SHOULD THE MARATHON CONTINUE AS A MEDAL SPORT?

Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich shocked himself, his nation, and the marathon world with his gold medal run at this year’s London Games.  His win over the superstar Kenyan team — two of whom, Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, took home the minor medals  — and the inexperienced Ethiopian squad — all three of whom dropped out — made Uganda the 17th nation to have produced an Olympic Men’s Marathon champion since the Marathon was first introduced at inaugural modern Games in Athens 1896.

Though trained in Kenya, and from the larger Kalenjin community of nilotic ethnic speakers residing in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania — thus Stephen shares the Kiprotich surname with Kenya’s bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich — the surprising Ugandan victory also continued Kenya’s own Olympic Marathon frustrations.

While Ethiopia leads all nations with four Olympic Men’s Marathon titles, to date, only the late Sammy Wanjiru has mined gold for Kenya, that in Beijing 2008.  Notwithstanding the anomalous Kenyan Olympic performances again manifest in London, the nation’s overall dominance of the sport paced on unabated.

In 2011 Kenyan runners commanded the marathon like never before, notching the top 20 official times of the year, taking the top two spots at the World Championships, while representing 65 of the fastest 100 performances.  Now, as we complete the 2012 calendar we can see that their traditional East African rivals from Ethiopia returned fire these past 12 months, placing seven in the year’s top 10 performances — though Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Dennis Kimetto held down the top two places (2:04:15 & 2:04:16) from their pas-des-deux in Berlin.

A deeper dive into the 2012 marathon stats shows that the two East African juggernauts combined for 89% of the year’s fastest marathons, Kenya with 58, Ethiopia with 31.  In comparison the fastest American of the year, Dathan Ritzenhein, languished back in 69th position off his 2:07:47, ninth-place finish in Chicago in October, yet still making him the fourth fastest American in history.  Meb Keflezighi’s Olympic Trials victory in Houston in January, a PR of 2:09:08, pushed him to # 128 for the year, while Ryan Hall’s 2:09:30 in Houston nestled him back into 154th position world-wide. The top non-African born runner on the list was Poland’s Henryk Szost in position 59 off his 2:07:39 second-place finish in Otsu, Japan in March.

According to the IOC, a sport or discipline may be included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines that “it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries and continents that regularly compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport’s prevalence”.  With millions of marathon finishers across the globe, there is no doubt the marathon is widely practiced.  What is in doubt is whether that practice is at all competitive anymore.

Therefore, with tongue ever so gently in cheek, I wonder whether the marathon deserves its inclusion on the Olympic calendar in ensuing years, or should it be consigned to the non-medal “Demonstration” category, notwithstanding the Kenyan futility.  After all, the Olympics has a long history of adding and subtracting sports. Continue reading

SANDY HOOK

*****

E Pluribus Unum

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Fear and folly in tandem come,

in their sway we’ve often run,

From what’s true today to yesterday’s vision,

Though that which was is no more the mission.

*

So how long do we stand,

Blind,

As the evidence mounts?

How long do we sit,

Still,

Before the body counts?

*

Sowing and reaping, the violence prone,

X-box, vampires, a society grown,

Increasingly assorted, beyond scope of a center,

No common cause, each citizen dissenter.

*

Yet innocence once ours,

at least so we believed,

E pluribus unum,

at birth thus conceived.

*

Continue reading

HUNG UP ON TIME – 2012 Honolulu Marathon

Aerial View of Hawaii Kai

Aerial View of Hawaii Kai

Yesterday’s 40th Honolulu Marathon was a breath of fresh air.  In fact, it was many, many breaths of fresh trade-wind-blown air as times for the 26.2 mile loop course out to Hawaii Kai over Diamond Head and back was severely slowed by the strong trade winds blowing out along Kalanianaole Highway from miles 11-16. In the end, any chance for an event record (2:11:12, 2004) was swept away as this marathon turned into what has been lost in the sport in recent years, a pure foot-race rather than a paced time-trial.

While speculation was rife all week whether Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medallist and second fastest man in history, could better Jimmy Muindi’s long-standing mark, it came down to whether Kipsang could put away his Ethiopian rival Markos Geneti, the Los Angeles Marathon record holder and 2:04 man from Dubai 2012.

Though overall time ceased to be the issue, it required a full-blooded 4:39 partially upgrade 23rd mile for Kipsang to dispatch Geneti, though the winning time of 2:12:31 was only the ninth-fastest time in Honolulu Marathon history, and a full 8:49 slower than Kipsang’s 2:03:42 PR from Frankfurt 2011.  So, are we to look at his win in Honolulu as a failure?  He did run the fastest second half in Honolulu history, 65:31.

The point here is the sport has become so hung up on time that we have all but eliminated personality-driven competition from the minds of a constantly dwindling fan base.  We even refer to our race fields as filled with Kenyans or Ethiopians, as if there were no distinctions among these men and women of neighboring cultures.

It has been a sad, tiresome, and in the final analysis debilitating focus which has allowed the sport to be subsumed by  the increasing emphasis on charity fund-raising.  Odd, too, because it was competition and personalities which first elevated road racing to public attention via the Frank Shorter versus Bill Rodgers rivalry. Continue reading

ARILE IN RACE AGAINST ARMS

Julius Arile presents Small Arms petition to UN Gen-Sec Ban-Ki Moon

Julius Arile presents Small Arms petition to UN Gen-Sec Ban-Ki Moon

Julius Arile is nowhere near the fastest or most celebrated runner in the 2012 Honolulu Marathon field.  His PR is only 2:12:13,  run this year in Prague.   No, the man in the spotlight is 2012 Olympic Marathon bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang who also won this spring’s London Marathon, and holds the second fastest official marathon time in history at 2:03:42, run in Frankfurt, Germany in 2011.

But while Kipsang is the big gun in Honolulu aiming to shoot down Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 event record of 2:11:12, what his Kenyan countryman Julius Arile is targeting is, in many ways, much more important.

You see, Julius Arile is a former AK-47 wielding cattle rustler who laid down his weapon and life of violence in 2004 in exchange for the chance of a life as a professional runner.  He is also the “Millionth Face” for the United  Nation’s Small Arms Treaty, a multilateral treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. The treaty was negotiated at a global conference under the auspices of the United Nations from July 2–27, 2012 in New York.

Through his designation as the Millionth Face, Arile has twice come to New York City to meet with U.N. Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan (2006) and Ban-Ki Moon this past June. But this Sunday he will don the trappings of his new trade as he takes on Wilson Kipsang and a host of other top Kenyans and Ethiopians at the 40th Honolulu Marathon. And in this new trade the concept of dying is far less literal than in his previous life. Continue reading