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Elite runners in DesNews races

A strong field is expected to race in S.L. Tuesday

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The field of elite runners is set for Tuesday's 32nd annual Deseret News/Granite Furniture marathon and 19th annual 10K races, coordinated by Salt Lake County Parks and Recreation.

Race director Lauren Jacobsen and elite runners coordinator Gene Whitmore have once again assembled an impressive mixture of local and international competitors who will be racing in celebration of Utah's Pioneer Days celebration.

Both men's defending champions are back this summer, while last year's women's winners in the marathon and 10K are not returning. Here's a look at the favorites in each of the races.

In the men's marathon, Craig Lawson of Sandy hopes to repeat last year's victory, when he covered the 26.2 mile course in a time of 2:31.30. The former BYU All-American has a personal best of 2:19.50 for the marathon, and has clocked a 28:54 in the 10K. He will wear bib number 1 when the race begins at 5 a.m. Tuesday near Mountain Dell Golf Course.

Four other local runners will likely be his biggest challengers. Murray's Dennis Simonaitis has captured the DesNews marathon twice and has a personal record of 2:14 for the distance. His wife, Michelle, who has also won the women's marathon in the past, will be entered in the women's 10K this year. Marc Lawson of Draper, another former Cougar All-American, placed third in the race last year and is expected to contend this year. Salt Lake City's Alvaro Palacios, who has won several of the DesNews marathons as well, is back this season, along with Springville's Paul Rosser, who won the race in 1994 and has had a number of other top finishes in the past. Any of these five runners could win the championship.

Two other elites to watch are a pair of Bolivian entries, Pablo Vera and Carlos Quinteros. Vera placed high in last year's Las Vegas marathon and Quinteros has had success running in his native South America.

Among the ladies, defending champ Marty Hernandez, who stated after last year's grueling victory that "I'll never run another marathon," has apparently kept to her personal promise and is not returning to defend her crown. And local favorite Olga Appell of Ogden, who has won both the marathon and 10K races in the past and holds the two fastest times ever in the DesNews 10K, withdrew late last week. That leaves Laurel Lin of Provo and Caroline Owens of Salt Lake City as the two favorites for the race.

Lin comes in with an impressive running resume, having already won races in St. George and Park City this spring, and two collegiate national championships under her belt as a member of BYU's women's cross country team in 1997 and 1999. Most of her success has come in 5K and 10K events, and she placed 17th in the 10K at the 2000 NCAA Track and Field Championships. Owens has had previous top finishes in the DesNews marathon, and competes locally in the USATF circuit.

One other women's marathoner to watch is Tania Vidal of Bolivia, who has clocked sub-2:40:00 times in both Peru and Chile. This will be her first visit to Salt Lake City.

The men's 10K is always a closely contested event, and defending champ Simon Sawe of Kenya returns to the scene of last year's "interesting" victory, when the top male runners were given bad directions near the start of the race and ended up running an extra 100 meters. Sawe, who lives and trains in Albuquerque, has a personal best of 28:32 for the distance. His stiffest challenge may come from 1999 champ John Kariuki of Kenya, a two-time winner who holds the course record of 27:32 and who was slowed last year by an injury.

"John and Simon are friends off the course but very competitive on it," Whitmore stated. "They truly go all out against each other to win. This is how they make their livings, so they leave it all out on the course once the gun sounds."

Others hoping to contend for the first-place check of $2,500 include Mike Aish of New Zealand, an Olympian for his country in the 2000 summer games in Sydney; Seef Le Roux of South Africa, who has run sub-29 minutes for the distance already this year; and twin brothers Paul and Rubin McRae of New Zealand, experienced 5K and 10K competitors with several top finishes in the United States already this season. Rubin McRae ran in last year's DesNews 10K.

The men's field also includes local favorite Paul Pilkington of Roy, a master's division runner with several top finishes in this race before; Bill Hibdon, a member of the University of Missouri track and field team; Scott Nagelkerke of Michigan, who has captured an NCAA Division 2 cross country championship; and Kenyans James Kiprop and Wilson Karanyang, both of whom now live and train in California.

The women's defending champion, Katrina Price-Crosby of Pasadena, Calif., is not returning this year, leaving the crown up for grabs among a number of top contenders. Former BYU All American Emily Nay, now living in Ogden and training with Brian Appell, husband of Olga, is probably the favorite. She won this race at the Salt Lake City Classic earlier this year, and is in top form. Last year's third-place finisher, Nicole Hunt of Deer Lodge, Mont., is probably her stiffest challenger, along with Salt Lake City's Johanna Neilsen, a former University of Utah runner who set a course record last month in the Park City marathon; and Michelle Simonaitis of Murray, a previous winner of the marathon and a U.S. representative in the World Champs marathon to be run in Edmonton this summer.

Two other racers to watch are Kara Ormond of Orem, the former BYU star who will be making her 10K debut in this race, and Colorado's Nicole Jefferson, an outstanding 5K and 10K runner.

For those local runners still wishing to enter the marathon, 10K or 5K fitness walk, Jacobsen added that it's not too late. "Registrations are being accepted today and Monday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the University Park Marriott Hotel, 480 Wakara Way in Research Park. We've still got room for a number of runners who wish to enter," she said.

Wrap-ups of all of Tuesday's races will appear later that afternoon in the Deseret News, with a complete listing of all results in the July 25 edition.