All the news from Mens and Womens Track.

Brogan Austin-Boone-Drake 
©Doug Wells

Austin Leads Iowans at the Fifth Season 8K

Brogan Austin-Boone-Drake ©Doug Wells

Brogan Austin-Boone-Drake
©Doug Wells

Iowans come up big at The Fifth Season 8K in Cedar Rapids this past holiday weekend.  Congratulations to Brogan Austin-Boone-Drake who was the overall winner.  Here is the link to the Cedar Rapids Gazette story about the race, Click Here!.

Overall results, Click Here! 

Feature photo: Brogan Austin-Boone-Austin ©Doug Wells

Iowa’s Kruger Eyes 4th USA Olympic Team

A.G. Kruger-Sheldon-Morningside ©Michael Scott

A.G. Kruger-Sheldon-Morningside
©Michael Scott

Three-time Olympian and USD throw coach A.G. Kruger launched the hammer 246 feet at an Olympic Trials qualifying meet held at the Lillibridge Track Complex.

Courtesy U. of S. Dakota Athletics, Click Here! Feature photo: A.G. Kruger ©Michael Scott

The meet, organized by Kruger, was designed to help Olympic hopefuls post qualifying marks ahead of the U.S. Olympic Trials held July 1-10 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Ore.

Four of Kruger’s six throws were beyond 240 feet. Kruger was a foot shy of his season best, 247-1, that was set last week in Ashland, Ohio. He currently ranks third in the U.S. behind Kibwe Johnson and Conor McCullough. Kruger holds a personal best of 260-0, or 79.26 meters.

In addition to making three Olympic teams, Kruger has competed on five World Championship teams and qualified for 15 U.S. National Championships.

A native of Sheldon, Iowa, Kruger graduated from Morningside College in 2001.

Omar McLeod- Jamaica
©Jim Kirby 2017

Neither Rain Nor Cold…McLeod Leads World at Drake

Omar McLeod- Jamaica ©Jim Kirby

Omar McLeod- Jamaica
©Jim Kirby

The Drake Relays Road to Rio ended on Saturday in rainy and cold weather.

It was in those conditions that Omar McLeod of Jamaica clocked a World leading 13.08 (-0.1) in the men’s 110m hurdles.

Courtesy Track Alerts, Click Here!

Last weekend, he went sub 10 (9.99) in the 100m and things look good for a sub-13 seconds clocking in Shanghai, the second stop in the IAAF Diamond League on May 14th.

American, David Oliver was second in 13.31 and Jamaican, Hansle Parchment, third in 13.42, while World record holder, Aries Merritt, ended fifth in 13.61.

In a competitive women’s hurdles, 12.56 was the fastest time of the day by World leader American, Kendra Harrison, over compatriots, Kristi Castlin, 12.62 and Brianna Rollins, 12.65, Nia Ali, 12.77 and Jasmin Stowers, 12.81.

Levern Spencer of St. Lucia cleared 1.95m in high jump to beat World Indoor champion Vashti Cunningham, who was fourth, 1.85m.

Kaliese Spencer finished fourth in the women’s 400m hurdles in 56.39 (her slowest time since 2010). Briton Meghan Beesley clocked 55.43 to win the event

drake relays 2014 fri  sp w1500m 0051

Iowa’s Jenny Simpson Headlines Outstanding 1500m Field For Drake

Jenny Simpson-Colorado-Professional Athlete ©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson-Colorado-Professional Athlete
©Jim Kirby

The Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee will feature some of the top American women’s 1,500-meter runners in the Rio Olympic Games Preview field.

©Drake Relays Click Here!

The lineup is highlighted by eight runners who posted times that ranked in the top 20 in the U.S. in 2015 including Olympians Jenny Simpson and Morgan Uceny. Joining those veteran runners are the likes of the former World Junior Champion in the 3,000 meters, Mary Cain, and Brenda Martinez.

Mary Cain ©Jim Kirby

Mary Cain
©Jim Kirby

Both Cain and Martinez make their return to the Blue Oval after Martinez competed in the 800 meters last season while Cain made her Drake Relays debut in 2013. Martinez recently finished fifth in the event at the World Indoor Championships, while fellow Rio Olympic Games Preview competitor Violah Lagat was eighth.

