Sunday, March 15, 2009

At no other time in track and field has the world witnessed a more captivating 81 days than when Henry Rono took over the record books in 1978.

Then a sophomore at Washington State, Rono crushed four world records running virtually solo: the 10,000 meters (27:22.47), the 5,000 (13:08.4), the 3,000-meter steeplechase (8:05.4), and the 3,000 (7:32.1).

From his perch atop the world in that magical year, Rono made one of the most dramatic plunges in athletic history, battling alcoholism and poverty that left him in a D.C. homeless shelter in the 1990s.

Rono said Saturday that the utter disappointment of his homeland Kenya boycotting the 1976 and 1980 Olympic Games contributed to his drinking binge.

Rono said he’s now coaching high school athletes in Albuquerque, N.M., and pursuing a graduate degree in special education. At 57 years old, Rono has trained for the past three years in an attempt to break the world masters mile record for the 55-59 age group, which is a far off 4:40.

Officials at next weekend’s USATF Masters Indoor Championships at Prince George’s Sports & Learning Complex in Landover are flying Rono here so he can compete in the mile scheduled for Saturday at 12:27 p.m. and the 800 next Sunday at 11:48 a.m.

“Training for the mile record is something important to me,” Rono said from Albuquerque, coming off a cold but anticipating a 5:20 next weekend. “It means a lot to achieve this goal no matter how long it takes to get there. Nolan Shaheed is still there running at age 59, which is so motivating to me. I am addicted to making world records; however, I can’t tell why this one takes so long because I have been pursuing for the last three years.”

Rono said fans also can see him at the National Marathon & Half Marathon Health and Fitness Expo on Friday at the D.C. Armory between 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. According to marathon officials, Rono will be a guest of Potomac River Running Company at their expo booth, signing his 2007 autobiography “Olympic Dream,” shaking hands and offering photo opportunities.

Nearly 1,000 track and field athletes 30 and older have signed up for the 35th indoor national championships, surpassing the previous record of 849.

Another athlete with a world-class resume - 51-year-old Joan (Benoit) Samuelson - has signed up for the meet. The seven-time Olympic marathon trials qualifier won the inaugural women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles in 1984 as well as the Boston Marathon in 1979 and 1983. Samuelson also competed in masters nationals in 2003, running 10:02.55 as a 45-year-old.

“I just happened to be checking my e-mails and saw registration was closing,” Samuelson said from her Freeport, Maine, home Friday. “I haven’t done any track work since the meet in 2003. I would like to run a fast mile one day, so I thought I’d start with the 3,000. Got to keep the carrot in front of you.”

Asked if she could run faster than in 2003, Samuelson replied: “I have no idea of what I can do. I don’t know if I can do that. I’d be happy to break 11 [minutes].”

The listed age group world indoor record is 10:06.36, while the U.S. record is 10:23.84, set by Kathryn Martin, who most likely will be in the same heat as Samuelson but competing in the 55-59 category.

Samuelson’s submitted seed time: 10:05.

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