Bird Donates Land For Cross Country Course

TERRE HAUTE, Ind. -- The Wabash Valley Family Sports Center, site of Monday's NCAA Cross Country Championships, was a gift by former Indiana State basketball star Larry Bird and businessman Max Gibson, in memory of their respective fathers, Joe Bird and LaVern Gibson.

One of the few cross country courses dedicated for that sport only, the LaVern Gibson Course features ample viewing for spectators. It will also host the next two NCAA Cross Country Championships.

The course is on land previously used for coal mining, and more recently for a city dump.

Sunshine broke through about 15 minutes before Monday's event started, with temperatures of 46 degrees for the women's race and 49 degrees for the men's. The problem was that 10 inches of rain had fallen on the site in the past three weeks, including an unpredicted, steady drizzle most of Monday morning.

That made it a quagmire for the athletes and the 6,000 spectators.

But it didn't faze four Notre Dame runners, who yelled, "Here come the Irish!" while wearing green body paint instead of shirts and merrily jumping through puddles before the race. (Their team finished 11th.)

Not so happy were four Princeton runners whose motel reservations had somehow not made it from to Terre Haute.

"We went to Target at 11 last night and bought a tent and some sleeping bags," one Tiger said. "We were sleeping fine here at the course before someone told us we had to move. So we did, and then about 6:30 a.m., these policemen came driving up with sirens and moved us again because the area near the course is on (the Terre Haute) airport property."

No terrorists, these sleep-deprived Tigers finished 21st in the men's race.

The run-up to the meet could have gone better. First, several cars got stuck in the rain-slick grass parking lots.

Then the F-16 fly-by performed by members of the Indiana Air National Guard came a few seconds too late to accompany the national anthem sung by Miss Indiana Universe.

Early-arriving fans were treated to a Jumbotron and some amped-up rock music, but a Minnesota coach asked an official, "Hey, Jerry, can you turn down the bass on that thing? It's awfully heavy."

Before the women's race even passed the wide, Civil War Battlefield-like opening straightaway, eventual winner Kim Smith of Providence was way ahead of the field.

The senior, who trains with Amy Rudolph in Providence, R.I., will run as a pro in the Manchester (N.H.) Road Race in two weeks.

Caroline Bierbaum of Columbia, who finished third, said she's been taking three iron pills a day to overcome an iron deficiency problem.

Runner-up Renee Metevier of Colorado, also the runner-up in 2001 when she ran for Georgia Tech, is coming off shin surgery.

"I'm in better shape now than I was in 2001," she said. "The competition has just gotten so much better."

Always accommodating to the media, UA coach John McDonnell agreed to do a spur-of-the-moment radio interview by cell phone for "The Huddle" TV show on KPBI in Fort Smith, just 10 minutes after the men's race ended.

He reminded listeners that UA indoor track begins with a home meet on Jan. 14.

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