Nation/World

Harmonious Convergence Bloomsday Both Bigger And Better

There were plenty of reasons to party at Bloomsday 1996.

Unexpectedly good weather and a record 61,298 registrants were just two of them.

People gave each other hugs and high-fives as they funneled through the finish chutes and rushed to get their long-awaited T-shirts.

“Slow down - you’re done now!” a volunteer shouted.

But no one could stifle the excitement of finishers in Sunday’s 20th-annual festival of fitness.

Afterward, it was like a college tailgate party in the parking lot of Cyrus O’Leary’s restaurant, where about a dozen families set up barbecue grills and popped open cans of beer and soda.

“This is happening,” said volunteer Bob Jackson, who directed people leaving the finish chutes. “The weather can’t be any more perfect. The crowds are great.”

The top finishers blew away the competition.

Lazarus Nyakeraka of Kenya sprinted at the finish to capture the men’s crown in 34 minutes and 7 seconds.

In the women’s division, South Africa’s Colleen De Reuck led from start to finish, covering the course in 38 minutes and 48 seconds.

For the masses, Bloomsday was mostly smooth sailing. The worst injury was a broken ankle.

Security was tight around City Hall, where a pipe bomb exploded a week ago.

Shortly before the race, an anonymous telephone caller warned Spokane police something bad would happen if the race proceeded, said Lt. Jim Nicks.

But authorities didn’t think the call was a serious threat.

“There wasn’t anything to substantiate a threat,” Nicks said.

Police did have explosives specialists on hand - just in case - and they also scoured the course for anything suspicious. Undercover officers were scattered through the crowd.

“This is my fifth (Bloomsday) and it’s one of the smoothest I’ve worked,” said Nicks. “It’s a piece of cake.”

Runners credited the cool weather with boosting their finish times.

They started lining up as early as 6 a.m., when the temperature was just above freezing. By midmorning, however, it was a relatively balmy 50 degrees.

“You ordered the perfect day,” said Beckie Simmie-Kesecker, 44, of Santa Rosa, Calif. She finished the race in just under 50 minutes.

Others said the cool spell had tricked them into overdressing.

“I usually run with gloves, and I took my gloves off at mile 3,” said Vicki McCracken, 39, of Pullman.

The chill also cut traffic at the finish line first-aid tent. The place has been busier for past Bloomsdays because more people overheated.

This year, several pale-faced runners lay atop blue sheets as volunteers took their temperatures and heart rates. One girl had scraped her elbow in a fall; a few people had suffered minor heatstroke.

One runner ducked into the station, tired but laughing. “Do you do leg massages?” she joked.

Runners from throughout the West converged on Spokane for the race.

They included Aaron Freund of Calgary, Alberta, who couldn’t stop a flow of green-colored sweat from staining his T-shirt.

The 15-year-old had dyed his hair green for the race.

“It’s so my mom could see me,” he said.

Last week’s City Hall bomb didn’t scare away 71-year-old Ed Cotter, who came from Portland to run with relatives.

“Things happen wherever you go,” he said. “You can’t live your life afraid - that’s my motto.”

At Doomsday Hill, nearly 100 spectators lined up an hour before the first wheelchair racer appeared on T.J. Meenach Bridge.

Bill Robinson - the man inside the “The Buzzard”- sat on a lawn chair, dressed in orange-speckled tights. The huge black bird costume rested behind him.

Robinson said he dons the costume - a Bloomsday tradition over the past nine years - to inspire struggling runners to make it up the steep slope.

As the first wheelchair racer sailed up the hill, the crowd launched into the first of countless cheering jags that created a stadiumlike sound wave.

Using a megaphone, Annie Trunkle put on a one-woman comedy act that wrung smiles and breathless laughter from the laboring runners.

Trunkle asked for names and phone numbers, commented on the racers’ “biceps” and “buns.” She urged people on with the promise of “free water at the top.” She hummed the theme to “Rocky.”

Nearly an hour after the race had started, the band Loose Change launched into “Hang On, Sloopy,” and a few winded runners found the energy to wiggle their hips and clap their hands.

Spectators could feel the heat generated by the sea of bodies. Pieces of discarded clothing littered the curb the length of the hill.

Bloomsday is a once-a-year date for sisters Jean Richardson and JoAnne Garrett.

The race offers them an excuse for a weekend of shopping, eating and talking. Garrett comes from Butte, Mont., and Richardson from Bonners Ferry, Idaho.

“We talk better when we walk,” said Richardson.

It was a special race for about 150 runners and walkers who never have missed a Bloomsday. They received special 20th-anniversary T-shirts at the awards ceremony at Riverfront Park after the race.

“It’s determination,” said John Howard of Priest Lake, Idaho, of his Bloomsday streak. “Sometimes I’m just too darn stubborn to not race.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: Color photo

MEMO: This sidebar appeared with the story: BLOOMSDAY AT A GLANCE Number registered: 61,298 (record). Previous mark: 60,104 (1991). Men’s winner: Lazarus Nyakeraka, 20, Kenya. Women’s winner: Colleen De Reuck, 32, South Africa. Women’s wheelchair: Jean Driscoll, 29, Illinois. Men’s wheelchair: Paul Wiggins, 33, Australia.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Putsata Reang Staff writer Staff writers Kristina Johnson, Jeanette White and Bruce Krasnow contributed to this report.

This sidebar appeared with the story: BLOOMSDAY AT A GLANCE Number registered: 61,298 (record). Previous mark: 60,104 (1991). Men’s winner: Lazarus Nyakeraka, 20, Kenya. Women’s winner: Colleen De Reuck, 32, South Africa. Women’s wheelchair: Jean Driscoll, 29, Illinois. Men’s wheelchair: Paul Wiggins, 33, Australia.

The following fields overflowed: BYLINE = Putsata Reang Staff writer Staff writers Kristina Johnson, Jeanette White and Bruce Krasnow contributed to this report.



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