OLYMPIC MARATHON QUALIFYING STANDARD STILL UNKNOWN

With the calendar’s turn to 2019, we have entered the year-plus long buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Along that road are the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, both marathon, and track & field, with the marathon trials in Atlanta up first in February 2020. The Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiled their Trials’ course layout just last week.

However, a new twist to Olympic and World Championships qualifying was introduced in November 2017 when IAAF announced its new World Rankings System. The idea was to make the sport more accessible to the public and to encourage more head-to-head competitions among the top-ranked athletes of the sport.

“For the first time in the sport’s history, athletes, media and fans will have a clear understanding of the competitions from the world through to global events, allowing them to follow a logical season-long path to the pinnacle of athletics’ top two competitions,” the IAAF said back in 2017.

In the new ranking system, every performance by an athlete in an international or national competition will be translated into a score, based on the IAAF scoring table, with the level of competitions also being graded.  The Olympics and World Championships will garner the most points and national championships the fewest.  The best five performances will be totaled and the average will be the athlete’s ranking score in his/her event. There are some other tweaks, but that’s essentially how it will work.

Though there is a consensus belief that a credible world rankings system is long overdue in Athletics, not everyone found the new system to their liking, which is understandable.  Among others, the North American, Central American and the Caribbean Championships (NACAC), one of the strongest member associations in the IAAF, took issue. “Understanding the system in the athletics community is limited, and on critical points, there are widely disparate views about fairness and viability of the system.”

In response to this and other reactions to the ranking system, the IAAF pulled its use as a qualifying factor for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar but plan to continue its use for Tokyo 2020/

Now, as we await the first big races of 2019 in the United States at the Houston Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, I received the following email message.  (more…)

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AN INTERVIEW WITH PHEIDIPPIDES

With the Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiling a map of the 2020 U. S. Team Trials Marathon course, I thought it might be a good time to reconnect (tongue firmly in cheek) with history’s original Marathoner, the one and only Pheidippides.

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Pheidippides in Athens

First, a little background.

Fame is a bitch! Take, take, take, that’s all she does (and why is fame a ‘she’, anyway?) But if fame is a handful, can you imagine trying to uphold the status of a legend?  

As has been proven time and time again, once the public gets a hold of you there’s a stiff price to be paid for any of the benefits that might come with such renown. All you have to do is ask Caesar, Lincoln, Elvis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson, all of whom died of fame. So, you either nip such fame in the bud, like Dave Chappell, or find a way to accommodate it, because down that road has come many a man’s (woman’s) ruin. 

Take the case of Pheidippides, the legendary Greek messenger sent from the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens to tell the tale of the great military victory over the invading force from Persia in 492 B.C.  

Out of that single 40k run has come not only an Olympic event – and the Trials that precede it – but an entire industry, as well, as hundreds of such events are staged annually in cities worldwide for millions of avid runners. 

Yet in the case of Pheidippides and the Marathon, it took two and a half millennia for that history to finally come to pass.  That’s what happens when the first guy who does it dies. Takes a certain amount of fortitude for the next guy to step up. 

But back in 492 B.C. Pheidippides was no myth. He had a family and friends and people he worked with. Then, look what happened, one poorly paced run and he was marked throughout history. 

Being a day-runner, or herald – as it was then called – he must have been right behind the front lines while the actual battle against the Persians was raging. Then, when the tide turned in favor of the defending Athenians, he was called for what would become his historic assignment.

“Hey, you, Pheidippides. We need you to run back to Athens tell them we’re OK out here. Got it?  Tell them it’s good news. But you gotta hustle.”

Maybe his commanding officer didn’t know Pheidippides had already run over 250k to Sparta and back looking for reinforcements a few days earlier. Notwithstanding, the guy answered the call and ran back to Athens, announcing, “Rejoice we conquer!” before succumbing to his efforts. 

But as the late radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey used to say, there was more to The Rest of the Story.  And now we have The Man himself to ask. 

There have been mystical beings in every age, Highlander types, who lived beyond their eras. And who knew, Pheidippides was one himself? (more…)

A NEW YEAR BUT THE SAME OLD US

These days accusations fly across the political spectrum faster than shuttlecocks in an ambidextrous badminton tournament. But what’s a lie, and who’s to say?  There’s your question for the new year, kiddies. 

News that Russia missed the New Year’s Eve deadline to hand over data to the World Anti-Doping Agency from the laboratory in Moscow where its state-sponsored doping program was centered somehow caught WADA President Craig Reedie by surprise. “Bitterly disappointed”, I believe that was his quote. 

