It was a bit early in the season for the cherry blossoms, but Bill Rodgers and Anne Sullivan were in full bloom yesterday. Rogers, of Melrose, Mass., and Sullivan, of Providence, R.I., set American records, in the eighth annual Cherry Blossom 10-mile run.
Rodgers, who set a personal and course record of 48 minutes flat here last year, finished in 47:09, 25 seconds faster than the American record set by Frank Shorter in August, 1979.
"Very early on, after maybe three miles, I knew the record would fall to someone," Rodgers said, "but I didn't know it would be me."
All three top finishers, Rodgers, John Flora of Boston (47:22) and Steve Floto of Boulder, Colo., (47:30) broke Shorter's record.
Sullivan who finished 55:34, eight seconds faster than the American record set by Joan Benoit last year in Michigan, lead all the way by running "with the guys. It wasn't Bill Rodgers or anything," said the 20-year-old Brown University junior."I'm still working on that."
The morning broke damp and cool, Rodger's weather, and it forecast another third consecutive Rodgers win. But Rodgers left his traditional cold weather Mickey Mouse gloves at the starting line.
"I figured I might get nailed," he asaid. "I don't want to ruin a good tradition."
But, ultimately, it was Rodgers that did the hammering. The early pace was gast, he said, 9-18 for the first two miles. By the four-mile mark, along the Washington channel, a pack of five runners, lead by third-place finisher Floto and Rodgers, had broken away from the stream of runners lining Hains Point.
"Floto has really broken through the last year," said Rodgers. "He forced the pace th e first six miles.
Floto is best know "for having finished one half-step ahead of Grete Waltz in the New York Marathon," he said. "Most people think she set a women's world record there. They're wrong, I did."
Floto led until the turn-around on Ohio Drive, where, he said, "I was mis-directed. Six people went by me."
The turn was a difficult one because the leaders were doubling back along the track that others were still running. "It's not a good turn," said Jeff Darman, communications director. "Even if it's done perfectly, it's too abrupt."
As they rounded the tip of Hains Points for the second time, at 5 1/2 miles, Rodgers made his first move. "I broke away," he said, "but Steve and I got into a little thing. He wouldn't let me pass him."
Floto, overhearing the remark, shrugged and said, "Everyone keys on Billy, because he's the king. That was my intention. When he made his initial move, I went with him instrinctively."
Floto, and Flora, who fininshed second to Rodgers for the second year in a row, ran with Rodgers for the next two miles. Said Flora, "I finish a minute faster every year but . . ."
At the 7 1/2-mile mark, the intersection of Ohio and Buckeye drives, Rogers took the lead, but only by four yards, "the same time as last year," Flora said. "He pulled his guts together, put his arms up and muscled his way past."
By the time Rodgers rounded the Jefferson Memorial, where crowds had gathered to cheer him, he had written his own declaration of independence from the field. And by the time, he had completed his tour of the Tidal Basin, where the cherrry blossoms looked like they were just waiting for the race to end before they flowered, he was leading by 40 yards.
His legs were tired but he was home free. Floto, who lost second place to Flora in the last half-mile of the race, "really pushed it", Rodgers said. "It was a headache."
Rodgers will not race again until the Boston marathon April 21. Of course, he'd rather be planning for the Olympic trials, but given the situation in Afghanistan, that would be a pyhrric victory. "Right now, I'm thinking Boston," he said, "buy nothing's definite, as we have all found out recently."
Sullivan made her intentions perfectly clear. She wore a bright, daffodil-colored T-shirt that read: "No I'm not running Boston, to answer your question."
"After I ran a half-marathon in New Bedford (Mass.), two weeks ago, people kept asking me," she explained. "So my boyfriend gave me this T-shirt."
Sullivan set a world record of 73:13 in New Bedford that is pending certification. Why hasn't anyone heard of her? "I get around," she said, "but I do it at the wrong races, I think."
Sullivan said she "wasn't feeling very well" yesterday, though it was difficult to tell it by her time.
"I wanted to establish a lead early, hoping to intimidate people," she said.
"I figured I'd rather be caught than have to catch up."
Sullivan took the lead with a 5:03 first mile and never looked back.
"I have no idea what was going on behind me," she said. "I was afraid to look back. It tells the people you're tired. If they're right on your shoulder, I didn't want them to know I was worried."
For most of the race, no one was on her shoulder. Pia Palladino, an 18-year-old freshman from Georgetown, running for the first time, finished second. She had decided to run with Jennifer White of Alexandria, the 1978 winner.
White got a side-stitch and finished sixth.
"Anne went out much faster than Jenny and me," Palladino said. "That's what my coach told me to do so I didn't go with her. Eventually I tore away from Jenny.With three or four miles to go. I tried to catch her. But I made my move too late. With one mile to go, I was 20 seconds behind."
Palladino then excused herself to go ask Rodgers for his autograph.
It would be less than florid to describe this as the best Cherry Blossom field ever: 25 of the 3,500 finishers ran the race in under 50 minutes. Race organizers had limited the field to 4,000, despite 12,000 requests for applications -- "a wise decision" in Rodger's estimation.
In order to accomodate the spill-over, Darman helped organize two satellite races, the eight-mile Cherry Blossom Reject Classic in Silver Spring, and the 10-mile Cherry Pit in Annapolis.
The times for those events might not have been classics but the T-shirts should be.