Kingsport wants its world record back

Tony Casey • Jul 10, 2014 at 6:22 AM

This weekend, Crazy 8s race director Hank Brown is hoping for the stars to align and for his race to get its record back.

The 8,000-meter road race, until just last month, had held the world record for the nearly five-mile distance for some time. Kenya’s Peter Kithuka crossed the Crazy 8s finish line in 22 minutes and 2.3 seconds in 1996 to bring Brown’s race a men’s world record that would stand until Kenya’s Stephen Sambu split 22:01 for the 8K mark en route to his recent victory in the BAA 10K on June 22, a race that contained one this year’s favorites in the Crazy 8s.

Brown, owner of We Run Events, that puts on the race which is subtitled “the world’s fastest 8K,” admitted he didn’t take the news too well and has put even more effort into bringing in the talent that could possibly bring in a world record performance.

“I want it this year more than ever before,” Brown said.

Records are expected to be broken, but he wants the 8K world record to reside in Kingsport, right next to the women’s record that was set there in 2002, by Morocco’s Asmae Leghzaoui, when she ran 24:27.8.

Come Saturday night at 9:58, there are two clear favorites for the title and $5,000 paycheck, and they’re from Kenya and Ethiopia. That’s not all. A new world record would land the winner a check for $10,008, provided by the Regional Eye Center.

Birhan Nebebew, a 19-year-old from Ethiopia and current Kenyan, but soon-to-be American, Sam Chelanga, 29, might be able to make Brown’s wish come true by the end of the evening’s race. Both coming off stellar races throughout the first half of the year, each could race each to a potential scare of the world record, which would require just about five successive 4:25 miles, no easy task.

Chelanga’s 13:04 indoor 5,000 early this year, which makes him the 12th fastest person ever at the distance, on the performance charts says he could run a flat 21:32 8K. Though not really an apples to apples comparison because his race was on a flat track, with his 27:08 10,000 personal best, he’s clearly in the ball park, which is what Brown recognizes as part of a recipe that could produce the final product he’s looking for: that world record. Add a touch of home field advantage, with Chelanga being a Liberty University graduate who took third in the race two years ago in 22:34 before his recent breakout races, and you very well could have the record back where Brown believes it belongs.

Chelanga doesn’t disagree that he’s in shape, pointing at his recent 28:11 in the race in which Sambu split the 8K world record. Though he just took fifth place in Boston, he was fighting back from a recent injury, but was extremely happy with a personal best completed in such a smooth and easy effort. Going into this weekend’s race in Kingsport, he wants to use it as a confidence booster for speedy track races in Europe later in the summer.

“I’ve trained and things have gone well,” Chelanga said about his chances on a win, something that’s more important to him than the record. Most likely, he said, he’s going to go out comfortably and gauge what the other leaders do, hoping to feel as fresh as can be in the latter stages, where he’ll be ready to make his move to the line.

He said going to college at Liberty makes this very much like a local race for him, having completed it before and having friends right around here in Bristol.

His Ethiopian antagonist, Nebebew, is also a runner of high caliber, having taken the victory in the famed Cooper River Bridge Run in Charleston in April, in which he completed the 10K distance in 28:38. He also boasts personal bests of 13:14 and 27:14 for the 5,000 and 10,000 distances.

Nebebew’s agent, Hussein Makke, of Elite Sports Management International, said his runner is in great shape, but world records aren’t just dependent on the fitness of the runner. Being a night race in the summer, Makke said the weather has to be on the athlete’s side.

“You need the full package,” Makke said about the perfect storm of happenings that go into world record races. “But Chelanga has run very well, coming out of the U.S., he has that advantage.”

Makke was referencing that Nebebew might be at a disadvantage, coming over from Africa today for the race, not getting as much time to prepare for the race as Chelanga, who lives and trains here, currently residing in New Hampshire, just two minutes from Dartmouth College. There, he trains with Ben True, a Dartmouth graduate and one of the top U.S. runners.

Chelanga not only lives and trains here as a Nike athlete, but is in the process of completing his U.S. citizenship. Hoping to get the process completed by next summer’s World Championships in Beijing, Chelanga laughs off having to take a citizenship test to pass, having graduated from Liberty with a degree in U.S. government.

The race will not only be taking place up front, with about 3,000 others from the area competing in the event. Brown said the event, which focuses on the distance, deserves to be the holder of the fastest recorded time. Many have come to try to take down the mark left by Kithuka 18 years ago, narrowly failing. Though the course record has changed since then, it’s been scared, which shows it to be vulnerable, something Brown hopes, with other factors necessary with world class results, will produce the craziest 8K ever recorded.

Anyone interested in potentially being a part of a world record race can register at www.crazy8s.org.

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