Defending bridge run champ not expected to return in 2012

Lelisa Desisa crosses the finish line as the winner of the 2011 Cooper River Bridge Run. (Scott Eisberg/WCIV)

By John

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- Forty-two thousand runners have signed up for the Cooper River Bridge Run, but the defending men's champion may not be among them.

"The agent representing Lelisa Desisa has not made a decision as yet on which Ethiopian runners he will send to the event." said Janis Newton, elite athlete coordinator for the bridge run. "He might end up sending Desisa, but I have a feeling he has a new runner in mind."

While Desisa's status is unclear, defending women's champion Shewarge Amare of Kenya will definitely not return.

"She could not get a visa in time," Newton said.

But race fans need not worry about a shortage of elite runners in this year's field. Kenyan Simon Ndirangu was the runner-up in 2011, and fellow Kenyan John Itati won the bridge run in 2002. Another Kenyan, Eric Chirchir, is another elite runner to watch. They will all be running in this year's race.

On the American side, Bobby Mack, out of Raleigh, North Carolina, finished sixth overall last year. Mount Pleasant's Brian Johnson (very popular among bridge run fans) is set to give it his best shot, and former WCIV-TV weatherman Neville Miller, now tracking lower pressure systems in Columbia, Missouri, hopes to improve upon his 31st place finish.

"If you can run 27 minutes you have a shot. I think Bobby Mack has a chance," Miller said.

There is a chance an American could cross the finish line first in a very fast female division. Janet Cherobon from Atlanta, Georgia was second overall a year ago. Master's winner Anzhelika Averkova from the Ukraine will return as well.

Of course, the majority of runners who line up on Coleman Boulevard in the early morning hours of March 31st are there for the fun and camaraderie. Others use it as a training exercise.

Charleston Battery coach Mike Anhaeuser requires his players to run the event -- in uniform!

"It's a week before the official start to our season, so the coach requires that the players run as part of their preseason conditioning," said Battery director of marketing Whitney Woods.

The competition will again be stiff, the prize money at the finish line isn't bad either. Ten thousand dollars will be awarded to the top male and female finishers. Three thousand dollars will go to the top American overall.

Be sure to follow ABC News 4 as we continue to provide coverage of the 2012 Cooper River Bridge Run. For more information, click here.

* ABC News 4 Sports Director John Nugent is an Emmy award-winning sports anchor and play-by-play announcer with over 30 years of television experience. He began his career at WPTZ-TV in Plattsburgh, New York. MORE INFO