The Oklahoman

Chilean Ezquerra a first-time runner and winner in OKC

- Ed Godfrey The Oklahoman USA TODAY NETWORK

The Oklahoma City Memorial Marathon always has an internatio­nal flavor, but for the first time in its history a runner from outside the United States was crowned champion.

Jose Pablo Salazar Ezquerra of Santiago, Chile, made the trip to Oklahoma City from South America to run in his first marathon and captured the men’s marathon in a time of 2 hours, 28 minutes and 57 seconds.

The 27-year-old runner was shocked that he won.

“I am so happy,” he said. “I don’t have words to explain what I am feeling now. I am so happy to do my first marathon like this.”

Ezquerra overtook Koki Ozawa in the final three miles to the win the race.

“It really surprised me,” Ezquerra said of the victory. “I just wanted to finish my first marathon in a good pace and in a good condition. I never thought I would win.”

Ezquerra, whose father is a marathon runner, said he was searching on the internet for a marathon to run and selected Oklahoma City because of the history and meaning behind the race.

“He chose a day to run. He picked a city and he won,” said Kari Watkins, executive director of the Oklahoma City Memorial & Museum. “How about that? It's kind of the American dream.”

Ezquerra spent two weeks in Colorado before traveling to Oklahoma City for the race. His parents also were in Oklahoma City for the proud moment.

“That's kind of the beauty of this race. It is a people's race,” Watkins said. “We love people who run marathons all the time, but we also love the people who get off the couch and go run.”

Watkins said the Memorial Marathon always attracts a handful of internatio­nal runners, the most ever being 13. This year's race had fewer foreign runners because of COVID-19.

“The race is respected,” Watkins said. “It's different than a lot of races because we don't give prize money. A lot of people run for prize money and we've never done that and sometimes we don't attract the elites because of that, but it shows his heart.

“He talked about the power of coming around the curb and seeing the photos and what that means. The fact he chose to come here and run says a lot about him.”

Ezquerra said he enjoyed running through Oklahoma City's neighborho­ods. “The course was really good, really beautiful, all the neighborho­ods,” he said. “Oklahoma City is an amazing city.”

The 2020 Memorial Marathon was virtual race only. Sunday's 2021 event was postponed from April until Saturday and Sunday because of COVID-19.

Asked if he would return in the spring to run in the Memorial Marathon, Ezquerra replied: “The spring? Let me rest first.”

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