His age has suddenly became a prime topic for conversation, but Bill Rodgers continues to put to rest any doubts about his ability to outdistance the road-race competition.
The 33-year-old four-time Boston Marathon champion, admittedly tired and feeling the aches from a record-breaking 20-kilometer run Saturday in Wheeling, W. Va., ran to a methodical victory here yesterday in the Diet Pepsi 10-kilometer run.
With the temperature hovering near 80 degrees at the start of the race, Rodgers led about 2,700 runners through a winding, scenic 6.2 mile route that concluded on the grounds of the Smithsonian.
Jeff Peterson of Fairfax battled Rodgers up to the four-mile mark, when the veteran pulled away to win in 29:40. Peterson finished at 30:14. Washington's Eleanor Simonsick, 23, was the first woman to cross the finish line, in 35:55. Charlene Burstrom, 14, of Arlington, placed second in 37:33.
Peterson, a member of the Washington Running Club, said Rodgers could have been beaten but that there was no one on the Mall with as much training and experience as Rodgers to do the job. "He's getting old," Peterson said, "but he's still very tough."
"I knew there were no runners brought in for this race," said Rodgers, "but at the starting line someone told me to watch out for Peterson. He worried me for a while and I jumped out a little too fast. It was good for us to battle it out."
Rodgers took the lead at the three-mile mark behind the White House and slowly lengthened the margin with his long strides. After conquering a slight incline on the mostly flat course, which he described as easy and fun, Rodgers appeared to bounce on air as he sprinted by the Cannon Building toward the tape.
Spectators and runners then proceeded to deluge Rodgers, seeking autographs. Rodgers, winner of the Cherry Blossom Classic here earlier this spring, spent more time with pen in hand than he did on the course.