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Last Thursday, Kempainen flew from Minneapolis to New York for the meet, bringing a batch of medical texts along to study for finals. He had Thanksgiving dinner with two friends at a Chinese restaurant in Manhattan.
"Things have been hectic," says Kempainen, "but I felt I was in pretty good shape. I just wasn't sure what I could do in a race." Coming up Cemetery Hill behind Porter, he was learning.
By contrast, Jennings, 30, had a clear idea what to expect. She had come to the meet at the close of a brilliant season that included a world indoor record of 15:22.64 for 5,000 meters, as well as a victory in the World Cross Country Championships in Aix-les-Bains, France. A slight ankle sprain in October healed quickly, and on Friday Jennings proclaimed herself "100 percent."
To Jennings, the Van Cortlandt Park course feels like home. She first ran there in an age-group meet in 1975, when she was 15. She still has the medal. "The place has great sentimental value for me," she said before the race. "I know it like the back of my hand."
At the gun, Jennings sprinted hard for the lead, but 28-year-old Shelly Steely of Albuquerque, and last year's runner-up, Elaine Van Blunk of West Deptford, N.J., came with her. "It was windy, so I tucked in behind them," said Jennings.
She stayed in their lee for three quarters of a mile. Then, rounding a tree and heading for the cow path and the hills, Jennings spurted to the lead.
"When we left the flats for the woods," said Steeley in wonder after the race, "Lynn took off like a rocket."
Jennings opened a 10-second lead in the space of half a mile and continued to pull away for the rest of the race.
"It felt just like a training run back home in New Hampshire," she said later. "I didn't look back, and I didn't hear any breathing." Her time of 19:07 broke her own course record of 19:35, set three years ago. It was Jennings's fifth championship title and tied her with Doris Brown for the most ever by a woman. Steely, who finished second, was 26 seconds behind.