By Chris Lotsbom, @ChrisLotsbom
(c) 2015 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
(02-Jul) — The Fourth of July is a day celebrated in America from sea to shining sea, with fireworks and hot dogs, baseball and apple pie. For 46 years in Atlanta, America’s Independence Day holiday has been honored by one of the largest road races in the world, the AJC Peachtree Road Race. Making her debut at the nation’s largest 10-K is three-time Olympian Shalane Flanagan, eager to don her Nike USA vest and run with pride.
For the first time in event history, the AJC Peachtree Road Race will feature a co-ed team competition that pits six of the USA’s best men and women against runners from Africa, Europe, and Asia. Each team is made up of three men and three women, and at the end of the race each team’s times will be totaled.
The team with the lowest cumulative time wins the Peachtree Cup, a tall, shiny silver trophy. The winning squad also takes home $42,000.
“I thrive on a team atmosphere and running for something bigger than yourself. That’s what drew me to this race initially, was the concept of the cup and a team,” Flanagan told members of the media this morning, speaking at a pre-race press conference.
Flanagan is coming off a USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships that saw her place second in the 10,000m (31:42.29) and fifth in the 5000m four days later (15:10.02). The quick turnaround to race in Atlanta isn’t a concern, she said.
Having primarily trained for the marathon for the past four years, Flanagan is using the track and shorter road races like Peachtree to fine-tune her speed before transitioning to the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials next February. In August, she’ll travel to Beijing to run the IAAF World Championships 10,000m, hoping to add another medal to her resume. She won bronze in the discipline at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But first, Flanagan’s ready to take on the world here on American soil, racing her first road 10-K since placing an oh-so-close second to Britain’s Gemma Steel at the TD Beach to Beacon 10-K in Maine last August.
“Those two races [in Eugene] were just to get me ready for this one,” she said, sporting a black Bowerman Track Club t-shirt. “I had a lot of fun in Eugene last week and felt like I was getting my track legs back under me and getting sharp, so I’m hoping that some of those fast races will prepare me well for Saturday.”
Throughout it’s four decade history, the AJC Peachtree Road Race has featured some of the world’s best runners, with past winners including Khalid Khannouchi and Grete Waitz. Last year, hosting the U.S. Championships for 10-K, Atlanta Track Club Executive Director Rich Kenah decided to only bring in an elite American field, aiming to showcase homegrown talent like Meb Keflezighi, Desi Linden and Amy Hastings.
In 2015, Kenah wanted to change the format up front once again, hoping to increase excitement among fans and athletes. A team competition brought an added twist.
“This year we wanted to do something a little different,” he said, speaking before the four team captains –Flanagan, Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam, Italy’s Daniele Meucci, and Japan’s Yusuke Hasegawa— took the stage. “As we thought about our race this year, we wanted to celebrate Americans and Independence Day, but we also wanted to challenge Americans with athletes from around the world.”
Joining Flanagan on Team USA are Janet Bawcom (a 2012 Olympian and the USA 10-K champion from 2013, when the national race was here), and Rachel Ward, whose PB is from this race in 2014 (32:36). Also on the team are overall defending champion Christo Landry, last year’s runner-up Tyler Pennel, and Hansons-Brooks Original Distance Project member Bobby Curtis.
Each member of Team USA (except Flanagan) has run the AJC Peachtree Road Race before. Flanagan told the media she’ll definitely spend time with her teammates preparing to tackle the course, including the nasty incline in mile three apply named Cardiac Hill.
“I think that’s really important, I think there will definitely be some team tactics,” she said. “I think we’ll sit down and go over what’s our best strategy, whether it’s running together for a bit. But I think we’re going to use the knowledge of the course from those who have run it and were successful, kind of pick their brains on how to attack the course.”
Flanagan’s top competition up front should come from Kenya’s Lineth Chepkurui and Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba; the former has won this race three times in 2009, 2010, 2013.
When she laces up her racing flats in Lenox Square on Saturday, Flanagan will have an extra edge that Chepkurui and Diriba don’t quite posses: a sense of American patriotism, and a determination to defend home turf.
Aside from Hastings last year, no American woman had won the AJCPeachtree Road Race since Joan Nesbit in 1995. Flanagan will try to score another victory for the red, white, and blue.
“There’s going to be extra meaning slipping on that USA jersey on Saturday and I think we’re going to get a lot of extra support [from the fans],” she said.
AJC Peachtree Road Race Fast Facts:
Atlanta Track Club Executive Director Rich Kenah provided some fun fast facts before Thursday’s media availability:
– 46th running
– World’s largest fully-timed 10-K
– The race utilizes 3,400 volunteers
– There are overseas military races as part of this year’s race
– 22% of this year’s field are first year runners
– The youngest participant is 10-years-old
– The oldest entrant is 95-years-old
– 48 states are represented in the field. (Only Alaska and North Dakota are not represented)
– 90% of the race’s participants are from Georgia