Heather Kampf, a Grand Blue Mile champion, is also in the field that is bolstered by the return of four-time USA Outdoor Champion Treniere Moser.

Also racing for the Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee prize purse will be Melissa Salerno, Heidi See, Rachel Schneider and Gabrielle Grunewald.

The Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee Rio Olympic Games Preview is scheduled for Friday, April 29 as part of Hy-Vee Night at the Drake Relays beginning at 7:52 p.m.

Single-session tickets for the 2016 Drake Relays presented by Hy-Vee are now on sale as are all-session and multi-session tickets. To secure your seats at Drake Stadium, visit, or call the Drake Athletic Ticket Office at 515-271-3647.

Erik Sowinski-Iowa
©Michael Scott

Sowinski On Top Of the World

Erik Sowinski-Iowa ©Jim Kirby

Erik Sowinski-Iowa
©Jim Kirby

Former University of Iowa All-American Erik Sowinski earned a bronze medal Saturday night in the 800 meters at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Portland, Oregon.

Courtesy Hawkeye Athletics: Click Here!  Feature photo ©Michael Scott 

Sowinski entered the field with an at-large invitation and finished the 800 meters in 1:47.22 at the Oregon Convention Center, placing third behind Antoine Gakeme (1:46.65) and world champion Boris Berian (1:45.83).

“I was stuck in the back a little bit but Boris got the crowd going so it’s a testament to how he raced and he really set that up to be a heck of a race,” Sowinski said. “I just wanted to keep my nose in there. It was a little pushy throughout the entire thing and I just wanted to stay in contention and be able to make a move with 150 to go. Fortunately I had enough there to hold on for a medal.”

Sowinski competed at Iowa from 2009-12. He was a seven-time All-American and two-time Big Ten champion. He owns or shares seven school records, and was named an Academic All-American in 2012.

He previously represented Team USA at the 2014 World Indoor Championships in Sopot, Poland, and the 2015 World Outdoor Championships in Beijing, China.

“It’s just a testament to hard work,” Sowinski said. “Seeing where Boris came from is inspiring to me. Me coming out of college I didn’t have a sponsorship and was working 40-hours-a-week at a running store and it ended up paying off for me. So being able to see guys like Boris do that will hopefully inspire other guys to do the same thing. You don’t need a five-star lifestyle to be competitive in this sport. Trust in your training and stay positive and anything can happen. Boris is a huge testament to that — props to him today.”

Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Boston Herald

Adopted Iowan, Diane Nukuri One of England’s Best

Layne Anderson and Diane Nikuri ©Jim Kirby

Layne Anderson and Diane Nikuri
©Jim Kirby

At the 79th Manchester Road Race in New England’s most prestigious Thanksgiving Day race, defending women’s champion Diane Nukuri of Burundi prevailed once again in convincing fashion. Some 12,000 runners competed on a seasonally mild and sunny day.


Nukuri, who finish eighth in last month’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, may have come into today’s race with more tired legs than her competitors, but with far more experience. Today marked the sixth appearance here for the 30-year-old athlete after first running the race back in 2008. She had finished on the podium three times before, and considers Manchester something of a second home.
“I love it here. I might move here,” quipped Nukuri, who lives in Flagstaff, Az., after the race.
After the flat opening mile, the race moves steeply uphill on Highland Street for more than a mile. Organizers placed a stripe in the road just ahead of the two-mile mark, and the first male and female athletes to hit that mark collect an extra $1000. That’s where Nukuri felt her first big challenge. Former Boise State star Emma Bates spurted ahead of Nukuri and Canadian 10,000m record holder Natasha Wodak to pick up the “Queen of the Hill” prime. Seeds of doubt crept into Nukuri’s mind.
“I don’t know what her name is, the girl who got the uphill challenge,” Nukuri said of Bates. “She was strong, and I felt like the girls who were right behind me were still right there. And you know, when you get on top of the hill together, anything can happen.”
But Nukuri knew the big downhill in the third mile was just ahead after the race turned left onto Porter Street. She hadn’t redlined her heart on the climb, and was ready to take full advantage of the downhill. Experience pays.
“That’s what I did last year, exactly the same strategy,” Nukuri said of attacking on the downhill. “I just tried to finish that last two miles. I was thinking, if I could run 5 minutes (per mile) or under maybe they can match it, but that’s pretty fast.”
They couldn’t. Nukuri came to the uphill finish on Main Street with a comfortable margin on both Wodak and Bates. Nukuri was timed in 24:25, her fastest time ever here in six attempts.
“I love it here,” Nukuri said again. “This is one of my favorite races.”
Wodak clinched second in 24:32 and Bates got third in 24:44. Maddie Van Beek (25:04) and Hannah Davidson (25:08) rounded out the top-5 finishers.

