There was an Olympic feel to Sunday’s fifth annual Louisiana Marathon, one that could lead to unfathomable growth for the race in years to come.
The marathon’s male winner, Josh Ordway, came to Baton Rouge with the sole purpose of qualifying for the U.S. Olympic Trials on Feb. 13 in Los Angeles.
He wasn’t able to hit the qualifying time — 2 hours, 19 minutes — but the Louisiana Marathon’s burgeoning reputation as a fast, flat course with ideal weather conditions has founders Danny Bourgeois, Craig Sweeney and Patrick Fellows thinking of Baton Rouge as a host site for the 2020 or 2024 trials.
Bourgeois will travel to Los Angeles for the trials both for a race directors conference and to study how the city and race function to better prepare a plan.
“If the courses match up with where the Olympics are occurring and the way they set their course up, we could have a perfect environment for an Olympic event,” Bourgeois said. “We’re in a good spot to house that. It doesn’t have to be in a top-tier city like New York or LA every year. That’s the beauty of marathoning. It has to be the right course, and you have to have the ability for people to feel comfortable when they’re here. This city has that with the infrastructure we keep adding.”
Ordway — a competitor in the past two Olympic Trials — won the men’s marathon while shattering the year-old course record by a little less than four minutes in 2:23:47.
A family practice physician from Waynesville, Ohio, who said he was trying to get back into his “good ole days” shape after medical school and residency, Ordway was hampered by an upper hamstring injury that forced him to take two months off this summer, when he usually competes in most of his races.
“I was hoping to run a little bit faster, but I’m pleased with the effort,” he said. “I got under 2:24, so that’s always a solid effort.”
Battling temperatures in the upper 30s was fine — even “warm” — for the Ohioan, who claimed he hadn’t seen the sun in a few weeks and talked of snow still on the ground back home. It was also his first trip to Louisiana and first experience with this race.
“This is starting to get to be on the same level as the major mid-level (marathons) like Columbus, where I’m from,” Ordway said. “You wouldn’t know this was the fifth year; you would think this was the 15th or 20th year based on all the crowd support and number of finishers and big race amenities they have.”
After a flurry of confusion concerning the female winner, New Orleans native Amany Ishaq took the title with a personal-best 3:07:58, though she was the second female competitor to finish.
The first finisher, Mandy West — who unofficially clocked in at 2:49:26 — was disqualified shortly after the race for “receiving assistance” on the course.
Ishaq said she was held at the finish line by race officials, who told her, “We know you think you finished second, but you may have won.”
“I was really confused because the whole time I had the second-place bikers behind me. I was ecstatic, shocked and it was unexpected,” Ishaq said. “I had no expectations coming in. This was a tough field, and it is such a good course that it’s tough to do well.”
Ishaq, who began running in 2013 as a form of therapy following the death of her father and sister, completed her first marathon at the 2014 Louisiana Marathon and has since been graced with ideal running weather to help advance her training.
“I was so excited it was going to be cold,” she said. “Miraculously, the Louisiana Marathon has had some awesome weather. It’s a great course, and I love that it’s a local race. I tell people it’s a (personal record) course with such good race support.”
Miracle? Maybe. But Bourgeois remains amazed.
“I think it’s been one perfect year after another. You couldn’t write a better script than this,” he said. “It’s a little bit colder this morning than in the past few years, but it was raining (Saturday) night. And we’re beautiful. You can’t say this hasn’t been a perfect first five-year start for us.”