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Chamberlain Goes Distance for the Rockin’ Marathon

ASSOCIATED PRESS

At 7-foot-1, Wilt Chamberlain can look down on just about every marathoner. His outlook, however, is just the opposite.

The basketball Hall of Famer is an avid track and field fan, and admires all runners who can go the 26-mile, 385-yard distance. That’s one reason he became involved with the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, which will have its second running May 23 in San Diego.

“The marathon is a perfect outlet for families who want to do things together,” said Chamberlain, the only NBA player to score 100 points in a game. “You can go to a marathon and cheer for your father or your mother or your kid.

“While we’ll have some of the greatest marathoners in the world in this marathon, the race is very much for the amateurs. You do it because you love it. It makes you feel like you’re accomplishing something.”

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During his varied athletic career, the 62-year-old Chamberlain ran in the Honolulu Marathon and a 50-mile race in Canada. He also ran cross country in high school in Philadelphia and was an outstanding high jumper and shot putter at Kansas.

“There’s a story I like to tell,” Chamberlain said. “I was the sixth man on my high school cross country team. Only the first five finishers score, and I could never get a point.

“After the season, we went right into basketball. The first game was always against the same team. I would score 55 or 60 points against them. The coach said, ‘How come you always get so many points against us?’ I said, ‘I just finished cross country. I didn’t score any points. I need to get me some points.”’

Chamberlain got plenty of points during his 14-year NBA career that ended in 1973. He averaged 30.1 points a game for a total 31,419, second to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar (38,387) on the all-time list.

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Chamberlain also is making his points with marathoners.

“He respects the sport,” said Tracy Sundlun, executive vice president of Elite Racing, organizer of the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon, and coach of one of Chamberlain’s former track teams, Wilt’s WonderWomen. “He’s fascinated by marathon and ultramarathon events. He appreciates the effort they all make.”

Last year’s marathon raised $15.6 million for the Leukemia Society of America and $3 million for other charities.

“Too much of our sports is going in the wrong direction,” Chamberlain said. “This is going in the right vein. What else can you talk about that has such a wholesome ring to it?”

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Chamberlain is one of six celebrity founders of the race. Joining him were Frank Shorter, the 1972 Olympic gold medalist in the marathon and 1976 silver medalist; Steve Scott, who has run more sub-four minute miles than anyone in history; actress Amanda Paul, formerly of “Baywatch;” filmmaker Frank Marshall; and Germany’s Uta Pippig, three-time women’s winner of the Boston Marathon.

This year’s race, sponsored by Suzuki, will have 20,000 entries and feature last year’s winners--men’s champion Philip Tarus of Kenya and women’s champion Nadja Ilyina of the Netherlands. With an expected field of 25 sub-2:13 marathoners this time, Sundlun figures the winner will crack the 2:10 barrier.

A total of $100,000 will be awarded in the men’s and women’s divisions, with each winner getting $10,000, plus a Suzuki car, a motorcycle, an outboard motor and an all-terrain vehicle.

Just like last year, there will be a band at each mile. The postrace concert will feature Hootie and the Blowfish.

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