WRINGING OUT THE OLD

    As 2011 comes to a desultory close, with the race of 2012 shaping up to be the one for the White House in Washington rather than the podium in London, the IAAF’s annual ‘End of the Season’ marathon review by A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) left the two statisticians with their mouths agape, writing…“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible. The best illustration is probably the fact that there were new course records set in all the five races making up the “World Marathon Majors.”

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL made a similar case back in November, but more than simply challenging our perceptions of WHAT was really possible, 2011 showed us unequivocally WHO it was possible by.

There were 182 sub-2:10 marathon performances world-wide in 2011, including those on downhill, point-to-point courses like Boston, which, despite its history and renown, is often left off the statistical lists by the Stat-Nazis in the name of purity over common sense. Of that 182, athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%) led by Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 Boston masterpiece and Patrick Makau’s “official” world record 2:03:38 in Berlin.   For the rest of the world – including the mighty Ethiopians with 42 sub-2:10s (22%) – 2011 was the year of nolo contendere.  The U.S. was once again led by Ryan Hall (2) and Meb Keflezighi (1) with three sub-2:10s.

As the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials nears in Houston, Texas January 14th, a look back at where the sport was four years earlier gives us a sobering indication of why the sport of distance running has been transformed into an intra-mural battle among Kenyan camps rather than a world-class competition amongst evenly matched nations.  The tilt has become so severe, that the average jogger/runner has lost all contact with the exploits of their sport’s fastest purveyors as the running industry in the U.S. has settled on participation numbers, economic impact, and charitable contributions as their standards of excellence, speed be damned.

*****

     After Meb Keflizighi and Deena Kastor’s Olympic Marathon medal haul in Athens 2004, the gap between the marathon haves and have nots seemed to be closing.  66 sub-2:10s were produced that year by 59 runners, 27 of whom were Kenyan (45%). Then, California golden boy Ryan Hall blitzed the second half of the November 2007 Olympic Trials Marathon in New York’s Central Park in 1:02:45, on his way to an Olympic Trials record 2:09:02 win.  He finished his 26.2 miles two seconds faster on Saturday than Kenyan Martin Lel’s winning time at the following day’s five-borough ING New York City Marathon.  As that reality set in, we wondered – with cause – “could Ryan have actually won that year’s NYC Marathon?”

Four years later as Hall prepares to defend his Trials title in Houston against fellow Olympians Meb Keflezighi, Dathan Ritzenhein and 160+ other qualifiers, the question of whether an American runner might win a World Marathon Major or an Olympic Marathon medal seems almost ludicrous.  “Wait a minute,” you might exclaim.  “Didn’t Keflizighi win NYC as recently as 2009?”  Yes, but last November, though Meb stayed with the leaders through 20 miles and finished in sixth place with a PR 2:09:13, by the Central Park finish line champion Geoffrey Mutai had put four minutes into him.  And though over the last four years Ryan Hall has consistently placed in the top five in the World Marathon Majors©, including a superb fourth in Boston 2011 (2:04:58) and 5th in Chicago (2:08:04), he, too, now requires several extra minutes to complete 26.2 miles than his top Kenyan rivals.  The gap is simply splitting like a dropped melon.

And beyond Hall and Keflezighi there hasn’t been a sub-2:10 U.S. marathoner since Khalid Khannouchi, the Moroccan-born, ex-world record holder, ran 2:07:04 to finish sixth in London in 2006.  There hasn’t been another native-born U.S. sub-2:10er besides Hall since Alan Culpepper ran 2:09:41 in his debut in Chicago 2002!  Sobering.

USA Top 10 Marathoners – 2011

2:04:58

1.

1.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

4.

Boston (USA) 18.04

1222

2:08:04

-

2.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

5.

Chicago (USA) 09.10

1196

2:09:13

2.

3.

Mebrahtom KEFLEZIGHI

75

USA F

6.

New York (USA) 06.11

1164

2:11:30

3.

4.

Nicholas ARCINIAGA

83

USA F

2.

Houston (USA) 30.01

1135

2:11:46

4.

5.

Ed MORAN

81

USA F

10.

New York (USA) 06.11

1118

2:13:12

5.

6.

Jeff EGGLESTON

84

USA F

5.

Duluth (USA) 18.06

1093

2:13:28

6.

7.

Matt GABRIELSON

78

USA F

6.

