El Mejdoubi misses record by 22 seconds

Published 12:00 am Monday, March 4, 2002

Yousri El Mejdoubi of Meridian crosses the finish line well ahead of the pack to win the 23rd Run Thru History Saturday morning.(The Vicksburg Post/C. TODD SHERMAN)

[03/03/02] Winning the Run Thru History was easy for Yousri El Mejdoubi. Beating the course record proved to be more of a challenge.

El Mejdoubi led Saturday’s race from start to finish, beating Joseph Curro of Vicksburg by nearly a minute and a half, but fell short of the 21-year-old race record by 22 seconds.

“It’s important to win, but the focus was on the record,” said El Mejdoubi, who crossed the finish line in 30 minutes, 57 seconds. “The last hill got me. It was a little steep. I knew then that I missed it.”

In the women’s division, 11-year-old Ashley Carrillo of Raymond may have started a dynasty. She was the top finisher among the women, crossing the line in 44:05, beating Suzy Seeber of West Monroe, La., by 49 seconds.

“It’s my favorite run,” said a smiling Carrillo, who won her first RTH in only her fourth attempt.

Carrillo, who was second in the women’s division last year, said her strategy was simple.

“I wanted to sprint the whole way,” she said, adding that she wasn’t sure when she pulled away from Seeber. “I didn’t look behind.”

In the 5K racewalk, Vicksburg’s Debbie Cheney turned in a slower time than last year, but her finish more than made up for it.

She finished in 27 minutes, 20 seconds, beating longtime nemesis Barbara Duplichain of Richland by nearly a minute. Duplichain, who beat Cheney by one second to win her third straight RTH last year, completed the course in 28:15. Cheney’s win also broke Duplichain’s streak of 10 straight RTH women’s titles in the racewalk.

“I was so excited. I got right about here and I was like, Yes!’ I went straight to the car and called my husband to tell him,” Cheney, 38, said.

The threat of rain Saturday morning nearly kept Bennett Randman away, but he decided at the last minute to make the drive from Jackson and register.

It turned out to be a good move he won the men’s racewalk with a time of 29:52.

“When I was on my way over here it started to rain, but a little voice said to keep going ahead. There’s gold at the end of that rainbow,” Randman, 52, said. “What a pleasant surprise. I’m going to be walking on air for at least two weeks.”

Randman, who finished third in the men’s division last year, said some extra work in the gym got him over the hump.

“I’ve been doing a lot of strength training. I have a lot more power in my legs, I’m a lot heavier and a lot faster,” he said.

Vicksburg’s Chris Mixon, 13, and 12-year-old Kelsie Gassen of Luling, La., were the boys and girls winners, respectively, in the Blue/Gray 1-mile fun run.

Mixon finished in 5:57, while Gassen crossed the line in 7:15.

“I’m the king of the world,” Mixon said.

While the cloudy skies didn’t keep Randman away, it did keep some others home. Nearly 1,100 people registered for the races, but only about 800 actually participated.

“We got a lot of people coming up here this morning,” RTH entries chairman Hays Latham said.

The talk around the race all morning centered on El Mejdoubi and his pursuit of Hector Ortiz’s course record of 30:35, set in 1981, and whether anyone could challenge the Moroccan native.

Curro kept pace with El Mejdoubi for about a mile, but quickly fell behind. Curro, a four-time RTH winner went on to post a personal-best time in the race of 32:25, but was left in the dust by El Mejdoubi.

“He started to pull away around the Louisiana Monument hill. At three miles, the guy said he was 40 seconds ahead, and I couldn’t see him anymore,” Curro said. “I would’ve like to have pushed him maybe he would’ve gotten the record. But I just couldn’t hang with him.”

Curro wasn’t the only strong runner El Mejdoubi left behind. Eighteen runners finished in under 35 minutes, including former RTH champions Curro, Jeff Hathorn and Chuck Engle.

“That was the toughest competition I’ve seen in years. It’s probably been five or six years since I’ve been that low,” said Vicksburg’s Willie Powers, who won the 39-41-year-olds’ age group and finished 18th overall with a time of 39:41. “Even with that kind of time, last year I still finished in the top 10.”

All they did was slow El Mejdoubi down, however. He said he lost a few seconds running with the pack in the first mile, as well as on the return through the second loop of the course, when he encountered some slower runners.

“I was hoping somebody would be there. I went the first mile with the group, but those guys were slowing me down so I had to get it on my own,” El Mejdoubi said.

As he came down South Frontage Road toward the clock, he saw his time going up and his chance at the record slipping away.

“I saw the clock coming into the last mile, and you think you might get it, but it gets further away. I pushed and pushed, but it was too late,” El Mejdoubi said.

Since he didn’t achieve his goal, El Mejdoubi said he wasn’t finished with the RTH yet. Already the first runner to complete the course in under 32 minutes since 1989, he vowed to return next year for another shot at the record.

“I don’t like to leave things behind,” he said with a smile. “I have to focus on it and come back and do it.”