David Freeze: Will the Winter Flight record fall?

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Back in 1988, a young Dutch Olympian named Hans Koeleman came to Salisbury to race Winter Flight. Johannes Cornelis Maria “Hans” Koeleman, born in Uithoorn, Netherlands, was a steeplechase competitor in the 1984 and 1988 games. He didn’t make the finals in either Olympics, but still won a medal in every Dutch national steeplechase championship between 1977 and 1988. Steeplechase runners compete on a track that has a wall or hedge and water hazard that must be cleared on each lap.

Koeleman set a longstanding Winter Flight course record that winter day. He blitzed the 8K course in 23 minutes and 35 seconds, an average pace of 4 minutes and 45 seconds per mile. Koeleman ran on the same course that will be used for Sunday’s Winter Flight, 4.97 miles of several flat areas mixed with moderate hills. The start and finish are both at Catawba College.

In 26 years since Koeleman blew away the course, no other runner has come close to his record. Winter Flight has attracted some great runners, but through it all the record still stands. On Sunday afternoon, Feb. 8, one of the best runners to ever to visit North Carolina plans to compete with hopes of eclipsing the record.

Eliud Ngetich was born in Eldoret, Kenya, in 1993. He is one of 17 siblings, though he is still considered the youngest because girls do not count in his community. After showing talent in running as a very young elementary school student, Ngetich worked hard to survive a harsh life. He is part of the Kalenjin tribe, universally accepted as having the best middle and long distance runners in the world.

Ngetich’s family survives by hunting and raising livestock. Water must be carried on foot from long distances to keep the cows and vegetables alive. Hunting is done by running down antelopes and other animals. Ngetich said, “It would usually take about 40 minutes of hard running up and down hills to kill one. Running for me then was a means of survival. It saved my family from starving, especially in the summer, when there were few vegetables.”

Having already qualified for the Kenyan Olympic marathon trials, Ngetich comes to Salisbury with world class times of 13:50 in the 5K, 29:16 in the 10K and 2:11:59 in the marathon. He is only 21 years old and currently lives in Jacksonville, Florida, after a time in New York City. Ngetich returns to Kenya for about five months a year to enhance his training by running at altitude.

But there are other runners already committed to the race that are worth watching, as well. Tammy Nichols works at the Salisbury Veterans Administration Medical Center. She took a beginning runners class last fall and became hooked on all the positives, so much that she is currently in another class for beginners at First Methodist Church.

Nichols said, “I was pushed by a friend to sign up for the class at the VA. The benefits of running have gone way beyond weight loss and have surpassed anything that I expected. This will be my first 8K, and my goal is to finish without stopping to walk. I am grateful to the running community that has been so encouraging, giving me advice and tips to improve the experience.”

One of the nation’s best male masters runners has also committed to run Saturday. Chad Newton of Pisgah Forest already holds the 2013 age 40-44 national titles for the U.S. Association of Track and Field in 5K road, 5K track and 5K cross country events. Now 45, Newton will come to Salisbury with hopes of setting the North Carolina masters 8K record.

Possibly the most impressive of all the runners on Sunday might be 88-year-old Byron Logan from Hickory. Logan has been a regular participant at Winter Flight. What sets him apart is that Logan is a World War II veteran, having served in the Pacific on a minesweeper through several major battles and the Japanese surrender. Logan will be wearing his Navy combat jacket while he runs. He said, “I always enjoy coming to Winter Flight because I meet the nicest people.” Logan plans to attend with his wife of 66 years, his son-in-law and possibly another WW ll veteran.

My point is that Winter Flight is a run for everyone. First up is a free half-mile run for kids at 1:30 p.m., followed at 2 p.m. by the 2015 Novant Health Winter Flight 8K and the non-competitive 5K. Winter Flight is also the North Carolina 8K Championship and will result in special awards for that as well. Nearly 100 age group awards will be given out for the 8K.

Interested spectators can see the runners as they start at Catawba College on Yost Street and continue out to Statesville Boulevard. They will turn right onto Statesville and continue to Milford Drive. The runners will go right on Milford and then follow it out to Jake Boulevard Extension and take another right to continue on to the dead end at Highway 601/Innes Street. Another right onto 601 brings the runners back to West Park Drive at Catawba College. A quick right on West Park and then a left on Yost send the runners into Shuford Stadium and a finish on the track in front of the home stands.

Online registration continues at www.sportoften.com through Saturday. More information and a printable registration brochure are available at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org . Call 704-310-6741 with additional questions.