Video: Gesabwa says she had a decent run in the Crescent City Classic _lowres

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELD -- Risper Gesabwa of Kenya wins the women's division Saturday, April 19, 2014, during the 36th annual Crescent City Classic.

The Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic has a long history of attracting elite talent and watching it blossom year after year on the streets of New Orleans.

That’s especially true in the women’s field with running stars like Judi St. Hilaire and Isabella Ochichi each dominating the race for half a decade in their prime.

Now it’s Risper Gesabwa’s turn to see if she can build upon last year’s victory and perhaps eventually compare with the greats who came before her.

Gesabwa, a 25-year-old Kenyan, is the reigning Classic champion after finishing last year’s 10-kilometer race in 31 minutes, 43 seconds. She leads a small but talented pack of elite runners entered in the 37th annual CCC.

The race, which commences at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and ends in City Park, begins at 8 a.m. Saturday.

Gesabwa’s time at the 2014 CCC helped her to a 22nd-place world ranking for distance runners last year. It was the 11th fastest time by a woman in the race’s history.

While Gesabwa may seem like the obvious choice to win the 2015 race, CCC Elite Race Coordinator Andrew Lilly said the Kenyan has had a slow start to this international racing season.

“She just doesn’t seem to be running her best right now,” Lilly said. “I’m not sure what that’s about, but she’s proven that she’s capable of winning here.”

Should Gesabwa not be at her fastest, that could leave the door open for other elites who have converged on New Orleans for the CCC. The race is renowned worldwide for providing a flat and fast course — one on which world-record times have been posted previously.

Hiwot Ayalew of Ethiopia appears to be a top challenger. The 25-year-old was last year’s CCC runner-up, is the 10th-fastest steeplechaser in world history, is a former Olympian and was a silver medalist at the World Cross Country Championships in 2013. According to Lilly, Ayalew has canceled all but one upcoming competition to prepare for the World Steeplechase Championships this summer.

The sole exception to her schedule, of course, is that Ayalew plans to run in the CCC. She also finished third in the 2013 CCC, and her sister Wude Ayalew won the race in 2011.

Lilly also listed the Kenyan trio of Lilian Marita, Susan Jerotich, and Sophy Jepchirchi as runners who could have an effect on the CCC’s outcome.

“The women’s field could be wide open,” he said. “It should be an interesting race.”

Last-minute registration for the 37th annual CCC is Thursday and Friday at the 2015 Health & Fitness Expo at the Hyatt Regency from 10 a.m.-8 p.m. Cost is $45. More than 25,000 people of all abilities are expected to take part.

For information on the CCC, the expo, and much more, go online to ccc10k.com.