Here’s a quick snapshot of the international talent headlining this inaugural event:
Sammy Wanjiru, 22, Kenya: The Japan-trained Wanjiru has lit the running world ablaze over the past two years. In 2008 he captured his first Olympic gold medal, battling the Beijing heat to an Olympic marathon record of 2:06:32. He followed up his Olympic victory by setting course records in 2009 at the London (2:05:10, PR) and Chicago (2:05:41) marathons. The three victories helped Wanjiru run away with the 2008-2009 World Marathon Majors championship. Wanjiru set the standing half marathon world record of 58:33 in 2007 in the City-Pier-City Loop in The Hague, The Netherlands. That record marked the third time he set the world record at the distance, having set his first world record at the age of 18.
Martin Lel, 31, Kenya: The 2003 world half marathon champion is considered one of the greatest road racers in history. Lel’s storied career includes three London Marathon titles, two New York City Marathon titles, and one London runner-up. Lel finished a disappointing fifth at the 2008 Beijing Games, having set a personal best of 2:05:15 in winning the London Marathon that spring. In 2009, Lel rebounded to set a personal best 59:56 in winning his third Lisbon Half Marathon.
Berhane Adere, 37, Ethiopia: A former world record holder over 3000m and 5000m indoors, Adere is one of the most accomplished female distance runners of all time. She has won world championships at 3000m, 10,000m and the half marathon, showing her vast range and ability. Her half-marathon personal best of 1:08:17 was set in 2001 at the world championships. In 2006 Adere won her first of two Chicago Marathons in a still personal best 2:20:42. She was fifth at the Chicago and London marathons in 2009. To kick off 2010, Adere had a dismal showing at the Zayed Half Marathon in January, placing 14th in 1:12:50, a mark she certainly hopes to improve upon in New Orleans.
Salina Kosgei, 33, Kenya: The heptathlete turned distance phenom is best known for her three-way duel at the 2009 Boston Marathon, a race she won by one second. The 2002 Commonwealth Games 10,000m champion has found more recent success at the longer distances on the road. She is the two-time Lisbon Half Marathon champion, setting her personal best of 1:07:52 there in 2006. Most recently, Kosgei recorded a fifth-place finish at the 2009 ING New York City Marathon.
Kim Smith, 28 , New Zealand: The former Providence College Friar holds the Kiwi records for 3000m (8:35.31) , 5000m (14:39.98i), 10,000m (30:35.54) and the half-marathon 1:09:35). While at Providence Smith won four NCAA championships: one in cross country, two in indoor track and one in outdoor track. No stranger to international level racing, Smith finished 7th at the 2009 world half marathon championships, and had top-10 finishes at the 2008 Olympics and 2009 world championships over 10,000m. Smith looked to debut in the marathon last fall in New York but did not finish. She will make her return to the 26.2 mile distance in London this April.
RunNow.com will provide wall-to-wall coverage of the 2010 Rock ‘n’ Roll Mardi Gras Marathon and Half Marathon beginning Monday of race week.[sig:SeanMcKeon]