Local stars will shine in Sydney


By Gary Droze


By the time the calendar reaches the ides of August, area track buffs typically turn their attention away from the tartan oval. Late summer generally finds local running enthusiasts anticipating a return to pavement venues, as another road racing season beckons. But this is an Olympic year, which extends the track racing season for a handful of quadrennial supernovas, and lengthens the spectator season for those millions of us whose performances are nearer to cellar than stellar. Moreover, this year two of Tallahassee’s most accomplished international track stars are training to shine in Sydney.

Florida State University alum Kim Batten possesses the greatest chance of area hopefuls to seize Olympic luster in September. Batten sports hefty credentials in the 400 meter hurdles: world record holder (52.61), six-time U.S. Champ, 1995 World Champ, 1996 Olympic Silver Medalist, and two-time World Games Bronze Medalist. Want some “up close and personal” to go with those amazing stats? Batten’s warmth and graciousness match her competitive ferocity. A highly recognized track celebrity overseas, Batten seems to revel in her relative anonymity stateside. Relentlessly engaging, she is happy to sign autographs and encourage young tracksters. And Batten left me agape one day at the Mike Long track when she politely asked if her planned workout wouldn’t interfere with a session I was staging for local club runners. I could only retort with a re-enactment of a scene from Wayne’s World (“We’re not worthy!”). All loyal Americans should root for Kim Batten this September.

All loyal Americans with Irish sympathies should root for Tallahassee resident Breeda Dennehy Willis in the distance events at this year’s games. Willis recently broke through in the 5000 meters at an Olympic tune-up meet in Belgium. She scorched a 15:12 to secure a spot on Ireland’s squad. Additionally, Willis’ sub- 32:00 capability in the 10,000 meters earned her the option to run that event. Elusive and speedy, Willis is occasionally spotted by sharp-eyed observers in the vicinity of her native habitat, the Maclay School track. Husband Lee, who teaches at Maclay, can turn four laps in 4:06. Area youth coaches are currently bidding for rights to their first-born.

The Maclay track will also be the site for one last seasonal track fling, for the rest of who didn’t make the Olympic cut. On Saturday, August 26, Felton Wright hosts the ominously named “Breakfast on the Track” mile race festival. Beginners and veterans alike may participate, as each mile race will be set up according to runners’ expected times. Those with intact hamstrings and solid HMO plans may then want to attempt the exhibition 4×400 afterwards. Following the races, all attendees will be treated to a ridiculous awards ceremony and a tasty breakfast. Last year, this event was the Gulf Winds Track Club’s best crowd pleaser.

The GWTC hopes to please even larger crowds with a lucrative membership offer through August 25 that includes free merchandise and a substantial discount on running shoes at Shaw’s Athletics. Call Paul Hiers at 656-7201 for details.