Chesang wins Bjorklund Half-Marathon; Hunter-Galvan is top woman

Duluth is a long way from New Zealand, but Liza Hunter-Galvan hopes her efforts at the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon today will carry across the Pacific.

Duluth is a long way from New Zealand, but Liza Hunter-Galvan hopes her efforts at the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon today will carry across the Pacific.

Hunter-Galvan, a 39-year-old native of Auckland, New Zealand, won the race in a personal-best time of 1 hour, 13 minutes and 20 seconds, a result she hopes will guarantee her a spot for her country in the marathon at the Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

"I think this is going to help," she said. "I should find out really soon."

Hunter-Galvan's personal-best of 2:30:39 in the Amsterdam Marathon last year easily topped the standard of 2:33 set by Athletics New Zealand, the country's governing body for track and field, which should have earned her a berth on the team. However, selectors for Athletics New Zealand, believing Hunter-Galvan could not finish in the top 16 at Beijing, left her off the squad.

Hunter-Galvan appealed the ruling, and on Friday the Sports Tribunal of New Zealand released a 36-page decision recommending that she be reconsidered for a spot on the country's Olympic team. Athletics New Zealand must make a final ruling by June 30, the deadline for countries to submit a list of participants to the International Olympic Committee.


Hunter-Galvan, while trying to be diplomatic about the issue, obviously has been affected by the process.

"It's against the whole Olympic charter what [Athletics New Zealand] is doing, saying that if you don't have a chance at making the top 16 then you shouldn't go," she said. "It's absolutely ridiculous because that's not what the Olympics is founded on. It's founded on bringing the best people from around the world, not the best people in the world. Otherwise you'd have 10 people competing.

"Hopefully, they'll do the right thing."

Hunter-Galvan said selection committee members wanted her to meet a specific time in the Garry Bjorklund.

"They wanted me to run a sub-1:15 to prove that I'm fit enough," she said. "They're reconsidering my nomination as we speak."

Hunter-Galvan's previous best half-marathon time was 1:15:01 at Monterrey, Mexico, in 2003, and she finished 51st in the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens.

But she's improved her marathon time by 6 minutes since then, and was patient at the start of today's race. She ran in third place for the opening 5 miles when she thought the pace was too fast, and then reeled in the leaders.

"I decided at one point in the race to not worry about time and go for the win," she said. "Initially, I went to get second place [past the 5-mile mark]. Then I gave a stronger surge to go after first place."


She caught eventual runner-up Kenyan Caroline Rotich at about 10 miles and passed her on a hill. Rotich finished in 1:14:40.

"I thought she was gone and I was running for second place," Hunter-Galvan said. "She looked really good and strong. All of a sudden, at the top of the hill, she started coming back to me. After 10 miles, I put on a strong surge and passed her. I knew she wasn't coming with me."

Crossing the finish line was a welcome sight for Hunter-Galvan, who lives in Helotes, Texas, and trains in Flagstaff, Ariz. The mother of four had a trying year in 2007 when she was involved in a serious auto accident, and failed to finish Grandma's Marathon. She was attempting to reach New Zealand's Olympic qualifying standard, but pulled out at the 18-mile mark when a hamstring flared up.

New Zealand sports officials, Hunter-Galvan said, offered that as one of the reasons why she shouldn't be allowed to run in the Olympics.

"They tried to use that against me, to say that I can't run well in the heat and that Beijing is going to be hot," she said. "It took me a long time to mentally get over from withdrawing last year."

r Katie Koski, 35, of Duluth was the top local finisher, coming in fifth in 1:18:46. St. Scholastica graduate Jen Houck of Wright was seventh in 1:19:21.




Mathew Chesang intended to run the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon a year ago, but waited too long to find a hotel room in the Duluth area and ended up canceling his comp entry into the elite field.

This time, Chesang called to reserve a room in April.

The early planning paid off as the 26-year-old Kenyan sprinted away from Fernando Cabada to win in a personal-best 1:04:48. That time was the second best in the 18 years since the race began, less than a half-minute off six-time winner Ryan Meissen's course record 1:04:19 set in 2002.

Chesang, who ran at Kansas State University in Manhattan, Kan., and trains alone in the Kansas City suburb of Olathe, Kan., followed Cabada as he broke away from the main pack at the 5-kilometer mark. The pair ran together at the front for most of the remaining 10 miles.

"We ran side by side," Chesang said. "We were helping each other."

Cabada, a 26-year-old native of Fresno, Calif., who trains in Boulder, Colo., decided to leave the main pack in order to maintain a 4:55-per-mile pace.

"At 3 miles, I decided to try and keep the pace going because I knew [the lead pack] wouldn't be able to keep it up," said Cabada, the American record-holder at 25 kilometers, whose personal best half-marathon time of 1:02:45 was tops in the field of 5,485 starters heading into the race. "I was planning at 10 miles to test it and try to drop him. I was confident that I could win, but the hills got to me and the wind got to me. In the last half-mile, he took off."

Chesang, whose previous best time was 1:05:31 earlier this year in the Palos Bank Southwest Half Marathon in Illinois, showed he had a lot in reserve coming down Canal Park Drive as he distanced himself from Cabada.


"I picked it up and he didn't respond," Chesang said.

Chesang pocketed $1,500 in prize money while Cabada earned $1,000.

Defending champion Chad Johnson of Rochester Hills, Mich., finished seventh in 1:06:53, two spots ahead of Meissen (1:07:45). Jeremy Polson of Duluth was the top local finisher with a 14th-place time of 1:08:24.

Chesang, who works for Garmin, a company that designs, manufactures and markets GPS navigation, communication and sonar products, primarily ran 10,000 meters in college and placed 12th in the 2004 NCAA Division I cross country meet.

This was his fourth half-marathon, a distance he said he plans on specializing in until he's ready for the marathon. Does that mean he'll be back to defend his title?

"If I'm invited, yes," he said.

And if there's an available hotel room.

RICK WEEGMAN can be reached at (218) 723-5302, (800) 456-8181 or by e-mail at .

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