Davenport, Iowa — On a record cool day in America’s heartland, Kenya’s Leonard Korir halted countryman Silas Kipruto’s bid for an unprecedented three-peat at the Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race today. But it took a relentless last two mile push and a furious final kick to pull it off for the 2011 NCAA 10,000 meter champion out of Iona College.
“I didn’t think I would win,” said the 26 year-old Korir after getting the better of his taller, more experienced competitor, stopping the clock at 32:15, the eleventh best time in the history of the 39 year-old American road classic. “I was only hoping for top three.”
On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s 23 year-old Sule Utura used similar late race speed to take the measure of 25 year-old countrywomen Buzunesh Deba 36:34 to 36:39, with 2011 champion Caroline Rotich of Kenya, 29, coming in third in 37:02. American Meb Keflezighi finished third for the men, 24-seconds behind the winner in his seventh tour of the famed rollercoaster seven-mile course.
“Is he related to John Korir?” asked my broadcast partner Thom “TC” Cornelis of KWQC-TV6 as Leonard Korir emerged as one of the front-runners in mile two after Meb had attacked the Brady Street hill in the first mile in 5:12. It was an easy assumption to make as TC recalled five-time Bix champion and course record holder John Korir from the late `90s and early 2000s. But I told TC that it seemed like every eighth guy in the Iten-Eldoret area of Kenya along the Great Rift Valley might be named Korir. So, no, Colorado Springs-based Leonard Korir is no relation to the Bix course record holder (31:51.99, 1998). But now the two Korirs will forever be linked as Bix 7 champions.
The 39th edition of the Bix began under chilly 58 degree skies and a brisk headwind up the first mile Brady Street hill. For the 15,011 starters who had recently suffered through two weeks of a high-90s heat wave, it was a welcome relief. But while the winds might have cooled the times a bit, the racing itself was hot from the start.
After Meb pushed the early pace up Brady, the course turned right onto Kirkwood Boulevard where the bulk of the out-and-back course stretched. That’s where two-time defender Silas Kipruto unfurled his ultra-long legs, splintering the pack with a 4:14 downhill second mile. A 4:30 third mile followed, and only Kipruto, Meb, and Korir remained knitted behind the lead camera truck. After the turnaround at McClelland Heights at 3 1/2 miles, however, the uphill stretch back to Brady took its toll on Meb, winner here in 2002 and 2009.
“They made a big move after the turn,” confided Meb after his seventh tour of the Quad Cities most famous route. “And I just couldn’t go with them.”
Maybe it was his recent family move back to San Diego from his long-time training base in Mammoth Lakes, California that took just enough sharpness from his legs. But at the same time, his 32:39 time was only fourteen seconds off his PR on the course, and he still has yet to finish outside the top five.
At mile five as the course again tilted upward, Leonard Korir took the lead for the first time from the 6’4″ Kipruto, and began his long drive home. He had won his last race back in Colorado, a brutally hilly Garden of the Gods 10 Miler which required 50:48 to assay. But it proved to be the perfect tune up for the rolling Bix layout. Though Kipruto came up alongside to challenge down Brady Street in the final mile, Korir still had memories of his NCAA indoor 5000 meter title, and enough gas in his tank to pull free and take the win by four seconds.
UTURA SHOWS ULTRA SPEED
The women, too, formed a pack after the turn onto Kirkwood, with 2011 champ Caroline Rotich being joined by Buzunesh Deba, the Lilac Bloomsday 12K champion; Betsy Saina of Kenya, the 2013 NCAA 10,000 meter champion out of nearby Iowa State University; and Sule Utura, who was coming off a stint on the European track tour where she notched her 10,000 meter PR (30:55) in late June.
Home favorite, Iowa State Cyclone Betsy Saina, was coming off a sixth place finish at the recent Kenyan World Championships Trials in Nairobi at 10,000 meters, and may still have been feeling the lingering effects of a long collegiate season and her travels. 2012 runner-up Caroline Rotich was competing for the first time since her 2:27 win at the Prague Marathon in May, and Deba, though a winner in Lilac Bloomsday in Spokane in May, is more of a marathoner than short race specialist. If the race came down to the final, flat few blocks (say that three times fast), there was little doubt who would hold the best cards. And, indeed, that’s how it played out.
Though Deba tried valiantly to dust off her longer-striding countrywoman coming down the Brady Street hill, Sule Utura showed her track cred over the final few blocks, notching victory and taking home the $12,500 first place prize that went with it.
Bix legends Bill Rodgers and Joan Benoit Samuelson both produced award-winning performances in their respective age-groups. Bill took fifth in the 65-69 category, while the ageless Ms. Samuelson won the master’s division outright as a 50 year-old in 44:43.
“I have a friend back home (in Maine) who is fighting cancer,” Joanie told the crowd at the award’s ceremony in River Center. “He’s the former PR guy for the New York Yankees, and yet I still consider him a friend (Joanie is a lifelong Red Sox fan, famously wearing a backward Red Sox cap through her first victory at the Boston Marathon in 1979). He sent me an email last night predicting I’d run 44:44 today.”
In classic Joanie fashion she bettered her friend Mark Mandrake’s prediction, by ONE second.
In all over 15,000 eager souls took part in the 2013 edition of the Bix, racing in front of thousands of local fans who lined the tree-lined course with front-yard parties and barbecues which had spirits high before, during, and after the competitors passed by. Bringing up the rear of the moveable feast were brothers-in-law Steve Risius of Ames, and Jeff Lenz of Bettendorf, Iowa drinks in hand.
“We’re following the police car to make sure everyone is doing okay,” quipped Risius. “This is my 23rd Bix, and Jeff’s first. This is one of those weekends when you don’t plan anything else. The Bix is one big reunion party.”
A true American classic.
1. Leonard Korir – Ken. – 32:15
2. Silas Kipruto – Ken. – 32:19
3. Meb Keflizighi – USA – 32:39
4. Julius Koskei – Ken, 32:44
5. Peter Kamais – Ken. – 33:01
1. Sule Utura – Eth. – 36:34
2. Buzunesh Deba – Eth. 36:39
3. Caroline Rotich – Ken. – 37:02
4. Adrienne Herzog – Ned. – 37:06
5. Jane Murage – Ken. – 37:21