LETTERMAN & DEMERIT CARDS

So long, Dave.

So long, Dave.

MOCKING FOR MILLIONS

David Letterman retired last night after a run of 33 years behind talk show desks at NBC and CBS. In hosting the last of 6028 such shows Dave and his World Wide Pants team proved their mettle once again.  It was the Dave we had come to know these last three-plus decades.  But, man, doesn’t it seem like just yesterday we were wishing Johnny well as he signed off after 30 years hosting the Tonight Show? Time can get like that, you know, opposite as when race, when the clock can stall out for a bit.

Anyway, I haven’t stayed up to watch late night TV in years, since becoming a morning person moving from Boston to San Diego, but I still felt a real pang of loss watching Dave sign off. Continue reading

MELODY FAIRCHILD – YOUTH STAR TURNS MASTER MOTIVATOR

Efraimson finishing 2:01 in Portland

Efraimson finishing 2:01 in Portland

Cleveland, Oh. — Young Alexa Efraimson put her abundant talent on display last night in Portland, Oregon, clocking 2:01:13 for 800 meters at the Portland Twilight meet, a time which slots her # 3 on the all-time U.S. list for high school aged girls behind Mary Cain and the late Kim Gallagher. It was a fine piece of running by the Camus, Washington native who turned pro last year in lieu of exploring a collegiate running career, a decision that Cain had also made the year before.

But even as Alexa showed her stuff, we are reminded that Mary Cain has come off the boil. After two years of blistering performances, including a spate of records from 800 to 5000 meters, reaching the finals in the 1500 meters 2013 IAAF World Championships in Moscow, and a win at the World Juniors 3000 meter champs in Eugene last summer, the Bronxville, New York native has come into 2015 under performing.  Her indoor season was lackluster, and in her three outdoor 1500s to date she has yet to break 4:15.  Last Thursday she finished 11th in a 12-person 1500 at the Hoka One One Middle Distance Classic at Occidental College in L.A.

Efraimson and Cain are just the latest two high school aged phenoms who matured early and were capable of national and even international caliber performances. But there is nothing automatic about youthful talent, and the road ahead holds no guarantees of future success.

This past weekend I was in Cleveland for the 38th Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon and 10Km, races I have covered since 1978.  Racing in Cleveland this year was another prodigious young talent with high hopes, and another former youth superstar who serves as a cautionary tale for all who follow. Continue reading

WITTENBERG TO LEAVE NYRR

NYRR Pres. & CEO Mary Wittenberg

NYRR PresIdent & CEO Mary Wittenberg

The New York Road Runners announced today (12 May 2015) that its long serving President and CEO Mary Wittenberg will step down next week to take on the job of Global CEO at Virgin Sport, a new enterprise created by British tycoon Richard Branson that will focus on participatory fitness events and programs, particularly running and cycling.  NYRR board chairman George Hirsch further announced that two of Ms. Wittenberg’s top assistants, Michael Capiraso and Peter Ciaccia, would replace her, dividing her duties into separate business and sport positions.

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The announcement came as a surprise to many, as Wittenberg had become the face of running in New York City during her 10-year tenure as CEO and race director of the New York City Marathon.  In fact, some industry insiders jokingly referred to the 50,000 person November race as the New York City Mary-thon, so prominent and vibrant was Ms. Wittenberg throughout race week.

In Mary Virgin has hired one of the most recognizable faces in the sport, a Buffalo-native who first made a name winning the Marine Corps Marathon in 1987.  After graduating from Notre Dame law school Wittenberg spent several years with a firm specializing in international trade deals for U.S. banks. Then in 1998 she joined NYRR as she sought to combine avocation with vocation. Two years later she became NYRR’s first Chief Operating Officer before taking over from Allan Steinfeld as President and CEO in 2005.

With a supportive board, enterprising staff, and the NYRR portfolio in hand, Wittenberg quickly began to build on the legacy established by Fred Lebow and Allan Steinfeld.  During her tenure the organization and its many events (and charities) flourished – though there were rumblings from some local club members who bridled at increased race entry fees and Mary’s focus on building a more national and international profile for the club. Yet the NYRR’s crown jewel, the New York City Marathon, grew by over 60% in Wittenberg’s time, making it the largest marathon in the world.  In all over 400,000 people participate annually in NYRR activities, including tens of thousands of children via the club’s robust programs for kids.

