Month: October 2011

WILSON KIPSANG MUDDIES KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON WATERS

Wilson Kipsang wins in Frankfurt

     As a less-than-100%-fit Moses Mosop held on for his 2:05:37 course record win at the October 9th Bank of America Chicago Marathon, I suggested from the lead TV camera bike that Patrick Makau’s new marathon world-record, 2:03:38, set in Berlin September 25th, probably wouldn’t last through next spring based on how much raw speed has been brought to the marathon this past year. Well, it almost didn’t last through two months.

Today in Frankfurt, Germany another Kenyan declared himself as a 2012 Olympic Marathon team candidate – and therefore medal contender – as Wilson Kipsang won his second straight BMW Frankfurt Marathon, coming within four seconds of Makau’s still drying world mark.  In doing so, Kipsang upped the pressure even more on next weekend’s ING New York City Marathon protagonists Emmanuel and Geoffrey Mutai (no relation), the 2011 London and Boston Marathon champions, as the waters of the Kenyan Olympic Marathon selection turned even muddier.

With two-time IAAF World Champion Abel Kirui almost guaranteed a spot on the team due not only to his excellence in warm-weather, non-paced competition, but also his willingness to forego a big-city payday to bear the country’s colors in international competition, and now two men going under the previous world record in such short order, how must the two Mutai’s feel as they step to the New York City starting line in Staten Island in one week’s time?

Already this year we have seen course records at each of the other World Marathon Majors:  Emmanuel Mutai’s 2:04:40 in London, Geoffrey Mutai,’s 2:03:02 World Best in Boston (not considered a world record due to IAAF point-to-point route restrictions),  Patrick Makau’s 2:03:38 World Record in Berlin, and Moses Mosop’s almost pedestrian 2:05:37 in Chicago.

The long-range forecast is looking great for next Sunday in New York City.  Weather.com is calling for a low of 44F and a high of just 53F.  The New York City record, 2:07:43, by Ethiopia’s Tesfaye Jifar, has lasted since 2001. But with the remarkable performances already on the board in this breakout year for the marathon, there is speculation that a 2:05 will be needed in New York to stake any claim whatsoever to the increasingly competitive 2012 Kenyan Olympic team.

At the same time, the field in New York is so strong – topped by Ethiopians Gebre Gebremariam, the defending champion, and 2008 Olympic bronze medalist Tsegay Kebede, among others – that no man can be assured a victory, much less a free ride, since New York did away with pacemakers years ago.

This combination of factors – strong field, tough, non-paced course, and the need for a fast time to impress Olympic selectors – will put an even greater strain on the two Mutais who must balance each conflicting risk and reward in a delicate dance on the streets of New York.  A compelling 26.2 miles awaits, for sure. Can’t wait.

SELECTING KENYAN OLYMPIC MARATHON TEAM

IBRAHIM HUSSEIN CLARIFIES KENYA’S

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ST. LOUIS VAMPIRES

Maybe they should change their name to the St. Louis Vampires, cause they just won’t die!

This improbable baseball season runs out to its final game tonight for the still-named St. Louis Cardinals as, down by two runs with two outs  and two strikes twice in their last at bats, the Redbirds rose like Nosferatu himself last night beneath the gleaming Gateway Arch to take game six of the 2011 World Series, 10-9, against the decanted Texas Rangers.

St. Louis native David Freese fullfilled every boy’s dream twice in the span of two innings to lead the Cards into game seven in search of their 11th World Series title.  First, just as it seemed the Rangers could begin celebrating the first World Series win in their 51-year franchise history, Freese cooly delivered a two-strike, two-out, two-run, bottom of the ninth triple into right field over the head of Nelson Cruz off the Rangers All-Star closer Neftali Feliz to send the game into extra inings.

Then, as the excitement of the ninth still buzzed through Busch Stadium, Ranger slugger Josh Hamilton drew gasps of despair from the Redbird faithful with a two-run homer in the top of the 10th to seemingly bury the Cards once and for all. But, after coming back from a 10 1/2 game deficit to the Atlanta Braves in late August to take the Wild-Card entry into the playoffs,  Tony LaRussa’s flock took flight again, tying the game in the bottom of the tenth on another two strike, two out run-producing single by Lance Berkman after  Ranger manager Ron Washington had intentionally – and intelligently – walked Card’s slugger-supreme Albert Pujols with first-base open and a runner in scoring position.   Instead of champagne flowing for the Rangers, it was their life blood spilling out onto the lush green lawn.

