BOLT’S DQ in DAEGU

     Day two at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea began with a scintillating last 30 meter sprint in the longest track event, then all but ended before a single foot had been run in the shortest.  Thus did we rise when Ethiopia’s Ibrahim Jeilan overcame England’s brave Mo Farah for the 10,000 meter gold, before swooning in frustration when Usain Bolt was DQ’d for false-starring [sic] in the 100 meters.

So talk all we want about the need for, or the fairness of the false-start rule – The Science of Sport men have a full explication  – Day 2: False starts and flying finishes – what is inarguable is that the current “zero-tolerance” penalty is too onerous a mechanism for the state of the sport to maintain at present.

While there was news of Bolt DQ scrolling below the ESPN Sportscenter show I watched this afternoon, but there was no story, much less an ESPN reporter on site, or an expert panel in Bristol breaking down the races in Daegu.  If your World Championships don’t even make the Sportcenter cut, you are officially off the radar in America.

So, as Bill Maher would say, “Time for New Rules”:

New Rule: In order not to lose our superstars altogether, we shouldn’t disqualify sprinters outright for a false start, we should penalize them.  For championships we penalize by adding time, to be determined, for each false start in subsequent starts.  In doing, so we retain the presence of our stars, but lessen their chances with a burden of their own making.  It’s equitable.

For non-championship exhibitions, even better, a false start would move the athlete’s blocks back and an appropriate distance.  Not perfect, but stimulating.

By penalizing distance, we add a whole new chase element to the sport, and a new distance to time. Young Yohan Blake of Jamaica won the Daegu gold in Bolt’s absence by two meters over Walter Dix of the U.S.  Imagine if Bolt would have had to try to run him down from 102 or 103 meters out?

The idea is to penalize the runner, not penalize the sport.  By maintaining our laboratory sterility, we risk a continuing loss of fans.

END

RUPP’S DILEMMA

      Galen Rupp has been groomed for years by coach Alberto Salazar at the Nike-sponsored Oregon Distance Project in Portland.  Now at age 25 the American 10,000 meter champion is moving into his peak years, and still may have medal hopes for London 2012.  But more and more that possibility is looking less and less likely.  Either you’ve got the wheels or you don’t, and when we are talking distance running at the rarified atmosphere of the World Championship and Olympic medal level, Galen just doesn’t seem to possess the raw speed necessary to contend.

Today, in Daegu, South Korea, Rupp hung with the very best distance men in the world through 23 1/2 laps in the 10,000 meter final of the World Championships.  But when the racing for the medals began in earnest a lap and a half out, Galen was unable to respond, and had to settle for seventh place, 13-seconds behind the champion Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia.  His is now the conundrum for all distance men – hell, all runners. We all start out as sprinters, then move up to find our sweetest distance.

We have seen this for decades, the plight of the strength runner in a speed man’s game.  Remember that Alberto himself was at one time the American record holder at 5000 (13:11) and 10,000 meters (27:25).  But eight days before besting Dick Beardsley in their legendary “Duel in the Sun” at the 1982 Boston Marathon, Al was gunned down at a special 10,000 he’d arranged at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon by the great (but chubby at the time) Henry Rono of Kenya, 27:29 to 27:30.

Steve Jones of Wales was a formidable 10,000 meter runner in the early 1980s, too, but he didn’t have the nitrous tank to go to when pink slips and shiny medals were up for grabs.  So he, too, was lured to the marathon where that kind of speed was less necessary.  Next thing we knew, he, like Alberto before him, became the world’s best over the longer distance.

And most recently, in Oslo last year at the Bislett Games 21-year-old Bekana Daba of Ethiopia ran 12:58.51 for 5000 meters, good for ninth place.  For that he earned all of $500.  Since it cost him $700 to fly from Addis Ababa to Oslo, his 12:58 COST him $200!  But after seeing his friend Gebre Gebremariam win the ING New York City Marathon last November, Daba, then 22, put two and two together, and he ended up coming up with $39,000 payday by winning the Houston Marathon this January in a course record 2:07:04.

But with Galen Rupp taking home a healthy check from Nike every month, he has the luxury to maintain his focus on the track, regardless the results as he attempts to develop the closing speed that now eluded him. And one hopes, for his sake, that path will lead to glory.

Problem may well be that by the time he moves up in distance sometime after London 2012 the current trend of younger talent out of East Africa trickling into the marathon will have become a mass migration as they follow the only real money in the sport. Then what, join my friend Josh Cox at 50K?

