On Wednesday afternoon at the Food City on Eastman Road, event organizers announced the plans for the “World’s Fastest 8K” set to begin at 8:58 p.m. on Saturday, July 13, the second night of Kingsport’s annual Fun Fest extravaganza.
It was announced at last year’s press conference that 2018 would be the last year the course would run the route that had been used since 2006. Earlier this year, the new course was unveiled and it was touted as much flatter and more spectator-friendly.
“We really worked hard on the design to eliminate these hills,” event co-director Natalie Whitlock said. “We think the course will run very well and keep people on pace. We really hope people who live along the course, or even near it, will come out and cheer on the runners.”
“We felt like we needed to change things up,” event co-director Hank Brown said. “The old course was great and everyone around here had run it so many times. We like to keep things interesting and exciting.”
The race will start and end in the same places, but everything in between will be new. The event, which has had three different courses since its inception in 1990, has seen a multitude of spectacular races over the years, including Peter Githuka’s then-world-record run of 22:03 in 1996.
The current world best is by Kenya’s Rhonex Kipruto, who split 21:45 en route to 10K in 2018 at New York’s UAE Healthy Kidney 10K. Brown believes that with the new course and hardly any hills, the competitors can get close to the current record.
“I would put David Bett as the favorite right now,” Brown said. “He won a 10K up in Boston over the weekend, and it was against a really tough field. I’ve always said that you go with the hot hand.”
Bett won the prestigious B.A.A. 10K in 28:08 in a sprint to the finish line and beat the former 8K world record holder Stephen Sambu in the process. Another notable coming to this year’s race is Tanzania’s Kennedy Njiru, who was second at the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K in Charleston, South Carolina, in 28:00.
A strong American coming to the field will be Martin Hehir of Philadelphia. Hehir was part of the Syracuse squad that won the NCAA Cross Country national championship in 2015, upending two-time defending champion Colorado. Hehir was ninth individually in that race and has gone on to a solid professional career, including setting the course record at the EQT Pittsburgh 10-Miler in 46:48. He also beat Sambu on the way to his victory in November.
The new medal was also unveiled, and the design will again feature the “Totally Crazy” addition to those that complete both the 8K and the 3K just one hour apart. The smaller Crazy 8s medal will fit into a large ring to make a unique design to the first 350 finishers of both races.
The first medal of Crazy 8s was presented to the recently retired Kingsport city manager Jeff Fleming, who dedicated most of his adult life to helping the Model City thrive and, as Regional Eye Center Director John Williams so eloquently put it, earned the title of “Mr. Kingsport.”
The 2019 torch bearer is Michael Smelser. Known throughout the area as a soccer guru, Smelser was involved in a horrific accident in March that burned 40% of his body and most of his legs. He spent a month at the Joseph Still Burn Center in Augusta, Georgia, working with doctors to help rebuild his skin. He underwent nine surgeries and multiple skin grafts to help heal third-degree burns on both his legs and back.
Smelser has worked tirelessly to get back to walking unassisted and is registered to run. Smelser also has the rare distinction of having run every Crazy 8s race since 1990 and even the Fun Fest race before it became the event it is today.
There are also three charities Crazy 8s will be raising money for this year: Ainsley’s Angels, Kingsport Animal Shelter and Team Wandell.