The 2020 Gate River Run is expected to have a different mix of contenders from recent years because of a scheduling clash with Olympic marathon qualifying.
Watch the front of the Gate River Run field this weekend, and there's a good chance the faces at the front will be all new to the First Coast.
Blame it on Atlanta, or maybe Tokyo.
A scheduling clash with the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon means that many of the nation's top runners are skipping Jacksonville this year, but expectations remain high for an entertaining race at Saturday morning's Gate River Run.
Defending women's champion Erika Kemp is the only past winner in the field for the annual USA Track and Field 15K championship, coming off her victory in 2019.
Kemp is a relative exception in a Gate River Run field that will be missing several of its most familiar challengers from the last few years, most of those busy in recent weeks with Peach State plans.
So the door is open — more open than usual — for a surprise.
"There are some runners that are typically pretty quick but don't have a lot of 15K times," elite athlete coordinator Jim Van Cleave said. "I think we'll see a very different kind of race."
In 2020, most of the biggest names of the American distance road running scene didn't include Jacksonville on their itinerary.
Those runners instead focused their energies on the U.S. Olympic Trials for the marathon, held Feb. 29 in Atlanta.
Galen Rupp, Jacob Riley and Abdi Abdirahman grabbed the nation's three men's spots in the field for this summer's marathon in Tokyo — defending Gate River Run champion Leonard Korir was narrowly edged out in fourth — while Aliphine Tuliamuk, Molly Seidel and Sally Kipyego placed in the top three for the women.
For race director Doug Alred, a diminished elite field in Jacksonville is part of the usual pattern for an Olympic year.
"Normally in an Olympic year, we don't have quite the high-powered athletes we would have," Alred said. "But we should still have some good 10K and 5K runners."
This year’s 15-kilometer run is still expected to attract runners who specialize at distances shorter than the marathon.
Among the top candidates in the men's field is one who previously came close to a Gate River Run title: Biya Simbassa, who raced in the lead pack for much of the 2017 race before eventually finishing eighth.
Van Cleave also highlights Futsum Zeinasellassie, Ridouane Harroufi, Josef Tessema and Reid Buchanan — the latter a silver medalist in the 10,000 meters at last summer's Pan American Games — as additional top-tier challengers.
The women's championship might be even stronger at the top: In addition to Kemp, three past U.S. Olympians are scheduled to race.
That list includes Kim Conley, a two-time Olympian in the 5K from the 2012 and 2016 events; Marielle Hall, who raced at the 10,000 in Rio de Janeiro four years ago; and Gwen Jorgensen, the 2016 Olympic gold medalist in the triathlon who's now a growing challenger on the road.
Also in the field is Natosha Rogers, who finished fifth in the 2017 Gate River Run and recently returned to elite competition from knee injuries.
And just because much of the star power is elsewhere doesn't mean this year's champion won't someday join their number.
The 2016 race saw a new runner, Stanley Kebenei, come to the front of the pack for his first-ever victory in a 15K. In the four years since, Kebenei has developed into one of the leading runners in the nation, competing at the Olympic Trials in the steeplechase and nearly setting an American 10-mile record last spring in Washington, D.C.
"I think you'll probably see one of [the favorites] in the winner's circle," Van Cleave said. "But you've got to run the race, and you just never know."