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Tenacious sprinter John Capel tries for third Olympics

Being a sprinter now that Usain Bolt has set the world record in the 100 meters is like being a golfer after Tiger Woods won the 1997 Masters.

Championships can seem out of reach when the best athlete in your sport is a 21-year-old just starting to come into his own.

You could even start to wonder if there's any point.

John Capel, I was glad to hear, isn't going that route.

"He might have Kool-Aid in his blood,'' Capel said of Bolt, a Jamaican who ran his record-setting 9.72-second 100 on May 31. "We say that when they have a little fear in their heart. They're sweethearts.''

Capel, you see, has faced bigger obstacles than Bolt, who, by the way, is 6 feet 5.

He's come back from the disappointment of losing the 200-meter finals in the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

He's suffered the letdown of trying and failing to make it in the National Football League. Of sitting through a two-year suspension for smoking marijuana. Of going back to the track as a 29-year-old long shot after once being considered a top talent.

But because he did, signing on with hall-of-fame coach Brooks Johnson last winter and sticking with him ever since, Capel has given himself a chance to return to the Olympics for a third time, qualifying to run the 100- and 200-meter races at this weekend's Olympic Trials in Eugene, Ore.

After Tyson Gay, the top American sprinter, the Olympians "will be whoever is the best of the rest, and John is certainly in that group,'' Johnson said. "John can be there if he handles his business, in his lane.''

Though his times this year are well off his personal bests, Capel said his technique is finally coming together. The gradual return to form may turn out to be a good thing, he said, if he can go to the trials with less fuss and pressure than in 2000.

"All I'm expecting of (the people of Brooksville) is to watch on TV, and, if things go well, be impressed with the homebody,'' Capel said.

I know I'll be watching, this weekend (on NBC) and again in August if Capel makes it to the Beijing Olympics. Tell me you don't want to see if one of our own can make Bolt bleed Kool-Aid.

• • •

The second-most famous runner from Brooksville, Ernie Chatman, was, I always thought, the wellspring of distance running in Hernando.

Chatman, who has run marathons in every state and coached Hernando High to a state cross-country championship, was also an early member of the Red Mule Runners.

So, I was shocked on Friday night to hear Chatman say about retiring radiologist Jim Cuffe: "I kind of blame all this running on Jim.''

Cuffe, it turns out, was the Red Mule founder and the first race director of the Flatlanders Challenge. He was also a doctor who arrived in Brooksville 31 years ago, who cared about his patients and displayed a low-key but wicked sense of humor.

"Jim is Bob Newhart,'' said Vivian Humphries-Hyslop, a radiology tech who worked with Cuffe for several years.

That seemed about right after hearing stories about his pranks from dozens of friends who crammed the Red Mule Pub on Friday for a retirement party.

So did this quote about Cuffe from another former co-worker, Mary Vincent: "If you sew kindness, you reap friendship.''

Tenacious sprinter John Capel tries for third Olympics 06/23/08 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 25, 2008 1:54pm]
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