- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 29, 2009

The chilly morning temperatures may have you fooled, but spring is here - which means the Cherry Blossom Ten Mile Run is near.

The popular annual event, just seven days away on the Washington Monument grounds, quickly sold out its announced 12,000 slots in December. If you didn’t get into this year’s race, there is an alternative.

This year’s Cherry Blossom has its usual flock of elite front-runners, local athletes and faithful cabooses - as well as a group of kids from Los Angeles coming for an unusual spring break.

“I think the field this year is shaping up as the best in recent years,” longtime event director Phil Stewart said. “Should be a great race.”

Stewart said two Olympic silver medalists are confirmed, as are some top U.S. athletes vying for a piece of the $40,000 purse.

Olympic marathon silver medalists Catherine Ndereba of Kenya (2004 and 2008) and Lidia Simon of Romania (2000) plan again to race. On the men’s side, three of the five winners in the past eight years are back, too: Ridouane Harroufi of Morocco (2008), Tadesse Tola of Ethiopia (2007) and John Korir of Kenya (2001, 2003, 2005).

The American husband-and-wife team of Jason Lehmkuhle (fifth in the 2008 Olympic trials marathon) and Kristen Nicolini Lehmkuhle (2004 Olympic trials qualifier at 5,000 meters) plan to compete at the Cherry Blossom for the first time.

Other Americans include Jason Hartmann (10th in the 2008 Olympic trials marathon), Ryan Kirkpatrick (seventh in the 2008 U.S. half marathon championship), Kate O’Neil (2004 U.S. Olympian at 10,000 meters and 2008 US Half Marathon champion) and Zoila Gomez (fourth-place finisher at the 2008 Olympic trials marathon).

According to race organizers, about 25 runners from Students Run L.A. have raised $25,000 to make their first trip to the District to participate. The group consists of at-risk high school and middle school students from inner-city Los Angeles who committed to a training for and completing the Los Angeles Marathon.

The Cherry Blossom will be featured in a 30-minute show on WJLA Channel 7 and NewsChannel 8. The WJLA show will air at 11:30 a.m. April 11, with NewsChannel 8 the same day at 1 p.m.

Global competition - You need only review the results from Saturday’s 37th IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Amman, Jordan, to see where American distance runners fit into the global picture.

In four races - men’s and women’s senior races and men’s and women’s junior races - Kenya and Ethiopia nearly put their entire six-member teams in front of the first U.S. finisher. In the men’s senior race, even tiny African nation Eritrea had five runners in before U.S. leader Ryan Vail (33rd place).

Maybe many of the top Americans were missing, racing elsewhere in a non-Olympic year, but the same could be said for the rest of the world’s runners who are in the United States running the spring roads for prize money.

Cherry Blossom alternative - The Annapolis Striders’ 29th annual Cherry Pit 10-Mile Race is next Sunday on a scenic rolling course in Edgewater, Md. For more information, go to annapolisstriders.org.

Rapid growth - Saturday’s Ukrop’s Monument Avenue 10K in Richmond attracted a record 32,745 in its 10th year, topping its previous mark of 31,158 from last year.

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