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Pittsburgh Marathon notebook: Ethopian stays hot, wins half marathon

| Sunday, May 5, 2013, 7:57 p.m.

A good year for Risper Gesabwa got even better at the Pittsburgh Marathon.

Meanwhile, Julius Kogo joined Gesabwa in winning the half marathon a year after also finishing second in the 13.1-mile race.

Kogo and Gesabwa were among the earliest finishers Sunday as the former completed the half marathon in 1:02:32 while the latter ran it in 1:13:16.

Each runner collected $6,500 for finishing first in the men's and women's divisions.

“I knew I would run a good race,” Gesabwa said.

The Ethiopian set a course record while winning the Miami Beach Half Marathon in March, but that's not the only reason why she took plenty of confidence with her to the starting line Sunday morning. Gesabwa said running the Pittsburgh Marathon last year gave her familiarity with the course, and she prepared for the hills she encountered Sunday.

“I love this course so much because I have been training for it,” she said.

Kogo seems to like it, too. The only thing that suited the Kenyan better than the track, he said, were the temperatures that made the morning an ideal one for running.

“The weather was perfect,” Kogo said.

Clark cheers on runners

For a third straight year, Steelers free safety Ryan Clark served as the marathon's “co-announcer” and general goodwill ambassador.

“This is a community,” he said. “There's 3,500 volunteers. Pittsburgh has to come together to put on this event. It shows the heart of people who are involved in it. And also, I think, it's the one sport the whole community is tied to. Only a select few get to go to Heinz Field, or if you go to Consol (Energy Center) or PNC (Park), it's only a select few. But everybody can be involved in this.”

During much of the race, Clark exhorted the runners, noted the presence of Terrible Towels and generally provided some feel-good chatter. At one point he proclaimed that the runners “are more superior athletes than I am.”

No kidding?

“The reason I say that is the things you have to endure today to accomplish something like this,” he said. “I was blessed with athletic ability to play football. Some of these people have ailments or were born with afflictions and still come here and compete and cross the finish line, and I think that's an amazing feat.”

Lofty ambition

Matt Levassiur, a high school English teacher from Colorado Springs, finished 12th in the half marathon. But his real ambition is to win a marathon — for an unusual reason.

“I want to win a big-city marathon because I'd like to convince a Major League Baseball team to allow me to fulfill my dream of throwing out a first pitch,” he said.

Levassiur said from the age of 16 to 22, “I didn't take a day off from running.” He walked on at Division II Adams State in Colorado and ended up earning a scholarship and several All-American honors. He also twice qualified for the Olympic Trials.

“But what I really want is for the Pittsburgh Pirates to let me throw out the first pitch,” he said. “I want the St. Louis Cardinals to let me throw out one pitch. ... If I throw out the first pitch, I would have made the major leagues.”

Scott Brown and Bob Cohn are staff writers for Trib Total Media. Reach Brown at sbrown@tribweb.com or via Twitter @ScottBrown_Trib. Reach Cohn at bcohn@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BCohn_Trib.

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