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Semana Nautica Tackles the Hills

Plus, U.S. Women Win World Cup, NBA Hysteria, and Goodbye Carlin Dunne

After criss-crossing the trails of Elings Park for more than nine miles, the top four finishers of the Semana Nautica 15K were (from left) Christian Gilbert, Jenn Betancourt, men’s winner Jeffrey Stern, and Addi Zerrenner, the four-time women’s champ. | Credit: Paul Wellman

Since it headed for the hills two years ago, the Semana Nautica 15K Run has become more difficult and more enjoyable at the same time.

“It’s such a beautiful place,” Patty Bryant said last Friday after finishing the race at the top of Elings Park. She swept her arm over views of the city and a slice of the ocean. “We found a home for our race.”

It’s been staged every July 4 since 1955, and the course was on roads until 2017, when Bryant, a member of the sponsoring Santa Barbara Athletic Association, spearheaded its transformation to a trail run up and down the steep hills of the park.

“Road races are so problematic because of the policing and traffic control,” she said. “It was time to move.”

Bryant, 59, made her first appearance on the looping 9.3-mile layout in this year’s 65th edition. It was a romp for her, as she usually pursues ultra-marathons of 100 miles or more. She was in the middle of some 100 finishers with a big smile on her face.

Also striding with apparent ease was Addi Zerrenner, the women’s champion for the fourth consecutive year. The 23-year-old graduate of Dos Pueblos High and Arizona finished 12th overall in one hour, 12 minutes, 23 seconds. She was trailed by Jenn Betancourt, 38, an SBCC biology professor.

Photo: John ZantPatty Bryant helped put the 65-year-old race on a new course.

On June 22, Zerrenner made a sensational debut in the marathon, finishing the 26.2 miles of the Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, as the ninth fastest female in 2:37:51. It qualified her for the 2020 U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials and is believed to be a record time for a native Santa Barbara woman. Countywide, Marla Runyan, born in Santa Maria, owns a 2:27:10 clocking in 2002. Runyan was legally blind when she made history by making the finals of the 1500 meters at the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

The overall 15K winner was Mesa resident Jeffrey Stern, 32. He smoked the downhill stretches, having many times plummeted down a mountainside to Stinson Beach while running the Dipsea in Marin County, where he grew up. Stern was timed in 59:17. Christian Gilbert, also of Santa Barbara, was the only other runner to break an hour at 59:48.

TEAM OF THE DECADE:  From Megan Rapinoe’s cold-blooded penalty kicks, to Alex Morgan’s resilience under bruising contact, to Rose Lavelle’s brilliant goal, to Kelly O’Hara’s head-crashing fearlessness, to Alyssa Naeher’s firm goal-line stands — America’s women lived up to the grandest expectations in winning their second straight World Cup championship.

They also captivated the country, raising soccer several notches above its usual position as a national afterthought. Santa Barbara’s Press Room is a sports bar where soccer is known as football, where it is a men’s sport watched by men. But on Sunday morning, the room was filled to capacity by a diverse crowd that wildly applauded the U.S. women’s winning effort against the Netherlands.

It was a sublime display of skillful athleticism in the context of unselfish, totally supportive teamwork. There can be no disputing that these players should be compensated as fully as their male counterparts, if not more so.

NBA HYSTERIA:  So the Clippers are now favored to win the NBA championship after acquiring Kawhi Leonard and Paul George. Wish them luck. Really. That’s what it takes to get through 82 games and weeks of playoffs to the big trophy.

People thought the Lakers were sure things when Gary Payton and Karl Malone joined Kobe and Shaq. They did limp into the Finals but were crushed by the Pistons in five games. The Lakers tried to load up years later with Steve Nash and Dwight Howard, but that team was swept in the first round by the Spurs. Injuries and dysfunction played a part in those failures.

Leonard and George are not yet 30. If they stay healthy, and the Clippers retain the fighting spirit they showed in 2018-19, they do have a chance. Team chemistry is all important. For an example, look up a certain soccer team.

BLONDES VS. BRUNETTES:  Women do play American football, flag-style, in an annual fundraiser for the Alzheimer’s Association. They will clash on Sunday, July 20, at the Garden Street Academy. Information: act.alz.org/blondesvsbrunettessb.

PEAK FINALITY:  Motor sports are not my favorite thing, but I admired motorcycle racer Carlin Dunne as much as any athlete I ever interviewed, which I did after he won the Pikes Peak International Hill Climb in 2013 and when he won it for the fourth time last year. He competed in the precipitous climb — dangerous at any speed, much less his usual 70-mph-plus — with passion, courage and concentration.

“It’s beyond any drug,” he told me. “You’re more an ultimate human than at any other time, doing anything else.”

I can only imagine that he was feeling that exuberance in his last conscious moment, when he crashed into unforgiving rocks just 100 yards from finishing what would have been his fifth victory and likely a new record time in the 97th running of the “Race to the Clouds” on June 30.

Dunne was revered by the cycling community, which came out in force to his funeral service at Our Lady of Sorrows church last Saturday. Ducati teammate Codie Vahsholtz came from Colorado to pay his respects.

“I met Carlin in 2011,” said Vahsholtz, the third generation of a motoring family that has claimed 45 class wins on Pikes Peak over the years. “I was nervous. He was a hero to me. But he was super nice. It was like talking to somebody I knew my whole life. He wasn’t just a motorcyclist. He was a well-rounded person.”

Vahsholtz, 28, said Dunne’s death at 36 would not deter him from competing in future climbs. “He would hate that, being the cause of somebody not going back to the mountain.”

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