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Kenya’s 15-year winning streak in jeopardy

Ridouane Harroufi, center, is this year’s favorite. (FILE / The Spokesman-Review)
Ridouane Harroufi, center, is this year’s favorite. (FILE / The Spokesman-Review)

With defending Bloomsday champion Kogo out, Morocco’s Harroufi earns role as men’s favorite

With defending champion Micah Kogo not entered, there is a good chance Kenya’s rule in the Men’s Open division of the Lilac Bloomsday Run could end with Sunday’s 33rd running of the 12-kilometer event.

Kogo, who breezed over Bloomsday’s 7.46-mile course in a record time of 33 minutes, 51 seconds last year, won’t be among the 50,000-plus who are expected to participate in this year’s race. That, according to Bloomsday’s Elite Athlete Coordinator Jon Neill, makes Morocco’s Ridouane Harroufi the favorite to end Kenya’s 15-year run of having produced the Bloomsday champion in the men’s elite field.

Harroufi, who finished a distant second to Kogo in last year’s race, comes in having won the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile Run in Washington, D.C., and the 10K Azalea Trail run in Mobile, Ala., this spring.

“A victory by Ridouane would end Kenya’s win streak,” Neill said during a Tuesday morning news conference that was held to announce the elite fields in the men’s, women’s and wheelchair divisions of Bloomsday 2009, which will start at 9 a.m. Sunday. “Certainly, he comes into Bloomsday with the credentials to do that.”

But the Kenyans will bring their “usual firepower” to this year’s event, Neill said.

Among the top Kenyan competitors in the men’s field will be Charles Munyeki, who finished second in the 2006 Bloomsday run, and Gilbert Okari, who was expected to challenge countryman John Korir for last year’s title before Kogo displayed his dominance.

Bloomsday will mark Okari’s first competition of the spring.

In the Women’s Open division, Kenya’s Lineth Chepkurui returns to defend her 2008 championship after having captured titles in the Credit Union Cherry Blossom 10-Mile and Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans this spring. Among her biggest challengers will be fellow Kenyans Genoveva Kigen, who finished ninth in last year’s Bloomsday run, and Rose Kosgei.

This year’s Bloomsday Wheelchair Division will feature its largest field since 1995, with 56 racers expected to compete.

Mexico’s Aaron Gordian, who ended Saul Mendoza’s 10-year run as the champion of the Open Men’s competition by winning last year’s race, will return to defend his title. Mendoza will also be on hand, setting up a much-anticipated rematch.

“Both of those guys are in their 40s, and they’re both still racing in the Open division and winning, which is pretty impressive,” said Tom Cameron, who coordinates the elite wheelchair competition.

Amanda McGrory, who won last year’s Women’s Open wheelchair division, and Santiago Sanz Quinto, who bested the T-2 Quad field, are also back to defend their titles.

This year’s race will feature special divisions for elite American men’s and women’s runners, who will compete for $20,000 in prize money out of total purse of $97,200.

Winners of each division will earn $5,000 and be eligible for any additional money they might earn for placing in the top 15 in their respective Open fields.

The winner of the men’s and women’s Open divisions will pocket $7,000 each, while the winners of the men’s and women’s Masters divisions will earn $1,500 each.

Tags: Bloomsday