I had a pretty interesting sports Sunday, beginning before 7 a.m. with the last Gasparilla Distance Classic Marathon in Tampa, FL and including the joy that a hard-fought gold medal hockey game between US and Canada brought to so many fans. I won't get really deep on that because 10,000 writers and columnists will have already opined about some aspect of it, but I have to note with a smile that watching it was important enough to my 80-year old Dad that when Mom said, "Steaks are ready, time for dinner!" he actually asked why we couldn't eat in the back room where the TV was instead of the regular dining room. (For the record, we only missed 11 minutes of the 2nd period, and he was as thrilled as anyone with the US goal with :24.4 left that meant overtime.)
The Gasparilla Distance Classic began as a 15k race back in 1978, and there have been six participants who ran in all 33 events. Being on vacation in less-warm-than-usual Florida this week, I read about several unique aspects of GDC history, and found local columnist Joe Henderson had perhaps the best one (firstname.lastname@example.org). I won't steal all his thunder, but the story about Sam Arwood, a 47-year old lieutenant colonel stationed at MacDill AFB who was deployed to Afghanistan in January, used GPS to lay out a marathon course around the inside of his location, then had to adjust again when rains turned the course into muddy goo is terrific. That Arwood's wife and three other ladies ran the half-marathon in his honor, thats the good stuff.
The legendary Bill Rodgers won the first GDC in 44:29, and the equally legendary Grete Waitz won the event six times ('80-'82, '84, '85, '87). This years 15k was won by Austin Richmond of Clewiston in 46:49. Normally that wouldn't be any big deal, but noting that Richmond was given the $2,000 check as top local entrant meant plenty. Richmond has moved so many times he is actually classified as homeless, and race organizers went slightly out of their way to give him the money--technically he's from the OTHER side of the Bay, not Tampa. It's not often that hearts and wallets work out right on things like that, although that Canadian figure skater getting bronze had a pretty good-feeling ending to it.
My folks place off Bayshore Boulevard, where most of the marathon is run, was at the 15 mile point of the race, which is perfect positioning. Truth is, while there are a few moments of glory in seeing the mass of people take off in any distance race, getting to the starting line at 6 a.m. isn't worth it. I took a few pictures of volunteers pouring precisely 2/3 full cups of water and Gatorade as instructed, the sun beginning its rise over Derek Jeter's palace on Davis Island, and the balladeer singing 'Cats Cradle' and 'Carolina on My Mind' while I waited for the relatiave action to happen. When you show up at 1:06.38 point into a race where the lead group of five, including winner Wilson Chepkwony of Kenya, passes at 1:21 (women's winner Melissa Gacek came by in 1:35.56), you have time to do just about anything.
I've only participated in one distance race (15k, 1979) in my life, and I'm proud to say that while I didn't train particularly strenously for it, stayed out too late having a couple drinks the night before, got up half an hour before the race (and didn't eat anything because I was sure I'd puke it up), ran at the pace of a HS buddy I met just before the start for all of two miles, and, for the piece d'resistance, chose to wear cotton shorts because "those nylon ones are for sissies," the resulting strawberries on my inner thighs were central to my getting my first job after college. ("That walk looks like there's a story with it, " noted the interviewing recruiting VP)
That said, Chepkwony finished 4th in the Jacksonville Marathon just last week, and said his winning time of 2:24.48 in Tampa was more of a training run than the 2:17.33 he put down in Jax. Gacek won in 2:53.20.
Its unfortunate that money is going to bust something as cool as the Distance Classic, but $$ is an unfortunate fact of life in the post-almost Depression era we are experiencing. Take Richmond (essentially homeless) and Arwood (deployed) as what constitutes a baseline Reality for a city that would normally be a 75 degree tourists delight, and you know things are different in 2010.
As for that hockey game, give it up for the Pittsburgh fans who gave visiting goalie Ryan Miller a sustained standing ovation in recognition of his MVP level play with the US team when Buffalo came to town on Tuesday and 'merely' gave strong appreciation to Penguin homeboy Sid Crosby, who scored the winning goal for Canada.