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Chebet-Muge ups ante in women’s race

Wed., April 28, 2010

Cross country champion will challenge Chepkurui

Bloomsday spectators bent on drama have been well-served gravitating toward the men’s race. After all, four in the last decade have been decided by a second or less.

This year, it may be wise to follow the lead of Jon Neill, the event’s elite athletes coordinator.

“I usually ride the men’s truck,” he said. “This may be the year I jump over to the women.”

The presence of two-time defending champion Lineth Chepkurui and IAAF world cross country champion Emily Chebet-Muge makes the open women “the marquee race” at Sunday’s 34th Lilac Bloomsday Run, the 12-kilometer spring obsession through the streets of Spokane.

“We had a record six women under 40 minutes last year,” said Neill, “and even with those spectacular performances, this year’s field is extraordinary.”

It’s the presence of Chebet-Muge that ups the ante. It’s rare that Bloomsday has attracted the winner of the March cross country event, but a strong relationship with runners agent Scott Robinson helped lure the 24-year-old Kenyan this time around. At the IAAF race in Bydgoszcz, Poland, Chebet-Muge covered 8 kilometers in 24 minutes, 19 seconds, winning by a mere second but 21 ahead of the fifth-place finisher – Chepkurui, her Kenyan teammate.

But Chepkurui has returned to the United States road circuit with a vengeance – winning a third straight Cherry Blossom 10-miler in Washington, D.C., by 48 seconds and a second straight Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans by 1:33.

Another factor in the women’s race: Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska, who was eighth in the cross country worlds and won the Dubai Marathon earlier this year in 2:24:19.

“One of these ladies may have to break our course record to ensure a victory on Sunday,” said Neill, noting that Chepkurui’s winning time of 38:37 a year ago was No. 2 in Bloomsday history.

But, as usual, there should be plenty to watch in any of the Bloomsday elite fields, who will compete for $98,200 in prize money including allotments for the top U.S. and Washington finishers, as well as masters and wheelchair competition.

The men’s race – which saw a 15-year Kenyan domination end last year – will see a new winner with the absence of defending champion John Yuda of Tanzania.

But a contingent of 16 Kenyans – including three-time winner John Korir and 2006 champ Gilbert Okari – makes the field one of the deepest.

And even so, the No. 1 bib goes to Morocco’s Ridouane Harroufi – a favorite last year who had to drop out with a hamstring pull just before the race. This year, Harroufi had planned to run in last weekend’s London Marathon, but visa issues prompted a change to Bloomsday.

Both of last year’s top American finishers, Dan Browne and Sally Meyerhoff, return in the open races, and the masters includes a Hall of Fame name – 52-year-old Joan Samuelson, the 1984 Olympic marathon gold medalist who at last year’s New York City marathon broke the 50-plus age-group record by running 2:49.

Four champions will be back to defend titles in the various wheelchair divisions put together by Tom Cameron, including women’s open three-peater Amanda McGrory, the 2008 Beijing Paralympics marathon silver medalist. Leading the men’s wheelchair field is 2008 champion Aaron Gordian.

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