Monument Avenue race freezes out African elite runners

Fred Jeter | 4/2/2015, 5:51 p.m.
The popular Monument Avenue 10K looks pretty much the same as it always has — except for the runners at ...
Men’s winner Tyler McCandless of Boulder, Colo., crosses the finish line with a time of 29:38.

The popular Monument Avenue 10K looks pretty much the same as it always has — except for the runners at the very front of the pack.

Approximately 30,000 runners, joggers and walkers signed up for this year’s 16th edition of the annual event coordinated by Richmond Sports Backers.

As always, the overwhelming majority of participants enter for fun, recreation and camaraderie, with no notions of financial incentive.

But among the small percentage of elite runners, a significant change took place last year when Sports Backers decided to present prize money only to members of the Collegiate Running Association.

The CRA is a locally run organization founded in 2013 by Steve Taylor and Jon Molz of the University of Richmond.

To be eligible for cash prizes, athletes now must be affiliated with CRA, meaning they need to be enrolled in at least one college class and have a high school diploma.

Essentially, that eliminated the East Africans — the Kenyan and Ethiopian elite runners who had dominated the event since its inception in 2000.

This year’s winners were former Penn State athlete Tyler McCandless (in 29:38) and Flagstaff, Ariz., resident Kellyn Johnson Taylor (33:21).

As winners, McCandless and Taylor, who also won a year ago, received $2,000. Cash prizes drop to $100 for the 10th place finisher. There also are $500 cash awards for first-place local runners.

The Monument Avenue 10k serves as the CRA’s National Road Racing Championship. A similar championship for Mountain Racing will take place July 25 in Bend, Ore.

“We like the Collegiate Running Association because it’s local and supports local running … and it gives us a chance to host a national championship,” said Sports Backers’ spokesman Pete Woody.

“It really ties in with what we’re all about — maintaining active healthy lifestyle as adults.”

The CRA is not involved with the annual Richmond Marathon, also coordinated by Sports Backers. The touring East Africans continue to dominate that event held in November.

CRA is an organization of current and former collegiate runners. The Monument Avenue 10K 2014 champion, Paul Chelimo, hails from Kenya. He is a former runner at the University of North Carolina-Greensboro, and is a member of CRA.

The NCAA allows current track and cross-country athletes to receive cash awards not exceeding their yearly individual training costs.

The winning times have slowed since the CRA replaced the barnstorming Africans at the payout station.

McCandless’ winning time is a minute and a half slower than the record 28:07 set by Kenyan Reuben Chebii in 2004.

On the women’s side, Taylor’s 33:21 was 56 seconds slower than Kenya’s Ogla Kimaiyo’s 32:25 in 2013.

The women’s record of 32:24 — one second faster than Kimaiyo’s time — was set in 2007 by Kenyan Magdalene Makunzi.

Both McCandless and Taylor have qualified for the 2016 Olympic marathon trials.