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Meet the Elites 

by Michael Bowen & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & O & lt;/span & K, Mr. Average Bloomie. You walk the course in two hours and change, coming in somewhere around 20,000th place. Good on you. But let's have some respect for those skinny African guys on the TV screen.


If Bloomsday were run on a track (nearly 30 times around), you'd need to be in an outside lane -- because just in the first half-hour, the Kenyans would lap you 19 times. Five minutes later, they're cooling down -- and you still have five and a half miles to go.


When Bloomsday's coordinator of elite athletes, Jon Neill, says that "the field is especially deep with Kenyans this year," it's not exactly a newsflash. Take Ernest Meli Kimeli, for example. Just 20 years old, he'll return for the 30th Bloomsday having won his age group last year, placing fourth overall with a time of 35:02. Or Julius Kibet, last year's third-place finisher, who took fifth three weeks ago at the Crescent City 10K in New Orleans. Or Linus Maiyo, winner of this year's Penn Relays 10K.


But the Crescent City champion, says Neill, is "the one to beat" this year at Bloomsday. He's Gilbert Okari -- three-time winner of Boston's Beach to Beacon 10K, and winner already this year at the Cherry Blossom 10-Mile in Washington, D.C.; at Vancouver's Sun Run; and at Crescent City. According to Running Times, Okari is the third-ranked men's road racer in the world. He likes to go out fast: Last year at Bloomsday, Okari went out in 4:21 and then ran his second mile in 4:13. He finished second.


In the women's division, last year's second- and third-place finishers, Kathy Butler of Great Britain and Dorota Gruca of Poland, will return. Australia's Benita Johnson, 26, will make her Bloomsday debut while ranked 19th in the world. Three weeks ago at New Orleans, she ran a very good 5:04 pace for the 10K distance -- and lost by more than half a minute to Isabella Ochichi of Kenya.


Ochichi "has been tearing it up lately -- really torching the courses," says Neill, and it's true: Ochichi averaged sub-five-minute miles en route to her recent victories at Vancouver and New Orleans. In 2004, Ochichi set a world record for a 5K on the road; later that year, in the women's Olympic 5K final at Athens, she missed a gold medal by just 2.5 seconds. She is currently the second-ranked women's runner in the world (behind Lornah Kiplagat of the Netherlands).


Both of last year's wheelchair champions, eight-time winner Saul Mendoza and Shirley Reilly, will return.


And don't forget your up-close opportunity to see the wheelies in action: On Saturday, May 6, at 8:30 am, the elites will determine their starting grid positions for Sunday's race by competing in individual 1K time trials on the Centennial Trail, with the fastest racers leaving first. They'll start from behind the DoubleTree Hotel and follow the trail across the Kardong Bridge and across the pedestrian bridge over Hamilton Avenue.

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