Drake Relays Photographers
©Charlie Neibergall

“Thank You” to the World’s Best Photographers

Me and Earl Hulst

Me and Earl Hulst

I wanted to take a moment to recognize and to express a heartfelt “thank you” to the world’s best photographers who have helped the Next Level Iowa these past years.  They have helped us in our mission of promoting and supporting our great Iowa athletes and coaches excelling in xc, track and field around the globe with their brilliant photos and work.

Cover photo: ©Charlie Neibergall

I am often humbled in the opportunity to associate with them during my favorite events.  They have been a part of my most treasured times.  They have joined me in my favorite places and are some of my best friends.  They are award winning photographers who have taught me many things about photography, and athletics, but even more they have taught me passion in covering the athletes and events we cover.

Thank you for helping us share the stories of the Iowa Athletes and Coaches who make us proud as they take their talents to college and beyond.


©Chris Donahue

©Chris Donahue

©Kirby Clarke Onyepunuka-Olear

©Kirby Clarke Onyepunuka-Olear










©Paul Merca

©Paul Merca

©Luke Lu

©Luke Lu








©Darren Miller

©Darren Miller



©Charlie Neibergall

©Charlie Neibergall








©Dave Peterson

©Dave Peterson

©Doug Wells

©Doug Wells












Ashley Miller-Tipton-Nebraska
©Andrew M Nguyen

Tipton’s Miller Still Setting Records

Ashley Miller-Tipton-Nebraska

Ashley Miller-Tipton-Nebraska

Ashley Miller, a 15-time state track champion from Tipton, Iowa, and an All-American at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, set a record while winning the St. Jude Fayetteville (Arkansas) 10K on Aug. 29. Miller’s time of 37:50.38 topped the field by 2 minutes, 43 seconds and shattered the course record previously held by Arkansas All-American Stephanie Brown, who runs for Nike.

For results Click Here!

The next day Miller won her first aquathlon, the Lake Thunderbird Long Course “One thousand and five” in Norman, Oklahoma. Miller completed the 1,000 yard swim (19:54) and five mile run (31:47) in 52:30.

For results Click Here!

Miller, now living in Oklahoma City and competing for OK Runner, will complete a dietetic internship through the University of Oklahoma on Thursday, Sept. 3.

By Darren Miller

Jenny Simpson
©Jim Kirby

Jenny Simpson and Team USA Ready For Worlds

Jenny Simpson-Webster City ©Michael Scott

Jenny Simpson-Webster City
©Michael Scott

The biennial IAAF World Championships are the most important global track and field competition outside of the Olympics. The championships commence in Beijing with the men’s marathon on Saturday morning (Friday afternoon and evening in the United States). Here is what to look for in the middle-distance and distance events, as well the race your non-running friends probably care most about, the men’s 100.

Beijing is 12 hours ahead of U.S. Eastern time. Times listed refer to finals.
Men’s 800 Meters
(August 25, 8:55 p.m. Beijing, 8:55 a.m. Eastern, 5:55 a.m. Pacific)

The two-lapper is frontloaded with defending Olympic champ David Rudisha of Kenya, defending world champ Mo Aman of Ethiopia, and last year’s top runner, Botswana’s Nijel Amos. Amos has beaten Rudisha in six of their last seven races, and may have the edge right now. There’s a formidable European cadre here, too. It will take a world-class time in the semis to make the final, and any of the youthful Americans, led by Casimir Loxsom, should be thrilled if they can sneak into the final.

