- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 6, 2007

At Wednesday’s Capital Challenge in Anacostia Park, Judge John Mott — sans robe — held court in impressive fashion among the 670 participants.

He was the fastest Federal judge over the three-mile out-and-back course along the Anacostia River in 17:24. What’s even more fascinating is that last year, he ran 23:41. Cross-examine that man to determine how he has gotten so quick.

Many things about this 26-year-old Capital Challenge event, which pits the press against the politicians they cover from the legislative, executive and judicial branches, are different from year to year. Some things, however, never change.

Sen. Richard Lugar, Indiana Republican, always has been there, 26 years running. And his team almost always wins. Rep. Bart Gordon, Tennessee Democrat, crushes the men of the House, as does his team, Dash Gordon. The U.S. Navy dominates the individual and team competitions.

The fittest journalists were from the Chronicle of Higher Education, who must be chronicling sophisticated training programs. Sam Kean and Kelly Field were the top scribes, leading their team to victory over the other Twinkie-powered journalists.

Note from the Peek — Last weekend’s winner of the Pike’s Peek 10K — Gurmessa Kumsa — said after the race that he was granted asylum, has gained his green card and might become a U.S. citizen one day. “I love America,” said Kumsa, an Ethiopian who has lived in the Washington area for a year now. “It’s a good country.”

What’s not to like when you can win hundreds of dollars in virtually every local race?

So many of the foreign athletes, especially the Ethiopians in the past year, have swept through town, won their share of prize money and then left the area as fast as they arrived.

To Kumsa’s credit, he at least is trying to become a permanent fixture here. Others who have successfully settled in the area: Kenya’s Wilson Komen, Russia’s Andrey Kuznetsov and France’s Philippe Rolly, to name a few.

Like a fine wine —Most veteran road racers think retirement comes in their late 30s. Not Burtonsville’s Edmund Burke, who snagged second place at Pike’s Peek with a personal best 30:05 at age 37. “I’ve never broken 30 minutes in 10K, but this is still a [personal record] for me,” said Burke, whose sole focus for 2007 is qualifying for, then running in, the 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials in November in New York. His 2:21:46 personal record at Chicago in 2003 got him into the 2004 Olympic Marathon Trials.

He was third at Pike’s in 2003 in 30:11. “Next time I’m coming back to win it!” he said.

Unemployed buns — Officials at the New York City Marathon announced last week that after years of internal debate, they are doing away with pace-setters affectionately known as rabbits, hired by the race over the past 15 years to produce faster times.

“Last year’s race sealed the fate on our consideration of dropping pacers,” said Mary Wittenberg, race director of the New York City Marathon and president/CEO of the New York Road Runners. “As often as pacing goes well, it can run amok. It seemed to us, let these athletes come race and put on the show we know they’re capable of.”

Last year, the rabbits ran pretty far out ahead of the fields, which was confusing for the competing athletes, the spectators and television crews.

“What we found was that the star-studded athletes who had run major titles were spending the first half wondering ‘what’s going on with the pacer’ instead of ‘what’s going on with my competitors and how am I going to win this race,’ ” Wittenberg said. “It’s almost as if we’ve asked the athletes to turn their brain off and just get to mile 16, instead of getting out there and racing. I feel like we’re actually helping them. This is a pure race. They don’t have to worry about what the pacer is doing anymore, they just have to worry about themselves and the way they want to approach winning this race.”

Army alert —Fewer than 4,000 entries left for the October 7 Army Ten Miler.

Tune out, MCM — Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minn., was the first to announce it would strictly follow the new USA Track & Field rule banning headphones at its event. The Napa Valley Marathon recently stepped up and joined the ban. When will Marine Corps take a stand?

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