Spokane, WA—2006 champion Gilbert Okari will have his hands full this Sunday as he attempts to do what only two other runners in history have done, notch back-to-back victories in the Lilac Bloomsday Run. Okari, who has a string of U.S. road wins to his credit, including the World’s Best 10K earlier this year, will have to outrun a field that includes two-time Bloomsday champion and fellow Kenyan John Korir. Those two will battle 2007 Crescent City Classic winner George Misoi, 2007 Carlsbad 5000 winner Simon Ndirangu, two-time Olympic marathon fourth place finisher Jon Brown, and a host of others hoping to add their names to the list of champions in the 31st running of the hotly contested 12-kilometer race.
“We’re very excited to have Gilbert Okari back to defend his title,” said Bloomsday Elite Athlete Coordinator Jon Neill. “He’s going to be tested by one of the deepest fields in Bloomsday history, and I know this is going to be a swift, exciting race.”
The women’s race should prove equally swift and exciting, as 2004 Olympic marathon silver medalist Catherine Ndereba of Kenya battles Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia, who set a world 10-mile best in winning the recent Credit Union Cherry Blossom in Washington, DC. Those two will also have to contend with Kathy Butler of Great Britain, who has finished second and fourth in recent Bloomsdays.
“Ndereba and Butler both have the advantage of having run here before,” said Neill, “and experience is always helpful on this course. But Teyba Erkesso is running extremely well right now, and as a result you have to give her serious consideration as a potential champion.”
In masters competition, 2006 Bloomsday champions Sylvia Mosqueda and Sean Wade will be back to defend their titles, and distance running legend Henry Rono will return for the first time since winning Bloomsday in 1982.
Open winners of this year’s Lilac Bloomsday Run will advance to the PRRO Race of Champions at the Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta, Georgia, on July 4. If either Okari or Erkesso win Bloomsday and then win Peachtree, they’ll be eligible for the $25,000 bonus paid to any athlete who wins two PRRO Circuit races plus the Atlanta final.
This year’s wheelchair competition also promises to be hotly contested, as 2006 winners Saul Mendoza of Mexico and Shirley Reilly return to defend their titles. In addition, Bloomsday this year launches its first collegiate team competition, with strong wheelchair fields from the University of Illinois and University of Arizona vying for the team victory. Each team will be scored based on its top two male and top two female finishers, plus one quad competitor.
While elite athletes are vying for top placings and over $56,000 in prize money, nearly 44,000 runners, joggers and walkers will make the 12-kilometer trek along streets filled with music and dance. There will be twenty-eight 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 2007 Bloomsday T-shirt will look like. The color and design of the shirt are kept secret until entrants reach the finish.
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