No matter how you look at the results from today’s Weltklasse Diamond League meet in Zurich — to me it seemed a little down after the highs of Rio — this much is unassailable: the Americans are there, in the hunt, fighting for the top places. Not just in the sprints, hurdles, jumps and throws, but increasingly in the middle and long distance events as well.

They might not get always get there, as with Evan Jager in the 5000 (3rd in 13:16). But he wasn’t afraid to go with the pacer, open a big margin, and at least force Ethiopia’s Hagos Gebrhiwet (and fellow Yank Paul Chelimo) to run him down in the final lap.

And how about Shannon Rowbury in the 1500 (1st, 3:57.78), closing hard and feisty on the inside against Laura Muir (and let’s not forget the Brits in this, either). And Jenny Simpson collapsing to secure a close fourth in 3:58, leaving Olympic champ Faith Kipyegon of Kenya faltering to seventh (4:01) which denied her the Diamond race season title.

So much of training and racing is in the head, and for years — primarily the 1990s — Americans didn’t think they could do it in the face of the East Africa onslaught.

I was talking to San Diego’s best ever distance man, Thom Hunt, in Balboa Park the other day as he trained two of his charges in a series of grass-topped 800s and 1000s.

Thom Hunt sends his guys off amidst SDTC gathering
Thom Hunt sends his guys off amidst SDTC gathering

Thom remembered the days of training over at Mission Bay when there were four sub-4:00 guys, and six sub-2:20 marathoners in force, and San Diego wasn’t even considered one of the big-time training bases, just a gathering of strivers looking for opportunities and support.

Racing like life is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies. And once you have the belief, the results will follow, both positively and negatively.

This 2016 season with its 32 medals in Rio seems the fulfillment of the American training camp revolution, a 15-year process that has seen talent teaming with talent in various hotbeds around the country, each building their base then honing their edge on a large supportive wheel. Add in coaching, nutrition, cross-training and voila!

Now we can look at Emma Coburn’s run in the Zurich women’s steeplechase (3rd, 9:17) and see she’s maybe a little past her due date after the long, Rio medal-winning season.

Imagine what the kids coming into the sport now will achieve with this as their baseline motivation and future expectation?


15 thoughts on “NOW THEY’RE THERE

  1. I wouldn’t expect a significant bump up in road or X-C participation in the types of races you’re talking about anytime soon. USATF must now have at least 25 – 30 road & trail ‘Championships’ which draw a significant # of our best American men & women runners. Too many events in my opinion (do we really need a 10K, 10 mile, 15K, 20K, AND 25K Championship race?). Too much competition, if you will, from these USATF races to envisage any change in # of our elites in our top American road races.

  2. It was a pleasure to read comments from Greg and Bobby above ….who were there with me when participation by top Americans in our top American road races was very common back in the late 70’s and 80’s which resulted in more intense interest in those races by the general sports media and public. We also had international participation but it was not overwhelming and just gave each event more of an “Olympic feel”. But, the shift over to “prize money only” races as promoted by ARRA and other individuals/groups back then….eliminated or discouraged the ability of race directors or invited athlete coordinators to “limit or shape” the field in a way to keep them attractive to the fans, media, and even sponsors as time went by. This resulted in the Top 10-20 of so many of these big events to be dominated by foreign athletes in general but athletes from East Africa in particular. This also coincided with either a lack of talent in American distance runners at the collegiate and post collegiate level at that time but also a lack of priority by those athletes and/or their agents in the 10-20 major sub-marathon road races on the national circuit. This was especially true in 1990-2010. The same thing happened with cross country as fewer and fewer of our top distance runners and/or their agents prioritized or participated in our US World Cross Country Trials or would run the Trials and then not go to the World Champs themselves. Let’s hope we continue to see the progress observed on the track move over into the roads and cross country, too.

  3. The reason the field was not loaded at Crim this year is because there was no prize money. Because of the water crisis in the city, the Crim board decided to use the monies that would have gone into a prize purse, to pay for entries to 2000 Flint residents. In this week’s issue of Race Results Weekly, Dave Monti explained what happened in the lead-in paragraph to the results.

    I also interviewed someone on the board for an article I’m writing for an upcoming Road Race Management article; I asked her about prize money at next year’s race and she said that no decision had been made. I wouldn’t be surprised if Crim goes the way of Freihofer’s, and offers an American only prize purse in 2017, or at the very least, limits the number of elite foreign athletes.

    1. This could well be the new normal. But this is what happens when events ride one (inexpensive, unregulated) elite field model till it drops from pure (public) exhaustion. At some point the actual race has to be a matter of match ups where the event stages a competition for the sake of that competition, not just invite bunch of fast people to come run and see what happens. There has to be an intentional race being staged.

      For instance, “Five Olympic Medalists to Headline Star-Studded New Balance 5th Avenue Mile!” See, that race (which does not include a citizen’s race as such) has a very focused intention, Rio medalists.

      After 25 years this general lack of intention in field recruitment in American road racing is being seen for what it is, and is now being discarded as if it isn’t the fault of the events themselves for allowing the lack of interest to take seed, and finally weed out all interest. Racing isn’t boring. It has just been staged and presented boringly!

