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 his 6028 shows Dave and his World Wide Pants team proved their mettle once again.  What we got was exactly the Dave we had come to know and love 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 rip like that, you know, except for when we race. Then, the clock always seems to stall out for a bit.

Anyway, I haven’t stayed up to watch late night TV in years, having become a morning person after moving west from Boston to San Diego. But I still felt a real pang of loss watching Dave sign off. 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

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.

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ROSA & ASSOCIATES TO CONDUCT INDEPENDENT DRUG TESTING IN KENYA

Claudio Berardelli & Federico Rosa 2011 (via PhotoRun)

Claudio Berardelli & Federico Rosa  (via PhotoRun)

As Defalate-Gate continues to be the lead story leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX in America, Inflate-gate (as in performance) continues to make headlines in Kenya.

With the case against discredited Kenyan marathon star Rita Jeptoo still awaiting final disposition, the IAAF handed down sanctions Tuesday January 27th against eight Kenyan athletes for doping violations (mostly marathon runners).  It was also reported by The Daily Nation that Ms. Jeptoo’s Italian manager Federico Rosa of Rosa & Associates has followed through with his intention of introducing blood testing for all the athletes in his Kenyan stable.

The technology used for such testing arrived in Kenya on Monday and was being cleared at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s customs department, according to The Daily Nation.

Two weeks ago Ms. Jeptoo gave testimony before an Athletics Kenya doping commission, and faces either a two or four-year ban after having produced a positive result for the banned blood-booster EPO in an out-of-competition test preceding last fall’s Chicago Marathon, a race she won for the second year in a row.  Jeptoo’s coach Claudio Berardelli and Mr. Rosa also gave testimony before the commission, as did her estranged husband Noah Busienie, who coached Jeptoo before Mr. Berardelli.

With three Boston and two Chicago Marathon titles Jeptoo is the biggest name caught up in the growing performance-enhancing drug scandal coming out of Kenya in recent years, a scandal that threatens to undermine belief in the entire scope of excellence that the world has come to
expect from the East African distance running juggernaut. 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

ONE YEAR LATER: COMPETITION BACK AT COMPETITOR GROUP / ATHLETE BIZ SHOWS JETER THE WAY

One year ago the big story in the sport was Competitor Group Inc.’s decision to significantly cut its elite athlete program just weeks before the Rock ‘n’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon. Ex-CGI CEO Scott Dickey wrote in this blog at that time: “We will always welcome the elites, we are just not going to spend in excess of 7-figures annually to simply have them show up. It represents a disconnect from the brand and the very promise of participating in a RnR event. We’re going to reinvest those dollars into entertainment, the experience, more staff to execute more flawlessly, and in our continued efforts to increase participation.”

A major backlash arose in the wake of that decision, and by year’s end Mr. Dickey had left Competitor Group while former golf executive David Abales quietly took the reins in early 2014.  Now, in the fall of 2014 CGI has not only reversed its direction of a year ago, it has ramped up its overall support for the professional end of the game significantly, returning it to the ranks of major players in the game. Continue reading