Grandma’s, as usual, packed with colorful stories

John Gilbert

Another Grandma’s Marathon has come and gone, and like the first 36 of them, Grandma’s No. 37 produced its own place in history. You can choose whichever dramatic occurrence was the defining moment.

Sarah Kiptoo of Kenya won Grandma’s Marathon in a course record 2:26:32, as retiring race director Scott Keenan watched her hit the finish line.  -John Gilbert photo
Sarah Kiptoo of Kenya won Grandma’s Marathon in a course record 2:26:32, as retiring race director Scott Keenan watched her hit the finish line. -John Gilbert photo

    •      Barzu Worku, a 22-year-old Ethiopian, who had run previous marathons in 2 hours, 5 minutes, and 25 seconds (2:05:25), entered late determined to break Dick Beardsley’s 32-year-old record of 2:09:37, even though it was only his fifth marathon.  Worku, who has a glass eye from a childhood accident, ran away from the field in the chilly fog that stretched from the Two Harbors starting line to the Canal Park finish, and he won in 2:11:14. “At about mile 19 (as he crossed the Lester River Bridge), I had confidence I was going to win,” Worku said through an interpreter. “Having no competition didn’t help, but from the beginning I was competing against myself. Everything was good, except the wind and cold. I’m happy to win, but when I heard the record was 2:09, I wanted to run 2:07 or 2:08.” As for his artificial left eye, Worku said: “When I was a kid, we were herding cattle, and someone threw a stone at the cows and accidently hit me in the eye. I was 12.

Ethiopian Bazu Worku hits the finish to win the 37th Grandma’s Marathon.  -John Gilbert photo
Ethiopian Bazu Worku hits the finish to win the 37th Grandma’s Marathon. -John Gilbert photo

   •    Sarah Kiptoo, 23, from Kenya, turned in the most impressive performance of all the Grandma’s events -- 5K, Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon, USA Half-Marathon Championship, and the full marathons. Running in just her fifth marathon, Kiptoo absolutely ran away from the field and finished in 2:26:32 -- wiping out the women’s Grandma’s Marathon record of 2:27:05, which was set in 2003 by Fira Sultanova of Russia. Kiptoo said the crowd gave her so much inspiration, “I felt like I could fly.”  Impressive as that is, it’s only half the story: He fourth career marathon was six weeks earlier in Cleveland, when she won at 2:33:42, which was her personal best by 11 minutes. When she ran away at Grandma’s, she beat that personal best by 7 minutes and 10 seconds, or more than 18 minutes faster than the best time she recorded before her last two marathons. Most runners want contenders to push them, but not Kiptoo. “I enjoy running alone,” she said. She grew up in a family of 11, including four boys. “I’m third oldest, but I’m the only one running,” she said. She has been training in the high altitude of Santa Fe, N.M., but is anxious to return to Kenya, with some much needed money from her winnings. “This was my first time in Duluth, but I’d love to come back,” Kiptoo said.
    •      With Grandma’s certified for the USA Half-Marathon championships, those elite runners were started off before the horde in the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon, which followed. Mohamed Trafeh, 28, from Duarte, Calif., by way of Morocco, hooked up with Meb Keflezighi of San Diego, by way of Eritria, a country in Northeast Africa just above Ethiopia, in a great duel of elite runners. Trafeh led, and near the end decided to fall back and let Keflezighi take the lead so he could “relax,” then made his counter-move. Trafeh made his pass in the final 500 meters and won in a course-record 1:01:17. Keflezighi was clocked at 1:01:22, meaning both were about a minute under the previous record of 1:02:19 set in 2011 by Derese Deniboba.
    •      It was at the USA Championships last year when Duluth native Kara Goucher set the Grandma’s record in the women’s half-marathon with a 1:09:46. Adriana Nelson, 33, won this year in 1:11:19, finishing only seven seconds ahead of Desiree Davila, and 14 seconds ahead of Kelly Brinkman, who is from Bloomington, MN., and 19 seconds ahead of Stephanie Rothstein Bruce of Flagstaff, Ariz., in the closest thing to a group finish. Nelson is from Boulder, Colo., after moving from her native Romania in 2011 and becoming a U.S. citizen. Interestingly, Mary Davies, who hails from New Zealand and trains in Houston, won the Garry Bjorklund Half-Marathon in 1:11:07 -- faster than Nelson and the rest of the USA Championship group.
    •      Another interesting tale was told by John Klecker, 19, from Hopkins, who just finished his freshman year at Augustana. He entered his first half-marathon at Grandma’s, extending a unique family affair with the race, and remarkably won, in 1:09:19, after a lead-swapping battle with Brian Sames, of Shakopee, Minn., who was second at 1:09:28, and Eric Hartmark of Duluth was third at 1:10:48. “My dad won this race in ’87, and I came down here with him,” Klecker said. True, Barnaby (Barney) Klecker won the 1978 Grandma’s Marathon, and his wife, Janis, won the 1987 Grandma’s. John’s brother and three sisters also run. His twin sister, Mary, and younger sister, Elizabeth, 14, ran the half-marathon this year. Younger brother Joe, 16, was third in the state meet as a junior at Hopkins. The family affair helped Klecker win Saturday, after Sames took the lead in the final mile. “I heard my dad yelling at me to go wit about a half-mile to go,” said Klecker. Thus inspired, Klecker blew past Sames to win in his first try.

