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Dr. J. on Running

Women's Olympic Marathon

CNY Presence at Trials

Published February 21, 2000 in The Post-Standard.

By Dr Kamal Jabbour, Contributing Writer

On Saturday, some of the country's fastest female distance runners will compete in Columbia, South Carolina, for positions on the US Olympic Marathon team. These are the fifth US women's Olympic marathon trials since the marathon became an Olympic event in 1984.

Two hundred and ten women qualified to run in the 2000 trials by running a marathon in 2 hours 50 minutes or less during a qualifying period of two years. Of these, 54 women ran faster than 2 hours 42 minutes, and earned an expense-paid trip to Columbia.

Central New York boasts four qualifiers in the 2000 trials. Christine Sisting of Marcy qualified by running the California International Marathon on December 6, 1998 in a time of 2:48:30. Sisting is an elementary school teacher running for the Syracuse Chargers Track Club.

Fellow Charger Kristin Schiesswohl of Fayetteville qualified at last October's Chicago Marathon in a time of 2:49:48. Schiesswohl is a pharmacist who moved from Buffalo to Central New York last Spring.

Former Jordan-Elbridge high school runner Michelle Lafleur qualified at last April's Boston Marathon in a time of 2:49:19. Lafleur is full-time athlete training in Georgia with sponsorship from running shoe manufacturer Saucony.

Wearing bib number 49, Charlene Lyford of Greene qualified at last October's Steamtown Marathon in Scranton in a time of 2 hours 44 minutes and 1 second. Lyford runs for the Tri-Cities Running Club.

Outside of Central New York, Libby Hickman of Fort-Collins, Colorado is the fastest qualifier with a time of 2:28:34 at the 1999 Chicago Marathon. At age 35, Hickman is better known as a track runner. She has only recently moved up to the marathon, and has run a total of only five career marathons.

The selection of the US Olympic team follows a complex formula depending on the outcome of the trials. Ideally, the top three finishers travel to Sydney to compete in the Olympic Marathon on Sunday September 24, 2000. However, revised standards for the Olympic marathon establish two qualifying standards. A country may field three runners who have met the A-standard of 2 hours 33 minutes, or only one runner who has met the B-standard of 2 hours 45 minutes.

According to the US Long Distance Running Committee, if the winner of next Saturday's trials has met the Olympic B-standard but not the A-standard, she alone will travel to Sydney. If the winner has met the A-standard, then the next two runners who have met that standard will join her in Sydney.

In addition to representing the USA at the Sydney Olympics, the winner of the race will receive $35,000, plus a $10,000 Olympic bonus. The top twenty finishers will receive money prizes. In all, a total prize purse of $250,000 will be awarded.

The two hundred or so women who will gather in Columbia are significantly older than their cohorts of earlier trials. The average age of the Olympic trials qualifier increased from 28.2 years old in 1984, to 32.2 in 1996 and 33.5 in 2000. This maturity among the runners is also reflected in their education. Eighty-three persons of these runners hold college degrees, compared to a national average of only 24 percent. Sixty-three percent of them are married, and indicate their most common profession as teaching.

In the true broadcast tradition of placing business ahead of public interest, NBC purchased the television rights to the Olympic trials, but has no plans to broadcast them. Indeed, the organizers denied other requests to webcast the trials on the Internet, citing NBC's ownership of the rights.

Thus, except for a small local television audience in Columbia, the American running fan suffers once more the indignity of missing the purest of all running competitions, our Nation's Olympic Trials.

Kamal Jabbour runs and writes on the hills of Pompey, New York. His RUNNING Column appears in The Post-Standard on Mondays. He maintains, the world leader in live track webcasting, and receives email at

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