GAC 2014 WRAP

Sibaya Casino

Sibaya Casino

Durban, South Africa — The coastal winds blew hard across the rolling grass hills surrounding the Sibaya Casino and Entertainment complex yesterday as the inaugural Global Athletics Conference – shorthand GAC 2014 – concluded its two-day confab.

Inside the elegant Izulu Theater the question emerging from this first ever such conference in Africa was whether the winds of change might soon blow equally strong over the future of athletics, both here on man’s home continent, and around this troubled global sphere in general. Continue reading

SOUTH AFRICA STAGES GLOBAL ATHLETICS CONFERENCE

Along the Indian Ocean

Along the Indian Ocean

Durban, South Africa – In this year of 2014 South Africa has been celebrating the 20th anniversary of its transition from apartheid state to non-racial democracy.  On December 5th it will mark an especially moving moment in that celebration with the commemoration of the one year’s passing of its beloved father figure Nelson Mandela.  With the great divide of apartheid receding, the people of this proud land now look to the future for opportunities to showcase their country to the world, opportunities which were denied it during the long, painful road to freedom.

This weekend I am half a world away deep in the southern hemisphere in lovely Durban, South Africa, a warm, Miami-like seaside city which is playing host to what is being billed as Africa’s first Global Athletics Conference. The two-day GAC 2014 is the offspring of conference director, Lee-Roy Newton, a retired South African sprinter who was a member of his country’s 4 X 100m World Championship gold medal squad in 2001.

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

KwaZulu-Natal Athletics President Sello Mokoena welcomes media to GAC 2014

Today, Newton is owner of the Newton Agency, and vice-president of Kwazulu-Natal Athletics. Newton, along with KZN Athletics president Sello Mokoena have brought together a collection of the sports’ business, athletic and media leaders to help the sport’s South African stakeholders better understand the elements necessary to launch serious bids for future world athletic championships. The 2022 Commonwealth Games is among the international meetings on its immediate radar. Continue reading

2014 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON REVIEW

On the bridge before the start

Starched flags fly on the bridge before the start

New York City Marathon Logo TCSNew York, New York — A cold, blustery day welcomed the 50,0000 runners at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.  Once again I was aboard the lead men’s motorcycle camera bike providing commentary for the ESPN2 television coverage. Here is how the men’s race played out from that close vantage point.

My misery index had been set the day before during a frigid, rain-drenched TV rehearsal, and I wasn’t going to be caught cold again.  In the 43 degree Fahrenheit conditions with NNW winds blowing at a steady 20 – 25 mph, gusting even higher, I wore so many layers on Sunday morning I must have resembled a Russian nesting doll.

From the racer’s standpoint such conditions are the functional equivalent of adding distance to the event. Last year the 48 degree temps and 15-19 mph headwinds tacked about one kilometer onto the standard 42.2K in terms of finishing time, as 2011 course record holder Geoffrey Mutai won his second title in 2:08:24.  Same guy, same course, same effort, but three minutes slower than his course record 2:05:06.  And since A-level male marathoners race at or near 3:00/km, conditions on November 2, 2014 might mean a full mile extra effort would be added to the already testing course. Continue reading

JEPTOO DRUG POSITIVE CASTS PALL OVER NEW YORK CELEBRATION

Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October

Rita Jeptoo in better times, winning her second Chicago Marathon title in October

New York, New York — With a new title sponsor, a new logo, and a new mayor on board, the TCS New York City Marathon’s mood leading up to its 44th running had a happy Halloween joyfulness to it.  Then we awoke to news that World Marathon Majors Series women’s champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya had reportedly tested positive for an illegal substance (EPO) in an out of competition drug test this September before her win at the Bank of America Chicago Marathon.

The news, coming just days before the World Marathon Majors was scheduled to award its $1 million dollar prize to its two 2013-2014 series  champions placed a cloud over New York’s pinnacle running weekend as the professional international field for Sunday’s race was being presented to the assembled press. It also had the World Marathon Majors scrambling to cancel its Sunday awards as more details regarding Jeptoo were being gathered.

The first person I saw in the hotel lobby this morning was Virgin Money London Marathon president and World Marathon Majors general counsel Nick Bitel. Nick just shook his head, knowing that his partners at World Marathon Majors had just signed their first ever title sponsor, Abbott, to a four year contract in Chicago. And now, the first big news after Chicago and in the world media capital was a positive drug test of their World Marathon Majors women’s champion? Not good.  And this is after two-time WMM series champion Lilya Shobukhova of Russia, three-time Chicago champion (2009-2011) as well as the 2010 London Marathon champ had had all her results annulled from 2009 on following an adverse finding on her biological passport indicative of drug use.

But at least Bitel was pleased, if that’s even the right word, that the test that uncovered the alleged drug positive by Jeptoo had come, in part, via funding provided by World Marathon Majors in cooperation with the IAAF. In the past, getting testers into the wilds of rural Kenya for out of competition testing has been quite problematic. Now, with WMM backing, the bitter fruits of  those labors have been harvested, it would seem a,s a spate of drug positives have come out of Kenya over the last several years. Continue reading

EARLY NEW YORK LINE

New York City Marathon Logo TCSAs the marathoning world turns its attention to New York City, final stop on the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors tour, we again hear goals expressed in terms of time. Perhaps victory is to be assumed as both two-time defending champion Geoffrey Mutai and his sometimes training partner and ex-world record holder Wilson Kipsang of Kenya have expressed their desire to erase Mutai’s 2011 course record 2:05:06 this Sunday morning.

