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Crazy 8's celebrates 20th anniversary of Githuka's record run

STEVE WILMOTH, TriCitiesSports.com • Jul 15, 2016 at 9:00 PM

KINGSPORT — Kingsport is celebrating the 20th anniversary of the night the world first took notice of the Crazy 8’s 8K Road Race.

Hank Brown assumed director duties of the Crazy 8’s when the race took over for several of its Fun Fest predecessors in 1990. A road racing enthusiast, Brown immediately began recruiting some of the top talent in the world to participate in the event.

But even Brown didn’t envision the events of July 20, 1996.

“I knew we had a fast course,” Brown recalled, “but I don’t think any of us expected we would ever have a world record set in Kingsport.”

But Peter Guthika of Kenya blistered the course from the outset and crossed the finish line in 22:02.2, topping the mark of 22:04 set by Alberto Salazar 15 years earlier.

Guthika was two seconds ahead of world-record pace at the mile 1 post and never wavered in his assault on the streets of Kingsport. He was also running alone, which made his ability to keep the pace even more remarkable. His nearest competitor, England’s Peter Whitehead, was 1 minute, 14 seconds behind the Kenyan.

Guthika also never slowed on the turn from Garden Street to Wilcox Drive and the hill — now known as Guthika Hill — on the way up to Center Street. The course is different now, but that night the climb was in the latter stages of mile 3.

Still, Guthika was on pace and Brown’s call of the race from the press truck back to the old start/finish line on Eastman Road had the crowd awaiting Guthika’s arrival in a frenzy.

Guthika made the turn from Fort Henry Drive back on Eastman Road and into a mass of humanity just making its way on the same path to the halfway point.

Completely unaware of potential history in the making, the other runners thundered and plodded in front of and around Guthika. Still in the press truck, Brown also noticed a more menacing threat to the Kenyan and his pursuit of Salazar’s mark.

“I saw immediately that with the crossover on the old course, that Peter was confused,” Brown explained. “The only thing I could do jump out of the truck and let him know where to go.”

After clearing Guthika from the halfway crowd, the Kenyan quickly left Brown behind in his sprint to the finish.

“I’m still well down the road so I can’t see the clock,” Brown recalled. “All I can see is Peter disappear into the spectators forming a human tunnel to the finish. When I hear the crowd erupt, I know he’s made it.

“It’s a scene I’ll never forget. It’s a feeling I’ll never forget.”

Guthika’s record stood for 18 years when Kenyans Stephen Sambu and Geoffrey Mutai Kiprono hit the 8K split-timing mats at the 2014 B.A.A 10K in Boston at 21:01.03 and 21:01.10, respectively, which for record-keeping purposes represents a tie.

Brown likens Guthika’s race that night to a perfect game in baseball. A small number of pitchers have achieved the feat over the years, but none twice.

Brown thinks there is another perfect game waiting along Kingsport’s candle-lit streets, and it could come from any of the top runners already confirmed for this year’s race, among them three-time Crazy 8’s winner Shadrack Kosgie of Kenya.

Other elite runners in the field are Kenya’s Lawi Lalang and Mukundi Mwangie; Ethiopia’s Solomon Deksisa, Yitayal Atanfu and Teshome Mekonen; Mourad Marofit of Morocco; and American Craig Forys.

“We really pulled in some top guys down the stretch,” said Brown. “I really think this is the best field we’ve had in years.”

Competitors not only will be chasing the world record but also the $10,008 in bonus money from the Regional Eye Center. The bonus became part of the lure to elite runners in the year after Guthika’s set the mark. While a payout on the women’s side went to Asmae Leghzaoui in 2002, the men’s bonus has remained unclaimed for 14 years.

“You have to have a lot of things come together to challenge or set a world record,” Brown noted. “You have to have a fast course, which we still have even though it’s changed a little bit and we don’t have that crossover any more.

“You also have to have fast runners and we have some already coming. And finally, you have to be fortunate with the weather. We really need a cool night with low humidity to make the race as fast as possible.”

The 27th running of the Indian Path Medical Center & Niswonger Children’s Hospital Crazy 8’s 8K begins at 9:58 p.m. on Saturday. The McDonald’s of Greater Kingsport Little 8’s Youth Field Day opens the event with age group runs from toddler to 12 years old. The Special 8’s returns this year with races for individuals with special needs.

Wellmont/CVA Heart Institute and Eastman Credit Union present the 3K Moon Walk, a non-competitive 3K event and one of the largest walks in the area that features a finish inside J. Fred Johnson Stadium. Throughout the evening in the Dobyns-Bennett High School parking lot, the Domtar Healthy Lifestyle Expo will feature health and fitness booths and vendors.

ESPN Tri-Cities, in conjunction with Freeman Productions, will again broadcast the Crazy 8s race live to a world-wide audience.

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