There were supposed to be two targets in the Freihofer’s 5k Run for Women.
Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia will have to shoulder that responsibility herself now, after Emily Chebet of Kenya was forced to skip today’s 36th annual elite road race because of a schedule conflict.
Until last week, it was billed as an attempt by both women to win Freihofer’s for the third time, but Chebet, who won it in 2010 with a course-record 15:12 and last year, is in her homeland of Kenya getting ready for next weekend’s trials for the Commonwealth Games.
That puts everyone’s eyes squarely on Daska, who won Freihofer’s in 2011 and 2012, and is coming off an impressive race at the Bolder Boulder 10k on Memorial Day.
“She definitely feels that [attention]. But she’s fine with it,” said Daska’s translator, Mesfin Solomon.
The Freihofer’s Run, which carries a $23,000 prize purse for the open division, including $10,000 to the winner, will start from the Madison Avenue entrance to the New York State Museum at 9:45 a.m.
Although Daska and Chebet have accounted for the last four Freihofer’s championships, their competition against each other in this race has been spotty.
Daska missed last year’s race with an injury, Chebet missed the 2012 race with an injury, and they finished third to each other in the respective 2011 and 2010 wins.
Even without Chebet, the field is loaded with elite women from around the world, especially Africa, with a sprinkling of very strong Americans, including Saratoga Central Catholic High School graduate Megan Hogan, who was 10th last year and fifth in 2011.
“She expects a lot of competition,” Solomon said, speaking for Daska. “There are a lot of great ladies running, so it’s going to be a little bit challenging, but she’ll be trying her best.
“Monday, she won Bolder, and if it goes like that, she expects to do well.”
Running at altitude in Boulder, Colo., just five days ago, Daska made a bold early move to gain separation from the field.
Among those hanging back was Shalane Flanagan, who said after the race she wanted to stay in contact in case Daska misjudged her early surge.
As it turned out, Daska didn’t, and she finished in 32:21, missing the course record by eight seconds despite running by herself.
Flanagan was 44 seconds back in second place.
“Something was going on there,” Freihofer’s race director George Regan said. “I think it was the competition itself that she [Daska] was concerned with, because of who was in the field, and they didn’t follow her. She just kept going.”
Through Solomon, Daska said she won’t approach Freihofer’s with a predetermined strategy.
Instead, she’ll read the early pace and react accordingly.
“She can’t tell what technique she’ll use, but as the challenge goes [today], she’ll find out and use her best effort to win,” Solomon said. “See the competition, how they’re pushing it.”
A key late addition to the field is two-time Olympian Lucy Kabuu of Kenya.
She was ninth in the 10,000 meters at the 2004 Games and seventh in that event in 2008.
She has a 14:33 personal record on the track for 5,000 meters and 30:39 for 10,000 (in the Olympics), and is coming off a win in the difficult Bangalore 10k.
“It’s the richest 10k in the world, and she beat Joyce Chepkirui and Linet Masai,” Freihofer’s elite athlete recruiter John Tope said. “It was a good field, and she set a course record at 31:48.”
“Emily Chebet is a down-and-dirty runner; she goes hard from the gun, and that keeps you honest,” Regan said. “Will Lucy do that? Possibly. But it’s 5k, so any tactics could apply.
“If it comes down to a kick, who are your best kickers in there? It would be more advantageous for Lucy to go [early], I think. We’ll see. She’s a two-time Olympian, so she’s a wily competitor. She knows what the score is.”
Besides Hogan, the other top Americans are Amy Van Alstine, who was fourth last year, and Michelle Lilienthal (nee Frey), who was 11th last year and sixth in 2012.
Tope said he expects Kenyan Agnes Cheserek to be a possible top-five finisher, and another Kenyan, Alice Kamunya, has been running very well this year and is looking forward to cutting back in distance to 5k. She has been training in Schenectady this spring and last fall with a group of Kenyans called Team CPOYA.
Another runner in the field with Olympic experience is South African Rene Kalmer, who competed in the 2012 and 2008 Games. She’s joined in the field by her sister, Christine.
Two-time Boston Marathon winner and 1984 Olympic marathon gold medal winner Joan Benoit Samuelson, who has become a beloved figure here through her involvement and participation at the Freihofer’s Run, is back and will run.