Peter Githuka put the Model City on the map in 1996 when he broke the world record for 8 kilometers in the Crazy 8s road race.
Before that midsummer night, though, the Eastman 10K was arguably the biggest race on the calendar. Specifically, the 1993 and 1994 editions served as the USATF national championship for a 10K road race.
“Crazy 8s was just getting up off the ground and Eastman really was the race that everyone was shooting for back in those days,” then-race director Hank Brown said. “It was the premier race in the Tri-Cities and anyone who was good showed up.”
The Eastman Road Race was last run in 2017 after 38 years of gracing the roads of Kingsport in mid-September.
CAPTURING THE BID
Winning a bid for any USATF national championship race is no easy process and Brown recalls it as being pretty much a shot in the dark.
“I remember that Eastman had just broken away from Kodak and they were kind of looking for their own identity,” he said. “They already had the race and I went to them with the idea of making a bid for the USA 10K championships. I forget who had had it before, but the bid was open and they said give it a shot.
“I called the USATF and I didn’t know anyone up there at the time. I made a presentation in 1992 and they approved it, so we got to host the next year. The national championship races are usually huge, mega-events like Crescent City (in New Orleans) or Peachtree (in Atlanta), so for a small city like Kingsport to host that caliber of a race was huge.”
Brown and his race staff assembled an American field full of top runners such as Ed Eyestone and the late Pat Porter.
“It was really exciting for me as a young 30-something assembling the field because it was full of guys that I had looked up to as a runner myself,” Brown said.
EYESTONE BREAKS RECORD
Brigham Young great Eyestone was at the top of his game in the ’90s.
He was coming off a 13th-place finish in the 1992 Barcelona Olympic marathon and was just two years removed from winning the Peachtree 10K Road Race, which typically draws more than 60,000 people.
Eyestone jumped out to a quick lead on the streets of Kingsport and set the pace ablaze, coming through the first mile in 4:33.
“Ed, I think, was in training for the Twin Cities Marathon like in the next month, so he was in killer shape,” Brown said. “He was a super nice guy. He didn’t beat Pat Porter by much and it was a good race.”
Eyestone won in 28:38, a course record untouched when the race was discontinued. It’s the fastest recorded 10K road race in the Tri-Cities.
“I don’t think that record will ever be touched,” Brown said. “Unless you can get a race of that caliber back around here and offer the kind of prize money we did. I think we gave $10,000 for first place and we had a bonus of $50,000 if there was a new American record set. It was, and still is, Mark Nenow’s 27:48 from 1985.”
Brown said all the runners embraced the race even though it was not in a big city venue.
“We got a lot of compliments from the runners. The race at the time was relatively unknown,” he said. “What a lot of people don’t remember is that was the first year we did the new layout for the race and it was the one they used until it was canceled a few years ago. I also worked with Ray Flynn and we televised the race, but it was on tape delay. I think they showed it like a month later or something.”
BARRIOS GIVES RECORD A RUN
Arturo Barrios was one of the biggest names in distance running in the late 1980s and early ’90s. He broke the world record on the track for 10,000 meters at 27:08 in Berlin in 1989. That mark wasn’t eclipsed until 1993.
Arguably the greatest Mexican distance runner ever, in 1994 Barrios had his eyes set on the American 10K road record and a huge payday.
Kingsport hosted the national championships again that year and again the field was stacked.
“I remember the day before the race, the long distance running coordinator at the USATF called me,” Brown said. “He asked me if I was sitting down and I said I was and asked why. He told me that Arturo Barrios had just gotten his U.S. citizenship and was coming to Kingsport to race. He told me that I would probably be awarding him that bonus.
“My first thoughts were, ‘Holy (expletive).’ Arturo had the world record and we thought that he was going to have this one in the bag before it even started. Having him at the starting line changed the complexion of the whole race.”
Barrios arrived at Tri-Cities Airport around midnight and was exhausted, Brown said.
“He had just had a ceremony that day after passing the citizenship test and then he hopped on a plane for Kingsport,” Brown said. “He was really tired and I think that had a huge effect on how he raced the next day.”
Barrios did win the following day but was well off the course and American records. He crossed the line in 28:43 but still received a good chunk of cash for first place.
“He was very thankful that we let him run the race and he was a super nice guy,” Brown said. “I think hosting the championship two years showed that a city like Kingsport can host big-time events and I really do think it was a springboard for Crazy 8s getting the world-class athletes that we did.”