Monroeville Classic XX: Jim Hommes, Dave Wilt Defend Titles; Mindy Sawtelle Records First Double Victory


MONROEVILLE, PA--Sunday May 23rd marked the twentieth anniversary of the Monroeville Classic 10K race and the tenth anniversary of the Classic 5K race, making the Classic the second oldest 10K in the local Pittsburgh metropolitan area. Only the Pittsburgh Great Race (1977) has a longer history. New Kensington's NK 10K also had its inaugural running in 1980, but will not celebrate its twentieth event until October. In nearby Indiana County, the Indiana Fool's Run (1979) has a slightly longer continuous history. The initial race was the result of a brainstorming session by the father and son pair, Al and Gavin Chafin. Gavin was an outstanding distance runner for Gateway High, and Al was a prominent member of the Monroeville Rotary at the time. Richard Baldock volunteered to advise and help administer the technical aspects of the first Classic, and is still involved despite moving across the state to Allentown in 1996. Don Slusser joined as Co-Director for the second Classic and has served continuously in that capacity since then. Rotarian Don Bulger served as Co-Director for many years after the Chafins moved to another state.

The weather for the 20th edition could not have been more cooperative for a day in late May: overcast skies, manageable humidity, and temperatures in the mid-50s. Only a slight westerly wind prevented labeling conditions as near-"perfect," because this created a headwind for the final section of the course, which drops gradually over the last two miles toward the finish at the Monroeville Mall.

The 10K started the day's racing, as it has since 1995 (for the first five years of the 5K, the shorter race was the opening event). Four of last year's top eight finishers returned, including two-time defending Champion Jim Hommes, Kevin Gatons (third), along with Masters runners Don Slusser (sixth) and Carl Hubel (eighth). Slusser, facing orthoscopic knee surgery, only ran to maintain his status as the sole runner to have run all twenty Classic 10K races. Among the newcomers, Classic rookie Dan Holland seemed destined to be in the hunt for one of the top spots.

The opening mile was reached in a relatively comfortable 5:22 as Hommes, Gatons, Hubel, and Holland formed a tight pack, having separated themselves from the field of 160 runners. The four seemed content to run as a pack until reaching the upgrade on Business U.S. Route 22, at which point Hommes upped his effort a notch to gauge his competitors' responses. Only Gatons followed, leaving Hubel and Holland together battling for third. Hommes upped the ante one more time a mile later, at the point at which a short but steep hill marks the ascent to the historic Old Stone Church. This time Gatons could not quite summon the extra effort required to stay with the leader. Hommes gradually increased his lead over the final three miles to an 18-second margin over Gatons by the finish, claiming his third consecutive 10K crown. This feat marked a first for a male runner in the 10K. Tammy Slusser accomplished this feat on the women's side (1990-'91-'92), and John Brockenbrough achieved four consecutive 5K titles (1990-'91-'92-'93).

Hubel, who often trains with Hommes as part of the Tuesday Night Crew training group in Monroeville, made his bid for third at the same climb leading to the Old Stone Church, leaving the younger Holland fourteen seconds behind at the Mall finish line. Punxsutawney's Doug Craft claimed the fifth spot, leading a contingent of award-winning runners who journeyed together in a van for two hours that morning from the town that is more famous for its prognosticating Groundhog than its running prowess. Perhaps this year's Classic showing will start to change that image! Doug Basinski ran 1:40 faster than his 1998 effort, moving up four spots to 6th. Jim Elsenheimer also improved both his time and place, running two seconds quicker to claim the 7th spot. Elsenheimer later successfully completed the 5K while pushing a baby jogger. Masters runner Mark Studnicki, who was fourth in the very first Classic with a 32:33 showing, was the only runner to secure a top ten placing in both the 1980 and 1999 results. Studnicki is also the leader among the thirty or so runners who have run all of the Pittsburgh Great Race 10K events.

The Classic awards titles for Masters (40+), Veterans (50+), and Seniors (60+) in addition to the usual age-group categories, and has a policy that strives to avoid duplicate awards. With Hubel and Studnicki earning overall awards, ultra-runner Chris Gibson claimed the top Masters spot with his 37:51 time and 11th place finish. The male half of the Grimm couple, Curt, won the top Veterans slot with a 20th place showing in 39:18, and running legend Lou Lodovico, age 75, claimed the Seniors crown with his stellar 44:04 performance.

The women's 10K race featured three clear favorites: course-record holder (36:00) and five-time 10K champion, Tammy Slusser; Kathy Lencio, of Fayetteville, WV; and the new kid on the block, Mindy Sawtelle, 26, of Indiana, PA, who had defeated Slusser a month prior on Sawtelle's home turf in the Fool's Run 10K. All three have set their goals to reach the starting line as qualifiers for the 2000 Marathon Olympic Trials in Columbia, SC. Slusser, who met the qualifying standard a year ago, intends to run her third trials race next year. Lencio planned to make her qualifying bid at Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, MN on June 19th, and was using the Classic as one of her tune-up races. Sawtelle made her marathon debut three weeks earlier at Pittsburgh, finishing 18 minutes behind Slusser. She plans to incorporate the lessons of Pittsburgh at the Columbus Marathon in November as she continues her quest for a qualifying time.

