As the event’s elite athlete coordinator Andrew Lilly so cleverly stated on the awards stage, Celliphine Chespol could have only barely indulged in the early morning beer run that so many of the thousands of runners and walkers so often turn Saturday’s Crescent City Classic into.

But the 21-year-old Kenyan speedster had other goals in mind.

In a stunning finish, Chespol pulled away from her countrywoman Brillian Kipkoech down the final straight-away toward the New Orleans Art Museum, finishing in a course-record time of 31 minutes, 40 seconds (31:40) to win by one second and take the women’s open division title of the 41st annual race in her first appearance.

Together with the men’s overall champion Jairus Birech, who won by 33 seconds in 27:52, the pair signaled a changing of the guards. Before bouts of early-season injuries, Lilly had hoped two-time defending men’s champion Jake Robertson would return for a chance at a three-peat while eyeing a run at the event record.

Last year’s women’s champ Monicah Ngige appeared the odds-on favorite entering Saturday after having won two road races this season and standing as the only women in the world ranked in the top 20 in the 5K, 10K and half-marathon.

Kenya's Jairus Birech breaks away down the stretch to take Crescent City Classic title

But Chespol and Kipkoech took advantage of a relatively slow first half for the elite women, using their top-end speed to pull away from Ngige by nearly 30 seconds coming into the closing stretch. In the end, it was the younger of the two who broke the tape.

Saturday’s women’s champion is known as one of the world’s up-and-coming middle-distance racers, holding the second-fastest 3k steeplechase time in women’s history at 8:58. She’s new to the road, having run just once prior in an event she won back on Thanksgiving last year in the 82nd Manchester (Connecticut) Road Race, tackling the 4.75-mile course in 24:33 to win by a second again.

“We’ve always had young athletes come here because their managers trust us,” Lilly said. “But Celliphine is a once-in-a-lifetime talent.”

After the rains came and went late this week, Saturday morning brought near-perfect race conditions for the 8 a.m. start, with temperatures at the gun just above 50 with sun, low humidity and just a little wind. As the racers started in front of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome and wound through the French Quarter and over to Esplanade Avenue before twisting and turning through City Park, Chespol said the wind picked up at times, but running alongside Kipkoech helped keep her focused in her first-ever competitive 10k, which broke the previous course record of 31:57 set in 2016 by Ethiopia’s Buze Diriba.

Chespol’s time Saturday was the 11th-fastest time run by a woman in the event’s history.

“I’m so happy,” she said of her victory. “Especially with it being my first time in a 10K. I’m just really happy.”

Ngige took third in the elite women’s division in 32:09, followed closely by fellow Kenyans Vicoty Chepngeno in fourth (32:11) and Iveen Chepkemoi in fifth (32:12).

The 2016 men’s elite runner-up Silas Kipruto added another second-place Classic title to his resume, finishing in 28:25, edging out fellow Kenyan Dominic Korir who took third (28:28), followed by Bahrain’s Edwin Mokua in fourth (28:33) and Tanzania’s Gabriel Geay in fifth (28:41).

Parker Stinson (seventh, 29:10) was the top American male finisher, while Jarrett Leblanc (eighth, 29:43) was the top finisher from Louisiana. Lafayette’s Kevin Castille defended his men’s Masters title, taking 10th overall in 30:52, while Jen Rhines again took home her female Masters crown in ninth in 35:34.


Follow Nathan Brown on Twitter, @nbrownadvocate.