Wheelchair champion races in pain but claims ninth title

  • Article by: AMELIA RAYNO , Star Tribune
  • Updated: October 8, 2012 - 12:14 AM
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Saul Mendoza crossed the finish line to a warm reception after his fourth consecutive wheelchair title.

Photo: Elizabeth Flores, Star Tribune

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Leave it to the Twin Cities Marathon to help turn things around for wheelchair racer Saul Mendoza, now the winningest athlete in the event.

The decorated racer came in off a disappointment but left with his ninth victory in the Twin Cities, more than any other athlete, and managed to notch another personal achievement with his fourth consecutive title dating to 2009.

"I'm excited to be back. This is one of my favorite races through the season," said Mendoza, a native of Mexico who was unfazed by weather others scorned. "It couldn't be a better day. Part of it was windy, but it wasn't raining and it wasn't snowing."

Mendoza, who lives in Wimberley, Texas, finished in 1 hour, 47 minutes, 26 seconds. Scott Parson was second in 1:50:16.

For Mendoza, the Twin Cities race was his first event after a disappointing Paralympics in London, where he placed 23rd after a training accident in Mexico. Eleven days before the Paralympics began, Mendoza hit a pothole and fell out of his chair, resulting in major body bruising and requiring stitches across his face, the remnants of which could be seen Sunday.

"I tried to do my best in London, but it didn't work out good," said Mendoza, who said the body pain Sunday again hurt his time, which dropped off about 5 seconds from last year's time. "I'm just excited to be back in racing and starting to feel better, and it will hopefully show in my next season."

Mendoza had been tied with female wheeler Tami Oothoudt of Roseville for most wins at TC with eight. He had three consecutive victories starting in 1996.

Riley respects

Considering it was only his second road race, his first 10-mile race and the field was so littered with big names that his own was scarcely mentioned beforehand, Jacob Riley had a hard time complaining about his third-place finish Sunday.

"Yes, for sure," he said when asked whether he surpassed his own expectations. "I guess my goal going in was top five Americans, and I felt I could run pretty fast today. But I guess I didn't really think I was going to be this close to the mix. So, yeah, it was definitely a very good performance for me."

The Rochester Hills, Mich., resident hung at second place until about 400 meters to go, when he started dry-heaving, he said, and Ben True passed him. Mo Trafeh won in 46:56, True was second in 47:19, three seconds ahead of Riley.

Legs weren't willing

Duluth native Kara Goucher might have been a bit off of her normal pace, but the familiar athlete's competitive drive nearly got her a victory anyway.

Goucher took six weeks off following the London Olympics and came to the Twin Cities with the objective of shaking off the rust. Still, with less than a mile to go, Goucher found herself in striking distance of Janet Bawcom, the winner.

"I actually thought I had a shot to win, but Janet threw down," she said.

"I was 5:10 and she broke me, so she must have been 5:06, 5:07 and my legs just aren't ready to run that quick yet.

"I figured I would be lucky to beat her."

Goucher finished 13 seconds behind Bawcom, in 53:56.

Etc.

• Ulrich Steidl (2:20:59) of Seattle won the marathon masters title. Nuta Olaru (2:36:57) of Longmont, Colo., claimed the women's masters title.

• The top two Minnesota marathon runners were fifth-place Francis Muendo (2:15:36) and eighth-place Robert Wambua (2:17:45), two Kenyans who train part of the year in Coon Rapids. Minneapolis' Chris Erichsen was third among Minnesotans and 10th overall in 2:19:00. The top Minnesotan female runner was Kelly Brinkman (2:45:55) of Bloomington.

• Johanna Olson, the elite runner from Wadena, Minn., profiled in Wednesday's Star Tribune, ran with her father, Terry Olson, and her mother, Jane Bagstad, and finished in 5:09:54, only 13 months after her third surgery to remove a recurring brain tumor. Olson now lives in Bend, Ore. Terry and Jane finished by her side.

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