For two old running rivals - one an American icon and the other a local one - this year's Cooper River Bridge Run was an opportunity to renew a friendship that has been dormant for two decades.

Bill Rodgers, who won the Boston and New York City marathons four times each at the start of the American running boom in the late 1970s, met up with Charleston's Bob Schlau at the Bridge Run expo on Thursday.

The men, both 66, were rivals and friends on the masters running circuit in the late 1980s and early 1990s. They estimated they raced against each other about 30 times during the era.

At the expo, Rodgers and Schlau recounted races with vivid detail, including the 1988 Los Angeles Marathon when Schlau surprised everyone by beating both Rodgers and 1972 Olympic gold medalist Frank Shorter.

"He (Schlau) nailed me," recalled Rodgers. "It was my first race in the masters division in the marathon. Bob had no mercy on us," Rodgers said laughing. "But that's how you have to race. This is not an easy sport. This is a sport where you can take down Olympic gold medalists, but you have to run smart and train smart.

"You make a lot of friends in this sport, but when you're young, it's kind of tricky," said Rodgers. "It's hard to make friends with your rivals."

As they looked over old photos, the two hatched a plan to meet up in the elite runner corral at Saturday's Bridge Run and run the race together.

Whether that happens may depend on whether these men with well over 100,000 miles on their legs will cooperate. Rodgers feels confident that a hamstring injury he had in the winter is healed. Schlau is hoping his knee can handle the bridge.

Schlau pitched the idea of running at an easy 8-minute per mile pace. Rodgers said, "If you want to go faster, go ahead."

Rodgers added, "It's just kind of fun to see each other again and run with each other again."

Rodgers didn't know Schlau until 1988, but even before then the men competed in the same races, including one of the Boston marathons that Rodgers won and the 1984 Olympic Marathon trials.

The last time they saw each other was when Rodgers came to Charleston to run the Reindeer Run in the early 1990s.

While Rodgers is running royalty, he trumpeted Schlau for helping build the greater Charleston running community by training and competing on a high level for decades. Schlau is among less than five people who have run all previous 36 Bridge Runs.

"I think every city has their runners. Bob, I'm sure you had a role in building the Cooper River Bridge Run because you were out there every year and you were competitive," Rodgers said.

"That's our sport. We're a local sport, a national sport and now a global sport. I love how it's grown. Bob, we were part of the early days of the road running boom. And we were lucky to be a part of it."

Reach David Quick at 937-5516.