Only six weeks ago Paul Cummings was out of shape and overweight. He tipped the scales at 176 pounds - 40 pounds over his race weight - and a roll of fat was spilling over the top of his belt.
It is a testament to Cummings' considerable talent that on Saturday he stood in the winner's circle again, at the age of 38. Cummings, weighing in at 145, his health back again, if only for a while, won the Salt Lake City Classic 10,000-meter road race with a time of 30:36.It was Cummings' fourth victory in the Classic, but the last one was long ago and far away - in 1984, the year he raced in the Olympic Games. Cummings produced two more good seasons of running after that, but then his old health problems (allergies, a poor immune system, etc.) returned and he has rarely been heard from since then.
"It's just fun to be in it at all," said Cummings. "Just to be up there again. It's been a while. This is my best effort since 1987."
Saturday's victory wasn't easy. Defending champion Larry Smithee and Utah State's Deron Scott saw to that. So did the truck that accidently dumped a load of pipes on Cummings while he was out for a training run on 90th South last winter. Cummings required 25 stitches to close the wounds along his shin bone and suffered a puncture wound that eventually led to a bone infection.
"It could have ended my running career," said Cummings. "I still have no feeling in my lower leg. I was on antibiotics for a long time. I wasn't able to do much for 21/2 months, and I put on a lot of weight. It really set me back. I'm just now starting to feel like a runner again."
With six weeks of hard training, Cummings dropped his weight and regained his fitness, which was reason enough to enter the Classic. From the beginning, it was a three-man race, but at four miles Smithee surged and opened a 40-yard lead. "He paid for it later," said Cummings.
Scott and Cummings slowly reeled in Smithee, caught him at five miles and then left him. There was little doubt that Cummings, who has run a 3:54 mile, would outkick his young rival. With a quarter-mile to go, he bolted past Scott and strode to the finish line.
Scott was second in 30:42, followed in order by Smithee (30:56), John Aalberg (31:26) and Tracy Fifield (31:33).
Before the accident, Cummings had managed to string together several weeks of good health and uninterrupted training, which was encouraging enough that he considered making another run at the Olympic team. Now it might be too late.
"It's a slim possibility now," says Cummings. "It all depends on what happens in the next couple of weeks. But I've only got 10 pounds to go."
The men's 10K race provided the day's only suspense; the rest of the races were clear decisions, and the women's 10K was no exception. Celsa Kidman, a former University of Utah All-American, ran away from a strong field just after the first mile to claim her third Classic victory in four years. Her time: 35:04.
Holly Ebert was second in 36:42, followed by Kathy Matson (36:51), Ellen Gibson (37:10) and Cheryl Harper (37:27).
"I was just running scared," said Kidman.
She's also running away with the TAC/Utah Grand Prix. Two of the 10 grand prix races have been held so far, and Kidman has won both. She beat Kathy Robinson by two seconds to win the Homestead 15K on May 2. Next stop on the grand prix: the Golden Spoon 10K on June 20. It could be another big day for Kidman and Cummings.