MAKE IT PERSONAL

wmmHeader
The Fall 2014 marathon season is upon us, and with the 41st BMW Berlin Marathon about to step out this weekend, we can see how the efforts and budgets of the three fall majors were spent, and what might lie ahead in the coming six weeks.

As per usual, the clock is once again in focus in Berlin, as the USA’s Shalane Flanagan guns for Deena Kastor’s U.S. marathon mark of 2:19:36, set in London 2006.  Shalane sacrificed quite a bit in terms of money by going to Europe rather than racing in the States in Chicago or New York City. But Berlin is the preferred record venue with its flat course, paced races, and more predictably seasonable weather.  Plus, at age 33 the Marblehead, Massachusetts native feels the clock ticking.  Not that she won’t have competition. Paris course record holder Feyse Tadese , and Tokyo record holder Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia will also lace up in Berlin this Sunday, but Shalane has forthrightly admitted that time is the goal, not place, and she won’t sacrifice an even pace for a competitive surge.

But on the men’s side, Berlin has gone against type and recruited three ex-World Marathon Majors race champs rather than a single comet blazing toward another world record attempt behind a phalanx of pacers. In Dennis Kimetto, 2013 Chicago winner; Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia, reigning WMM series champ; and former London course record holder Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin has three of the strongest racers in modern marathoning.   Kebede once again leads the 2013–2014 standings with 55 points.  Kimetto stands in third with 50, and E. Mutai still has an outside shot for the title, resting in fifth position with 30 points.

There are 25 points at stake for the Berlin win, and with $500,000 on the line for the WMM series winner, yet Mr. Kimetto’s “I know I am ready. My preparation has been good and I’m confident for Sunday. If the conditions are good, yes, we could break the world record,” indicates time seems always to be the primary focus in Berlin.  But who doesn’t enjoy a bloody good race more than a sterile time trial?  Even better when both occur as in London 2002 when Khalid Khannouchi broke his own record in a power tussle against Paul Tergat and the debuting Haile Gebrselassie.

In fact, that is the point of this post. Often, the events and the athletes tout themselves by comparing personal bests (PBs) instead of individual match ups. For men it is how many sub-2:04s, or sub-2:05 are in the field. For the women it is the number of sub-2:20s. But twenty years ago it was how many sub-2:10s and sub-2:30s were running. Times change, and when we reduce the competitors to their times, what we lose are their personalities – assuming they have one.

As a result, when you ask almost anyone but the hardest of hard core fans who they think will win a race, odds are they will say “a Kenyan”, or maybe “an Ethiopian”. While that response might be a market satisfier in terms of promoting Kenya and Ethiopia as places that develop great runners, it is a market dis-satisfier in terms of marketing the individual athletes or developing the sport to a wider audience.

Point is, in order to make it stick, it has to be personal. Enough of this “I am just trying to run my best race”. It has to become “I want to beat that guy!” Him against Him, Her versus Her, not them against the clock. There is no emotional appeal to a time-based presentation. Every once in a while, like with Flanagan in Berlin, it might make sense, but the general public doesn’t know a 2:03 from a 2:13 or 2:23. What they do understand is white hats and black hats, or stakes of $500,000 or more. Continue reading

STATUE DEDICATION FOR JOHN J. KELLEY

John "The Younger Kelley

John J. “The Younger” Kelley

He didn’t finish his first Boston Marathon in 1949, but over the next two decades Connecticut’s John J. Kelley would become the face of American marathoning in another era — like our own — when international athletes dominated the Boston winner’s circle. What’s more, this two-time Olympian remains the only member of the Boston Athletic Association to win the club’s most famous race, though he would finish second five times, only two less than his namesake, but not relative, John A. Kelley, the man known as “Old Kel” to differentiate him from “Young John”.

But racing wasn’t John’s sole legacy to the sport. When his competitive days were over the man many believe to be the father of modern American distance running became a mentor to dozens if not hundreds of dedicated acolytes. Thus, since John’s death three years ago at age 80, friends and admirers have worked tirelessly to commemorate the life and legacy of this special man. This Sunday September 21st, a bronze statue of Young John (and his dog Brutus) will be unveiled at 56 West Main Street, Mystic, Connecticut, right next to Mystic Pizza.

Six former winners of the Boston Marathon are expected to join in the unveiling and dedication, including 1968 Boston Marathon champion Amby Burfoot, who was coached and taught by Kelley; Bill Rodgers, Amby’s college roommate at Wesleyan who won Boston four times between 1975 and 1980; Geoff Smith, 1984 & `85 Boston champion; and Jack Fultz, the 1976 winner. On the women’s side, three-time winner Sara Mae Berman (1969-71) and Nina Kuscsik the 1972 winner will attend. Local TV station WTNH had the story.

