Now, if only the weather cooperates.
The high chance of rain sometime today could be either a plus or a minus for the elite runners who’ll stride through the candle-lit streets of Kingsport during “The World’s Fastest 8K.”
Race co-director Hank Brown noted that a fairly steady rain earlier in the day could help push down temperatures by the 8K starting gun, which is set — as always — for 9:58 p.m.
“If we got one of those slow drizzles, even if it was during the race, it would be good for the runners. It helps to keep them cool,” Brown said.
“But if a big storm came through and it was just a steam bath afterward, that’s not so good.”
The race picked up its “World’s Fastest” status in 1996 when Kenyan Peter Githuka clocked a 22:03 for the world record.
For tonight’s elite runners, there’s more at stake than notoriety. In addition to the Gastroenterology Associates $5,000 Dash for the Gold awarded to the champion, the Regional Eye Center $10,000 World Record Bonus will be paid out to the runner who posts a world-record performance.
Since Githuka’s superlative race, the closest the record has come to being eclipsed was on an unseasonably cool night in the 2001 Crazy 8s. Ethiopian Alene Emera Reta clocked a 22:03.4, with Kenyans Enock Mitei (22:03.9) and Shadrack Kosgei (22:06.0) challenging the leader right down to the finish.
Reta, Mitei and Kosgei all return to the field for tonight’s race. According to Brown, they remain in top form.
Crazy 8s defending champion Simon Cheprot also returns. Last July the young Kenyan beat runner-up Reta to the tape in front of a frenzied crowd at J. Fred Johnson Stadium.
Cheprot has been winning lately at both longer and shorter distances. He took the Stadium Stampede 5K in Denver on June 27 after winning his second consecutive Garden of the Gods 10-Mile Run in Manitou Springs, Colo., on June 13.
Julius Kiptoo, the 2006 champ, also was slated to run this year but had to drop out of the race because of injury. There will, however, be two other previous Crazy 8s champions in the field: Kenyan Simon Ndirangu (2007) and Ethiopian Demssew Tsega (2005).
“(Tsega) is coming here straight from Ethiopia, where he’s been training at altitude. That’s usually when they do their best,” Brown said. “His agent is pretty positive about how he’s doing.”
Meseret Mengsitu of Ethiopia won last year’s women’s title in a time of 26:20. Unless Mengsitu joins the field at the last minute, Alice Timbilili steps into the favorite’s shoes. The durable Kenyan speedster recently posted runner-up finishes in the Boilermaker 15K in Utica, N.Y., and the Peachtree 10K in Atlanta, and is surely hungry for an outright win.
The overall 8K pack the elites are likely to lead is once again expected to be a large one — perhaps the largest overall field of runners the Crazy 8s has ever seen.
“Our numbers are looking real good. I took a peek at them a little while ago. We’re running well ahead in the 8K and pretty even in all the other events,” Brown said. “If the weather holds out, we could see as many as 2,200 in the 8K and 3,600 or 3,700 in all events combined.”
Included in the 8K field is former Milligan runner and previous Crazy 8s pacesetter David Cheromei, who leads a contingent of athletes called FCA-Endurance. The group is competing to raise money for the Grace of God Children’s Project, which provides physical, material and spiritual aid for orphaned children in various countries — including Cheromei’s native Kenya.