Originally from Ethiopia and now living in West Chester, Penn., the 23-year-old Atanfu won in his first attempt on the candlelit streets of Kingsport.
“I have heard very good things about this race and I am very happy to win it,” Atanfu said through an interpreter.
Atanfu raced with a group of 15 runners for the better part of the first half of the race and was still racing with eight other elite athletes when he attacked the left-hand turn from Warpath Drive onto Memorial Boulevard.
“We had some surges by some runners, but nobody was able to get free so I stayed back until it was my turn,” Atanfu said.
Atanfu’s surge left him running with only close friend and fellow Ethiopian Teshome Mekonen in a sprint to the finish. By the time the countrymen turned back onto Fort Henry Drive, Atanfu was well in command and crossed the finish line inside Dobyns-Bennett High School’s J. Fred Johnson Stadium at 22:30, six seconds ahead of Mekonen, though nearly a half-minute off world-record pace.
“I made a move and it was just me and my friend Teshome,” Atanfu added. “But at the end you have to do what you came to do and that is win the race.”
Isaac Mwangi finished third (22:36), Mourad Marofit fourth (22:44) and John Wanjiku fifth (22:56). Hillary Too crossed in sixth (22:58) and Simion Chirchir (23:04) seventh.
Lawi LaLang, an eight-time NCAA champion from the University of Arizona, placed eighth (23:10), Nicholas Kurgat ninth (23:28) and Sammy Too 10th (23:30).
Just outside the top 10 was recent U.S. Olympic Trial participant Craig Forys at 23:34.
Shadrack Kosgie’s bid for a record fourth Crazy 8’s victory came to end in pack-running early in the race. Navigating heavy traffic during the turn onto Wilcox Drive, Kosgie lost a shoe after it was stepped on by a fellow runner. After stopping to retrieve the shoe, Kosgie was never able to get back to the lead pack.
Emily Boles of Greensboro, N.C., was the top female finisher, crossing the line in 31:06 ahead of Melissa Peters (31:47), Hannah Cutshall (31:51), Sydney Hayes (32:14) and Laura Helmly (32:15).
1. Yitayal Atanfu 22:30, 2. Teshome Mekonen 22:36, 3. Isaac Mwangi 22:36, 4. Mourad Marofit 22:44, 5. John Wanjiku 22:56, 6. Hillary too 22:58, 7. Simion Chirchir 23:04, 8. Lawi LaLang 23:10, 9. Nicholas Kurgat 23:28, 10. Sammy Too 23:30, 11. Craig Forys 23:34, 12. Daniel Girmay 23:37, 13. Patrick Cheptoek 23:57; 14. Rachid Ezzouniou 24:04; 15. Gebrekidan Abadi 24:31.
1. Emily Boles 31:06, 2. Melissa Peters 31:47, 3. Hannah Cutshall 31:51, 4. Sydney Hayes 32:14, 5. Laura Helmly 32:15, 6. Ellie Hall 32:25, 7. Jenna Hutchins 32:29, 8. Daniell Mitchell, 9. Meg Guy 33:39. 10. Beth Stevenson 33:39.