Women’s 800 Meters
(August 29, 7:15 p.m. Beijing, 7:15 a.m. Eastern, 4:15 a.m. Pacific)

Kenya’s defending gold medalist Eunice Sum is an overwhelming favorite to repeat, though Cuban newcomer Rose Mary Almanza bears watching. Beyond that, the 800 field is not as deep as in previous years. Brenda Martinez, the 2013 bronze medalist, new mother Alysia Montano, or Molly Ludlow, who has the fastest U.S. time this year, could give Americans the bronze. A subplot involves Russian Anastasiya Bazdyreva, who is on the entry list despite being implicated as a drug user in a German TV documentary. Other entrants have made it clear they don’t want her on the start line.

Men’s 1500 Meters
(August 30, 7:45 p.m. Beijing, 7:45 a.m. Eastern, 4:45 a.m. Pacific)

American Matthew Centrowitz won the bronze and silver medals at the 2011 and 2013 championships, respectively. But he’s up against an extraordinary field in Beijing. His 3:30.40, the fastest 1500 ever by an American-born runner, got him only 10th place in Monaco on July 17. He was nearly four seconds behind Kenya’s Asbel Kiprop, the two-time defending world champion who seems prepared for a third gold. The American-based runner most likely to come home with a medal is Michigan-based Nick Willis of New Zealand.

Women’s 1500 Meters
(August 25, 8:35 p.m. Beijing, 8:35 a.m. Eastern, 5:35 a.m. Pacific)

Anyone who breaks a purportedly invincible 22-year-old world record and beats a world-class field by six seconds, as Genzebe Dibaba did in Monaco last month, is expected to bring home a gold from Beijing. But new American record holder Shannon Rowbury and two-time world championships medalist Jenny Simpson believe that running three rounds will blunt Dibaba’s advantage and lead to a tactical final. Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands and Faith Kipyegon of Kenya are on a short list of runners who could keep the United States from having two medalists.

Men’s 3,000-Meter Steeplechase
(August 24, 9:15 p.m. Beijing, 9:15 a.m. Eastern, 6:15 a.m. Pacific)

Evan Jager became a legitimate gold-medal threat with his American record of 8:00.45 on July 4. He’ll be surrounded by four Kenyans who see him as a more formidable foe than ever before. Indications are that Jairus Birech, fastest in the world the past two years, may be slightly weakened by the effects of malaria. Although Ezekiel Kemboi, winner of two Olympic golds and the last three world championships, is the proverbial big meet performer, he’s 33 and not having a spectacular year. A win by Jager would be a historic morale boost for American distance running.

Women’s 3,000-Meter Steeplechase
(August 26, 9:00 p.m. Beijing, 9:00 a.m. Eastern, 6:00 a.m. Pacific)

Emma Coburn of Colorado ranked second in the world in 2014, and her 9:15 victory on a hot day at the U.S. championships in June stamped her as a medal favorite, maybe even a pick for gold. But the outlook is hazier now. Her performances since then have dipped, and the event has more depth than it did a year ago. The fastest time of 2015, 9:11.28 by Tunisian Habiba Ghribi, is four seconds faster than what Coburn ran in June. There may be no clear indication of who the medalists will be until the final barrier is cleared, and Coburn is likely to still be in the picture.

Men’s 5,000 Meters
(August 29, 7:30 p.m. Beijing, 7:30 a.m. Eastern, 4:30 a.m. Eastern)

Ethiopians Dejen Gebremeskel and Hagos Gebrhiwet have the flashy times that suggest they can defeat two-time world champ Mo Farah in a hard-from-the-gun 5,000, but somehow that never happens. It’s difficult to argue that Beijing will be any different than Farah’s previous triumphs. There’s an experienced Kenyan corps to contend with, too, in the quest for medals. Ben True has a 2015 Diamond League win to his credit and believes that if the pace is brisk but not scorching, he can run a strong enough last lap to grab a medal for the United States.

Women’s 5,000 Meters
(August 30, 7:15 p.m. Beijing, 7:15 a.m. Eastern, 4:15 a.m. Pacific)

The story of this event in 2015 has been the efforts of Genzebe Dibaba and Almaz Ayana to break Dibaba’s sister Tirunesh’s world record of 14:11.15. They’ve come up just short. They’ll likely duel for gold in Beijing, and Ayana, after Dibaba’s 1500s, will be fresher. Kenya’s 2013 world championships silver medalist Mercy Cherono is the beneficiary if the top two knock themselves out. The young American trio, led by Nicole Tully, are unlikely medal contenders, but one of them could place in the top six.

