BOULDER, Colo. -- The Ethiopian trio hatched a plan as they gathered at the starting line at the Bolder Boulder. If they dominated the men's pro 10-kilometer race Monday like they thought they could, they would cross the tape together.
"We decided if no Kenya and if we are three, we finish together," explained Lelisa Desisa, who was officially declared the winner after crossing the finish line hand-in-hand with countrymen Tilahun Regassa and Tadese Tola.
After breaking free from two Kenyans in the third mile, the Ethiopians entered Folsom Field in unison to a huge roar from the crowd of 50,000.
Expecting an all-out sprint to the finish, the crowd roared ever louder when it became apparent the Ethiopians instead would circle the track together and cross the tape as one.
"We didn't even try to race each other," said Regassa, the 2009 champion. "We tried to go together."
As race officials attempted to separate them just past the finish line into first, second and third place, the three runners adamantly refused to be sorted into any order.
Desisa finished 0.03 seconds ahead of Regassa with a time of 29 minutes, 16.93 seconds and 0.15 seconds ahead of Tola.
Desisa earned $3,750 for finishing first, Regassa $2,750 for securing second and Tola $2,250 for taking third.
Unable to officially share the win, they vowed to share the winnings.
"We decided to equally divide the money," Regassa said. "That's the plan."
One of them will come up a penny shy of the others' $2,916.67.
They'll also get a $15,000 check to share for winning the International Team Challenge.
"We were very happy," Regassa said. "This is the first time we have done it this way. Usually one of us just runs and follows the second one. This time, from the beginning we decided to go together."
After crossing the finish line, the Ethiopians gathered for a group hug with two-time champion Mamitu Daska and Amane Gobena, who had given Ethiopia a 1-2 finish in the women's race minutes earlier.
Brent Vaughn of Boulder, a former University of Colorado star, finished fourth in the men's race, more than 38 seconds behind the Ethiopians. He led a Team Colorado contingent that finished second and bested Team USA (fifth) for the first time ever.
James Carney of Boulder (seventh) and Aaron Braun (10th), a recent graduate of Adams State in Alamosa, gave the group three top-10 finishers. The best individual finish by a Team Colorado runner prior to Monday was 11th place by Celedonio Rodriguez in 2007.
Team Colorado earned $10,000 plus $17,500 in U.S. Olympic training funds.
Team USA -- Jorge Torres and Jason Hartmann of Boulder and Andrew Carlson of Flagstaff, Ariz. -- earned $4,000 for placing fifth, plus another $4,000 in Olympic funding.
Carney took fourth last year while running for Team USA.
"I haven't been this nervous for a race in years, which is weird because I've done some world-class marathons and some of the biggest races on the planet," Carney said. "For me to get the butterflies and the shakes for the Bolder Boulder is a testament to how much this race means to me, how important it is for me to perform well, for the home team and the home crowd.
"Not only that, we really wanted to beat those U.S. guys," he said.
The top American in the elite women's race was ninth-place finisher Renee Metivier-Bailee of Boulder, who crossed the line 2:22 behind Daska's winning time of 32:27.54.
Daska pulled away from the field at the midway point and never looked back. Gobena was nearly 43 seconds behind in second place and Emily Chebet of Kenya took third, more than a minute behind Daska.
There were about 53,000 registered runners for the citizen's race that preceded the elite runners around the course, which was run in relatively mild weather.
A 13-year-old boy collapsed at the finish line and went into cardiac arrest, which was likely caused by a rhythm abnormality, said Todd Dorfman, the race's medical director. Medics got the boy's heart beating after two minutes and he was transferred to Boulder Community Hospital, where he was stabilized.
The boy, whose name and hometown weren't released because of federal law, was airlifted to Children's Hospital in Aurora in serious but stable condition so he could be monitored by a pediatric cardiologist, Dorfman said.