WHEELING — Ethiopians Ketema Nigusse and Bado Worku Merdessa had never been to Wheeling. They didn’t know the layout of the 34th Annual Ogden 20K Classic, and they certainly didn’t have any grasp of the race’s history.
So they made their own.
Running together the entire way, Nigusse (1:03:50.33) and Merdessa (1:03:50.42) crossed the finish line .09 seconds apart in what was easily the closest finish in the race’s history.
This comes on the heels of last year’s race, which was won by fellow Ethiopian Mohammed Awol in 1:06:43, more than 5 minutes ahead of runner-up Rikki Hacker (1:11:45) in what was the largest margin of victory in race history.
Minutes after they crossed the line, neither Nigusse or Merdessa had any idea which of them hit the tape first. And they really didn’t care.
‘‘We were together the whole way,‘‘ Merdessa said. ‘‘We finish together.’’
Both guys were short on words, opting to let their legs do the talking.
At a pace of 5:09, their legs were talking fast.
‘‘The course is very difficult,’’ Nigusse said. ‘‘It is up and down.’’
Certainly no strangers to running together, Nigusse and Merdessa recently finished second and fourth, respectively, at the Blue Cross Broad Street Philadelpia 10-Mile race on May 2.
A week earlier, Merdessa won the Pikes Peek 10K in Rockville, Md., in a time of 28:43. Nigusse, despite being barely 6 seconds behind, finished eighth in that same race.
On April 5, Nigusse won the Scotland 10K race in Central Park, N.Y., in a time of 29:35. More than 7,500 runners participated in that event.
Kenyan Richard Bett finished third at 1:04:20.18, followed by Taylorstown, Pa.’s Jeff Weis at 1:04:58.10.