If Niagara Falls, Ont., stands on the brink of being rediscovered, so, too, does the former Skylon International Marathon, now named for the casino that is helping bankroll the city's future.
Officials expect at least 1,000 runners to line up Oct. 25 for the Casino Niagara Marathon, which, like the old Skylon, starts in Buffalo, heads over the Peace Bridge, and continues on to what is called the world's most famous finish line at the Falls.
"The Skylon was THE marathon at one time," said Jim Ralston, race director for the Casino Niagara race. "At one time, 3,000 people ran Skylon when the New York City Marathon had 2,000. We wanted to bring back that flavor."
Ralston said the marathon, which in the past two years just went up and down the Niagara Parkway, got all kinds of attention from ads in the national running magazines and booths at last year's Boston and New York City marathons.
"It was amazing the number of people who came up and said, 'that's the Skylon Marathon,' " said Ralston, who handed out 5,000 applications. "The response has been just overwhelming."
Ralston, a Canadian born in Scotland, was part of the crew that John Chew put together for the Buffalo-Niagara Falls International Marathon as well as the two Olympic Marathon trials in 1984 and 1988. He and his committee of marathon veterans insisted on a Buffalo start when Casino Niagara approached him to manage this year's race.
They had planned to start again at the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, as did Skylon, but were convinced by Mayor Masiello and Buffalo parks officials to begin the race downtown, at Huron Street and Delaware Avenue, to give the race a more urban flavor.
From the 10 a.m. start, runners will head north on Delaware to West Ferry Street, left to Richmond Avenue to Porter Avenue, and then cross the Peace Bridge at 5 miles. Following a loop around old Fort Erie, the race picks up the Niagara River Parkway at 9 miles and continues for 17.2 more miles to finish at the big Hydro Power Building before the Falls.
Ralston is hoping for no more than 1,000 runners this year, to help him work out any bugs in the race plan, but sees no problem in growing to a comfortable size of 5,000 or 6,000 runners in the future.
As Niagara Falls, Ont., begins what officials say is a billion-dollar construction boom tied to the casino, Ralston sees only good things ahead for the marathon as well. The Niagara Parks Commission and the race sponsors have already agreed to another three years. Call (905) 358-5552 for an application.
Race expenses and fees continue to climb -- Casino Niagara's entry is $45 (Can.) until Oct. 15 and $50 before Oct. 23. Take a guess at the 1977 Skylon Marathon fee, with T-shirts and a post-race buffet. It was all of $4.
The Skylon came about in 1974 through the efforts of the Buffalo Philharmonic A.C. and Bell Watling A.C.
"We ran it because it was beautiful," Skylon race director Jesse Kregal said in the 1978 Skylon program. "Certain horses are meant to be ridden, so the road from the Peace Bridge to the Rainbow Bridge was meant to be run."
How does the new world marathon best of 2 hours, 6 minutes and 5 seconds run by Brazilian Ronaldo da Costa at last week's Berlin Marathon break down in terms we can relate to?
Consider this. At last week's Police Chase, Toronto's Ivan Gomez blew away the field by running the 5K (3.1 miles) in 14:45. That's fast -- a 4:45 average mile -- but it was for one 5K only. Then Gomez got to go home.
Here are da Costa's 5K splits for the marathon, with each 5K in parentheses. Notice how they keep getting quicker: 5K -- 15:40; 10K -- 31:15 (15:35); 15K -- 46:12 (14:57); 20K -- 1:01:17 (15:05); 25K -- 1:15:58 (14:41); 30K -- 1:30:34 (14:36); 35K -- 1:45:15 (14:41); 40K 1:59:55 (14:40).
In other words, from 25K on da Costa's four 5K splits were faster than Gomez's time at the Police Chase.
Linda Yalem 5K Memorial Run (Buffalo News Runner of the Year race), UB Amherst Campus, 10 a.m., today, 645-6435; Sheriff Pat Gallivan Run for Integrity, 5K, Como Park, Lancaster, 9 a.m., Sat., 549-5987 or 683-3475; Erie County Salute to Autumn, 5K European style cross-country run, Sprague Brook Park, 10:30 a.m., Sat., 858-8355; Nickel City-NYS Duathlon, 2.5-mile run, 15-mile bike, 2.5-mile run, Beaver Island State Park, 10 a.m., Oct. 3, 689-2493; Thundering Herd Distance Run, 12K, downtown Buffalo, 9 a.m., Oct. 4, 893-6269; Ellicottville Fall Festival, Holiday Valley, Ellicottville, 4.5 miles, 10 a.m., Oct. 10, 834-9028; Bemus Point Fall 15K Run and 5K Run, 9 a.m., Oct. 10, 386-3130.