BATTLE LINES DRAWN IN KENYAN TAX REVOLT

PAAK

PAAK

Taxation can impoverish as well as replenish, overturn empires or elevate kings. It is getting the balance right that counts.   Last Wednesday 400+ members of Kenya’s running nobility gathered in Eldoret, the center of Kenyan running in the North Rift Valley, to unite in opposition to an imposition, an imposition of a direct tax on their athletic earnings.

In one voice the athletes said, nay! we already pay indirect tax via the local levies on holdings, businesses, and the like.  (Athletes are the Republicans in this scenario, the trickle down, job-creators.)  On the other side sits the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) which says the law is simple, all Kenya citizens must pay (30%) tax on all earnings.

But as always in Kenya, there is the law and then there is the policy.  For years Kenyan athletes have been seen as ambassadors for their country, elevating its world standing by their superb racing exploits. What’s more, their income was considered an engine of commerce as they poured their earnings back into their local economies.   And since those businesses and investments were always subjected to taxation, the athletes say the imposition of a direct tax on earnings would not only stifle future economic development, it would double tax them as their earnings are already taxed in the countries in which they race.

But there’s more to it than that.  Just 50 years free from British colonial rule, Kenya remains a young nation, and the ties that bind a nation together are not as developed as one might assume. What further underlies the athletes’ opposition to the new policy is the duplicity they see as coming from the government.

Kenyan Parliamentarians are among the highest paid in the world in a nation whose citizens earn an average $1800 per year.  Last summer the MPs succumbed to public pressure and agreed to drop their salaries by nearly 40%, but from $120,000 a year to $75,000!  Then they voted themselves exempt from paying any tax!  That’s good work if you can get it.

The argument from the KRA vantage point says that the policy of not directly taxing the athletes’ income was initiated decades ago when there was just a trickle of men running overseas. Today, that trickle has become a torrent, and the time for such a lenient tax policy has long since passed, and the athletes must now be treated like any other citizen.  Thus, what we see is one side looking to overturn tradition, while the other wants to maintain its legacy. Continue reading

2013 – YEAR IN REVIEW

BostonStrong     The biggest, as well as saddest, story in running this past year was the bombing at the Boston Marathon in April. Of such magnitude were the Boylston Street explosions, and of such duration their reverberations, that the episode represented the second most searched item on Google for the year — running only behind the car crash death of Fast & Furious movie star Paul Walker.

Bag Checks, the new standard

The new standard

The entire Boston bombing saga left the city, nation, and world seeking a new equilibrium as security was markedly ramped up at civic events everywhere — probably never to be returned to pre-Patriot’s Day levels for the foreseeable future, if ever.

Kenmore Square desolate at midday.

Kenmore Square stood desolate at midday two days after the Boston bombings.

The week following was a sober reminder of an unfortunate truth, terrorism works.  Not since the anti-war days of the late Sixties and early `70s had I witnessed anything as close to marshal law in the U.S. as I did during the week after the Boston Marathon — though in this case it was self-imposed.  During that interval when the two Chechnyan brother bombers remained unknown and at large, the Boston metro area was held in the grip of a palpable fear.

I do not envy the Boston Athletic Association its task of threading the needle between respectful commemoration and unintended validation come next Patriot’s Day.

Continue reading

PERILOUS PEAK OF PERFECTION

     Runner’s World Newswire put out a story October 23rd by Peter GambacciniFormer Elite’s Advice for Ryan Hall – in the wake of Hall’s pull out from the November 3rd ING New York City Marathon, the third straight major marathon Ryan has been signed to run, but been unable to start.  The advice ranged from “…go back to Kenya and get into a group that most of the top guys are training in and give it more than a few months,” from fellow 2008 Olympic marathoner Brian Sell, to “…You should focus on breaking the 4:00 mile,” from 1972 Olympic 1500m bronze medalist and 1983 New York City Marathon champion Rod Dixon of New Zealand.

Everyone has advice and an opinion, a testament to the regard the industry has for Ryan, the man, and the hope it carries for his position in the sport.  But maybe the best advice would be for Ryan, or any other American, to discover a time machine and dial it back about 30 years when being number one from sea to shining sea could be the same as being number one in the world.  Today that connection has long since been broken, in fact, the gap between the two continues to spread with each passing season and each marathon run. Continue reading

WILL 1500m SPEED DETERMINE MARATHON LIMITS?

