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Ritzenhein Headed to New York For 8-K Championship

Lured by the chance to compete against a top-notch field and possibly break one of the longest-standing U.S. road running records, Dathan Ritzenhein (left, Victor Sailor, is headed here to contest the U.S. Men’s 8-K Championship next month. The nearly-five mile race in Central Park will utilize the same course which will form the heart of the U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials Marathon slated for Saturday, Nov. 3.

“We’re kicking off our Olympic Trials year with the U.S. 8-K on March 17,” New York Road Runners President and CEO Mary Wittenberg told the New York Track Writers who had gathered for their weekly luncheon at a mid-town restaurant. She added: “Dathan is a race-maker. He’s always in the mix.”

Ritzenhein, 24, made his marathon debut here last November, finishing 11th at the ING New York City Marathon in 2:14:01. In that race he struggled to reach the same finish line next to Tavern on the Green he hopes to cross first in March. Speaking from his home in Boulder, Colo., via conference call, Ritzenhein said that he decided to run the 8-K after ruling out his participation at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and seeing the strong field that was coming together for the race in New York.

“Now that I’ve made the decision to not go to Keyna, I’m turning my attention 100% to running the 8-K,” said Ritzenhein who said that he struggled with the decision to bypass World Cross. He added: “I saw the field that was developing for the 8-K and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Ritzenhein, who will face long-time rivals Adam Goucher, Jorge Torres and Abdi Abdirahman at the 8-K, was also intrigued by the possibility of breaking Alberto Salazar’s U.S. record of 22:04 set in Los Altos, Calif., in 1981. Salazar’s mark is the second-oldest U.S. men’s road running record at a standard distance, according to the independent Association of Road Running Statisticians. The oldest is at the rarely run 30-K distance set by Randy Thomas in 1980.

“Any record you can break of Alberto’s is a great record,” Ritzenhein said of Salazar’s 26 year-old mark which is only one second off of Peter Githuka’s world record of 22:03. “That record is a tough record.”

But with a strong field and good weather the record is possible, even on the less-than-flat Central Park circuit. A 22:04 8-K is similar to a 28:01 10-K and Ritzenhein’s personal best for 10,000m on the track is 27:35.65. He’s also run 28:11 on the road.

“I think there is a good chance the record will go down,” he added.

Ritzenhein had instead planned to run the Gate River Run on March 10, host of the U.S. 15-K Championships in Jacksonville, Fla., but revised his plans after he scuttled his trip to Mombasa for World Cross which is scheduled for March 24. Prior to the U.S. Cross Country Championships on Feb. 10, where he finished thid, Ritzenhein was certain that he would run in Mombasa.

“It was a really difficult decision,” he said. “I’ve always been an advocate of, ‘if you run the Trials you run the Championship,'” he said.

But he became cool to the idea when he learned that several of the top finishers from the Championships were not planning to go to Mombasa, including national champion Alan Culpepper, runner-up Goucher and fourth place Torres.

“The team wasn’t going to be as good as in the past,” said Ritzenhein. “My heart wasn’t in it to race there.”

Ritzenhein will soon leave the cold and high altitude of Colorado for two weeks of training in Tallahassee, Fla., and will be joined by his coach, Brad Hudson, and Torres amongst others. He’s hoping a stint in warm weather will help him to do higher quality speed sessions, sharpening him for the 8-K. He feels his strength is excellent after all the miles he put in prior to the marathon last fall.

“I always seem to get a big benefit from going to sea level before big races,” Ritzenhein said.

The New York Road Runners have put up a $35,000 prize money purse plus a $25,000 bonus to the race winner if he breaks Salazar’s record. The race winner will receive a guaranteed payment of $10,000. There are also $1000 primes available to the first three runners who cross the 5-K mark during the race in under 13:50, provided they finish in the top-10. Therefore, the winner of the race could earn as much as $36,000 if he breaks the record.