Olympic track connection has Woodstock hearts beating with pride
by Joe Medley
Jul 28, 2012 | 2859 views |  0 comments | 13 13 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Dennis Dunn taps his hand to his chest, and it’s not to say the Woodstock 5K race director has a broken heart.

True, two-time-defending women’s champion and record-holder Janet Cherobon-Bawcom won’t be there a week from today to run in Anniston’s signature running event, which, once again, will double as the Road Runners Club of America’s national 5K championship.

True, Dunn and the race’s team of organizers sure wish Cherobon-Bawcom would return for her fourth consecutive Woodstock.

Thing is, she has another commitment, another race Friday. Since she’s running for the United States in the London Olympics and all, the robust local running community kind of understands the conflict.

And when Dunn taps his hand to his chest, it’s to say that Cherobon-Bawcom’s response to his inquiry on Facebook warmed his Woodstock heart.

“I sent her a message, ‘Hey, are you running in Woodstock?’” he said. “Then I realized, ‘Oh my goodness, she’s running the Olympics.’ After I realized she was running in the Olympics and said congrats, she said:

“‘Well, you never know. With the time difference and the flights these days. … Seriously, thanks so much. That’s actually one of the first things that came to mind when I made the Olympic team: I won’t be able to run Woodstock. Thanks for being a part of my journey getting here.’”

The bird is the word in Woodstock circles, and count Cherobon-Bawcom’s pursuit of Olympic gold in the 10,000-meter run among the happiest words from the bird this year.

The race will have the RRCA national championship designation for the second year in a row and third time in four years.

A week out from the starting gun, the race has about 1,100 runners registered, enough to put it within reach of breaking the 2010 record of 1,260 for the Woodstock and Kidstock events.

“We’re getting close enough that I can get excited about it,” Dunn said. “We only have 1,500 runner shirts, and we’re within 400 of that now. It’s very possible that we can max out.”

But this year’s race will have race eve buzz. At 3:25 p.m. Central Friday, just as volunteers are doing packet pickup in Anniston High School, Woodstock’s connection to Olympic glory will be running for gold.

“We’re asking if there’s any way we can plug in a TV over there at Anniston High School and watch it,” Dunn said. “That would be really great, if we can have it there.”

Cherobon-Bawcom has run the past three Woodstocks, and she broke the women’s course record each of the past two years. She won in 16 minutes and 46 seconds in 2010 then beat that mark by 20 seconds a year ago.

The 33-year-old native of Kapsabet, Kenya, lives in Rome, Ga., but her connections to the Anniston area extend beyond her Woodstock runs. Already the holder of an associate’s degree in nursing, she’s pursuing a bachelor’s degree through an on-line program provided by Jacksonville State University.

The school’s public relations department released a profile on her, which was published in the Jacksonville News earlier this week.

She started running in 1998, became a U.S. citizen in 2010 and has quickly become one of the best American women in road runner. Already this year, she’s the USA road champion at the 15K (49:41) and 25K (1:24:36) distances.

She finished seventh at the USA Olympic Trials, but she was one of only three women with the Olympic A standard. Her spot on the Olympic team was all but guaranteed.

In Woodstock world, she’s a rock star. That’s a lock, no matter how she finishes in London.

“We’re already proud,” Dunn said. “I think we would just be proud for her, proud that we know her, because we’re already proud of her and happy for her.

“Once you make the Olympic team, anything else is just kind of a cherry-on-top type of situation. Just to know that it would mean a lot to Janet and all of the people that support here … but to know her personally and to know that she’s run this race the last three years, she’s representing all of us.

“She’s representing Alabama and Georgia. She’s representing her country. It’s a reason to feel proud.”

That Cherobon-Bawcom considers Woodstock “part of my journey” to the Olympics?

Well, forgive Woodstock hearts a little chest thumping.

“USA! USA! Go Janet,” Dunn wrote back to Cherobon-Bawcom. “We are so happy and proud of you.

“We will hold your Woodstock trophy until you get back from London. Can’t wait to see you at the Olympics. USA! USA!”

Joe Medley is The Star’s sports columnist. He can be reached at 256-235-3576 or jmedley@annistonstar.com. Follow on Twitter @jmedley_star.

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