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Grandma's Marathon: Five elite men's runners to watch, including past champions

Will a Kenyan win the Grandma's Marathon men's race for an eighth consecutive year, or can an American cross the finish line first at the 46th running on Saturday in Duluth.

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Milton Rotich of Kenya approaches the finish line of Grandma's Marathon Saturday, June 19, 2021, in Duluth. Rotich was the overall winner with a time of 2:13:04. (Clint Austin / caustin@duluthnews.com)
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DULUTH — The last seven men’s champions of Grandma’s Marathon have all hailed from Kenya, and with 10 Kenyans among the 90-plus elite runners registered — including four previous champions — the East African republic is poised to make it eight-straight races on Saturday.

Record-holder Dominic Ondoro, four-time champion Elisha Barno and defending champion Milton Rotich are all entered for the 46th running of Grandma’s Marathon — 2019 champion Boniface Kongin has withdrawn — which will get underway at 7:40 a.m. in Two Harbors. The winner is estimated to arrive at the finish line at Canal Park in Duluth around 9:50 a.m.

Here’s a look at the top male contenders in this year’s field, who are vying for the $10,000 first-place prize:

Five elite men to watch at 2022 Grandma’s Marathon

The Defending Champ

Milton Rotich, 36, Kenya

Personal record: 2:08:55 (2013 Casablanca Marathon)

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After finishing sixth in Grandma’s Marathon in 2017 in 2:16:16 and fifth in the Garry Bjorklund Half Marathon in 2018, Rotich got himself a win in Duluth upon his return in 2021 by winning Grandma’s in 2:13:04. He hasn’t competed in an official race since then. Over the last two decades, only one runner has strung together consecutive victories at Grandma’s.

Seven years since his last win in a marathon, Milton Rotich stays consistent to hold off the charges of C.J. Albertson.

The Legend

Elisha Barno, 36, Kenya

PR: 2:09:32 (2018 Houston Marathon)

From 2015 through 2018, Barno owned Grandma’s Marathon, winning it a record four straight times. He’s laid down two of the five fastest times ever, winning in 2:10:38 in 2015 (fifth) and in 2:10:06 in 2018 (third). Only Dick Beardsley in 1981 (2:09:37) and Ondoro in 2014 (2:09:06) have posted faster times than Barno, whose reign as Grandma’s champion ended with a 99th-place finish in 2019 — his most recent Grandma’s. He enters this year’s race coming off a fifth-place showing in the Los Angeles Marathon (2:16:40) in March and third in Houston (2:11:16) in January.

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Elisha Barno crosses the finish line to become the first four-time Grandma's Marathon men's winner.
Clint Austin / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Contender

CJ Albertson, 28, United States

PR: 2:10:23 (2022 Boston Marathon)

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Albertson finished second in his Grandma’s debut a year ago, pushing the pace early to drop everyone in the field — except Rotich. Albertson faded toward toward the end to finish in 2:14:29. Fast, early starts are Albertson’s forte. He set a course-record pace in the opening 20 miles of the 2021 Boston Marathon en route to finishing 10th in 2:11:44. He finished 13th in Boston in 2022, but set a new PR in the process.

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C.J. Albertson (left) and Milton Rotich run neck-and-neck at the halfway point of Grandma’s Marathon on Saturday, June 19, 2021. Rotich won the race, with Albertson taking second.
Steve Kuchera / File / Duluth News Tribune

The Newcomer

Parker Stinson, 30, United States

PR: 2:10:53 (2019 Chicago Marathon)

Like Albertson, Stinson has a reputation for running aggressive races, and he’ll have no trouble keeping up with those who want to go fast at the start. Stinson is the current American record holder in the 25K with a time of 1:13:48. A nine-time All-American runner out of the University of Oregon, Stinson is making his Grandma’s Marathon debut on Saturday.

46TH ANNUAL GRANDMA'S MARATHON
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The Olympic hopeful

Brendan Gregg, 33, United States

PR: 2:11:21 (California International Marathon)

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A newcomer like Stinson, Gregg has his eye on the 2024 Olympics in Paris, France. He just missed making the 2020 U.S. Olympic team after finishing 14th at the 2020 U.S. Olympic Trials, finishing in 2:13:27. Gregg won the 2021 California International Marathon with a personal best, topping the time of 2:11:38 that he dropped at the Chicago Marathon in 2019, where he finished 16th.

Related Topics: GRANDMA'S MARATHON
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