Christopher Raabe hadn't even won a marathon before Saturday. But by the time he crossed the finish line at Canal Park, he had become the race's first American-born winner since 1995 and first native Minnesotan since 1982.
June 20, 2009 - For the first time in 15 years, American athletes won both the men's and women's titles at Grandma's Marathon, held today for the 33rd time in Duluth, Minn.
Christopher Raabe, 30, of Washington, D.C., and Mary Akor, 32, of Lomita, Calif., won their respective categories in 2:15:13 and 2:36:52, respectively. For Raabe, his time was a personal best, surpassing the 2:17:01 he ran in November, 2007, in New York City at the USA Olympic Trials. He finished sixth at Gramdma's last year in 2:17:35. Although Akor did not set a personal best, it was her third consecutive victory at Gramdma's, a race which gets its name from a Duluth-based group of restaurants bearing the same name. Both Raabe and Akor won $10,000 in prize money plus modest time bonuses.
The last time two Americans won Grandma's in the same year was in 1994 when Don Johns (2:18:19) and Linda Somers (2:33:42) were the champions. Mark Curp was the last American man to win the race in 1995 (2:15:23).
Raabe was part of a lead pack of nine at the half-way point (1:07:48), but by the 20-mile mark (32 km), he had amassed a lead of one minute and 18 seconds over Kenyan Charles Kanyao who ended up a distant second in 2:18:36. Akor had to fight off a strong challenge from Russian Alina Ivanova, who was with Akor at half-way (1:16:51). By 20 miles, Akor was just seven seconds ahead, but then built up a 17 second cushion by 25 miles (40 km). Ivanova fought back, but could not catch the Nigerian-born Akor, who won by six seconds.
Raabe's victory was especially-well received in Duluth because he is a native of another Minnesota town, Sauk Rapids.
The event records of 2:09:37, by American Dick Beardsley (1981) and 2:27:05 by Russian Firaya Sultanova-Zhdanova (2003) were never threatened. Conditions were warm and sunny, according to Weather.com and news photos from the race.