The biggest, as well as saddest, story in running this past year was the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April. Of such magnitude were the Boylston Street explosions, and of such duration their reverberations, that the episode represented the second most searched item on Google for the year — running only behind the car crash death of Fast & Furious movie star Paul Walker.
The entire Boston bombing saga left the city, nation, and world seeking a new equilibrium as security was markedly ramped up at civic events everywhere — probably never to be returned to pre-Patriot’s Day levels for the foreseeable future, if ever.
The week following was a sober reminder of an unfortunate truth, terrorism works. Not since the anti-war days of the late Sixties and early `70s had I witnessed anything as close to marshal law in the U.S. as I did during the week after the Boston Marathon — though in this case it was self-imposed. During that interval when the two Chechnyan brother bombers remained unknown and at large, the Boston metro area was held in the grip of a palpable fear.
I do not envy the Boston Athletic Association its task of threading the needle between respectful commemoration and unintended validation come next Patriot’s Day.
That it required a terror attack to elevate running into the U.S. mass-market consciousness, however, is no surprise. Even though New York high school sensation Mary Cain broke through onto ESPN off her host of record runs (and a top 10 finish at the IAAF World Championships 1500 meters), the sport of distance running in general continued to devolve into a series of charity fund-raising and civic boosterism events rather than sporting competitions — though on the track kudos go out to Brenda Martinez and Nick Symmonds for their medals (bronze and silver) in the 800 and Jenny Simpson for her silver in the 1500 at the IAAF World Championships in Moscow.
To cap off the year it was announced today (Dec. 30) that former Virgin London Marathon race director David Bedford has been awarded an OBE (Officer of the Order of the British Empire). The honor was accorded the one-time track bad-boy and 10,000m world record holder not simply because he brought London to the pinnacle of world marathoning over his tenure (2002 – 2012). No, though he did do that with a panache like nobody else.
That he’d been a racer himself has always been evident. From the epic Khannouchi, Tergat, Gebrselassie clash in 2002 to 2013’s Mo Farah dress-rehearsal for his 2014 debut, no promoter developed (and funded) the market for elite marathoners on par with the good doctor.
But Bedford was just as surely honored for his work in developing the event’s charity fund-raising to record levels, as well. That each wing of the event had grown to state-of-the-sport heights was, in all, a bravura double. And though he gave up day-to-day directing duties in 2012 to Hugh Brasher, Bedford remains the matchmaker supreme. The 2014 race promises to be epic again.
Notwithstanding Mr. Bedford’s well-honored efforts in London, part of the devolution of the sport can be attributed to the ongoing Kenyan versus Ethiopian dual-meet state of the game. Is it any wonder then that this East African glut has begun to be reflected in the decline in financial opportunities and rewards available to runners?
“Managers have created a downward spiral in the market,” remarked one manager in the fraternity who requested anonymity. “They’ve done such a bad job (of developing personalities) over the last 20 years, now with more and more young guys moving to the marathon, elite athlete coordinators are paying down, and you can’t blame them.”
The USATF Foundation’s Jack Wickens penned an eye-opening (and perhaps jaw-dropping) study of USA Professional Track & Field Income this past July.
Running Times list of the world’s most competitive race fields for the year was dominated by track 5000s, led by the IAAF World Championship final in Moscow in August. In all, four of the top five, and seven of the top ten most competitive races of the year, according to RT, were track 5000s.
And in the individual rankings only Somali-born Brit Mo Farah, taking top honors for the second straight year, and Bernard Lagat of the USA, at number six, made the top ten from outside Kenya or Ethiopia. However, honorable mention goes to Ben True and Chris Derrick whose sixth and tenth place finishes helped the U.S. World Cross Country team earn a silver medal in Poland in March. It marked the highest U.S. team finish since 2001 when Bob Kennedy (12th), Meb Keflezighi (13th) and Abdi Abdirahman (15th) led Team USA to the bronze medal.
In response to the current trends in the sport — fewer opportunities, less money — we saw athletics manager Paul Doyle step forward late in the year to announce the formation of his new American Track League, while University of Richmond coach Steve Taylor founded the Collegiate Running Association in November, offering prize money for national road, mountain, and trail running at the collegiate level.
And for the first time in who knows how long, USATF ended its year on a high note with the successful introduction of its first wholly-owned road running event, the November 17th .US National Road Racing Championships in Alexandria, Virginia. Though the governing body is still working through their 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials selection.
That announcement was supposed to have been made around the time of the national convention in December. But as others have reported, there seems to be a disagreement as to which site should be selected. The Long Distance Running committees (LDRs) were said to be in accord that Houston should play host again, as they did so successfully in 2012. But USATF’s upper echelon was thought to favor Los Angeles. Either way it’s a “two good shortstops” kind of problem.
You would expect athletes and their representatives to prefer a known commodity. They’ve been through the Houston experience once in 2012, and the city and its officials nailed it. But there is growth potential out west. L.A. has a new mayor, Eric Garcetti, champion for a 2024 Olympic bid; and a new L.A. Marathon CEO, Tracey Russell, ex of the Atlanta Track Club. Those circumstances could represent fruitful long-term positioning for USATF in America’s second largest market, and one of track and field’s seed-beds. That is also the kind of thinking one would hope to get from executives looking past an immediate need. No word on when the announcement is due (though the difficulty of the decision, and the rightness of each argument suggests a Solomon-esque solution; reward and extol one loyal partner while developing another). We shall see.
No surprise, however, that drugs continued to be a dominant force in at least the public presentation of the sport. Questions arose this year about enforcement in the dominant sprint nation of Jamaica, and the distance dynamo, Kenya. Here in the States, American sprint star Tyson Gay became the most high-profile drug take down since the downfall of Marion Jones (forgetting about Lance Armstrong’s confession to Oprah Winfrey in January).
As always, records fell in 2013, notably the men’s marathon mark in Berlin in September by Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang. But any mens’ marathon record seems etched in No.2 graphite these days, and with the full distance debut of world track champion Mo Farah in London this April, and the time-focused fields that have been arranged for Dubai at the beginning of the year, and Berlin in the fall, there’s question whether Kipsang’s mark will last till its first anniversary.
San Diego-based Competitor Group, Inc. created its share of headlines in 2013, not all of its choosing. The Rock `n` Roll event managers were roundly criticized for their abrupt shift away from elite-athlete competition just two weeks before the Rock `n` Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon in mid-September. That story, however, was soon supplanted when CGI CEO Scott Dickey and CFO Steve Gintowt were fired less than three months later. CGI chairman Paul Walsh has taken over temporarily, and according to sources, has instituted a “softer touch” with the CGI staff.
Finally, a major story line of interest throughout the year was the return to competition of former high school running star and world junior triathlon champion Lukas Verzbicas after his life-threatening bicycle accident in the summer of 2012.
Here, then, my most-read blog posts of 2013:
As always, many thanks for continuing to read, comment on (and perhaps support) the blog. Best wishes for a safe and productive 2014.