A steady stream of runners were still making the turn off North Country Road onto Southgate and up the big hill when the pace car, driven by longtime Shoreham-Wading River girls track coach Paul Koretzki, suddenly appeared off in the distance.
The course of the SWR July 4 5K takes runners up the hill and around the streets of Shoreham before circling back down to the finish line. Rarely are there still runners heading up the hill by the time the winner comes back down.
Then again, rarely is there a two-time Olympian in the race.
Anthony Famiglietti, who competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the 2004 Athens and 2008 Beijing Olympics, dominated in the 30th annual race Friday morning, winning in 14 minutes 57 seconds. Koretzki said it may have been a course record.
“The least he could do is look a little tired,” one observer at the finish line noted as Famiglietti came in well ahead of the rest of the pack.
Last year’s champion, recent Shoreham graduate Ryan Udvadia, settled for second this year in 16:24. Erin Conroy of Manhattan was the top female finisher in 19:58.
Famiglietti, 35, grew up in Medford and graduated from Patchogue-Medford High School. He currently lives in North Carolina. He was back on Long Island for his niece’s graduation from Pat-Med and was looking to get a run in, he said.
“Fourth of July’s my favorite holiday,” he said. “Long Island does it right for Fourth of July. You can see a small event like this, everyone’s having a great time. It’s just a great atmosphere.”
Famiglietti’s decorated running career included a 13th place finish in the finals of the steeplechase in Beijing. He ran his personal best time of 8:17.34. He’s also competed in the 1,500 meters, mile, 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters at various competitions over his career.
Famiglietti ran Friday’s race mostly by himself. No one dared try to keep pace with him at the start.
“I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “I was hoping the kids would stick with me. It’d be one thing to take it easy on them. I’m trying to send a message to them — look where I started and look at where I’m at.”
Famiglietti noted how many of the top high school runners now run faster times than he did at that age. Some runners are even taller and more muscular, he said.
“When you’re in high school, you think you’re running hard,” he said. “When you see that next level, you have a little more expectation.”
His mission now is to help inspire other runners. Famiglietti came from humble beginnings. He wasn’t a prodigy athlete as a teenager. He wasn’t recruited to any big schools. If not for a few key moments in his life, he may have never reached his potential as one of America’s greatest runners of the past decade.
A friend of his from Stony Brook who ran in high school was going to Appalachian State University. Through his friend, the coach at Appalachian State recruited Famiglietti, offering him a partial scholarship.
“Really no one was looking for me,” he said.
Famiglietti felt like he needed to prove himself, and that motivation lifted him to a fourth-place finish at the conference championship as a freshman, he said. By his sophomore year he was a two-time champion at the conference meet and decided to transfer to the University of Tennessee.
“That’s where I really blossomed,” he said.
As a senior in 2000, at the NCAA Outdoor Championships, Famiglietti raced to a fourth-place finish in the steeplechase.
Friday’s female winner, Conroy, 30, didn’t run competitively in college; she attended Georgetown University. During college, though, she started running road races. She now runs as part of the Central Park Track Club.
Along with her sister, Tara, and some friends, Conroy rented a house on the East End for a week. They were looking for a race to run and found the SWR 5K.
“It’s a great race,” she said. “It’s such an awesome turnout today.”
Conroy said she has run marathons and half-marathons. In the marathon she runs around 3:09:00.
“It’s hard to get into, but I feel like it’s worth it,” she said.
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