Gotta Run: Magical run takes negative turn

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 12, 2021

Back in January 2015, hundreds of runners, volunteers, family and friends saw something that rated as one of the best runs, if not the very best that had ever happened locally. We saw the 8K (4.97 miles) record broken at Salisbury’s Winter Flight, one of the oldest and most storied races in the Southeast. It had appeared that the course record of 23:35, set in 1988 by Swedish Olympian Hans Koeleman wouldn’t ever be beat.

Our runners club had decided to up the ante, hoping to attract someone good enough to chase the record, with total bonuses of close to $1,000 should it happen. I was contacted by Eliud Ngetich of Kenya, one of the best young runners in the world. He was interested, at age 21, in coming to Salisbury, and was confident of his ability to actually beat the long-standing mark. We worked out an agreement to bring Ngetich here.

Normally, I am swamped with activities for the last 3-4 days before race day on the last Sunday in January. This time, I had a Davidson basketball game on Saturday that I wanted to see and promised to pick Ngetich up at the Charlotte airport if he could make the connections. I’m pretty sure that he was coming from England.

Anyway, I did pick Ngetich up mid-afternoon and totally enjoyed talking with him about his life in Kenya and training practices as a world class runner. I had to buy him food three times, once before the game, once at the game, and again before I dropped him at his motel on Saturday night.

On Saturday, Wayne Crowder, one of Salisbury’s best-known runners, picked Ngetich up for a tour of the Winter Flight course and then his arrival at Catawba’s Goodman Gym ahead of the race. Ngetich told me, “I will beat the course record, probably by about 15-20 seconds.” It was an unseasonably warm and breezy January day, neither good for the fastest racing.

I waited near the race finish inside Shuford Stadium, knowing exactly what time we would need to see Ngetich enter the stadium for the race to the record. Reports came in from along the course that he was on record pace.

The course record fell, with Ngetich running 23 minutes and 7 seconds, an average of 4 minutes and 39 seconds per mile. An amazing 28 seconds better than the previous record. The course is a series of long and challenging hills. I remember that afternoon as the single most thrilling race I had ever seen in person.

With a wonderful personality, Ngetich signed autographs, smiled for photos and was genuinely a big hit with everyone on hand. Many, including me, stayed in regular contact with him afterwards. In fact, he came back to chase the record again, his own this time, the next year. Ngetich was not the same runner that year.

Word came this past week that Ngetich had been linked to an ongoing doping scandal. On Sept. 3, the United States Anti-Doping Agency announcement said that Eliud Ngetich, of El Doret, Kenya, an athlete in the sport of track and field, has accepted a two-year period of ineligibility for an anti-doping rule violation committed under the 2009 version of the World Anti-Doping Code. Ngetich, 27, tested positive for nandrolone, also known as 19-nortestosterone.

After considering the case, USADA suspended one year of the two-year sanction due to the substantial assistance that Ngetich provided, which is the reason for the delay in announcing Ngetich’s sanction. Ngetich served a four-month provisional suspension from March 28, 2015, to July 27, 2015, and his remaining eight-month period of ineligibility began on August 19, 2021, the date he accepted this sanction. In addition, Ngetich has been disqualified from competitive results obtained on July 1, 2014 through July 27, 2015, the end of his provisional suspension, including forfeiture of any medals, points and prizes.

This means that Ngetich is officially disqualified from the 2015 Winter Flight win and record. His name will be removed from the records, but I doubt the money will be seen again.

This negative memory of the best runner I have ever met in person is hard to digest and very disappointing, but we will look forward.

The fall Beginning Runners Class will still accept participants through Sept. 23. Call 704-310-6741 with any questions. Look for the BRC and other events at www.salisburyrowanrunners.org.

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