Eligible to win prize money this year, six Kenyan runners won $4,500.
By JOHN KOVACH
VINDICATOR SPORTS STAFF
YOUNGSTOWN -- The Youngstown Peace Race and the African nation of Kenya have renewed their running ties, and the result was an all-Kenyan sweep of the top three men's and women's places in the 10-kilometer (6-mile) run in the 32nd annual event Sunday through Mill Creek Park.
After the Peace Race changed its policy to allow foreign runners to be eligible to win prize money this year, the six Kenyans, who all train in Chapel Hill, N.C., raced away with combined $4,500 in prize money in outstanding times to highlight a big field of 1,160 finishers -- 674 in the 10-k race and 486 in the 2-mile event.
And the six Kenyans literally ran away from the field and were in a collective class by themselves, as they continued their dominance of the Peace Race whenever they have come here to compete, which is a testimony to the strong running tradition of their nation.
Nicodemus Malakwen, 25, won the men's 10-k race in 29:29, just one second ahead of compatriot Wilson Chabet, 21, while Albert Okemwa, 40, came in third in 30:23.
Magdalene Mukunzi, 24, won women's 10-k in 32:30 and even left her fellow Kenyans in the dust as Joyce Chematui, 28, was a distant 1:06 behind in second place, while Mercy Cheburet, 23, was third in 33:57.
Overall, the Kenyan women finished 10th 13th and 14th, respectively.
The Kenyans each won $1,000, $750 and $500, respectively, in addition to the respect of fellow runners and the big turnout of fans at the finish line who had to be impressed by the Kenyans' speed over distance.
Rowe top American male
The top American finisher was Aaron Rowe, 25, of Powell, Ohio, in 30:46 -- 23 seconds behind Okemwa. Rowe was runner-up last year.
The top area finisher was Dave Mealy, 23, of New Middletown, who was eighth in 32:03.
Other leading area finishers were Rick Wilson, 42, of Canfield, 11th in 33:26; A.J. Crisucci, 28, of Canfield, 20th in 34:39; Justin Boggs, 24, of Columbiana, 21st in 35:00, and Carlos Jones, 32, of Youngstown, 25th in 35:17.
The top American woman was Erin Nehus, 25, in 33:59 -- two seconds slower than Cheburet, followed by Ann Alyanak, 37, of Dayton in 34:00.
The top area female was Julie Nemergut of North Lima and South Range High and now of Edinboro, Pa., who was 22nd in 35:10.
As Malakwen was sprinting down Commerce Street a few steps ahead of Chabet toward the finish line near the Central YMCA -- with no one in view behind them -- they were heard exchanging some words.
Malakwen was asked if their conversation was to decide: Who should win, me or you?
No, said Malakwen. "It was real competition. I used to beat [Chabet] in training, too. I was able to beat him because I am faster in finishing. I am better at the end than him. He was as strong as me in the middle of the race. It's just my nature to finish strong."
Chabet was in agreement: "I tried my best but I couldn't catch [Malakwen]. We were together for the first six miles. He just kicked ahead at the end. I was trying to win."
Okemwa explained his third-place finish simply with, "They usually are faster than me."
Malakwen said he and the other Kenyans "all live together in North Carolina [Chapel Hill]. We came to America to run. I have been here one year. I like the development of society here."
Chabet said that, "We all train together. I go to as many races as I can. I won a 10-k race in Bowling Green [Saturday] in 29:10."
Okemwa said Kenyans like to come to America to run. "We came to run to make more money than running in Kenya," he said. And, "We expect more [Kenyans] will come [to America]."
Mukunzi fastest of group
Regarding the female Kenyans, Mukunzi had a simple explanation why she beat Chematui by more than a minute: "I usually beat her. I'm faster," said Mukunzi.
Chematui reaffirmed Mukunzi's words. "I have never beaten her. She has been training for a long time," said Chematui.
Third-place Cheburet said she likes America and the Mill Creek Park course.
"The course was very nice. I was cool and warm. I like the park," said Cheburet, who hopes to improve as a runner in the U.S.
"There is high competition in America. We came here to become better runners," she said.