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August 19, 2001

I could tell by the way he was breathing it was like a training run for him."
Second-place finisher Scott Elliott on 2001 Pikes Peak Ascent champion Matt Carpenter

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With title record in jeopardy, Carpenter shows who's boss

By Meri-Jo Borzilleri/The Gazette

Matt Carpenter's eighth victory atop Pikes Peak capped a strange day of both triumph and surrender for the runner who added to his aura as King of the Mountain on Saturday morning.

With his win in the 13.32-mile Pikes Peak Ascent, the 37-year-old Carpenter now holds the record for most lifetime titles on the mountain, a combination of Ascent and Pikes Peak Marathon victories.

Carpenter won in relative comfort -- running a half-marathon while climbing 7,815 feet in elevation is never completely comfortable -- posting a time of two hours, 15 minutes, 13 seconds. Scott Elliott, who posed a threat to Carpenter's pride with seven titles, finished second in 2:21:10. Andrew Peace was third in 2:22.0.

Sunny skies and temperatures in the low 40s greeted the pair as they finished, though a 5-mph wind made it feel more like 30 degrees.

Race organizers can only hope the weather is as good today for the 26.21-mile Pikes Peak Marathon.

Elliott knew he needed a career day to beat Carpenter, who also plans on racing today's marathon. Elliott just didn't figure it'd be over so early.

"I was at my limit pretty much the whole way," Elliott said. "My goal is to be able to go with him."

On Saturday, he couldn't.

"He's one or more levels above everyone else," Elliott said.

Making truth of the rumor that circulated among the running community the past month, Carpenter ended his boycott of the races, which had kept him from the starting line for the past two years, a king in self-imposed exile.

Carpenter's beef is that the race doesn't try to attract elite runners and the competition suffers as a result. On Saturday, his time was well off his course record of 2:01:06 in 1993, when top international runners competed.

But Carpenter, from Manitou Springs, couldn't resist the start line this year. He's too competitive, and Elliott was too close to what Carpenter held dear: the record for most titles.

It didn't help that a story in an out-of-town newspaper, e-mailed to Carpenter by a stranger, made him livid. It compared the 37-year-old Elliott's mountain-climbing abilities to those of cycling superstar Lance Armstrong, the three-time Tour de France winner.

And guess who was Jan Ullrich, Armstrong's oft-beaten rival? Carpenter.

"I read that and my blood boiled," Carpenter said of the late-July story. "He's Armstrong and I'm Ullrich? I mean, please!"

Elliott hadn't beaten Carpenter on Pikes Peak since 1989. Since then, Carpenter won either the Ascent or the Marathon seven times.

On Saturday, Carpenter slid to the front of the starting line just before the 7 a.m. gun, a few feet away from where Elliott stood. Elliott, a computer support technician, wasn't surprised. He had heard the rumors about Carpenter wanting to deny him the record.

"I said, 'Well, whatever,'" Elliott said, shrugging in the runners' medical room after the race. "I thought that was not the best reason in the world to run. But whatever."

The two share respect for each other as runners, but aren't friends. Their personalities clash -- Carpenter is outspoken, Elliott isn't. Carpenter is a high-altitude legend, Elliott -- despite his seven Ascent titles and rugged training -- suffers near sea-level anonymity.

"Nobody knows me," Elliott said quietly. "It's not that it bugs me."

Elliott trained for the Ascent for four months, spending the last two weeks living at spartan Barr Camp to train and acclimatize.

For seven of the 10 days Elliott was there, Carpenter was too. It was impossible not to run into each other on the course or at mealtimes.

"I saw him up at the top a number of times," Elliott said. "We chatted, mostly shared our thoughts about the race. That's about it."

But Carpenter was taking inventory.

"I'd see him walk in the door at dinnertime and think, 'He's got a little black under the eyes, he's moving his sandwich a little slower to his mouth,'" Carpenter said. "It's all a game. The mental part of sports is what's fun."

The race wasn't much different. Carpenter stayed on Elliott's shoulder for nearly three of the first four miles, like a shadow with bad intentions. Neither said a word.

"Matt just sat on me until the very beginning of the flat section," Elliott said. "I could tell by the way he was breathing it was like a training run for him."

Carpenter made sure Elliott knew it, too. It was all part of the plan.

"I thought to myself, if I were Scott Elliott, what would I hate the most?" Carpenter said. "If someone was on my back, giving the impression I'm comfortable."

How close were the two?

"He could have touched me," Elliott said.

"A couple times I actually bumped his shoe," Carpenter said.

At No-Name Creek, where the course levels out after a series of switchbacks, Carpenter made his move. He stretched his lead to about a minute by Barr Camp, at the 7.63-mile mark. With two miles left, Carpenter saw Elliott for the first time since the creek. Carpenter was 4minutes ahead.

"That was plenty," Carpenter said.

He cruised to the finish, trotting until the last couple steps. His running reputation secure, Carpenter was back, King of the Mountain again.

Copyright 1999-2001, The Gazette, a Freedom Communications, Inc. Company. All rights reserved. Used with permission.

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