Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Ethiopia's Berhane Adere and Kenya's Salina Kosgei to provide half-marathon with star power

By The Times-Picayune
February 24, 2010, 1:00AM
When Matt Turnbull constructs a women’s marathon field, he attempts to focus beyond occurrences that give most spectators pause. Yes, it is wonderful when world records are pushed. Yes, it is outstanding when analysts boast about an event’s thrilling finish.

But Turnbull, in his eighth year recruiting elite runners, hopes for something more when the Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon & Half-Marathon’s elite women’s field approaches the starting line Sunday morning: fireworks at the race’s beginning, midpoint and end.

After convincing two of the world’s best distance runners — Ethiopia’s Berhane Adere and Kenya’s Salina Kosgei — to participate in the event’s half-marathon, he might have accomplished his wish.

“I just want the race to be competitive,” said Turnbull, the Competitor Group’s elite athlete coordinator. “I try to put together a field that will create a race. In an ideal situation, you have the top U.S. runner against two or three established East African runners and one or two Europeans, and try to build a nice international field that you know will produce a competitive race.”

Many anticipate Adere and Kosgei to be competitive throughout the flat 13.1-mile course that begins at Tchoupitoulas and Race streets and ends outside Tad Gormley Stadium. Adere, 36, won a gold medal at the 2002 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Brussels and won the 2006 and 2007 Chicago Marathons. She ran a personal-best 1 hour, 8 minutes, 17 seconds at the 2001 IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bristol, England, where she won a bronze medal.

Last April, Kosgei, 33, won the Boston Marathon over Ethiopia’s Dire Tune by a second. Kosgei also won the 2006 and 2008 Lisbon Half Marathons and holds a personal-best 1:07:52, set at the 2006 Lisbon event.

“They’re two heavy hitters,” said Toni Reavis, veteran running commentator and writer. “They’re two big guns, that’s for sure.

“They’re well-matched. They both have the same goals. They both are in the same time frame. It all stacks up pretty well as being a really interesting match race.”

The Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon appears attractive to elite athletes such as Adere and Kosgei because of opportune timing. The Boston Marathon takes place April 19, and the London Marathon is April 25.

Athletes view MGM’s half marathon as a reliable tuneup to measure their training progression before competing in the venerable spring races.

“It gives a good indicator of what your fitness is for the marathon,” said Kim Smith, who won the 2004 NCAA women’s individual cross country championship running for Providence College and currently is training for the London Marathon. “With marathon training, you don’t get to race too often. You have to do a lot of training. This race will break it up.”

In the full marathon, there will be a new champion. Autumn Ray, MGM’s 2008 and 2009 winner, will not participate because of back and hip pain experienced after racing in December’s California International Marathon, where she finished 166th. Australian Karen Barlow, who is attempting to qualify for the Commonwealth Games in October in New Delhi, is expected to push for first place.

But MGM’s female stars are found in the half-marathon. Adere and Kosgei have set their sights on larger prizes. Later this spring, Adere will race in the London Marathon; Kosgei will defend her Boston Marathon crown. On Sunday, they will test each other.

“You would make a huge mistake not to bet on one of these two ladies,” said Tracy Sundlun, the Competitor Group’s vice president of events.


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