END

DAEGU MEN’S 10,000M – THE SAGA OF MO FARAH

     And so the 2011 men’s World Championships 10,000 meters is  complete.  And poor Mo Farah.  England’s pride came up agonizingly short in  his bid to win his nation’s first ever World Championships 10,000 final.  Instead unheralded  Ethiopian Ibrahim Jeilan rallied in the final 200 meters to run down the  Somali-born runner, winning in 27:13.82 to Mo’s 27:14.07.  Another Ethiopian Imane Merga came third in  27:19.14 to mine the bronze.  America’s  top hope – and Mo’s training mate at the Oregon Project – Galen Rupp finished  in seventh position in 27:26.84.

The look of utter despair that moved across Mo’s face as the  Ethiopian assassin blazed by with but 20 meters remaining was a testament to  the value accorded the potential win.  Farah had grown immensely over the course of the last year, especially after moving to Portland to join Alberto Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project.  His 26:46.57 win at the Prefontaine Classic in  June remains the leading time in the world this year, and pegged him as race  favorite in Daegu. And he ran like a champion, too, except – and it’s a big  except – for the final 650 meters.

Based on the results, you’d have to say Mo got just a little too anxious. Rather than waiting for the final 500 meters to strike, as had been his tactic throughout his breakout season, he went to the front on the backstretch of the penultimate lap, maybe 50-75 meters too soon, because he ran out of fuel before he ran out of territory, which allowed Jeilan time to rally down the stretch to snatch the gold.  But that’s an easy assessment sitting in front of a computer screen.  It’s a whole  different matter when your spikes are flinging mondo track beneath you in a blur, the crowd is baying like a hungry animal in your ears, and your lungs are a bellows breathing fire to the soul. Continue reading

EDNA KIPLAGAT LEADS KENYAN SWEEP IN WOMEN’S MARATHON

     Surviving a hard fall at a water stop at 37k, where she tangled legs with her final challenger, countrywoman Sharon Cherop, Kenya’s Edna Kiplagat recovered quickly, then sped free to win the women’s World Championship Marathon yesterday in steamy Daegu, South Korea. Kiplagat’s gold was teamed with Cherop’s silver, while yet another Kenyan, Priscah Jeptoo, held off a fast closing Buzenesh Bekele of Ethiopia to complete an unprecedented sweep of the medal stand for the proud East African nation.

It was a true test of  patience, strength, and performance as by the 9 a.m. race start the temperature had already climbed to 77F, and the humidity clung like a rubber suit at 84%.  The 55 entrants from 23 nations ran accordingly, recording the slowest splits up to 30k in championship history.  Over the flat, three lap course touring downtown Daegu they hit half-way in 1:16:43, eight-seconds slower than during the oppressive 2007 World Champs in Osaka, Japan won by another Kenyan star Catherine Ndereba.

A large pack joined forces early on, but kept loosely congealed in the stultfying air. The first leader of note was Japan’s Azusa Nojiri, a 2:25:29 12th placer from April’s London Marathon.  Portugal’s Marisa Barros, sixth in Berlin’s World Champs 2009 hung nearby, while the favored Kenyans, Chinese, Japanese, and Ethiopians maintained close positioning spread along the wide Daegu boulevards.  American Tera Moody of Colorado Springs was the lone Yank in the lead contingent. She placed 28th at the Berlin World Champs in 2009, and posted a PR 2:30:53 in Chicago last fall.

With conditions so brutal it was no surprise that no surges emerged over the first two 15k loops. This would turn into what former men’s marathon world record holder, Khalid Khannouchi called “a long run followed by a short race.”  Daegu’s would be a slow dance, not a cha-cha. Continue reading

2011 WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: WOMEN’S MARATHON PREVIEW

     The World Championship and Olympic Marathons are different breeds than the annual major city marathons.  Weather is often the overriding factor, usually for the worst, as the summer heat and potential humidity call for a different approach to both preparation and racing. Secondly, without pacers the emphasis is completely on place rather than time, often making for a more intriquing competition. And thirdly, due to the disparity in potential payoffs compared to the fall marathons, and the looming Olympic Trials process, the World Championship Marathon is often not quite on par with its track event cousins.

