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Panga and Bett highlight Crazy 8s elite field

Tanner Cook • Jul 12, 2019 at 1:18 PM

KINGSPORT — The 30th running of the Crazy 8s 8K is coming on Saturday with a scheduled start at 8:58 p.m. in front of Dobyns-Bennett High School.

The race has been one of the traditional kickoff events to Fun Fest. This year, there is a new course which will bring new challenges for runners of all experience levels.

The figure-eight course starts and ends in the same locations as before, but everything in between is brand new. Both of the significant hills are gone and replaced with slight inclines and long straightaways.

The event was known for many years as the “World’s Fastest 8K” until just recently, when both Stephen Sambu and Rhonex Kipruto broke Peter Githuka’s longtime record that had stood since 1996. The existing world’s best now stands at 21:45, set by Kipruto in 2018 en route to 10K in New York’s Central Park.

The first-place prize for Saturday’s race is $5,000, but there is a $10,008 prize for breaking the world record. This year’s field has some familiar names, and with the new course, anything can happen under the lights in the Model City.


Although most of the elite field in previous years has been dominated by the East Africans, Americans have broken through in the past two years with top-five finishes from Matthew McClintock and Josh Izewski, both of ZAP Endurance based in Blowing Rock, N.C.

This year, there are three Americans who stick out in the field. Either can contend to be the first American to win the Crazy 8s since 1993, when Eric Lorenz won in 23:08.

The first highlighted American is Martin Hehir.

Hehir is based out of Philadelphia and is sponsored by Reebok. He was on the 2015 Syracuse men’s cross country team that won the NCAA title, upending two-time defending champion Colorado in the process. Hehir finished ninth in Terre Haute, Indiana, that day.

Since leaving Syracuse, Hehir went on to run 46:48 for 10 miles last November and 2:13 for his marathon debut at the California International Marathon.

He is also a sub-four minute miler and has a 13:29 5,000-meters track personal best to his name.

The second highlighted American is Colin Bennie. Bennie was also a member of the Syracuse team that won the NCAA title in 2015 and has some sparkling professional results in his short time on the roads.

So far this year, Bennie has run 29:01 at the Cooper River Bridge Run 10K in Charleston, S.C.; 35:37 for 12K at Bloomsday in Spokane, Wash.; 44:16 at Gate River Run 15K in Jacksonville, Fla.; and 1:02:46 for the half-marathon in Houston. Expect Bennie to continue his solid start to a professional career on Saturday.

Last but not least is Aaron Nelson from Blowing Rock. Nelson aims to produce another top-five finish by a ZAP athlete and is probably the most seasoned of the Americans in the elite field.

Nelson is one of the best runners in the history of the University of Washington, being a four-time All-American. He boasts a 13:47 personal best on the track for 5,000 meters and owns an 8:37 3,000-meters steeplechase best.


For the first time in many years, the defending champion will not be returning to Kingsport. The Boilermaker 15K in Utica, New York, is also this weekend, and that is where last year’s champion, Gabriel Geay, will be racing.

The fastest winning Crazy 8s time in the past 10 years was posted by Ethiopia’s Tilahun Regassa in 2012, when he blitzed the field in 22:15. No one else in that time frame has broken 22:20 and no one has broken 22:30 since 2015. That all could change this weekend.

Being tabbed as the favorite by race experts is David Bett. Bett is coming into Kingsport riding a big high, winning the prestigious BAA 10K in Boston — crossing the line in 28:08. He was also second (13:54) in the wicked-fast Carlsbad 5,000 back in May.

Another runner that has to be in consideration is Joseph Panga from Tanzania. Panga was top-five at the BAA 10K as well, running 28:18. The other — and probably more impressive — result of the year is a 32nd place at this year’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships on a brutal course in Aarhus, Denmark. In that race, Panga beat fellow countrymen Geay by almost two minutes and was the highest placing Tanzanian in the senior men’s race.

No matter the outcome of Saturday’s event, the race for the $5,000 first-place prize figures to be interesting and bring a new world record.