Yesterday I was in Kenosha WI for the Champ Sports Midwest Region Championships, watching spectators and participants walking into the Wayne Dannehl Course in anticipation of the upcoming races, many faces unrecognized by me but occasionally ones that were familiar. It's amazing how many famous people go recognized.
Janet Smith was a 3-time XC All-American for NC State in 1984, 1985, and 1987 which, alongside her 1983 national victory at this very meet, then called the Kinney Championships, undoubtedly made her the most famous female runner athlete at the meet. There were probably only five or six other that knew. I said hi and we chatted briefly, reminding her two athletes what a phenomenal runner she was forty years ago. They didn't seem too impressed.
He walked through the gate with an older gentlemen trailing behind him, the two-time World Cross Country champion Craig Virgin wearing a faded USA jacket as he walked through the crowd. I waved at him as kids jogged by without giving America's most successful XC runner a second glance, his stiff gate from far too many surgeries making him appear older. He was the only 2-time Olympian at the meet. Nary a soul knew him.
His fading red hair stuck out from the navy blue hat with a yellow M when I nodded a greeting, the 3-time Canadian Olympian and 14-time All-American for Michigan, Kelly Sullivan ran 3:50.26 for the mile, on five occasions winning NCAA titles. He was a stud. Do you think any of the five state champions at the meet said hi? Well, I noticed one state champion did, but 99.9% of the kids wouldn't have had a clue that he was once a world class runner.
At the Illinois State HS Championship three weeks ago I asked some boys from DG North who was the 3-time Olympian and 3:49.80 miler I pointed at, yep, that guy with the gray hair, not one having a clue. "Have you ever heard of Jim Spivey?" All I saw were four faces rotating side to side like bobblehead dolls, each reaction as though I had just told them he was the Boston Strangler's brother. Who?
At every cross country meet we are surrounded by greatness - yet few people recognize the faces. I don't lament this fact. Its ancient history. But I enjoy acknowledging their existence, letting them know that I know they were some of the greatest distance runners in North America. It's still cool to me.