GRETE’S PLACE

We learned last week that the apartment building Grete Waitz (nee Anderson) grew up in in Oslo, Norway had been fitted with a plaque recognizing the place as her girlhood home.  The five time IAAF World Cross Country champion, nine time New York City Marathon winner, inaugural IAAF Women’s World Marathon Champion in 1983, and silver medalist the following year in the initial Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles was commemorated not only as a champion runner, but as a leader in the development of women’s sport.

In May 2011 I flew to Oslo for a service celebrating Grete following her passing the previous month at age 57. She had succumbed to a several years bout with cancer with the same grace she had displayed throughout her public career.  Later, Grete’s husband Jack, a friend not just from the circuit but from our wintertime days in Gainesville, Florida throughout the 1990s, took me to the Keiseirlokka (Kaiser Field) neighborhood where Grete had grown up with her older brothers Jan and Arild.

Grete Waitz girlhood apartment, second story on left

Today, Kaiser Field is a quiet working class neighborhood, but in the post-war years when the Anderson’s lived there it was bustling with children, an idyllic place to grow up. Nearby stood Hasle Lutheran Church where Jack and Grete were married in 1975.

“She was the only girl in the family,” Jack explained. ”And her mother, Reidun, ran a tight ship. Grete was given all the tasks in the house. They made her take piano lessons, and they weren’t too enthusiastic about her running, because it wasn’t considered a girlish thing to do.”

A track star and school teacher before her second career began as a marathon champion in New York in 1978, Grete had to overcome the prevailing girls-staying-in-their-place headwinds that her own running, and that of others in her generation, helped turn around for future generations of girls everywhere.

Today, Grete’s greatest legacy lives on in her Aktiv Against Cancer Foundation, which works to ensure that physical activity will become an integral part of cancer treatment.

helle aanesen & grete waitz Aktiv against cancer co-founders

Helle Aanesen & Grete Waitz Aktiv Against Cancer co-founders

AKTIV Against Cancer was founded by Grete and Helle Aanesen in Norway in 2007. After donating more than $14M and helping to create 15 physical activity centers in cancer treatment facilities throughout Norway, AKTIV Against Cancer established its official 501(c)(3) presence in the United States in 2014.

Today, the work of incorporating physical activity into cancer treatments, and researching the effects continues throughout Norway, and at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where an AKTIV Against Cancer pledge of $3.3 million helps fund exercise oncology research by Dr. Lee Jones, PhD.  Work in exercise oncology has also been initiated in Ethiopia via Aktiv measures.

Grete’s influence was enormous during her all too brief life, due not just to her athletic excellence, but to her quiet dignity and innate elegance.  She wasn’t one to call the spotlight to herself, in fact, she dodged it whenever possible. But it found its way to her all on its own. Nice to see the beam still glowing around her memory.

END

EXERCISE SHMEXERCISE

We in the running world contain variants of every political persuasion, making the sport the true Big Tent, an open flap for everyone. One reason the sport is so inclusive is because it is so honest and pure (at least in heart, if not always in practice).  Anybody can do it, yes, but you can’t talk your way into a good performance, it’s all there in the training log, hard work and perseverance, the most basic lesson of the sport, you get out what you put in. And based on that metric alone I think we can see a new way to evaluate the Big Bopper in Washington D.C.

Those of a certain vintage will remember the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, a prophetic program that encouraged kids to get out and exercise at a time when there was a near universal introduction of television sets into American homes.  Though begun by President Eisenhower in 1956, the council was re-invigorated by President Kennedy in 1963.  The Presidential Champions Award was given to students who achieved the top fifteenth percentile across a series of events: 50-yard dash, 600-yard dash, Standing broad jump, Pull-ups (boys), Flexed-arm hang (girls), Sit-ups in 60-seconds, and the shuttle run.

Now if you ever wondered how to tell if times really do change… Continue reading

WHERE TO NOW?

IAAF president Sebastian Coe is said to be seriously considering a proposal outlined at a recent European Athletics Council meeting which would erase all track & field records pre-2005, reasoning that’s when officials began saving blood samples for future testing.

“What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced, but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board,” European athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said.

Arbitrary? Sure. Necessary? Lay out some alternatives. Unless, of course, you believe the current situation is acceptable and maintainable. And I would love to hear that argument.