Wilson Kipsang, world record grin

Wilson Kipsang, world record grin

The ink isn’t even dry on Wilson Kipsang’s new marathon world record (2:03:23) from last Sunday in Berlin, and already speculation has begun over what might be next for the iconic distance event.

Golfing legend Gary Player, winner of nine major titles and countless others world-wide, believes we have yet to see the best golf there is to play, notwithstanding Tiger Woods and the now more athletic generation that Woods has inspired.

“We haven’t seen a Jordan or a Shaq on Tour yet,” Player told ESPN’s SportsNation recently.  “And when we do they will hit 420 yards, and courses will be obsolete.”

Like golf, running has dipped its toes into a new pool of talent where we begin to question the definition of endurance.  This past Sunday in Berlin Kipsang broke countryman Patrick Makau’s two-year old marathon world record by 15 seconds on the same course that has hosted the last five marathon world records. But with double Olympic track champion Mo Farah of England about to give the distance a full go in London next April, are we on the cusp of a brave new world? Continue reading

2013 LONDON MARATHON – MEN’S PREVIEW

London 2013

London 2013

London,England – Of course, anything can happen, but on this final day before Sunday’s 33rd Virgin London Marathon the talk around the Tower Hotel hard along the rolling Thames River has turned to the what-ifs.  What if the men go for the world record?  Who will make the first break when the rabbits depart? What if Mo Farah, the double Olympic Brit track champ going along for the ride for the first half, does something beyond sit off the back and observe? What if the stacked field doesn’t go with the pacers and turns inward and tactical instead?  Ah, racing, that most unpredictable of all dramas.

The 2013 London Marathon has been billed as a world record attempt, but with this many top dogs in the hunt, the win is one for the ages, regardless of the winning time.  So for me, the men’s race comes down to motivation.  With the credentials of this field — five World Marathon Majors course record holders, ten sub-2:06 men, including six of the fastest ten in history — every contender has known big success.  But Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich already has the prize everyone else wanted, the Olympic gold medal from 2012.  Defending champion Wilson Kipsang holds the London title and the Olympic bronze, and is the second quickest marathon man in history off his 2:03:42 win in Frankfurt 2011, just four seconds shy of Patrick Makau’s world record (2:03:38) from Berlin 2011. Ethiopia’s Tsegaye Kebede arrives as the 2012 Chicago course record holder and 2010 London champ.  But it’s Makau and the world’s fastest marathoner, Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02) from Boston 2011 who stand out as the two most invested in revenge, a powerful emotional tool. Continue reading

LONDON – PRECAUTIONS IN PLACE BUT READY FOR SUNDAY’S BIG RACE

London, England — VIPs from the running world gathered beneath the London Tower Bridge this evening aboard the luxury river yacht the Silver Sturgeon for a welcome celebration to the 33rd Virgin London Marathon.  But though the professional fields for Sunday’s races are the best in the world this year, and perhaps the best in London’s illustrious history, not surprisingly the topic most under discussion remained the terror attack at Monday’s Boston Marathon.

Race directors of America’s two largest marathons, Mary Wittenberg of New York City and Carey Pinkowski of Chicago, huddled together to consider what the industry as a whole might do in response rather than just what the six World Marathon Majors might put forward.  Then first year London race director Hugh Brasher, son of event co-founder Chris Brasher, addressed the crowd welcoming them to the city, but also remembering the loss suffered in Boston.  Hugh next introduced defending men’s champion and Olympic Marathon bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang of Kenya who spoke movingly in the name of his fellow athletes.

“We would like to express our condolences to those who lost loved ones in Boston,” he began standing on a staircase overlooking the crowd.  “But we will run feeling free. We won’t worry about security when we’re running.  We are ready to run well on Sunday, and maybe break the course record or even the world record.” Continue reading

HUNG UP ON TIME – 2012 Honolulu Marathon

Aerial View of Hawaii Kai

Aerial View of Hawaii Kai

Yesterday’s 40th Honolulu Marathon was a breath of fresh air.  In fact, it was many, many breaths of fresh trade-wind-blown air as times for the 26.2 mile loop course out to Hawaii Kai over Diamond Head and back was severely slowed by the strong trade winds blowing out along Kalanianaole Highway from miles 11-16. In the end, any chance for an event record (2:11:12, 2004) was swept away as this marathon turned into what has been lost in the sport in recent years, a pure foot-race rather than a paced time-trial.

