Leonard Korir knows all about close finishes.
Last year, he won the Faxon Law New Haven 20K road race, the national 20K championship, by a second. In July, he won another national championship by a second, the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta.
On Monday, Korir tried hard but he couldn't eke out another close one. Instead, two-time Olympic medalist Galen Rupp edged out Korir by — surprise — one second, crashing through the tape first at the finish line to win the New Haven 20K in 59:04.
"I knew Leonard would be tough," said Rupp, who won the bronze medal in the Olympic marathon last year and the silver in the 10,000 meters in London. "He's run well this year and he usually waits till the last 100 meters or so. I definitely had that in mind and tried to save a little bit for the finish."
Rupp had just enough. Sam Chelanga, the runner-up the last two years, finished third (59:16).
"It was a great race," Chelanga said. "I couldn't match their strength."
Korir outkicked Chelanga last year to win at New Haven. A few months later, he lost to Ben True in a photo finish at the Manchester Road Race.
"Today the other guy wanted it," said Korir, a Kenyan native who earned U.S. citizenship by enlisting in the Army two years ago. "It feels so painful. Today was my time to come so close. It's competition. If you don't win it today, don't worry. You can win it tomorrow so it's OK."
Jordan Hasay, Rupp's Oregon Project teammate coached by Alberto Salazar, won the women's race in 1:06:35. Last year's champion Aliphine Tuliamuk was second (1:07:49) and Sara Hall was third (1:07:53).
Hasay, 25, finished third at the Boston Marathon, running the fastest debut time by an American (2:23:00).
"I did a couple of 10Ks after Boston and they didn't go that well, so today I was almost a little more nervous than usual," Hasay said. "I was thinking, 'I hope I still have it.' It's sort of a relief."
Colin Hemez of Los Alamos, N.M., won the half-marathon in 1:14:35 and Caitlin Batten of North Charlestown, Mass., was the first woman (1:20:36). Patrick Dooley of Brooklyn won the 5K (15:17) and Laney Tenford of Wallingford was the female winner in 18:27.
The 20K winners took home $8,000 in prize money.
The men's lead pack went through the first mile in 4:57 and the 5K in 15:20. The weather was good, with temperatures in the 60s, and Everett Hackett of West Hartford, who finished 13th (1:02:46), was able to hang with the leaders for a while.
"They were running slow, for them," said Hackett, an assistant track and cross country coach at Hall High School. "I just kind of ran with them for the first few miles."
The pace picked up and by the 10K mark, Rupp started to pull in front as the group passed the crowd on the New Haven Green. Tim Ritchie of New Haven, who finished fifth in 1:00:58, was still there, pulled up alongside Rupp and people started cheering for him.
"I figured if I jumped up front, I'd get an extra boost from the community down here," Ritchie said. "I knew there would be a move at some point. I figured it would come around halfway and I figured I'd stick around as long as I could, which turned out to be just over a mile."
Then Rupp simply pulled away, effortlessly and smoothly. Korir and Chelanga went with him. They ran the seventh mile in 4:24, the eighth in 4:44 and Mile 9 in 4:38.
"It was (crazy) and they just kept following it up with strong mile after strong mile," Ritchie said. "It was really, really impressive, what those three were able to do."
"If it was slow at 6-7 miles, the plan was to be prepared to take (the lead) and once you go to the lead, you've got to be all in," Rupp said. "You can't go there and think, 'Maybe I'll slow down.' You've got to be all in. I was all in headed to the finish line."
He would pull ahead a bit, and just when it looked like maybe the race was over, Korir and Chelanga would rally and catch him again.
"I thought I had a gap, then I'd look in a store window or right behind me and he'd be right back there," Rupp said of Korir. "With about a mile to go, I got a little more of a gap and I was like, 'I got to keep pushing at this point' because I knew they had a good finish and I wanted to take something out of their legs, but at the same time still making sure I had enough left to run hard at the end."
Down the homestretch, Chelanga faltered and it was Korir and Rupp.
"When he was doing the 4:26s, 4:28s, 4:30s, he was so relaxed," Korir said. "I was feeling it. I was saying to myself, 'Keep trying, you never know.' I came back to him the last 400. I thought I had him but I didn't.
"I think if we ran another 10 meters, I might have been able to [pass him]."
Rupp is training for the Chicago Marathon — he ran eight more miles on the treadmill after Monday's race.
"I'm not doing a ton of speed work anymore, so I had to kind of go back to my track background," he said. "I think this was a great race to prepare me for Chicago."