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Sat, Jul 28, 2012

Long Branch Mayor Wins ‘Celebrity Chase’

BELMAR, NJ (July 28, 2012) – Like many others from the New York City area, Leonard Korir thought that a summer weekend at the Jersey Shore sounded like a great idea.

And like many others, Korir on Friday logged on and unceremoniously filled out an entry on-line for a road race on Saturday morning to kick off the weekend on the right foot.

What makes Korir unlike many others is the fact that the 25-year-old Kenyan who lives in New Rochelle, NY, is an eight-time All-American and two-time NCAA Champion out of Iona College who turned professional this spring. On Saturday morning, he became the first winner of the inaugural Belmar Chase 5K, crossing the Ocean Avenue finish line in front of Taylor Pavilion in 14 minutes and 21 seconds to take home the $1000 first prize. Runner-up Harbert Okuti (14:25), a 26-year-old Ugandan who lives in New Paltz, NY, won $500, while third place Mengistu Tabor-Nebsi (14:27), an Ethiopian living in New York City, earned $250.

“We just ran,” Korir said with a smile when asked if he enjoyed the race. “It was hot. After the finish, then we say it’s a good race.”

Winning the women’s division, in 16:19, was Bekelech Bedada, a 20-year-old Ethiopian who lives in New York City. Second place went to Alemtsehay Misganaw (16:25), an Ethiopian from New York City, with Melissa Salerno of Brooklyn (17.28) was third.

Marking the first day of the competition in the 2012 London Games—and celebrating “Olympic Fun Day” as proclaimed by Michelle Obama as part of her LetsMove! fitness campaign—the 3.1-mile race had 904 entrants in its first year.

Nine of those entrants starred in the “Celebrity Chase,” a handicap race-within-a-race that saw six Jersey Shore leaders compete for a share of $5000 for their town recreation programs while trying to outrun not only each other, but also a trio of Olympians: Carrie Tollefson (2004, 1500 meters), Steve Holman (1992, 1500 meters), and John Trautmann (1992, 5000 meters).

Starting first, at 8:06 a.m., was Long Branch Mayor Adam Schneider, followed by Spring Lake Mayor Jennifer Naughton at 8:10, Interlaken Councilman Robert White at 8:12, Lake Como Councilman Brian Wilton at 8:14, Belmar Mayor Matthew Doherty at 8:16, and Sea Girt Councilman Michael Mulroy at 8:18. The Olympians started as a group at 8:21:30 to give chase.

Despite a strong late challenge from Naughton, Schneider held off his rival office-holders to win $2500 for Long Branch recreation programs. Another $2500 will be divided among the five other towns represented.

As Naughton gained ground in the closing stages, Schneider was rejuvenated by a Long Branch fan along the course. “I said then, ‘I’m going to run until I throw up,’” he joked later. Schneider finished in 30:47, with Naughton clocking 26:58 to make up all but 11 seconds of Schneider’s four-minute head start. “I’m disappointed that he got that bit of encouragement because I was hot on his heels,” said Naughton. “And then, all of a sudden, he took off.”

The day’s fastest Jersey Shore leader was Mulroy, whose time of 19:48 was good for 57th place overall.

And marking “Olympic Fun Day” by wearing the same USA singlet she wore in the 2011 World Masters Athletics Championships was Jane Simpson, 71, who won her age group by finishing in 40:39. Simpson, of Wayne, NJ, won two medals in those championships: a silver in the 2000-meter steeplechase and a bronze in the triple jump. “I do about 60 to 80 races a year,” she said, “and I love to come down to the shore.”

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