West Michigan's sports day packed with Golden Gloves, River
Bank Run and Thunder Nationals
by David Mayo | The Grand Rapids Press
Saturday May 10, 2008, 1:15 AM
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GRAND RAPIDS -- Ah, the vastness of 4,000 or more bobbing heads downtown at dawn,
and the intimacy of 22 heads bobbing mano-a-mano at dusk. Human engines churning all
day, and man-made engines revving all night. And national championships everywhere you
look. This may be the best sports day the area has ever seen, with the downtown staple
River Bank Run by morning, the National Golden Gloves finals by night, and the Thunder
Nationals at Martin until the wee hours, a variety of individual competitions that should
satisfy everyone from runners to rumblers, joggers to jabbers. It isn't like we've never had
big sports days here. Even in the three sports in question, we've had Grand Prix races
through downtown streets, three Floyd Mayweather world championship fights and storied
runners such as Joan Benoit in championship wins. Race driver Johnny Benson is a native,
as is Boston Marathon and River Run champion Greg Meyer, and a number of notable
fighters other than the obvious one. In fact, in a ring located on the very spot where tonight's
Golden Gloves finals will be contested, Wesley Ramey whipped Hall of Famer and reigning
lightweight champ Tony Canzoneri, in 1933, at what then was the new Civic Auditorium,
with a black-tie crowd of 4,000 packed shoulder to shoulder, after which associates of the
mobbed-up Canzoneri supposedly confiscated videotape before it escaped the building,
with a bit of professional coercion, as the local fable goes. So it isn't like we haven't seen
this stuff before. We just haven't seen so much on the same day. Of course, it used to be
impossible to see that wonderful dragway at Martin, until, overnight, God's Magical Chain
Saw did a clear-cut on those trees masking it from the freeway. Voila, a new era of visibility.
Downtown will be the focus all day, with the unforgettable sight of the start of the River Run
one of the most unique sports staples the city has to offer. To any visitor who wants to
maximize his or her experience here, join the thousands of onlookers for the start of today's
race. That's about all you have to see until the Kenyans run away anyway, although it's a
great place to await the return of anyone inclined to run 15-plus miles on a Saturday
morning. I'm not so inclined, and please, anyone who sees me there, spare me the "Next
year, you'll be running it" malarkey. Bob Becker, when he was sports editor, once made the
mistake of writing -- at just about this late juncture in a column, in a throwaway line that
proved otherwise -- that he was going to do the next year's River Run. It turned into the
longest walk Bob has ever made without a golf club. The two events downtown once were
Olympic staples. Distance running still is. Boxing isn't. Nevertheless, the River Run and
Golden Gloves, at their essence, stem from the most basic and medieval competitions still
practiced every day whenever man finds himself facing those particularly dark conditions
when he must be reduced to asking two internal questions:
Can I outrun you?
If not, can I beat you up?
That goes back to the Athens Olympics, and we're not talking the ones in 1896, either.
The ultimate effort of man to go even faster than Marathon's little legs could carry him plays
out at Martin. If you haven't gotten your eyes soggy with the fumes of top fuel, folks, you just
haven't lived. I remember watching Ivan "The Terrible" Thompson in my first day at the
drags. OK, so it also was my last day at the drags. Point is, if you dig it, do it. It's a different
day here.