Falmouth, Ma. – Charming, but telling, comments yesterday by Kenya’s Micah Kogo after his New Balance Falmouth Road Race sprint finish win over a determined Ben True of Hanover, New Hampshire (not to mention fellow Americans Abdi Abdiraham and Ben Bruce who took places four and five after joining Kogo and fellow Kenyan Emmanuel Mutai through the 10K mark of the seven-mile race).
Asked to go through the race from his vantage point to see how it compared with my view from the lead vehicle calling the race, the 2013 Boston Marathon runner-up described trying to push the pace after three miles as the historic course spilled out of the wooded section onto Surf Drive along Vineyard Sound.
“But my body was not moving,” he explained. “So I held on through miles four and five. But I saw that everyone was still there, even the white guy who was second.”
Oh, Micah, Micah, Micah. The humanity. Imagine, even the white guy was still there.
Due to its plurality, America is the home of political correctness. Not so most everywhere else, certainly not in rural Kenya where brutal honesty is the norm. But it’s been so long since a “white guy” has been a threat to the Kenyans that the out-of-hand dismissal of Kogo toward Ben True (or Ben Bruce, for that matter, who led the first two miles) is, in its way, a charming reminder of the strides American running has taken in recent years.
I remember 1992 Falmouth Road Race champion Benson Masya explaining why he went out sub-4:10 at the 1993 Crescent City Classic 10K in New Orleans, only to fade in the final mile.
“I was trying to kill the white man,” he said matter of factly.
I think Benson was talking about either Mark Curp or Ed Eyestone in that Crescent City race, but what he meant in his indelicate description was that at the time Kenyans still feared letting the race come down to a kick as that is when the Kenyan runners felt most vulnerable, and Americans were still respected challengers.
From the glories of Steve Prefontaine and Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, and Alberto Salazar, to the depths of the late 1990s after Todd Williams, Bob Kennedy and Mark Croghan sustained U.S. honor in the 10,000, 5000, and steeplechase, to the resurrection begun by Dathan Ritzenhein, Ryan Hall, and (at least initially) Alan Webb at the dawn of the 21st century, it’s been quite a roller coaster ride for American running fortunes.
Understandably over the last 20 years East African runners have become quite used to being alone in the world’s lead packs. But with Ben True finishing a strong sixth at the World Cross Country Championships in Poland this March coming in the wake of Galen Rupp’s silver medal at last summer’s Olympic 10,000 — and Rupp’s fourth place at this weekend’s World Championships along with Dathan Ritzenhein’s tenth place — it is no longer a surprise for the “white guy” to be “quite strong”, as Micah Kogo said yesterday of Ben True. “Who is he?”
Seems the world is finding out, quickly.