Wittenberg was also a leader in the creation and development of the Abbott World Marathon Majors, the million dollar series formed in 2006 by six of the world’s preeminent international marathons. Only the fumbled cancellation of the 2012 New York City Marathon in the wake of Hurricane Sandy — after most of the runners had already flown into town — shows up as a glitch.  And that was mostly on New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

In early 2007 Mary was scheduled to give the keynote address at the annual Running USA conference. During that time she and I exchanged a number of messages about the state of the sport and the direction it was taking. As we wish her well on her move to her new post with Virgin Sport, I thought we might gain from some hard won understanding of the sport she has helped lead through the first decade and a half of the 21st century.

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Continue reading

JOHNNY U & BREAKING IN WIFFLE BALLS

Driving up to L. A. for Mother’s Day. Toya behind the wheel.

When we played wiffle ball as kids, a new ball cost $.25. But when it was new you couldn’t make it dance the same as when it got broken in a little.

Same with baseballs. Every new ball we got from the umpire would get massaged until our hands were red as we tried to rub the new off it. And the rituals of breaking in a brand new glove were all but sacred, as a new mitt wouldn’t catch anything worth a damn.

So here we are at the penalty phase of Deflategate, and NFL commissioner Roger Goodell has effectively tied his own hands.  Not only is he harnassed with recent rulings against domestic abusers, but like MLB looking the other way throughout the Steroid Era, the NFL let the foxes in the hen house in 2005 and ’06 when Brady and Manning lobbied to let each team supply its own game balls rather than sharing the same, league provided pig skins. What did the league officials think was going to happen? Continue reading

BARAHAL INDUCTED INTO HAWAII SPORTS HALL OF FAME

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

Honolulu Marathon Association president Jim Barahal

The Honolulu Marathon is unique for many reasons, not the least of which is its tropical location. Not that that’s any bargain come race day. With its warm, humid conditions and Diamond Head hill to climb going out and coming home, Honolulu is by far the slowest of the top echelon marathons in the world.  Imagine any other marathon whose course record still doesn’t average 5:00 per mile pace.

And yet in its 42 years the Honolulu Marathon has etched a place of honor both in the sport and at home, long recognized as one of the world’s most iconic marathons.  This week the Honolulu Marathon Association’s president of the last 27 years, Dr. Jim Barahal, was inducted into the Hawaii Sports Hall of Fame. 

“I’m particularly happy that it was the Sports Hall of Fame,” said Barahal of his induction. “We have always approached this as a sporting event, and we don’t want to lose sight of that. It’s why we always invite the very top athletes. In this day and age that is not a universal sentiment. But it would never occur to us to have anything other than a world-class competition. We want to be on the sports page, not the lifestyle page.” Continue reading

LONDON 2015 – A WINNING PROMOTION

PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

            PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

Hype can cut both ways.  Too much and the promotion can fall flat. Too little and the tree can tumble unheard in the forest.

In 2015 the Virgin Money London Marathon did a great job promoting its men’s and women’s professional fields. With a month long boxing-like ramp up that focused on the last two men’s marathon world record holders, Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto, and a “Fantastic Four” of Kenyan women, consisting of past London champions Edna Kiplagat (2014), Priscah Jeptoo (2013), Mary Keitany (2011-2012) and 2014 TCS New York City Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat (2nd, London 2014), London stacked its packs then piqued our interest with their pre-race set up.

The one thing it couldn’t control, however, was the outcome as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:42) bested Kipsang (2nd place, 2:04:47) and Kimetto (3rd place, 2:05:50), while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, a 2:21:52 winner in Shanghai last year, upset the women’s applecart in a race where the pacers were all but ignored as place took precedence over time. Tufa arrived at the finish in 2:23:22 while Mary Keitany followed 18 seconds later in 2:23:40.  They were followed by two more Ethiopians, Tirfi Tsegay (2:23:41) and Aselefech Mergia (2:23:53).  Florence Kiplagat arrived in fifth at 2:24:15, while defender Edna Kiplagat (no relation) struggled home in 11th in 2:27:16.

To the Victor Go the Smiles

                                    To the Victor Go the Smiles

Just as in Chicago last October, Eliud Kipchoge’s lips split wide as he powered away from his final challenger today in the British capital. Last fall Sammy Kitwara fell victim. Today it was defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, the only man to defeat Kipchoge to date over the marathon distance (2013 Berlin when Kipsang ran a world record, since broken, 2:03:23, while Kipchoge finished second in a PR 2:04:05).

