- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 26, 2004

In a perfect world, Carmen Douma-Hussar and her husband would have spent this weekend pampering themselves in West Palm Beach, Fla.

But Hurricane Jeanne made sure that was not going to happen.

With people fleeing the Florida coast, the Canadian couple from Pennsylvania instead drove a few hours to Washington on Friday night so Carmen could win the elite women’s race at the 10th annual Pennsylvania Avenue Mile yesterday.

John Itati, a 20-year-old Kenyan who trains in Norristown, Pa., narrowly pulled off his fourth consecutive triumph here in the men’s elite race, in his slowest time of 4:04.57. Each athlete earned $2,000 for the victory.

“It was a fun race,” said Douma-Hussar, who was ninth in the Olympic 1,500-meter finals in Athens on Aug.28 and finished in 4:36.79 yesterday after a strong surge with 300 meters remaining. American Amy Mortimer (4:39.63) and Gaithersburg-based Russian Elena Orlova (4:41.39) followed.

But while she was still quite fit coming out of the Olympics, Douma-Hussar had to quickly switch mental gears from the thought of vacationing on the sunny beach to the thought of hard-core racing against some of the world’s best middle-distance runners.

“We had planned a vacation in Florida, then I got an invitation from Rich [Kenah, elite athlete coordinator] to run here,” said Douma-Hussar, 27, who finally nailed the gold here after placing third in 2002 (4:41.3) and second last year (4:35.5). “We called the hotel in West Palm Beach [on Friday] night, and they said they were evacuating. So I called Rich and asked him if there was a spot left for me in the race, and he said, ‘Yes.’

“Immediately, I grabbed my water, stretched and went out for a 20-minute run, and then we drove three hours down in traffic from Ardmore to Washington.”

This has been an incredible year for the 2000 Villanova University graduate. She was the silver medalist in the 1,500 at the world indoor championships in March, continued to improve throughout the summer and ran 4:02.31 at the Olympics, a personal best by nine seconds since the start of the season.

Today she plans to run a charity 5-kilometer race in Philadelphia, the same race where she won the four-day trip to West Palm Beach last year. She and Chris Hussar, who were married in December 2001, said they will take that trip in December. This year’s winning prize, coincidentally, is a four-day trip to the District. Chris planned to join Carmen in today’s event, his first road race.

While the race was relatively easy for Douma-Hussar, it was a tense affair for Itati. Coming off a stellar half-marathon at the Philadelphia Distance Run (fifth in 1:02:04) just six days earlier, Itati was determined to successfully defend his title on Pennsylvania Avenue once again.

“It was very hard in the last 400 meters,” said Itati, who set the course record of 3:58.7 in 2002. “Usually I rest one week before I come here.”

He was assisted by a slow opening 800 meters to the turnaround near the Capitol, in 2:03. At that point, Itati threw in a hard surge and broke up the pack. He passed 1,200 meters at 3:07 but was evenly matched three-across by Nicholas Kurgat of Kenya in the center and Mark Fountain of Australia on the right.

The 6-foot-2 Fountain began his kick with 200 meters left, and appeared headed for victory But with 50 meters to go, the 5-foot-4 Itati sneaked by on his left and hit the tape just a blink ahead of Fountain.

“I could look at his shadow, and I knew he was a tall guy,” Itati said.

The Australian ended in 4:04.89 while Kurgat was third in 4:07.38.

“I thought I had him,” said Fountain, who goes back to his training grounds in Arkansas some $1,000 richer. “It just shows you when you haven’t been training hard for the past few months, you run out of gas.”

One person who didn’t run out of gas was 10-year-old Brittney Rooks. The Baltimore fourth-grader broke her age-group records in the children’s 800 (2:40), children’s mile (5:45) and the 5-kilometer run (20:50). She ran a spectacular net time of 19:06 at the Run to Remember 5K two weeks ago in Baltimore and plans to run the half-marathon at the Northern Central Trail Marathon on Nov.27.

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