Wharf to Wharf 2017: Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba wins women’s race, tops Monicah Ngige
By Juan Reyes,
(montereyherald) —Santa Cruz >> Buze Diriba made her debut at the 45th Wharf to Wharf on Sunday and came into the race with one thing on her mind.
“I’m going to win,” she said.
The 23-year-old long-distance runner out of Ethiopia did exactly that, earning a first-place finish in 31 minutes, 19 seconds in the women’s division. She was a little more than a minute off the course record set by Caroline Rotich (30:18) in 2014.
Not bad for her first time.
Risper Gesabwa, who was one of the favorites to win, was seeking a third straight title but withdrew from the race on Friday for unknown reasons. Diriba took advantage of the defending champion’s absence and collected $4,000 as a result.
Not far behind was Monicah Ngige (31:36), of Kenya, who finished second and kept pace with the leader throughout the race.
“After four miles, (Ngige) was coming up,” Diriba said. “Maybe in the fifth mile, she fell back.”
Ngige said she was still happy with a second-place finish, even though she was aiming to cross the finish line first.
“It’s OK, I still appreciate it,” said Ngige, who earned $3,000 for placing runner-up. “The race was good and the cause is good. I like it.”
This was her second time at the Wharf to Wharf and it was the second straight year she was runner-up in the race. However, this year Ngige was able to improve her personal record by six seconds. She thinks the cool temperatures in the high 50s played a factor into it.
Ngige said she was neck-and-neck with Diriba up until the fifth mile. That’s when fatigue started to kick in and that’s when she started falling behind.
Mara Olson was the top American runner (32:21) and finished third in Sunday’s race. No American runner has won the women’s division since Emily Infeld did it in 2013.
Olson, who recently moved to San Francisco to attend medical school at UC San Francisco, said it’s been a rough two weeks with the new transition. But she was looking forward to running in the event.
The 24-year-old Butler University alumna was a three-time Division I track and field and cross country All-American.
“It was really fun to get out there and race hard,” she said. “It was a great welcome to California. First time in Santa Cruz, first time doing Wharf to Wharf and I absolutely loved it. The energy, the people, it’s contagious and it’s uplifting.”
Olson said she quickly fell 80 meters behind the lead pack after passing the first mile marker while going uphill on Murray Street. But she hung in there and it wasn’t until Mile 5 where she started to gain ground
“I found myself sniffing out fourth place and then third place and really tried to hammer hard that last mile and get some distance,” she said.
The local top finisher was 22-year-old Nikki Hiltz of Aptos, who placed eighth (33:49). She beat last year’s local winner, Amy Schnittger, who finished 14th (34:55), and said she was actually a bit surprised after she heard the news.
The Aptos High alumna, who’s been racing in the event since she was 7 years old, has never been the top local before. In fact, last year was the first time she placed in the top 10 by finishing 10th overall.
“It wasn’t really a plan,” said Hiltz, who competes for the University of Arkansas. “I was kind of just having fun and when I crossed the finish line they were like, ‘You’re top local.’”
Hiltz said she felt relaxed going into the race and wanted to have fun, like wearing matching NASA T-shirts with her mom and racing partner. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t hard, especially since her background is strictly middle-distance running at 1,500 meters.
“I would say six miles is six times the distance that I usually race,” she said. “Everything after the first mile was hard.”
But the good thing about being a local runner is having the local crowd behind you, and that’s why Hiltz doesn’t plan on missing a Wharf to Wharf race anytime soon.
“I’m always going to run this race,” she said.