Cut to the chase:
John Ausherman didn't allow himself the luxury of thinking about winning yesterday's 30th Washington's Birthday Marathon until nearly within sight of the finish line. Pressure had nothing to do with it.
See, lots of marathons these days have accompanying relays and, well, there are people jumping in and pulling out all over the place. "The only solid pieces of information I had was I did the first half in 1:18 and I was about fifth at 15 miles," said the Chambersburg, Pa., native.
A turn at the 24-mile mark of the three-loop course suddenly transformed a training run into a race for Ausherman, however. "They told me I was second and I could see the leader up ahead," he said. "I felt good so I decided to concentrate on getting him."
Ausherman, runner-up last year, first disposed of leader Frank Perma, then had to hold off Steve Cottrell before winning by 16 seconds in 2:39:34. It was an exhilarating and somewhat unexpected effort for a guy who is trying to get his weekly mileage up again.
"I'm a real estate appraiser," he explained, "and although houses aren't moving, a lot of people are refinancing. We've been busy. I've been working 60 hours a week and doing only 50 miles or so."
Ausherman's is a tale you hear so often following marathons: A fine runner in high school and college (Juniata), he gave it up for a while because it had ceased being fun.
"We had a coach who used to run us out on the track for interval workouts three times a week. A lot of us just got sick of running," he recalled. He tried golf for a year, missed the afternoon romp over hill and dale and jumped back in with a relaxed attitude.
Within a year, Ausherman knocked off a 2:37 at the Marine Corps Marathon in Washington and, in seven Boston Marathons, he has been in the top 100 five times. "I now have a long-term commitment to running, but if it ever gets to seem like a job to me, I'll quit."
Say he had turned that corner at 24 miles yesterday and been told he was 10th, would it have ruined his day? "Not really," he said. "Not having done even one 20-mile training run this winter, I would have been satisfied with my day. The [winner's] bowl will look good on the dining room table."
The real competition was left to the women, where Margaret Horioka-Smith won for the fourth time, edging defending champ Renee Butler by just three seconds in 3:30:07.
* The card that figured to have local fight fans storming the Baltimore Arena in impressive numbers March 4 just got better. Vincent Pettway and Eddie Van Kirk will be getting it on at long last, with no preliminaries to foul up the works.
The two were already scheduled to headline the show, but against other fighters, Van Kirk taking on Victor Davis and Pettway going against Kato Wilson. Davis is hors de combat because of eye surgery, though, so promoter Don Elbaum moved quickly to match the two locals.
It's a natural: The classy boxer with the better record (31-4) but the suspect chin, Pettway, taking on the rugged aggressor with the perpetual motion style, Van Kirk.
Elbaum admits this is the fight he was looking to make all along, "because it's the one the fans here want to see. Things might have gone wrong on the other show, like maybe one or both of the guys getting beat."
The fighters have been hollering (sometimes in muted tones) for this fight for a couple of years, so, during the time, genuine animosity has set in. "Funny thing about Eddie," says Pettway, no fan of Van Kirk's brawling style, "every punch you throw seems to find his face. And I know what he and a lot of guys think of me: Hit Pettway with a right hand and he's going down."
* After weeks of sporadic tailing fastballs and crackling curves, secretive Jim Palmer has finally let the world (and the city) in on his aims, aspirations and objectives:
Put simply, Jimbo wants a hefty chunk of dough (semi-guaranteed), a spot on the Orioles' roster (semi-guaranteed) and the assurance that he won't be treated as just another pretty face in training camp before being cast aside.
"Commitment," he calls his demands on the Orioles, overlooking the fact he's 45 years old, hasn't pitched in six years and has looked just so-so in well-publicized showings before prospective bidders.
Palmer always felt he was grossly underpaid by the Orioles, which he could have rectified at any time by entering the free-agent market or hauling the club into arbitration. He obviously feels he's entitled to a payback now. Times are tough as evidenced by his urgent appeal, "I've got a family to feed."