    •      Borku’s Marathon victory was the second straight for Ethiopian runners, who have their own national duel with Kenyans at Grandma’s every year, having won 14 of the last 18. A pair of Kenyans trailed Borku’s 2:11:14, with Ernest Kebenel second at 2:11:46, and Eliud Ngetich third at 2:12:00. Both are from Eldoret, Kenya. For Ngetich, 19, it was only his second marathon. Kebenel, who is 28, was asked if he felt old finishing behind a 22-year-old and ahead of a 19-year-old. He laughed, but claimed that Ngetich wasn’t really 19. Ngetich insisted he was, and said, “I grew up watching Kebenel and I knew he was fast, but I never introduced myself to him.” Kebenel said he moved in 2011 from Eldoret to Kapsabet, which is “a town five miles from Eldoret,” he said. “The rest of my family still lives in Eldoret.” With Ngetich only 19 and already running so fast, he was asked how fast he could go. “Maybe next year I’ll come back here and do a 2:10,” he said.

 The Chicago Blackhawks completed an amazing season by overcoming a physical battering from the Boston Bruins and capturing the Stanley Cup with a stunning turnabout in Game 6. The Blackhawks had won Game 5 but absorbed quite a beating with star center Jonathan Toews taking repeated blows to the head. The first, and maybe the worst, was from 6-foot-9 Zdeno Chara, but there were others, causing Toews to sit out the third period of the Game 5 victory. But he came back and played, headache or no, in Game 6.
   Boston was dominant in the first period of Game 6, intent on forcing a Game 7 back in Chicago. A 1-0 lead was erased when Toews rushed up the right side and squeezed a deadly wrist shot from the right circle that beat Bruin goaltender Takku Rask between the pads in the second period. The Bruins regained the lead at 2-1 in the third period, and as the period wore on, it became obvious the Bruins were going to win and keep on playing. But with 1:17 left, Toews took a pass on the left end boards from Duncan Keith and swung out front. Rask had to anticipate a favorite Toews stuff job, but instead, Toews passed across the goal-mouth and Bryan Bickell slammed it in for a 2-2 tie.
    That meant another overtime would be required. But no. Sixteen seconds later, a shot from the point was deflected right on, and suddenly Dave Bolland hustled out from behind the net, just in time to find the loose puck and fire it in. Two goals in 16 seconds, and the Blackhawks weathered the fevered pace of the final minute to claim the 3-2 victory and a 4-2 Cup triumph.
    The play of Toews and Patrick Kane were the inspiration and the difference for Chicago, as was the brilliant goaltending of Corey Crawford. Takes you back, doesn’t it? To the first round, when the Minnesota Wild played the Blackhawks, with starting goaltender Niklas Backstrom going down with a hernia in pregame warmups before Game 1. The critics are still pouring it on about the lack of production by Mikko Koivu and Zach Parise in that series, and they overlook the fact that while they didn’t score, they also held Toews and Kane scoreless! Also, the Wild was playing without the injured Dany Heatley and Jason Pominville -- potentially the team’s most prolific goal-scorers, and without Backstrom.
    Consider for a moment how far Chicago would have gone had Crawford gone down with a playoff-ending injury before Game 1 against the Wild, and two top guns also removed from their lineup. It means we congratulate the Blackhawks for a fantastic run, through the season and through the playoffs. But we also realize that the Wild aren’t that far away.