CAPE ELIZABETH – Gebre Gebremariam, a tall Ethiopian runner with a mustache, vibrant blue shoes and a background in track and cross country, turned through the gates of the old entrance to Fort Williams Park in third place.
He didn’t know much about either of the Kenyans ahead of him, Wilson Chebet and 20-year-old Alan Kiprono. But Gebremariam wasn’t worried.
“I know I’m coming from track,” he said. “I know I’m the fastest at 400 meters.”
Sure enough, Gebremariam surged past both Kenyans in the final quarter-mile to win the 13th TD Bank Beach to Beacon 10K road race in 27 minutes, 40.4 seconds on a cool Saturday morning with low humidity and plenty of cloud cover.
“Fantastic conditions,” said Gebremariam, who earned a $10,000 paycheck and became the first non-Kenyan runner to win Beach to Beacon since Khalid Khannouchi, then of Morocco, in 1999.
“I write my country’s name here,” Gebremariam said. “I’m so happy.”
Kiprono, in his American road-racing debut, finished second in 27:41.7 and won $5,000. Chebet was third, three seconds behind Kiprono, good for $3,000.
The fourth through 10th runners, who earned prize money ranging from $2,000 to $500: Stephen Kipkosgei-Kibet of Kenya, two-time champion Ed Muge of Kenya, Shawn Forrest of Australia, Martin Lel of Kenya, Boaz Cheboiywo of Kenya, Martin Fagan of Ireland and Joel Kemboi Kimurer of Kenya.
Of those top 10, Forrest, a 2009 graduate of the University of Arkansas who hadn’t run a road race since a Thanksgiving turkey trot a few years ago in Texas, was the most surprising. He stayed among the otherwise all-East African lead pack for more than half the race, until Gebremariam and Chebet pushed the pace.
“Someone put their foot down pretty firmly,” Forrest said. “I think it was the Ethiopian.”
And did the East Africans give him any quizzical looks?
“I don’t know,” Forrest said with a laugh. “I do know I got a couple elbows. I didn’t know what to expect, but that was fun. I like being up near the front.”
As did a dozen others, at least through the first two miles, which passed in 4:30 and 4:38, well behind Okari’s record-setting pace. Muge took the point through the first marker, near Inn by the Sea, and Kiprono — who looked barely a day over 16 and wore a necklace of green plastic beads he described as “just bling” — led the way past the second, near the entrance to Turkey Hill Farm on Old Ocean House Road.
The pack usually strings out on the long, winding hill past Alewives Brook Farm and up to the halfway marker when the course briefly rejoins Route 77, and Saturday’s race was no exception. As the lead runners passed beneath the giant U.S. flag draped beneath the arch of fire-truck ladders in downtown Cape Elizabeth, only five men remained close to the leading trio of Chebet, Kipkosgei-Kibet and Gebremariam, thanks to a 4:25 third mile.
“The first thing (Gebremariam) said to me after the race,” said Larry Barthlow, the elite athlete coordinator, “is that it was too slow the first half.”
The Ethiopian was after what he called the “meet record” belonging to Okari, of 27:28. It was worth an extra $2,500 but would have required a blistering second half following the 14:01 time for the first 5K. Gebremariam managed a negative split of 13:39, good enough to win but 12 seconds shy of the record.
“I wanted to run faster than the meet record,” Gebremariam said. “But I’m very happy. I’m very lucky for my first time to win here.”
Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at: