RWANDA USING SPORT TO REUNIFY WHILE OPENING ITS ARMS TO THE WORLD

Kigali, Rwanda-  25 years ago Rwanda descended into the darkest corner of the human heart, a place devoid of empathy or compassion. It led to a 100-day genocide that eviscerated the nation and left a stain that only time can diminish if not fully erase.

A quarter-century later, however, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in its long cleansing and rebuilding effort.  In a single generation, the country has brought conciliation to its people, and reached out to the world. Signs through Kigali announce “Remember, Unite, Renew”.

Led by its President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has expanded opportunities in all areas of society. In business, it has the second fastest growing economy in all of Africa (7.5% per annum since 2007). Primary school education is now available to 98% of its children. It is the fifth safest country to walk at night worlwide, and it has the largest percentage of women in Parliament in Africa at 61%.

Rwanda also has a goal of becoming the hub of sports for Africa, which is what brought me to Central Africa for the 15th Kigali International Peace Marathon. (more…)

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R.I.P. GABE

Pulitzer Prize winning historian Jon Meacham has written a new book with country singer Tim McGraw called Songs of America. In promoting his latest work, Meacham often says of America, “We are at our best when we live up to the words of Jefferson, ‘all men are created equal’.”

But within that founding sentiment we rarely ask how is it that all men are truly created equal. What is it that binds us all in this human family?

There is an underlying assumption that because our Creator is deemed good, and we have been made in His likeness and image, that there is dignity and value in all men and women, and it is that understanding that makes us all alike. But history and experience tells us something quite different. (more…)

STEVE JONES AWARDED MBE BY QUEEN ELIZABETH II: REMEMBERING CHICAGO 1984

With the good and proper news that Welshman Steve Jones has been awarded the prestigious Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it would be fitting that we go back to the time when Steve first lifted his name into the marathoning spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record. 

In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis.  The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning.  Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishment for Chicago and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.

Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game.  It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters.  Here, then is my contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history and jumping off point for one of the great marathon careers of the all-time.  Congratulations, Sir Steve!

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Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984
Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicago 1984

Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the nape of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the 8th America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).

On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and race director Bob Bright’s orchestration.

“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. (more…)

CELEBRATING GLOBAL RUNNING DAY ON FRED LEBOW’S BIRTHDAY

This Wednesday, June 5th is Global Running Day, and there will be celebrations and recognitions throughout the world. But perhaps Global Running Day should be recognized two days earlier on June 3rd instead. Why? Because June 3 is Fred Lebow’s birthday. 

While Frank Shorter is recognized as the Alan Shepard of the Running Boom with his victory in the Munich Olympic Marathon in 1972 igniting the sport’s growth in America, Fred Lebow was the man, perhaps as much as any other, who launched the sport of road running across the world from his offices at 9 E. 89th Street, headquarters of New York Road Runners Club just off 5th Avenue and Central Park.

In 2019, Fred would have been celebrating his 87th birthday. Sadly, he died of cancer in October 1994 at the age of 62.

Running Ringmaster Fred Lebow

Fred was not a great runner himself, finishing the inaugural New York City Marathon in 1970 in 4:12:09, placing 45th out of 55 finishers.  But he was a great running impresario at a time when the sport required intrepid pioneers willing to make something out of essentially nothing.

Back in the early days when running was making inroads into more and more people’s lives, it was Fred, bullhorn in hand and true belief in his heart, who became the sport’s primary front man and tub-thumper, the man who engineered the first five-borough New York City Marathon in 1976, taking what had been a quirky event making four-laps of Central Park and turning it into an international phenomenon.

Always looking to expand the sport, both domestically and internationally, Fred was a willing interviewee as well as a self-confessed “borrower” of ideas he discovered during his far-flung travels to see how others were staging races elsewhere.

On July 21, 1980, I sat down with Fred in his office for one of our many interviews for my Runner’s Digest radio show in Boston.  In this interview, we discussed the future of running as a professional sport. It’s fascinating to go back nearly 40 years and see where Fred saw the sport’s future heading.  I can only wonder what he would have thought of today’s running world. (more…)

THE FAITH OF DOGS AND CATS

I have long held to a theory about the inner lives of pets that challenges the testimony of none other than Herman Melville who, in his epic American novel Moby Dick, wrote – “As Ptolemy Philopater testified of the African elephant, I then testified of the whale, pronouncing him the most devout of all beings.”

In that context, I assume both Herman and Ptolemy were speaking more of the majesty of the whale and elephant, rather than to their particular devotions or beliefs. But taking them literally it is in that realm – belief – that I choose to confront them.

My theory is specific to dogs and cats, those two most domesticated of animals, because though you may have fish in the house, they aren’t pets in the same sense that pot-bellied pigs or even abandoned squirrels are pets. You can’t scratch your guppy’s ears or rub their little bellies (easily).

Anyway, it is my theory that while dogs are agnostics, at best – probably more like outright atheists – cats are true believers, a real faith-based species. Here’s how that tracks. (more…)

KIPCHOGE ANNOUNCES SUB-TWO 2.0

The clock is ticking, or at least liquid crystals are silently reforming. And with that inexorable progress, time is running short for Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge – as it is for all of us now, all who came before, and all who may come after.

At age 34 (5 Nov. 1984) the marathon world record holder and 2016 Olympic champion has no time to waste. We are only in our prime for so long. Thus, even as the 2:02;37 effort from London this April 28th still lingers, Mr. Kipchoge  is already planning another assault on the sub-2 hour marathon. for this fall

This new attempt will not take place in Berlin, the Abbott World Marathon Major where the last six men’s world marathon records have been set – including Eliud’s 2:01:39 last September.  Instead, Kipchoge will attack sub-2 at a special event staged somewhere in London sponsored by INEOS, a large London-based manufacturer that has recently entered into the world of sporting sponsorship by taking over cycling‘s Team Sky.

It was in the spring of 2017 that Kipchoge first attempted to run sub – two. That effort was conducted on a Formula One race track in Monza, Italy that was closed to the public. The production was famously staged by Eliud’s shoe company sponsor Nike.

That attempt came tantalizingly close to its historic goal, just 26 seconds shy of the magical sub-2 mark. However, his finishing time of 2:00:25 was not record-eligible because the event used a rotating squad of pacers when  only pacers who start with the record attempter are deemed valid.

The understanding is that for this 2019 attempt in London, Kipchoge will again be set up behind a phalanx of rotating pacers. (more…)

SHOULDN’T A GOAT HAVE TO CLIMB?

The praise for Eliud Kipchoge continues to pour in from every corner. His masterful performance in London last weekend cemented his place as the preeminent marathoner of this and perhaps any era in most peoples eyes. But can we slow down for just half a second?

Greatest of all time?

Are we really ready to hand the title of Greatest of All Time to a man who has only run flat, paced races in near ideal weather along with one lab experiment in Monza, Italy? Certainly, Master Kipchoge’s Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 was won without the aid of pacers on a warm muggy day. And his previous life as a track runner – especially in Paris 2003 at the IAAF World Championship 5000 – proved he can race with anyone. Nobody is suggesting otherwise.

But since he moved up to the marathon in Hamburg 2013, where is the variety? Where is the new challenge? Where is the ‘throw anything at me, I’ll take it on’ mentality?

In his 12-marathon career, Kipchoge has run four Londons, four Berlins, and Chicago 2014. Rotterdam 2014 was his other non-major.  Yet we just read today that Mr. Kipchoge said, “I trust that before I see the sport out that I will run all six major marathons.”

While that is wonderful to hear, there’s a difference between running all six and racing all six. (more…)