Bloomsday brings some of the best runners in the world to Spokane annually.
This year, the expected field of about 51,000 runners might hold the most talent it has ever seen. In a press conference on Tuesday held to announce the top seeds for the 2013 edition of Bloomsday, it was revealed that four past champions would be participating this year.
"The theme this year for the men's field is champions, champions and a few more champions," said elite athlete coordinator Jon Neill. "I think we've assembled something pretty special for our Bloomsday fans. Some years we're fortunate when the winner returns to defend his medal. This year, the stars have aligned and we have three past Bloomsday champions returning."
Included in the men's elite division are Kenyans -- and the top three seeds, respectively -- Allan Kiprono, Simon Ndirangu and Gilbert Okari, all previous winners. Kiprono ran away from the field in 2012 with an 18-second victory. In the women's elite division, Ethiopian Misiker Mekonnin, the 2011 Bloomsday champion, is back to claim her second title.
But the talent goes beyond the Bloomsday success. Emmanuel Bett, who missed a place on the 2012 Kenyan Olympic squad by one spot, responded to that disappointment by running the fastest 10,000-meter race in the world during 2012 (26:51.56). Bett will be joined at the starting line by fellow Kenyan Robert Letting, who finished second at Bloomsday a year ago.
The top-eight seeded runners in the men's elite field hail from Kenya.
Abdi Abdirahman is bestowed the honor of being the highest-seeded American. Abdirahman is a four-time Olympian and is the reigning USA Half Marathon champion.
In the women's field, diversity is the name of the game. While Kenyans Alice Kimutai and Ogla Kimayo occupy the top two seeds, Mekonnin is seeded third. American Kellyn Johnson is seeded fifth, while Eastern Europe also has a strong presence.
Poland's top distance runner Karolina Jarzynska will race at Bloomsday, as will Russian, and seventh-seeded, Alevtina Ivanova.
"I love the Eastern European women, they are hardcore competitors," Neill said. "With Karolina Jarzynska, she just – I think it was two weeks ago – won that marathon in 2:26. For others, they might say, ‘I need to take a month off from competitive running.' Eastern European women, they run a marathon and then two weeks later, they're back and competing at a high, high level, as well."
To attract the best of the best to Spokane each year, Bloomsday officials go through quite the process.
"There's probably 20 major agents in distance running, so I'm in touch with those agents throughout the year," Neill said. "What I do is, I just study results from around the world and see who's the hot runner, who's running well. Who's been to the states before (therefore, has Visas). And then I go ahead and get in touch, either directly with that athlete, or with the agent/manager, and say, ‘We'd love to bring ‘em in for Bloomsday.'
Of course, the talent in the field doesn't always come together as well as it did this year. But it does help that Bloomsday comes with a prestigious name, Neill said. Athletes that have run the race before are also more inclined to return because of the extras that Bloomsday provides elite athletes.
For instance, Bloomsday has a travel budget and pays for the top runners flights and accommodations. Volunteers will pick the athletes up at the airport and transport them to the hotel and take care of their gear. In essence, the athletes are pampered.
"We don't necessarily have the top prize purse in the world, but often times it doesn't make a bit of difference to these athletes," Neill said. "Simply because they know they get treated like royalty and they know that the competition is going to be good once they race."