DEFLATE-GATE & RUNNING

DeflateGateDeflate-Gate is another example of how out-of-step running is in today’s sporting world. In a classic example of “all publicity is good publicity”, the NFL is going to see the highest rated annual TV show now go through the retractable roof next Sunday in Arizona’s University of Phoenix Stadium for Super Bowl XLIX, all because some footballs had two psi too little air in their bladder last weekend at the AFC Championship game in Foxborough, Mass.  Or maybe running is just too pure for what the world has become.

You see, foot racing is really simple, point A to point B, first one in wins. No style points, no arbitrary ref calls (except for that indoor 3000 last year at the USATF Championship), and pretty much conscientious out-of-competition drug testing.  If you lose, it’s relatively easy to accept, because it’s all on you. It’s not because the coach didn’t put you in, or the guy didn’t throw or kick you the ball.  It’s start to finish, plain and simple. See you there. Obviously, there is cheating, but as we’ve seen with the recent Russian and Kenyan situations, the fight against it is ongoing.

Yet with its DeFlate-Gate kerfuffle the NFL has no one to blame (or congratulate, depending on your level of cynicism) but itself. It wanted it both ways, to seem to have a level playing field, while allowing the foxes to run the hen houses. So Instead of every team playing with the same footballs, like every baseball team plays with the same baseballs — a no-brainer in terms of an even playing field — the NFL caved in to the Dynamic Duo, Peyton Manning and Tom Brady. 

In 2006 Brady and Manning lobbied for visiting teams to be allowed to bring 12 broken-in balls of their own to every away game, because God knows it wasn’t enough to strip defenses from playing, you know, defense – for heaven sakes, don’t breath hard on the wide receivers — no, with all those passing records making billionaires out of millionaires and millionaires out of everyone else, and the NFL rising above baseball to become America’s new pastime, a little wink, wink, nod, nod at how the game is played isn’t going to be noticed, is it?  Yeah, and all those home runs crushed by pharmaceuticaly enhanced head-swellers, where was the harm in that?  Continue reading

WILSON KIPSANG – WHEN THE MARATHON BEGINS TO HURT

Former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang speaks with Ato Boldon, Adidias’ Spencer Nel and me about when a marathon begins to hurt, and the final stretch in last year’s TCS New York City Marathon (which he won).  From the Global Athletics Conference in Durban, South Africa.  Current record holder Dennis Kimetto sat in, as well.

END

INTERNET NO SUBSTITUTE FOR BROADCAST

Chris Derrick wins Great Edinburgh XC with teammate Jake Riley in 2nd.

Chris Derrick wins Great Edinburgh XC with teammate Jake Riley in 2nd.

Excellent BBC coverage of yesterday’s Great Edinburgh Cross Country featuring repeat wins by Americans Garrett Heath in the 4km and Chris Derrick in the 8km, along with American men’s 8km, women’s 6km, and two junior races in the team-scored competition. And thanks to USATF.TV for streaming the coverage to U.S. fans over the internet.

But as my long-time friend and cameraman Dale Wong said in December as we prepared to webcast the Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon, “we are losing our minor sports due to the internet.”

Losing fans by having coverage? Sounds counter-intuitive, doesn’t it? But Dale, who has been shooting races since the mid-1980s went on to clarify his position.

“It is broadcast TV viewership that fuels the next generation of fans and participants. Station surfers will run across an event and say, ‘I gotta try that.’ What internet coverage does is maintain what you already have, but it doesn’t attract any new viewers.”

Besides NXN, Dale still shoots the New York City Marathon and Ironman Triathlon in Kona, Hawaii. He and I have been friends since the days of Running & Racing, the Salmini Films produced series that ran 26 weeks a year on ESPN beginning in the mid-1980s. We also traveled the world together for ESPN’s Road Race of the Month, which aired from 1989 to 1998.

Road Race of the Month crew:  (l-r) Dale Wong, Alex Simon, Ed Eyestone, Guatemala President Alvaro Arzu, TR, Mike Long, Rich Jayne - Coban, Guatemala 1997

Road Race of the Month crew: (l-r) Dale Wong, Alex Simon, Ed Eyestone, Guatemala President Alvaro Arzu, TR, Mike Long, Rich Jayne – Coban, Guatemala 1997

“Those shows promoted the sport to a wide-spread audience,” said Dale. “Today, there is nothing on broadcast or sport cable to get that guy who’s never seen a race on TV before, and now might want to see another.“

That isn’t to say internet coverage isn’t important and necessary. Flotrack and RunnerSpace do yeoman service for the sport. And the NYRR has promoted its top events quite well with its own in-house internet programming. But without a wider distribution channel, the sport will slowly continue to see an erosion in whatever base set of fans it now has as fewer and fewer new eyeballs run across performances like we saw yesterday in Edinburgh.

