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Sports

Prize money attracts top runners to Gasparilla races


Published:   |   Updated: February 17, 2014 at 08:43 PM

TAMPA — Every year, the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic Race weekend adds new ingredients to its mix, and this weekend’s event looks better than ever.

For starters, Sunday’s half marathon is featuring $40,000 in prize money, which has attracted a field of world-class runners, including two-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, three-time women’s qualifier Jen Rhines and more than a dozen other elites.

The men’s and women’s winners, in fact, will most certainly shatter the Publix Gasparilla Half Marathon records of 1:09:50 minutes for men by Jonathan Mott, and 1:20:06 for women by Jessica Crate. For that matter, the winners could run some of the nation’s fastest times this year on the flat streets around Tampa – especially with the added incentive of Olympic trials’ qualifying standards hanging in the balance.

As has been the case in recent U.S. Olympic marathon trials, runners can achieve qualifying standards by meeting certain times in the half marathon. For the men, they must finish a certified 13.1-mile course in 1 hour, 5 minutes or faster. On the women’s side, the trials’ qualifying standard is 1:15.

Abdirahman, a native of Somalia who became a U.S. citizen in 2000, enters Gasparilla with a sizzling half marathon best of 1:00:29. He competed in the 2000 and 2004 summer Olympics at 10,000 meters and has run the marathon in 2:08. Rhines, who has competed in the 5,000, 10,000 and marathon over three different Olympic Games, owns a half marathon personal record of 1:11:14 and a marathon PR of 2:29:32.

Another invited elite runner includes former Berkley Prep and Stanford University star Rolf Steier, who has based his training in Oslo, Norway, while studying for his Ph.D. Like others in the field, he will be seeking to meet the trials standard, a window that opened Aug. 1, 2013.

“The elite runners bring excitement with them,” Executive Race Director Susan Harmeling said. “The city’s biggest running weekend already offers an incredible air of excitement and distance for every age and fitness level. The increased excitement surrounding the American elites, their goals and dreams, will be a gift to our participants and the Tampa Bay community.”

As for local talent, Mott, the defending Publix Gasparilla Half Marathon men’s champion, and women’s winner Terri Rejimbal have confirmed they will return for the race.

The top five American male and female finishers in the Publix Gasparilla Half Marathon will divvy up a sum of $30,000, with the winners taking home $8,000 each. The local talent, however, will not be locked out of the cash prizes because the “American Development and Local Prize Purse,” also features $10,000 for the best local runners in the Half Marathon, with the top finishers earning $2,000 each.

Saturday’s Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic 15K is also offering cash awards for the top local runners. For the first five local men and women, a total purse of $10,000 is on the line in the 15K race.

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