- The Washington Times - Sunday, February 9, 2003

Birmingham, Ala., took a big step toward gaining status in the running world a few years ago by committing to the 2004 men's U.S. Olympic marathon trials. Yesterday's 79th running of the U.S. Marathon championships was a major test run for the organizers.
"The Mercedes Marathon was created specifically to put a marathon in Birmingham for the 2003 men's U.S. championships and the Olympic Trials in 2004," said race spokesperson Marianne Higgins as she was admittedly freezing on the press truck at mid-race yesterday.
The temperatures reportedly were in the mid-40s with light winds and partly sunny skies, which is typical in Birmingham for February, according to the race's Web site.
The top three finishers Ryan Shay, Kevin Collins and Clint Verran earned $12,000, $7,500 and $5,500, respectively, with performance bonuses, but more importantly each qualified for the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Paris in July.
Participants with ties to the Washington area included Chris Graff, Christopher Banks and Michael Wardian. Darrell General signed up for his 12th straight national championship race but did not start.
Graff and Banks were top regional runners in the area until Graff moved to California two years ago and Banks to New Mexico last year. Graff was seventh yesterday in 2:18:45, good for $1,950, while Banks was eighth in 2:18:52, good for $1,750.
Both times were personal records. Graff's previous best was 2:24:00 and Banks' 2:21:27, both at last year's Twin Cities Marathon.
Arlington's Wardian, with a 2:28:39 PR at Chicago last year, pushed hard for a new best with a 1:13:33 opening half but blew up on the second half and finished 18th in 2:45:35.
Last year's Mercedes Marathon was the first 26.2-mile race in Birmingham since the Vulcan Run Marathon downsized from a marathon to a 10K years ago.
The non-elite runners will have their chance to run the three-loop criterion course today.
He slept, not ran, here
George Washington was many things, but he probably was not a runner, because there is no reference to the first president's training regimen in the history books.
Then why all the GW Birthday races?
On Saturday, you can choose from the following races: the George Washington Birthday Classic 10K on Eisenhower Avenue in Alexandria and the Annapolis Striders Washington's Birthday 5K race at the Bay Hills Community Center in Arnold, Md.
The following day brings a staple in Washington area running, the Washington Birthday Marathon & Three-Person Relay in Greenbelt. Begun in 1961, this race is among the top six longest continuous marathons in the nation.
Graham jam
Now that Tim Montgomery and girlfriend Marion Jones have publicly severed their ties with Ben Johnson's former coach, Charlie Francis, USA Track & Field, the International Association of Athletics Federations and sponsor Nike can breathe easier.
Now the two world-class athletes are presumably without a coach.
One source close to the situation said last week that their agent, Charlie Wells, has been leaving messages with their former long-time coach, Trevor Graham, the man primarily responsible for taking Jones and Montgomery to their world-class standings.
Graham, according to the source, has not returned Wells' calls. Could part of the reason for the cold shoulder be that Jones and Montgomery may owe Graham some back pay for his services? Or that Jones and Montgomery reportedly did not respectfully notify Graham of their coaching change; they just did not report for practice any more?
Finishing kicks
The 27th annual Grandma's Marathon in Duluth, Minn., closed at 9,000 entries last week, well ahead of its June 21 race date. … The Reston 10-Miler is scheduled for March 15, a year after a dispute over permits forced the race to cancel the 2002 edition of this long-running favorite.

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