Men’s 10,000 Meters
(August 22 – 8:50 p.m. Beijing, 8:50 a.m. Eastern, 5:50 a.m. Pacific)

Mo Farah of Great Britain, the defending champion, has the year’s best 10,000 clocking, 26:50.97. He ran that in May to defeat Kenyans Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kamworor, who he’ll face again in Beijing. But Kamworor, the world champion in cross country and the half marathon, has since run a 27:11 at altitude in Nairobi. The Kenyans have talked about using team tactics to deny Farah the chance to run his trademark scorching last lap. Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp is the best bet among the Americans, but his 2015 race results don’t hint at a top three finish here.

Women’s 10,000 Meters
(August 24, 8:35 p.m. Beijing, 8:35 a.m. Eastern, 5:35 a.m. Pacific)

This is the toughest of the distance races to forecast. The fastest time of 2015 belongs to an Ethiopian, Gelete Burka, who remains better known as a 1500-meter runner. Track fans will find out how far 2011 world champion Vivian Cheruiyot has come back since giving birth in October 2013 and whether 2012 Olympic silver medalist Sally Kipyego is up to the form that gave her the best 10,000 time of 2014. Shalane Flanagan’s 31:09.02 is the fastest non-Ethiopian 10,000 of the year, and Molly Huddle has had a terrific 2015 against foreign and domestic competition on the road and track. The Americans will be close to the top three, and could medal in an unpredictable race.

Men’s Marathon
(August 22, 7:35 a.m. Beijing/August 21, 7:35 p.m. Eastern 4:35 p.m. Pacific)

This event looks more like a World Marathon Majors race than it ever has at these championships. Ethiopia’s Lelisa Desisa won his second Boston Marathon in April, Kenyan Wilson Kipsang is the reigning New York City champion, and his training partner Dennis Kimetto is the man who broke his world record. Those could be the three medalists, with an edge going to Kipsang for his finishing speed. Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich surprised by winning the 2012 Olympics and 2013 world championships, but the third time is unlikely to be the charm for him. American Jeffrey Eggleston’s experience at two world championships could lift him into the top five, especially if poor conditions prove to be an equalizer.

Women’s Marathon
(August 30, 7:30 a.m. Beijing/August 29, 7:30 p.m. Eastern, 4:30 p.m. Pacific)

This could be a textbook Ethiopia vs. Kenya battle. Ethiopia has the 2015 London champion Tigist Tufa and 2014 marathon winners Mare Dibaba (Chicago, after Rita Jeptoo’s drug DQ) and Tirfi Tsegaye (Berlin). Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat is seeking her third world title; her teammate Jemima Sumgong was a close second in New York City in November. Japan is experiencing a resurgence in women’s marathoning, and Sairi Maeda might crack the East African hegemony. The best of the Americans is Serena Burla, who could have a top 10 finish if heat and humidity bring the field closer.

And Don’t Forget: Men’s 100 Meters
(August 23, 9:15 p.m. Beijing, 9:15 a.m. Eastern, 6:15 p.m. Pacific)

This race matches track’s only household name, Jamaica’s Usain Bolt, against American Justin Gatlin, who has served two drug suspensions and ran his personal best of 9.74 this year at age 33.

Until his 9.87 in London on July 24, defending world champion and world record holder Bolt looked like he might not even make the final in Beijing. His imperfect London race hinted he’d be fit to run faster in a few weeks.

There are other notable presences in the 100, including 2007 world champion Tyson Gay (running well after coming off a drug suspension) and Jamaica’s Asafa Powell, a former world record holder who’s also served a drug suspension and has clocked 9.81 this year. The sport’s up-and-coming fresh face is American Trayvon Bromell.

But they’re bit players. This is Bolt vs. Gatlin, and Gatlin seems ready to end Bolt’s reign.

Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Boston Herald

Former Hawkeye Diane Nukuri Wins Falmouth

Diane Nukuri-Iowa ©Let's Run

Diane Nukuri-Iowa
©Let’s Run

A dramatic series of events played out here at the 43rd New Balance Falmouth Road Race, leading to a finish that will be talked about for years.

