Rainy inline marathon ends in photo finish

Justin Stelly didn't fall Saturday morning. Neither did Briana Kramer. That made a world of difference as they claimed elite titles in the 15th NorthShore Inline Marathon, conducted in intermittent rain from Two Harbors to Harbor Drive in Duluth....

Photo finish
Justin Stelly (left) of Salt Lake City and Julian Rivera of Medelin Colombia cross the finish line Saturday at NorthShore Inline Marathon in Duluth. Stelly won the race with a time of 1:10:01.6 (Clint Austin /

Justin Stelly didn't fall Saturday morning. Neither did Briana Kramer.

That made a world of difference as they claimed elite titles in the 15th NorthShore Inline Marathon, conducted in intermittent rain from Two Harbors to Harbor Drive in Duluth.

Stelly, 23, from Kaplan, La., saw Bont (an inline skate manufacturer) teammate and leader Juan Tobon of Colombia fall 100 meters from the finish after slipping on a painted white stripe on the watery roadway. A stretched left skate in a Hawk-style move gave Stelly a victory in 1 hour,

10 minutes, 1.6 seconds in a photo finish after 26.2 miles. Defending champion Julian Rivera, 24, of Colombia was a 10th of a second behind in 1:10:01.7 and Hank Galbraith, 19, of West Jordan, Utah, was third in 1:10.02.2.

Kramer, 19, from Orlando, Fla., saw her Bont teammate and leader Sophie Webb fall turning left off an Interstate 35 ramp onto Fifth Avenue West, also on a painted line. Zephaneah Akana of Couderay, Wis., then took the lead going behind the DECC, but moved wide to avoid a large puddle. Kramer went to the inside and sped down the final straightaway to a victory in 1:27:32.5. Chelsea Creveling of Kintersville, Pa., was second in 1:27:32.9 and Morgane Echardour of Mississauga, Ontario, was third in 1:27:35.6.


"It was so disappointing to see Juan fall, a teammate who is such a good sprinter, and I knew I had to step it up and make a run for it," said Stelly, fifth in the 2009 NorthShore race and fourth heading into the final stretch Saturday. "I wanted to win this pretty badly for the team and get us on the podium."

Stelly just missed making the U.S. team in long track speedskating for the 2010 Winter Olympics and is training in Salt Lake City, Utah, in preparation for the 2014 Winter Games. In the Chicagoland Inline Marathon on July 25, he won by outsprinting two speed skating Olympians.

Kramer also is in Salt Lake City as an Olympic speedskating hopeful, but was focused on inline skating along the North Shore in her second trip to Duluth.

"Because it was so wet, we knew no one was going to get away on a break. It was just a slower pace than usual," said Kramer, now with four career marathon wins. "I'm the one who usually has terrible luck in the rain, but then Sophie fell and when it came down to the end I just sprinted my heart out."

There were approximately 3,000 entrants combined in the marathon (2,640) and accompanying half-marathon (360), in its seventh year. It was 55 degrees, overcast and calm for the 7:30 a.m. marathon start, yet overnight rain meant wet pavement. Rain reappeared in the final 15 minutes before the elite men finished along the William A. Irvin ore boat.

Rivera's right knee was bloody at the finish after slipping and falling with six miles to go.

"I was trying to keep up and fell, and then I was all by myself for two kilometers," said Rivera, who will compete in the World Inline Championships in October in Colombia. "When we caught up to Juan, he became desperate and fell."

Said Tobon, 25, who ended up 28 seconds behind after bloodying his leg on his fall: "I went to push off on my right wheel and I just went 'boom,' and was on the ground sliding."


The elite winners each earned $1,000 from a prize money purse of $10,400 in the National Roller Cup Series race. The race had 2,365 starters.

In addition to a wet morning, skaters had to deal with a one-mile stretch of Interstate 35 from 26th Avenue East to Leif Erikson Park which featured a new diamond-ground concrete surface. The grooved pavement, less than a month old, presented a challenge.

"Because of the grooves, it felt like your skates were getting stuck and it was hard to push off. It was like you couldn't go side-to-side, but only straight ahead. I almost went down a few times," said Stelly, who was more than 10 minutes off Rivera's 2009 winning time of 59:35.3.

Stelly's victory, averaging 22.5 mph, marked the second photo finish in two years. Adam Miller topped Julian Aparicio by eight-thousandths of a second in 2008.

Colombia native David Sarmiento, 28, of Redwood Falls, Minn., was the top finisher from the state, 18th in 1:16:55.2, and John Schulte, 50, of Woodbury, Minn., was 25th in 1:17:49.4.

Kara Peterson, 40, of St. Paul, in an age-group wave starting after the elite women, had the overall best time of the day in 1:26:04.6.

Duluth East junior Geoff Ash, 17, in his first marathon, was the top Northland finisher, 48th in 1:19:49.6. His dad, Gregory, 52, a Duluth chiropractor, finished his 15th straight NorthShore race in 1:37:12.3.

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