Despite small numbers, the Culver City Western Hemisphere Marathon has a rich history

Everyone knows that the oldest marathon in the United States, let alone the world, is the Boston Marathon, which next April steps off for the 105th time.

However, did you ever wonder what the second oldest U.S. marathon was?

Even if you didnt, were going to tell you. Its the Culver City Western Hemisphere Marathon.

On Dec. 3 the Western Hemisphere Marathon will be run for the 53rd consecutive year, stepping off at 7 a.m. It's the last qualifier of the year for the 2001 Boston Marathon, and is expected to draw more than 3,000 participants.

Culver City events also include a half-marathon, which starts at 7:15 a.m., and a 5K run/walk at 7:45 a.m. The half-marathon serves as an official warm-up race for the Los Angeles Marathon in March.

Last year only 225 participated in the marathon, but new race director and producer Cheryl Anker hope to change that.

A former Team in Training Coach for the Leukemia Societys Los Angeles Chapter, Anker trained runners and walkers in this nationwide charitable program to compete in the Alaska, Los Angeles, New York, Honolulu and Vancouver marathons. CNN featured her tips on running safety in a segment of All About Women.

Anker also created Off N Running Tours in 1994 to help visiting runners experience the beauty of the city of Los Angeles and some of its famous movie star and celebrity homes.

Anker is very much aware of the challenge she has in trying to make the Western Hemisphere Marathon bigger and better.

Its very exciting; theres a lot of work involved, Anker said. From September, weve really started from scratch. To be honest, in the last 52 years this race hasnt been promoted. Last year they built up back up to where the marathon drew 225 people.

Anker brought in some new people who helped create a new logo for the race and also found a sponsor who printed 10,000 race applications.

This marathon, when it was turned over to me, had a budget of $794, Anker said. So I have been frantically working getting people to donate things in kind as well as finding cash sponsors."

Anker acknowledged that the biggest draw over the years has been the half-marathon.

Students Run LA has sent between 1,200 and 1,500 runners each year to the half-marathon, which is their official half for the Los Angeles Marathon.

Most of the Students Run LA use this half-marathon as part of their training in preparation for the L.A. Marathon, Anker said.

While Anker hopes to help create a new image for the Culver City Western Hemisphere Marathon in the new millennium, there is still some interesting history from the last half-century of the race worth noting.

In 1947, with World War II over, three men in Culver City, Calif. Paul H. Helms, the founder of Helms Bakery; William Schroeder, a local banker; and Syd Kronenthal, the City Parks and Recreation Director felt that it was time the West Coast should have an annual event that would stress physical fitness, community and athletic competition.

In honor of their race Helms and Schroeder had a special 3-foot-tall silver statue commissioned. It is considered to be on of the most expensive sports trophies around, with a present value $15,000 to $20,000 depending on the silver standard.

The first Western Hemisphere Marathon in 1948 was held in conjunction with the Los Angeles Coliseum Relays. The field was scheduled to run from Long Beach to the Coliseum, with the winner accurately timed to finish just before the start of the famous one-mile world record attempt.

However, because this was the era before freeways, the runners ran into badly congested Friday evening L.A. traffic. The leader, Gerald Cote of Canada, who apparently did not know of the race plan, took a short cut and arrived at the Coliseum before the gates were open.

When he finally gained entry into the stadium, Cote ran onto the track only to find a series of 39-inch hurdles awaiting a heat of eight of the worlds fastest hurdlers, who were on the track. Undaunted, Cote raced around the hurdles and completed the run.

While 70,000 fans applauded, Cote lit a cigar. Huffing and puffing like a locomotive, he ran his victory lap.

Despite this less-than-auspicious first marathon, Helms, Schroeder and Kronenthal pressed on. They contacted the City Council and mayor of Culver City and asked for official city sponsorship.

A deal was struck whereby the silver trophy would be housed in the mayors office, and the mayor would officially start the marathon by shooting the police chiefs gun in the air.

In 1950 an Alaskan prospector named Mainhardt Bredt competed in the marathon. Obviously a cold-weather runner, Bredt won the race in a slow three hours and 20 minutes after the leading eight favorites collapsed from the 100-degree temperature.

The following year in 1951, Lau Wen Ngau, a deaf-mute runner from Peking, China, ran a mile off the course before he could be persuaded to get back. Although Lau eventually won the race, the Peoples Party who had sponsored him was very upset. So Lau took the only way out: He defected. He is rumored to be living somewhere in the California mountains.

In 1964, the Western Hemisphere Marathon was chosen as the U.S. Olympic Trials for the Tokyo Olympiad. An unknown Navajo runner named Billy Mills competed. He not only won a berth on the Olympic team in this race, but later captured the Olympic gold in the 10,000-meter run in one of the greatest finishes in Olympic history.

In 1967, the first AAU-sanctioned race for women exceeding one mile (a 10-mile race) was held as part of the marathon event.

Four years later, the Western Hemisphere Marathon became the first marathon that allowed women to compete with men. Patricia (Cheryl) Bridges won that event in 2:49:40.

In that same race Bill Scobey set a course record of 2:15:21 that still stands today.

Womens world records were set in 1973 and 1974 by Miki Gorman (2:46:36) and Jacqueline Hansen (2:43:55) respectively. Hansens records still stands as the course record.

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