END

WHY ALTITUDE MIGHT DEFINE DIFFERENCES IN MARATHON PERFORMANCE

Dr. Michael Joyner

Dr. Michael Joyner

In response to my recent article, BILL RODGERS: SPEAKING OF ALTITUDE, I received an email from Dr. Michael Joyner, Professor of Anesthesiology and an exercise physiology researcher at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota.  Over the last 25 years Dr. Joyner has published hundreds of scientific papers, and in 2011 received a Fulbright Specialist Grant.

Dr. Joyner views on the reliability of exceptional performances have appeared in Runner’s World, and he has co-authored numerous papers concerning the sport of distance running, such as How Low Can Marathon Times Go in the journal Conversation and Modeling: Optimal Marathon Performance on the Basis of Physiological Factors.

After sending me a 2012 paper published in The Journal of Clinical Investigation that delved deeply into the subject of the body’s physiological adaptation to altitude, I asked Dr. Joyner if he could explain in more layman’s terms how altitude adaptation might help explain the current statistical gap between altitude-born and lesser or sea-level born in marathon performance.
Continue reading

SHOWDOWN IN LONDON: HEAD TO HEAD

The Virgin Money London Marathon announced its 2015 professional men’s field today, and the gathering is already making salivary glands water among the faithful world-wide.  But though it is already being dubbed “Greatest Field in History” – and how many times have we heard that before? – what I found most appealing about the roll-out was how binary the London organizers made it.

Kipsang vs Kimetto clashofchampions

While former London Marathon champion and course record holder Emmanuel Mutai has also been signed, along with 2014 Chicago king Eliud Kipchoge, and the redoubtable Keninise Bekele of Ethiopia, any one of whom might well expect to see his name up on a race marquee, notwithstanding the presence of those other stars, it’s the current and former marathon world record holders who are primarily being touted. This is a welcome sign of marketing savvy, and takes a page from how boxing promotes it’s major fights. Continue reading

BILL RODGERS: SPEAKING OF ALTITUDE

Moses Mosop wins Xiamen 2015 (Jiang Kehong photo)

Moses Mosop wins Xiamen 2015 (Jiang Kehong photo)

The 2015 marathon year began where 2014 left off with Kenyans and Ethiopians sweeping the top places at the Xiamen Marathon in China. Moses Mosop, the big-engine Kenyan who had such an explosive 2011 campaign — but who had been beset by injury and personal issues in the last few years — returned to form in Xiamen with a course record 2:06:19 win.
2 Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:06:54
3 Abrha Milaw (ETH) 2:08:09
4 Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:08:18
5 Tadese Tola (ETH) 2:10:30

Mare Dibaba goes sub-2:20 in Xiamen (Jiang Dehong photo)

Mare Dibaba goes sub-2:20 in Xiamen (Jiang Kehong photo)

On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba continued her success from 2014 when she also began the year with a win in Xiamen before showing third in Boston then placing second in Chicago — though those places will likely move up one notch once the Rita Jeptoo drug positive has been adjudicated. Dibaba went 2:19:52 in Xiamen yesterday to destroy her competition & post the event’s first female sub-2:20.

1 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
2 Meseret Legesse (ETH) 2:27:38
3 Meriem Wangari (KEN) 2:27:53
4 Meseret Godana (ETH) 2:36:11
5 Cao Mojie (CHN) 2:43:06

At the end of 2014 I posted my analysis of the marathoning year.  Yesterday, I received a response from my old friend and oft-time running partner Bill Rodgers, the four-time Boston and New York City Marathon champion from the 1970s. Since I only lived two blocks from Bill’s old running center shop in Boston in those days, I would often tag along on Bill’s second run of the day as we spun the miles of Jamaica Pond beneath us in both foul weather and fair. Often during those runs we would discuss exactly the issues that continue to animate the sport to this day. With Bill’s permission, here is how yesterday’s back-and-forth went. Continue reading

MARATHON YEAR 2014

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

There were highs (American Meb Keflezighi‘s magnificent win in Boston) and lows (Kenyan Rita Jeptoo testing positive for EPO), but some things ran along a well worn path in the world of marathoning in 2014. Chief among those was the utter domination of Kenya and Ethiopia in the ranks of the men’s marathon.

Fully 95 of the top 100 times posted this past year hailed from those two nations (57/38), led by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record in Berlin in September. By comparison, last year 89 of the top 100 marathon times came from Kenya (55) and Ethiopia (34), led by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record, also in Berlin.

This year presumptive world number one Kipsang had to console himself with major wins in London (2:04:27 course record) and New York City (2:10:59 in chilled and windy conditions). Those two wins sewed up the $500,000 bonus for winning the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors series.  Nice consolation.

Wislon Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title.

Wilson Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title in November.

However, revelations out of Kenya late this year pointing  to a growing drug scandal and corruption charges have left the more cynical among us wondering how pure that dominance may be, or if we truly are in a golden age of the sport or simply an increasingly deceptive one. However, until further evidence surfaces we take what has been presented at face value. Continue reading