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Pinellas women shine in Tampa race

Published February 25, 2007


Before Saturday, there had been only two Pinellas winners in the 29-year history of the Gasparilla 15K.

Laura Drake of St. Petersburg dominated the event three times between 1999 and 2001. Tony Teats of Oldsmar was the premier event male winner in 2002.

That record changed in last weekend's 30th running of the race as two 23-year-old women from St. Petersburg ran in first and second virtually the entire 9.3 miles along Bayshore Boulevard in Tampa.

At the finish line, predictably, it was Christa Benton breaking the tape in 54 minutes, 24 seconds, with Melanie Peters trailing in 54:41. Benton has maintained her dominance over Peters in their friendly rivalry throughout the fall and winter seasons.

Benton ran her own race with customary abandon, not particularly concerned about the competition. But at the end, she was elated.

"It was a great race and I had a great time out there," said the product of Keswick Christian and the University of South Florida. "I was just out there running the race and having fun.

"What's neat about Gasparilla is that it attracts many runners of all different calibers from young kids to energetic elderly enthusiasts ...novices, social and recreational runners plus the serious elite. It came as a surprise to me to finish first female in the 15K."

Benton said she didn't have a time goal in mind since she hadn't run one in a long time. Her 54:27 (5:50 per mile) was a personal record.

Benton added that one possible use of the $2,000 she won was to put it toward the trip she has planned with her mother to run April's Boston Marathon. Another consideration is supporting a Christian mission trip friends will make to the Philippines this summer.

Because Peters, a former miler and 5K standout at Miami, was not seeded as an elite runner, she said she wasn't admitted to the front corral reserved for elite runners. She said she knew Benton was the favorite and was determined to try to catch her and make a race of it.

"I'd never run a 15K; I tried to run a steady pace but I guess I went out too fast. Still, I was strong all the way to the finish and when you can say that you know you've had a good race," Peters said.

MORE HIGHLIGHTS: Pinellas women went on to capture three of the next nine places in the 15K. Christy Phillips, a former Bank of America Marathon winner, finished eighth in 58:54; Karol Withrow of Safety Harbor was ninth woman in 59:53; and Carol Glasscock of St. Pete Beach finished 11th in 59:58. They finished 1-2-3 in the 40-44 age division ahead of 1992 overall women's winner Wilma Van Onna of the Netherlands.

MEN'S 15K: Todd Snyder of Utica, Mich., won in 45:58. He's a former All-American in cross county at the University of Michigan. The top Pinellas finishers were 15th-place Jason Prieto (50:28) from Clearwater; Jon Mott (Northeast High/Webber U.) of St. Petersburg (51:50); Clearwater's David Meri (53:35); and Seminole's Brian Scott in 53:41.

WEEKEND NOTES: The top Pinellas finishers in the half-marathon were Mike Weiss, president of the West Florida Y Runners Club, eighth in 1:18:16. Seminole's Laura Magee was fourth woman in 1:27:37.

- In a wide age span, St. Petersburg's Kyle Groh won the boys 11-14 division in 1:07:22, while winter resident Bill Riley from Cape Cod, Mass., dominated the 70-74 group. Riley not only won his group by 10 minutes in 1:02:47, his time was faster than the 65-69 winner and 33 seconds behind 60-64 winner Duncan Cameron of Palm Harbor.

[Last modified February 24, 2007, 20:32:26]

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