Duluth (USA) 18.06

1088

2:13:40

7.

8.

Jason LEHMKUHLE

77

USA F

13.

London (GBR) 17.04

1097

2:14:17

8.

9.

Ryan BAK

81

USA F

2.

Sacramento (USA) 04.12

1059

2:14:39

9.

10.

Luke HUMPHREY

81

USA F

5.

San Diego (USA) 05.06

1070

2:15:55

10.

11.

Mario MACIAS

80

USA F

5.

Sacramento (USA) 04.12

1031

USA Top 10 Marathoners – 2010

2:08:41

1.

1.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

4.

Boston (USA) 19.04

1154

2:09:26

2.

2.

Mebrahtom KEFLEZIGHI

75

USA F

5.

Boston (USA) 19.04

1141

2:10:36

3.

3.

Brett GOTCHER

84

USA F

7.

Houston (USA) 17.01

1151

2:11:06

4.

4.

Jason HARTMANN

81

USA F

8.

Chicago (USA) 10.10

1142

2:11:48

5.

6.

Nicholas ARCINIAGA

83

USA F

3.

San Diego (USA) 06.06

1130

2:12:24

6.

7.

Jason LEHMKUHLE

77

USA F

9.

Boston (USA) 19.04

1088

2:12:33

7.

8.

Dathan RITZENHEIN

82

USA F

8.

New York (USA) 07.11

1104

2:13:47

8.

9.

Antonio VEGA

83

USA F

12.

Boston (USA) 19.04

1064

2:14:02

9.

10.

Sergio REYES

81

USA F

1.

St. Paul (USA) 03.10

1091

2:14:07

10.

11.

Justin YOUNG

79

USA F

5.

Sacramento (USA) 05.12

1089

USA Top 10 Marathoners – 2009

2:09:15

1.

1.

Mebrahtom KEFLEZIGHI

75

USA F

1.

New York (USA) 01.11

1163

2:09:40

2.

3.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

3.

Boston (USA) 20.04

1137

2:10:00

3.

4.

Dathan RITZENHEIN

82

USA F

11.

London (GBR) 26.04

1162

2:12:09

4.

6.

Jason HARTMANN

81

USA F

1.

St. Paul (USA) 04.10

1123

2:13:00

5.

7.

Jorge TORRES

80

USA F

7.

New York (USA) 01.11

1097

2:13:46

6.

8.

Nicholas ARCINIAGA

83

USA F

8.

New York (USA) 01.11

1083

2:13:51

7.

9.

Josh COX

75

USA F

2.

Sacramento (USA) 06.12

1094

2:14:00

8.

10.

Abdi ABDIRAHMAN

78

USA F

9.

New York (USA) 01.11

1079

2:14:39

9.

11.

Jason LEHMKUHLE

77

USA F

10.

New York (USA) 01.11

1068

2:15:13

10.

12.

Chris RAABE

79

USA F

1.

Duluth (USA) 20.06

1058

USA Top 10 Marathoners – 2008

2:06:17

1.

1.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

5.

London (GBR) 13.04

1229

2:11:59

2.

2.

Dathan RITZENHEIN

82

USA F

9.

Beijing (CHN) 24.08

1126

2:13:54

3.

4.

Justin YOUNG

79

USA F

13.

Rotterdam (NED) 13.04

1093

2:14:17

4.

5.

Abdi ABDIRAHMAN

78

USA F

6.

New York (USA) 02.11

1074

2:14:23

5.

6.

Josh ROHATINSKY

82

USA F

7.

New York (USA) 02.11

1073

2:14:30

6.

7.

Jason LEHMKUHLE

77

USA F

8.

New York (USA) 02.11

1070

2:15:36

7.

8.

Matt DOWNIN

77

USA F

2.

San Antonio (USA) 16.11

1064

2:16:07

8.

9.

Brian SELL

79

USA F

22.

Beijing (CHN) 24.08

1055

2:16:13

9.

10.

Nicholas ARCINIAGA

83

USA F

10.

Boston (USA) 21.04

1022

2:16:20

10.

11.

Michael RENEAU

78

USA F

6.

Chicago (USA) 12.10

1051

USA Top 10 Marathoners – 2007

2:08:24

1.

1.

Ryan HALL

82

USA F

7.

London (GBR) 22.04

1190

2:11:07

2.

