The 2015 marathon year began where 2014 left off with Kenyans and Ethiopians sweeping the top places at the Xiamen Marathon in China. Moses Mosop, the big-engine Kenyan who had such an explosive 2011 campaign — but who had been beset by injury and personal issues in the last few years — returned to form in Xiamen with a course record 2:06:19 win.
2 Tilahun Regassa (ETH) 2:06:54
3 Abrha Milaw (ETH) 2:08:09
4 Robert Kwambai (KEN) 2:08:18
5 Tadese Tola (ETH) 2:10:30
On the women’s side, Ethiopia’s Mare Dibaba continued her success from 2014 when she also began the year with a win in Xiamen before showing third in Boston then placing second in Chicago — though those places will likely move up one notch once the Rita Jeptoo drug positive has been adjudicated. Dibaba went 2:19:52 in Xiamen yesterday to destroy her competition & post the event’s first female sub-2:20.
1 Mare Dibaba (ETH) 2:19:52
2 Meseret Legesse (ETH) 2:27:38
3 Meriem Wangari (KEN) 2:27:53
4 Meseret Godana (ETH) 2:36:11
5 Cao Mojie (CHN) 2:43:06
At the end of 2014 I posted my analysis of the marathoning year. Yesterday, I received a response from my old friend and oft-time running partner Bill Rodgers, the four-time Boston and New York City Marathon champion from the 1970s. Since I only lived two blocks from Bill’s old running center shop in Boston in those days, I would often tag along on Bill’s second run of the day as we spun the miles of Jamaica Pond beneath us in both foul weather and fair. Often during those runs we would discuss exactly the issues that continue to animate the sport to this day. With Bill’s permission, here is how yesterday’s back-and-forth went.
BR: Hi Toni. I read your blog about 2014 marathoning. Interesting story about 95 of top 100 men marathoners being from Kenya and Ethiopia, and about the other marathoners in the top 100 from Qatar and Bahrain who were really born at altitude in Ethiopia and Kenya. You also mentioned Meb and Mo Farah. Wondering if both Meb and Farah were born at altitude? Amby Burfoot (1968 Boston Marathon champion) agrees with me that all winners of major marathons in all countries will be immigrants from high altitude.
Toni, it’s a bit cold here, but no snow. Wonder when USATF will make New England and Midwest national training centers for our distance runners? Happy New Year to you and Toya!
TR: Belated happy birthday, Bill, and Happy New Year from Toya and me. 67. Wow! We are old dudes now for sure!
(Bill was born 23 December 1947. I followed a little over a week later on January 2, 1948. It was the Baby Boom, don’t you know, and the folks were spitting us out like watermelon seeds on a hot summer’s day.)
I just did the math. Of the top 100 marathon times in history, only Khalid Khannouchi‘s 2:05:42 world record in Chicago in `99 comes from before the year 2000! And 49 of the fastest 100 have been run in the last three years alone. Of those 100, 62 come from Kenya, 33 from Ethiopia, 4 from Morocco (including the two from Khalid, though his 2:05:38 record in London `02 was as a U.S. citizen). Only Ryan Hall‘s 2:04:58 in Boston 2011 – though disputed due to Boston’s downhill course — breaks into the top 100 from outside those other nations.
Is it all real? I know it is killing interest in the sport as the public, and even back-of-the-packers, have completely lost interest. Not sure what the solution may be. Just glad we were around for the opening thunder of the boom.
BTW, Meb was born in Asmara, Eritrea, which lies at 7600’ (2325m). Mo hails from Mogadishu, Somalia, which sits on the coast of the Indian Ocean, so truly a sea-level lad.
Hope all is well with you. See you in April if not before.
BR: Should altitude issue be addressed, especially since 99% of world is sea-level born? I categorize runners by sea-level versus sea-level and altitude-born vs altitude-born. I have always thought altitude-born athletes only needed that extra factor to defeat all sea-level born. To take home the money perhaps there has been some significant drug use by altitude-born. Interesting that no significant journalism exploring these issues has come from America as it was Germans who explored Russian and Kenyan cheating.
TR: Interesting suggestion to separate sea-level born from altitude-born. I recall Sev telling me years ago how bodybuilding distinguishes between drug-free and drug-enhanced competitions using polygraph and urinalysis testing. I have gone over the IAAF lists from the last three years and the all-time list for the marathon.
In 2014 top sea-level born was Kohei Matsumura of Japan at #86 with 2:08:09
In 2013 Kazuhiro Maeda of Japan at # 62 with 2:08:00
In 2012 Henryk Szost of Poland at # 70 with 2:07:39
On the all-time IAAF list, the Top 10 non- high altitude performances with all-time rank ( ) are:
- (#64) – 2:05:27 – Jaouad Gharib – MAR – 3rd, London `09 (born at 2752’ altitude)
- (#68) – 2:05:30 – Abderrahim Goumri – MAR – 3rd, London `08 (born at 148’)
- (#75) – 2:05:38 – Khalid Khannouchi – USA – 1st, London `02 (born at 1837’)
- (#83) – 2:05:42 – Khalid Khannouchgi – MAR – 1st, Chicago `99
- (#101) – 2:05:56 – Khalid Khannouchi – USA – 1st, Chicago `02
- (#107) – 2:06:04 – Abderrahim Goumri – MAR – 2nd, Chicago `09
- (#109) – 2:06:05 – Ronaldo Da Costa – BRA – 1st, Berlin `98 (born at 3123’)
- ( #136) – 2:06:16 – Toshinari Takaoka – JPN – 3rd, Chicago `03 (born at sea level)
- (#180) – 2:06:33 – Gert Thys – RSA – 1st, Tokyo `99 (born at 3054’)
- (#186) – 2:06:34 – Marilson Dos Santos – BRA – 4th, Lond `11 (born at 3895’)
Ryan Hall has that 2:04:58 fourth place at Boston 2011, and also ran a 2:06:17 fifth place in London 2008. But Ryan was born in Big Bear, California at 6,750 feet (2,060 m) altitude, so he should be counted on the altitude-born side.
