If the greatest distance runner in Tucson history isn't Bassarima Soro, who won five consecutive Tucson Marathons, most of them in bare feet, it's gotta be Pam Reed, right?
She won a 125-mile race through Death Valley, in July, against men, women, scorpions and Mother Nature.
And if it's not Soro or Reed, it must be UA All-American Ed Mendoza. Don't you think? He made the 1976 Olympic team and won the 1981 Tucson Marathon in 2 hours 13 minutes 56 seconds, a record that endures today.
How many cities can top that threesome?
I bring this to your attention because the 40th Tucson Marathon is to be run Sunday on a wicked downhill course that begins at 4,800 feet elevation near the Biosphere II and concludes at 2,739 feet in Oro Valley.
Who's favored? Who knows? There is now a clear vacancy at the top, no clear leading runner in Tucson.
The debate rolls on because, in this case, three isn't enough.
How about Greg Wenneborg, now the track and cross country coach at Pima College? He qualified for the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in 1996 and 2000. He once won a car for being the fastest man to run from Sierra Vista to the mountains near Bisbee. What's that, 50 miles?
And what about George Young, the UA's first distance-running All-American? Young made the Olympic team four times - 1960, 1964, 1968 and 1972 - winning a bronze medal in the steeplechase and making the American team in the 1972 marathon.
This is not a tidy debate. Don Janicki, another UA All-American and longtime Tucsonan, was the USA's third-ranked marathon runner in 1993. His fastest marathon was 2:11.39, which is believed to be the best for anyone with Tucson connections.
And then there is local running and fitness expert Randy Accetta, part of the 1996 USA Olympic trials field, and Rick Fenno, winner of the Tucson Marathon in 1990, 1991 and 1992, a distance-running whiz who later became a coach at Amphitheater High School and Pima College.
Whom would you choose? Maybe it's three-time USA Olympic 10,000-meter runner Abdi Abdirahman of the UA and Pima College? Or perhaps six-time NCAA distance-running champion Amy Skieresz.
Opportunity knocks; a vacancy awaits the next great Tucson distance runner.
Soro is 41 now and hasn't won since 2005, or even entered the Tucson Marathon since 2007. He's got his shoes back on after completing nursing school and spends his time singing rather than running. He belongs to an African reggae band, Djembe, and already has cut a CD, "Too Much Negativity."
Reed isn't running, either. She is the long-standing director of the Tucson Marathon, which has become such a grand event that it's not unusual for more than 2,000 people to run either the marathon or half-marathon.
"I have only run the Tucson Marathon two times," she says. Reed saves her energy for those 100-mile summer runs through the Teton Mountains in Wyoming and in the Wasatch Mountains near Salt Lake City.
Wenneborg is 43 now, father of two young children, 6 and 3, further occupied by teaching mathematics at Flowing Wells High School and coaching at Pima College. He assists at the finish line at the Tucson Marathon but concedes that, after running 21 marathons, here and elsewhere, he is unlikely to return to prominence.
"I still run 50 miles a week and continue to say I'm going to make a comeback some day," Wenneborg says. "But I've got so much going on with teaching, coaching and my family. I can't get home from work at 6 and go for a run any more."
Fenno moved to Indiana. Mendoza is in his 50s. Accetta's role has evolved: He has served as the finish line announcer at the Tucson Marathon and as a pre-race motivational speaker. Janicki moved to Colorado and is involved in Boulder's elite running community.
Young, bless his legendary distance-running soul, is 73, if you can believe that.
"It seems like Tucson has lost a lot of the mainstays in distance running," says Wenneborg. "A lot of people hung it up."
So who is No. 1?
Last year, the top local Tucson Marathon male finisher, Jeff Stevens, was fifth overall. He's 46. He can't be expected to start a Soro-wins-five-straight streak. In fact, the top local finisher last year was a woman, Polly Campbell, a UA grad student in evolutionary biology who moved here from Florida. She is 43.
Alas, Campbell will be running the half-marathon Sunday, meaning she can't begin a Soro-type streak, either.
So the Tucson running community turns its star-seeking eyes to 23-year-old Craig Curley, a former PCC All-American. Curley already has qualified for the marathon at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials. His pedigree is such that he is coached by Wenneborg.
Soro. Reed, Mendoza, Janicki, Abdirahman … and now Curley?
"He's just scratching the surface of his ability," says Wenneborg. "He's got a chance to be very good."
And he has some very big shoes to fill.
Contact Greg Hansen at 573-4362 or firstname.lastname@example.org