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Merging of events creates whopper January weekend

By Times staff writers
© St. Petersburg Times
published February 10, 2002

TAMPA -- Next year, area runners will need to clear one big weekend on their calendars: Jan. 18-19.

Gasparilla Distance Classic Association executive director Susan Harmeling said Saturday that the organization's two annual events, the Hops Marathon by Tampa Bay and the Gasparilla Distance Classic, will be combined into one weekend starting in 2003.

The 2-year-old Hops Marathon had been held in December and Gasparilla has been a staple of February in Tampa for 25 years, but lack of convention space for the larger Gasparilla and its popular Health and Fitness Expo forced the move.

"For the last two or three years, we've had a real hard time getting dates in February," said Harmeling, whose staff ran this year's Expo out of the Tampa Convention Center parking garage. "After this year we'll have no hotel rooms, nowhere to do the Expo for years to come.

"It was either take (Gasparilla) and move it to another time of year, like December or March, or merge the two events together, which is something we've thought about since the inception (of the marathon)."

Saturday's Gasparilla 15K and 5K drew more than 13,000 runners, and to help keep those numbers strong next year the GDCA is eliminating the half-marathon that ran in conjunction with last year's Hops Marathon.

Approximately 1,800 ran the 2001 Hops Marathon and 2,400 participated in the half.

"If we did the half, that would hurt the 15K," Harmeling said. "We don't want to do anything to hurt either event."

NEXT STOP, SALT LAKE CITY: In a thrilling finish, Scott McNeice of St. Petersburg, 47, won the wheelchair race.

He and training partner Michael Bond of St. Petersburg worked with each other the entire race, taking turns drafting. But at the end both sprinted to the finish, with McNeice crossing first.

McNeice travels to Utah next month for the Paralympics, where he'll compete in cross-country skiing.

BRAMAN'S BUNCH: Florida State coach Bob Braman, who had been at South Florida for 17 years, brought a group of 26 track runners from Tallahassee.

The reason? "It's a great race and a great opportunity for our distance runners to work on their speed and endurance," Braman said. "Part of our group includes 10 developmental runners I'm working with. This trip makes it all fun for them."

CUP WINNERS: The winners of three coveted cups in the 15K earned expenses-paid trips to Washington for April's Cherry Blossom 10-mile race.

The Sports Authority Tampa Bay Cup went to overall winner Tony Teats of Oldsmar. Fourth-place finisher Mike Greiwe took second in that category, followed Andrew Bautel of Florida State.

Christy Phillips of St. Petersburg, third woman overall, was the women's winner of that cup. She was followed by Judy Maguire of Clearwater and Katie Montague of Tampa.

Runner-up Matt Whaley of Tallahassee won the Florida Cup and the trip, with second and third places to Nate Adams of FSU and Elias Gonsalves of Tampa.

The women's Florida Cup winner was runner-up Lara Shaw of Tampa. Laure Blume of Largo was second and Seminole High grad Misty Harper was third.

Terry Fluke of St. Petersburg won the Masters Cup, followed by Jack Sullivan of Riverview and Valrico's Filinto Martins. Lisa Valentine of Tierra Verde won the women's Masters Cup, followed closely by Kathleen Kaye and Mary Ann Protz, both of St. Petersburg.

-- JOHN SCHWARB, DAVE THEALL

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