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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Assefa pulls away for first Bloomsday crown

Belete Assefa crosses the line in 34 minutes, 21 seconds to become the first Ethiopian to win the men’s championship. (Colin Mulvany)

It was champions’ day at Bloomsday, an elite men’s field full of past winners ready to repeat the feat.

But darkhorse Belete Assefa and newcomer Emmanuel Bett left them all behind Sunday morning before Assefa pulled away in the last quarter mile to win his first title.

Just as it looked like a race to the finish, Assefa spinted to the finish line in 34 minutes, 21 seconds to win the $7,000 first prize.

“That was a good move for me,” said the 22-year-old Assefa, who became the first Ethiopian to win Bloomsday.

Kenyans had won 18 of the past 19 titles, but the 30-year-old Bett, who led most of the way in the 12-kilometer race, said he felt a slight pain in his right side “so it was not possible to have that final kick.” Bett finished in 34:33, ahead of four other countrymen, including defending champion Allan Kiprono, who was third in 34:51.

Brett Vaughn of Concord, Mass., was the top American finisher, placing eighth overall at 35:28 and winning $5,900. Abdi Abdirahman of Tucson, Ariz., was the second-place American at 35:46.

Despite Sunday’s warm weather, Assefa’s time was just 2 seconds slower than Kiprono’s winning mark a year ago, but well off the course record of 33:51 set by Kenya’s Micah Kogo in 2008.

Bett set a strong early pace despite never having run the course before, covering the first mile in 4:25 – 15 seconds ahead of last year’s pace.

The lead pack of 12 stuck with him through a 4:35 second mile, but Ndirangu and two others fell behind on Cemetery Hill as the heat and humidity began to take a toll. Kenyan Josphat Boit fell out of the pack at the 4-mile mark.

As the runners turned onto Doomsday Hill, Bett relinquished the lead and fell to the back of a seven-man group and Assefa; then Kiprono set a deliberate pace.

In the sixth mile, the pack shrunk to three as Kenyans Julius Keter, Lani Rutto, McDonard and Ethiopian Solomon Deksisa suddenly fell back.

Just after the 6-mile mark, Kiprono too fell off the pace.

“It was very warm,” the 23-year old said. “I tried to stay with the guys but I was not comfortable.”

Suddenly Kiprono was 50 meters back while Assefa hung doggedly on Bett’s left shoulder in the final mile. Just when spectators were counting on a race to the wire, Assefa pulled past Bett and lengthened his stride along with his lead.

Assefa pulled away dramatically in the final 400 meters, and as he turned off Broadway, there was no longer a doubt.

The top Washington finisher was Joseph Gray of Renton, who ran a 37:34, just 16 seconds ahead of Paul Limpf of Cheney.