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Swings posts big win in 20th NorthShore Inline Marathon

All eyes were on a pair of course records during Saturday's 20th NorthShore Inline Marathon. On a cloudless, mild morning in Duluth, race watchers huddled along Harbor Drive near the William A. Irvin, wondering if Bart Swings, the blazing Belgian...

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Jan Blockhuijsen (No. 3) leads a pack of racers to the NorthShore Inline Marathon finish line Saturday. Blockhuijesen finished the race in third place. Steve Kuchera / skuchera@duluthnews.com

All eyes were on a pair of course records during Saturday’s 20th NorthShore Inline Marathon.
On a cloudless, mild morning in Duluth, race watchers huddled along Harbor Drive near the William A. Irvin, wondering if Bart Swings, the blazing Belgian, could usurp men’s record holder Chad Hedrick, who established the course standard in the event’s infancy.
Riding a tailwind, Hedrick crossed the finish line in 57 minutes, 18 seconds, in 1998, the third year of the NorthShore.
Swings had Hedrick in mind as he prepared for his Duluth debut. And the 24-year-old certainly has the bona fides to think big. The former world champion, who was fourth on speed skates at 5,000 meters during the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, kept a record pace through the first half of Saturday’s 26.2-mile race.
Swings couldn’t maintain it, though, instead settling for mere victory. He was still remarkably fast at 58:49.02, just the third sub-60 minute finish in NorthShore history. That’s good for a per-mile average of 2:15.
“I think it was after about 17 miles that I noticed it was going to be hard to beat the record,” he said. “Of course I was a little disappointed. That was the goal coming in.”
Swings largely skated solo after departing the Two Harbors start with his Powerslide teammates. His effortless, long strides made his trek look like an easy spin, but Swings’ legs eventually started barking. He slowed during miles 16-20 before recovering.
“I kept the pace OK, but then the legs started hurting,” he said. “Maybe next year.”
How dominant was Swings? The second-place finisher, 29-year-old Joey Mantia of Florida, was more than five minutes back in 1:04:19.44. On inline skates, that’s an eternity.
To celebrate the event’s 20th anniversary, there was a $20,000 “bounty” for the men’s course record. The amount was $10,000 for the women’s mark, Heather Gunnin’s 1:10:26, also set in 1998.
Like Hedrick, Gunnin is safe for at least another year.
Manon Kamminga of Holland was the top woman. Kamminga slipped away from Brittany Bowe as the two entered Canal Park and came through in 1:12:47.59. Bowe, out of Utah, was next in 1:13:03.47.
Kamminga, 23, sports a tattoo on her left arm that reads, simply, “live.”
“It’s just to remind me to live every day,” she said.
It was suggested to her that by winning the nation’s largest inline marathon, she adhered to that one-word philosophy Saturday.
“Almost,” Kamminga said with a smile. “Two minutes off.”
As in, two minutes off Gunnin’s record.
She rolled along Lake Superior and into Duluth with Bowe almost tethered to her back side. The two left the women’s pack about six or seven miles into the race, and Kamminga surged from Bowe coming up the on-ramp from Interstate 35 to Fifth Avenue West.
Kamminga says it’s unusual for women’s races to have course-record bonuses. The $10,000 provided extra motivation.
“I really wanted to beat the record,” she said. “We didn’t do that, but I don’t think I could have gone any faster today, so I’m not really disappointed. We’ll just try again.”
Bowe boasts an impressive resume herself and came to town as one of the favorites. The 27-year-old is a former world champ in inline and on the ice (long track) and competed in Sochi in 2014. But she didn’t have enough gas to match Kamminga’s late surge.
“She was very strong at the end,” Bowe said.
Bemidji’s Hannah Hendrickson was third in 1:21:22.72.
While last year’s men’s champ, Carlos Perez, didn’t compete Saturday, the 2014 women’s winner, Franchesca Bell, did. The Florida teen was fifth with a time of 1:21:50.36, well ahead of last year (1:25:19).
* Ovid Westin of Maple Grove, Minn., skated 13.1 miles in 41:23 to claim the inline half-marathon. Alison Talley of St. Louis Park, Minn., was the first female in 48:17.
* Michael Mullery of Rosemount, Minn., and Hermantown’s Cindy Walters were the winners in the combined event. They finished in 2:12:37 and 2:33:19, respectively.
* Duluth’s Anders Osthus was victorious in the roller-ski race in 1:30:47.21.
* In the running races, Eric Hartmark of Duluth was the men’s half-marathon champ with a time of 1:13:54, while former Minnesota Duluth standout Morgan Place of Rochester, Minn., was the top woman in 1:35:08.
* Superior’s Evan Walpole (35:07) and Duluth’s Mona Stockhecke (36:40) won the men’s and women’s Tunnel 10K, respectively.

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