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Bloomsday preview: Buze Diriba attempts third straight women’s title; 2017 champ Gabriel Geay tries to retake men’s

May 3, 2019

With all the pageantry and excitement surrounding Bloomsday every year, it might be easy to forget that ahead of the community runners and walkers are some of the greatest middle distance runners and road racers in the world.

The field for the 2019 Lilac Bloomsday Run – the 43rd annual – is as star-packed as ever, with two-time defending women’s champion Buze Diriba and 2017 men’s champion Gabrial Geay wearing the No. 1 bibs and headlining the Elite runners.

The elite race holds another place of significance this year as well – it is the culminating race of the 2018-19 Professional Road Running Organization (PRRO) Circuit for the first time since 1996. The distinction this year is not coincidental with Bloomsday race director Don Kardong stepping down following this year’s race after 43 years at the helm.

The 24th PRRO Championship – and the $10,000 PRRO Super Bonus – is eligible to reigning PRRO champions and any athlete who has won at least one of the 2018-19 circuit events.

“It’s really special because we share information with a lot of these other races that are part of our series and it’s nice to be the culminating race,” Kardong said. “I mean, I helped start prize money competitions years ago, and so it’s a nice sort of finish for my time as race director to have all these top athletes here competing for prize money.”

Incoming race director and elite field coordinator Jon Neill said it’s an honor to be hosting the championship in Kardong’s last race.

“So fun that we are hosting the PRRO championships. He’s the founder of the PRRO circuit and we last hosted it clear back in 1996. So to do that in Don’s last year as race director – and he’s certainly one of the pioneers of elite running in America – it’s a great privilege to be able to host this event in his final year, so we’re really looking forward to that.”

Neill said the women’s race will be packed, but two names stand out: 25-year-old Diriba, of Ethiopia, and second-seeded Rosemary Wanjiru, 24, from Kenya.

“I like running Bloomsday,” Diriba said. “It’s very nice with the course and all the people.”

She said she feels a little pressure this week going for her third consecutive championship.

“Yeah, maybe I have a little bit (or pressure) thrown at me here. I will try my best.

“There are a lot of great runners here. It will be a good race.”

Diriba and Wanjiru are considered “in the top 1% of distance runners in the world,” according to Neill.

“These are two outstanding competitors that have already put high marks on the board this season,” Neill said. “Buze has an opportunity to go into an even higher class of athletes, winning three in a row and joining some some great legends in Bloomsday history.

“And Rosemary, she’s already run some some fabulous times. So it’s going to be a great race between those two. But certainly, there’s other competitors in the field that that will add to the mix.”

One of the others is Lineth Chepkurui, the No. 4 seed, who is one of three women to win the Bloomsday Elite race three years in a row – a mark that Diriba will try to equal this year.

“It’s neat having Lineth here,” Neill said. “Anybody that has run a course record on our course (38 minutes, 10 seconds in 2010 – world’s fastest women’s 12K at the time), it’s fun. But the fact that Buze has an opportunity to equal Lineth’s (achievement), it’s a pretty special moment.

“This women’s race will be a blockbuster.”

The men’s Elite race will crown a new champion, as 2018 winner, Jemal Yimer of Ethiopia, had a national commitment this weekend and was unable to attend.

But the “new” champ could be an old champ, as 2017 title-holder, 22-year-old Gabriel Geay of Tanzania, is back to try to reclaim the glory after finishing in 13th place last year.

“With Gabriel, it’ll be interesting to see how he responds this year in Bloomsday,” Neill said. “He admittedly did not run the race that he wanted to last year. But as the season progressed he continued to get faster and faster.

“So he should be poised to make a run at the title.”

Geay should face stiff competition from any of a strong group of veteran Kenyan runners, including second- and third-seeded Silas Kipruto and Dominic Korir.

Kipruto, 34, has two wins and two seconds this season, while Korir, 25, has one win, one third and one fourth-place finish.

“The races that are interesting, the ones that are most fun to watch are the ones that are close right down to the final straightaway,” Kardong said. “But sometimes when somebody goes out there and just kind of takes over and runs away from everyone from after a mile or two, those are amazing too, because you kind of say ‘All these great runners and you can you can do that?’ So it’s fun to see how they develop one way or another.”

Neill took Diriba and Wanjiru to meet with local schoolkids earlier this week.

“They got to interact with 60 kids in their gym and told them all about the great things that Buze and Rosemary have done worldwide,” he said.

“The kids just loved it. It’s that part of the the Elite component of our race, where you can introduce children to great heroes – great sport icons – that they may not have ever heard of before but are internationally famous, and that’s good stuff for for the Spokane community.”