With eyes affixed on a finish line banner and two men approaching side-by-side, fans craned their necks to identify the victor of an electric Peachtree Road Race.
And with an equally minute shift of Gebre Gebremariam’s own body, he managed to steal victory.
Despite sharing a time of 27 minutes and 56 seconds with runner-up Peter Kirui of Kenya, Gebremariam emerged as the sole victor in one of the closest finishes in the race’s history.
“I didn’t know,” he said when asked if he knew he had won the race.
When the clock failed to name a winner, officials were forced to confirm the photo finish.
From the announcing booth, John Curtin, the Emory track coach who has helped assemble the elite runner field since 1990, had only his expertise and eyes to rely on.
“I think Gebre leaned a little more,” he said.
Gebremariam, 25, won The Atlanta Journal-Constitution Peachtree Road Race in the second 10k competition in his life. In May, the Ethiopian native set a course record at the Healthy Kidney 10k with a time of 24:42, which ranks among the top ten fastest 10k times run this year.
Kirui was also showcased in his own road race debut, barely missing his 10k best time by one second.
Though the pair highlighted a thrilling finish, the two were not the only ones featured in the photo finish.
Halfway through the race, 24 runners led a pack at the forefront of competition.
With about 200 meters remaining, a pack of eight men was reduced to six as the runners stretched for the finish line coming down 10th Street.
The six were cut to two as the runners reached the corner of 10th Street and Charles Allen Drive.
They remained shoulder-to-shoulder with the finish line in sight.
“I have to move, I have to move,” Gebremariam said. “I saw the time. I saw the distance.”
Ed Moran didn’t know what he saw through a pack of bodies.
“I had no idea where I was going into the last 200-300 meters,” he said. “It was great competition.”
In the thick of the pack, Moran finished as the top U.S. competitor in the race with a time of 28:19.
“In years past, that would have placed me a lot higher,” he said.
Though the times were slower than in years past, Curtin, the Emory track coach, said that those were less indicative of the quality of race held at the 41st annual running of the 10k.
“It was more of a strategic competitive race than a race against time,” he said.
And as competitive races go, Curtin struggled to recall a time when a race had finished in such thrilling fashion.
He finally settled on a victory that dated back to 1982 in a win by running legend John Sinclair.
“It was unprecedented to have that many athletes still in contention with literally 200 meters to go,” he said. “There were still eight athletes that were right there. It was a blanket finish.”