LONDON 2015 – A WINNING PROMOTION

PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

            PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

Hype can cut both ways.  Too much and the promotion can fall flat. Too little and the tree can tumble unheard in the forest.

In 2015 the Virgin Money London Marathon did a great job promoting its men’s and women’s professional fields. With a month long boxing-like ramp up that focused on the last two men’s marathon world record holders, Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto, and a “Fantastic Four” of Kenyan women, consisting of past London champions Edna Kiplagat (2014), Priscah Jeptoo (2013), Mary Keitany (2011-2012) and 2014 TCS New York City Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat (2nd, London 2014), London stacked its packs then piqued our interest with their pre-race set up.

The one thing it couldn’t control, however, was the outcome as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:42) bested Kipsang (2nd place, 2:04:47) and Kimetto (3rd place, 2:05:50), while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, a 2:21:52 winner in Shanghai last year, upset the women’s applecart in a race where the pacers were all but ignored as place took precedence over time. Tufa arrived at the finish in 2:23:22 while Mary Keitany followed 18 seconds later in 2:23:40.  They were followed by two more Ethiopians, Tirfi Tsegay (2:23:41) and Aselefech Mergia (2:23:53).  Florence Kiplagat arrived in fifth at 2:24:15, while defender Edna Kiplagat (no relation) struggled home in 11th in 2:27:16.

To the Victor Go the Smiles

                                    To the Victor Go the Smiles

Just as in Chicago last October, Eliud Kipchoge’s lips split wide as he powered away from his final challenger today in the British capital. Last fall Sammy Kitwara fell victim. Today it was defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, the only man to defeat Kipchoge to date over the marathon distance (2013 Berlin when Kipsang ran a world record, since broken, 2:03:23, while Kipchoge finished second in a PR 2:04:05).

Often teeth baring betrays the rictus of effort, but for the 30 year-old father of three from the Central Highlands of Kenya, the softened crinkles around his eyes revealed his real mood. This, then, was the simple smile of satisfaction playing out over a face now used to such expressions of self-regard.

Less we forget, Eliud Kipchoge was just 18 when he upset world-beaters Hicham El Guerrouj and Keninise Bekele to take gold in the 5000 meters at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris, the same year he won the IAAF World Cross Country Junior Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later he won bronze in the Athens Olympics over 5000m. Four years later he upgraded to silver in Beijing.

These days, after retooling his body for the longer road distances, Kipchoge once again took the measure of the best runners on offer with yet another flash of speed in the waning stages of a major competition.

The range of the man is remarkable. Only Ethiopia’s inestimable Haile Gebrselassie is in the same mile-to-marathon league with Kipchoge. What makes the two even more laudable is how each was able to sustain excellence over an extended period of time over a range of distances requiring very different training regimens.

KIPCHOGE PR LIST

Distance           Time         Venue              Date

1500m               3:33.20     Hengelo (NED)  31 May 2004

Mile                    3:50.40     London (GBR)  30 July 2004

3000m               7:27.66      Doha (QAT)       6 May 2011

5000m             12:46.53      Rome (ITA)         2 July 2004

10,000m          26:49.02      Hengelo (NED)  26 May 2007

10K Road        26:54          Madrid (ESP)     31 Dec. 2006

Half Marathon  59:25          Lille, (FRA)         01 Sep. 2012

Marathon       2:04:05         Berlin (GER)      29 Sep.  2013

GEBRSELASSIE PR LIST

Distance          Time          Venue                  Date

1500m               3:33.73      Stuggart (GER)       6 June 1999

Mile                    3:52.39     Gatehead (GBR)    27 June 1999

3000m                7:25.09    Brussels (BEL)        28 Aug. 1998

5000m               12:39.36    Helsinki (FIN)          13 June 1998

10,000m            26:22.75   Hengelo (NED)         01 June 1998

10K Road          27:02        Doha (QAT)             13 Dec. 2002

Half-Marathon   58:55        Tempe (USA)             15 Jan. 2006

Marathon        2:03:59        Berlin (GER)             28 Sep. 2008

So just when we thought the marathon had traded out old track stars for fresh faced road warriors, Eliud Kipchoge proved the old ways still have their charms, even as both champions showed that the marathon remains one of the most challenging of all sporting events to predict.

***

15London Paula RatcliffeAnd finally, any sport must be lucky in those who become its champions, as sport is pure meritocracy.  In that light, distance running has been blessed by many a fine representative.  But none better than three-time London and New York City Marathon champion Paula Ratcliffe who ran her swan song today.

The still standing women’s world record holder — 2:15:25 (London 2003) and nobody in shouting distance — hung up her marathon racing flats with a 2:36:55 effort.  No hype would ever be too great to adequately measure Paula’s long run at the top.  I can still recall her taking the IAAF World Cross Country junior title in snowy Boston in 1992 in her first  of many international triumphs.  Though snake bitten at the Olympics, whether in triumph or despair, Paula provided inspiration that will last for decades to come.  Her contributions to the sport, already vast, one would hope have only just begun.

END

GETTING HOOKED ON PACERS

Now that the NBA playoffs have begun the regular season TV viewing rule, “you only need to pay attention to the final five minutes”, has been eliminated as every possession is contested with pressure defense. Yet due to marathoning’s linear rather than episodic nature, where there is no shot, pitch, play, etc. every 30 seconds, or quarters, periods, innings or halves to break up the action, the sport of long distance racing is a hard sell to an ADHD audience.  This is especially true when very few of the athletes have been marketed as individual stars to the non-running public, and where, by comparison to other sports, the stakes are quite low.