Often teeth baring betrays the rictus of effort, but for the 30 year-old father of three from the Central Highlands of Kenya, the softened crinkles around his eyes revealed his real mood. This, then, was the simple smile of satisfaction playing out over a face now used to such expressions of self-regard.

Less we forget, Eliud Kipchoge was just 18 when he upset world-beaters Hicham El Guerrouj and Keninise Bekele to take gold in the 5000 meters at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris, the same year he won the IAAF World Cross Country Junior Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later he won bronze in the Athens Olympics over 5000m. Four years later he upgraded to silver in Beijing.

These days, after retooling his body for the longer road distances, Kipchoge once again took the measure of the best runners on offer with yet another flash of speed in the waning stages of a major competition.

The range of the man is remarkable. Only Ethiopia’s inestimable Haile Gebrselassie is in the same mile-to-marathon league with Kipchoge. What makes the two even more laudable is how each was able to sustain excellence over an extended period of time over a range of distances requiring very different training regimens.

KIPCHOGE PR LIST

Distance           Time         Venue              Date

1500m               3:33.20     Hengelo (NED)  31 May 2004

Mile                    3:50.40     London (GBR)  30 July 2004

3000m               7:27.66      Doha (QAT)       6 May 2011

5000m             12:46.53      Rome (ITA)         2 July 2004

10,000m          26:49.02      Hengelo (NED)  26 May 2007

10K Road        26:54          Madrid (ESP)     31 Dec. 2006

Half Marathon  59:25          Lille, (FRA)         01 Sep. 2012

Marathon       2:04:05         Berlin (GER)      29 Sep.  2013

GEBRSELASSIE PR LIST

Distance          Time          Venue                  Date

1500m               3:33.73      Stuggart (GER)       6 June 1999

Mile                    3:52.39     Gatehead (GBR)    27 June 1999

3000m                7:25.09    Brussels (BEL)        28 Aug. 1998

5000m               12:39.36    Helsinki (FIN)          13 June 1998

10,000m            26:22.75   Hengelo (NED)         01 June 1998

10K Road          27:02        Doha (QAT)             13 Dec. 2002

Half-Marathon   58:55        Tempe (USA)             15 Jan. 2006

Marathon        2:03:59        Berlin (GER)             28 Sep. 2008

So just when we thought the marathon had traded out old track stars for fresh faced road warriors, Eliud Kipchoge proved the old ways still have their charms, even as both champions showed that the marathon remains one of the most challenging of all sporting events to predict.

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15London Paula RatcliffeAnd finally, any sport must be lucky in those who become its champions, as sport is pure meritocracy.  In that light, distance running has been blessed by many a fine representative.  But none better than three-time London and New York City Marathon champion Paula Ratcliffe who ran her swan song today.

The still standing women’s world record holder — 2:15:25 (London 2003) and nobody in shouting distance — hung up her marathon racing flats with a 2:36:55 effort.  No hype would ever be too great to adequately measure Paula’s long run at the top.  I can still recall her taking the IAAF World Cross Country junior title in snowy Boston in 1992 in her first  of many international triumphs.  Though snake bitten at the Olympics, whether in triumph or despair, Paula provided inspiration that will last for decades to come.  Her contributions to the sport, already vast, one would hope have only just begun.

END

GETTING HOOKED ON PACERS

Now that the NBA playoffs have begun the regular season TV viewing rule, “you only need to pay attention to the final five minutes”, has been eliminated as every possession is contested with pressure defense. Yet due to marathoning’s linear rather than episodic nature, where there is no shot, pitch, play, etc. every 30 seconds, or quarters, periods, innings or halves to break up the action, the sport of long distance racing is a hard sell to an ADHD audience.  This is especially true when very few of the athletes have been marketed as individual stars to the non-running public, and where, by comparison to other sports, the stakes are quite low.

In the face of these circumstances to then control the action via pacesetters only serves to further separate the average viewer from the game, as there is no reason to become engaged until the “real” action begins after the controlled first half.

15London Marathon LogoIn London this weekend we have another of the “greatest fields ever assembled”, both on the men’s and women’s sides, with thoroughbreds striding along the Thames everywhere you look. Yet once again there will be a host of pacesetters ready to take the men through the first half in a rapid, but controlled 61:45. Continue reading