By David Monti, @d9monti
(c) 2018 Race Results Weekly, all rights reserved
HONOLULU (08-Dec) — Edward Cheserek, a Kenyan living in Flagstaff, Ariz., successfully defended his title at the third annual Kalakaua Merrie Mile in Waikiki here this morning, clocking the fastest-ever mile in the state of Hawaii: 3:54.83. Cheserek, 24, a 17-time NCAA champion when he competed for the University of Oregon, won by only 6/100ths of a second over newcomer Leonard Bett, 18, also from Kenya, who made an auspicious road mile debut here in 3:54.89. Cheserek, who only gained the front position as the pair leaned at the finish line won $4000 in prize money.
This race uses a handicap format where the elite women are given a 26-second head start over the elite men. In last year’s contest, Cheserek overtook the women’s champion, Merriam Cherop of Kenya, in the final 10 meters of the race to be declared the overall champion. But this year, because of a fast start by Bett, the women were overtaken in the third quarter of the race, quickly ending the gender challenge.
“I didn’t feel them (coming),” Cherop said after finishing as the top women 4:22.54, the fastest mile ever run in Hawaii by a woman, breaking her own record from last year’s race. She did her best to give chase, she said. “I decided to go with them, but they go faster.”
Indeed, they were running very fast, and Cheserek wasn’t expecting such a hot pace so late in the race, especially given that the roadway was very wet from heavy rain just before the start.
“Not really, not at all,” Cheserek said when asked if he expected such a fast pace. “I was just expecting (him) to take it out really quick, but it was very close. I got out so hard today, like 55 (seconds for the first quarter), I think.”
With the gender challenge already settled, Cheserek and Bett battled side-by-side with Waikiki Beach on their right. In the final 100 meters with a crowed of wet but excited spectators cheering on both sides of the course, Bett had a one-step advantage. But Cheserek, always a clever racer, stayed just off of the teenager’s right shoulder waiting to pounce.
“I was like, I don’t want to (just) keep up today, I’m going to fight to the line,” Cheserek said. He added: “I just leaned it.”
Despite the close finish, Bett acknowledged he had been been beaten. “I know Cheserek was a top guy,” Bett said. “I had to kick to catch on him, then he was tough. I seen that he had taken position one. Unfortunately, it became position two (for me).”
Remarkably, four men broke four minutes, despite the wet conditions Behind Cheserek and Bett, Craig Engels of Portland, Ore., clocked 3:59.94, and Ben Flanagan of Canada ran 3:59.97. Two-time Olympic 1500m medalist Nick Willis ran 4:00.78 and was the fifth man.
Prize money at this race is paid based on overall order of finish, regardless of gender. So, Cherop was officially third with a handicap time of 3:56.54 which gave her the third place prize of $1000. Bett was awarded $2000 as the second place finisher.
Cheserek, who was the fastest miler in the world this year with a 3:49.44 run indoors last February, was pleased to walk away with the win, but perhaps even happier that he’ll be spending a few days relaxing here at the beach before he has to go home next week. He couldn’t wait to hit the beach.
“Oh man, I’m looking forward to going to the hotel right now and go to the beach all day,” Cheserek said gleefully.