      1. Yes, certainly nothing boring about today’s 5th Ave Mile races! And heady times indeed regarding Americans in the mix at Diamond League events, the Olympics & World Champs. Tempered only by a pall of suspicion regarding the whole PED scene. Been an awesome year for T & F otherwise, from both a USA and global perspective.

  4. ‘Finally, Americans stopped using excuses (East African so-called genetic superiority)….’

    Except for Rupp and Ward all of our 5,10 and marathon guys were born in East Africa……

    1. That’s true for men in the 5 & 10k (except for Rupp in the 10). Not true for 1500 and 2/3rds of steeplechase & marathon men’s squads. And maybe Meb was born in Eritrea, but developed fully as an athlete since boyhood as an American. And there were no East African born women on USA team 1500 – Marathon.


  5. Toni:

    Yes, there is much to be proud of… and optimistic about … regarding the American showing in middle and long distance competition at the recent Rio Olympic Games and other international T & F and even road racing competition this year.

    It wasn’t just the number of medals won by young Americans… but was thrilled with the total number of Americans who qualified for the final… and, better yet, in the Top 10 of those finals…. even if they didn’t win a medal of some color. NBC didn’t always focus on that… but it was something that I purposely looked for… because it tells us what the future may look like for our US athletes and teams..

    I was absolutely overjoyed to see several instances where we had 2 or even 3 US athletes, male or female, also in the Top 10 and that bodes well for the future! And, it made me so proud to see Americans not afraid to stick their noses into the front of the competition and sometimes actually lead the races when faced with that opportunity or need. This represents a new attitude among US distance runners that “we do, indeed, belong there…and should race accordingly!” I come from the 70’s and 80’s when it was not that unusual to see an American in the “thick of things” in such international races. But, I have to be truly honest and admit that this year’s crop of young men and women did it with even more depth than what I can remember from our days of competition. I am saying this without taking the time to do numeric research to back me up… and it is a gut feeling but I would bet that my statement would still be accurate if somebody did the proper analysis.

    Yes, it would be prudent to keep in mind that at least one extremely high profile club, coach, and star athlete w/ teammates are still being investigated in a year long plus effort by the USADA while this all happened (an unprecedented event in my memory of American T & F) and maybe there might be some “test positives” that might still come in yet this year…but, by and large, I feel that the Americans are probably “doing it the right way” based on their gradual progress that I have observed over the past 4-8 years. A lot of it is coming from some shoe company sponsored training/racing groups but we still had success from a few individual athletes or upper class collegians that has been our past tradition.

    We had some “dark years” with American distance running from 1992 thru 2000 but Meb’s and Deena’s marathon finishes in 2004 denote the start of our distance comeback. Rio just puts an exclamation point on it and we have much to be excited about at least in T & F. We need to see more progress on the US road racing scene (like what we saw at B2B) and the international cross country circuit….but I can comfortably now say that we are headed in the right direction and our national HS/college results from 2016 only reinforce that fact.

    1. “We need to see more progress on the US road racing scene (like what we saw at B2B)”

      And Dathan Ritzinheim won the Crim 10-miler last weekend. So yes, some positive developments, but it would be good to see the progress on the roads continue.

      1. Greg,

        Thanks for reminding us of Ritz’s Crim win. But whether Ben True at B2B or Dathan in Flint, with every road race being a one-off, and there being no NCAA or Olympic Road championships, coaches and agents will continue to emphasize track. Meaning the timing has to be perfect for top guys like Rupp to run the roads. It is never a pure intention. Accordingly, we don’t see the very best guys battling on the roads like we used to when you, Craig, Herb, Bill and Frank once did. The roads need to institute a real tour to grow beyond their event status and once again become a series of cohesive, coherent sporting contests with acknowledged stakes and championships.


      2. Let’s get a little realistic…Ritz won Crim because he was the only really decent guy running…compare the top 10 of this year to last year…..

      3. I agree with you Greg. I have been attending the Falmouth Road Race in recent years as a spectator and the decline in the depth of the race is staggering. Yet their press release for this years race claimed a “deep elite field”

        In 1982 51 runners were under 5:00 minute pace:

        In 2016 there were 9 runners under 5:00. The “Wannabe Distance Gods” are not ponying up at Falmouth anymore which I find disturbing.

  6. Rupp, Simpson, Coburn, Centro, Jager, all great stuff. But what I find most exciting is that they are not alone in their finals/high finishes. Shalane, Desi, Amy. Jared Ward, smart gutsy race. Quigley, Frerichs, Blankenship, Rowberry. Andrews surprisingly not making the final, even some who didn’t even make the team (e.g. Leo). Finally, Americans stopped using excuses (East African so-called genetic superiority) and started training like professionals again, and then had the confidence and courage to stick their noses in it.

    And this is not from a “US-wins-or-I-don’t care”attitude. Its an attitude from the 80s where it was just more interesting because it is a world wide competition again. Sure, I want to see Americans do well / stand a chance, but I’m just as happy (sort of) when the medals span many countries.

    Now just waiting to have my heart broken by drug test results…say it ain’t so.

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