In the face of these circumstances to then control the action via pacesetters only serves to further separate the average viewer from the game, as there is no reason to become engaged until the “real” action begins after the controlled first half.

15London Marathon LogoIn London this weekend we have another of the “greatest fields ever assembled”, both on the men’s and women’s sides, with thoroughbreds striding along the Thames everywhere you look. Yet once again there will be a host of pacesetters ready to take the men through the first half in a rapid, but controlled 61:45. Continue reading

BOSTON MARATHON PRESS DAY

Boston, MA. — Press day at the Boston Marathon as principal sponsor John Hancock Financial Services introduces 2015 elite/pro fields.  Count me among those who is not a fan of the Boston interview setup whereby the entire pro field is presented at individual tables in a one-fell-swoop opportunity.  On paper it might seem like a good arrangement, but when most of the field is East African and speaks softly, it is all but impossible to communicate with them in the din.  Secondly, there is no way to make your way around the entire room in the allotted time, so you end up prioritizing your interviews, and end up missing a whole bunch of folks you dearly want to speak to.

But enough of my bitching as there is lots to discuss as Boston 2015 kicks into high gear. Continue reading

2015 HAPALUA: RACE REPORT

Coming April 12, 2015

Honolulu, HI.  — In the pitiless game of hunter and prey there are no guarantees, only daily survivals. Today, under its unique Chase format, in which 24 top runners from the Hawaiian Islands are given incremental head starts ranging from 20 to 7 minutes on four international chasers, The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon saw the hunters prevail for the first time in four years.

After running down every Team Hawaii runner by 19K, Kenya’s Peter Kirui outkicked Kenyan born Qatari Nicholas Kemboi in the final few meters in Kapiolani Park, 64:08 to 64:09, to take the $5000 first prize.  1:05 later Honolulu triathlete Ben Williams arrived just one second ahead of Kenyan Emily Chebet, while 18 year-old Kalaheo High School senior Makai Clemons finished 54 seconds later in fifth place.

Group E at Waikiki Beach start with 18 minute head start

Group E at Waikiki Beach start with 18 minute head start

Williams and Makai were two of five local men given a seven minute lead on Kirui and Kemboi, while two-time IAAF World Cross Country champion Emily Chebet of Kenya began with a six minute advantage on a warm, muggy morning (if you asked the internationalists) or a nice and cool day (when the locals were surveyed).

Having finished third last year in the Chase after beginning very conservatively with former marathon world record holder Patrick Makau, Kirui began the day alongside iconic Waikiki Beach with a one minute faster 5K split than last year (15:02 vs 16:08).

Peter Kirui (#2) and Nicholas Kemboi along Ala Moana Blvd.

Peter Kirui (#2) and Nicholas Kemboi along Ala Moana Blvd.

“I was expecting to run 62,” said the champion afterwards, “and I tried to push at 10K (30:07), but the conditions were very warm, and I slowed down to wait for Nicholas because it is very hard to run alone from that far out.”

Kirui opens a lead in mile 7

Kirui opens a lead in mile 7 as Kemboi suffers with a blister

Kemboi, the fourth fastest 10,000 meter runner in history at 26:30, developed a painful blister at 5K, and had to slow, allowing Kirui to open a 10 second margin.  But when his toe went numb and Kirui backed off the throttle, Nicholas regained contact on the return through Waikiki Beach.  From there the two internationalists began to pick off Team Hawaii runners one by one beginning in mile 7. Continue reading

THE HAPALUA: BRANDING A NEW EVENT

Coming April 12, 2015

Coming April 12, 2015

Honolulu, HI. — The Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon is quite a mouthful for a race name, especially when you consider it was born out of the long-standing and short-named Honolulu Marathon.  But with over 6100 entrants signed up for Sunday’s fourth annual Hapalua, the event, and its name, seems to have stuck.

“From a creation point of view, we did something different,” said Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal.  “We created a half-marathon from scratch, and branded it with its own name standing alone from the Honolulu Marathon.”

Not that that was the original idea.  At first, Barahal considered a linked name that he thought lent itself to a logo with its own cache.  Thus, the Honolulu Marathon Half Marathon would be branded as HM Squared.

“That was an interesting brand,” thought Barahal, who has been president of the Honolulu Marathon Association since 1987.  But when he got a little deeper into the project, Barahal Googled the Hawaiian word for half, and it turned out it was Hapalua.  That’s when he said, ‘that’s an even nicer name’.

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

On top of which, no one had ever used the word Hapalua in any context before, because in Hawaii the word people use for half is Hapa, which is the diminutive of Hapalua.

“I don’t think anyone knew there was a longer word,” laughed Barahal. “It took me about two minutes on the phone with an attorney to trademark that name, and we decided not just piggyback on our marathon.” Continue reading

SWEET TREATS AT 2015 HAPALUA

Coming April 12, 2015

Coming April 12, 2015

Honolulu, Hi.  — 36 hours from Nairobi, but for Peter Kirui, Nicholas Kemboi and Emily Chebet, the three Kenyan born Chasers in Sunday’s 4th Hapalua, Hawaii’s Half Marathon, the time in travel was well worth the while. And not just for financial reasons.

“This is as far from Kenya as you can get,” explained their manager Zane Branson.  “There is something about being so far away in a totally different world.  You get a different perspective on everything.”

Well, perhaps the whole world feels that way about the Aloha State.   Continue reading