Again in 2011 several of the foremost marathoners in the world, mostly on the men’s side, are not participating in the World Champs in order to maintain their six-figure appearance fees in the fall.  Therefore, if the IAAF is serious about being part of the World Marathon Majors circuit, they will have to come to terms with their $60,000, $30,000, $15,000, $10,000, $6000, $5000, $4000 purse structure. World Cup team money is an additional 1st $20,000; 2nd $15,000; 3rd $12,000; 4th $10,000; 5th $8000; 6th $6000.

While those figures might be acceptable to track and field athletes who can continue competing on the Samsung Diamond League Tour following Daegu, the purses (and corresponding lack of appearance fees) become a financial disincentive for the crème of the marathon crop whose opportunities are limited.

In the women’s marathon, scheduled for Saturday morning at 9 a.m. local time -Friday at 10 p.m. Eastern, 7 p.m. Pacific in the U.S. – the two top performers of 2011, Mary Keitany of Kenya (2:19:19, 1st in London) and Liliya Shobukhova of Russia (2:20:15, 2nd in London) will not toe the line.  The American team, as well, is missing the top ranks of their marathon potential with Desi Davila opting out of Daegu altogether (she gave up her 5000m slot to Lauren Fleshman), while Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher will compete Saturday night in the 10,000 meters, as all three back-time their marathon peak for the Houston Olympic Trials in January 2012. Continue reading

“YOUNG JOHN” & THE 2011 AFC HALF MARATHON

1957 Boston Marathon champion

The great wheel turns, and thus are we all ground into dust.  Such is the Rib-Taker’s design, and so must we all be delivered.  I just returned home from covering the 34th America’s Finest City Half-Marathon here in San Diego, another celebration of the fullness of life, only to hear of the passing at age 80 of 1957 Boston Marathon champion John J. “The Younger” Kelley at his home in Connecticut.  An e-mail from John’s protégé, great friend and fellow Boston Marathon champion (1968) Amby Burfoot of Runner’s World brought the sad news.

Anyone who had been a part of the New England running scene over the last sixty years would have tales to tell of Young John, a man who would’ve been as comfortable in Revolutionary times – perhaps even more so -than in these currently devolving ones.   To fully understand and appreciate the life and legacy of John J. Kelley, I urge you to read Amby’s moving tribute. John J. Kelley, RIP, 1930-2011: 1957 Boston Marathon Winner; America’s First Modern Road Runner.

As his nickname implies, John “The Younger” was a man who shared a name (though no relation) with a marathon runner of even greater renown. Before Young John came Old Kel, John A. “The Elder” Kelley of Massachusetts, the legendary two-time Boston champion (1935 & `45) and 62-time Boston starter.  Both Kelley’s lived to run, were  two-time Olympians, and became as famous for their non-wins at Boston as for their victories.  Ten years spanned Old Kel’s wins, while Young John was the lone member of the BAA to ever wear the olive wreath of victory at his club’s grandest race.  Yet between the two they claimed twelve second place finishes at Boston (seven for Old Kel, five for Young John).

And so today, my sympathies lie with Tesfaye Alemayehu of Ethiopia and Ariana Hilborn of Scottsdale, Arizona, runners-up in the 2011 AFC Half.  Alemayehu came up just five-seconds shy of race winner Weldon Kirui of Kenya following a race-long duel through the cloud-covered skies of San Diego. Tucson, Arizona’s Ian Burrell claimed third position in an Olympic Marathon Trials qualifying 64:22. Ms. Hilborn, 30, of Scottsdale gave way only in the final mile to California’s Mary Akor, who was competing in the AFC for the first time. Akor’s margin at the Balboa Park finish was ten seconds, 77:17 to 77:27.  San Diego’s Natasha Labeaud, 24, finished third in 78:15. Continue reading

UFC SIGNS WITH FOX

     Today, what was once considered the modern blood-sport version of Roman gladiatorial combat, a sport so savage that Arizona senator John McCain referred to it as “human cockfighting” and tried to have it banned in Arizona, has now reached into America’s family rooms.  In what must be one of the most stunning turns in sports history, Ultimate Fighting Championship has signed a seven-year, $90 million deal with FOX which will air four live fights per year on FOX, and another 24 live fights on FX in conjunction with UFC’s reality show The Ultimate Fighter.

David Hill, Fox Sports Chairman, told The Atlantic, “We are going to grow this sport.  It’s only a decade old, and already has a worldwide mainstream fan base”.  Saying it “creates heroes of a new generation”, UFC has masterfully reversed its once decadent public image, and turned itself into the hottest sport going.  Maybe running needs full contact zones. Continue reading