That’s how close 2016 Olympian and professional runner Abbey Cooper came to becoming the first female overall winner in the history of Johnson City’s Turkey Trot, falling to Ben Brown, who passed her during the final stretch of the race and finished with a time of 16:15.
“I’m actually really thankful that we were able to push each other through the hill on that second mile, but he got me just at the end so I’ve got some work to do on that finishing kick,” said Cooper, who ran at 5,000 meters at the Olympics. “But it’s always great to have some neck-and-neck competition.”
Last year, Cooper competed in her first Turkey Trot, finishing first among women and fourth overall with a time of 16:58. Her 16:17 time this year was best among women by a whopping 1:24. Third place overall, Brandon Ellis, was first among Johnson Citians with a 17:05 time.
“I’m content with (second),” Cooper said. “It’s very early in our season ... so we’ve got a few months of work, but this is a great way to start.”
Cooper is training for the upcoming track season in Boone, North Carolina, with hopes to qualify for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan after her last (and first) Olympics ended in heartbreak.
During the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, Cooper and New Zealand’s Nikki Hamblen collided during the 5,000 meter qualifier, sending both to the ground. With a spot in the finals on the line, Cooper decided to stop and help Hamblen, who then returned the favor after Cooper collapsed due to injuries sustained in the fall. Both runners ended up finishing the race and advancing to the finals, but Cooper’s Olympics were over, having suffered a torn ACL and meniscus during the race.
After the Turkey Trot, Cooper said the goal was to take first overall, but that “it was really special” to take part in a race “unlike any other Turkey Trot I’ve been to.”
“It’s cool to be a part of, and (there’s) great energy here and it’s a beautiful day to run,” Cooper said. “It’s a really great way to get our season started.”
Brown, who usually competes in ultrarunning events, said the race was “a lot of fun” and that Cooper “is a fantastic runner.”
“I train for the 50-mile races and that sort of thing so this is really quick for me,” Brown said of his time, adding that “crossing the line first against anybody is a great thing.”
Cooper, whose coach and running partners both live in the area, said that as long as she’s still training in North Carolina, she’ll be back for next year’s Turkey Trot — and in 2020, she’ll be looking to take the top spot.
“That’s the goal, absolutely,” Cooper said of becoming the first female overall winner. “See you next year.”
A family affair
While Brown and Cooper battled each other for first overall, more than 4,300 others — a new record — ran, jogged or walked the race, including annual contenders for best costume, John Wright and his son, Harrison.
With John Wright dressed as the Mayflower and Harrison Wright dressed as a full Thanksgiving meal on a table, they weren’t going to get first place on the track, but they weren’t going to be outdone is the fashion category.
“Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday — I think every holiday should be like Thanksgiving,” John Wright said. “It’s just about having fun.”
John Wright would come across the line with a time of 35:45, finishing 1,544th overall — an impressive feat for somebody literally wearing a ship. Harrison Wright was able to top his time, finishing in 28:07, good enough for 650th overall.
“I’d like to see more and more people do this because it’s fun,” John Wright said.
Rounding out the top five overall were Carson Walls (17:10) and David McDaniel (17:24).