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At 40, Freihofer's 5k runs deep

At 40, Freihofer's 5k runs deep

As the Freihofer's Run for Women celebrates a big anniversary, there's a big chance of a close finish
At 40, Freihofer's 5k runs deep
Joan Benoit Samuelson, Regina Joyce and Elva Dryer participate in a historical panel for the Freihofer's Run for Women.
Photographer: MIKE FARRELL/FREIHOFER'S RUN FOR WOMEN

ALBANY -- You may as well throw a dart at this Freihofer's 5k Run for Women field, if you're trying to pick the winner.

Lacking a runner known for a sharp start or finishing kick, you probably won't get a dart in return.

As the terrific race celebrates its 40th running on Saturday, the Freihofer's Run has assembled a deep elite field with no runner head and shoulders above the others, so the crowd has reason to expect a competitive race from start to finish.

That's fitting for a race with so much history and which has endured for so long, always putting on a good show for the spectators while drawing Olympians, legends and runners of every stripe.

By now, the hard-working elite athlete coordinator John Tope has at least one advantage when recruiting top runners: the Freihofer's  Run's reputation.

"It has great name value," Tope said on Friday. "You sell it a little more to the ones who haven't been here, but even then, they've heard of the race, they've heard how the community embraces it, and the fact that it's one of the few all-women races in the country makes it a celebration of that and is attractive to a lot of the [elite] women. It's about empowering women, and this is a way to do it. So it's not a hard sell for me."

This year, the race held a special panel discussion with past champions to talk about the history of the race. Then at the annual media hour on Friday, legendary marathoner Joan Benoit Samuelson, who has been an adopted face and voice for the race for years, gave a bag filled with every complementary t-shirt she's received at the Freihofer's Run over the years to representatives of the baking company.

"Congratulations on an amazing 40 years," Samuelson said. "This race has stood the test of time, and so have our bodies for most of that time. I think I speak for the aged runners, the younger ones coming up are inspiring to us to keep running.

"I've got this collection of t-shirts, and I like to give something back to these milestone races."

The race has had its share of close finishes. Betty Springs and Francie Larrieu-Smith actually tied for the victory in 1985, and former Saratoga Springs star Cheri Goddard Kenah barely outleaned Libbie Hickman at the tape in 1999.

It has also had total runaways, but Tope isn't expecting that to be the case on Saturday.

"I think it's going to be really competitive this year, and there isn't a clearcut favorite like we've had some other years," he said. "It's pretty balanced all the way through, so there's a real chance that we could have a balanced pack of five or six for a long time."

A highly tactical race doesn't necessarily translate to a slow finish time, Tope said, especially if the lead pack works together throughout and turns it into a high-speed chess match.

He doesn't see anyone in the elite field who typically uses an explosive late kick, either, so the spectators at the finish could be treated to a result akin to 1985 and 1999.

"If you have three or four, or even two, coming down that incline to the finish line, that's always exciting," he said. "That should be good for the fans, and I think you'll see something similar in the park. You'll see them together for quite awhile."

The Freihofer's Run carries a $28,550 total prize purse and will start and finish on Washington Avenue across from City Hall, weaving through Washington Park between. Race start is 9 a.m.

Although the elite field is evenly balanced, 33-year-old Diane Nukuri of Flagstaff, Ariz., is considered the favorite based on her busy spring following a bout with sciatica this winter.

Freihofer's will be the third leg in a four-race whirlwind for her, which includes a 16:02 at the Osterreichischer Frauenslauf 5k on a flat course in Vienna, Austria, last weekend. A multiple Olympian from Burundi, Nukuri, a U.S. citizen since last year, is running Freihofer's for the first time since her seventh-place finish in 2015, a year before the race decided to restrict the prize purse to Americans.

"I've raced these girls for a couple years, and sometimes they beat me, and sometimes I beat me," she said. "I mean, we come from the 10k, some of us are older, some are marathoners. I think it's fun to get a group of people that you really don't know how fast they're going to run or how they're feeling. I'm just going to concentrate on competing."

"Diane [is a contender], obviously, I think Allie Kieffer will be up there, Emma Bates, Stephanie Bruce is running well right now, Lindsay Flanagan ran pretty well lately ... you can almost throw a dart at somebody," Tope said.

Race organizers are expecting a field of well over 3,000.

"They always keep it interesting and bring all of us here," Nukuri said. "I always say it's like a little reunion with the women you see on the circuit.

"There aren't a lot of events that are still going this strong after 40 years."

Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 518-395-3146 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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