Belete Assefa spread his arms out like an eagle when he entered Folsum Field to the roar of tens of thousands of amateur runners, then loped through the tape more than five seconds ahead of countryman Solomon Gonfa in the annual 10-kilometer men's race Monday.
"I heard the crowd and put my arms out," Assefa said. "That's when I knew I'd won the race."
Assefa, who finished in 29 minutes, 22.56 seconds, is the third straight Ethiopian to win the annual Memorial Day race, and he helped the Ethiopians win their fifth straight International Team Challenge, too.
The Ethiopian trio that broke away from the Kenyans early in last year's race and crossed the finish line together — Lelisa Desisa, 2009 champ Tilahun Regassa and Tadese Tola — didn't return this year. They were replaced by newcomers Assefa, Gonfa and Hussen Adelo, who finished ninth.
"I worked hard for this race," said Assefa, the seventh Ethiopian to win the men's elite title since 1999. "But I knew I'd win it. I knew it."
It wasn't all smiles for the Ethiopians, however.
Even though Ethiopia won its third straight women's team title, two-time defending champion Mamitu Daska was beaten by Kenya's Lineth Chepkurui, who also edged her in the San Francisco Bay to Breakers on May 15.
"It's so great to look how distantly your friend is behind you," Chepkurui said.
Chepkurui, a two-time winner of the Atlanta Peachtree, finished in 32:29.79, nearly five seconds ahead of Daska, with whom she broke away from the pack almost from the start. Ethiopia's Meseret Mengistubiri finished third, more than 90 seconds after Chepkurui.
"They set a tough pace," said fourth-place finisher Amy Hastings, of Mammoth Lakes, Calif., who helped the Americans take second to Ethiopia in the women's' team standings. "They went out extremely fast. We were probably 20 seconds behind at the first mile."
Hastings finished 1:49 behind Chepkurui.
In the men's race, Assefa crossed the tape more than five seconds ahead of Gonfa and almost 13 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Allan Kiprono of Kenya.
James Carney of Boulder took fifth and U.S. Olympian Ryan Hall, coming off a fourth-place finish at the Boston Marathon, took seventh, helping the Americans place third in the International Team Challenge behind Ethiopia and Kenya.
After a disappointing 14th-place finish in his first Bolder Boulder three years ago, Hall, one of America's top distance runners, vowed to return one day and tear up the lung-searing road race through the foothills of the Rocky Mountains.
Hall, who ran the Boston Marathon last month in 2 hours, 4 minutes and 58 seconds, said he wouldn't be so defiant in defeat this time.
"I think I'm just learning to enjoy the ride a little bit more," Hall said. "And after having run 2:04 a couple of weeks ago, everything else is kind of like icing on the cake."
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