NAPLES — While Simon Sawe’s legs carried him to victory Sunday at the Naples Daily News Half Marathon, his memory might have served him even better.
Watching from third place at last year’s race, Sawe watched the drama unfold during the final stretch as Worku Beyi let a big lead slip away in the final 400 meters to lose to Nicholas Kurgat.
Heading north on Eighth Street in downtown Naples early Sunday, racing down that same stretch toward the finish line, Sawe remembered last year’s race. The Kenyan was neck-and-neck with Beyi and knew, based on that 2009 finish, that he could outlast his opponent.
“If you remember from last year, (Beyi) died in the end,” Sawe said. “I kind of figured that, if I say with him as much as I can, there would be a chance he would repeat what he did last year.”
“I wasn’t sure,” if he would beat Beyi, Sawe said, “but I figured that I don’t have anything to lose.”
Sawe improved on last year’s third-place showing, his first time in the event, by winning the 22nd annual event in 1:04.31.1. He was side-by-side with Beyi with a tenth of a mile to go, but Beyi (1:04.34.4) faded at the end and finished three seconds behind Sawe.
A 36-year-old who now lives in Sante Fe, N.M., Sawe earned $2,000 for his victory. Beyi, 22, an Ethiopian living in New York City, took home $1,200 for second place.
Fans at the Half Marathon were treated to a sprint to the finish for the second straight year. Last year Beyi led by as many as two minutes before Kurgat blew past him late.
Kurgat was not in this year’s race, which had a record 1,916 runners sign up.
Beyi said he was sick Saturday night and didn’t get much sleep for Sunday’s race, which started at 7 a.m. His restlessness, he said, haunted him during the last few miles of the 13-mile race.
“My body’s tired,” Beyi said. “I led a little, but my body was not relaxed.”
Canadian Matt Loiselle finished third in 1:05.02.9, while Sergio Reyes was fourth in 1:07.43.1. Reyes was the top American finisher, the same title he won in October at the prestigious Chicago Marathon.
Reyes, who lives in California, competed in the 2008 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.
Naples resident Kurt Roeser was the highest local finisher. Roeser helped Naples High to the cross country state finals three consecutive years before graduating in 2005. He went on to runner cross country and track and field at the University of Florida.
Estero High standout distance runner Erick Montoya finished ninth in the men’s race in 1:13.09.2. Montoya just missed the record time for his 13- to 18-year-old age group (1:13:05), which he set last year.