ALBANY — Diane Nukuri was feeling pretty good last week.
Then she was feeling better.
So good news got better for Saturday’s Freihofer’s Run for Women 5k.
John Tope, whose job is to gather top-level runners as the race’s elite athlete coordinator, heard last Thursday that the three-time Olympian probably was sufficiently recovered from the May 4 Prague Marathon in Czechoslovakia that she could compete in the Freihofer’s Run.
She confirmed that to him on Friday, so, in the absence of the 2017 and 2018 champions, the elite field will at least be bolstered by the presence of last year’s third-place finisher. Based on that and Nukuri’s 2:33:37 to finish 10th in the women’s division at Prague, she probably is the one to beat when they toe the line on Washington Avenue at 9 a.m.
“She’s excited, and we’re excited. It’s a win-win for everybody,” Tope said Friday night. “It’s hard to say if she should be the favorite, because she is coming off a marathon and probably hasn’t had a lot of speed work. But the other women certainly are going to be looking at her.”
Nukuri, 34, spearheaded a large lead pack through Washington Park in the 2015 Freihofer’s Run before finishing seventh, then didn’t race here for two years before returning last spring, finishing third to Sarah Pagano in 15:55.1, just under 12 seconds faster than her 2015 time.
A native of Burundi who gained dual citizenship from the U.S. in 2017, the 34-year-old Nukuri ran for the University of Iowa, after having made her Olympic debut as a 15-year-old for Burundi in the 5,000 meters in 2000 at Sydney, Australia.
She returned to the Games in 2012, running the marathon in London, and in 2016 in the 10,000 at Rio de Janeiro.
The Freihofer’s Run was prepared to bring Nukuri, a communications major at Iowa, back to the event just to participate in the popular week-long school visitation program.
In fact, she’s scheduled to speak at Rensselaer Park Elementary Wednesday morning, Cobleskill-Richmondville High Wednesday afternoon,Dorothy Nolan Elementary in Saratoga Springs Thursday morning and Shenendehowa High Thursday afternoon.
To get her to compete in the race, too, was a big bonus.
“She’s such a great runner and such a class person,” Tope said. “She ran the Prague Marathon about three weeks ago, and I think that was the hang-up. It was her last major marathon of the spring. We were in a wait-and-see on how she recovered.
“We were happy to bring her to the schools. We told her, ‘If you think you may not be able to compete, we’d love to have you come in and do the schools,’ and she said, ‘Yeah.’ It’s a person with respect and has done a lot for the Freihofer’s race, and we wanted to do what she was comfortable with.”
The open elite field, which will compete for $23,000 of the total available prize money of $28,550, includes Elaina Tabb, Maddie Van Beek, Meghan Peyton, Kaylee Flanagan, Katie Matthews, Lindsey Scherf and Saratoga High senior Kelsey Chmiel, who will run for North Carolina State in the fall.
Nukuri is a marathoner by trade, but holds the Burundi national records in five distances ranging from 1,500 meters up to the marathon’s 26.2 miles.
“She said she doesn’t think all the speed is there yet, but she loves to compete,” Tope said. “We’re thrilled to have her.”