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Ben True sets American record en route to BAA 5K win

By Barbara Matson Globe Correspondent 

On the sort of sunny spring day that makes New England feel like the front of a tourist’s postcard, Maine native Ben True ran an American-record 13 minutes, 20 seconds to win the Boston Athletic Association 5K on Saturday.

The course begins and ends on Charles Street between Boston Common and the Public Garden. True, a 31-year-old who now lives in West Lebanon, N.H., jockeyed with Stephen Sambu and James Kibet as they ran down Boylston Street alongside the Public Garden. True took the lead as he turned onto Charles Street, with just a straightaway left to the finish line, and he held off Sambu as he sprinted to the line.

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Buze Diriba of Ethiopia outkicked three-time winner Molly Huddle of Providence to claim victory in 14:54 in the women’s race. Huddle, who said she tired on the final run down Charles Street, finished in 14:56.

True said the American record wasn’t foremost in his mind at the start of the race, but his plans changed.

“When I was coming down the homestretch and I saw the clock at 13:10, I definitely dug a little bit deeper to make sure I could try and get another record,’’ he said. “So, it worked out well. It felt good, it was a fun race.’’

It was True’s fourth victory in this race, and he wiped out the American record of 13:22 he had set in 2015.

True ran with the lead pack throughout, hitting the 1-mile mark in 4:20 and 2 miles in 8:42. The pack numbered six in the early going with three-time winner Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia pushing the pace.

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“Dejen took it out pretty quick for the first mile,” said True, “and I slowly came up on his shoulder on the underpass. The two of us came together through 2 miles.”

The pack strung out along Boylston Street near the Marathon finish line. “It just means that we’re going at a pretty quick pace,” said True, “so it’s a good thing. It makes it a little bit easier to move around.”

The last 600 meters belonged to the New England native.

“This weekend is great,” he said. “Maine’s one of the few states, and Massachusetts, to celebrate Patriots Day, so growing up this was always a school holiday. This was kind of a holiday for me growing up. And it’s great to be a part of.”

Sambu was second in 13:22, followed by Kibet in third in 13:28, Philip Langat fourth in 13:30, and Gebremeskel fifth in 13:35.

Huddle, 32, and Diriba, 23, were shoulder to shoulder coming around the corner onto Charles Street, where they ran into male racers.

“My legs were really tired, so I tried to stay behind her,” Huddle said, “but we kind of got scattered by other runners. She had more left in her legs, I was just dying.”

The pace for the women was 4:46 at the 1-mile mark, when Huddle led. She said she was hoping she was alone but turned around and saw the pack pursuing. Diriba took over and began to leave the pack behind, reaching the 2-mile split in 9:27.

“I tried to reel her back in and with a K to go we were shoulder to shoulder again and came around the turn together,” Huddle said.

The action then moved back to Boylston Street, where the mile races started and finished by the Marathon finish line.

The BAA Invitational Mile was won for the third time by Nick Willis, the course record-holder and a two-time New Zealand Olympian. Willis won the men’s race in 4:13.2, followed by Cristian Soratos (4:13.5) and Will Leer (4:13.7). Willis has taken time off to rest since he ran in Rio (bronze in the 1,500 meters), skipping the indoor season.

“It’s a really good way to start the 2017 campaign. I haven’t run in eight months so I was really nervous,’’ said the 33-year-old. “I won that race but it didn’t feel as easy as the last few times I won this race. But the purpose of my break wasn’t to help me now. It’s to help me in 2019 and 2020. I’m 34 in a couple of weeks so I’ve got to pick and choose my battles a little more wisely.’’

In the women’s mile, two-time Canadian Olympian Nicole Sifuentes ran full out from start to finish, winning in 4:33.7. American Cory McGee was second in 4:35.8, and Emily Lipari third in 4:36.9.

“I feel terrible,’’ said Sifuentes, while grinning broadly. “I just ran as hard as I could from start to finish so I feel bad, but that’s really what I was looking for, this first race to open the outdoor season. We don’t do efforts like this in training. I had to come to a race to get it done and I figured if there’s one thing I can control, it’s getting that effort . . . Happily, it also meant that I won.”

In the high school invitational mile Grace Connolly, a Natick sophomore, won in 5:04.8, a high school record for the event. Newton South senior Clare Martin pushed Connolly the whole way and took second in 5:08.

In the boys’ high school race, Wellesley senior Benjamin Matejka took first in 4:28. Newton North junior Andrew Mah was second in 4:29.6.

There was also an invitational 1,000-meter run for middle school athletes. Emma Forde of Natick won the girls’ race in 3:18.7, a meet record. Niklas Isenberg of Brookline won the boys’ event in 2:58.1.