Rop, Westover reign at Bridge Race

  • With perfect race weather predicted and 692 runners already registered for Saturday's 36th running of the Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic in Shelburne Falls, expect the start to be even more crowded than last year's (above).<br/>Submitted photo/Megan Haley

    With perfect race weather predicted and 692 runners already registered for Saturday's 36th running of the Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic in Shelburne Falls, expect the start to be even more crowded than last year's (above).
    Submitted photo/Megan Haley

  • Last year's runnerup, Amos Sang, will be back this year along with Kenyan countryman, Springfield neighbor, training partner and defending champion Glarius Rop.<br/>Recorder/Megan Haley

    Last year's runnerup, Amos Sang, will be back this year along with Kenyan countryman, Springfield neighbor, training partner and defending champion Glarius Rop.
    Recorder/Megan Haley

  • Jason Dufner, left, hugs his wife Amanda after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, in Pittsford, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

    Jason Dufner, left, hugs his wife Amanda after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, in Pittsford, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

  • With perfect race weather predicted and 692 runners already registered for Saturday's 36th running of the Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic in Shelburne Falls, expect the start to be even more crowded than last year's (above).<br/>Submitted photo/Megan Haley
  • Last year's runnerup, Amos Sang, will be back this year along with Kenyan countryman, Springfield neighbor, training partner and defending champion Glarius Rop.<br/>Recorder/Megan Haley
  • Jason Dufner, left, hugs his wife Amanda after winning the PGA Championship golf tournament at Oak Hill Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 11, 2013, in Pittsford, N.Y. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

SHELBURNE FALLS — Training partners Glarius Rop and Amos Sang often run together as Springfield neighbors. On Saturday, the two Kenyans ran together at the front of the 35th annual Bridge of Flowers 10K Classic.

After Sang, 24, made a remarkable comeback to pull even with friend Rop, 29, heading into the final mile of the 6.2-mile race, Rop recovered and pulled away in the end to win by 33 seconds as he crossed the finish line in a time of 32 minutes, 8 seconds in front of a throng of spectators on Bridge Street.

On the women’s side, after a photo-finish was needed to determine last summer’s winner, an artist had enough time to sketch a portrait of Walpole, N.H., winner Heidi Westover before the next- closest woman crossed the line this year. Westover ran away with the win in 37:32.

The men’s race included plenty of drama, though, as the two Kenyans led the pack of 588 runners out of town to start the event, then ran side-by-side throughout much of the early part of the race, including a loop back through town and across the Iron Bridge for the first time. Rop, an All-American who graduated from American International College this past spring after finishing second in the 10,000 meters during the NCAA Division II championships at Colorado State University in Pueblo, Colo., finally took control of the race when the two men began their climb up Crittenden Hill, a one-kilometer ascent that can make or break a runner. After taking the first steps up the hill with Sang by his side, when Rop reached the peak of the hill, he was at least 100 yards ahead of his training partner. Rop said he was surprised to be able to pull away from Sang on the hill, but he felt that because he has been running so much over the course of the spring and summer, he was in better shape than his friend.

“I do well in the hills but it was not the technique that I was trying to get him on,” Rop explained. “I believe he was not in as good shape as me, because he is normally very good on the hills.”

After reaching the top of the hill, runners make their way down the backside of the mountain, where things began to get interesting. Rop appeared to be pulling away for an easy win as he began his descent, but as the runners neared the bottom, Sang suddenly appeared around a corner about 50 yards back. He continued to cut into the lead and was down to 10 yards as the two men went by the four-mile mark. By the time the two men raced past Mohawk Trail Regional High School, they were again side by side and remained that way past the five-mile marker as they began to head back to the center of Shelburne Falls.

“I fell off a little bit on the hill,” Sang explained. “But when we were running back down the hill, I said, ‘Hey, I’m getting closer.’”

But Rop had been saving some energy for the final push into town, and as the runners made their way over the final mile, he pulled away. When he rounded the corner to make his way back across the Iron Bridge to the finish line, Rop had a 30-second lead he took across the finish line. Sang came in second in 32:41.

“The course is OK until you get to the hill,” Sang said with a laugh. “That was the challenge. I looked at the hill on the course online, but you can’t really tell the elevation, how high it is. You have to pace yourself.”

The two men finished over one minute ahead of Justin Freeman, of New Hampton, N.H. Freeman placed third in a time of 33:44. Freeman also finished third last season. Michael Roda from Albany, N.Y., took fourth in 34:38, while Amherst’s Drew Best placed fifth in 35:11.

Westover, who had a second- and third-place finish in the Bridge race earlier in her career but had not run the event since 2008, cruised to the women’s title and said the hilly terrain in her hometown helped her in this event. The 32-year-old Westover finished 13th overall, and was nearly two minutes ahead of the second-place woman.

“It was a good race. That’s a tough course out there,” she said. “That hill is brutal. Anyone that is running today, I give them props, because you know when you get to that hill it’s going to be rough to get to the top. ... But Walpole is really hilly, so I finish every run on a hill.”

Kristina Gracey, from Albany, N.Y., was second in the women’s race (18th overall) in a time of 39:11, while Lori Kingsley, from Wysox, Pa., was right behind in third place (19th overall) in 39:27. Emily Bryans from Delanson, N.Y., was fourth (23rd overall) in 40:09, and Holyoke’s Abby Maloney was fifth (25th overall) in 40:31.

On the men’s side, Aaron Stone was the top finisher from Franklin County; the Greenfield resident took ninth overall in 36:40. Greenfield’s Ben Whitbeck was the second local in 20th overall at 39:33, and Greenfield’s Evan Abelson was the third local in 22nd at 39:51. Bernardston’s Michael Townsley was fourth (24th overall) in 40:17, and Colrain’s Al Ladd was fifth (29th overall) in 40:53.

Among those locals finishing in the top three in age groups was Ashfield’s Lilliana Wells, who finished second in the Female 13 & Under Division in 51:28. In the Male 13 & Under, Buckland’s Bennett Boucias won with a time of 51:27. Owa Hewes from Shelburne Falls came in second in the division in 51:47, while Shelburne’s Kaleb Fitzgerald was third in 54:56.

Buckland’s Madison Boucias took third in the Female 14-18 Division with a time of 50:24, while Greenfield’s Will Borcy took third in the Male 14-18 Division in 41:35. Leverett’s Sarah Dolven won the Female 40-44 Division in 44:47, while Townsley won the Male 40-44 Division. Greenfield’s Janice Bohonowicz placed third in the Female 50-54 in 53:38, and Ladd won the Male 50-54 Division. Joan Lapierre from Shelburne Falls placed second in the Female 60-64 Division in 53:07, and Bob Welsh from Shelburne Falls came in third in the Male 70-74 Division in 54:42. Eighty-four year-old Ray Willis, the oldest person to run the 10K, won the Male 80 & over division in 1 hour, 22 minutes, 50 seconds.

Prior to the 10K main event, the Steve Lewis Subaru 3K Charity Walk & Run took place and Glen Meisenhelder from Feeding Hills raced to the front of the 163-person field to a first-place finish in 11:14. Jacquelyn Pierce from Canton came in second in 11:30, and Julie Dragon from Marlborough was third in 13:19. Jackie Wells, a 10-year-old from Ashfield, took fourth in 13:22, and Gram Pezzati, an 11-year-old from Montague, was fifth in 13:33.

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