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Area runners discuss the possible cancellation of another local road race | TribLIVE.com
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Area runners discuss the possible cancellation of another local road race

Many athletes who competed in Sunday’s Great Replacement Race in Schenley Park believe yesterday’s road race isn’t the only one that will need a substitute.

The 20th annual Pittsburgh Marathon most likely will not proceed in the same way it did the past 19 years, according to the buzz from members of the local running community.

“That’s the scuttlebutt,” said Monroeville resident Don Slusser, 51, who has run 163,000 lifetime miles and 95 marathons, including every Pittsburgh Marathon and Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race. “I have heard about people who are in the early stages of designing a replacement race for the marathon. The runners have all talked about it. That is much harder to do than the Replacement Great Race, however.”

Organizers of yesterday’s replacement race put it together in 23 days after the 27th annual Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race was cancelled because of the city’s recent financial problems. In a short period of time, planners were able to attract 1,500 runners combined in the 10K and 5K events – compared to the 10,000 runners who annually compete in the Great Race.

Tom Abbott, 48, of Natrona Heights, ran all 26 Great Races and kept his streak alive yesterday as one of 13 of the 28 men to have run them all.

Abbott, who also has run 59 marathons, said he also has heard about the possible demise of the Pittsburgh race and added a potential course most likely would be in a confined area such as North Park.

Runners agreed it won’t be as easy to save a marathon such as the Great Race because of the logistics of a 26.2-mile race versus a 6.2-mile one.

Kevin Smith, owner of the Elite Runners and Walkers store in Robinson Township and yesterday’s race director, said a marathon cancellation would be devastating from an economic standpoint because of the business it creates from hotels to shoes. Then, runners will be drawn to other cities, Smith said. Cleveland’s marathon is the week before Pittsburgh, while Cincinnati’s race is the same day as Pittsburgh’s — the first Sunday in May.

“Once cities like Cleveland and Cincinnati get word of a possible cancellation, they will put a full-court press on Pittsburgh runners,” Smith said.

Elite marathon runner Mary Alico, 40, of Shady Side said she was saddened over the talk of not having the marathon and no announcement by UPMC to be the title sponsor in 2004.

“I think someone will step up and sponsor it,” said Alico, who won the 10K women’s division in 37 minutes, 21 seconds. “Some people train all winter so they can run Pittsburgh. If they cancel, a lot of people will be really upset.”

Jim Hommes, 32, of Wilkinsburg, who won yesterday’s 10K event with a time of 33:07, said he understands but would rather have private sponsorship pay for races than not be able to pay policemen and firemen because the city had to foot the bill for a road race.

Perfect great racer Ken Balkey, 52, of Churchill, said when he heard the Great Race was cancelled, he decided to see what he could do to keep it going. He will do the same to help the marathon, if need be.

“I could see the city was in a dire situation,” said Balkey, who had run 25 marathons before nearly losing his life to a cardiac arrest in July 1998. “There were mixed emotions from the running community and people who were upset. This was a small problem compared to going through a life-changing event like I did. We can make things happen if we pull together.”

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Mike Portogallo, 48, of Swissvale won a race Sunday but has no trophy or medal to show for it. Portogallo ran what was referred to as a protest run for the cancellation of the 27th annual Richard S. Caliguiri City of Pittsburgh Great Race.

The event was cancelled because of the city’s recent financial problems.

The 6.2-mile course Portogallo and about 100 other individuals ran covered most of the original Great Race course from Frick Park to the Eliza Furnace Trail into Point State Park but was not sanctioned by USATF and did not have a permit from the city.

There also was an alternative race which was USATF approved course run in Schenley Park called the Great Replacement Race, but Portogallo chose not to run that because he didn’t have the money for the entrance fee and he is the type of individual who tends to go against the grain.

‘I am kind of a protest sort of guy,’ Portogallo said. ‘It was fun. I was able to ‘win’ because some runners in front of me had to stop for traffic on the Boulevard of the Allies so I caught up with them and beat them into Point State Park.’


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