The race is slated for a “crazy” 9:58 p.m. starting gun on Fort Patrick Henry Drive in front of Dobyns-Bennett High School. The figure-eight course climaxes with a stirring finish in front of a jacked-up crowd inside J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
The race earned the billing of “World’s Fastest 8K” when Peter Githuka clocked a world record 22:03 in 1996.
One elite athlete has already called his shot for Saturday night's event. Tadesa Tola, a 21-year-old Ethiopian runner who recently set a course record of 27:48 in the Healthy Kidney 10K in Manhattan’s Central Park, said he’ll be looking to beat Githuka’s time.
It’ll be worth his while if he does. In addition to the Gastroenterology Associates $5,000 dash for the gold, Tola also stands to collect the Regional Eye Center $10,000 World Record Bonus.
Another Ethiopian runner, 26- year-old Tesfaye Bekele, is expected to challenge Tola and should keep the pressure ramped up at the front of the pack.
“We’ll see how the weather holds out. It’s supposed to be kind of hot. But I think those two have a chance to battle it out for the record,” said Hank Brown, Crazy 8s elite athlete recruiter.
Another runner to watch will be 27- year-old Karim Elmabchour of Morocco, who’ll be making his fourth straight appearance in Kingsport. He finished third in 2006, second in 2007 and fifth in 2008.
The Crazy 8s remains the world’s fastest 8K race for both genders. In 2002, Asmae Leghzaoui of Morocco shattered the existing world mark by 10 seconds (24:28).
“On the women, I don’t know of anyone who might challenge for the record,” Brown said.
“But you never know. We didn’t know it when Githuka did.”
A strong contender in the women’s field will be 19-year-old Ethiopian Meseret Mengsitu, who finished second in last week’s Peachtree Road Race in Atlanta.
Kenyans have always figured prominently in the Crazy 8s and this year’s field is no exception. This year’s entries include more than 20 Kenyan runners, including two-time defending women’s champ Ogla Kimaiyo and 2006 men’s champion Julius Kiptoo.
An American runner hasn’t won the Crazy 8s since Keith Brantley did it in 1998, but the USA could have a shot at it in 2009. The ZAP Fitness long-distance running camp from Blowing Rock, N.C., will showcase some of its best athletes in Saturday night’s race.
Former University of Kentucky star Thomas Morgan will be joined by ZAP teammates Nate Peck, David Nightingale, Ryan Warren, Frank Tinney and Nick Polk.
“All can run 5K in 14 minutes or better and should rub elbows with the top African runners who have dominated the sport of road racing in recent years,” Brown said.
Allison Grace and Jessica Minty will head up the ZAP women’s contingent.
One final crazy note. While local gastroenterologist Dr. Doug Strickland is not favored to win, merely finishing should mark the completion of a remarkable feat.
Strickland was slated to run the grueling Grandfather Mountain Marathon this Saturday morning, then return to Kingsport to run the Crazy 8s Saturday night.