CAN’T HIDE YOUR LYIN’ EYES

Pre-race interviews are tricky things. Though regularly scheduled at most road races and track meets, I’ve always found them to be of limited use.  Maybe I’m just a poor interrogator, but I’ve always likened the experience to a trip to the dentist, with me being the dentist and the athletes in the role of reluctant patients as I try to pull teeth, or in their case information out.  Inevitably, nobody says jack to give their condition away, which is totally understandable, though on rare occasions you can elicit a telling story to share with readers or a TV audience.

In general, however, a pre-race interview is a ritual with both sides accepting the other as readily as two eighth-graders at a fortnightly dance.  And yet it remains one of the only means of reading an athlete’s tea-leaves to determine their readiness and frame of mind beyond traveling to their training camp and observing their workouts first hand.

But in the not too distant future, the pre-race TV interview may come to be one of the most important tools in the sport, the means of screening for drug cheats.  (more…)

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TAKING A GAMBLE ON THE FUTURE

While the sport of athletics may be irrepressible, it is just as fair to say it is hardly flourishing.  For decades, the sport has been caught in a netherworld between its amateur past and a never-quite-professional present, all the while fighting a losing PR battle in the war against performance-enhancing drug use and the corruptions in governance that accompany such a vast extra-national aggregation of players, agencies, events, and federations.  To the general public, PED use has spread like an acrid stain over actual performance as the defining characteristic of the athletics’ game, though it may be no less prevalent than in many other sports.

Within the industry itself, there have been innumerable symposia searching for a solution to the sport’s public image problem.  And though strides have been made in the short rein under Sebastian Coe’s leadership of the IAAF, a lasting resolution still remains down the track. Today, however, the U.S. Supreme Court may have offered a saving, though not ideal, grace.

As reported by AP, the Supreme Court ruled 6-3 today to strike down the 1992 Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act (PASPA), a law barring state-authorized sports gambling. The court’s decision came in a case brought by the state of New Jersey, which had fought for years to legalize gambling on sports at casinos and racetracks in the Garden State. Nevada was the lone state grandfathered in at the time of the 1992 law where a person could wager on the results of a single sporting contest.

“The legalization of sports gambling requires an important policy choice, but the choice is not ours to make,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the court. “Congress can regulate sports gambling directly, but if it elects not to do so, each state is free to act on its own. Our job is to interpret the law Congress has enacted and decide whether it is consistent with the Constitution. PASPA is not.”

With this ruling in hand, New Jersey is set to take bets within a matter of a few weeks at their casinos and race tracks.  It has been estimated that as many as 32 other states would likely offer sports betting within a five-year span. (more…)

RUPP REBOUNDS IN PRAGUE

       Galen Rupp wins in Prague

This morning the Galen Rupp we saw at the Prague International Marathon (1st, 2:06:07 PB) was the Galen Rupp we expected to see in Boston 20 days ago before the conditions blew everyone into Dante’s second circle of Hell. Leading into Boston Rupp fashioned a perfect build-up after his win in Chicago last fall, tuned up with an excellent half-marathon in Rome, and spoke not a whisper of the plantar fascia niggle that compromised him a smidge in Boston 2017 in his duel with eventual champ Geoffrey Kirui – another casualty of the 2018 Boston nor’easter (casualty in the sense that he finished second after building a 90-second lead).

This morning in the Czech Republic, though, a retooled Rupp rode along on a solid, but not over-cooked 1:03:00 first half pace, then kept the momentum rolling when the rabbit dropped away and had gas enough left in the tank to put away 2:04-man Sisay Lemma of Ethiopia in the final two miles (9:26) on an ok, but not ideal marathon day.

The beauty of racing is that it is a given-day situation, this field on this day on that course in these conditions, have at it, see ya at the finish.  And though great respect goes to 2018 Boston champion Yuki Kawauchi – because on that day, in those conditions, he made all the right decisions – is there any doubt that we would have likely witnessed another Geoffrey Kirui vs. Galen Rupp duel if the conditions had been anywhere near normal, before the frigid, wind-driven rain knocked Rupp out at 19 and then locked Kirui up tighter than a mute with lockjaw over the final 5k? (more…)

LONDON 2018: PACING OR RACING?

