NEW ORLEANS — A post-race blunder in an interview near the finish line of the last big race in New Orleans sparked some chuckles in the running community.
Mo Farah, the two-time Olympic gold medalist and recently crowned champion of the Rock ‘n’ Roll half-marathon, was asked by a local reporter if he’d run before. Laughs and incredulity ensued and the video went viral shortly thereafter.
But that could be a legitimate question near the finish line of this year’s Allstate Crescent City Classic, and the legitimate answer might come as a surprise.
No, top-seeded 19-year-old Kenyan Isaiah Koech has never run a race like this before.
“He’s never run a road race,” said the Classic’s elite athlete coordinator, Andrew Lilly. “So we’ll have 25,000 people that are more experienced than this kid is. It’s kind of funny.”
That’s not to say Koech is out of his league, not by a long shot.
He became just the fourth man ever to break 13 minutes in the 5K — when he was just 17 — in February 2011. His personal best in the 3K, which is just under two miles, is 7:32.
Koech has only run one 10K race in competition before, which he ran on a track. But Lilly is confident he’s going to push the rest of the elite runners from the moment the Crescent City Classic, a 10K, begins.
That is because of Koech’s mentality. Rather than stay with the lead pack and try to win the race on the final kick, Koech runs start-to-finish at near full bore.
“When he races, it’s pretty much red line the whole time,” Lilly said.
The kid’s fast, and it’s got those involved in the Classic excited this year.
“If you look at the other times he’s run, they’re phenomenal,” race director Eric Stuart said. “He’s got some potential to do some really good things.”
“Let’s hope he’s got a competitive field to keep him going. Let’s hope the weather hangs the way it’s supposed to hang, and he’ll have all the elements ready to run a really, really fast race. Probably the fastest race we’ve run here in a long time.”
It would be a major coup for the Classic if Koech puts on a show on the New Orleans course, which is record-legal for the first time in the race’s 35-year history.
“This has always been a fast course, and we’ve always had some really fast times, but it’s always been that ‘asterisk course,’ ” Lilly said.
In order to qualify for any sort of record, the course must meet certain qualifications. The Classic always fell short because, as a point-to-point race, its starting line was too far away from its finish.
A revamped course has created potential for the Classic to be marked in the record books for the first time. Stuart had that in mind when the Classic re-routed runners’ journey through New Orleans.
“We set up this course with the fact that we thought it’d be very fast,” Stuart said. “That was the thought the entire time. There are a lot of long straightaways, there is a lot of shade, and the streets are in, for the most part, in very good shape.”
“If you’re having a good day, you should be able to fly.”
With the correct conditions and a good day from the elite runners, Lilly is hoping the Classic could be setting records for the first time this year.
“One of our outside goals is to run the fastest-ever 10k on American soil,” Lilly said. “This guy has run the fastest-ever 5K on the track in Kenya. He’s in very rare company.
“We want him to run fastest-ever 10K on the road in the U.S. That mark is 27:04 in Atlanta’s Peachtree race.”
But Koech isn’t the only runner the Classic organizers keeping an eye on when it comes to rewriting history.
Lafayette native Kevin Castille has what Lilly said is the best chance at setting a record on race day in the Master’s (over 40) division.
Castille has been toying with Master’s records. He crossed the 10K mark at a recent 15K race in 29:39. The American Master’s record is 29:37.
“I expect to — and we’re planning to — break the American (Master’s) record,” Lilly said.
The Classic is also certifying its 8K mark along the course, because Lilly said Castille has a chance of breaking that Master’s mark as well. The certification could lead to another record.
“That could result in the 8K world record for the open men,” Lilly said. “I’m not sure that we have a shot at the world record. We’re offering $50,000 for the record with the open men, but that thing is so fast, I’m just not sure. Especially with the 19-year-old guy.”
“If there’s anyone who could do it, he certainly can. … It would be a big deal. I’d be ecstatic.”