April 27, 2004—2002 Bloomsday champion James Koskei has experience on his side in the 28th running of the Lilac Bloomsday Run this Sunday, but he’ll have his hands full with upstart Nelson Kiplagat Birgen. The 35-year-old Koskei has an impressive resume that includes three top-five finishes at Bloomsday and a 2001 victory at San Francisco’s Bay to Breakers, but Birgen is this spring’s hottest young Kenyan, with victories in the Cherry Blossom Ten-Mile in Washington, DC, and the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans.
"Last year we had champions from the three previous Bloomsdays on the starting line," said Bloomsday Elite Athlete Coordinator Don Kardong, "but it was the new guy, John Korir, who stole the show. Birgen looks like he might make a similar statement this year."
Along with Koskei and Birgen, 2002 runnerup John Itati figures to challenge for the victory, as do fellow Kenyans Reuben Chebii, Patrick Nthiwa, and Samuel Ndereba. 2003 Bloomsday winner John Korir is not racing in the U.S. this spring, and thus will not defend his title.
In the women’s race, 2003 Bloomsday champion Lyudmila Biktasheva won’t be back to defend her title, giving 40-year-old Colleen De Reuck an opening to try for a third Bloomsday victory. De Reuck, the 1996 and 2002 Bloomsday champion, will be challenged by both Sally Barsosio of Kenya and by her own fatigue following a victory in the U.S. Olympic Trials Marathon on March 4. Barsosio is best known in Spokane for her dramatic battle with Elana Meyer in Bloomsday ’01. A two-time Olympian, Barsosio lost that race to Meyer by a scant two seconds, but has already shown her fitness this year with a runnerup finish in the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans on April 10th.
"Colleen came into last year’s race not fully recovered from a bout with hypothermia," said Kardong, "but she surprised us with a strong second-place showing. This year is similar, as she’s still a little tired from the Trials, but I’m sure she’ll give a solid effort. Whether she can beat a well-rested Barsosio remains to be seen. And if those two falter, I’d look to American Milena Glusac and Sylvia Mosqueda, or Russians Galina Alexandrova, Albina Ivanova, Alevtina Ivanova, or Victoria Klimina to challenge for the victory."
In the masters competition, 2003 men’s champion Dennis Simonaitis of Draper, Utah, looks to be the odds-on favorite. For the women, new masters runner De Reuck will certainly be the favorite, with 49-year-old Ukrainian Tatyana Pozdnyakova a good bet for runnerup.
Open winners of this year's Lilac Bloomsday Run will advance to the PRRO Race of Champions at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta on July 4. The top male and female from the state of Washington, and the top male and female from Spokane County, will also be invited to Peachtree.
While elite athletes are vying for top placings and over $56,000 in prize money, over 40,000 runners, joggers and walkers will make the 12-kilometer trek amid an enhanced entertainment environment. There will be eighteen entertainment stations along the course, and participants will be able to vote for their favorite performers by logging on to the Bloomsday website after the run. Entrants will also spend a fair amount of time during the run wondering what the 2004 Bloomsday T-shirt will look like. The color and design of the shirt are kept secret until entrants reach the finish.
Bloomsday entrants won’t have to wait until the finish, though, to see this year’s souvenir poster. The poster, which features a colorful splash of legs mid-race, was designed by Spokane artist Steve Merryman, and will be on sale at the Trade Show on Bloomsday weekend.
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