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Recent disappointments can't slow 10K winners

© St. Petersburg Times,
published November 23, 2001

• CLEARWATER -- Though only 21, Tom Kunish wishes he was young again.

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[Times photos: Krystal Kinnunen]
Tom Kunish, 21, wins the 23rd annual men's 10K race.
At Florida State, the senior's cross-country career never quite progressed as he would have liked, and two weeks ago he went out with a whimper instead of a bang. But if the next step is a road-racing career, he appears to have a future.

As a matter of fact, he's unbeaten.

Competing in a 10K for just the fourth time, Kunish turned in a dominating performance at the 23rd annual Times Turkey Trot, winning in 32 minutes, 30 seconds, and beating former champion Paul Marmaro by 1:27.

In the women's race, Mary Level-Menton of Coral Springs extended her record number of wins to six in 37:23.

On Nov. 10, Kunish turned in a disappointing performance at the NCAA South Regionals in Tuscaloosa, Ala., failing to finish among the top five Seminoles, which he had done for much of the season. Florida State finished third in the team standings, one point behind Tennessee and a spot in the NCAA Championships.

Kunish said he was in the best shape of his life, but that "he closed up early and mentally (erred)" in his final collegiate race. Seeking redemption, he came to Clearwater and opted to run in the 10K instead of the 5K, which he finished third in a year ago.

On Thursday, Kunish led wire to wire, validating his many months of training.

"I knew I was in shape, I knew I could win it. I went out fast and nobody was with me," Kunish said.

"I kept asking the police officer next to me how far they were back, and he kept saying, "Four football lengths, four football lengths."'

With someone to draft off, Kunish said he could have broken his personal-best time of 32:11. He also wished his Turkey Trot effort had come two weeks earlier.

"If I would have ran this exact same race, we would have gone to nationals," Kunish said. "I just wish I was a freshman instead of a senior. This showed me that my training really put me where I was."

Mary Level-Menton of Coral Springs extended her record number of wins to six in 37:23.
Level-Menton, on the other hand, came to the Times Turkey Trot with hardly any significant training. The 38-year-old gave birth to her third child last November and battled a tailbone injury earlier this year.

The injury threw her training off enough to hold her out of the New York City Marathon earlier this month, but she decided to run the familiar 10K.

Much like Kunish, she got an early lead and was never threatened despite running the slowest winning time since Nia Zollo clocked 37:20 in 1988.

"I wasn't worried if I didn't win because I know I hadn't been doing anything," Level-Menton said. "I basically ran and I said, "Hopefully, nobody behind me is going to catch me."'

Masters (over-40) winners were Judy Maguire, 43, of Clearwater in 38:40, and Rich Larsen of Shelbourne, Mass., in 36:38. John Jerome, 53, of Tampa defended his grand master division (over-50) title with a time of 39:48, and Sharon Beal of Fort Lauderdale won the women's grand master in 48:33.

Before the main event, Maguire was busy winning the women's 5K Wingding for the second consecutive year (17:35). Jim Sellers, 27, of St. Petersburg won the men's race for the fourth time in five years (15:43). Mickey Hooke, 41, of Bradenton set a record in the Wingding masters division in 16:18, and Lisa Valentine, 40, of Tierra Verde won the women's masters in 18:42.

Merle Hines, 57, of Batesville, Ind., won the grand masters division (23:19), and St. Petersburg's Royston Dillon, 51, won for the second consecutive year on the men's side (17:52).

Central High senior Trevor Scales (4:36) and Largo sophomore Deanna Drugash (5:33) came out on top in the 1-mile Gobbler.

Participation in all events was up from a year ago, despite concerns that fewer out-of-town visitors would show up in the wake of Sept. 11.

Last year's Times Turkey Trot, held in colder weather, drew 10,227 fans, but Thursday's pleasant morning drew 10,595.

As usual, the 5K drew the most runners, 5,706, followed by 2,980 for the mile and 1,909 for the 10K.

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