In a nail-biting sprint to the line, Stephen Sambu retained his title in the 7-mile (11.3 km) race over a pack of three, crossing the finish in 32:17. Minutes earlier, Diane Nukuri of Burundi had won the women’s race going away in 36:47, a solo effort for nearly four miles.

Courtesy Race Results Weekly/Chris Lotsbom

Waiting steps from the finish line, Nukuri watched as the event’s new Countdown Clock ticked down to three seconds when Sambu broke the tape. Since it hadn’t hit zero, the Kenyan earned the inaugural Countdown gender challenge title and its $5000 bonus. On a picture-perfect day, race organizers could not have asked for a better finish.

After roughly a ten-minute delay due to a medical emergency along the course, the elite women took off from Woods Hole bound for Falmouth Heights. Within the first 30 seconds, Nukuri was out front pressing the pace. After being out-kicked for first at the TD Beach to Beacon 10-K two weeks ago, Nukuri didn’t leave anything to chance here, taking with her Americans Amy Cragg and Sara Hall, as well as Ethiopian Sentayehu Ejigu.

By the mile mark adjacent to Nobska Light, an iconic lighthouse, the quartet were roughly 30 meters up on the rest of the field, a margin that would increase to 24 seconds by two miles (10:25). In her own zone, Nukuri looked like a metronome in front: head bobbing ever so slightly, looking a bit like Paula Radcliffe in her prime. Her arms churned methodically; her eyes were focused on the ground ahead.

“I just kept pushing, pushing. It was hard, it was hot,” said Nukuri, who lives in Flagstaff, Ariz. “After one mile, the second mile, I felt really good and under control but it was in the shade so it was much easier. Once we got in the open and I was all by myself, I was just like ‘I just need to keep pushing, pushing.’ I needed to use my marathon strength.”

Cragg was the first to fade just shy of two miles. Without having injected too much of a surge, Nukuri found herself out front by two steps at 5-K in 16:08. In the subsequent four minutes, she’d build a 30-meter lead on Ejigu and Hall.

Despite very oppressive heat and humidity, Nukuri pressed on knowing that if she let off the gas even in the slightest, Hall would come back and catch her. The pair had trained a bit in Flagstaff, and knew each other’s fitness well.

“I was believing I could catch her. The crowd was great saying ‘You can get her!’ the whole way,” said Hall, who is in the middle of marathon training. “But I knew she was going to be tough… I knew with that time bonus that she was going to go for it.”

At points during the race, Nukuri looked like she may be hurting under the hot sun. She’d look back frequently and grimace every so often. But drawing energy from the thousands of spectators, she snapped back into form and passed the six mile mark with a very comfortable lead on Hall.

Raising her arms in jubilation, Nukuri broke the tape in 36:47, followed by Hall 23 seconds later in 37:10. Ejigu rounded out the top three in 37:26, with Neely Spence Gracey fourth (37:32) and Cragg fifth (37:53).

Nukuri was very pleased to win this race in her fifth try, as she had previously finished second twice (2011, 2013), fourth once (2014), and a dismal 20th in 2008. She is planning to do a fall marathon, though would not reveal which one.

“It’s really nice. This is one of the best races. You can’t find anything better than this,” she said. “It feels amazing, I’m so excited and can’t wait to come back.”

Before celebrating too much, Nukuri turned around to look back towards the race course. At Friday’s press conference, she told Race Results Weekly she’d do a little dance if she was to win. In the moment, though, her plans changed, well aware that the men’s race was rapidly developing. There would be no early celebration before the Countdown Clock hit zero.

As soon as Nukuri crossed the finish line, a countdown clock began ticking down from 5 minutes and 32 seconds. If the top male came across the finish line before the clock reached zero, he would take home a $5000 bonus. If it hit zero, the bonus would go to Nukuri. (The clock started at 5:32 because the elite women began ten minutes before the elite men and masses, thus they already have a ten minute advantage. Subtract the average time gap of 4:28 [the advantage organizers gave to women based on past results] and you have a 5:32 margin with which to work with.)

