- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 10, 2007

Jim Sorensen wanted to become the first 40-year-old man to break the four-minute mile on an outdoor track.

Tom Jordan wanted to produce the best Prefontaine Classic he could this afternoon in Eugene, Ore.

Those interests collided over the past few weeks. Despite significant support from people in the sport, Sorensen failed to gain entry into the prestigious Bowerman Mile at the Prefontaine Classic, where he felt the competition could drive him under 4:00.

Jordan, the meet director and a former executive vice president of World Masters Athletics, stuck with his decision amidst perhaps the most lobbying he has seen on behalf of an athlete. While he expressed respect for Sorensen, who set the 1,500-meter world record for 40-and-over earlier this month, he said he also needed to consider the integrity of his event.

“Very impressive run by Jim,” Jordan said by e-mail last week. “I’m afraid that this year, though, adding him to the field doesn’t fit in with the Bowerman Mile. We’ve assembled a full field of sub-3:50 milers, and there really isn’t anyone else in the four-minute category. No [high school] athletes trying to break [4:00], for example. Jim would be by himself, running 50-60 meters behind the pack.

“Not only would that make it very tough to break [4:00], but it wouldn’t be a good show. In my opinion, Jim needs to organize a mile race in the next few weeks that is specifically aimed at his breaking four minutes. That will be his best shot.”

Like it or not, it is Jordan’s race and prerogative.

Of course, a look at the field Jordan has assembled for the Bowerman Mile shows that only four of the 11 runners have gone sub-3:50 or equivalent.

Take Rob Myers, for example. His best mile of 3:53.78 was in 2004. Last year at the Prefontaine Classic, he ran just 4:00.36 for 10th place, ahead of Alan Webb (4:00.87) and two other finishers at 4:03. In 2005, Paul Korir of Kenya was 10th in 3:59.86, followed by 4:00.34, 4:00.55, 4:01.37 and 4:03.50.

An argument could be made that Sorensen would fit right in by the finish line.

Being passed over for the Bowerman Mile certainly is not one of Sorensen’s greatest disappointments, not by, well, a mile. The middle school physical education teacher from San Leandro, Calif., finished a surprising second in the 1,500 meters at the 1996 U.S. Olympic trials 11 years ago but didn’t have a fast enough time to qualify for the Atlanta Games.

His time in the trials was 3:43.88, but he lacked the Olympic standard of 3:38. He managed to get as close as 3:38.65 before the deadline.

Disappointing enough to motivate him to continue running fast through his 30s and now into his 40s. Just two days after finishing his fourth decade May 10, he broke legendary Johnny Gray’s U.S. record (1:52.42) for the masters 800 meters in 1:51.57.

Three weeks later, that 1,500 world record became his, a 3:44.06 clocking at Occidental College in Los Angeles that was just 0.18 seconds slower than he ran at age 29 in the 1996 trials. That effort erased American Tony Young (former U.S. record holder in 3:46.43 in 2003) and Spaniard Louis Jose Gonzalez (former world record holder in 3:44.89 in 1999) from the books.

Up next is the mile record. The world masters outdoor record of 4:02.53 was set by Britain’s David Moorcroft in 1993. Ireland’s Eamonn Coghlan ran 3:58.13 at age 41 in 1994, but that was on an indoor track in Boston. Sorensen’s 1,500 converts to about a 4:02 mile.

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