Past champions return for Bloomsday

When Jon Neill spoke Tuesday morning about the stars aligning, he meant it in a figurative and literal sense.

Neill, Bloomsday’s elite athlete coordinator, is so pleased with the elite men’s field for Sunday’s 12-kilometer race that he envisions the possibility of a course record.

“On the men’s side, the theme this year is champions, champions and a few more champions,” Neill said from the Bloomsday office in revealing his favorites for this year’s elite fields.

Neill installed as race favorite defending champion Allan Kiprono of Kenya, who finished in 34 minutes, 29 seconds in 2012 to win by 18 seconds. Kiprono ran the sixth-fastest 10K (27:46) in the world this year while placing third at the Crescent City Classic in New Orleans.

Kiprono also owns the sixth-fastest time (33:59) in Bloomsday history, but he lost that 2011 race by 1 second to countryman Simon Ndirangu, who has returned this year. Ndirangu has won three races this year and is considered the second favorite by Neill.

Ranked third is Gilbert Okari, another Kenyan and another past champion. Okari won the 2006 Bloomsday in 34:14.

“Ordinarily, on any Bloomsday year I’d just be tickled that we have three Bloomsday champions coming back, but there’s more and the hits have just kept on coming for me,” Neill said.

Neill is especially pleased with the entry of Kenya’s Emmanuel Bett, who won this year’s Hy-Vee Drake Relays 10K in 28:23 and ran the fastest 10,000 time in the world last year (26:51.16) at the IAAF Diamond League Brussels 10,000.

“Look for Emmanuel Bett to absolutely blaze at Bloomsday,” Neill said.

Kenyans have won 18 of the last 19 Bloomsday races.

The top-seeded American is four-time Olympian Abdi Abdirahman, 36, of Tucson, Ariz.

With the deep field and a race-time temperature projected to be 55 degrees, Neill thinks the course record of 33:51 set by Kenya’s Micah Kogo in 2008 is within striking distance.

“I have to think that to win this race someone will have to dip under 34 minutes this year,” Neill said.

Defending women’s champion Mamitu Daska of Ethiopia opted this year for the Boston Marathon, where she placed 12th.

The last two women’s titles have been won by Ethiopians, but Neill selected Kenyans Alice Kimutai, 20, and Ogla Kimayo, 24, as this year’s favorites. Kimutai won this year’s Crescent City Classic in 31:51, the 11th-fastest 10K time in the world this year, and Kimayo has won two big 10Ks this spring.

Ethiopia will be well-represented with 2011 Bloomsday champion Misiker Mekonnin, who won this year’s Hong Kong Marathon, and Buzunesh Deba, who has won five major marathons since 2009.

Poland’s Karolina Jarzynska, Russia’s Alevtina Ivanova and Romania’s Lidia Simon, a five-time Olympian, should lead the charge from Eastern Europe.

Neill said the top Americans should be Kellyn Johnson of Flagstaff, Ariz., and Lindsey Scherf of Durham, N.C., who placed sixth at Bloomsday last year. The top local runner figures to be former Montana State and University High runner Rachel Jaten, 37, of Spokane.

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