Watching the races in London last Sunday I couldn’t help contrast forms, because in the marathon more so than the track (until you get to the kick at the end) the question of form is also the matter of fuel management, especially on the quivering edge of world record pace. As Ethiopia’s Tirunesh Dibaba wrote on her Facebook account afterward:  “Even though my training went very well, I misjudged the pace, and did not have the strength to finish.”

She didn’t misjudge the pace, she misjudged the conditions for the pace.  Maybe if the day had dawned overcast at 43F (6C) with calm winds, talk of a world record would have been very much in order. But it was 59F (15C) at the start!  And rising, going on to become the hottest day in London Marathon history.

Paula Radcliffe‘s 2003 world record 2:15:25 stood some 2:31 faster than Tirunesh had ever run (2:17:56 finishing second to Mary Keitany’s 2:17:01 last year, the second-fastest time in history). What did she think the odds were going out significantly faster than Paula Radcliffe had in 2003 in those conditions?  I know that modern runners have out-trained the distance, at least on a benign day, but can they be so dismissive of the distance and the records that they think basic physiological norms no longer apply?

You could see right away that Mary Keitainy had a tighter, more efficient form than Tirunesh, both above and below the waist. She also showed less core rotation per stride.  That difference in per-stride energy expenditure adds up. The fact that Mary staggered home at all in fifth place in 2:24:27 after falling off world record pace before 30K was a testament to her fitness and form. The fact that Tirunesh didn’t get past 30K after falling off Mary’s pace at 15K makes its own point. (more…)

ENDURANCE OR SPEED: THE MARATHON STILL SERVES UP A LITTLE OF EACH

The Marathon along with its half distance cousin is the only footrace that has a name rather than a distance as it’s calling card.  And in that name there lies multitudes because for more than a century that name has represented the great endurance challenge of the modern age, at times even a life-threatening one.  And why wouldn’t it? After all, it was born in the mists of myth and legend, then resurrected two and a half millennia later as an Olympic challenge.

Until the 1960 Olympics in Rome, however, the name Marathon stood for endurance alone, not speed. Only with the arrival of Ethiopia’s Abeba Bikila did the event give way to a runner who could attack the distance rather than simply survive its length. Still, until the first running boom of the 1970s, it was either-or, either you were a marathon runner or you competed at the shorter road, track, and cross country distances. Today, top runners move back and forth more fluidly, taking the opportunities as they present themselves.

Look at this year’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon, always the bellwether of the coming year. Winner Mosinet Geremew of Ethiopia was 25 when he ran 2:04:00 this January. His PBs include 13:17, 27:18 and 59:11 over 5000, 10,000, and the half-marathon distances, hardly the makings of a pure endurance athlete.  Dubai runner-up Leule Gebrselassie, also Ethiopian, also 25, carried a 13:13, 27:19, 59:18 resume. And third-placer  Tamirat Tola, again of Ethiopia, a year older at 26, had 26:57 and 59:37 credentials.  

In the past, the best runners avoided the marathon until evidence of their inevitable slowing on the track forced them to transfer allegiance to the roads.  For many, and still to a few like Kenenisa Bekele, Galen Rupp, and Mo Farah, the Marathon was the last stop on the career arc from shorter races to the more strength oriented 42k.  (more…)

PRIZE DOLLARS AND SENSE

Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon was one for the ages.  Epic you might say. I’ve seen local Boston TV hurricane coverage in the past that looked less nasty than the conditions confronting the marathoners this Patriot’s Day. And in its wet, rain-blown aftermath, the stories are beginning to be told.

There’s a Facebook post today by our friend and colleague Jim Gerweck linking to a story about Jessica Chichester, the Broolyn nurse who finished fifth on Monday. another of the improbable top finishers in the women’s race after the conditions wiped out the invited stars. The FB thread debates what to do about the three women who started in Wave one at Monday’s marathon, some 28 minutes behind the ”Elites”, but in the carnage that ensued in the brutal conditions, posted finishing times that placed them “in the money”. 

Former Runners World staffer Parker Morse explained that, “by the rules they didn’t earn it (the prize money) and everyone saying “different race” is correct…

“I think the classy thing to do would be to pay out by the rules first, then make some “special and unusual” awards to those three women. The positive press would probably be worth more than the prize money. I don’t think I’d fault them for not doing that, though.”

