About five miles into Saturday’s 41st annual Quad-City Times Bix 7, it clearly had become a three-man race.
Kenya’s Micah Kogo was setting the pace with a pair of Ethiopian runners, Solomon Deksisa and Yitayal Atanfu, right on his heels. It was pretty obvious one of them was going to win.
But anyone who thought that underestimated the patience, stamina and determination of Leonard Korir.
Korir came from nowhere in the last mile-and-a-half of the seven-mile jaunt through the streets of Davenport to win the race for the second time in three years.
The 28-year-old Kenyan pocketed another $12,500 for his victory and said it happened largely because he made up his mind it was something he had to do, if only to prove that his surprising 2013 win was no fluke.
“When you win here for the first time, you want to win again,’’ Korir said. “I wanted to be the two-time champion. That’s why I had the pressure on. I said, ‘I need to win this.’’’
But even Korir admitted to having a few doubts during the long two-mile climb up Kirkwood Boulevard in the fifth and sixth miles of the race.
In fact, when those other three runners left everyone in their wake, Korir told himself “I’m done.’’
“But then after some time they were coming back, coming back to me,’’ he said. “So I said I need to close it and wait for the downhill because I knew on the downhill I can fly.’’
That’s exactly what he did. Kogo, Deksisa and Atanfu were still with him when they turned the corner for the final 400-yard sprint up Third Street but he had no trouble out-kicking them.
Korir's final mile was clocked in 4 minutes, 10 seconds.
It was another two-time Bix 7 champion, Meb Keflezighi, who controlled the early part of the race, leading a pack of about a dozen runners through the first 3 ½ miles.
“Part of me was just trying to maintain that pace for a long time and make it a tactical race …’’ Keflezighi said. “I wanted to control it from in front.’’
The 40-year-old Keflezighi was still in first place at the McClellan Boulevard turnaround but Kogo, a bronze medalist from the 2008 Olympics, took the lead soon after that.
He, Deksisa, Atanfu and yet another two-time Bix 7 champ, Silas Kipruto, separated themselves from the rest of the pack along Kirkwood although it wasn’t long before Kipruto, who won in 2011 and 2012, also fell back.
“At that point I was confident that I could stay in the front and run my own race,’’ Kogo said. “But at about the sixth mile, I had some competition from my training mate (Korir). I know that at the downhill I was still thinking there was just one guy with me. I was surprised to look up and see him.’’
Deksisa finished second with Kogo third, Atanfu fourth and Kipruto a distant fifth, Keflezighi took eighth although he was the top American finisher.
Due to the tactical nature of the race, Korir’s winning time of 33 minutes, 6 seconds was the slowest in open Bix 7 competition in the past 27 years. Sean Quigley won in 33:28 last year, but that was an American championship race. To find a slower time in which the race included international runners you need to go back to 1988.
Korir said his previous experience in the Bix 7 was invaluable because he knew what he could do on the final descent down Brady Street and he knew exactly how far he needed to go after the final turn.
Kogo and Atanfu were running the race for the first time. Deksisa was here in 2012, but he only finished 12th that year.
Korir said his training regimen also helped him on a deceptive day in which the skies were overcast and the air seemingly cool. The high humidity snuck up on many runners.
“I train in Arizona and it’s hot,’’ he said. “Usually by this time (about 9 a.m.), it’s like 90. But here it’s like 75, 78. That’s why I think the conditions favor me.’’