Jim Hommes Captures 4th Classic 10K Title;
BY DON SLUSSER, CO-DIRECTOR
Turning and turning in the widening gyre
Surely some revelation is at hand;
--"The Second Coming" by W.B. Yeats
MONROEVILLE, PA--The 24th annual Monroeville Rotary Charity Classic 10K and 5K races were held on Sunday, June 1, 2003, instead of during the Classic's more traditional late April time frame. Despite the early summer date, the race conditions were more typical of April, with cool conditions prevailing. Several runners were even seen warming up in full sweats and gloves.
The men's field featured three former Classic 10K champions: Hans Rottmann (2001), Mike Diano (2000), and Jim Hommes (1997-1999). Other contenders included John Brockenbrough (3rd in 2002), Allan Brown (5th last year), and Dave Hackworth, representing the Elite Pittsburgh Pharaoh Hounds, running his very first Classic 10K.
As 121 runners set off at the 8:30 a.m. start on the challenging Classic course, the opening mile was covered in a relatively comfortable 5:20. As a result, a larger than normal lead pack of ten runners formed, with each member patiently evaluating the competition.
Hackworth was the first to shake up the pace with a slight surge, as the lead pack left the flat section of the course that circles the Monroeville Mall. The three former champions all matched Hackworth's move, leaving the remaining six to battle for lesser places. Diano was the first to lose contact; Hackworth, Hommes, and Rottmann handled the long gradual upgrade on Business Route 22 better than the 2000 champion. The trio ran together until they encountered the most challenging hill on the course, the 600-yard ascent at 3½ miles. Hommes opened a modest, but significant, gap versus his two remaining challengers at this crucial point in the race. After the race Hommes said, "I pretty much only maintained my effort; I think Dave [Hackworth] was surprised by the hill."
Upon cresting the key hill, Hommes did not look back. As he turned the corner onto Business Route 22, he knew the gentle downgrade over the last two miles to the Mall finish favored the leader at this critical juncture. Over the past couple of decades, the runner who has led at this point in the race has almost always claimed the victory. With far more Classic experience than either of his pursuers, Hommes knew that it is difficult to chase down the leader in the closing mile. The headwind that each runner faced over the closing mile only compounded the difficulty for the pursuers. Hommes' winning time was an admirable 33:40, but more importantly, his 4th triumph established him as the most successful overall winner in Classic history, breaking a tie with Malcolm East (1982, 1991, 1993). Brian Ferrari is the only other overall champion with multiple crowns, having won in 1985 and 1987.
Hackworth followed 30 seconds later in 34:10, and Rottmann trailed him by an additional 8 seconds. Diano, who spent most of the race between packs, finished 4th in 34:57, 1:31 slower than his winning effort in 2000. The next three finishers were Brian Caskey, Brockenbrough (winner of the first four Classic 5K events, 1990-1993), and Steve Ritenour. The order was decided by a wild sprint to the finish off the final turn. Caskey's relative youth (26) enabled him to prevail over the pair of more experienced triathletes in this particular sprint. Brockenbrough gauged his final burst just a bit better than Ritenour, who was completing his first tour of the Classic course. One second was the official margin between each of these three finishers, but it is likely the timer simply could not hit the button quickly enough to capture the reality of what was almost a photo finish. Andrew Kloes claimed the last overall award with his 8th place finish in 35:49.
The overall Masters (40+), Veterans (50+), and Seniors (60+) male winners all represented the Tuesday Night Racing Team. At age 41, Ian Bath's 37:22 time, 13th place overall, claimed the first Masters award (Brockenbrough, age 44, had qualified for one of the prestigious overall awards, and was therefore ineligible because of the Classic's duplicate awards prohibition). Tuesday Night teammate Joe Como (age 49) pressed Bath right to the finish; only two seconds separated the pair at the end. Como thus garnered 1st in the 45-49 age division instead.
Race Co-Director Don Slusser successfully defended his Veterans title with a time of 41:34, a most successful effort considering the Pittsburgh and Buffalo Marathons he had run in the prior four weeks. He was pushed all the way to the finish line by fellow Tuesday Night Racing teammate Jim Moyer, who finished in 41:37, sufficient to lead the 50-54 age division.
Senior runner and Tuesday Night Racer Dick Monheim finished in 47:19, avoiding the necessity of a sprint finish, as had occurred in the two "younger" divisions, because his winning margin in the 60+ age group was an impressive 13:48.
