Only a heartbeat away from a $10,000 payday
Have you ever run for a bus and missed it by a couple of seconds?
Then spare a thought for Leonard Mucheru who missed out on a $10,000 payday by 2.7 seconds when he won the Elite Invitational Front Street Mile in 2002. The Kenyan smashed the course record in 4.02.6 but was just outside the magic four-minute mile barrier which carried with it the hefty prize money bonus.
This Friday the showpiece event celebrates its 25th anniversary. Over the past quarter century no one has come closer to dipping under four minutes than Mucheru.
In 2002, having run a lifetime mile best of 3.49 the previous year, Mucheru, then 23, appeared to have all the credentials needed to run a sub-4 time along Front Street. But with two tight turnaround points — one at the Birdcage and one at the Longtail statue — and with no rivals near enough to spur him to a faster time (Mucheru won by 10 seconds), it was not to be.
The Kenyan led from start to finish. Afterwards he said: "I thought maybe the competition would be a bit more stiff so that I could go after the sub-four, but it didn't happen."
The most famous athlete to win the Front Street race is Britain's Steve Cram, who was the mile world record holder when he showed up in 1991 to challenge for the $10,000 jackpot. To help give the elite runners a chance at breaking four minutes, top Bermuda middle-distance runner Steve Burgess acted as a pacemaker in the early stages. Cram went on to win the race in 4.04.6, setting a then-record.
Afterwards he said: "If you are going to have a chance to go for the four-minute mark then you have to forget about the competition, go with the pacemaker and really kick down the final stretch. I think it's possible to do it, but I was just concentrating on winning."
Back in 1989, nine athletes competed in the inaugural Elite Invitational Front Street Mile, and there was almost a home-grown champion when Bermudian Olympian Mike Watson put in a late challenge in the final 200 metres of the race.
In his first competitive outing since the Seoul Olympics the previous year, Watson thrilled the crowds lining Front Street as he pushed to close the gap on Canadian Dave Lamont, but the visiting athlete's world-class finishing kick proved too much and he secured victory in 4.11.3, with Watson runner-up in 4.14.6.
Afterwards Lamont said he had almost been caught off-guard by Watson. "I couldn't see him [Watson] coming because it was dark and I didn't hear him, but then I got a glimpse of him and said 'oh-oh'," he explained.
It wasn't until 2009 that an elite women's race was introduced. Jamaica's Korene Hinds won the inaugural race.
Course record holder Leonard Mucheru is now a world class marathon runner. He set his fastest time in 2011, running 2.08.53 in the Daegu Marathon in South Korea. He also won silver in the 5,000m at the 2006 Asian Games.