37th BIX 7 WEEKEND UNDERWAY UP BRADY STREET

Bix legend Joan Samuelson welcomes women's masters to finish line at Brady Street Challenge. Davenport duo Kathy Evanchyk (gold) and Mary Toohill lean for the win.

The 11th Brady Street Challenge kicked off the 37th Quad City Times Bix 7 weekend here in Davenport, Iowa last night.  Seven races in all made their way up the 7% – 9% grade which constitutes the opening segment of the Bix 7 Road Race tomorrow morning. It’s a quarter-mile grind with champions earning $500 for the torture.  Makes you appreciate the 10%+ grades the cyclists of the Tour de France must climb.  But those guys use expensive geared machines. These folks have only their legs and the drive of their arms to propel them.

The Davenport air was all but liquid last evening, not in the sense of rain, but in terms of humidity.  As if the brutality of the hill wasn’t enough, the weight of the heated air itself added an even greater challenge.

Best race of the night was the first one, as three-time former women’s master’s
champion Kathy Evanchyk of Davenport inched past 2008 champ Mary Toohill by just .47 seconds in 1:29.69. Continue reading

“I AM SAMMY WANJIRU!”

Break Away! Chicago Marathon 2010

It was a long 22-hours back from Oslo to San Diego yesterday, only to hear of the tragic passing of 2008 Olympic marathon champion Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya upon my landing.  Here I was returning from a memorial service for one of the greatest champions in athletics history only to be greeted by news of the premature death of yet another.  And though the passing of Grete Waitz at age 57 to cancer was tragic and all too soon, the news of Wanjiru’s sudden, violent end following a domestic dispute at his home in Kenya at age 24 was, in its own way, even more shocking and senseless.

Details of the incident are still filtering out of Kenya, and I won’t offer any speculation except to suggest that youthful fame and fortune are never simply a single-edged blade carving happiness from a rough-hewn upbringing of need and want.  Over and again we have witnessed the tragic cuts that sudden wealth and corresponding sycophancy can lay open on those ill-prepared to parry their thrusts.  Sammy Wanjiru was a passionate racer, and evidently he carried that passion into his every day dealings to a calamitous, untimely end. Continue reading

MEMORIES OF GRETE

    April 18, 2011 will forever be remembered as one of the most bittersweet in running history.  After a magical morning when the running gods blessed us with a once-in-a-generation Boston Marathon, they took back much more with the passing of Grete Waitz, a once-in-a-lifetime hero.  The great Norwegian track, cross country, and marathon champion succumbed to cancer late Monday night at her home in Oslo, Norway, ending a courageous six-year battle and a life of 57 too short years.  Grete died as she had lived, with dignity, grace, and the love of her family and friends.

Those of us fortunate enough to call her a friend knew of the improbability of her prognosis when cancer was first discovered in 2005.  Yet this most private of people who won the hearts of the most public of cities, New York City, maintained the incomparable grace that made her much more than a championship runner.

Sport is a meritocracy.  Thus each game must be fortunate in its champions.  In the late 1970s, the growing sport of marathoning could not have chosen a more perfect candidate to flower than the 27 year-old school teacher from Oslo.  At the time, Grete was on the cusp of retirement, figuring she had run out the string on what had already been a remarkable career.

After five world cross country titles and two track Olympics – but no distance beyond 3000 meters available – Grete only reluctantly accepted race director Fred Lebow’s invitation to the 1978 New York City Marathon because husband/coach Jack convinced her it would make for a nice second honeymoon.

I was fortunate enough to be the finish line announcer that fall day in the Big Apple.  As the women’s race entered its final stages word was relayed to me from the lead vehicle that bib #1173 was winning by a wide margin. I paged through my entry list, but found no such number.

“Well, I don’t know who bib number 1173 is,” I informed the Central Park crowd, “but she’s gonna break the world record!”

When Grete crossed the finish line in her Norwegian national colors in 2:32:30, she not only lowered Germany’s Christa Vahlensieck’s world record by 2:18, she unknowingly lit the fuse on what would soon become the women’s Running Boom.  Running had already crowned its king in the person of Bill Rodgers, whose boy-next-door wins in the Boston and New York City Marathons through the late 1970s brought marathoning to the next level after Frank Shorter’s Olympic glory in 1972 & 1976.  What the sport had yet to find was a fitting queen.  Continue reading