Yet with Kipsang the lone wolf still in the hunt for the World Marathon Majors $500,000 series prize – he needs to win the race outright to leap over current points’ leader Dennis Kimetto – why the clock continues to be the focus of attention is somewhat baffling. Besides, from a public relations standpoint, the average Joe and Jane wouldn’t know a 2:05 from a 737. But a win’s a win’s a win in any time.

That said, for the men of the Great Rift Valley the sport has become something of an intramural contest. So confident are they that, in some ways, even the mighty TCS New York City Marathon has been reduced to a pissing contest among playful friends. Thus, in the closed world of Kenyan running, your time is your calling card, and going home with a less than scintillating time when your compatriots have just laid down a 2:02:57 world record in Berlin and a 2:04:11 in Chicago would be declasse.

Saturday rehearsal

Saturday rehearsal

But time may be a hard ticket to ride this Sunday morning. While the forecast calls for temperatures in the ideal range, 38F to 47F (3C to 8C), the prognosticators are also calling for a brisk NNW wind nearing 20 mph (33 kph) which would mirror last year’s conditions when Geoffrey Mutai won in a mere 2:08:24 — even though the effort may well have been close to his record of 2011. But that is how critical a role conditions play in this game.

Again this year I will be fortunate to be riding aboard the lead men’s moto analyzing the race for ESPN2. Recalling last year’s ride and this year’s forecast, I’ll be packing my winter gear. How well do I remember shivering across the Verrazano Narrows Bridge, then growing increasingly numb up Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn through Queens into Manhattan and then the Bronx. The wind was a constant foe all the way till 35K when the course finally turned mercifully south for a mile along museum strewn Fifth Avenue and then for the final two rolling miles through Central Park. As a practical matter the conditions added a full kilometer to the distance. Continue reading

TRANSCENDING HIS SPORT

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Korir with Ryan and Sara Hall

Chicago, IL. — There is a deep vein of giving associated with the distance running community.  It can be seen not just in the billion dollars plus generated for charities by thousands of running events world-wide, but in the individual works of many of the sport’s top athletes, most of whom understand they have hit the genetic lottery jackpot.  American stars Sara and Ryan Hall’s Steps Foundation and Meb Keflezighi’s MEB Foundation come quickly to mind.

While these athletes use their fame and names to lift the veil of tears that shrouds millions of less fortunate fellow time travelers, 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya has taken the concept of service to an entirely new level.  In America to run this Sunday’s Bank of America Chicago Marathon, Wesley is featured in a new documentary film, titled Transcend, which presents in moving and emotional detail the most important run of Wesley’s life, that for a seat in the Kenyan parliament even as he trained to defend his Boston title in the winter of 2012/2013. The film will screen tonight in Chicago, and feature a Q & A with Wesley afterwards.

“We hope it’s an inspirational film for all runners, embodying the spirit of what running can be for all who participate,” said Transcend’s producer Tad Munnings.

Motivated by the want he witnessed growing up in his rural home district of Cherangany deep in Kenya’s Central Highlands, a want personalized by the death of his younger brother, Eliud, who expired after being bitten by a poisonous snake too far from a medical facility to save his life, and further stoked by the tribal violence that followed the disputed 2007 national elections during which Wesley saw three of his friends killed by a machete-wielding mob, Korir decided to make a run for the district’s seat in parliament in 2013.

Even though he was still in the prime of his athletic career, and was unaffiliated with any political party, Wesley ran a disciplined, people-first campaign and emerged victorious over the well-connected five-year incumbent.  Imagine if Ryan Hall or Meb Keflezighi set aside their career to run for the U.S. Congress.

“I don’t run for myself anymore,” Wesley said.  “I run for the whole country.” Continue reading

OLD SCHOOL MEETS NEW WAVE

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

Chicago, IL. — The sport of marathoning is changing very fast around us. This Sunday at the 2014 Bank of America Chicago Marathon the 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holder Keninisa Bekele, 32, of Ethiopia will make his second career attempt over the long distance.  Yet through most of its century-plus history, the marathon has been populated by men of sturdy constitution, whose examination of the distance bespoke their tenacity and grit, but whose arsenals often lacked the speed necessary to excel at the shorter events on the track.

Oh, there were outliers, like Czech great Emil Zatopek winning his debut marathon at the 1952 Helsinki Olympics, adding it to his collection of gold in the 5000 & 10,000 meters. And recall that Frank Shorter, the original father of the running boom, was every bit the top American distance track runner when he explored the marathon so successfully in the first half of the 1970s.   But the norm for the distance was more like Derek Clayton of Australia, who held the marathon world record of 2:08:33 from May 1969 to December 1981, the longest stretch the record has ever lasted.

Aussie great Derek Clayton

Aussie great Derek Clayton

The introduction of track men coming to the marathon came when large sums of money entered the game after the initial running boom. That is when the aging oval speedsters saw the benefit of torturing themselves over the longer distance. In fact, moving up in distance became one of the standard career moves a runner made. This weekend we are celebrating the 30th anniversary of Steve Jones’ marathon world best in Chicago 1984 when, as the eighth-place finisher at the Los Angeles Olympic 10,000 meter final, Steve moved to the marathon with great success.

Paul Tergat marathon WRBut in more recent times we have seen the very best on the track make the move, highlighted by two former 5000 & 10,000 meter world record holders who went on to grab the marathon record as well.  Kenya’s Paul Tergat completed his record trifecta at the 2003 Berlin Marathon, which he won in a world record 2:04:55.  Five years later his great Ethiopian rival Haile Gebrselassie won Berlin in 2:03:59 to add the marathon to his long list of track and road world records. Continue reading