"The Top Ten Manchester Road Races"
"The Top Ten Manchester Road Races" by Earl Yost
[Editor's Note: This article was written and first appeared in the 1996 Road Race Souvenir Program. It appears here in its original form.]
The ten greatest moments in the Manchester Road Race? Good question, but the answer takes a lot of strolling back through memory lane with the 60th edition due to unfold Thanksgiving morning. For someone who has covered every one since 1945 and witnessed all from the early days in the 1930's, there have been many great moments, but these ten stand out.
Native son, Joe McCluskey's victory in 1947, three years after the popular holiday run was revived after an absence of a decade. The winner of three straight Manchester races in 1930-31-32, McCluskey proved that 15 years after his last hometown decision, he was still able at the age of 36 to outrun the field and walk off with top honors. He's the oldest man ever to claim victory in Manchester
John Treacey became a legend to followers of the race with his consistent high or winning finishes, but none was better than in 1979 when he not only smashed Amby Burfoot's seven-year course record, but turned in a time that stood for 17 years of 21:26. The mark was beaten only last year by Phillimon Hanneck in 21:19. Treacey's record-shattering performance was done without being pushed as he finished 55 seconds ahead of his nearest challenger, his older brother Ray. The brothers had starred in track and cross-country at Providence College. Treacey's win was the second in as many tries as he was nearly as impressive in his local debut the previous fall in which he easily whipped favorite Charlie Duggan by 13 seconds. He predicted a record in attempt No. 2 and was true to his word. Treacey's two successes marked the start of the Irish Connection dominance in Manchester.
Charlie Duggan's victory in 1980, a year in which most world-class runners were away competing in the Summer Olympic Games, was priceless. Three times Duggan had to be content with runner-up laurels in a dozen previous appearances, but No. 13 proved anything but a jinx as he outdistanced the pack. The former Hartford High and Springfield College All-American had made two lifetime track goals, winning Manchester and making the Olympic team. The first was realized, but not the second. There was never a happier winner than Duggan as he raced down Main Street with both hands pointing skyward as he neared the finish line, assured of victory.
He repeated the next year and over the years was among the top ten finishers ten times. Because of his dedication to the race, officials have for many years assigned him No. 1 to attach to his running shirt, an honor richly deserved. Since 1945, Robbins only missed the MRR in 1951 when he was interning in Cleveland before earning his MD. Last year was his 44th consecutively. Fifty one years ago, he won with a time of 26:10. Last year he was timed at 36:33, just 10:35 slower!
Credit for the first to win with a one second margin was Charlie Dyson in the 1956 race. Coming off his senior year with the UCONN cross country team, Dyson was involved in a three man race with Alan Shalen of Hamilton and Bob Scharf of Trinity College. The trio had run side by side until the last quarter mile when Dyson made his move in the battle of college runners. Shaler was one second back, Scharf two ticks in back of Dyson. So there you have `em, the Top Ten Manchester Road Races. At least in one man's opinion. Here's hoping that this year's edition of the Thanksgiving Classic provides the same kind of thrills and memories that we've all come to expect from this world class event.
Peter Close, like McCluskey and Robbins, was one of coach Pete Wigren's "boys", another he coached at Manchester High who went on to national fame. Close was the last local runner to win the Manchester Road Race, turning the trick in 1958. It was during his senior year at St. John's University when he came off a brilliant seven victory cross country season and outlasted Manhattan's Ed McAllister and Harvard's Dyke Benjamin, the last year in which three college runners ran one, two and three to the finish line. Earlier that year, Close had won the IC4A mile and was a college All American selection. He paced St. John's to the team title in Manchester.
The long awaited match up pairing Ireland's two best runners, Eamonn Coghlan against John Treacy, materialized in 1983. Both wore labels as Olympic runners as well as world-class performers. Neither disappointed in their elbow to elbow struggle for supremacy in Manchester. With a quarter mile to go, Coghlan unleashed his patented kick and left Treacy 40 yards behind at the finish line. The Irish Connection, led by Coghlan and Treacy, grabbed off the first five placements. Randy Thomas, who was brought in to challenge the Irishmen was a distant sixth in one of the most exciting races ever.
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Charlie Robbins completed a Believe-it-or-Not performance last year when he took part in his 50th, that's correct, 50th Manchester Road Race. Few runners in the United States, if any, can make that claim. Robbins, a graduate of Manchester High and the University of Connecticut, broke into road racing in 1940. Since then, the 76 year old retired psychiatrist has competed in more than 1,000 races, particularly in New England. The slender Robbins, weighing just over 100 pounds, is credited with providing enough interest to get the race off the ground in 1945, after a ten year absence. At the time, Robbins was the No. 1 distance runner in the United States. During the preceding twelve month span to his appearance on Thanksgiving Day in his hometown, Robbins had won four national titles, 20K, 25K, 30K, and marathon and was second in the 15K and 10,000 meter cross country run. Robbins easily won Manchester in 1945 while winding up a World War II service stint in the Navy.
John Gregorek was involved in no less than three races decided by a single second, winning two. The former Georgetown runner's triumph over Gerry O'Reilly in 1989 rates No. 1. The pair dueled the entire length of the race before Gregorek was able to shake his persistent Irish foe and slip into the chute first by barely a second, 22:13 to 22:14. It was the slowest winning effort in the last 15 years, or since Charlie Duggan won in 1980 in 22:30. Every finish since 1930 was under 22 minutes. Gregorek was able to beat the Irish Connection although the latter group was credited with the next six places.
Towering Chris Weber be-came the first Canadian to win Manchester when, as a comparatively unknown, he outlegged Gregorek down Main Street and survived the latter's final kick in 1990. At 6-7, Weber was the tallest winner ever. His victory margin was one second, 21:17 to 21:18
Records are made to be broken, and Phillimon Hanneck promised after his first Manchester victory in 1994 that he would be a winner in record time in 1995. True to his word, Hanneck won last fall, and his time of 21:19 was seven seconds faster than John Treacy's 21:26 set 17 years earlier. Hanneck said, if pushed, he could run faster. If he's in shape on Thanksgiving morning and conditions are right, we will learn if the Zimbabwe runner will be inspired to lower his course record.