By Chris Lotsbom, @chrislotsbom
(c) 2017 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
FALMOUTH, MA, USA (20-Aug) — This morning, Stephen Sambu faced the daunting task of winning his fourth consecutive New Balance Falmouth Road Race, something no man had ever done before. Dictating the race and dealing with a stubborn Leonard Korir behind him, Sambu managed to accomplish his goal by the slimmest margin, securing the win by a step in 32:14. Korir finished with the same time.
“It feels really good. It was so tough. From the beginning I was trying to push it, I was trying to tell my friend Leonard to lead a little bit but he didn’t want to do it. Then I decided to go,” Sambu said, clearly relieved with the outcome. “When I crossed the line first I was like ‘Thank God!'”
From four miles onward, it was a battle of the minds –and legs– between Sambu and Korir. Leaving Abdi Abdirahman and early front runner Luis Vargas behind, Sambu pushed along adjacent to the Atlantic Ocean just like he’d done in each of the previous three years.
After 5 kilometers was hit in 14:30, a series of comfortably quick miles (4:34, 4:36, 4:32) gave the pair a significant lead. During that same stretch, Sambu frequently gestured to Korir requesting he’d share the lead, or at least help manage the pace.
Repeatedly Korir declined. “He was going at a very tough pace. I didn’t want to push it with him. He was prepared, he was so prepared,” said Korir.
Between five and six miles, Sambu gave up trying to get his friendly rival to lead. Sambu put his head down and forged ahead, pushing up the final hill, and prepared for a sprint to the majestic seaside finish in Falmouth Heights.
“I was not happy, but I said, ‘It’s OK!’ I said to come, he was just sitting there. I told him five times and he said he just didn’t want to do it. I know that’s his running style. You cannot change someone’s running style. He likes waiting until the last 400 or the last 200 meters,” Sambu said.
For all his effort leading, Sambu was rewarded when it mattered most: at the finish line. Despite momentarily giving up the lead with 200m to go, he regained form and took the win by a step in 32:14.
“[In the last mile] he wanted me to go, to take away my kick. I said no, I’m not falling into his trap. Unfortunately it didn’t work out,” Korir said, clearly disappointed with the result.
After the race, both Korir and Sambu embraced and shared laughs about how the race played out. They joked about how it was nearly a replay of what happened at the 2015 United Airlines NYC Half, when Korir nipped Sambu at the line for the title.
At the end of the day, Sambu now reigns supreme as the winningest man in race history, topping Bill Rodgers, John Korir, and Gilbert Okari (each of whom have three; Joan Samuelson leads the women’s tally with six). “It is really special special… I was telling myself everybody wants me to win. To get four times in a row is not easy. I was like ‘I hope I get it!”
Vargas, 24, was third in 32:53. The N.C. State grad was ecstatic with the finish. “I had no expectations and just wanted to have fun with it. It’s a beautiful course and, for a course that is point-to-point, to have crowds of people every single mile was, I can’t even explain the feeling… I hope to come back year after year and one day win.”
Abdirahman was fourth in 33:04, and also won the masters title, followed by Canadian Cam Levins in fifth (33:35).