SAN DIEGO — UCLA senior Rich Brownsberger figured a top 10-finish at Sunday's Buick 10-kilometer road race would have been a resounding success.
After all, he was competing against an elite international field with the likes of former 1,500-meter record holder Filbert Bayi of Tanzania, 1983 New York City Marathon winner Rod Dixon of New Zealand and 2:09 marathoner Ron Tabb of Eugene, Ore.
Clearly, Brownsberger, a former Valhalla High School and Grossmont College star, entered the race in awe of his competition.
But after breaking away from a pack of five runners over the final two miles to win the race with a personal best time of 28 minutes 55 seconds, it was Brownsberger who was revered runner of the day.
"I was just thinking maybe I could finish in the top 10," he said. "I really didn't expect to do this well. I had a track meet yesterday and went out last night. I didn't feel that well when I woke up this morning. My hamstring was a little tight. But I always run my best races when there's no pressure."
Brownsberger gave no indication of his strong finish to come when he and 17 others left most of the 2,000 entries behind at the first mile mark. Not surprisingly, Bayi, who placed seventh and Tabb, who was 17th, set the pace.
But Thom Hunt, who set a national high school indoor mile record while at Patrick Henry High School, and Steve McCormick, formerly of Grossmont College and UCLA, took over the lead midway through the race.
Brownsberger, Gerald Donakowski of Eugene, Ore. and El Cajon's Terry Cotton followed closely behind to make it a five-person race.
As the course began a long downhill stretch after the four-mile mark, McCormick and Brownsberger took over, leaving their three challengers behind. Then, Brownsberger used the next mile to gain a 20-yard lead on McCormick.
But he wasn't about to go unchallenged.
"At one point Thom Hunt put on a little spurt," Brownsberger said. "I thought, there he goes. Thom was running so easily. But all of a sudden he fell back. I just keyed off Steve McCormick because I knew he knew what he was doing."
McCormick, who lives in Pacific Beach, was second in 29:03. Donakowski pulled away from Hunt to finish third (29:06). Hunt was fourth in 29:22 and Cotton finished fifth (29:24). Dixon, who was a disappointing 15th, was not surprised by the strong San Diego showing.
"I'm surprised that there aren't more San Diego runners down here," Dixon said. "They live in the best environment but can't produce better runners than they do in Maine and Boston."
Ireland's Monica Joyce, formerly of San Diego State, passed Sue Berenda in the final half mile to win the women's division with a time of 33:11. Berenda, a San Clemente resident who formerly ran for Grossmont College, was second in 33:20.
"I felt really tired the whole way," Joyce said. "Mentally, I didn't run a very good race. I used the downhills to my advantage."
Joyce overcame Berenda's 80-yard lead on the downhills, which were primarily in the second half of the race.
"I don't like having a big hill at the beginning of a race," Joyce said. "That big hill on the first mile took so much out of me."
Laurie Crisp, a San Diego State graduate, was third in 33:49, and Liz Baker of Rancho Santa Fe was fourth in 34:53.