Three-time champion Tegla Loroupe of Kenya and World Cross Country Champion Gete Wami of Ethiopia head an elite international field for the women's Avon Mini-Marathon 10K in New York on Saturday.
The winner will take $15,000 from a $50,000 purse to be divided among the top 15 finishers. The list of contenders includes 1992 10,000m Olympic silver medallist Elana Meyer of South Africa and top Kenyan road racers Catherine Ndereba and Jane Omoro.
About a dozen of the women have run under 32 minutes for 10-K, potentially threatening the 19-year course record of 31 minutes, set by Norwegian Grete Waitz.
"It's not one of the easiest courses. She must have been flying," said Meyer.
The second-fastest time on the course was Loroupe's 1997 victory in 31:45. Loroupe, 26, is a two-time New York City marathon champion and a spectator favourite here.
Her last 10-K was at Balmoral, Scotland, last month, where she won in 32:26, one week after successfully defending her Rotterdam marathon title. Loroupe also set a marathon world best last year, albeit under criticism over having been paced by two male runners.
The Germany-based Kenyan saw at least one benefit in the absence of men in Saturday's race. "The men are sitting at home to take care of the kids," joked Loroupe, who does not have children.
On Saturday, Loroupe will face stiff competition from Wami, 24, a two-time World Cross Country Champion and a 1996 Olympic bronze-medallist over 10,000m on the track. She is making her U.S. debut with this race.
Wami has little road racing experience, but did run a decisive 10-K leg for the victorious Ethiopian women's team at the World Road Relay Championships last year, completing her portion in 33:07 in the sweltering heat of Manaus, Brazil.
"It's good for me this course has some hills," said Wami, who trains in hills near the Ethiopian capital.
Loroupe and Wami met over 10,000m at the Atlanta Olympics and over 5,000m at a 1998 Grand Prix meet in Berlin. Both times, Wami placed third and Loroupe sixth.
Both Meyer, 32, and Ndereba, 26, see Wami as the favourite here. "She won the Cross Country Championships, and that's the toughest race," said Meyer. "If it comes down to the two of them at the end, Gete has the stronger finish."
Meyer, who holds the 15-K world best time, was fifth at the London marathon last month and second in the Bay to Breakers 12-K in California last week, where she finished two seconds behind Ndereba.
The Philadelphia-based Ndereba made her marathon debut in Boston last month, finishing sixth, but was named the best road racer of 1998 in the United States.
Saturday's field also includes Kenyans Susan Chipkemei, Hellen Kimaiyo and Lornah Kiplagat; Manuela Machado of Portugal and Americans Libbie Hickman and Anne Marie Lauck. American Kim Griffin, who won the 1998 race in the absence of invited elite athletes, is also competing.
The 1999 race, part of Avon's international women's running circuit, also includes the national champions of circuit races in 11 countries in 1998 and over 5,750 other entrants.
Reuters for the IAAF