During the last decade of the 20th century “What’s Up With American Distance Running?” became a latter day Trivial Pursuit, a truly fun-filled parlor game for the entire family. Notwithstanding the hours of mirth, America’s slide into second-class running status dealt a stinging blow to all America First patriots who expected U.S. preeminence in everything from NASCAR to football to distance running — perhaps forgetting that the first two are played by American sportsmen only.
Fortunately, the question begat some answers, and with the advent of the Team USA in Mammoth Lakes, California in 2000 Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi delivered Olympic Marathon medals in Athens 2004. Since then the USA has continued to develop elite training camps, righted its ship and sailed back to the front ranks of world racing — even in the face of the fully developed flotillas coming out of Kenya and Ethiopia.
Today, however, the question that embroiled American running in the 1990s has shifted south to a neighbor that once proudly held down a top rank in world athletics, but that today is but a shadow of its former self. I speak, of course, of Mexico.
Even as American running fortunes were on the wane, the runners of Mexico were terrorizing race fields across the globe. From former 10,000 meter world record holder Arturo Barrios, to world number one marathoner Dionicio Ceron, New York City Marathon champions German Silva and Salvador Garcia, Chicago Marathon winner Alejandro Cruz,and road racers supreme Marcos Barreto, Martin Pitayo, Jesus Herrera, Benjamin Parades, Ignacio Frogoso, Geraldo Alcala, Julio Reyes, and marathon master’s world record holder Andres Espinosa, the Mexican force was mui grande.
However, while American fortunes began to resurrect, the Mexicans began to disappear. Today, this once proud running nation’s top marathoner of 2013 is Alejandro Suarez, who ran 2:14:29 to finish second at the March 3rd Torreon Marathon. That is only the 308th best marathon in the world for 2013. Where have the mighty Mexicans gone? For an answer I contacted German Silva, 1994 -`95 New York City Marathon champion.
German, do you have a theory as why people like yourself, Ceron, Barreto, Barrios, Cruz, Mondragon, Herrera, Jose Gomez, Rodolfo Gomez, etc. have not been replaced on the world scene? What piece of the puzzle was removed that has proven critical?
Hi Toni, Wow! You’re not the only one wondering. You can break your head over it. I think we have to take several factors into consideration. Most of us formed part of a training group with Rodolfo Gomez. Training in a group is a huge advantage for several reasons, as well you know (nowadays see the groups in U.S. with very good results!)
After the group dissolved there were no longer good results. We also have more and more well paid races in Mexico, and with that came the arrival of Kenyans, and some Ethiopians, though not the good ones.
The younger guys somehow, I don’t know why: 1) don’t have the ‘guts’, 2) ambition, 3) have a different mentality, 4) are not hungry enough, 5) are not willing to train 3 or 4 months continuously (race every week), 6) are ‘afraid’ of the foreigners, 7) don’t want to suffer?? Is it a cultural question maybe (but we would have had the same ‘problem’), different generation (X or Y or whatever.)
For me it’s in the head, it’s a mental question most of all, because you can train everybody no matter what system you use.
Nowadays we have enough tracks, but most of new guys start on the streets and are not coming from track background.. another reason). The coaches, too, are not actualized (somehow we continue with the same system of Gomez and coach Tadeusz Kepka). There is no structure like in the U.S., but again when talking with the new generation I don’t see a ‘killer instinct’ if I can name it like this….They don’t believe in themselves. Well that’s about it Toni, hope you can do something with it! Regards! and saludos!
Great stuff, German. I guess it’s a question every nation outside east Africa must be pondering. Thanks, and all the best, mi amigo.
4 thoughts on “WHERE DID THE GREAT MEXICAN RUNNERS TURN WRONG?”
Barrios talks about a decline in fast Mexican distance running here:
(it’s in spanish)
It’s the same, as the reason for the drop in the talent pool in the US- the International athletes have capitalized on the money races and lessened the number of opportunities for success for Mexicans. I see many of the Africans, who live/train in Mexico, when I race down South in ~Alabama, Mississippi, Texas, and then also when I went to Costa Rica last year. It’s a bit of a gamble training for and traveling to compete in these lucrative races in ~Mexico, Carribeans, Central America, and South America, because you don’t know which International elites are going to show up and whether you can make a decent profit. I agree that training groups help development, but even with the explosion of training groups here in the US– there were only 8 Americans vs. 309 Kenyans, in the top 601 marathon performers from 2011! The depth is so much better in Kenya, and it comes down to the financial opportunities. A Kenyan could make $10,000 and be “rich” by Kenya standards (average annual salary is $1600), but that would be below the poverty line here in the US AND below the average salary in Mexico ($12,000+ average income per household: http://www.oecdbetterlifeindex.org/topics/income/).
Ah, I remember the stories of the Mexicans training in the Desert of the Lions.
Perhaps a better inquiry would be why has Spain and Italy stopped their national drug programs that produced the likes of Francesco Panetta, Alberto Cova, Gelindo Bordin, Fermin Cacho, Abel Anton and Martin Fiz? Seems highly unlikely that these two countries could create so many great runners out of the blue and just as quickly return to oblivion.
Nothing against the East Africans, but it’s those “over the top” personalities like Salvador Garcia that gives marathons a whole other dimension.
Man, did the names of the past great Mexican runners bring back memories.
I didn’t realize how deep the list of Mexican road runners were.
Silva hit it on the head, there probably isn’t the hunger there.
But one still sees a great number of Mexican boxers in the middle and lighter weights.
So the hunger for a better life through sports is still there.