By Chris Lotsbom
(21-Feb) -- A pair of Olympic medalists and total of nine Olympians will vie for Rock 'n' Roll New Orleans Half-Marathon titles this Sunday in Louisiana's largest city, led by Britain's Mo Farah and Ethiopia's Meseret Defar. Joining the pair on the start line will be a slew of marathon aces, including Martin Lel, Gebre Gebremariam, and Americans Kara Goucher and Shalane Flanagan.
Farah, the Olympic champion over 5000m and 10,000m on the track, will be racing in his first half-marathon since winning his debut at the 2011 NYC Half in 60:23, the fastest time every by a Briton. The Rock 'N' Roll New Orleans Half Marathon will also be the 29-year-old's first road race since his Olympic wins.
"We're delighted to be a part of Mo's first race in the United States since the London Olympics," said Matthew Turnbull, Elite Athlete Manager of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon Series, in a statement. "It's certainly not going to be a parade for Mo, as we have some great talent lined up to take him on."
Included in the talented field are Lel, the inaugural race champion and course record holder, as well as former ING New York City Marathon champion Gebremariam. Lel, a three-time Virgin London Marathon winner, still owns the New Orleans' course mark of 1:01:07, though with the established field that time seems to be in jeopardy this year.
Gebremariam, 28, has had success at Rock 'n' Roll events in the past, including a win at the 2010 Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon, where he set his personal best of 60:25. In 2012, Gebremariam matched that time while finishing runner up to Farah at the NYC Half.
Also in the men's field are British Olympic marathoner Scott Overall and American Brett Gotcher. Both are preparing for spring marathons, as Overall will be running in London and Gotcher at the Rotterdam Marathon.
Ethiopia's Markos Geneti, the 2011 Los Angeles Marathon champion, is also entered.
On the women's side, Defar headlines the field, as the Olympic champion returns to the United States for only her second half-marathon. In her first attempt at the distance in 2010, Defar won the Rock 'n' Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in 67:45.
"Meseret proved what a true competitor she is claiming that second Olympic gold medal in London. I know she is looking forward to testing herself over the super fast course in New Orleans and I'm expecting something special from her this weekend," said Turnbull. "Of course she won't have things all her own way with USA's best out there challenging her as part of their build up to the Boston Marathon."
Both Goucher and Flanagan are preparing for their April race in Boston by dipping down to the half-marathon distance. The pair both have solid half-marathon credentials, with Goucher owning a personal best of 66:57 and Flanagan a mark of 68:37. Goucher said recently through her Twitter account that she was struck by the Norovirus and was not in her best form.
"I'm not super fit, but I am super excited to get back into racing," Goucher tweeted today. "I've missed it!"
World Half-Marathon champion Berhane Adere and 2012 Boston Marathon runner-up Jemima Jelagat of Kenya will also be competing, as will Great Britain's Helen Clitheroe. American Alisha Williams, fifth place in the Olympic Trials 10,000m, is set to toe the line as well.
Event records for the race are Lel's 1:01:07 and Kim Smith's 2011 winning time of 1:07:36. The U.S. all-comers records of 58:46 and 1:07:11 could be in jeopardy if the conditions are right for the fast course through New Orleans.