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Chepkurui earns women’s elite title

Elite women's winner Lineth Chepkurui looks back at the competition Sunday.
 (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)
Elite women's winner Lineth Chepkurui looks back at the competition Sunday. (Rajah Bose / The Spokesman-Review)

Doomsday Hill has a way of deciding the Bloomsday Run – and it was no different Sunday as the elite women charged their way up the steep incline.

It was five miles through the 7.46-mile course when a tight pack of nine racers finally broke up on the hill. Lineth Chepkurui, a 20-year-old Kenyan, emerged in front of the competition.

“I was feeling somewhat strong,” she said of the Doomsday climb. “Then I thought this was only place I could take an advantage over them.”

Over the last two miles, as she snaked through the West Central neighborhood past live bands and cheering spectators, Chepkurui opened ground on Catherine Ndereba and Neriah Asiba.

The second-seeded Chepkurui grabbed a commanding win with a time of 39 minutes, 47 seconds – 25 seconds faster than runners-up Ndereba (40:12) and Asiba (40:23). It was Chepkurui’s first Bloomsday.

“I like the place so much. The course is very nice, climbing up and down,” she said. “I’m just so happy, I didn’t expect to be in position one.”

But Chepkurui knew from the beginning, when she didn’t feel like she was struggling, that it was going to be a good race, she said. She felt relaxed the whole time.

That doesn’t mean she wasn’t worried at all during the first five miles, while she ran among a dozen women in the leading pack.

“I knew my friends were very tough,” Chepkurui said, “so I could not break off immediately because I was trying to feel out – to test their strength to see when to break off.”

One-by-one, competitors dropped out of the group. Liza Hunter-Calvan, a 38-year-old New Zealander, dropped back after a small fall while running up Second Avenue over Latah Creek. Irene Limika, of Kenya, stuck with the pack until nearly four miles through, when she started lagging.

Nine were left - led by Chepkurui and top-seeded Genoveva Kigen - as they crossed the T.J. Meenach Bridge before Doomsday Hill.

Ndereba, the second-place finisher, said Chepkurui “tried to switch to another gear” when they approached the climb.

That’s when Kigen, a 20-year-old Kenyan, felt the burn. She dropped from the lead end to the tail end of the pack as the women spread out. By the top of the hill, she was at least a city block behind leading Chepkurui. Kigen finished in ninth place with a time of 42:09.

But Ndereba said she knew everyone was focused and approaching the race her own way. An accomplished marathoner and racing in her third Bloomsday (she finished fourth last year), the 35-year-old Ndereba was happy with her performance.

“It wasn’t by might, neither by power,” she said, “but by the power of the Holy Spirit that I was able to accomplish what I was able to accomplish today as I’m looking forward to the Olympics in three months.”

Her Bloomsday race showed her she is doing well in her training for the Beijing Olympics, she said.

Ndereba watched from farther and farther behind as Chepkurui extended her lead. By the time Ndereba and Asiba rounded the corner from Broadway Avenue onto Monroe Street for the homestretch, Chepkurui was about to cross the finish line at the mouth of the Monroe Street Bridge.

“I was feeling strong, I was very strong when I was heading to the finish,” Chepkurui said. “So I had to put [in all my] effort.”