Sara Slattery has had several big races in her career, including the NCAA 3000 meter indoor and 10,000 meter outdoor titles at the University of Colorado, along with being part of the Buffaloes 2000 national championship team.

Nothing, however, compares to her win Monday at the 9th International Team Challenge, part of 28th Bolder Boulder 10K. Running for Team USA along with Boulder vets and U.S. Olympians Jen Rhines and Elva Dryer, Slattery, 24, surged on the final turn of the tough five-lap criterium course that starts and finishes in Folsom Field and held on for a thrilling one-second victory over Poland’s Dorota Gruca.

Slattery, in her Bolder Boulder debut, clocked 33 minutes, 42 seconds with Rhines, in fifth, and defending champ Dryer, in ninth, as the trio combined to give the U.S. a team score of 15 points, with Kenya (22 points) second and Romania (38) third. Slattery also was the fifth U.S. champion in six years to win the women’s pro race.

Not only did Slattery’s win lead the United States to a repeat team victory (U.S. women also won in 2002 and 2003), but it also showcased to the road-racing world that she has the potential to join Deena Kastor on the short list of American stars in the coming years.

“Winning in Boulder is the best feeling I have ever had,” said Slattery. “It is an amazing feeling and the highlight of my career.”

Slattery picked up $24,000 for her victory, counting individual and team prize money, along with U.S. Olympic training funds.

“I don’t know how much I won,” Slattery said after her race. “I would pay (professional athlete recruiter) Rich Castro to race here.”

“That was a good run by Sara,” said Team Running USA coach Joe Vigil, who kept in touch with Rhines’ husband, fellow Team Running USA coach Terrence Mahon, by cell phone.

“If she can stay healthy, she could be one of the top four or five U.S. distance runners. She is still very young,” Vigil continued.

The men’s race was nearly as dramatic as the women’s, as Ethiopia’s Berhanu Adane surged about 400 meters later than Slattery did, on the final hill leading into the stadium, to pull out the two-second win over Mexico’s Alejandro Suarez.

Adane, also the 1999 Bolder Boulder champion, clocked 29:37. Kenyan Charles Kiama Munyeki, second at the Bay to Breakers 12K, was third in 29:41. Saurez led Mexico to the team title with 15 points. Ethiopia was second with 22 points and Kenya, third (23).

Running a great race for the USA in seventh was Brandon Leslie, a full-blooded Navajo who is now training under Vigil from his home base in Albuquerque. Leslie led the U.S. men’s team to fifth.

“I am happy with my race even though I was passed by a Moroccan (Ridouane Harroufi) at the end,” said Leslie.

Leslie beat some good international runners, including the Guerra brothers, Silvio and Vladimar, of Ecuador, Australia Commonwealth Games marathoner Andrew Letherby, two runners from Ethiopia and Mexico’s David Galvan.

Fellow teammmate Ryan Shay was 14th, and Celendonio Rodriquez (a late replacement for Mike Gonzales), like Leslie a graduate of Adams State College, was 22nd.

Like the men, Slattery said she was happy to wear USA on her chest. (Unlike the other international teams, the American runners wore their shoe company singlets, with a large USA bib pinned on it).

“Elva (Dryer) put it well when she said that winning for the team is the most important part of the race,” said Slattery. “Being able to run for the U.S. was the main reason I wanted to run, along with fact it was in Boulder.”

Slattery showed in her smarts in setting herself up for the win. She started off in the pack of a dozen, letting Romania’s Luminita Talpos and Kenya’s Jemima Jepligat and Lineth Chepkurui set the early pace. Slattery wisely stayed behind teammate Rhines in the early going, and then as the pack thinned down, moved to the front. Because of a glitch on the clock, Slattery had no idea of what pace she was running.

It did not matter, she said, because “I was just racing.”

And race she did. After passing 4 miles in 21:43, she moved to the front on the inside of the street, near the curb. Then on the last of the five laps up and down Folsom Street, she moved made the move that made the race, surging after turning on the far end of Folsom and making a dash for home.

“I felt great the whole way,” she recounted. “I did not want to wait for it to come down to a kick. On the last lap, I was watching my husband (elite steeplechaser Steve Slattery) on the press truck, and said, ‘OK pick it up’. I just went for it around the turn.”

Poland’s Gruca, who would end up in second, said Slattery’s move was too strong. “I thought I would say with her, but I can’t run that fast, no, no, no,” said Gruca. “I wanted to be sure and be in the top three so I waited for the finish.”

Looking strong and graceful, Slattery flowed back down Folsom and made the final turn leading into the stadium. That is when her legs began to protest.

“I felt like I had two pianos on my legs,” she said, and adding, “I felt like I weighed 400 pounds.”

It was the closest women’s Bolder Boulder finish ever, with just seven seconds separating Slattery in first and Rhines in fifth.

“It was just a great run by Sara,” said Rhines. “She showed her maturity at a young age.”

28th Celestial Seasonings BolderBOULDER 10K 9th International Team Challenge Boulder, CO, Monday, May 29, 2006

WOMEN 1) Sara Slattery, USA/CO, 33:42, $9000 2) Dorota Gruca, POL, 33:43, $2000 3) Lineth Chepkurui, KEN, 33:44, $1500 4) Jemima Jepligat, KEN, 33:46, $1750 5) Jen Rhines, USA/CA, 33:49, $1600 6) Kathy Butler, GBR, 34:02, $700 7) Hiromi Ominami, JPN, 34:08, $600 8) Constantina Tomescu-Dita, ROM, 34:26, $500 9) Elva Dryer, USA/NM, 34:31, $800 10) Yasuko Hashimoto, JPN, 34:37, $300

TEAM 1) USA, 15 points, $45,000 2) Kenya, 22, $10,000 3) Romania, 38, $7000 4) Japan, 39, $6000 5) Mexico, 45, $4000 9 scoring teams

MEN 1) Berhanu Adane, ETH, 29:37, $3000 2) Alejandro Suarez, MEX, 29:39, $2000 3) Charles Kiama Munyeki, KEN, 29:41, $1500 4) Juan Luis Barrios, MEX, 29:59, $1750 5) Laban Kipkemboi, KEN, 30:01, $800 6) Ridouane Harroufi, MAR, 30:09, $700 7) Brandon Leslie, USA/NM, 30:10, $1200 8) Solomon Tadesse, ETH, 30:11, $500 9) David Galvan, MEX, 30:14, $400 10) Andrew Letherby, AUS, 30:24, $300

Other U.S. 14) Ryan Shay, USA/MI, 30:48 18) Clint Wells, Team Colorado, 31:02 20) Matt Levassiur, Team Colorado, 31:13 22) Celendonio Rodriquez, USA/CO, 31:23

TEAM 1) Mexico, 15 points, $15,000 2) Ethiopia, 22, $10,000 3) Kenya, 23, $7000 4) Ecuador, 40, $600 5) USA, 43, $8000 10 scoring teams

This originally appeared in the Daily Camera 2006