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Sang, Rop swap; Bertasso female champ

  • Defending champion Glarius Rop (1) and friend and fellow Kenyan runner Amos Sang, who won this year's 26th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10K by a second, make their way up Water Street before crossing the Iron Bridge and taking on daunting Crittendon Hill Saturday morning in Shelburne Falls and Buckland.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

    Defending champion Glarius Rop (1) and friend and fellow Kenyan runner Amos Sang, who won this year's 26th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10K by a second, make their way up Water Street before crossing the Iron Bridge and taking on daunting Crittendon Hill Saturday morning in Shelburne Falls and Buckland.
    Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Womens Brisge Classic 10K winner Karen Bertasso of Albany, N.Y., is all smiles as she crosses the finish line Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

    Womens Brisge Classic 10K winner Karen Bertasso of Albany, N.Y., is all smiles as she crosses the finish line Saturday.
    Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Amos Sang (2) crosses the finish line a hair ahead of friend and fellow Kenyan runner Glarius Rop (1), who won last year's race.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

    Amos Sang (2) crosses the finish line a hair ahead of friend and fellow Kenyan runner Glarius Rop (1), who won last year's race.
    Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Runners applaud as Off Beat Womyn's Drumming Ensemble drives them on with the beat of bongo drums Saturday in Shelburne Falls/Buckland, where the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k was run.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

    Runners applaud as Off Beat Womyn's Drumming Ensemble drives them on with the beat of bongo drums Saturday in Shelburne Falls/Buckland, where the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k was run.
    Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Second and First finishers after race.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Second and First finishers after race. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • The start of the Bridge of Flowers 10K with winners leading pack. Recorder/Paul Franz

    The start of the Bridge of Flowers 10K with winners leading pack. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • The start of the 2014 Bridge of Flowers 10K.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    The start of the 2014 Bridge of Flowers 10K. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Womens winner approaches finish.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Womens winner approaches finish. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Bridge Of Flowers 10K start. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Bridge Of Flowers 10K start. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Getting ready for the start runners lline up on the Iron Bridge. Recorder/Paul Franz

    Getting ready for the start runners lline up on the Iron Bridge. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Womens #4 on Water St.  Recorder/Paul Franz

    Womens #4 on Water St. Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Runners cross the Iron Bridge near the begining of the race Saturday during the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k. The August weather couldn't have beenmore cooperative.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

    Runners cross the Iron Bridge near the begining of the race Saturday during the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k. The August weather couldn't have beenmore cooperative.
    Recorder/Paul Franz Purchase photo reprints »

  • Defending champion Glarius Rop (1) and friend and fellow Kenyan runner Amos Sang, who won this year's 26th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10K by a second, make their way up Water Street before crossing the Iron Bridge and taking on daunting Crittendon Hill Saturday morning in Shelburne Falls and Buckland.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Womens Brisge Classic 10K winner Karen Bertasso of Albany, N.Y., is all smiles as she crosses the finish line Saturday.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Amos Sang (2) crosses the finish line a hair ahead of friend and fellow Kenyan runner Glarius Rop (1), who won last year's race.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Runners applaud as Off Beat Womyn's Drumming Ensemble drives them on with the beat of bongo drums Saturday in Shelburne Falls/Buckland, where the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k was run.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Second and First finishers after race.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • The start of the Bridge of Flowers 10K with winners leading pack. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • The start of the 2014 Bridge of Flowers 10K.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Womens winner approaches finish.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Bridge Of Flowers 10K start. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Getting ready for the start runners lline up on the Iron Bridge. Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Womens #4 on Water St.  Recorder/Paul Franz
  • Runners cross the Iron Bridge near the begining of the race Saturday during the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10k. The August weather couldn't have beenmore cooperative.<br/>Recorder/Paul Franz

SHELBURNE FALLS — Amos Sang and Glarius Rop had the course all to themselves Saturday, graced by a police escort and serenaded by bagpipers, hula hoopers and bongo drummers from start to finish at the 36th Bridge of Flowers Classic 10K Road Race.

It was a repeat performance of last year’s finish except the two running partners changed leads. “I won it last year so we decided it was his turn,” the 30-year-old Rop said of Sang’s one-second win at the wire in 31 minutes, 55 seconds.

Running in 65-degree weather, they breezed along doing five-minute miles, sputtering but briefly up the steep incline of Crittenden Hill. “That hill is very tricky for us,” said Rop. “The rest is a walkover.”

Justin Freeman of New Hampton, N.H., repeated his third-place effort of a year ago, finishing 32 seconds behind and running like a determined kid chasing after the two rascals who’d stolen his bicycle. While the race’s outcome was never in doubt, nor was the sanctity of Daniel Kihara’s course record of 30:10 that he set in 1997. “We’re not elite runners,” said Rop, “this is kind of a part-time thing.”

