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‘Worlds’ await winners at Corporate Challenge

Almost 13,000 people will be taking part in tonight’s J.P. Morgan Corporate Challenge in Delaware Park. The runners in the field who will participate in the 3½-mile race will be hoping to be part of a winning team – either men’s, women’s or mixed – that will compete against teams from 12 other cities in something of a world championship next year.

But where will that world championship be? Team members won’t know until later this year, and that’s part of the fun.

Past winners have gone to exotic locations such as Singapore and South Africa. However, the victors of the 2012 Buffalo Corporate Challenge didn’t need to update their passports for the 2013 world competition. That’s because the finals were held on May 21 in Rochester.

“I believe we found out in early December,” said Amy Fakterowitz, a member of the Amherst Central Schools team that won the women’s division here last year. “The rumor was that it would be in Germany, but we found out otherwise.”

Still, the team winners of tonight’s event are guaranteed to have a memorable time no matter where the championships are scheduled.

“They put on an incredible event in Rochester,” said Todd Witzleben of the winning University at Buffalo’s men’s team. “You go there, and they treat you like an elite athlete. I’ve gone to some competitions internationally, and honestly they treated us like professional athletes.

“The nice thing for us was that our families could travel to it. If it was in Germany, nobody could get to it. I have a 5-month-old son, and it was his first time ever to go to a race. I hung my ribbon over his neck afterwards, so that was cool.”

The race festivities actually started more than a day before the start of the race.

“There was a security briefing on Monday morning,” Fakterowitz said. “They do have events for the runners, like a trip to Niagara Falls. We bowed out of that one. On Monday night, they had a really nice reception at the Eastman House.

“We got to mingle with people from other countries, and had free rein over the place. They had a scavenger hunt, showed us a film on the history of the Corporate Challenge, and had a dinner for us.”

Witzleben added, “I talked with some of the guys from South Africa. It was cool. Most of them were about 20 years old. We were joking that our team averaged about 45 years old. We knew then that we weren’t going to be the most competitive team there. Even so, the night was awesome. There was a great group of guys there.”

Rochester’s annual version of the Corporate Challenge was the next night. The world championship runners got a five-minute head start on the field. It didn’t take the Buffalo runners long to figure out they were up against some top competition.

“The guy who finished second overall finished 26th in the Olympic marathon in London. He was a stud,” Witzleben said about Martin Dent of Australia. “He got beat by some guy from South Africa,” he said, referring to Kgosi Tsosane.

Witzleben had done a computer search on Tsosane, and concluded “that guy was unreal. He’s a 13:45 5K guy.”

The men’s team from UB finished eighth, while the Amherst Central women’s squad was eighth and M&T Bank’s mixed team placed sixth. When you consider that Buffalo’s teams were competing against squads from much larger cities, their hopes of winning weren’t that great.

“We were just hoping to run well,” Fakterowitz said. “We didn’t have any hopes of winning. We were coming off a long winter of training. We were happy.”

By the way, upsets do happen. Rochester’s women’s team, representing one of the smallest cities in the field, won the overall championship. Johannesburg won the men’s title, and Frankfurt took the mixed crown.

Buffalo’s winning teams from 2012 are ineligible to go to the world championships two years in a row. However, there will be thousands of people hoping to take their place this time around when the gun goes off at 6:45 p.m.

It’s the 33rd year for the annual event. It will feature a record total of 431 companies that are sponsoring teams. Tops Friendly Markets will have the most runners with 515.

The race comes with the traditional warnings. Traffic jams around Delaware Park before the race are a tradition.

Participants are urged to park at Lots L & M at Buffalo State College and take free shuttle buses to the park. Roads in the area, such as Delaware Avenue between the park and Gates Circle, will be closed, so drivers will have to find alternate routes.

Buffalo police also warn participants to make sure their car doors are locked and valuables of any kind are placed in the trunk and not visible in the vehicle.

Police also are discouraging people from bringing backpacks to the race site. They said all backpacks will be subject to checks.

Last year’s winners were Vasilis Kariolis and Jennifer Koeppel-Acker. This year’s local champions are guaranteed a beautiful trophy and a small bit of fame.

“Winning the Corporate Challenge is a bigger deal in Buffalo than it is to qualify for the Olympic trials,” Witzleben said. “People know about it. It’s such a great event. There are more people doing that than going to Thursday in the Square.”

email: bbailey@buffnews.com

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