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.



      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?



     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