The world’s best runners and wheelchair racers will be gathering in Spokane this Sunday for the 35th running of the Lilac Bloomsday Run. Leading the women’s field will be Lineth Chepkurui of Kenya, who will try to turn the tables on Ethiopia's Wude Ayalew, who beat Chepkurui by 11 seconds last Saturday at the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans. If successful, Chepkurui would become the first woman to win four Bloomsday titles in a row. The men's race, meanwhile, has suddenly opened up with the withdrawal of 2010 Bloomsday champion Peter Kirui, leaving the possibility of either Ethiopian Belete Assefa, last year's runnerup Julius Kogo, three-time Bloomsday champion John Korir, or one of a number of other tough international runners to capture top honors.
While Chepkurui will have her hands full trying to avenge the loss to Ayalew last week, many observers can't resist giving her the edge. Chepkurui has proven her ability over the hilly Bloomsday course three years in a row, and has improved with each victory, including a world 12-kilometer best of 38:10 last year. Ayalew, on the other hand, is a newcomer to the course, although she boasts a string of impressive performances, including a sixth place finish at this year's World Cross Country Championships.
"Ayalew was slated to return to Ethiopia this past weekend following her run at Crescent City," said Elite Athlete Coordinator Jon Neill, "but we convinced her that racing one more weekend in the United States would be worth her while. The rematch between Ayalew and Chepkurui will be the race to watch."
Those two won't be alone though. If Chepkurui and Ayalew falter, Ethiopian Shewarge Amare or Kenyan Jelliah Tinega, who were fourth and fifth here last year, will be ready to pounce, as will a number of other top international stars.
While an enticing matchup of Peter Kirui and Belete Assefa in the men's race has failed to materialize, it's unlikely that Assefa will have an easy time of it. Julius Kogo only missed beating Kirui by five seconds last year, and he may well be the man who upsets Assefa's bid to become the first Ethiopian champion at Bloomsday.
"I think you'll see Kogo challenge on Doomsday Hill," said Neill. "He has already won two races this spring, the Pike’s Peak 10K in Washington, DC, and the Ukrop Monument 10K. He'll arrive in Spokane in phenomenal shape."
While Kogo nearly won Bloomsday last year, fellow Kenyan Stephen Muange was just a few seconds behind him, while Allan Kiprono, also of Kenya, was only five seconds behind Assefa at this year's Crescent City Classic. Nor is it easy to ignore the finishing kick that John Korir has shown in winning a slew of road races in recent years, including three Bloomsdays. Whoever emerges victorious will have to outrun these and a dozen other worthy contenders.
For the Americans, the men’s elite division will be one of the deepest U.S. men’s fields in recent Bloomsday history. The race will once again feature a $10,000 purse ($5,000 - $2,500 - $1,250 - $750 - $500) for the top male and female Americans who finish in the top 25. Justin Young, Ian Burrell, Fernando Cabada, and Andrew Carlson should challenge for the money. For the women, Amy Hastings of Mammoth Lakes, California, is considered the favorite after an impressive 2:27:03 debut at this year's LA Marathon, with Kelly Jaske of Portland, Oregon, and Janet Cherobon- Bawcom of Rome,Georgia, also expected to be in the hunt.
In the elite wheelchair division, last year's champion Jordan Bird of Arizona is back to defend his title, with Mexico's Aaron Gordian and eight-time Bloomsday champion Craig Blanchette of Battleground, Washington, expected to challenge. For the women,Amanda McGrory of Illinois is the clear favorite on the heels of her four consecutive victories, but two-time winner Shirley Reilly of Tucson, Arizona, should keep the competition honest.
A field of over 56,000 runners, joggers and walkers are expected to have entered by the time registration closes on Saturday evening. This will mark the fourth year in a row that Bloomsday numbers have grown.
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