When Leonard Patrick Komon woke up Saturday morning, he knew the Allstate Sugar Bowl Crescent City Classic was his to lose.
Defending race champion Isiah Koech knew it, and so did the rest of the elite field of athletes gathered in New Orleans for the 10-kilometer road race. But they could do nothing to disrupt Komon on his way to victory.
Komon, a 26-year-old Kenyan racing legend, ran away from the field in near-perfect conditions Saturday morning. A temperature of 59 degrees, a light breeze and low humidity for the race’s 8 a.m. start aided Komon’s journey from the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to City Park. He completed the race in 27 minutes, 44 seconds — well off his world record 10K time of 26:44 but more than enough to win the Classic.
Komon and Koech took a quick lead as they headed toward the Mississippi River on Poydras Street toward North Peters. Komon reach the first mile in a scorching 4:15, his powder blue racing jersey clinging closely to his slender frame. By the time he made the turn onto Esplanade Avenue for the long stretch of road to City Park, Komon had claimed a 10-yard lead. He advanced that margin to 30 yards when he crossed the 3-mile marker at 12:55; the rest of the field was well behind him and Koech at that mark.
And that’s when Komon really turned it up a gear.
He advanced his lead to 50 yards by the time he reached Beauregard Circle at the entrance to City Park, and he deftly navigated the turns inside the park, finishing well ahead of his competitors on a triumphant sprint down Roosevelt Mall to the finish.
Koech, the 20-year-old Kenyan who won last year’s Classic, finished second in 28:06. Japhet Corir, another 20-year old Kenyan sensation who ran on the leaders’ shoulders for the first mile, placed third in 28:18.
“My game plan is to run that style — to go out fast,” Komon said. “I told myself to go early. I don’t have that finishing power. So I went fast to get in position. I used to run with pacemakers who run up to 5K (and then fall back). I told myself today to be a pacemaker because there was no pacemaker to push for me.”
Komon said the hospitable weather made his first Classic a pleasant one. His 4:28-per-mile pace proved it.
“The weather was not bad when I tried to move,” he said. “I didn’t feel any (pain) in my lungs, so it was good for running a good time.”
Risper Gesabwa’s victory in the women’s field made it a clean sweep for the Kenyans in elite competition. The 25-year-old set a personal-best 10K time of 31:42 to edge Ethiopia’s Hiwot Ayalew. Rkia El Moukim of Morocco was third in 32:06.
Gesabwa and the 24-year-old Ayalew jockeyed for position for the first five miles, but that’s when Gesabwa made her move to the front.
“At five miles, I tried to push,” she said. “I looked behind me, and I saw her there. So I kept pushing (and stayed in the lead).”
Gesabwa ran a 5:07-per-mile pace. Her previous best time at 10K was 31:48.
Ayalew was the runner-up in the 2013 Classic and has an unbeaten record in all cross country events this season in Europe.
“This is the first time we have run together,” Gesabwa said. “I’m glad I won. It was a great race and very exciting.”
More than 25,000 people — 25,063, to be exact — from across the globe participated in the Classic, which debuted in 1979.