Month: September 2018

TO TRUST AGAIN

In this bitterly pitted world where truth and honor have fallen like so many past pillars of a once civil society, who can afford to take anything at face value anymore? 

And yet with his sun shiny day 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin this past Sunday, Kenyan marathon master Eliud Kipchoge has risen to new heights of acclaim and glory.  Already considered the best marathon runner in history, with ten wins in eleven starts, including the Olympic gold medal in Rio 2016 and an exhibition 2:00:25 super run in Italy 2017, the 33 year-old has long been recognized as a champion’s champion for his understated elegance and gentlemanly comportment. 

I have long said that a sport must be fortunate in those who become its champions, for such designations must be earned not conferred. Nothing against previous marathon record holder Dennis Kimetto, but in terms of PR value to the game, Kipchoge is a major upgrade, as was the tolkienesque Ethiopian Haile Gebrselassie a decade ago.

Notwithstanding, despite all the hard-earned recognition that has come Kipchoge’s way, it is inevitable in these cynical times that some will raise questions about the legitimacy of the new record.  As one long-time associate wrote to me right afterwards:

“Sadly, in today’s world, where we know how easy it is to beat the system, we have to hold them all under a blanket suspicion of sorts. Micro-dosing EPO, meldonium-like drugs making the rounds that are not illegal (yet) but have big PED effects, other designer drugs, so many westerners training in Ethiopia and Kenya, where the testers don’t go. Not only the Africans, it’s everywhere, even in the good old USA. Cheaters have always been a step ahead, now they’re 2 steps ahead. 

“You’ve seen the WADA Report saying almost 40% of T&Fers have or are doping. Then that survey from the 2011 World Championships where 37% of athletes admitted to doping.”

Yes, it is all very unfortunate, but that is the world in which Kipchoge ran his new record. It is all a very jumbled up, mixed up world with very little in the way of universal conciliation.  (more…)

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WHO IS THE G.O.A.T?

Never Done Better

In light of his other-worldly 2:01:39 marathon world record in Berlin last Sunday, there are some who are hailing Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge as the G.O.A.T, the greatest of all time male distance runner.  Berlin was arguably the crowning achievement of his career, but does that mark added to the rest of his curriculum vitae  make a case for GOAT?  Let’s dig in and see.

GOAT Marathoner?  Yes, indisputably, with ten wins in 11 starts, which include an Olympic gold medal and a 2:00:25 fastest ever exhibition, there isn’t anyone who can argue that point. But GOAT distance runner? That, I think, may be a step too far, though certainly he is in the top five. 

A century ago the GOAT title was first held by Paavo Nurmi, the “Flying Finn” who dominated running in the early 20th century. Nurmi set 22 official world records at distances between 1500 meters and 20km, and won nine gold and three silver medals in Olympic competition. At his peak, Nurmi went undefeated in 121 straight races from 800 meters up, and was never beaten in cross country or the 10,000 meters.

In the 1950s the great Emil Zatopek, known as the “Czech Locomotive”, re-wrote the record books and introduced the concept of interval training. His Olympic Triple in Helsinki 1952 where he won the 5000, 10,000, and the marathon in his debut at the distance, all in Olympic record times, remains an unparalleled achievement. From there the GOAT crown moved south to East Africa where it resides to this day.  (more…)

BERLIN 2018 – YOWZA, YOWZA, YOWZA!

When Patrick Makau set his 2:03:38 world record in Berlin in 2012, he made a surge between 25 and 30K while zigzagging across the road to shake Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie from his tail. Then, after passing through the Brandenburg Gate on his way to victory, he had to hop over a roadside barrier to get on the correct side of the road for the men’s finish line tape break.

Because of those two elements, a tactical surge in the middle of the race,  and a little hop over a road sign at the end of the race, you knew there was another 30 seconds or so left in the world record after he crossed in 2:03:38. (And Godspeed to Mr  Makau who announced his retirement this past week).

But there is always a question after a world record marathon, what was left that didn’t go exactly right that might mean the world record has more time left in it?

Never Done Better

Today, the great Eliud Kipchoge broke Dennis Kimetto ‘s 2014 Berlin course and world record by 1:18 with a 2:01:39 finish time. Yowza, yowza, yowza!  But what didn’t go right? How much more can be squeezed out of that course? (more…)

BERLIN 2018 PREVIEW – DANGEROUS DISTANCE

Even in modern times, there are those of us who remember when people used to think running the marathon wasn’t just a challenge, but a risk.

Bobbi Gibb, Boston Marathon 1966

Bobbi Gibb, the first woman to run the Boston Marathon in 1966, had a father who thought the event was downright dangerous, and was angry at his daughter for even thinking about running it – “he thought I was mentally ill, but he didn’t know I had been training.”

Who could blame Bobbi’s dad in 1966?  After all, the entire mythology of the event was based on the Greek messenger Pheidippides running himself into his grave bringing word of victory in a battle against Persians 2500 years ago.

With a debut like that, it’s no wonder it took 2400 years before somebody attempted the distance again. But once it got going and they stripped away that ‘maybe you’re going to die doing it’ element, the marathon boomed because it came to represent the ultimate test of athletic endurance in an increasingly sedentary world. 

That’s the thing about consensus beliefs, tasks readily accepted today were once deemed unattainable. Such is the  scientific method and the manner of progress.  Observation and experimentation lead to the formulation and the testing of hypotheses, and thus does evidence accumulate and knowledge expand. 

Of course, there are always science deniers, the proudly lunkheadish, but people generally accept what the data indicates.

It wasn’t that long ago that there was a school of thought that believed trying to run the mile in under four minutes was as physically dangerous as trying to break the sound barrier in flight, another thought-to-be-impossible human endeavor. In fact, the frisson of danger was a big part of why people were intrigued by such monumental undertakings. 

Tragedy, after all, could happen, and you could be witness to it. There was a perverse car-crash appeal to such danger. “Playing at the edge” was the mindset for what a long, hard running effort might bring about.  (more…)