The fifth running of the Deseret News/KSL Radio 10,000-meter run had just been completed, and Geir Kvernmo, the runaway winner, was registering a mild complaint: "It's tough to run alone, especially on this course with its long straightaways. It's not exciting to see 10 minutes down the road."
Kvernmo, a native of Norway who lives in Boulder, Colo., had only himself to blame for his long, lonely (uninteresting?) run. After all, it was his own fault that he broke his challengers before the race was even two miles old. It was his own fault he had to run the rest of the way by himself.Kvernmo kept looking over his shoulder at his receding rivals, but on this morning there would be no challengers. By the time he reached the finish in Liberty Park, Kvernmo had pulled off the biggest rout in the race's history - and ran an eye-opening time of 27:43, leaving one to wonder how fast he could have run if he had had competition.
All of which is not bad for a converted cross-country skier who has raced seriously for only three years. Watch for him in the Olympic Games marathon later this summer.
"It was a race for second today," said Don Janicki, who was second in 28:45, more than a minute behind the winner. Actually, it was a race for third. Paul Pilkington, an Ogden school teacher, raced home in 29:03, which was a full 26 seconds faster than his winning time in 1984, but this time he could do no better than third place. Dirk Lakeman, the 1987 national 10,000-meter road racing champion, finished just two seconds behind Pilkington, and Tracy Fifield, a former Big Sky champion from Weber State, was one second behind him.
Kvernmo was no secret coming into the race. He won the Houston Marathon in January. And last year in the London Marathon he ran 2:10:17, a Norwegian record. He came to Salt Lake City this weekend "just to see where I am in my training." The first prize was a small consideration, too - a 1988 Hyundai Excel.
Frankly, the car looked like easy pickings. The top two local guns, Olympians Paul Cummings and Ed Eyestone, were sitting out the race - Cummings because of an injury and Eyestone to rest and prepare for the Olympic marathon. They had won the last two Deseret News-KSL races and they have been nearly unbeatable in their home state.
"Even though Paul and Ed weren't in the race, I still thought it was a deeper field this year," said Janicki.
But there was no one who could pose even a mild threat to Kvernmo. For the first mile of the race, there was a small four-man pack consisting of Kvernmo, Janicki, Pilkington and Sam Sitonek. But long before they reached the second mile, Kvernmo had begun to pull away. By the time Kvernmo reached the parade route on Main Street, his lead was 1 1/2 blocks and growing.
"I pushed it hard from the start," said Kvernmo. "I usually do that. I can handle a hard early pace, and it makes the others work harder."
But the others wouldn't be drawn into the fight. As the field turned down a hill on 1300 South, Kvernmo widened his lead dramatically.
"He really took it out that second mile," said Janicki. "I'm not in that kind of shape. I hoped he'd go out slower, like we did last year, but he kept pushing."
And what of the rest of the field? Mark Stickley finished sixth, in 29:12, followed by Sam Sitonek in 29:20 and Jim Klein in 29:21. Chad Bennion, a former state champion from Murray High School who just finished his collegiate career at Oregon, was ninth in 29:34, and Danny Grimes was 10th in 30:14. Demetrio Cabanillas, the nine-time defending Deseret News Marathon champion, was 11th.
(John Brewer won the wheelchair division, with a time of 21:53, with Vance Anderson second in 22:37 and Tim Peterson third in 23:22.)
"I'm making good progress," said Kvernmo, a financial analyst from Oslo, Norway, who has taken time off from work to train in the U.S. for the Olympics. In August, he'll tune up for the Games with some races in Europe.
Kvernmo first came to the U.S. in the late '70s to compete for the University of Wyoming's cross-country team (he finished as high as second in the NCAA championships). It wasn't until 1980 that he became a competitive runner.
In one of his first races, Kvernmo ran 5,000 meters on the track in 14:36. After a couple of months of serious training, he improved to 13:44 and to 28:15 for 10,000 meters on the track. "I progressed well," said Kvernmo, who finally took up the sport in earnest in 1985.