Yes, any one-size program will not fit all. Not every pre-2005 record is tainted, and athletes whose records may be in jeopardy are not happy.  So maybe the sport just lists them as the pre-2005 records, while attaching no further moral judgements one way or the other. Don’t deny them, simply differentiate them from the records where blood samples are available to be retested. There isn’t going to be a way that perfectly threads this needle.

But the way it stands now, you’re damned if you don’t run fast, jump high, or throw far enough, but you’re doubted if you do. Plus, things are awkward out there, elite athletes can’t even say hi to their local pharmacist anymore, much less visit a doctor, without arousing suspicion.

At the same time, the sport can’t survive if every time they hand out awards like Olympic medals, prize purses, or World Marathon Majors titles, they just have to keep taking them back later because the supposed winners were dirty. And let’s not even begin about what constitutes females or males.

Today’s system doesn’t get it done; it’s a loser. Who wants a medal upgrade ten years later? That only looks good in your obit. Continue reading

BREAKING 2 STILL ALLURING?

And so the grand experiment has come to a conclusion. And, oh, so close did it come to its vaunted goal, just one second per mile short of history’s first sub-2 hour time for the marathon distance. Not for the marathon, mind you, but for its distance – because a marathon by its historic formulation is a competitive event. What we witnessed yesterday in Monza, Italy was a time trial/lab experiment, not a race. But that is nitpicking, though a significant nit.

Notwithstanding, a huge congratulations go out to Eliud Kipchoge and the entire Nike Breaking2 Project for such a grand experiment in human performance, footwear technology, and scientific experimentation.

But what did we come away with after yesterday’s 2:00:24 performance on the Formula One racetrack in Monza?  Certainly, more questions as well as some answers. First of all, we know that the sub-2 is now possible, more likely probable, because he damn near did it! But since he didn’t quite do it, what else needs to be done that this experiment informed us as still being required? Continue reading

HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

What is it with money in this game?  While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.

For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?

What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice?  Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?

And just today we read that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has announced a ten-year strategic partnership deal with Wanda Group in China to develop marathoning in Asia (outside Japan) and Africa with the emphasis on participation, charity fundraising, and economic impact.

“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”

Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.

But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money? Continue reading

2017 LONDON MARATHON: A VIEWER’S PERSPECTIVE

Kenya’s Mary Keitany is all smiles at London Marathon 2017

This is a strange game, isn’t it?  Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.

Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill  or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003.  But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005.  But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?

When reading through the chattering class on LetsRun.com, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served  as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se.  But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. Continue reading

ABBOTT WORLD MARATHON MAJORS: MAKING AN “IS” OUT OF AN “ARE”

Before America’s Civil War people said ‘the United States of America ARE’, thinking of the country as primarily an aggregate of individual states rather than a single national entity. Only after Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox and the re-knitting of the Confederate States into the union did people begin to say, “the United States of America IS”.

The difference is subtle but instructive. For one might equally argue that the Abbott World Marathon Majors continue to be more an aggregate of independent events rather than a coherent series made up in six parts. They (as opposed to it) have unfortunately found their time together also running concurrent to a tainted era in the sport, as now four of their women’s series titles have fallen to doping disqualifications – that’s two Lilya Shobukhova’s , one Rita Jeptoo, and now one (sample A) Jemima Sumgong doping positives that have marred what was intended to be series celebrating athletic excellence.

Is it any surprise then that the six AWMMs just this year decided to draw down their top prize for Series XI beginning this weekend in London by half from $500,000 to $250,000, while earmarking a new $280,000 to charity? Yes, they have also included smaller payouts to second and third prizes in the series, $50,000 and $25,000, but overall the runner’s purse has been cut 35%.

Hard to argue the move.  You can’t keep publicly awarding prizes that a year later you have to take back because your winners have tested positive for banned performance enhancers. That’s not the message you want to be announcing.  After getting burned so many times it’s not so much a sport right now as much as it is a big mess.  And historically you sweep messes away.

I have already written how the sport might bolster its attack on the doping problem by increasing blood testing of the athletes till their arteries collapse – TESTING: PUTTING THE MONEY WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE – but let’s also look to the WMM competitions themselves. Boston down, London next. Continue reading