This day's race, however, would prove more to the liking of the younger, faster Sawtelle. The first mile was reached in a rather fast 5:35, which was not too far off the pace set by the men's leaders. Lencio ran an evenly paced race, patiently observing Slusser and Sawtelle hammer from the gun, positioning herself to challenge should either falter. Sawtelle gained a couple of steps early, and then Slusser led by a couple of steps as they departed the Mall area, but neither could take control until reaching the long, gradual upgrade on Business Route 22. Sawtelle's small lead increased on the climb to the Old Stone Church, and she had effectively won the race by the final hill leading to PA Route 48. Sawtelle's strong hill running proved too much, as her 37:24 performance left Slusser 54 seconds back. Lencio ran 40:07 for third, which is right on the 6:28 pace she'll need to hit the Olympic Trails Marathon standard. Sharon Meeder and Cindy Grimm also turned in very solid performances, finishing 4th and 5th in 41:41 and 42:00, respectively. Grimm's effort notched the top Masters award.

The 5K race took center stage one hour after the start of the 10K, making the "double" very doable, as proved by many of the 196 finishers in the 5K who had already run the more challenging 10K event. In the tenth running of the 5K, the number of "doublers" has grown from a small handful of diehards to several dozen. On the men's side, only two of 1998's top finishers returned: defending Champ Dave Wilt and Bill Maloney (4th). Wilt, coming off a fine performance at the Pittsburgh Marathon, was expected to be the class of the field. The primary challenger appeared to be Carl Hubel, who would attempt the double; however, the main competition came unexpectedly from Penn Hills High School senior, Mike Diano, who kept the race interesting for the first two miles. Wilt repeated as champion with an excellent 16:17 performance, followed by the determined Diano. Maloney improved one spot to third in 16:52, just two clicks ahead of Alex Tesia. Hubel successfully completed his double, moving up to fifth with a fine 17:02. Tom Rose claimed the top Masters award (Hubel, 42, won an overall laurel) over fellow Connellsville runner Bob Costello, finishing 6th and 7th in 17:12 and 17:29, respectively. Connellsville's Barry Firestone claimed the top Veterans award with an 18:40, 17th overall performance.

Amazing Lou Lodovico continued to display why he is considered one of the top age-group runners in the entire country by completing the double in a fine 22:44 time, and adding yet another Seniors title to his lengthy list of honors.

On the women's side of the 5K ledger, defending Champion Sharon Meeder, and Amy Hummel (3rd) were the only two returning from last year's top five. Meeder, who had just finished 4th in the 10K, realized that defending her title would be difficult, because all of the top three 10K finishers also pinned on numbers to join her at the 5K starting line. The pecking order stayed the same for the first three spots as Sawtelle (18:30), Slusser (18:51), and Lencio (19:46) provided an instant replay of their finish order in the 10K race. Fourth place was won by Stacey Anderson, 22, in 20:07, the only top five finisher who was not doubling. She was followed by Masters ace Cindy Grimm, 47, of Industry, PA. Hummel and Meeder finished 11th and 12th, in this year's field. Hummel ran only 16 seconds slower than in 1998 with her 21:26 timing, but lost eight places in the standings due to a much stronger and deeper field. Sheila Donnelly's 21:19 performance was sufficient to claim the top Masters award as the 9th female overall.

Monroeville's Fastest Runner titles on the women's side were for the most part a foregone conclusion once Tammy Slusser decided to pin on numbers for both races. Monroeville Classic XX also marked the occasion of her first double; in the past she had focused on only one event. Art Wiland, 50, ended the streak of nine straight local titles by Don Slusser, winning by a margin of 21 seconds in the 10K with his solid 41:15 effort. Wiland thus joins Slusser (1990-1998), Bob Fensterer (1985-1989), and Art Anderson (1980-1984) as one of only four to win the local 10K title. Wiland ended Don Slusser's string of four straight local titles in the 5K, posting a time of 20:49. Slusser, facing a second knee surgery in June, prudently did not attempt the double.*

Many thanks go the Monroeville Rotarians, who have been the backbone of the Classic for its entire twenty-year history, and to Pete McGinty, who has been the Rotary appointed Co-Director for the past several years. The Municipality of Monroeville continued its usual outstanding and vital support, which is greatly appreciated by the organizers and participants as well. The cooperation and facilities provided by the Monroeville Mall have proved to be a race director's delight for the entire span of the past two decades. Mayor Sean Logan was on hand to start the race and Municipality Manager Marshall Bond personally toured the course on foot in 56:13. We also greatly appreciate the splendid cooperation and support of this year's major sponsors: Bruegger's Bagels and Number One Cochran Automotive. Look for entry forms for the 21st running of the Monroeville Classic this fall. The tentative date is Sunday, June 4, 2000.

* Don Slusser had knee surgery on June 10. We are happy to report that his recovery is going smoothly.