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Smith’s record still standing after 31 years

Records are made to be broken. But somebody forgot to tell Geoff Smith.

It's now 31 years since the Englishman ran the fastest time ever recorded in Bermuda's International 10K.

The British Olympian scorched around the 6.2 mile course in a sensational 28 minutes and 14 seconds . . . so sensational that, despite the arrival of some of the world's top road runners in the three decades that followed, nobody has come remotely close to threatening that mark.

Marathon and 10K records have been lowered considerably in the last few years but even now Smith's performance on a gruelling course far more challenging than those where records tend to be eclipsed still borders on the extraordinary.

That's reflected by the fact no other Bermuda 10K entrant has dipped under 29 minutes. Next best to Smith's mark is the 29.02 recorded by his compatriot Peter Whitehead in 1995 48 seconds slower.

In international road racing, that kind of gap over 10K is practically unheard of.

This week Smith, now his late 50s, returns to the Island with two wonky hips, happy if he can finish somewhere in the middle of the pack.

At least the two-time Boston Marathon winner will get chance to talk to fellow runners and take in the sights because he sure didn't have time to do that first time around.

He'll no doubt take a certain amount of pleasure from the fact that the dash down to Flatts on Middle Road and back to the National Sports Centre on North Shore has never been faster than when he was last here.

Yet he's not the only one who has competed in International Race Weekend, as it was known for many years, who hasn't seen their time bettered since the turn of the century.

It's highly unlikely whoever lines up on Front Street tonight will set a new mile best let alone break the magical four minute barrier for which there remains a $10,000 bonus.

Much like the 10K, the course doesn't lend itself to fast times, a tight turn around the Birdcage stopping the runners in their tracks and losing precious seconds. Add that to the rain or wind, or both, which has in the past thwarted any chance that there might have been to get under four minutes.

Strangely that four minute mark has never been achieved on either the road or the track despite the Island having seen some top class athletes visit these shores. In a country which takes track and field seriously, that might be considered odd.

In the Elite Mile, the times have got slower rather than faster.

Former world record holder Steve Cram clocked 4.05 in 1991, American Joe Falcon went almost one second faster (4.04.2) a year later and it's 11 years since Kenya's Leonard Mucheru set the record of 4.02.6.

In the years that have followed there have been some abysmal performances by visiting athletes who considered themselves world class. They’ll complain about the weather and the lack of a fast rabbit to set the early pace but on most occasions it’s been a lame excuse.

Last year, for instance, winner Tesfaye Dube from Ethiopia crossed the line in a pedestrian 4.19.

A couple in tonight's field are sub-four minute milers and a couple more who have come close, so hopefully the throngs who traditionally line Front Street will witness something a little quicker.

The Race Weekend marathon, first run in 1975, saw Britain's Andy Holden win three in a row, his fastest being two hours, 15 minutes and 20 seconds in 1980 and it still stands as the record. Whether that route was officially measured at 26.2 miles has sometimes been a subject of debate, but even adding a couple of hundred yards, few competitors have challenged that time.

Next best is the 2.17 recorded by Russian Vladimir Kotov more than 23 years ago in 1990 on a course which officially met international standards.

These days the elite marathoners are setting records which 20 years ago would have been considered totally unattainable.

The world record is 2.03.38 clocked by Kenya's Patrick Makau in September, 2011. In years back, it was thought physically impossible for a human being to run those 26.2 miles in under two hours. Now it appears only a matter of time before a runner, most likely an African, will achieve the impossible.

Certainly it will never be recorded in Bermuda. Indeed on the undulating course it's difficult to imagine anyone will get under two hours 10 minutes any time soon.

The half-marathon, introduced in 1993, has produced some impressive runs, Philip Koech of Kenya clocking a respectable 1:04.27, although it should be noted those chasing that elusive two hour mark in the full marathon, are galloping through 13.1 miles (the half-marathon distance) much quicker than the Bermuda record holder.

Last year Bermuda's own Chris Estwanik became the first local to win the event, showing his overseas rivals a clean pair of heels as he crossed the line in 1:08.35.

Priming himself for the upcoming Boston Marathon, another win in an even faster time can't be ruled out this Sunday.

As for the women's events, the mile was only introduced four years ago and Jamaican Kenia Sinclair has won three times, her best being 4.33.61, far faster than last year's winner, her compatriot Korene Hinds (4.57).

But once again in the 10K nobody has challenged the legendary Grete Waitz who won eight times here and set the record of 31.41, the same year that Smith recorded the men's best. Clearly that January day was conducive to fast times.

Sadly Waitz passed away a couple of years ago, remembered here by a trophy named in her honour.

No female has got within a minute of her record and it's a good bet they won't tomorrow.

The women's marathon saw Elena Makolova complete the course in 2002 in 2:40.32 and Ethiopia's Elfenesh Alemu has fastest half-marathon time of 1:10.57.

Will any of the aformentioned times be beaten this weekend? Probably not.

But what does make this event's extra special is the entry of around 1,500, a sign that road running is enjoying the popularity when the sport boomed in the 1980s.

Possibly people are realising again there's no sport that costs only a pair of shoes and can produce the camaraderie that forges life-long friendships. Undoubtedly that'll be the case over the next few days.

ADRIAN ROBSON

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Published January 18, 2013 at 8:00 am (Updated January 17, 2013 at 6:19 pm)

Smith’s record still standing after 31 years

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