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Seminoles runner captures duel for Gasparilla 15K title

It was so smooth and easy, it was just about perfect.

Temperature in the high 40s. No breeze. Sun creeping into clear skies.

The starting horn sounded and 5,000 souls started trudging down Bayshore Boulevard as the leaders shot to the front: Florida State's Joep Tigchelaar and Ohio's James Jurcevich.

Through the first half of the Gasparilla Distance Classic's 15K, the leaders clicked off five-minute miles with Jurcevich usually one step ahead.

By the time they turned at the midway point they were 300 yards ahead with Jurcevich pushing it and Tigchelaar hanging on his shoulder, which was the way it stayed until the last 10th of a mile.

That's when Tigchelaar started charging, though still rather smooth and easy.

He crossed the finish line in 46 minutes, 38 seconds, with his right hand pumping and a huge grin on his face. Jurcevich followed 10 seconds later.

"It was so nice out there it almost felt like a tempo run," said Tigchelaar, a 22-year-old Netherlands native and an NCAA All-American in the 10K. "It was great having somebody like (Jurcevich) to run with.

"He started picking it up, trying to surge a little through the last few miles and then I'd have to respond. It was a great back and forth, but I felt I would have more closing speed and that was the difference."

Jurcevich, 27, said he thought he might be able to pull away early because he thought Tigchelaar was breathing hard.

"Guess I was wrong about that," said Jurcevich, who will run the Olympic trials marathon in two weeks in Birmingham, Ala. "Sure, I would like to have won, but I'm happy because I feel like I got a good tuneup run for the trials. I thoroughly enjoyed it."

Same goes for the women's 15K winner, 40-year-old Oregonian Rosa Gutierrez, who was back in the pack but steadily surged. She picked off competitors one by one until she blew by North Carolina's Ferrell Burns with a couple of miles remaining.

"She came rushing up and whoooosh, there she went," Burns, 27, said. "She had way too much left for me to have any chance."

Gutierrez said that was all by "new design."

"For 27 years I've had a bad habit of going out too hard and not having much left at the end," said Gutierrez, who, along with Burns, will compete in the women's Olympic trial marathon in St. Louis in two months. "But this time I ran differently, starting slowly and then pushing more as the race went on."

Gutierrez finished her first mile in 6:22, but her last three averaged 5:40, partly because of, "the adrenaline rush you get while passing all those people.

"You just start passing and passing and it just felt so good at the end."

Among Tampa Bay area competitors, the first was the University of Tampa's Elias Gonzalez, who placed third in 48:17. Lakeland's Tyrone Bell was next 48:53, followed by Tampa's Muchipawa Mazano (49:10).

On the women's side, the area finishers were led by Tampa's Lara Shaw in third at 56:12, Clearwater's Judy Maguire in sixth (58:02), and Tierra Verde's Lisa Valentine in seventh (58:02).