The 5-foot-10, 134-pound Sang and the 5-foot-9 125-pound Rop were simply doing what comes naturally to Kenyans. Lithe and muscular, they grew up in Eldoret, a city of about 300,000 in Western Kenya, where fleet-footed distance runners like two-time Olympic gold-medal winner Kip Keino emerge from the mountains.

Rop used his running talent to get a track scholarship to AIC, where he double-majored in psychology and occupational science to teach and coach in the U.S.

Sang’s brother Edwin competed at Texas Tech and he followed him to the Lone Star State to enroll at Abilene Christian University in West Texas. “It’s not a good place for running, there are no mountains,” Sang said in his Swahili accent. “I wanted to play soccer but they didn’t have any scholarships and so I went to track.”

The two Kenyans met while competing in NCAA tournaments and at the Penn Relays at Franklin Field in Philadelphia. Today Rop lives in Palmer and Sang lives in Indian Orchard, and they partner up at races throughout the Northeast.

Last week Sang broke the course record at a four-mile road race in Rhode Island, and in April they finished 1-2 at the James Joyce Ramble 10K in Dedham.

Saturday they split $300 in prize money and hopped into Sang’s GMC Yukon for a tour of the countryside. “We do it for fun, as part of our day,” said Sang. “In Rhode Island we went to the beach and played soccer.”

The women’s winner was 30-year-old Karen Bertasso, a physician’s assistant who lives in Albany and runs for the Willow Street Athletic Club. “Crittenden Hill was tough but that’s just one mile. I ran five hard miles and one slow or easy mile so I’d have enough left.”

Bertasso ran track and played soccer at Union College in Schenectady. “It’s a great atmosphere here. There’s lots of volunteers and plenty of water and I appreciated that.”

Earlier this summer Bertasso won the Adirondack 10-mile Distance Run and was 16th at the Boilermaker 15K in Utica. Her 38:49 in the Bridge of Flowers was 10th-best overall. She finished more than a minute ahead of runner-up Apryl Sabadosa of Westfield and more than two minutes ahead of third-place finisher Katie Carlson of Princeton. “I was kind of by myself,” she said.

The race included 211 runners from Franklin County. The top five male finishers were Aaron Stone of Greenfield in 36:45, Jesse Posl Rhinehart of Conway (39:46), John Herron of Shelburne Falls (40:26), Luke Looman of Colrain (40:40) and Glenn Caffery of Leyden (40:45). The top five females were Amy Rusiecki of South Deerfield in 42:01, Katelynn Venne (44:14) and Molly Cantor (49:06) of Shelburne Falls, Madison Boucias of Buckland (50:07) and Robin McKeon of Northfield (50:09).

Faces in the crowd included Colrain’s Rachel Marston, who grabbed a cold bottle of water at the finish and gasped, “That hill was awful. I drove up it but I still couldn’t imagine it would be that bad.”

Greenfield’s Mike Gralenski said he geared for the arduous climb up Crittenden Hill by training on the 10th Mountain Division Trail at the Northfield Mountain Recreation Center. “The deer flies were my motivator,” laughed Gralenski, who finished 343rd in 59:01.

Not even the shots of beet-and-lemon juice that La Luncheonette was selling for $3.50 could offset the rigors of climbing the hill that gives the Bridge of Flowers its reputation as the toughest 10K in New England. Indeed, Bernardston’s Dave Lorenz was satisfied to say simply, “I ran every step of it.”

Meanwhile running guru Tom Derderian claimed he had no recollection of any such hill. “I don’t remember, I lost my mind during the race,” said the longtime coach of the Greater Boston Track Club and author of two books about the Boston Marathon.

One by one, runners staggered past the finish line, grabbed cold bottles of water and listened to a country jazz band called Pitchfork playing on the deck of Mole Hollow Candles, soothing for 80-year-old Peter Nimkoff and his daughter Margaret Bowry.

Nimkoff attended Florida State on a track scholarship and lives in Tallahassee. “There’s a charm up here and the folks are so hospitable. It’s colorful with the flowers ... a bucolic setting in what’s essentially an old New England town.”

Nimkoff had run in the three-kilometer event that was won by Agawam’s Jason Beaver in 10 minutes, 19 seconds. “I was No. 1 in my category. I always win by default. There’s nobody else in my age group so it’s a built-in advantage.”

If he’d run in the 10K, Nimkoff would’ve collided with 85-year-old Ray Willis of Charlemont, but thankfully they’d found their respective niches in different races.

“Say good stuff about Mike McCusker, how he pulled it off with his charm and good looks,” said Derderian, who paraphrased Gertrude Stein: “Asphalt is asphalt is asphalt. This race has a distinct character that many races don’t have. It’s not just the race. It’s the town and the commitment.”

Nearly 1,000 people participated in this year’s event, 706 runners in the 10K (117 more than last year) and 226 in the 3K. “I am delighted,” said McCusker of the record turnout. “People think of me as the race director but there’s a bunch of race directors here, and there’s a lot of moving parts to this event. It was really satisfying to see this come off as well as it did.”

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