August 1, 2013

Samuelson praises her sport's strength in wake of tragedy

Superstar Joan Benoit Samuelson, a former Olympic gold medalist, returned Wednesday to her hometown, amid preparations for the 16th annual Beach to Beacon Road Race.

By Glenn Jordan gjordan@pressherald.com
Staff Writer

CAPE ELIZABETH – Joan Benoit Samuelson returned Wednesday to the town where she grew up, amid preparations for the 16th running of her Beach to Beacon 10K Road Race.

Her signature accomplishment will forever be her victory in the inaugural women's Olympic marathon, at the 1984 Los Angeles Games. But the world-class race she founded remains a living, breathing celebration of her chosen sport.

Which is why, on this sunny morning in the Beach to Beacon finish area at Fort Williams Park, the Freeport resident preferred to express gratitude to everyone who helps give the race such a homey appeal, rather than discuss the tragic events of April 15 at the other race that's close to her heart.

Samuelson, a two-time winner of the Boston Marathon, said, "I don't think any of us in the sport of running will ever forget what happened in Boston," where two homemade bombs detonated near the finish line. "But at the same time, our sport is very strong and resilient, and I think through the tragedy that took place this year in Boston, our sport has found newfound strength."

Organizers of Saturday's race painted a giant blue-and-yellow ribbon bearing the words "Boston Strong" in the middle of Route 77 on Wednesday morning, a stride or two after the starting line.

The ceremonial race starter is Karen Rand, a Westbrook High School graduate who lost her good friend Krystle Campbell in one of the blasts in Boston. Rand lost her own lower left leg and suffered major injuries to her right leg.

"She's living in (Somerville, Mass.) now but she has watched the Beach to Beacon in the past," Samuelson said of Rand, whose two sons live in Maine. "She'll be here to start our race and to join us for many of the festivities."

Rand's boyfriend, Kevin McWatters, will run Saturday's race along with a few friends. Rand is adjusting to a prosthesis she received in late June.

"It wouldn't surprise me," Samuelson said, "if she comes back to run this event in a year or so."

Although Samuelson has vivid memories of the events in Boston -- she heard the blasts from her hotel room in the Fairmont Copley Plaza and initially thought of a blown transformer -- she prefers to focus on the response by the running community.

"I'll never forget coming back to Portland and running a Boston Strong event around Back Cove that was put together by John Rogers and the folks at the Maine Running Company," she said, "and seeing just how many first-time runners or walkers or joggers were out there because they were so struck, and moved, by the strength of our sport at that moment in time."

Many of the 6,500 Beach to Beacon runners already have surmounted a bigger challenge than the 6.2-mile course from near Crescent Beach to Portland Head Light

During online registration in March, Cape Elizabeth residents had nine minutes to grab one of 600 places in the race, and the general public had a five-minute shot at 4,000 spots. A second-chance lottery distributed another 1,900 bibs.

Runners will come from 16 countries and 39 states.

The field includes a strong American presence with Olympians Meb Keflezighi, Ryan Hall and Deena Kastor to challenge former champions Lineth Chepkurui (2010), Micah Kogo (2011) and Stanley Biwott (2012) of Kenya and Aheza Kiros (2011) of Ethiopia. Chepkurui holds the women's course record of 30 minutes, 59 seconds.

More than $60,000 in prize money is at stake, including $10,000 each to the male and female winners.

The designated beneficiary is Opportunity Alliance, which grew out of the People's Regional Opportunity Program and Youth Alternatives Ingraham to include 50 integrated community-based and clinical programs serving more than 20,000 people each year.

Race-day weather is expected to be much-improved from last year's stifling heat, which led 70 runners to seek treatment in medical tents.

"We should have a day very similar to (Wednesday)," when temperatures were in the 70s, Samuelson said.

"The humidity is down. It looks like a great racing day," she said. 

Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

gjordan@pressherald.com

Twitter: GlennJordanPPH

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