The women's 10K lacked the drama of the men's race, despite the fact that six-time champion Tammy Slusser, age 38, (1987, 1990-92, 1998, 2002) was vying for her 7th crown. Thirty-eight minutes and forty-five seconds after the start, Slusser successfully repeated as defending champion and secured her record 7th Classic 10K title. Sue Ruzicka, age 40, followed 7:55 after Slusser with a time of 46:40 to claim 2nd (she had won the 1993 race with a winning time of 37:24). Peggy McGowan's 49:42 claimed 3rd place.
Monroeville's Fastest Award was once again claimed by Slusser in the women's competition, and Brown's 37:05 10th place finish was sufficient to claim his first local men's title. The 2002 Monroeville's Fastest victor, Jesse Labuff, was unable to defend his title because he was attending a wedding (his own)! He needs to get his priorities straight! The 2001 local champion, Lucas Marsak, finished in 37:17, rendering this year's race margin significantly closer than most of the recent Monroeville's Fastest battles.
One hour after the start of the longer race, the runners were ready to speed over the flatter, faster 5K course in the second event of the morning. Many of the 102 5K racers had "warmed up" by racing the earlier 10K.
Dave Wilt and Christopher Spurlin separated themselves quickly from the rest of the field. Midway through the race Wilt surged to a small gap ahead of Spurlin. Wilt had won the 5K in past years, but in 2002 he had attempted the double, resulting in a pair of 5th place finishes. This June day he chose instead to concentrate only on the shorter 5K event, and that decision proved to be a wise one--Wilt's 16:43 time provided a six-second victory margin at the finish. Tim Souders followed Spurlin in 3rd place. The 4th overall award went to Tuesday Night Racer Mark Hunkele, with his 18:09 effort.
The final overall place, marked by a spirited battle, was captured by "doubling" Masters runner Brockenbrough in a time of 18:23. As a result, Kevin Dowdell (44) garnered the overall Masters title with his finish one second later. Jim Elsenheimer (40) finished but one second after Dowdell to nab the 40-44 age group prize. Steve Fowler (51) placed 14th with a time of 18:49, sufficient to claim the Veterans award. Ageless wonder Lou Lodovico (78) toured the 5K in an impressive 23:32 to win the Seniors laurels ahead of his much younger rivals.
In the women's 5K event, Sarah Como opened her race with a 5:58 mile, which effectively secured the victory for the red-shirt University of Pittsburgh junior. She is the daughter of Masters ace and Tuesday Night Racer Joe Como, mentioned above. Katie Shorkey and Michelle Wissinger chased her in the early stages, whereas 10K winner Slusser got off to a relatively slow start, feeling the effects of her earlier effort. Slusser did move past both Shorkey and Wissinger by the end of the first mile, but had too much distance to make up on Como, who had eliminated all chances of a serious challenge by already building an insurmountable lead. Como maintained her initial pace fairly well for the remaining distance, winning by almost a minute in 18:37, an impressive first ever Classic performance for her. Slusser followed in 19:27 for 2nd place. Shorkey's 20:25 result netted 3rd place, followed by Wissinger in 21:34. Linda Paul (50) obtained the 5th and final overall award in 21:55.
Monroeville's Fastest Awards for the 5K were won by Tammy Slusser in the women's category, and by Rick List's 20:23 effort in the men's division.
Slusser's contribution to the Classic did not end with her racing both events--each pre-entered runner was given a quarter-pound box of her homemade candy, a bonus that is also planned for the 25th annual edition of the Monroeville Classic races, scheduled tentatively for Sunday, May 31, 2004.
Marshall Bond is planning a respite from his multi-year Co-Director role, commencing his "retirement" immediately after the 2003 event's postrace requirements are fulfilled. Under his capable leadership, the Classic has thrived and earned a reputation for being a well-run event. Bond has promised to return to assist with future Classic events, and perhaps even run one of the races as a participant. The new Rotary President Gary Rick will be wearing one of the Co-Director hats in 2004.
Many thanks are extended to Marshall Bond, the Rotary Club of Monroeville, the Monroeville Mall, and the Municipality of Monroeville. Without their efforts and cooperation this event would not be possible.
Editor's Note: Without Don Slusser's involvement for the past 23 years, it is doubtful that the Classic would be on the threshold of its silver anniversary!
The generous support of the following sponsors aided in making the 24th running of the Monroeville Classic a truly classic event:
FORBES REGIONAL HOSPITAL
Edited by Richard Baldock, (Co-Director, 1980-1995; Co-Director