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Inline marathon: Perez edges rivals by 6 seconds; 16-year-old skates to women’s title

Franchesca Bell (center), 16, of Orlando, Fla., celebrates as she crosses the finish line of the NorthShore Inline Marathon in Duluth on Saturday morning. Bell is the overall women’s winner of this year’s race. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)1 / 3
Carlos Perez, 23, of Colombia celebrates as he crosses the finish line of the NorthShore Inline Marathon in Duluth on Saturday morning. Perez is the overall winner of this year’s race. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)2 / 3
The elite men leave the starting line of the Northshore Inline Marathon near Two Harbors on Saturday morning. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)3 / 3

Carlos Perez didn’t come to Northeastern Minnesota to sight-see Saturday. He came to win North America’s largest inline marathon.

Turns out, the 23-year-old Colombian was able to do both.

Perez surged to victory in the 19th NorthShore Inline Marathon in a workmanlike 1 hour, 6 minutes, 59 seconds. He emphatically popped his jersey upon crossing the Harbor Drive finish line 6.7 seconds ahead of defending champ Jarrett Paul of Tampa, Fla., and third-place Wesley Grandy of Evans, Colo., a blur of energy that belied the serenity Perez felt earlier in the race along Scenic Highway 61.

“I’ve never raced in a more beautiful race,” he said through an interpreter. “I’m always very concentrated on what I’m doing, but it helped me a lot to relax looking around and seeing the surroundings.

“The lake was beautiful and the people with the cowbells were really exciting.”

It was another photo-finish at a race that’s become accustomed to drama. In fact, there was a lengthy delay in the posting of final results as officials sorted through the closeness of it all. When they finally were unveiled, they merely confirmed what so many spectators witnessed in Canal Park on a crisp, clear morning: that Perez was a narrow winner ahead of Paul and Grandy, who finished the Two Harbors-to-Duluth race in 1:07:05 and 1:07:07, respectively.

Paul finished nearly 10 minutes faster than his triumphant 1:16:54.88 of a year ago when skaters spun directly into a pace-pummeling headwind. There was another stiff wind Saturday — albeit much more manageable — and Paul looked like he was going to repeat as the runaway trio rounded the final bend behind the DECC.

That’s when the 27-year-old Paul said his calf locked up. He was spent.

“Once we got around this last corner and I saw that he (Perez) was pretty close to me, I was like, ‘That’s all I have,’ ” Paul said. “I gave it everything and I was about 50 meters short.”

As the expansive vistas of the North Shore gave way to the Interstate 35 tunnels, Perez still felt strong. He expertly conserved his energy, and had enough gas left in the tank for a closing charge.

“I realized when people were getting really tired, that’s when I went for my final breakaway,” he said.

An ambitious early pace Saturday ultimately fizzled at the emergence of a modest southwest wind halfway through.

“We were making some really good time at the beginning and all of us were looking at our watches, saying, ‘We’re under time,’ ” Paul said.

The wind ensured that Chad Hedrick’s course record of 57:18, set in 1998, remained safe.

“Once that happened, people didn’t want to lead anymore,” Paul said. “Once we got to that point, everybody just kind of settled in.”

WOMEN

Teen takes title

Most teenagers’ idea of a perfect weekend morning likely would consist of a bed, comfy clothes and a blank itinerary.

Yet, there was Franchesca Bell on Saturday, pushing down Harbor Drive to claim the women’s crown in a time of 1:25:19.

In her second trip to Duluth, Bell is leaving a national champion.

“It’s not something an average 16-year-old goes through every day, so I’m really blessed to be here and be winning these things,” Bell, of Orlando, Fla., said.

Bell is coached by three-time world speed skating champ Jorge Botero, who was 25th in the men’s race in 1:11:00.

When the teen left Orlando on Thursday, the temperature was in the 90s, a far cry from the 50s that enveloped the course Saturday — it was 42 at the start. Still, that didn’t dampen the teen’s excitement afterward.

“It was a great course,” Bell said. “People were switching off leading and we all finished as a group, which was nice.”

Brianna Bocox of Cheyenne, Wyo., was second in the women’s race less than a second behind.

  • Jerry Chera, 42, of Duluth breezed to victory in the Wheels Off Half Marathon men’s race, finishing in 1:22:00, while Superior’s Marie Van Overmeiren won the women’s race in 1:33:54.
  • David Hyopponen, 34, of Duluth captured the men’s Tunnel 10K in 34:29; Sarah Quede of Superior claimed the women’s title in 41:21.
  • Caitlin Greg of Minneapolis, one of only three women in the race, won the Rollerski event in 1:30:12.
  • No results of the inline Half Marathon were available as of press time.

NORTHSHORE INLINE MARATHON / NOTEBOOK

Inline ‘ambassador’ right at home in Duluth

Eddy Matzger, profiled in Friday’s News Tribune, completed Saturday’s NorthShore Inline Marathon in 1 hour, 7 minutes, 43 seconds, less than a minute behind race-winner Carlos Perez.

The 47-year-old Matzger, who lives in Thailand and races out of Floyd, Va., is renowned as one of his sport’s best ambassadors. He was all smiles as he wheeled through the finish area Saturday, shaking hands and sharing hugs as he went.

Matzger, who claims to have skated on Mount Kilimanjaro and the Great Pyramid, as well as atop the Great Wall of China and during the Running of the Bulls in Pamplona, Spain, doesn’t mask his affinity for Duluth.

“It’s a great race to race, and I love the Minnesota Nice,” he said. “You can’t beat that.”

Saturday’s weather reminded Matzger of his San Francisco upbringing.

“I felt right at home,” he said.

Matzger was preparing to skate back to Two Harbors to retrieve his car. He’ll do the same thing today as he helps race officials clean up the course.

CNN’s Tuchman does Duluth

For years, Gary Tuchman, a national correspondent for CNN, has wanted to participate in North America’s largest inline marathon. Work, though, always seemed to get in the way.

This year, he was determined to make it happen.

“I wasn’t going to miss it this time,” he said.

Tuchman, who resides in Alpharetta, Ga., completed Saturday’s race in 2:33:41. He was blown away by the community support, noting the cowbell-toting people who lined the course.

At the start of the race, he realized he had forgotten his sunglasses. A nearby woman offered her extra pair, sparing Tuchman a blinding skate along Lake Superior.

“I’ve always loved Minnesota,” he said. “I’ve done a lot of stories here over the years, so it was nice to have just a personal trip to be able to spend time here, especially this time of year when it’s so beautiful.”

Ex-Maroon Loon returns

Jay Jackson, who served as the Maroon Loon, Minnesota Duluth’s unofficial hockey mascot from 1983-86, was back in town for what he calls “the best race in America.”

“I wait all year for this race — it’s just an unbelievable town,” said Jackson, who now lives in Arizona.

At UMD, Jackson was roommates with Skeeter Moore, executive director of the NorthShore Inline Marathon, as well as Jim Johnson, an assistant coach with the San Jose Sharks who played 14 seasons in the NHL.

Florida woman races to recovery

A month ago, Britte Lowther of Palm Bay, Fla., hardly could skate a mile. Saturday, she skated more than 26 of them.

The 29-year-old was diagnosed last December with leukemia. Today, she is in remission, though still looking at more than two years of regular chemotherapy treatments to keep the disease away.

Lowther, a third-year medical student, finished the marathon in 2:43:58. She is raising money for immunotherapy research.

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