One champion’s not coming back, but another champion is taking

One champion’s not coming back, but another champion is taking his place.

Last year’s Bank of Mississippi Gum Tree 10K champion, Thomas O’Gara of Johnson City, Tenn., has pulled out of Saturday’s 20th annual 10,000-meter foot race in Tupelo, making 1994 Gum Tree champion Sean Wade of Houston, Texas, the top seed in the male open.

“O’Gara said his training and work schedule had not permitted him to get in the shape he needed to be in to run here,” Gum Tree race director Johnny Dye said.

O’Gara won in 29 minutes, 50 seconds last year as he broke away from the rest of the field at the 2-mile mark and cruised to victory.

“He said he was in 30 to 30:30 shape,” Dye said. “You can add 45 seconds to a minute to that time with the heat and humidity we’ll have here.”

Wade, a former college tennis player for Rice University, ran a 29:51 to win two years ago. He finished fourth last year, but was nursing a calf injury.

“From all the reports I’ve got, Wade’s running really well,” Dye said. “He is running the marathon for New Zealand in the Olympics this summer. He finished fourth this year in the Houston Marathon.”

Wade’s marathon time of 2:10:59 in Houston was the fourth best ever for a New Zealand runner and landed him a spot on the Olympic team.

“I’m in pretty good shape, but I’m not race sharp,” he said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “I’ve been concentrating on longer runs, getting ready for the marathon. I haven’t done a lot of speed work, but you don’t really need it on the course in Tupelo.”

Muchapiwa Mazano, a native of Zimbabwe training in Orlando, is the No. 2 seed. Malcolm Campbell of Marietta, Ga., is the No. 3 seed.

The female open’s top seed is 1990 Gum Tree champion Lisa Presedo of Baton Rouge, La., who ran a personal 10K best of 32:46 and finished fifth last month at the famed Crescent City Classic in New Orleans.

“I’m running well,” Presedo said in a telephone interview. “In New Orleans I beat my PR by about 30 seconds. I usually rise to the occasion against strong competition.”

Presedo’s time of 34:16 in her 1990 Gum Tree win is the ninth best in the history of the run.

Susan Molloy of Slidell, La., who won last week’s Corinth Coca-Cola Classic 10K, is seeded No. 2, and Christine Cote of Hamilton, Ontario, is seeded No. 3.

“I don’t know much about the (Gum Tree) field,” Presedo said. “This is an Olympic year and there are a lot of foreign athletes training here who may come in at the last minute. They may want to come in here and pick up a quick $1,500.”

In the male masters (age 40-over), four-time champion Wilson Waigwa of El Paso is the top seed. The Kenyan won last year’s masters title with a clocking of 31:55. He will be challenged by No. 2 seed Paul Stemmer of Mobile, Ala., and No. 3 seed Dave Kannewurf of Portsmouth, Va.

In the female masters, Judith Hine of Minneapolis is the top seed. The New Zealand runner won the Gum Tree masters in 1994 and has placed second in four of the last five years. Catherine Lempesis of Columbia, S.C., is No. 2 and Joyce Deason of Shreveport, La., is No. 3.

In the grandmasters (age 50-over), defending Gum Tree champions Tom Dooley of Toccoa, Ga., and Mary Anne Wehrum of Memphis are the top seeds.

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