You won't see former St. George Marathon champions Criss James or Cheryl Harper or any of a number of former champions at St. George this year, says race director Kent Perkins and, he adds, no problem. Not to worry. It means the race, once again, is wide open.

"I wouldn't say any of our former champions have abandoned us," he says in response to that word used in a question inquiring as to why so many former champions appear to be choosing other fall marathons after having established their reputations at St. George. He said he's happy those runners have gotten invitations and appearance money to compete in other marathons."And we certainly want them to do well and we welcome them back when they return," Perkins says. "But ours is a `People race.' We give as much attention to the middle of the pack runner as we give to the first place finisher. I don't think we'll ever offer prize money to the so-called `elite' runners, unless a sponsor was to come in and contribute the prize money. It just isn't what has made us successful."

Perkins says that more than 900 people have volunteered to provide support to the more than 1,600 runners expected to run the Saturdayrace at 6:45 a.m., the 13th annual, a race that means more than $1 million in revenue for the burgeoning economy of this city.

While many marathons around the country have been dipping in numbers of participants, and dying on the vine because of the decreased amount of runners who want to pound themselves to oblivion during a 26.2 mile race, the St. George Marathon is up in numbers from last year, a year that was up from the year before.

"That's very gratifying to us. It means we're catering to our runners and that's exactly what we want to do," Perkins said.

Notable among the field this year at St. George will be two runners from Japan, a runner from Great Britain, runners from 21 states, and last year's wheelchair champions, Rondo Poole and Sharon Frenette, who say they plan to beat their record-breaking times of a year ago. Frenette spun through the course in 1:47:00 last year and says she can do a 1:45:00. Rondo Poole did 1:33:00 last year and says he can beat that by three minutes.

"It's definitely a wide open race this year," says Perkins. "Chick Hislop, the coach at Weber State College, tells us that Tracy Fifield (who projects a 2:15 record-breaking finish) will be a real contender. Alfredo Rosas, who was fourth overall last year and an Olympic Trials qualifier, will be back, and Brad Ellis, from Maine, who finished 27th in the Olympic Trials, will be here."

For the women, Gail Ladage-Scott, who set an American Masters record last year in winning the St. George Marathon, has sent in her application but she said she would be waiting to the last moment to determine if she was fit enough after having some injury problems this year to defend her championship. The women's field, if Ladage-Scott doesn't show, is as wide open as the red rock scenery along much of the St. George Marathon course.

Television coverage on KUTV-Channel 2 of the event will be taped and provided a day later, Sunday, because of the Olympic coverage this year, says Perkins.