3.

Dathan RITZENHEIN

82

USA F

2.

New York (USA) 03.11

1142

2:11:40

3.

4.

Brian SELL

79

USA F

3.

New York (USA) 03.11

1132

2:12:34

4.

5.

Khalid KHANNOUCHI

71

USA F

4.

New York (USA) 03.11

1116

2:12:54

5.

6.

Jason LEHMKUHLE

77

USA F

5.

New York (USA) 03.11

1110

2:13:23

6.

7.

Dan BROWNE

75

USA F

6.

New York (USA) 03.11

1102

2:14:56

7.

8.

Nate JENKINS

80

USA F

7.

New York (USA) 03.11

1075

2:15:09

8.

9.

Mebrahtom KEFLEZIGHI

75

USA F

8.

New York (USA) 03.11

1071

2:15:22

9.

10.

Josh ROHATINSKY

82

USA F

9.

New York (USA) 03.11

1068

2:15:27

10.

11.

Jason HARTMANN

81

USA F

10.

New York (USA) 03.11

1066

(source:  All-Athletics.com)

What the data tells us is that Ryan Hall, who ran Chicago in October and Keflezighi, who competed in New York a month later – just 69 days before the Houston Trials – think either one of two things, maybe both:

A) I have a cushion against the field in Houston, so I can afford to take the big payday in the fall Major and still make the Olympic team even though not at 100%, or B) realistically, making the Olympic team is essentially going to be my Olympics, because the possibility that I can win a medal in London on a flat course in relatively normal marathon weather conditions against the current Kenyan crop is simply too much of longshot to risk giving up that big fall appearance fee for.

Now, the fly in that analytical ointment is the presence of wild-card marathon debutants like Galen Rupp, Brian Olinger, and Mo Trafeh, as well as Ed Moran who made a successful debut in NYC, placing 10th in 2:11:46.  If any one of these fresh marathon faces with proven results in the shorter distances can pull off a brilliant debut in Houston, (or sophomore run by Moran), then all bets on the ease of making the team are off.

*****

Galen Rupp

There is little doubt that Rupp could be America’s premier marathoner if he so chose, or at least give Ryan Hall a real fight for the title. In fact, if Galen were a runner from almost any other nation, odds are he already would be a marathoner due to the financial realities of the sport these days.  But being as he’s an American signed with Nike under the guidance of legendary marathoner/coach Alberto Salazar, Rupp has been allowed the luxury of remaining focused on the track. And yet, even with the massive outlay of coaching and support by Salazar and Nike, Rupp’s new American record at 10,000 meters, 26:48 in Brussels last September, is still only second in his own training group, fourth on the 2011 annual list, 29th on the all-time list as he became just the 16th-fastest man in 10,000m history.  Daunting stats, those.

Houston, as all Olympic Trials marathons, will be a compelling competition, of that there is no doubt.  It will likely not produce fast times overall, as time is not a goal of this, the truest of all competitions.  The ease of explaining its format, even to the lay community – “top three you go to the Olympics, fourth you go home!” – make the Trials the paradigm for how racing should be marketed to the public year-round.

Notwithstanding, the frisson of excitement that attended the men’s trials in New York four years ago as the new generation represented by Ryan Hall and Dathan Ritzenhein took on the reigning American Big Three of Meb Keflezighi, Alan Culpepper, and Abdi Abdirahman – with ex-world record holder Khannouchi seeking one final effort from his ravaged body – seems missing at the conclusion of 2011.  The Trials stakes have been lowered because the world’s best – overwhelningly in the form of Kenyans – have simply run away and hid, taking the possibility of glory right along with them.

The women?  That’s another story for another day.  The happiest of New Years to all.

END

3 comments on “WRINGING OUT THE OLD

  1. […] another excellent blog post, famous running broadcaster Toni Reavis bids adieu to 2011 in the world of running by noting the highlights and troublesome statistics that envelop our […]

  2. […] 14 were Kenyans. Again, much has been written about the total dominance of Kenyan men this year. Toni Reavis blogged on December 28th, there were   182 sub 2:10 marathons run in 2011 verus 66 in 2004. Of the 182, […]

  3. […] always insightful reviews that also put American marathoning and marathoners in perspective: Men, Women ;  Today’s piece on the MEN from LetsRun AND Peter Gambaccini in RW’s Racing News). […]

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