When the reigning champion of a road race returns, he’s usually considered the favorite to repeat.
But that may not be the case during the 38th annual Crescent City Classic, elite race coordinator Andrew Lilly said.
That’s because Isiah Koech, the CCC champion in 2013, is coming back to New Orleans.
Koech completed the 10-kilometer course in a blistering 27 minutes, 32.28 seconds in 2013 — the fifth-fastest winning time in the history of a race known around the globe for producing fast times.
John Muritu, meanwhile, ran the same course in 28:56 last year — the fourth-slowest time for a CCC winner.
Regardless of those past performances, the two Kenyans will be among the elite athletes vying for this year’s CCC title when the race begins at 8 a.m. Saturday.
More than 25,000 runners of all abilities are expected to take part in the race, which begins near the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and winds through the CBD and the French Quarter, before traveling toward City Park along the Esplanade Ridge.
For the first time, the race will end in front of the New Orleans Museum of Art.
Lilly said he would be surprised if Koech, 22, isn’t the first to break the tape Saturday.
“When he came here and ran a 27:32, he was just pounding it,” Lilly said. “It was awesome. It was his first road race in the U.S., and it was his first 10K on the road anywhere. He was 19. It was incredible. So if we have a fast race this year, I think he wins it. And if it’s a slow race, I think he wins it. He’s just that good.”
Muritu could have something to say about that, of course. Only 19 now, he won the CCC and Azalea Trail 10K Run in Mobile, Alabama, as an 18-year-old last spring. Also making a return in 2016 is Ethiopia’s Belete Assefa, the 2011 CCC Champion.
The 25-year-old Assefa has a 10K personal best of 28:14, which he ran here five years ago.
Joining that trio in the elite field is Kenyan Dominic Ondoro, who finished second in last year’s CCC with a time of 28:58. Ondoro, 27, also won the 2016 Azalea Trail Run on March 19.
Other top runners are Morocco’s Mourad Marofit (34, 10K personal best of 28:11;) Kenya’s Silas Kipruto (31, 27:28;) and Ethiopia’s Tolossa Gedefa (23, 28:16.)
Kevin Castille of Lafayette, who qualified for the Olympic Trials this year at 44, is the top masters (over-40) runner entered in the CCC.
The women’s side features one of the deeper fields in recent memory.
The Kenyan quartet of Monicah Ngige, Veronicah Maina, Mary Wangui, and Gladys Cheboi are “pretty young and very good,” Lilly said. The fastest of that group appears to be Ngige, 22, who ran a 31:58 at the World’s Best 10K in San Juan, Puerto Rico, last month.
Karolina Jarzynska set a Polish national record in the 2013 CCC with a time of 32:09, and should be a factor in this year’s race, Lilly said. Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba, the two-time reigning champion of the New Orleans Shamrockin’ Run 8K, is looking to continue her streak of good performances locally.
Other elites entered in the race are Valentina Zhudina, a 32-year old Ukrainian; and Katie Matthews, a 24-year-old former All-American runner for Boston University.
“I think we can get four or five women in the 32-minute range, if not a bit lower,” Lilly said. “It could be a really great race for the women.”
The best known name in the entire field may be three-time Olympian Jen Rhines. The 41-year-old New York native finished 16th in the 10,000 meters in Sydney in 2000; placed 34th in the marathon in Athens in 2004; and 14th in the 5,000 meters in Beijing in 2008. She has been a part of 15 U.S. National Teams, and is expected to lead the masters’ field in this year’s CCC.
For information on the Crescent City Classic, go to ccc10k.com.