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Smiling assassin Chris Estwanik romps to eighth derby win

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Chris Estwanik celebrates another win in the Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby, his eighth title overall (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Chris Estwanik won an eighth Bermuda Half-Marathon Derby when he defended his title with a strong run from Somerset to Bernard Park.

Estwanik clocked a winning time of 1hr 10min 14sec to win comfortably by three minutes over Dennis Mbelenzi, a former Bermuda resident who now lives Nova Scotia and was returning for his first Bermuda Day race since 2019 when he placed seventh.

Second-place finisher Dennis Mbelenzi heads to the finish line at Bernard Park, three minutes behind winner Chris Estwanik (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mbelenzi, who crossed the line in 1:13:29, was 33 seconds ahead of third-place finisher Sean Trott (1:14:12), with Sammy Degraff (1:15:39) and Chayce Smith (1:15:44) completing the top five.

Estwanik lived up to expectations, taking the lead early in the race and keeping a comfortable distance between himself and the chasing pack as he led the way to Hamilton.

“I feel blessed to be out here, it’s been ten years since I’ve run from Somerset,” Estwanik said.

His time was almost identical to the 1:10:28 he posted in his victory from St George’s last year.

“To be within a minute and 30 seconds of what I did 14 years ago … I’m 42 years old and so lucky, and that’s not lost on me.”

Estwanik had a good spell between 2008 and 2012, before being injured in 2013 and 2014. He came back in 2015 and then between 2016 and 2019 was, he revealed, either injured or not running much.

“Of course I want to do this next year, I would love to come back and make a good showing,” he said. “There’s so much talent on this island that training is going to be paramount.

“I enjoyed today, I smiled a lot, I tried to have fun and felt like I was on a really good pace, although I knew I wasn’t going to go at a record pace. I didn’t train for that, but I thought I had a shot at breaking 1:10.

“I conserved a little bit on Harbour Road but no matter what you do, Church Street always gets me! But I was smiling and having fun.”

Mbelenzi celebrated his return to Bermuda with a second-place finish. “It’s a tough course, the hills are tougher than I expected,” he said. “Of course the heat plays a factor, but the objective was to try to keep Chris within distance.

“I tried for a while in the closing stages but he was just too strong, and I expected that. So then it became about keeping the back door closed and when I slowed down a bit Sean was able to close in.

“I’m happy to come second, I’ve only run two marathons and a 10K. In the last month I did Boston in 2:26 and was second in my age group, and I did Toronto in 2:30 and did a 10K in Halifax, where I stay. That was just last weekend, which I used as a threshold session for this race.”

Sean Trott strides to the finish line for a third-place finish (Photograph by Akil Simmons)

Mbelenzi and Trott were close together through five kilometres before Mbelenzi eventually took a firm grip of second place. “We went together through the 5K in about 16:20, he was a couple of seconds ahead which was already my 10K pace,” Mbelenzi explained.

“I started to count on him slowing down. He’s a very smart runner and I knew he knows that my strength is probably the longer distance and that the longer it went on the stronger, possibly, I would get.”

In the end, Trott was able to claim third place, ahead of Sammy Degraff, who was third last year. “I have a lot of positives I can take from today,” Trott said.

“It was a third so that is an improvement on last year and the time I ran is actually my second-fastest on the course, so I’m happy.

“I saw glimpses of him [Mbelenzi] and was trying really hard to reel him in, but he had Chris up ahead and was trying to do the same.

“Chris went out in just over five minutes for the first mile and I knew if I went out in that pace, that I would definitely have blown my race up, so I ran smart.”

Degraff, who now lives in Tennessee, marked his return with another top-five finish. “It’s a blessing to be able to run, so I’m happy with that,” he said.

“Probably a little disappointed because I felt like I definitely had more in me, but on the day this is the best that happened. My time, 1:15, is a PB on this course but I was hoping to get under 1:12. Today just wasn’t the day to do it.”

Domico Watson improved on his finish, as he placed ninth for a first top-ten finish. “Exactly what I wanted, my first-ever top ten, which is amazing,“ said Watson, who finished in 1:19:53.

“The highest I had come was seventeenth [last year], and I also had a huge PB, from 1:26 before to now 1:19, so I got everything I wanted out of this race.

“I had two great guys, Tom Mills and Moses [Mufandaedza], to pace off the whole way and we pretty much hung together. Those guys pulled away in town [Hamilton], but I felt strong enough to try to knock off a PB and have a good day after that.”

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Published May 28, 2022 at 7:59 am (Updated May 29, 2022 at 3:15 pm)

Smiling assassin Chris Estwanik romps to eighth derby win

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