Take away that they have grown up at an altitude higher than the New York Yankees salary cap, and cut the air like six-inch stilettos, one reason the Kenyans and Ethiopians kick everyone’s butt in distance running is, well, what are their options?
Go to any East African village famous for producing championship runners and you’re not likely to find many arbitrageurs, or Bernie Madoff-like Ponzi schemers. And that just might be the corollary to why America has only intermittently produced world-class distance runners. We produce world-class most everything else. Something’s gotta give.
A post-industrial society is not distance running’s ideal seed bed. Here running is better suited to individual achievement and general fitness, while in an agrarian society, especially one formed at high altitude, running finds its most fecund soil.
You spend a few hours a day tending the animals and crops, walking high-country dirt roads for transportation, eating fresh, unpolluted food, and dreaming big dreams in the black night air of winning thousands of life-transforming dollars at races in far flung capitals – like every fourth fellow in the village seems to have done – and maybe running tops your to-do list tomorrow, too. By the same token, find yourself with an underwater mortgage working part-time on stuffed-crust pizzas, maybe your chances of fleetness have deteriorated a tad.
“Anything is Possible”
A mural on the side of a building in downtown Addis Ababa shows Haile Gebrselassie in full stride. Ethiopia’s iconic runner and one of, if not the best ever has his motto alongside, “Anything is possible”, writ large in Amharic, one of the principle languages of the country. (more…)