I reached out to the B.A.A., and received the following from Mike Pieroni, the B.A.A. Athletic Performance Director:

“The Elite Women’s Start competition was implemented here in 2004 to highlight the head-to-head competition.  Every AWMM event, and other leading prize money races have virtually the same policy as ours.

“From our web-site, and used in individual communications to/from athletes requesting information:
The Boston Marathon includes a separate start for top female competitors. Performances from the Elite Women’s Start (EWS) will be scored separately from women starting in the open field.

“Open and masters division women who consider themselves eligible for prize money in the Boston Marathon must declare themselves as a contestant for the EWS start. They may email ews@baa.org for further details on format, eligibility, regulations, and instructions.

“Race officials can assist in determining which start – EWS or 10:00 a.m. – is most appropriate. Prize money will be awarded to contestants in the EWS only. Women who choose not to start in the EWS waive the right to compete for prize money. Timing and scoring is done by Gun time.”

Well, there you have it, the rule spelled out in full. There was a choice to be made.  And since some of the American women were hoping for an Olympic Trials qualifying time on Monday, sub-2:45, they chose to stay with Wave 1 where there would be a greater mass of runners, thereby helping them make their OT qualifier.

But, at the same time, there is historic precedent for such a “special award”.  Wesley Korir entered the 2008 Chicago Marathon on his own dime, because he couldn’t wrangle an invitation.  The 2007 graduate of the University of Louisville had been a multiple time All-American, finishing seventh at the 2007 NCAA D1 5000.  But with no road credentials to speak of,  he was forced to start with the masses five minutes behind the Elite field. 

2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir

Korir went on to win the mass race in 2:13:53, which turned out to be the fourth fastest time of the day overall.   

Chicago race director Carey Pinkowski took it all in, and in a gesture that said a lot about the guy, a former athlete himself, he quietly awarded equal fourth place money to Wesley ($15,000), even though, by rule, he didn’t have to.  It wasn’t done with any grand public fanfare, either, just out of a sense of fair’s fair. 

Of course, Wesley Korir went on to have a wonderful professional career, with back-to-back wins in Los Angeles, five more appearances in Chicago, including a 2:06:15 second place in 2011, and a career-defining win in the 2012 Boston Marathon. But Korir was not given a choice where to start in Chicago 2008, like all the women in Monday’s Boston Marathon were.  There’s your main difference.

The puddles are still drying in Boston, spring is still not in full bloom. The sport moves on, as it always does, this coming weekend to London.  Let’s see how things shake out after this most singular day in Boston Marathon history. Perhaps there are still stories to be written.

END

INSTANT KARMA FOR DES LINDEN IN BOSTON

Boston, MA – According to Race director Dave McGillvray, 30,087 entered the 2018 Boston Marathon. 27,362 picked up their bib numbers. 27,042 started, and 95.5% of them finished, 25,882.  Another testament to the perseverance of the running community and especially the Boston qualifiers. One athlete showed particular, long term perseverance.

Des with John Hancock VP Rob Friedman and the fruits of her victory.

John Lennon wrote “Instant Karma”, and in her sixth try on the olde race course Des Linden experienced it yesterday. 

“I felt very bad early on,” the 2018 Boston Marathon women’s champion admitted at Tuesday morning’s press conference. “My gloves were saturated, I was making rookie mistakes. The day was setting up to be a disaster. So I thought, there was so much hype for the American women, let me help these guys out as long as I can.”

That’s why Des waited when Shalane Flanagan ducked into a porta-john between 11-12 miles as the course entered Wellesley. The pack was still only running 6:00 miles, so you could do your business and still have time to catch back up with a little help from a friend.

Then, when Ethiopia’s Mamitu Daska pulled away with a 5:31 14th mike, fastest of the day so far, Des thought she could help Molly Huddle bridge the gap by breaking the wind for her. Because that’s what compatriots do, even if they are opponents, too.

“But when I turned around, I saw I was pulling away from everyone. Everybody was having a tough day. And I figured this was still the quickest way to get home, even if I blew up.” (more…)