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STEVENSON GETS RICH CASINO PAYOUT

Nicole Stevenson was heartbroken this summer, upset she did not get the chance to run the marathon in the Olympics. Her win at the Casino Niagara International Marathon on Sunday won't change that feeling, but it does give Stevenson 15,000 other things to think about.

With a course-record time of 2 hours, 37 minutes and 8.6 seconds, Stevenson left with quite a hefty check. She won $2,500 for winning the race, another $2,500 for being the top placing Canadian female, and a $10,000 bonus for setting a course record -- all told, an afternoon worth $15,000 Canadian ($12,117 U.S.).

"My goal coming here was to break the record," said Stevenson, a 31-year-old Toronto resident. "It was a good day, I'm happy with it. I had a lot of fun out there, and it turned out well."

Stevenson had met international qualifications to make the Athens Games this summer, but she did not meet Canadian Olympic Committee standards because she was not ranked nationally in the top 12 of female marathoners. So she didn't go to Greece.

Sunday, temperatures in the mid-50s and overcast skies did not faze Stevenson. In fact, she considered the conditions "perfect" and went on to better the course record (2:38:28) by almost 80 seconds.

"The wind was at our back almost the whole way," she said. "That makes a big difference for us."

Stevenson's overall pace was a shade under six minutes per mile, which helped her to a comfortable margin of victory in front of countrywoman Tania Jones (2:41:27.2) and American Sarah Plaxton (2:51:02.4).

"Six-minute miles are a conservative effort," said Stevenson, a pharmaceutical sales representative who trains 3 1/2 hours daily. "I felt good the whole way. You never know. You get on the starting line and you don't know how your day's going to go. I was very fortunate."

It was Stevenson's first Casino Niagara Marathon, but she plans on coming back.

"Hopefully, that same bonus will be there next year and I can take another minute off (the record)," Stevenson joked.

In the men's race, Moses Cheserek of Kenya broke away to win with a time of 2:22:22.0. He and countryman Anthony Gitau (2:22:58.5) were neck and neck throughout most of the first 24 miles, but Cheserek closed much stronger to pick up the victory.

Canada's Stephane Gamache finished third with a 2:26:26.7.

Cheserek, who won the Quebec City Marathon earlier this year, broke away from the lead pack with Gitau around the 12-mile mark. During the 20th and 22nd miles, Gitau tried to pull away on his own.

Even though he was "a little bit" concerned, Cheserek never fell behind more than 100 yards. When he passed Gitau late in the 24th mile, it was apparent the 25-year-old Cheserek had the race in control. His winnings were $2,500.

Buffalo's Woojin Park ran a 2:36:17.8, good for eighth overall and second in the men's 35-39 age group. Western New York's top placing female was Rachel Saeli (Buffalo), second in the women's 25-29 age bracket with a 3:27:53.3. . . . Mike Cuzzacrea (Lockport) was successful in his attempt to set a world record while pushing a baby jogger. With a 3:33:40.8, he broke the mark by nearly 20 minutes. Cuzzacrea, known as the "Pancake Man," already has the world record (3:02.27) for running a marathon while flipping a pancake in a frying pan. . . . Dave Lawrence (Kenmore) finished second in the half-marathon walk with a 2:01:36.7.
e-mail: gnason@buffnews.com

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