Monday, November 01, 1999

Keeler comes home, comes home first

Wins Avon title on familiar course

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Kelly Keeler apporaches the finish line, with second-place finisher Michelle Lafleur just four seconds behind.
(Gary Landers photos)
| ZOOM |
        Kelly Keeler had a bit of a home-course advantage Sunday in the Avon Running National Championship.

        And she wasn't ashamed to admit she needed it.

        “In another race, I might not have pushed so hard,” she said. “But I wanted to win so badly.”

        Keeler took control of the race in the last half-mile and held off Michelle LeFleur. Keeler covered the 10k course in 34 minutes, 52 seconds. LeFleur was four seconds behind Keeler, and Alisa Harvey was only four behind Le Fleur, an extremely tight finish for a 6.2-mile race.

        Keeler, the top Cincinnati runner before she moved to Minneapolis in January, was running the Columbia Parkway course on which she's won the Heart Mini-Marathon four times. The familiarity with the course and fans along the way made running the race for Keeler a little like UC playing basketball at the Shoe or XU at the Gardens.

        “The fan support was unbelievable,” she said. “I couldn't help but run faster. It was great to come back.”

        Keeler, LeFleur and Harvey win trips to the Avon Global Championship in Milan, Italy. The top masters runner, Jane Welzel, and the top Avon representative, Judy Walls, also win trips to Milan.

        The open race was competitive from the start. Keeler, 37, took the lead going along Fifth Street toward Columbia Parkway.

        LeFleur, a 27-year-old from Memphis, N.Y., took over next.

        “I'm a good downhill runner,” she said. “I felt good. I thought, "If these people catch me, they catch me.'”

        They did. Five runners went by at the turnaround.

        “I just wanted to hang with them,” LeFleur said.

        By that point, Keeler was content to hang with the pack.

        “I know the course so well,” she said. “I knew when to relax and when to push.”

        Keeler's move came in the last mile or so. LeFleur went right after her.

        “I was hammering it pretty hard,” Keeler said. “I knew she was coming after me.”

        The Cincinnati factor helped her hold LeFleur off.

        “When 500 people come up to you and wish you well, you want to perform,” she said. “That was extra motivation. Then all these people are yelling "Kelly! Kelly! Kelly!'”

        LeFleur was happy with second. She finished second in two Avon qualifying races to earn the points for a trip to Cincinnati.

        “This was the race I was aiming for,” she said. “I wanted to go to Italy. I had a terrible race (in the Avon National) last year. I finished 25th, so second is great.”

        Harvey, 34, was closing fast at the end. She passed four women in the last mile or so.

        “I wasn't going faster,” Harvey said. “They were coming back to me.”

        Harvey's speciality is the 1,500 meters. She is a two-time Pan Am Games gold medalist.

        Keeler and LeFleur are both marathoners.

        “This is a marathoners' course,” Harvey said.

        Sunday, it was Keeler's course.


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