The all-time Top 10 high altitude-born performances are:
|1.||2:02:57||Dennis Kipruto Kimetto||22 JAN 1984||1||Berlin||28 SEP 2014|
|2.||2:03:13||Emmanuel Kipchirchir Mutai||12 OCT 1984||2||Berlin||28 SEP 2014|
|3.||2:03:23||Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich||15 MAR 1982||1||Berlin||29 SEP 2013|
|4.||2:03:38||Patrick Makau Musyoki||2 MAR 1985||1||Berlin||25 SEP 2011|
|5.||2:03:42||Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich||15 MAR 1982||1||Frankfurt||30 OCT 2011|
|6.||2:03:45||Dennis Kipruto Kimetto||22 JAN 1984||1||Chicago||13 OCT 2013|
|7.||2:03:52||Emmanuel Kipchirchir Mutai||12 OCT 1984||2||Chicago||13 OCT 2013|
|8.||2:03:59||Haile Gebrselassie||18 APR 1973||1||Berlin||28 SEP 2008|
|9.||2:04:05||Eliud Kipchoge||5 NOV 1984||2||Berlin||29 SEP 2013|
|10.||2:04:11||Eliud Kipchoge||5 NOV 1984||1||Chicago||12 OCT 2014|
As we can see, the Top 10 altitude-born times are essentially all in the 2:03s, while the Top 10 non, or lesser altitude-born times range from 2:05:30 to 2:06:30. The difference between a 2:06 and a 2:03 is 2.38%. Represented in distance over the marathon span this would amount to .62 miles, or about one kilometer. The difference between the altitude-born world record and sea-level born is a little less at 2%, but we see the essential difference.
Is it your belief that we should separate altitude-born from sea-level born into distinct competitions? Or should we handicap the race in terms of time and/or distance between the altitude-born and the sea-level born? Would make for an interesting argument. But at what altitude would we draw the line? Ronaldo Da Costa was born in Descoberto, Brazil which is listed at 3123 feet altitude. Jaouad Gharib was born in Kherifa, Morocco, which lies at 2752′ (834m). So it starts to get a little squirrely when we try to draw the line that differentiates what constitutes altitude. This is the kind of stuff we used to brainstorm on those laps of J.P.
BR: I think your latter suggestion is best. We need a Ross Tucker type (Science of Sport), or group of them, to give us their input. What is the EXTRA time EPO gives a sea-level born marathoner and an altitude-born marathoner? Is it a 5% factor? Fun to speculate. I have noticed altitude-born athletes run that much slower at altitude. Was Ryan Hall born at altitude, or raised just raised there? I make a distinction between multiple-generations at altitude versus one generation.
TR: Ryan was born in Washington State and raised in Big Bear, California at over 6700 feet. But, as you say, multi-generational adaptation – both in terms of cardio- vascular and musculoskeletal development, as well as lifestyle and cultural norms — would logically seem more beneficial than say Shalane Flanagan being born in Boulder, Colorado, but spending the majority of her formative years in Marblehead, Massachusetts.
I did a quick check of the sprinters. The gaps there are even more pronounced than at the distances. The first man on the 100 meter all-time world list from what we might consider a distance-oriented nation is Aziz Ouhadi of Morocco. He ran a 10.09 100m in Dakar 2011. That puts him at # 1046 on the all-time world list!
There are no Kenyans or Ethiopians anywhere near world-class at the sprint end of the spectrum. In fact, the Kenyan national 100m record is only 10.26 (Tom Musinde, 18 July 2007 in Algiers), while the Ethiopian record is even softer at 10.61 (Wetere Galcha, 30 April 2008, Addis Ababa). Also, the first non-Jamaican or USA runner on that list is Trinidad & Tobago’s Richard Thompson at # 52 with a 9.82. The first runner from non-African lineage on the 100m list is France’s Christophe Lemaitre at # 247 at 9.92.
As we can see, the polarization of the sport is now complete. And that is part of what makes track difficult to market world-wide on an individual athlete basis. There just aren’t enough fan-based emotional connections when all the top sprinters are Jamaican and American, while all the great distance runners are Kenyan and Ethiopian.
BR: Maybe soccer is the one global sport where birthplace does not lead to domination; doesn’t matter if you are born at altitude. Maybe the altitude issue within marathoning needs a wider discussion. But perhaps leadership such as race directors of the World Marathon Majors, agents, coaches and doctors should give their thoughts since they control the sport at the top end.
And so it goes. The road never ends, the discussion continues. Thanks to Bill for his on-going contributions, and congratulations to Moses Mosop and Mare Dibaba on their Xiamen wins as we remember that altitude, for whatever advantage it may grant, will never substitute for the enormous amount of work that goes into maximizing an athlete’s potential.