And you would be disappointed, too, if you had stepped out in November to recommend Russia be readmitted to international competition, despite not yet having met WADA’s conditions for that reinstatement.  “I find it very hard to believe that the guarantees, made to us by the Russian authorities, that they won’t deliver.”

Really?  When murdering journalists and political opponents are normative behavior, where do you think doping in athletics falls on the New Year’s resolution To Do list?

(more…)

WHAT COULD BE

In this season of hope, with a new divided government about to take over in Washington, Americans agree on one thing – and not much else, that the nation is more divided than at any time since the 1960s, maybe even the 1850s. 

Yet in this divisive political time in which identity politics has become the defining order, we still find that runners as a group remain human beings first before ever identifying as right-wing, left-wing, or centrist. It’s as if to say, ‘if we have this one thing in common, then all else becomes secondary.  Not immaterial, mind you, just less consequential, for at bottom this is who I truly am, and this is all I need to know about you to appreciate who you really are, as well.’

Stripped of their everyday, workaday costumes and clothed in the simple togs of motion, runners discover a unity through the pursuit of focused purpose, whether fast, slow or moderate in that pursuit. The same process unifies soldiers in combat, and other similarly focused groups. Perhaps that can serve as a lesson for Washington D. C. (more…)

“THE TASTE FOR FATIGUE”

(21 Dec. 2018) Today, in this season to be jolly, we wish a happy 74th birthday to famed Italian Coach Renato Canova, who has prepared many a great runner for what were the athletic performances of their lives.

In the summer of 2012, while sipping tea at the Kerio View Hotel in Iten, Kenya, I asked Coach Canova if he were put in charge of the U.S. distance program what changes he would make to maximize performance against the Kenyan runners who have dominated the sport for so long.

“First thing, the U.S. is better than Europe,” said the white-haired Italian as we looked out over the sweep of the adjoining Rift Valley. “Their 5 and 10-kilometer base is already moving. When you start getting sub-27 minute 10K, and many, many 27:10, 27:20 – 27:20 is enough to run a marathon in 2:05.

“But for many years there was the mentality in Europe and the USA to go for very high quality (training), but to reduce the volume. So we had a pyramid that was very, very high, but the base was very, very narrow. And it could not produce any results.  So you need to increase the base while maintaining the same difference in the parameters (top to bottom). Then the pyramid becomes higher because the base has become higher, not because you have made the top higher. (more…)

NEAR RECORD RUN IN HONOLULU 2018

Honolulu, Hi. – New land is constantly bubbling up along the Hawaiian islands from the deep molten innards of the planet. Perhaps to reflect that eruptive nature of its home, the Honolulu Marathon has long been a birthing ground of new major marathon champions.  Dating back to the mid-1980s names like Ibrahim Hussein, Cosmas Ndeti, Bong-ju Lee, Brigid Kosgei and Lawrence Cherono have all announced themselves on this time-tested course. 

Today, a new name emerged from the caldron of Honolulu with major marathon potential. 

With two-time champions and course record holders Lawrence Cherono and Brigid Kosgei choosing not to defend, and high trade winds expected out along the course, the fast times of 2016 and 2017 were not expected by race organizers for the 46th running of the Honolulu Marathon.  And on the women’s side of the race, they were right.  Vivian Kiplagat took 2:36:22  to tour the 26.2 miles, 14 minutes longer than Brigid Kosgei ‘s course record.

Titus Ekiru announces his arrival

But 26 year-old Titus Ekiru, like so many Kenyan runners before him, was more focused on what he could do rather than what he couldn’t. As such, the tall, angular man from Turkana, Kenya challenged Lawrence Cherono’s 2:08:27 course record deep into 26.2 mile course before posting the second fastest time in race history (2:09:01). And when you consider that Cherono’s 2:08 in Honolulu 2017 turned into a 2:04 in Amsterdam 2018, what can we expect from Ekiru in 2019 and beyond? (more…)

2018 HONOLULU MARATHON PREVIEW

Honolulu, HI. – In both 2016 & 2017, the Honolulu Marathon produced the fastest men’s marathon times in the United States.  Perhaps some of that anomaly can be traced to the Chicago Marathon dropping pacesetters for three years. But in the last two years Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono (2:09:38 & 2:08:27) slashed almost three minutes off Jimmy Muindi’s 2004 Honolulu course record of 2:11:12, a record that itself stood for 18 years after Ibrahim Hussein brought Kenyan-style racing to  Oahu in the mid 1980s. 

This year both Cherono and two-time women’s champion Brigid Kosgei have not returned to defend their titles, leaving the 2018 Honolulu Marathon wide open in both genders. (more…)