Spokane, WA—Kenya's John Korir lived up to his pre-race billing, as the favorite outran Bloomsday champions from 2000, 2001 and 2002--Reuben Cheruiyot, Dominic Kirui and James Koskei--then outdueled fellow Kenyan Paul Koech for a one-second victory. In the women's race, Russian Lyudmila Biktasheva proved to be uncatchable, as she surged away from Edna Kiplagat mid-race and held off 2002 Bloomsday winner Colleen De Reuck to capture the $7,000 first place prize, part of over $75,000 in prize money awarded in the 27th running of the Lilac Bloomsday Run (12-K).
With the weather cool and overcast, conditions seemed ideal for a fast pace, but a lead pack of at least 20 men seemed tentative through the early miles. By mid-race, though, Paul Koech took charge and ran 4:24 on the largely downhill fifth mile, a surge that only fellow Kenyans Korir and Gilbert Okari could match. Heading up "Doomsday Hill" past the five mile point, those three stayed together, but at the top Koech and Korir broke away, and from there to the finish the question was who had the best afterburner.
"After crashing that hill," said Koech later, "you ask your body, 'Do you still have some little bit of energy left?' And when it says yes, then you have to push."
For a while it looked like Koech might have the energy edge, as he seemed ready to break away at any second. But Korir held on gamely and rallied over the final 200 meters, finally sprinting past for the victory. Their times (34:16 and 34:17) were the 9th and 10th fastest in Bloomsday history.
In the women's race, it looked for a while like Edna Kiplagat and Sally Barsosio might take over the race like the Kenyan men, as the two had a ten-meter lead by two miles and seemed ready to build on that margin. But Biktasheva wasn't deterred, as she caught the duo, then steadily edged away mid-race. But the time she reached "Doomsday Hill' the Kenyans had fallen back, and the Russian climbed the hill on her own. Defending champion De Reuck of Boulder, CO, who has been recovering from hypothermia, made a gallant bid to catch Biktasheva from back in the pack, but to no avail.
"She had a good lead," said De Reuck, who has two of the top four times in race history, "and nobody was going to catch her today."
Biktasheva raced to a 40:01 victory, 21 seconds ahead of De Reuck, with Kiplagat close behind. A Russian quartet took the next four spots, with Firaya Sultanova-Jdanova, sixth overall, also taking the masters title. Ramilia Burangulova and Lyubov Kremleva made it a Russian masters sweep.
In men's masters competition, new-comer Dennis Simonaitis of Draper, Utah, scorched the course in 36:50, well ahead of second-place Eddy Hellebuyck. In age group competition, 78-year-old John Keston's 58:44 was a new single age record, and 72-year-old June Machala of Spokane broke her own 70-74-year-old 12-K mark with a 59:44.
In the wheelchair race, Saul Mendoza of Mexico broke into the lead at three-quarters of a mile, with only Kelly Smith able to hang on. As he pumped up Doomsday Hill, though, Mendoza made a final break, then went on to win by nearly a minute and a half. It was his sixth Bloomsday victory. In the women's race, an early lead by Cheri Blauwet disappeared when she skidded on wet pavement and took a spill at 4-½ miles. That opened the way for Ariadne Hernandez to gain the lead and post her third straight Bloomsday victory. Scott Parson again dominated the master’s field, as did Clayton Gerein in the T-2 quad division.
This year's open male and female Bloomsday winners—John Korir and Lyudmila Biktasheva—will be invited to the PRRO Race of Champions at the Peachtree Road Race on July 4 in Atlanta. Full results of this year's Lilac Bloomsday Run will be available this week on the event's website: www.bloomsdayrun.org.