Gerry Davidson pushing the envelope in W85 distances

My friend Gerry Davidson of Fallbrook — an hour north of San Diego — doesn’t look fast when she’s chugging around the track. But the clock doesn’t lie. At 85, she may be the best female distance runner in the world over 80. As I noted last Saturday, she claimed the 3,000-meter world age-group record of Canada’s Ivy Granstrom by coming close to dipping under 24 minutes. Her official time is now posted. Gerry ran 24:00.33. And L.A.-based photographer Bob Elliott of The Athletic Connection graciously sent me two shots he took of Gerry during her WR. Just as notable — for courage — is Gerry’s husband, Bob, who several years after suffering a stroke still runs sprints.

Above, Gerry has the homestretch to herself. Below, she passes the wind gauge, which registered mostly legal breezes at the Southern California Striders’ Meet of Champions.

In June 2001, after she turned 80, Gerry set the W80 mile world record the same day Alan Webb broke Jim Ryun’s high school mile record.
Here’s the story I wrote for The San Diego Union-Tribune:
Mile markers | World record fell to Fallbrook runner minutes before prep
Alan Webb, 18, took two victory laps of a howling Hayward Field after shattering Jim Ryun’s legendary prep mile record Sunday.
Eight hundred miles to the south, Gerry Davidson, 80, took some hugs from friends and quietly drove home with her husband to Fallbrook after smashing
the world record for her age group in the same event.
A half-hour before Webb took fifth at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., Davidson took 11th — and last — in the women’s mile at Sunday’s Dan Aldrich Memorial Meet at UC Irvine.
But her four-lap time of 9 minutes, 0.52 seconds, is the fastest ever run by a woman 80 or older. The old record: 9:49.40 by Ivy Granstrom of Canada
in 1992.
“I was thinking (I could get the record) if I could do 2:15 quarters,” Davidson said Monday. “I hit my first lap in 2:15-plus, then the second in 4:34. They didn’t call out the third lap (split).”
But Davidson soon learned that she’d sped up to run her second half-mile in
4:26, thus adding to her record collection.
Already the holder of U.S. age-group bests in road events ranging from 5,000 meters to the marathon, Davidson has been training of late for shorter distances.
At the 14th World Veterans Athletic Championships this July in Brisbane,
Australia, she’ll compete in the 400, 800, 1,500 and 5,000.
“I’m trying to do speed work once a week — 400s, 800s and a few 1,200s, and finishing with a few 100s,” Davidson says.
Jim Selby, 72, a world-record holding masters runner himself, coaches Davidson at MiraCosta College in Oceanside and says she runs her 100s in 23
seconds. That’s not anyone’s idea of blinding speed, unless you consider that the women’s world record for her age group is 18.42 for 100 meters.
“She can break 20 (seconds),” Selby says. “She has the speed but just hasn’t taken (up) the challenge yet.”
Selby, also of Fallbrook, takes a little credit for Davidson’s mile record, having modified her arm swing by encouraging her to “rotate them . . . like a locomotive.”
“She thanked me (after the race) and said the movement really helped: `It helped me get the record,’ ” Selby said Monday.
Davidson and her husband, Bob, moved to a small Fallbrook avocado farm from
the Westchester area of Los Angeles in 1977 and soon became a fixture of local road runs.
She chalks up her running talent partly to genetics.
“I happened to have had the right grandparents,” she says. Her mother lived
to be 104, her grandmother to 95 and her great-grandmother to 105.
She good-naturedly admits that her pool of potential rivals is smaller than
“I take that (masters mile record) very modestly,” she says. “I know a lot of my competitors are no longer around. One got killed by a bear.”
Masters athletes such as Davidson set records in anonymity. But even if USA
Track & Field, American track’s governing body, did more to publicize its older record-breakers, it’s hard for the public to appreciate the accomplishments of older athletes.
“Everybody knows what a sub-4 means,” says Al Sheahen of Sherman Oaks,
editor and publisher of National Masters News, “but nobody knows if an 80-year-old should be running a 9-minute mile or a 30-minute mile.”
For her part, Davidson takes the record business in stride — and doesn’t feel cheated of the attention flooding Webb’s feat.
“I was thinking about it today,” said Davidson, who turned 80 in March. “I felt good about (the record). You can look forward to entering new age groups. Anybody can.”
Davidson vs. Webb
Alan Webb and Gerry Davidson are 62 years and a little over 5 minutes apart
in their mile records (3:53.43 vs. 9:00.52). But they share an ethic of
hard work — and love of the four-lap challenge.
5-5, 112…..Height/Weight…..5-9, 140
1938………..H.S. Class……….2001
2:11…………Last Lap………..55.0
………….Favorite Song…………..
“Begin the Beguine”…..”One Hit Wonder”
-Glen Miller Orchestra……..-Everclear
………….Favorite Movie………….
“Gone with the Wind”………”Gladiator”
Couple dozen………………….11,221 at Irvine………………….at
Eugene (No PA)………………..(National TV)

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May 26, 2006

2 Responses

  1. Mary Harada - May 27, 2006

    Good for Gerry, what a woman, she is one of my heros, I guess I will have to keep training hard if I hope to equal or better those times when I turn 85! Gerry should know that Louise Adams is in training for her 85th birthday next December. She will be taking aim at some of those W 85 records too. Keep going Gerry, Louise will be on your tail soon.

  2. John - May 27, 2006

    I’m a big Grace Upshaw fan so I was glad to see your blog entry about her. She’s worked for every inch of her jumps, so she deserves all the good “pub”.
    Go Grace!

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