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MONEY VALIDATES

IAAF Continental Cup logo 2014     Our friends at Letsrun.com wrote a preview of this weekend’s 2nd IAAF Continental Cup from Marrakech, Morocco comparing it favorably to the recently completed IAAF Diamond League tour.

“The prize money for the event is insane as compared to the DL meet. The Continental Cup offers $2.9 million in prize money, that’s more than 6 times what a DL event offers ($480,000) and more than three times as much what two DL events would offer. Each event pays out $73,000, plus four relays, each of which pays out $68,000, for a total of $2.9 million in prize money. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, which is allotted as follows:

$30,000 for 1st,
$15,000 for 2nd
$10,000 for 3rd
$7,000 for 4th
$5,000 for 5th
$3,000 for 6th
$2,000 for 7th
$1,000 for 8th.

That’s a HUGE increase from a Diamond League meet.”

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Recall that at last month’s U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, Serena Williams was awarded a check of $3 million for winning her sixth U.S. Open title, and collected an additional $1 million for winning the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series. Now consider the gulf between the payoffs in these two sports, and the ramifications that develop from it.

As one pundit put it, “Mary (Wittenberg’s) got Caroline Wozniacki (U.S. Open Tennis finalist) running the New York City Marathon. John McEnroe was talking about it during Sunday’s prime time coverage. Now that’s all they’re talking about, not Kipsang, not Mutai, not Edna Kiplagat or Mary Keitany.”

How often have we heard, “well, running isn’t golf or tennis”? As if that alone explains the differences. As if this weekend’s season-ending Fedex Cup prize of $10 million (to one golfer!) was always the way golf was conducted, or that tennis always had a multi-million dollar professional underpinning. Of course they didn’t. Golf and tennis became what they are today by the concerted efforts of many people, including pioneering athletes, event directors, and agents willing to challenge a stagnant status quo. Continue reading

SOUTH AFRICA TO STAGE FIRST EVER GLOBAL ATHLETICS CONFERENCE

 SouthAfrica Conference logo
Yesterday (3 Sept. 2014) KwaZulu-Natal Athletics announced that it will stage a world first annual international athletics conference in Durban, RSA to up-skill and equip athletics stakeholders as South Africa contemplates bidding for mega global events such as the Commonwealth and Olympic Games.

The Global Athletics Conference (@GAC_2014), which will be an annual event, and will take place on 14 and 15 November 2014, bringing some of the foremost athletics and sports business professionals to Durban to engage with delegates from across Africa.

Among the key note speakers secured are four-time Olympic medallist Mr Ato Boldon; double Olympic Gold medallist Dame Kelly Holmes; award-winning American running commentator Mr Toni Reavis; Marketing Director of Adidas International Mr Spencer Nel, Chairman of Repucom Mr Kelvin Watt and Head of Sponsorship at SABMiller, Mr Errol Madlala.   Additional speakers and panelists will be announced in the run-up to the event, which will be held at the Sibaya Conference Centre outside Umhlanga, Durban. Continue reading

NEGATIVE SPACE, POSITIVE RESULT

Weltklasse logoThere was an embarrassment of athletic riches on display at today’s Weltklasse meet in Zürich’s Letzigrund Stadium, the first of two IAAF Diamond League finals for the 2014 season. Yet, was there too much of a good thing?

Today’s meet showcased 182 athletes in 14 events in the two-hour television window. For the rabid athletics fans this was a bountiful meal, indeed. But for a casual spectator the numbers quickly became so great as to create a glut .  At the beginning of the men’s 5000 meters broadcaster Tim Hutchings said of the 20-man field, ‘it’s too many probably’, before underscoring the class of the field as containing 10 sub-13 minute men, including the top 10 of 2014.

In the world of art negative space is the space around and between the subject(s) of an image.  It is an often unnoticed element in creating a pleasing design or presentation, as it allows the positive space of the composition the room it needs to breathe in order to be properly absorbed by the viewer.  Negative space in music is the silence within a piece that showcases that which is heard, while in comedy, negative space is the well-timed pause that either is the joke, or tees up the punch-line.

If someone as track-savvy as Tim Hutchings can wonder about the need for a 20-man field in a season-long final in the 5000m, and a 10-man traffic jam in the 800, why can’t the Diamond League organizers?  In business they say to mass your assets, then focus people’s attention. Why is it that there is no stepping stone to the finals whereby only the top eight competitors in the laned events, or top 10 in the distance events, qualify for the Diamond League final? Continue reading