and ran the course,” said Alem, who added that all four Ethiopians ran the Pit Run for the first time. “The course was very hilly. It was a very challenging course and they knew they weren’t going to PR.”

All four Ethiopians were similar in build. They all stood around 5-foot-5 (perhaps Basa was an inch or two shorter), with about 5 feet of those lean frames appearing to be legs. Their strides were long and effortless, their demeanor as calm as can be. There was a sense if someone told them at the finish line the length of the race had been doubled, they’d have just shrugged their shoulders and continued on.

Cooperstown’s Edmonds, who last year became the first area runner to win the 10K since 1995, won $75. He did not attend the awards ceremony.

Walton’s Scott Gleason, 28, finished fifth in 33:27. He took home $50.

Basa placed eighth overall — 28 seconds behind Oneonta’s Chris Popovici, who finished seventh. She normally runs longer races such as marathons, half-marathons or 10-mile events.

“She said she was following the men who were in front of her, but (pacing herself) can get tricky,” Alem said.

Alem added that Basa “likes the longer distances. The majority of her training is longer runs and that’s what her body is trained to do.”

Sunday’s race marked the second on American soil for Basa.

In addition to Metzler ($200), Hamilton’s Catherine Hearn ($100), OHS graduate Lindsay LaRose ($75) and Marathon’s Murphee Hayes ($50) also earned cash prizes for finishing third, fourth and fifth, respectively.

Amanda LoPiccolo, the 2012 Pit Run women’s champion, did not run this year. She recently moved to North Carolina.

A total of 489 runners completed the 10K.

The 5-kilometer race was finished by 515 participants.

Gilbertsville-Mount Upton graduate Nate Lull placed first in 18:25.

“I’m real happy,” said Lull, a 2003 G-MU grad who lives in Buffalo. “This was a goal of mine last winter. I usually run the 10K, but I said wouldn’t it be fun to try the 5K once and win it.”

Lull finished 25 seconds ahead of runner-up Zachary Godrey of Gloversville. SUNY Delhi track and cross country coach Robb Munro placed third in 19:13.

Two weeks ago, Lull completed a marathon in Erie, Pa., in 2:55:00, qualifying him for the 2014 Boston Marathon. He said that effort likely slowed him down Sunday.

“I think my legs are just saying, enough of this stuff for awhile,” Lull said.

The women’s 5K champion was 14-year-old Mary Rommer of Wells Bridge. Rommer, who plays varsity soccer for Unatego, finished in 20:50. Rommer placed 10th overall.

Magen Moloy of Otego finished second in 23:24. Binghamton’s Emily Lowe was third in 24:12.

The Pit Run is held in memory of Ricky “Pit” Parisian, who died while trying to prevent an armed robbery in Oneonta in 1994.

Rob Centorani can be reached at rcentorani@thedailystar.com or 607-432-1000, ext. 209.