Daska puts away rivals in Freihofer’s 5k (with photo gallery)

Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia looked comfortable running down the long straightaway on Western Avenue on

A flick of the chin, a quick glance over her right shoulder.

The tiniest moment of doubt.

But that’s all.

Then, it was over.

Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia looked comfortable running down the long straightaway on Western Avenue on Saturday morning, but after having just missed first place the two previous years, she allowed herself a precautionary look behind her during the second mile of the 33rd Freihofer’s 5k Run for Women.

Confident that Aheza Kiros of Ethiopia and defending champion Emily Chebet of Kenya were no longer a threat, Daska, 27, grad­ually pulled away for a victory in 15:18.5, one of the fastest times ever on the course.

It was especially gratifying for the 2011 Houston Marathon winner, since she was second to another Ethiopian, Teyba Erkesso, in 2009 and third behind Chebet last year.

“The race was very good, the course was also very good, and the weather was great, so I’m happy that I won here,” Daska said through translator Sabrina Yohannes. “This is my third time running this race. The first time I was second, the second time I was third, so I’m very happy that I won.”

Daska earned $10,000 from the $27,000 prize purse.

A field that fell just short of 5,000, but still a record (4,814), packed Madison Avenue, with former Saratoga Springs star

Nicole Blood taking it out at the start, soon to be absorbed into a pack of 13 that included Ballston Spa native Megan Hogan a quarter-mile into the race.

Daska, with just Chebet and Kiros in tow, led through a slow-ish first mile in 5:06.

By the time the leaders reached the right off Lake Avenue onto Western, Daska led by about a meter, and shortly into the long straight on Western, just before Thurlow Terrace, she quickly turned her head to the right to see where the other two leaders were.

They were still in contact, two or three meters back, but Daska had all the information she needed.

She hit the two-mile mark in 10:04 leading by 5-10 meters and didn’t appear to be laboring at any point, while Kiros and Chebet duked it out for second behind her.

“After a certain point, it seemed like they weren’t able to keep up, so I continued from that point along, and pretty much from two miles on, I was on my own,” she said.

On a sunny, dry, warm day with no breeze, Daska enjoyed an easy coast down Madison Avenue to the roar of the crowd, with only the clock to chase.

Her time was just off the record that was set by Azmae Leghzaoui in 2005 and broken by Chebet last year with a 15:12.

“I saw that I was alone and that they were pretty far back, so I just kept going,” she said. “I feel extremely happy; I feel great joy.”

Chebet had a step on Kiros on Henry Johnson Boulevard as they made the final pass through Washington Park, but Kiros drew even at Lancaster Street.

Chebet was back in second by herself as they turned left onto Madison, but Kiros passed her back at Lark Street and came home in 15:22.1, as Chebet followed, grimacing, in 15:28.7.

The 2010 champion, who arrived from Nairobi on Thursday, said she had a knee injury and wasn’t 100 percent healthy for the race.

“I’m happy,” Chebet said. “It was hot, it was very long, and I have an injury.”

Also speaking through Yohannes, Kiros, the 2011 Carlsbad winner, said she may have misjudged her run a little bit.

“I kind of felt that I still had time,” she said. “But then, all of a sudden, I looked, and it was ending, and I couldn’t get any closer.

“The beginning was not very fast. At a certain point, there was an increasing and decreasing of the pace. It felt like we were doing intervals, and that’s not good for the legs, it makes them numb. As soon as I saw the finish and realized that it was almost over, I really pushed for second place. Once I saw it and knew it was all I could go for, I went for it at that point.”

Hogan, a former basketball star at Saratoga Central Catholic who didn’t start running until she was a sophomore at George Washington University, continued her remarkable rise among the ranks of U.S. distance runners.

Despite suffering from an ulcer, she worked her way through the Freihofer’s course as part of the second pack behind the leaders.

Having just beaten Alissa Mc­Kaig by a second at Mt. SAC, she just missed this time, finishing four-tenths of a second behind in fifth overall as McKaig was first among the U.S. runners in 15:52.9.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to turn out,” Hogan said. “I’ve been sick the past month. The first part of the race, I was like, ‘Get comfortable, get comfortable.’ Halfway into it, I thought, ‘This feels really good,’ and at the end I kind of went for it, and it turned out really well.

“I thought I had her. I was literally sprinting to the end. Oh, my gosh.”

Diane Nukuri Johnson of Burundi had been in the pack with McKaig and Hogan, and finished in sixth (15:56.6).

Blood, the nine-time All-Amer­ican at Oregon and multiple New York high school state champ, had planned to stay on the West Coast to prepare for the U.S. outdoor track nationals later this month, but took a bit of a break to spend some time at home.

It was like old times, as her former coach at Saratoga, Art Kranick, hollered his familiar “Pick it up” as the field turned into the park early in the race.

Blood promised she’d take it out hard at the start, and did so, but soon found herself in the midst of a pack of 13.

She finished 16th overall in 17:05.

“That was awesome,” she said. “It was a lot of fun. I mean, I wish I could’ve performed a little bit better, but I really enjoyed it, every moment of it. It was just a blast, and I felt everybody’s support.

“I wanted a fast start. I got out, and everybody else took it a little bit easier up the first hill. I don’t regret anything. I was very surprised that people weren’t next to me until 400 meters in.”

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