THOMASVILLE -- Call him the King of the Road.

A three-time winner of the Rose City 5K Walk, Tallahassee's Gene Opheim finished a rather distant -- for him -- third in last year's race. A rocky spot at the start of the race knocked the veteran racewalker out of synch and he never did challenge eventual winner Helen Fennelly or front-runner Bill Hudgins.

This time on a cool and overcast Saturday morning, Opheim came out fast and never let up. By the end of the first mile, he was way ahead. By the two-mile mark, you could barely even see the No. 2 runner without binoculars.

"This was an easy race for me," Opheim said after finishing the course in 27:29, well off his record pace of 1991 (22:28.) "I went out pretty fast and felt good, and it was nice and cool. I really didn't have any trouble."

Though some speculated before the race that five-time former champion Joel Carter of Thomasville might be able to serious challenge Opheim, the 56-year-old opened up a pretty healthy lead so quickly, there wasn't much anybody could do to catch him.

Defending champion Helen Fennelly and runner-up in 2002 Bill Hudgins did not compete in the event.

The closest race of the day was in the women's event where Tallahassee's Pam White and Thomasville's Rachel Cooper dueled throughout the race, White finally pulling ahead at the finish to win by 13 seconds in 30:30.

According to race co-director Dr. Jim Story, the 22nd annual Rose City Walk drew 970 entrants.

"That's not a record," he said before the race," but that's still a pretty good number."

Indeed.

The Archbold Wellness Award went to Thomas County Federal Savings and Loan as they were able to get all 40 workers to walk in the event.

The Civic Club Award went to the Kiwanis club, which had 20 members compete in the race. The Race Director's Award went to Bill Rainey, who had all five State Farm employees compete.

By the way, the roads of Thomasville aren't clear just yet.

Next week, Thomasville will host the 26th annual Rose City 10,000 meter run, won last year by Alan Black in near-record time.

Black is expected to return next Saturday morning to go after the course record.

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