As if fated, when the Rangers, who had leads all night long – including 7-4 in the seventh off back-to-back jacks by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz – failed to score in the top of the 11th, Freese finished the blood-letting with a lead-off, walk-off 11th inning blast to dead center field to send the frenzied Redbird fans home in a blood lust.

An epic game six, at first poorly played with numerous run-producing errors by both teams – including a dropped pop-up by Freese, himself – the heroics late turned this one into a fall classic.  A game at least on par with the hallowed game six between the Boston Red Sox and Cincinnati Reds of 1975 when Carlton Fisk’s wave-it-fair homer over the Fenway Park green monster in left field lifted the Sox to a 12th inning win – before a devastating loss in game 7 continued the Red Sox winless World Series curse for another 29 years.

Baseball, in some ways, is like marathoning. Both sports take from low 2-hours up to even five hours to complete (last night’s game lasted 4:38), and taken in small doses or out of context, each can seem incomparably boring. Yet when followed closely throughout a season or a race, the drama builds to Shakespearean levels, until every pitch, every footstrike takes on the weight of the world, and the glory of accomplishment can resonate for a lifetime and beyond.

And so the baseball season ends tonight on the last weekend in October, just as the World Marathon Majors season will conclude on the first weekend of November in New York City.  We can only hope to witness a level of drama at the ING New York City Marathon that was been on display in St. Louis – America’s Best Baseball Town – where tonight the Vampires,  I mean Cardinals, hope to draw blood again while the Rangers look to drive a stake through their collective hearts.

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$500,000 WORLD MARATHON MAJORS TITLE COMING DOWN TO A NYC SHOOT-OUT

    As we begin the countdown to the November 6th ING New York City Marathon, there are several threads of interest braided through the men’s and women’s professional fields, both of which are laden with top-end talent.  Among these interests are the potential for Olympic selection for London 2012, and the World Marathon Majors© men’s division showdown and its $500,000 payoff. Today, let’s focus on the World Marathon Majors.

Now in its sixth year, the WMMs concept has yet to turn into the public relations focal point for running that the FedEx Cup has for professional golf, or that the Chase for the Sprint Cup has for NASCAR.  Yet, for the second straight cycle, the series has peaked nicely in the men’s division.

Of course, nobody who follows the sport will ever forget the epic duel between the now sadly departed Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya and Ethiopia’s Tsegay Kebede at the 2010 Bank of America Chicago Marathon. The last 5K of that battle remains the standard by which all future final marathon miles will be judged. And a great part of the excitement was generated by the fact that the two tiny warriors were competing for a bonus anyone watching could appreciate, half a million dollars.  In fact, the prize elevated not just the perception of the competition, it elevated the quality and passion of the competitors, as well.

It is one reason I have argued, ad nauseum, for larger publicly recognized purses or bonuses in our sport. How much one receives for any endeavor in this society either validates, or invalidates, that endeavor by how much one receives for the doing it.  That might not be the path to heaven’s door, but it sure is the path to the American Dream. And if we want to attract not just participants, but fans to our sport, our champions must reap the same harvests as our sporting brethren. By maintaining low prize purses and hidden appearance fees, running all but guarantees an ignoring public, including our increasingly rotund kids. (more…)

NEW BALANCE FALMOUTH ROAD RACE APPOINTS DAVE MCGILLIVRAY AS RACE DIRECTOR

Falmouth, MA. October 24, 2011 – The New Balance Falmouth Road Race today announces that renowned race organizer, Dave McGillivray has been named as the race director for the August classic. McGillivray will immediately begin working with volunteers, staff, team captains and the board of directors to plan for the 40th running of the race to be held Sunday, August 12, 2012.

                “After a national search, the Board of Directors unanimously voted to have Dave McGillivray direct the New Balance Falmouth Road Race for the 40th running in 2012, and help grow and build the race into the future,” said Christine Frazier, board president. “Dave McGillivray has been named Road Race Management’s Race Director of the Year, directs the B.A.A. Boston Marathon as well as hundreds of other events, has run Falmouth many times and lives right here in Massachusetts.  The board feels that Dave’s vast expertise, personal love of running and passion for raising funds for local charities is exactly the right combination and a perfect fit for the New Balance Falmouth Road Race and the Falmouth community.”