While Nukuri was recuperating at the finish, the men’s race was playing out as a battle for the ages. By the five mile mark, a group of six had been established: reigning winner Sambu, two-time champion Micah Kogo, United Airlines NYC Half victor Leonard Korir, newly minted American citizen Sam Chelanga, Uganda’s Moses Kipsiro, and B.A.A. 10-K champ Daniel Salel ran together. American Abdi Abdirahman was with the group, though he pulled out with a muscle cramp minutes earlier.

Familiar with the course’s undulating terrain, Sambu had hoped to make a commanding move at 5-K. But the heat and strength of his competitors made him reconsider. Sambu also was dealing with a debilitating headache from the 80-degree (27C) temperatures, possibly a sign of heat exhaustion.

All along the water’s edge, Sambu led step-for-step. While a bit frustrated that his colleagues would not help push the pace, Sambu remained calm and focused on the task at hand.

“I knew everyone was still there and in better shape than last year,” he said. “I knew it was going to be a sprint finish… I knew going to the finish line I was going to go hard a little bit then go down[hill].”

The race would shake up after the six mile mark, passing a gorgeous marina: Salel and Kipsiro were dropped, leaving four to battle for the $8,000 first-place prize, and perhaps the Countdown bonus.

Again using knowledge of the course to his advantage, Sambu injected a surge leading up the final hill with about 400 meters to go. Kogo, Korir, and Chelanga held on for dear life, though couldn’t quite match Sambu’s speed. The University of Arizona alum surged again after cresting the incline, proceeded to sprint downhill under an American flag and through the finish line.

Sambu was so concerned about his competitors that he didn’t bother to look up at the ‘Countdown’ clock next to the finish line. Breaking the tape in 32:17, he finished with three seconds left on the clock, giving him the $5,000 bonus.

“I didn’t know I won until they told me five minutes after. I knew it was going to be tough,” Sambu told the media. After finishing he proceeded to go straight to the medical tent, overcome by the suffocating heat and humidity. “I just came down hard [the final stretch].”

Witnessing how hard Sambu worked in the final meters, Nukuri applauded his efforts and courage in taking home the gender bonus.

“He earned it,” she said. “I just saw him crossing the line, when he came downhill they were flying. I was barely moving it was so hot… They had so many people pushing each other.”

By retaining his title, Sambu now joins an illustrious list of back-to-back men’s winners that includes Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, Khalid Khannouchi, and Gilbert Okari, among others. Sambu said being mentioned among that list was extremely meaningful.

“To me, really, it’s very important. It means a lot to me to win twice in a row. Really I am so happy. I know it is not easy, but I am so happy.”

Kogo, second in 32:19, called the race a pure battle. He was followed across the line by Korir (32:20), Chelanga (32:21), Kipsiro (32:30), and Salel (32:51). It was a blur of purple at the finish, as all of the East Africans and Chelanga were wearing a shade of the color.

Feeling the burn in the last mile, Chelanga pushed on with extra motivation knowing today was his first race as an American citizen. On Friday, he took his oath in Tucson, Ariz.

“I felt like I represented America very well, the way I would want someone to fight. I just didn’t have a good kick,” he said. “I tried my best. I’m really happy I’m an American now. This week has been really emotional for me… Overall I think it’s a celebration and I couldn’t be any happier.”

Among the other notable American finishers were Aaron Braun (seventh, 33:15), Chris Derrick (eighth, 33:41), and Meb Keflezighi (tenth, 34:01). Keflezighi suffered a slight hamstring injury a few weeks ago, and ran as a tempo effort to finish as the top masters (40+) athlete. Nike Bowerman Track Club athlete Derrick just had an off day, he said.

“Falmouth was great up until about the third mile,” he said with a laugh. “The whole experience all the way through the weekend was awesome, my host family was great, thanks Judy and Craig. The early pace felt fine but I just never felt quite comfortable.”

Between the memorable battles for the individual wins, and the nail-biting Countdown finish, the day was a grand success according to Scott Ghelfi, President of the Board of Directors of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race.

“How exciting. [The Countdown] added a whole new element to the race,” he told Race Results Weekly. “I don’t think it could have worked out better than it did. Seeing Diane’s emotion on her face at the finish, extremely happy then disappointment to watch Stephen win, but still happy for her good friend. It was just great.”

When asked whether the race would hold a ‘Countdown’ again next year, Ghelfi hopes so.

“I’m not the one with the final say, but I would say absolutely!” he said.