MEMPHIS, TN (WMC) - You can rub elbows with running royalty at the 44th annual Overton Park 5 Mile Classic this Sunday morning at 8 a.m.
"We're thrilled and honored to have Bill Rodgers, a legend of distance running, to attend the Overton Park 5 Mile Classic," said race director Barry Roberson.
The city's oldest footrace, the Overton Park 5 Mile Classic is usually run in late July or early August. But the schedule was changed this year to accommodate Rodgers.
"This was the only date he had open was Thanksgiving weekend," said Paul Sax, a running coach who helped arrange Rodgers' busy Memphis weekend.
Arriving Friday afternoon, Rodgers is scheduled to appear for a live interview with this reporter on WMC Action News 5 on our 5 p.m. broadcast.
After that, Rodgers heads to dinner with Memphis running notables, including 1972 800 meters Olympic Gold Medalist Dave Wottle.
On Saturday morning, Rodgers will run with a group led by Mike Cody, the former Tennessee Attorney General, U.S. Attorney and Memphis City Councilman who grabbed his first headlines as a 1950s running star at East High School who excelled on the track for Southwestern at Memphis, now known as Rhodes College.
After running, Rodgers will head for Breakaway Running in Overton Square for a book signing at 10 a.m. Rodgers will feel right at home at Breakaway. The running star and his brother Charlie operated a running store called the Bill Rodgers Running Center for 35 years, a must-see for running aficionados visiting Boston for its marathon. The Rodgers brothers closed the store in 2012.
Mid-South runners will have the opportunity to ask Rodgers questions at Canale Arena at Christian Brothers University at 6 p.m. on Saturday. The visit is timed perfectly for marathon enthusiasts who have questions about training, resting and mistakes to avoid on any 26.2-mile course.
Nicknamed "King of the Roads" for his astounding number of victories, Rodgers' first Boston Marathon triumph came in 1975 with a time of 2:09:55, an American record. It was the first year Track & Field News named him the world's #1 marathoner, an honor the magazine accorded Rodgers again in 1977 and '79.
Rodgers broke his own Boston Marathon record time in 1979, breaking the tape at an astonishing 2:09:27, another American record. Sportswriters called him "Boston Billy" for winning one of the world's most prestigious races in '75, '78, '79 and '80. Running the New York City Marathon in his peak years, Rodgers crossed the finish line first in 1976, '77, '78 and '80.
He would have been a serious contender in the 1980 Olympic Marathon but the United States boycotted the Games that year because of the Soviet Union's invasion of Afghanistan. Inducted into the USA Track and Field Hall of Fame in 2000, Rodgers has a mountain of trophies. Of the 59 marathons he entered, he won 22 and finished under 2:15 an amazing 28 times.
Undoubtedly, Memphis runners will quiz Rodgers on strategies he might employ in the upcoming 16th annual St. Jude Memphis Marathon Weekend, which rocks a flat, fast course through Downtown and Midtown Memphis on Saturday, December 2, the weekend after Rodgers' Memphis tour.
"Bill was a hero to all of us who were running in the 1970s and '80s and we can learn a lot from him," Roberson said.
The Overton Park 5 Mile Classic will honor Rodgers for his running achievements and lifetime of service to runners everywhere. Rodgers will hand out the awards at the 5 Mile Classic in the Overton Park Pavilion off East Parkway on Sunday morning.
"Even with four Boston and four New York City Marathon victories, we learned what a truly humble and nice human being Bill is when he spoke at Breakaway 30 years ago. All runners should come out and meet Bill," said Roberson.
Rodgers travels the country and appears at running events like the Overton Park 5 Mile Classic all year long. But just before he turns 70 on December 23, Rodgers will help kick off the race with his name on it outside Boston: the Bill Rodgers Jingle Bell 5K Run on December 17 in Somerville, Massachusetts.
If you're a fan of track and field and especially marathoners, this is the weekend to come to Memphis to meet a man many regard as a humble running icon.
"It's really exciting, it'll be a lot of fun," said Sax, one of Rodgers' Memphis hosts for the weekend.