“Dave has also pledged to keep the essence of the race unchanged, become part of the community and take into consideration all of our key personnel’s valuable opinions when making any plans for the race,” continued Frazier. “The board supports Dave’s plans as we lay the foundation for the next 40 years of the New Balance Falmouth Road Race.” (more…)

OCCUPY WALL STREET AND TEA PARTY BOTH WRONG

     The Tea Party and Occupy Wall Street crowds are bookend political movements – one on the far right, the other on the outer left – each believing America has gone off-track and in need of reform.  Both movements believe passionately in their direction, and yet both have fundamentally misread the basic problem facing America.  And in their assumptions we see a reflection in the state of affairs in the running world, as well. (more…)

B.A.A. CREATES NEW RACE SERIES

    

Amazing how times change.  For decades the Boston Athletic Association was the most staunchly conservative organization in all of running, fighting tooth and nail against the encroachment of open prize money into the Boston Marathon.  After their Luddite stance led to a major reduction in overall participation and an evisceration of the elite field in 1985, Boston Mayor Ray Flynn entered the picture and threatened to pull Boston city permits. Only in the face of that force was the B.A.A. dragged, unwillingly, into the 20th century. By 1986 John Hancock Financial Services was signed as the major sponsor, and the addition of prize money- and Hancock appearance fees – returned Boston to its rightful place at the forefront of world marathons.

Today, the B.A.A. announced the creation of  a new B.A.A. Distance Medley, combining three of its annual events into a single series with a payout to the male and female winners of $100,000 each. The three events, the B.A.A. 5K, B.A.A. 10K, and B.A.A. Half Marathon will be scored by combining times in all three races, and will help celebrate the 125th anniversary year of the organization in 2012.

The only odd thing about the series is that the men and women who might be most likely to win may not participate at all.  You see, with the B.A.A. 5K run on Boston Marathon weekend in April, the athletes who run the marathon on Patriot’s Day won’t run the 5k, too, and therefore will be ineligible for the Distance Medley title and purse.

This year Marathon podium finishers Geoffrey Mutai, Moses Mosop, and Gebre Gebremariam returned to run the B.A.A. 10K in June.  Under the new Medley format, they could still race the 10k, earn prize money for that race, and even compete in the half-marathon (though historically, the B.A.A. Half-Marathon fields in October have not been on par with the marathon fields in terms of quality).  Problem is, they wouldn’t have a 5k time to add for Medley pay-off purposes.

B.A.A. Executive Director Tom Grilk

     Notwithstanding, the B.A.A. Distance Medley is another welcome sign in the fully reformed resurrection of one of the sport’s signature organizations.  Kudos to Executive Director Tom Grilk, under whose leadership the B.A.A. continues to exemplify the bold direction it first displayed during its 19th century beginnings, a goal Grilk articulated earlier this year New Direction Outlined for Boston Athletic Association.

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DEAR NICK SYMMONDS,

    I’ve never met you, but I have always been a fan. The excitement generated by your come-from-behind racing has lifted more than one arena to its collective feet, none more so than at the 2008 Olympic Trials 800-meter final in Eugene, Oregon.  Just this week, however, you entered another arena, politics, by creating a Facebook page called I’m tired of USATF and IAAF crippling our sport. And as I’m sure you’ll find out soon enough, this may be an even harder track to succeed on than the Mondo version you’ve zoomed to four national 800-meter titles atop.

You know you’ve struck a nerve when, in just two days, your Symmond’s summons has attracted nearly 5000 on-line friends as you outlined your main bone of contention:  Could someone please explain to me why NASCAR drivers can have literally DOZENS of ads on their competition uniforms, cars, etc and track and field athletes are FORBIDDEN to have ANY corporate logo on their warm-ups or competition uniforms? Track and field athletes are not even allowed to put corporate logos on the arms as temporary tattoos. These asinine rules have been created by our governing bodies USATF and IAAF and are crippling our sport by preventing the flow of dollars into it.”

Nick, there are literally thousands who share your frustration and concern.  And there have been many attempts over the years to lift track and running into the public consciousness. All have failed.  One reason, one you seemed to have overlooked, is that what you refer to as “these asinine rules created by our governing bodies” aren’t crippling THEIR sport, only yours. And that’s the point. (more…)