Former Blue Streaks star Blood is thrilled to be back home

The presence of former Saratoga Springs and Oregon running star Nicole Blood adds to the qualify of

John Tope got a two-for-one deal and didn’t even know it.

The Freihofer’s 5k Run for Women elite athlete recruiter had Nicole Blood on his list of potential runners for today’s 33rd Freihofer’s, simply to bolster an already top-notch field.

He told public relations director Ed Parham about it and got an unexpected reaction:

“Ed was like, ‘Oh my god, that would be great!’ ” Tope said with a laugh on Friday.

“And I said, ‘Really?’ ”

What he didn’t realize was that he was adding a runner easily recognized by the Capital Region, a multiple New York state champion at Saratoga Springs High School who just finished a distinguished college career at the University of Oregon.

The field is chockablock with ser­ious international talent, but also has a strong American contingent with a distinct Section II element to it.

Besides Blood, Saratoga Cath­olic graduate Megan Hogan, a cross country All-American at George Washington, will be among those chasing $27,000 in purse money when the race begins at 10 a.m. from the New York State Museum on Madison Avenue.

They likely will also be chasing Kenyan Emily Chebet, who arrived from Nairobi on Thursday to

defend the title she won in record-breaking fashion in 2010, running a 15:12 that was a whopping six seconds faster than Asmae Leghzaoui’s time in 2005.

Blood had been preparing for the U.S. outdoor track and field nationals later this month, but got homesick and returned here in late April.

It wasn’t long before she sailed out of the doldrums, on a suggestion by her parents to jump into the Freihofer’s Run while she was home.

“I booked my ticket and actually took a couple days off from running to figure out what I wanted to do,” Blood said. “Do I need a little bit of a break? Do I need to race? My parents said, ‘What about the Freihofer’s Run?’ All of a sudden, I got real excited, I ran out the door and ran that day. It was perfect, and it was exactly what I needed.”

Blood is no newcomer to Freihofer’s.

It has been a staple of the Blue Streaks program for years, in the midst of the Section II outdoor postseason.

She has been away, though.

The 23-year-old, who left the Saratoga program and ran independently, then moved to California to finish her senior year of high school, was a nine-time All-American and four-time Pac-10 champion for the Oregon Ducks.

Now, she’s a member of the Oregon Track Club pursuing a pro running career. She said she may have been serving as a rabbit in a race at the prestigious Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., this weekend, if not for her change of heart in April.

“I had one race out in Oregon where I was out on the track, and I just wasn’t having fun,” she said. “All I was thinking was, I want to go home, I want to visit my family. And that’s not the way I run, I’m always having a good time, always want to be there.

“I actually stopped in that race. I walked off the track and called my mom and told her I was coming home.”

Blood took a few days off, then was instantly rejuvenated by the prospect of preparing for Freihofer’s, in which she finished 46th as a 14-year-old.

She even reconnected with her former Saratoga coaches, Art and Linda Kranick, with whom she had had a falling-out in high school.

“It was the perfect . . . medicine, if you want to put it that way,” Blood said.

She harbors no delusion about where she might finish today or what sort of time she’ll run.

But there is this: It’s fun again, and she’s fit, so she’s going to stay in contact with the lead pack as long as she can and see what happens.

“I’m going to get out hard,” Blood said. “I’m going to put myself in the front pack. To be honest, I didn’t look into people’s PRs, and I didn’t know what I signed up for here. But it’s going to be great. Every day is different for every athlete. This is a road race, you get off the track, it’s not about time, so I’ll be compet­itive with whoever’s out there. I’m going to put myself up front. It’s going to be all the big dogs.

“I can already feel the energy and support from everyone. My mom turned on the news last week, and I was on the news. I didn’t even know I would be. It’s just really cool. It’s a nice homecoming.”

The Freihofer’s Run, which was expected to hit 5,000 entries for the first time ever, was not originally on Chebet’s schedule, either.

She was coaxed to return to defend her championship and arrived in the U.S. from Nairobi on Thursday. She’ll be headed right back overseas to continue racing in Europe.

Besides breaking the course record at Freihofer’s, Chebet won the World Cross Country Champ­ionships in Poland last year.

When interviewed on Friday with fellow Kenyan and compet­itor Everlyne Lagat as a translator, Chebet for the most part responded to questions with a bashful laugh and let Lagat answer for her.

“She said she doesn’t think it’s [travel] going to be really bad, because she’s had good training, so she should be comfortable with the race and the field,” Lagat said.

“She’s going to go with the field, then she will see how she responds, how her body responds, then she can decide to make a judgment

after that.”

Last year, Chebet kicked away from Kenyan Edna Kiplagat in the final kilometer to win by eight seconds.

Kiplagat is not back, but the field is still loaded with runners with sub-15:30 5k PR’s, including Aheza Kiros (14:56), Mamitu Daska, who was third at the 2010 Freihofer’s, American Emily Brown and

Hogan, a basketball star at Spa Catholic who became an elite college runner at GWU.

Australian Benita Willis, a three-time Freihofer’s winner from

2006-08 when she was known as Benita Johnson, is also in the field.

“It used to be the U.S. championship, and you didn’t draw the attention of the international athlete. It wasn’t on their radar,” Tope said. “Now that it’s established that top athletes from around the world come here, it’s on everybody’s schedule.”

Two other runners of note in the field are rising U.S. star Alana Hadley of Charlotte, N.C., and

91-year-old Victoria Michalek of Gloversville, the youngest and oldest invited runners ever, res­pectively.

Hadley was first at the Vertklasse Meet in a PR of 17:06.

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