BOSTON (05-Oct) -- Seconds always count at a road race, but here on Sunday at the 12th B.A.A. Half-Marathon one second could be worth $100,000. That's because two men --Ethiopia's Ali Abdosh and Kenya's Sam Chelanga-- are tied on total time in the inaugural three-race B.A.A. Distance Medley which concludes with Sunday's race and the largest non-marathon payout in all of road running.
"It's unprecedented," said Boston Athletic Association executive director Tom Grilk at a press conference here at the B.A.A.'s headquarters on Trinity Place in Boston's Back Bay neighborhood. "I don't know of another series which is scored and timed the same way."
Both Abdosh and Chelanga have an accumulated time of 42 minutes and 21 seconds after last April's B.A.A. 5-K and last June's B.A.A. 10-K. So, only a one-second margin would mean $100,000 for one man and nothing for the other in the winner-take-all Medley.
"Thanks very much for this chance," said Abdosh in English, his face lighting up when the prospect of the $100,000 prize --approximately 100 times the annual per capita GDP of Ethiopia-- was mentioned by a reporter. He continued: "I am very prepared for this competition. I run a good race, or a good result. I don't know."
Abdosh, 25, the race's defending champion, is a 5000m specialist with limited experience at the half-marathon, a distance he's only run three times in competition. His personal best of 63:36 is misleading given that he's run 12:56.53 for 5000m and 27:04.92 for 10,000m on the track, performances which are both equivalent to about a 60:15 half-marathon. Nonetheless, he thinks that the half-marathon is a long way.
"Half-Marathon, like for me, full marathon," he said, looking slightly embarrassed. "It's very long and very hard."
Chelanga, 27, has a similarly short half-marathon résumé. The Oregon-based athlete made his half-marathon debut here last year in 63:41, then improved to 61:19 at the NYC Half last March. For him, the the $100,000 Medley prize would mean real change. He and his wife, Marybeth Carlson, are expecting their first child in six months, and he also has an extended family in Kenya which could use his support.
"I think it has to change a lot," he said of his life if he won the bonus. "There are a lot of things I want to do. I'm a newly married guy and I'm expecting a child. I've got extended family in Kenya." He added: "I think 100 is good; we can all share it."
Both Abdosh and Chelanga have good speed should the race come down to a final sprint, but neither man wanted to claim any advantage. Both Lani Rutto and Allan Kiprono --two Kenyans who are also in the hunt for the $100,000 bonus and are within five seconds of Abdosh and Chelanga-- agreed that Chelanga had the best finishing speed.
"I know Chelanga is faster," Kiprono said, an assertion which made Chelanga look uncomfortable. "He beat me (in the B.A.A. 5-K)."
For Kim Smith, the New Zealand Olympian and fastest woman in the field with a 67:11 personal best, the path to the Medley bonus looks a little easier. Smith, 30, has a 16-second lead over Ethiopia's Aheza Kiros, and the half-marathon is her best racing distance. She's broken 70 minutes eight times during her career since taking up the distance in 2009, and is the USA all-comers' record holder.
"It is a comfortable lead, but it's a pretty long race," said Smith, who married longtime boyfriend Patrick Tarpy on September 1. "It can even-up pretty quickly."
Smith said she doesn't normally run a hard half-marathon one month before a big marathon --she's running the ING New York City Marathon on November 4-- but made an exception so she could try for the Medley bonus. She said her longtime coach Ray Treacy understood the stakes.
"My coach definitely prefers me not to do a half-marathon a month out from a marathon, but this one's different," she said. "He understands it's a lot of money."
PHOTO: The contenders for the inaugural B.A.A. Distance Medley title (left to right): Ali Abdosh, Allan Kiprono, Sam Chelanga, Lani Rutto, Aheza Kiros, and Kim Smith (photo by Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly)