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Sarah Naibei pulls away from Kasanesh Ayenew Baze to win Bloomsday women’s elite race

May 6, 2024

By Luke Pickett – The Spokesman-Review

Sunday’s women’s elite Bloomsday run turned into an exciting battle between Sarah Naibei and Kasanesh Ayenew Baze, lasting more than half of the race.

As Naibei reached the 5½-mile mark, she stepped up her performance and secured a definitive victory in Spokane’s 48th annual race.

Naibei, a Kenyan native who finished eighth in the 2023 Lilac Bloomsday 12-km (7.456-mile) race, knew the race was hers once she reached the top of the notorious “Doomsday Hill”.

“When I was at (the) top (of the) hill, I knew that I (would be the) winner today,” said Naibei, whose unofficial 39:00 time was nearly a minute and a half faster than her time last year.

All signs pointed toward a thrilling neck-and-neck finish early on as Naibei, Baze, and 2023’s third-place finisher Daisy Kimeli each took turns at the forefront of the 12-runner elite group for two miles before Naibei and Baze went to another gear.

Despite the chilly and damp conditions, the three trailblazers managed a 5:08 mile time unofficially – just two seconds off the record pace. Bozeman’s Makena Morley, the leader for the initial minute, dropped to fourth place near the Latah Creek bridge on Riverside.

Naibei and Kimeli began to separate themselves near the first water station on Government Way before Baze passed Kimeli for the final time. After the third mile, with no one clearly in the lead, it seemed like a photo finish was bound to happen.

Eventual women’s winner Sarah Naibei pulls away from second-place runner Kasanesh Ayenew Baze in the women’s elite division of Bloomsday on Sunday in Spokane. (Jesse Tinsley/THE SPOKESMAN-REVI)

“I thought we might have a two-horse race coming down Monroe,” Andy LeFreic, Bloomsday elite athlete coordinator said. “Even going up Doomsday (Hill), it looked like Daisy Kimeli was going to close the gap.”

As rain and wind gusts increased, so did the pace of the race.

Naibei maintained her narrow edge over Baze as they reached the four-mile mark near Spokane Falls Community College. When Naibei finished her climb up Doomsday Hill to the fifth-mile mark, she let her confidence carry her to the finish.

“I knew it,” Naibei said. “When I was at (the) top (of the) hill, I knew that I (would be the) winner today. I (saw that) my friend (was) tired, and I said, ‘I’m going.’”

Though Baze was merely yards behind, Naibei held control during the latter half of the race through Mission Avenue and onto Lindeke Street before bursting ahead during the final stretch.

“Sarah (Naibei) just hit the gas. She’s getting faster every year and it’s so fun to see her come back and win,” LeFreic said.

Naibei averaged a 5-minute, 14-second mile pace, unofficially. She crossed the finish line with a 25-second advantage.

Baze finished third. Kimeli once again placed third, and Morley took fourth.

Even with the unusual overcast weather at Bloomsday, the winner had nothing to be gloomy about.

“I feel good,” she said. “I focused and maintained my pace so that I (could) push.”

Naibei will compete in the BOLDERBoulder 10-km (6.2-mile) run in Boulder, Colorado on May 27.

This article was first posted on the Spokesman Review here.

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