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Former Olympian among runners looking to Chase down victory at Subaru race

Running enthusiasts in Buffalo won’t have to wait until next month’s Olympics in Rio to see world class athletes.

Friday’s Subaru Chase, which has often served as a tune-up for some Olympic runners, once again boasts an impressive field. The race has become one of the top 4-mile races in the world and the results have a big impact on world rankings at that distance.

“This race has put Buffalo on the map around the country,” said Jim Nowicki, the race’s coordinator.

The race has come a long way since its inception, starting off as a more casual local event. Its perception was changed once the prize money increased, helping Subaru attract new runners while keeping local talent in the area.

“This race started off as a fun race, giving out bottles of champagne 36 years ago,” Nowicki said. “In those days even the Boston Marathon wasn’t giving out prize money. … We started off very slow, giving a grand total of $1,000, but now our prize is $13,500 and includes course record bonus.”

The winners of the open division receive $1,000, the masters winners receive $600 and the top U.S. runners will get $500. Runners in each category are awarded prize money four places deep.

Although none of the entries at this year’s race will be heading to Rio, there is a former Olympian. Mourad Marofit, ranked 78th in the world in road racing by All-Athletics.com, was a member of Morocco’s 5000-meter team in Beijing. He is coming off a second-place finish Sunday at the Boilermaker in Utica. He’s one of the favorites on the men’s side.

Kenyan Eliud Ngetich has had an impressive year, winning the Icebreaker 5k and finishing second at Azalea Trail Run and the Shamrock Run. He was considered the favorite in last year’s Subaru Chase after winning the 2015 Boilermaker, but finished seven seconds behind Teshome Mekeonen.

The biggest wildcard on the men’s side is Robert Letting, who has been training in Kenya for five months with a group of sub-60 half-marathoners as part of his recovery from a knee injury. He’s won his fair share of major races, including Boilermaker, Steamboat, Bloomsday, Crescent City, Bobby Crim and the Azalea Trail Run.

Kenyans are also a force to be reckoned with on the women’s side. Monica Ngige finished first at the Cooper River Bride 10K in Charlotte earlier this year. Gladys Kipsoi is looking to snag a victory after second place finishes this year at the Orange Classic 10K and Litchfield Hills. Nancy Nzisa already has 10 career road wins despite only being 21 years old.

Canadian Liodmila Kortchaguina is looking to win for the third straight time in the masters division.

As for the open division, there won’t be a repeat champion on either side, as both Mary Wacera and Mekeonen are not running this year.

Runners can enter the Subaru Chase up until it begins. Registration on Friday starts at 11 a.m. and can be done on www.buffalosubaruchase.com. Many late entries have gone on to do well at the race.

The race will begin at 7 p.m. and will be held on the usual route around Forest Avenue, Delaware Avenue and Summer Street. Some roads will be briefly closed to traffic in the area.

email: jgoods@buffnews.com