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Estwanik’s triumphant return

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Photograph by Nicola MuirheadBack with a bang: Estwanik clenches his teeth as he crosses the finish line after claiming his sixth title

Chris Estwanik made a triumphant return to the Appleby Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby as he secured his sixth title after a three-year hiatus because of injuries.

The 32-year-old clenched his fist as he crossed the finish line at Bernard Park in a rare display of emotion that emphasised just how much winning this year’s race meant to him.

He completed the new 13.1-mile course, starting in St George’s for the first time in decades, in a time of 1hr 7min 46sec, finishing more than six minutes ahead of second-place Lamont Marshall in 1:13:51.

The overwhelming favourite, despite his frustrating absence from the annual race, became only the fifth runner behind Stanley Burgess, Arthur Lambert, Ed Sherlock and Kavin Smith to claim at least six titles.

Estwanik, however, said he had little interest in etching his name into the record books and was merely happy to once again experience the magic of “May 24” and mark his return with an emphatic victory.

“There was some emotion there because it’s been three years of injuries, frustration and ups and downs,” Estwanik said.

“It was so great to be back out there and when I crossed the finish line I was thinking ‘this [victory] is three years in the making’. I was just smiling the whole time and the spectators cheering you on make it so easy for you.”

Estwanik, who set a record of 1:08:25 for the Somerset to Bernard Park course in 2008, en route to a maiden title, led from start to finish, although teenage triathlete Tyler Smith did manage to “mix it” with him during the early stages of the race. Smith’s fourth-place finish was the best by a 16-year-old since Trey Simons came fifteenth in 2010.

“This is definitely one of my proudest moments, especially as a Bermudian running on Bermuda Day,” Smith said.

“You don’t experience that when you go away to compete. Everyone here is cheering for you, shouting your name. The crowd made the difference. If this was a training run, I would have given up around the Aquarium.”

According to Estwanik, it is only a matter of time before Smith, who finished in 1:16:34, picks up his mantle and begins his own period of Derby domination.

“Tyler Smith was mixing it up with me and getting a feel of where he’s going to be in a couple of years’ time dominating these races,” Estwanik said.

“He has so much talent and I think it’s awesome that he managed to get a feel of what it’s like to be up there leading a May 24 race. That will really serve him well down the road.”

The father-of-two sent out an ominous warning at last weekend’s Rite Aide Cleveland Marathon in his native Ohio, where he came third in 2:21:32.

“I didn’t expect my legs to feel quite that good, but I started well out of the gates and my body responded nicely,” Estwanik said.

“I just tried to do what I’ve always done, let it roll and let the best man win.”

Although he believed the new course, at least on paper, was tougher that the Somerset to Bernard Park route, Estwanik said it actually felt easier, possibly because of the “feel-good factor” of competing again after missing the previous two races.

“The hills are longer and slow you down a little and I think it’s a probably tougher course,” he said. “But I was in such a good place mentally that it felt a bit easier to me.”

Marshall, who was competing in his first Derby for several years, admitted that he struggled to keep up with the searing pace set by Estwanik during the second half of the race.

“I have to give credit to Chris,” said Marshall, who has qualified for July’s Pan Am Games in Toronto in the 1,500 metres. “To finish in 1:07 is an incredible time.

“It was a tough course, a challenging course and I started to fade at around Flatts Hill. It was certainly good to be back, though, after a break of four or five years.”

Stephen Allen, who came third in 1:14:38, said he, too, was satisfied with his performance.

“The conditions were pretty good today and I was happy with my time,” he said. “I’m happy to finish third as it was a challenging course.”

Also making a return to the Derby after a three-year absence was Sean Trott, who finished runner-up behind Estwanik in 2012.

The 25-year-old, who has been busy pursuing other interests, including an online degree through the Mount St Vincent University programme, posted a time of 1:28:58 to finish 27th.

“My father’s family are from St George’s, so this year’s race felt attractive to me,” Trott said.

“I’m capable of a much better time than that, but I didn’t have too much build-up and was only training two or three times a week.”

Photograph by Akil SimmonsBack with a bang: winner Estwanik