|Teklu Deneke is the men's winner of the Akron Marathon on Saturday in Akron.|
When the men’s and women’s winners crossed the finish line Saturday, with thousands standing and cheering from the Canal Park stands and lush green baseball field, they also showed their faith.
Teklu Deneke, 35, won with a time of 2:16:45. One stride after crossing the tape as the men’s winner, his right arm shot up and he made the sign of the cross.
Tezata Dengersa, a married 33-year-old with two children, won the women’s marathon in 2:42:53.
“Thank you, God. You are big, God,” she said as she sprinted to victory.
It was gloriously bright and cool — perfect running weather — when marathon participants began lining up as early as 5:30 a.m. for their 7 o’clock start.
Marathon spokesman Alan Ashby said more than 15,000 runners participated in the full marathon, the half-marathon, the team relays and the Kids Fun Run.
No records were broken in the men’s or women’s marathon, but 40-year-old Richard Kessio, a Kenyan living in Toledo, obliterated the masters division marathon mark by almost five minutes, finishing in 2:23:44.
Kessio’s time was good for fourth overall among the men. Podium announcer Dave Hunter told the crowd it was “a world-class time” for a masters runner.
Ethiopian Birhanu Mekonnen, 28, finished second in the men’s marathon, trailing Deneke by more than four minutes. Aiman Scullion, 27, was third. The Salem native, a former Kent State University runner who won the 2009 Mid-American Conference cross country championship, finished in 2:23:02.
Deneke’s performance, though not a record, was so powerful, there was no one in sight behind him as he sprinted into view in the long Canal Park runners chute, with his neon yellow running shoes pumping like pistons.
He was never challenged running through the city’s streets.
“I ran by myself the whole 26 miles,” Deneke said.
Dengersa, the women’s winner, said through an interpreter that the conditions were cool and comfortable and that she shifted into cruise control after the halfway mark.
She has two girls, ages 8 and 13, but they apparently are not going to become runners.
“No,” Dengersa said, “they are going to serve God.”
Devon Yanko, 32, who is from the San Francisco Bay area town of San Anselmo, finished third in the women’s marathon. Her time was 2:49:28, about six minutes behind another Ethiopian, Waynishet Abebe, who was second.
Yanko, unusually tall for a marathoner at 6 feet, explained what it was like running behind the Ethiopians.
“I ran a sub six-minute first mile, and they were way ahead of me,” she said.
She came all this way to run in the Akron Marathon because her husband, Nathan Yanko, is from Akron.
Yanko said one of her biggest thrills of the day was seeing her husband’s 90-year-old grandmother on the course, cheering from outside her retirement home with her friends as Yanko ran past them at the 9-mile mark.
Kristy Kenna, 44, of Akron, who was running in her sixth Akron Marathon, pulled off a Michael Jordan-type feat. She won her third consecutive full marathon — a “three-peat” — in the Akron masters division.
The veteran runner praised the city’s race as many have for the past several years, saying it has become one of the best in the nation.
“I train on this course. I know the hills. It’s a tough course. It kills you. I’ve run Boston, I’ve run New York. Akron is hard,” Kenna said. “It’s harder than all those.”