Tanzanian Gabriel Geay had never heard of Bloomsday until this week.
Now Geay is a Bloomsday winner.
Geay ran in a 5,000-meter race Friday in Palo Alto, California, and wanted to find a 12K road race to round out his trip.
Bloomsday elite race coordinator Jon Neill had no biographical information for Geay. In fact, Neill didn’t have his surname correct until after the race.
Geay, 20, outsprinted Philemon Cheboi, 23, of Kenya. As the leaders turned onto Monroe Street for the downhill finish, Geay edged ahead, winning the 41st edition in a time of 34 minutes, 31 seconds.
He finished fifth on Friday in a college/pro race at Stanford, and he arrived Saturday evening in Spokane.
“My manager tell me there was a 12K in Spokane if I want to participate and I said I’m OK,” Geay said through broken English.
Geay didn’t have time to look at the course.
Running sight unseen, Geay’s strategy was simple.
“I don’t know the course. I just use experience,” said Geay. “I just follow the (media) truck.”
It was the best finish at Bloomsday for Cheboi, who took third last year and eighth in 2015.
Neill called 2016 winner Philip Langat, 27, of Kenya the clear favorite. But Langat, who was in a pack of seven through most of the race, began fading near the 6-mile mark on the 7.46-mile course. He finished a distant fifth in 35:07, 31 seconds behind his time last year.
Geay ran 13:20.35 at Palo Alto. He enjoyed the Bloomsday course.
“The course is very good,” Geay said.
He said he was surprised he ran so well on short rest.
“The course was very hard,” Geay. “I use my training to win.”
Cheboi finished three seconds behind Geay and 11 seconds ahead of his time last year.
Early-morning rain served to wash the Bloomsday course one more time.
Ezzo Rachid of Morocco, who called Neill on Friday to see if he could get in the race, was among the early leaders who turned the first mile in 4:39.
Rachid didn’t fill out an entry form until Sunday morning. He quickly fell back near the 2-mile mark.
A pack of seven runners did the second mile, which included a downhill stretch, in 4:32.
Near the 3-mile mark, the sun came out from behind clouds and was shining on the sweaty heads of the leaders.
Isaac Mwangi of Kenya, last year’s runner-up who Neill anticipated would challenge, never emerged as a threat.
The lead pack of seven continued bunched together as the race approached the halfway point near Spokane Falls Community College.
Langat tried to put some distance between himself and the pack as the leaders ascended Doomsday Hill where he started pulling away last year. But he couldn’t get away.
The pack of seven slimmed to four through 5 miles.
As the pack approached Mission Avenue, Langat’s attempt at a repeat was over.
Near the 7-mile mark, Geay and Cheboi made it a two-man finish.
Subscribe to the sports newsletter
Get the day’s top sports headlines and breaking news delivered to your inbox by subscribing here.