Atlanta, Ga. – For those too young to remember, the nation was even more divided in 1970 than it is today. 50 years ago an idealistic generation of Baby Boomers were still trying to change the world through sit-ins and political protest, primarily to end the war in Vietnam. That May 4th, the killing of four unarmed students at Kent State University by the Ohio National Guard mobilized student unrest across the country.
Yet just two months later, 110 intrepid pioneers (107 men & 3 women) were on their feet in Atlanta running to change nothing more than their own lives. And in so doing, they helped begin a whole new social movement that one person and one step at a time accomplished what sitting-in as a group never could.
Thus was the first AJC Peachtree Road Race born, inaugurating a tradition and cause that now stretches half a century long and 2 million finishers deep.
With such a legacy to serve, the world’s largest 10K has welcomed back not just many of the Original 110 who ran that first Peachtree 10K, but has assembled perhaps the deepest fields of pro talent ever, with bonuses of $50,000 going to any one of the foot racers or wheelchair athletes who can break the very sturdy event records.
Yesterday, Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah feted Peachtree’s Original 110 at a press conference at the Park Tavern in Piedmont Park. Also on hand was Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, who will walk the 10K with Original 110 member and ATC Executive Director from 1985 to 2006 Julia Emmons, and Bill Thorn the only Original 110-er to have completed every Peachtree race.
But up front is where the action will be most intense and what I will be covering for 11Alive, Atlanta ‘s NBC affiliate.
19 year-old Kenyan sensation Rhonex Kipruto has Joseph Kimani’s 1996 course record of 27:04 (4:21/mile; 2:39/km) on his wish list. You would, too, if a $50,000 bonus awaited you and you just blasted a 26:50 track 10,000 in Stockholm on May 30th, the fastest 10,000 run in the world in the last two years, even with gusting headwinds hampering each step on the backstretch throughout.
The sadly departed Joseph Kimani (2012) may well have been the greatest pure road racer of his or any era, smashing the Peachtree record by 52-seconds in ‘96 and posting a time only one man has come within 20 seconds of in 23 years. But Rhonex has a road PR of 26:46 run on the flat roads of Prague in 2018, just two seconds off Leonard Komon’s 26:44 world best 10K from Utrecht 2010. And last year Rhonex broke Komon’s Healthy Kidney 10K record in New York City by 27 seconds in 27:08, the second fastest time ever on U.S. soil behind Kimani’s record at Peachtree.
The record, therefore, is possible, but the temperature in Atlanta on July 4, 1996 was a tender 63F. The forecast for Thursday is not nearly as gentle. That said, Kipruto will have official and unofficial pacers to help.
26 year-old Georgia Tech grad and sub-4 miler Brandon Lasater of Atlanta TC Elite will attempt to go through two miles sub-8:40. Then fellow Georgia Tech alum Nahom Solomon will take over hoping to hit 5K in 13:20, remembering that Peachtree’s first three miles are downhill with the uphills all in the second half.
Interestingly, Kimani went out in a modest 4:34 in his opening mile in 1996 before destroying the final five miles averaging 4:14 per mile pace!
In addition to two official pacers, Rhonex will have his younger brother Bravin Kiptoo, along with friends Kennedy Kimutai and Bernard Kibet pushing as far as they can.
Bravin just won the Africa under-20 10,000 crown in Ivory Coast, while Kennedy Kimutai ran a debut road 10k in Laredo, Spain in March in in 27:38, the 7th best time in the world this year. Finally, Bernard Kibet will reprise his role from Prague 2018 when he took Rhonex through till 6K, before finishing his own race in 27:40.
2016 Peachtree Champion Gabriel Geay of Tanzania is back fresh off wins at the huge Bloomsday 12k in Spokane, Washington and the mega Bay to Breakers 12K in San Francisco. Another contender will be last week’s Boston BAA 10K champion David Bett of Kenya (28:08). But Peachtree 2019 looks like Rhonex Kipruto’s race to lose. And he might just do that going for Kimani’s standout record.
The women’s race is a whole other matter. Here the course record is under a serious threat by more than one contender. Under threat not due to the quality of the record by Lornah Kiplagat in 2002 (30:32), because Lornah still stands as one of the greatest road runners we’ve ever seen. Instead, the threat comes from the quality of the field in 2019 and due to the similarity of the weather conditions back in 2002 when Lornah posted her mark.
In that race, the weather was 73°F at the start, more in line with traditional mid-70s starting temperatures and high humidity in Atlanta on July 4.
Then again, the field is so deep this year, even with pacers the question becomes who will take the reins of the race once the pacer drops out after two miles (scheduled at 4:45/mile)? You know how that goes, everyone starts eyeballing everybody else, nobody wants to take the lead, and in the end the record goes out the window. But maybe a $50,000 magnet will be enough to draw them out.
The leading light is 2018 Chicago and 2019 London Marathon Champion Brigid Kosgei of Kenya who hasn’t a lost a race in nearly two years. She won the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January in 65:50 nearly a minute up on another Peachtree contender Fancy Chemutai who just won the BAA 10K last weekend in a course record 30:36.
Brigid was the youngest woman ever to win the London Marathon and her 2:18:20 was the third best time ever run in the women’s only race in London. Also, she holds the Honolulu Marathon record at 2:22, so heat, humidity and hills do not seem to present a problem for her.
On top of which, last December 31st she ran 29:54 to win the Madrid 10K. Though a slightly downhill course, history tells us that 29:54 in Madrid is worth something like 30:15, 30:20. So Brigid is the one to watch with Fancy Chemutai a worthy opponent and someone not to short change coming off that record in Boston. Plus, she’s been in Atlanta for eight days getting acclimated.
Believe me, I’ve just scratched the surface. There are four Kenyan women coming in from the Prefontaine Classic at Stanford last Sunday who ran the open 3000m and the steeplechase in very quick times.
Peachtree’s 50th isn’t just loaded with foot racers, as the wheelchair fields are also rolling for $50,000 course record payoffs, and those marks look as good as gone with all the big talent in the world on hand.
With the Original 110, including first year winner Jeff Galloway, and 60,000 folks from 49 states and dozens of nations jamming Peachtree Boulevard, the 2019 Peachtree 10K honors founder Tim Singleton’s inaugurating vision while celebrating what 1991 champion Ed Eyestone – the last American male to win Peachtree – called “the Wimbledon of Road Racing”. All in all, it’s something to stand up and cheer.