While speculation was rife all week whether Kenya’s Wilson Kipsang, the Olympic bronze medallist and second fastest man in history, could better Jimmy Muindi’s long-standing mark, it came down to whether Kipsang could put away his Ethiopian rival Markos Geneti, the Los Angeles Marathon record holder and 2:04 man from Dubai 2012.

Though overall time ceased to be the issue, it required a full-blooded 4:39 partially upgrade 23rd mile for Kipsang to dispatch Geneti, though the winning time of 2:12:31 was only the ninth-fastest time in Honolulu Marathon history, and a full 8:49 slower than Kipsang’s 2:03:42 PR from Frankfurt 2011.  So, are we to look at his win in Honolulu as a failure?  He did run the fastest second half in Honolulu history, 65:31.

The point here is the sport has become so hung up on time that we have all but eliminated personality-driven competition from the minds of a constantly dwindling fan base.  We even refer to our race fields as filled with Kenyans or Ethiopians, as if there were no distinctions among these men and women of neighboring cultures.

It has been a sad, tiresome, and in the final analysis debilitating focus which has allowed the sport to be subsumed by  the increasing emphasis on charity fund-raising.  Odd, too, because it was competition and personalities which first elevated road racing to public attention via the Frank Shorter versus Bill Rodgers rivalry. Continue reading

ARILE IN RACE AGAINST ARMS

Julius Arile presents Small Arms petition to UN Gen-Sec Ban-Ki Moon

Julius Arile presents Small Arms petition to UN Gen-Sec Ban-Ki Moon

Julius Arile is nowhere near the fastest or most celebrated runner in the 2012 Honolulu Marathon field.  His PR is only 2:12:13,  run this year in Prague.   No, the man in the spotlight is 2012 Olympic Marathon bronze medallist Wilson Kipsang who also won this spring’s London Marathon, and holds the second fastest official marathon time in history at 2:03:42, run in Frankfurt, Germany in 2011.

But while Kipsang is the big gun in Honolulu aiming to shoot down Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 event record of 2:11:12, what his Kenyan countryman Julius Arile is targeting is, in many ways, much more important.

You see, Julius Arile is a former AK-47 wielding cattle rustler who laid down his weapon and life of violence in 2004 in exchange for the chance of a life as a professional runner.  He is also the “Millionth Face” for the United  Nation’s Small Arms Treaty, a multilateral treaty that would regulate the international trade in conventional weapons. The treaty was negotiated at a global conference under the auspices of the United Nations from July 2–27, 2012 in New York.

Through his designation as the Millionth Face, Arile has twice come to New York City to meet with U.N. Secretary-Generals Kofi Annan (2006) and Ban-Ki Moon this past June. But this Sunday he will don the trappings of his new trade as he takes on Wilson Kipsang and a host of other top Kenyans and Ethiopians at the 40th Honolulu Marathon. And in this new trade the concept of dying is far less literal than in his previous life. Continue reading

HONOLULU SNARES WILSON KIPSANG FROM SANDY WRECKAGE

OLYMPIC BRONZE KIPSANG SAYS ALOHA HONOLULU

Hurricane Sandy’s vast power has been such that it has now tossed elite marathoners to the far ends of the globe in hopes of redeeming their 2012 fall marathon campaigns following cancellation of the ING New York City Marathon.

Today, Honolulu Marathon Association President Jim Barahal revealed that New York fave and Olympic bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang of Kenya will be taking his talents to the 40th Honolulu Marathon on December 9th.

“We are disappointed he was not able to compete in New York,” texted Barahal, “but we’re pleased to be able to offer another opportunity for him to run, and we’re excited to have such a phenomenal athlete go after the course record in Honolulu.”

