Photo: Daniel Romanchuk by Matt Demarko
54th Running of AJC Peachtree Road Race Welcomes Two New Winners, Two Defending Champs
ATLANTA – July 4, 2023 — The 54th Running of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race once again brought the streets of Atlanta alive with red, white and blue as tens of thousands of participants made their way down Peachtree Street in an Independence Day parade like no other – this year led by Bill Thorn, serving as Grand Marshal as he closed out his streak as the only person to complete every Peachtree with a breaking of the tape as he crossed his last, ceremonial finish line.
On the other end of the spectrum were the winners of the men’s and women’s open divisions, both competing in the iconic July 4 race for the first time. Charles Langat, 27, of Kenya, prevailed in 27:42 after a breathtaking battle that saw the top four finishers cross the line within one second of each other, while Ethiopia’s Fotyen Tesfay, 25, surprised a fast and deep field with her victory in 30:43, the fifth-fastest winning time in history.
Things looked more familiar in the Shepherd Center Wheelchair Division, with the 24-year-old Daniel Romanchuk winning the men’s race in 19:28 and 32-year-old Susannah Scaroni, the course record-holder, taking the women’s in 22:11. It was Romanchuk’s sixth-consecutive victory here, with that total tying him with the legendary Craig Blanchette for the most wins ever in the Peachtree men’s elite wheelchair division. It was Scaroni’s 10th Peachtree. Both Americans won their races by a wide margin.
In the men’s open race, 2016 Peachtree champion Gabriel Geay of Tanzania broke away from a pack of seven just before the turn onto 10th Street – the only turn on the course – with about 1000 meters to go, and it looked as if the veteran’s experience would be his key to another victory. But Langat pulled even with about 300 meters remaining and then surged ahead before Geay and Ethiopians Nibret Melak and Jemal Yimer came up on his heels. Langat would break the tape in 27:42, with Geay, Melak and Yimer all given identical times of 27:43 for second, third and fourth, in that order.
“Actually, I was not expecting to win this race, because my competitors were in good shape,” said Langat, who came into the race with the second-fastest 10K personal best in the field but is in only his second year of high-level racing. The victory, he said, “gives me hope in running.”
The women’s race was down to three by the 8K mark, with defending champion Senbere Teferi of Ethiopia apparently seizing control up 10th Street before stunningly veering right just a block before the finish as she seemed confused over instructions and followed a motorcycle that was turning off the course. Her countrywoman, Tesfay, would instead break the tape, in 30:43, followed by Jesca Chelangat of Kenya in 30:45. Amazingly, Teferi recovered in time to finish third, in 30:47.
“I saw the finish line in front of me and pushed ahead,” said Tesfay, who finished fifth earlier this year in the World Cross Country Championships and was running her first road race in the U.S.
Top Americans were Andrew Colley, 32, of Blowing Rock, N.C., in 28:47 and Annie Frisbie, 26, of Hopkins, MN, in 32:19.
“I had some time goals that the [humid] weather didn’t permit, but to be top American and compete with some top Kenyans and Ethiopian guys and keep them in my sights … I’d say it’s a good day,” said Colley who was 13th overall. The top Georgian finishers were Justin Wachtel (31:02) and Liz Galarza (34:51). Wachtel, of Forsyth, GA, competed for Mary Persons High School; Galarza, of Cumming, GA, was an Atlanta Track Club All-Metro selection when she competed for West Forsyth and finished as the top woman in the non-elite race.
With about 30 minutes remaining until the official course closure, the rest of the race was canceled for safety reasons because of lightning, with just over 500 participants still on the course.
Before the thunderstorm, Atlanta Mayor Andre Dickens crossed the line in 1:01:53. “This was my very first Peachtree and I’m so excited,” he said at the finish, voicing pleasure at being able to talk to so many people along the way in the world’s largest 10K. “I’m just so thrilled that we’re celebrating independence together.” Asked if he planned to participate again, he sounded like every other runner with a goal. “Again and again and again,” he said. “And get better and better. I’m trying to get under an hour.”
Even as Mayor Dickens was completing his first Peachtree, and 98-year-old Betty Lindberg was finishing her 34th in 2:15:32, Bill Thorn was completing his last in a ceremonial breaking of the tape. After 53 consecutive Peachtrees, Thorn – the only person to have completed every race since the event began in 1970 – decided a week or so before the race to end his streak, and was honored with one more trip down the course, this time in a pace car as Grand Marshal (“that was cool,” he said afterward).
“One more time,” said the 92-year-old, after disembarking and walking across the finish line. “I guess it’s the last one.”
About Atlanta Track Club
Atlanta Track Club is a nonprofit committed to creating an active and healthy Atlanta. Through running and walking, Atlanta Track Club motivates, inspires and engages the community to enjoy a healthier lifestyle.
With more than 30,000 members, Atlanta Track Club is the second largest running organization in the United States. In addition to the AJC Peachtree Road Race (peachtreeroadrace.org) – the largest 10K running event in the world, the Publix Atlanta Marathon, PNC Atlanta 10 Miler and Invesco QQQ Thanksgiving Day Half Marathon, Atlanta Track Club directs more than 30 events per year. Through the support of its members and volunteers, Atlanta Track Club also maintains a number of community initiatives including organizing and promoting the Kilometer Kids youth running program to metro Atlanta youth, honoring high school cross country and track and field athletes through Atlanta Track Club’s All-Metro Banquets and supporting the Grady Bicycle EMT program. For more information on Atlanta Track Club, visit atlantatrackclub.org.