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Gasparilla: local focus

Published Oct. 2, 2005

Gasparilla is changing its priorities.

The Gasparilla Distance Classic Association announced Thursday that next year's 15-kilometer race will be the last for which elite prize money will be offered.

Executive director Susan Harmeling said the board of directors wanted to change the priorities of the race _ one of the premier road races in the world _ to focus more on the community, and give more money to local charities.

"Nothing's going to change as far as the operation of the race, or the runners," Harmeling said. "There just won't be any international runners."

The 15K and its companion 5K race, on Feb. 14 next year, have raised more than $1-million for the Boys and Girls Clubs of Tampa, Friends of Tampa Recreation and Girls Inc. of Pinellas County over the past 20 years.

With more than $70,000 in prize money, the race needs 3,000 runners, at $18 each, to pay for awards, Harmeling said. Gasparilla draws about 15,000 runners.

"The event, I think, will actually be more improved," Harmeling said. "I think we'll be able to give more back to the community.

Harmeling said the board's decision came with the approval of all of the race's major sponsors.

Bill Orr, one of the 11 board members to vote against the change (14 voted for it), was the event's elite athlete coordinator. He said he is disappointed, but looks forward to running in the race for the first time in a decade.

Steve Edwards, executive director of St. Petersburg's First of America Running Festival, which included an elite 10-miler that had a world record set in its inaugural race this month, said he was shocked by Gasparilla's decision.

His race will continue to draw the elites with prize money.

"My first reaction is that (the move by Gasparilla) could not be bad for our race," Edwards said. "Now the runners will only have one chance to run in this area for prize money."