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On a faster track now
Back-of-pack guy in high school relies on dedication to beat rival and cash in at Gasparilla 15K.
By Joey Knight, Times Staff Writer
Published February 10, 2008
Austin Richmond, left, eventually pulls away from Rolf Steier to finish second in the 15K.As the top local finisher, he won $2,000.
[Kathleen Flynn | Times]
TAMPA - A half-decade ago, Austin Richmond was a Clewiston High senior bringing up the rear at the Class 2A cross country meet, and Rolf Steier's neck was developing spasms from the eight state championship medals hanging from it.
"I remember all those guys (such as Steier)," said Richmond, 75th at the 2A meet in 2002 with a time of 17 minutes, 56 seconds. "They didn't know anything about me, though. They were kicking my butt bad."
Saturday morning, Richmond, 22, delivered his retaliatory kick - down the backstretch of Bayshore Boulevard.
Neck and neck with Steier through more than half of the 15-kilometer Gasparilla Distance Classic, Richmond pulled away from the former Stanford 1,500-meter All-American at roughly the 6-mile mark, prevailing as the top area finisher in 47:50.
Steier, a 2002 Berkeley Prep graduate now employed by Disney, finished 29 seconds behind Richmond on an overcast morning nearly perfect for running, save for the moderate humidity that had temperature around 60 degrees at the race's 7:30 a.m. start.
"I thought (Steier) was right with me until right here," said Richmond, pointing to the final stretch.
"Last year you didn't really lose a lot of fluids because it was so cool out (in the high 40s), but this year it was a lot warmer and a lot of guys were losing fluids. It was hard for the guys to maintain the pace they wanted."
It didn't seem that way for Kenya native Joseph Sitienei, 32, who ran essentially a five-minute-mile pace. Sitienei coasted to the overall victory (46:45), but as an out-of-state resident (Mooresville, Ala.) he was ineligible for the $2,000 prize.
Richmond, also second overall in the 2007 race, said this year he will pocket the cash and forgo his remaining track eligibility at Webber International, the NAIA program nestled among the citrus groves in Polk County. Richmond enrolled there after his nondescript high school career, rented a trailer off campus and dedicated himself to evolving into a 2012 Olympic marathoner.
"I started working my tail off," said Richmond, sixth in the 8K at the fall NAIA nationals in Wisconsin. "I lived, ate and slept running. I haven't had a life in three or four years. That's all I would do is train, train, train."
On the women's side, former Indiana State steeplechase star Annie Cooper-Gasway, a 29-year-old mother of two, hit the finish line in exactly 56 minutes for a victory mildly tarnished by defending women's champ Christa Benton's costly miscalculation.
Benton, who thought the race began at 8, said she was warming up behind the Tampa Convention Center when the starting horn blared. She put on her racing shoes en route to the line and ran the entire 15 kilometers with her bib in her hand.
Benton's gun time - recorded from when the starting horn sounds - was 1:01.33, good enough for 18th place. Her electronically monitored chip time - recorded from when she crossed the starting line - was recorded at 59:49, putting her 11th.
Race rules prohibit those whose gun times fail to crack the top 10 from placing higher than 11th regardless of their chip time. Benton said, according to her watch, she finished in 55:25.
"I didn't check (the starting time), and I don't know how I didn't," Benton said.
"I remember I was warming up by the bank, and I heard the announcer say, 'And they're off, the 15K.' At first I thought it might have been the wheelchairs, then I realized no one else was around."
Bradenton-based Heather Gollnick, a 37-year-old mom of three and four-time U.S. Ironman triathlon champ, was the top local female finisher (56:58), placing third overall and collecting the $2,000 prize.