Wilson Kipsang was one of the New York elites who publicly acknowledged the difficulty faced by the New York Road Runners in cancelling the marathon, saying “This is terrible, but it’s part of life. I’m not angry. People suffered misfortune.”

With the New York Road Runners and the city of New York deciding to cancel the 42nd ING New York City Marathon just 40 hours before last Sunday’s scheduled start, there has been very little time to consider options.

Now the 2012 London champion, and second fastest “official” marathoner in history from his 2:03:42 win from Frankfurt in September 2011, will test himself on one of the legendary courses in the world, although one which doesn’t often draw the world’s super-elite to its starting line due to heat, humidity and budgetary constraints.

While stars like Ibrahim Hussein, Benson Masya and Cosmas Ndeti were discovered in Honolulu, and 1993 champion Lee Bong-ju of Korea and 1995 winner Josiah Thungwane of South Africa went on to win Olympic silver and gold medals in Atlanta 1996, this will be the first time a reigning Olympic medalist will compete in Honolulu in his Olympic year.

According to Honolulu race director Jon Cross 2011 L.A. Marathon champ (debut, 2:06:35) and 2012 Dubai Marathon third-placer (2:04:54) Markos Geneti of Ethiopia will also join the festivities with more names to follow.  Stay tuned. Given the weather, always the key in Honolulu, we could be in for a record year.

The current Honolulu Marathon event record, 2:11:12, was set by Kenya’s Jimmy Muindi in 2004, in the fourth of his six Honolulu wins.

END

POOR WEATHER FORECAST FOR KENYAN OLYMPIC TRIALS

Out of Africa

Ngong, Kenya – With fewer electronic pursuits available in rural Africa, time is spent more in the age-old give and take of robust conversation, where, whether the topic is sports, politics, or society at large, the time is filled in spirited debate.

Today, having flown back to Nairobi last night from a rainy and chilly Eldoret, we began this morning at breakfast wondering about the ominous forecast for this Saturday’s Kenyan Olympic Trials at Nyayo Stadium downtown.

Right now the sun remains well blanketed by a deep layer of clouds while temperatures remain down right frigid (for Kenya, mind you. This isn’t Enterprise Falls in January by any stretch).   The long-range forecast for Saturday’s Trials call for temps between 14-16C with overcast skies and perhaps as much as 8mm of rain – check for the Fahrenheit and inches equivalency at your leisure, makes for an instructive and interactive blog reading experience.

Vivian Cheruiyot all smiles after 10,000m win

With such weather conditions, any athlete with a slight injury could face unexpected problems.  One such athlete that comes to mind is Vivian Cheruiyot who won the Kenyan women’s 10,000-meter Trials last Friday at Kasarani Stadium. Saturday she hopes to double in the 5000.  Last week Vivian complained of a small ankle injury, but then closed the final 400 meters of the 10,000m in 60-flat to secure her position on the team.

Such vagaries of weather and Trials’ timing are the wildcards which cannot be forecast.  Since the Kenyan Trials’ system calls for two automatic qualifiers and the third position added by selection, one would assume, all things being equal, that the 2011 double World Champion would have a foot up even if the weather produced a result below par. Hopefully, the sun will emerge and let the true talent decide the selection.

*****

Another topic which necessitated a second pot of coffee this morning at the Margarita Hotel was the question of whether time being pushed too much these days in the marathon at the risk of great competition?

There are only so many men capable of running 2:03 or 2:04 in the marathon.  That much we know.  On top of, it now requires a pacer capable of breaking the world record at 30K just to put those few men in position to assault such times over the entire 42.2k distance.

In 2011, Peter Kirui paced both Patrick Makau’s 2:03:38 at Berlin, and one month later, Wilson Kipsang’s 2:03:42 in Frankfurt.  Only because he dropped out in Berlin was Kirui not rewarded with the 30K world road record.  He, in fact, led Makau past the mark in Berlin, then continued to the finish in Frankfurt after pulling Kipsang through 30k in near-world record splits.

At the same time, men who are capable of attempting a marathon world record do not relish the challenge of another top guy in the same race.  It requires a completely different mindset to attempt a world record as opposed to racing for a victory. That Patrick Makau managed both last fall in Berlin against former record holder Haile Gebrselassie is the exception, not the rule. Continue reading