Nataliya Berkut of Ukraine fights off Jen Rhines for B.A.A. Half Marathon win
At the 10K mark, Nataliya Berkut tried to make her move. It was too early. Opening a 10-yard gap on American Jen Rhines, she quickly slid back to rejoin her. At 8 ½ miles, the 30-year-old from Ukraine tried it again. No, not yet.
At 10 ½ miles, between Route 9 and Brookline Avenue, Berkut finally decided the time was right. By Francis Street, she had 15 meters on her rival, gradually pulling away to a 1:12:21 victory and a $5000 first-place prize. Rhines, a two-time U.S. Olympian, would hang on for second (1:12:56), while Russia’s Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova, the master’s course record-holder of the Boston Marathon, finished third in 1:15:19.
“I tried to take advantage of the hills to pull away,” said Berkut, herself a 2004 Olympian at 10,000 meters.
Rhines, meanwhile, is in the midst of training for the Nov. 6 ING New York City Marathon and doing the highest weekly mileage (120) she’s ever done. “I didn’t feel labored,” she said, “but I just didn’t have the extra gear when she made her move. It was a good effort.”
The top three was decided early. Even before the two-mile mark, the pack was whittled down to the eventual podium players plus Russian Elena Orlova, who is training to defend her Detroit Free Press/Flagstar Bank Marathon title later this month, and less than a mile later the 44-year-old Sultanova-Zhdanova would drop back and Orlova, too, would be out of contention. For the remainder of the race, the Ukrainian and the American would go about their jobs virtually side-by-side until Berkut finally made her third and decisive move.
Although Sultanova-Zhdanova plans a return to the Boston Marathon in 2006 to defend her master’s title, don’t expect to see Berkut in that – or any other – 26.2-miler any time soon. Her translator wasn’t needed when Berkut was asked if she’d be in Boston next April. Everyone understood “nyet.”
“I don’t like the marathon,” she explained. “The half marathon is better suited for me.”