Month: April 2019

KIPCHOGE ROLLS ON IN LONDON 2019

Was it even a contest?  Or should the rest of the marathon world simply call, “No mas.”?

Today, in London, England Kenya’s marathon master Eliud Kipchoge constructed another dominate performance at one of his two home courses (Berlin is the other) at the 39th Virgin Money London Marathon.

On a breezy but cool morning in the English capital, the now four-time London Champion controlled the race from starter Andy Murray’s airhorn onward.

Taking his time as if a country gentleman out walking his dogs, Kipchoge put away his final three Ethiopian challengers along the Thames River in the final two miles and crossed the line in 2:02:37. It marked a London course record and second all-time performance over the marathon distance behind his own 2:01:39 world record in Berlin last fall.

At age 34, the former world track champion at 5000 meters some 16 years ago now has won 11 of 12 career marathons, and holds the two fastest times ever run, plus his unofficial 2:00:25 exhibition in Monza, Italy two years ago.

For all the hype the race generated, in the end it was business as usual. Kipchoge undisputed world #1, everyone else vying for #2.
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MO VS. THE ZEN MASTER – LONDON 2019

From afar, does Mo seem skittish to you? Could be that he’s never been more prepared, and is just raring to go. Or, does the prospect of staring down Eliud Kipchoge, the Kenyan master, have him unsettled?

Eliud v Mo (AP)

After four Olympic gold medals and six world titles, you’d expect an athlete of Mo’s experience to be beyond such considerations. But Eliud Kipchoge is deep, deep water. There is a serenity about him, a regal presence that Farah, for all his Olympic and World Championship hardware, doesn’t naturally posses.  Very few do.

There’s just an aura about certain people, and Kipchoge has it. Maybe 10 wins in 11 marathon starts, including the world record and the Olympic gold medal, develops such grace.

In contrast, there was Mo over at the London Marathon expo slap-dashing around trying to jump on the moving treadmill belt set at WR pace and flopping like a fish while an average Joe alongside in the next lane looked over startled by the tomfoolery. All in good fun, or a sign of nerves?

This, you could say, is truly a mano a mano contest between two of the highest profile runners of their era. The kind of potential crossroads match-race we rarely see in this sport.  (more…)

BRINGING TMZ TO RUNNING

All we tend to hear about in this crazy backwater sport are all the drug and corruption problems. Every great performance  is just as likely to raise questions as applause (sadly). But there’s one thing you had to give the sport of athletics, we never heard much in the way of other Premier League/Hollywood/Washington DC hi-jinx amongst its athletes, at least publicly, until now.

Mo and the Emperor exchange accusations

No sh*t. Multiple time Olympic track champions Mo Farah and Haile Gebrselassie have clashed  in a Don King like pre-fight boxing feud before Sunday’s London Marathon. Except Haile isn’t  racing against Mo, Eliud Kipchoge is.

Damn.

But not to worry. We are still new at this. We’ll get it right soon enough, don’t you fret.

Still, Mo v. Haile is better than nothing. Bad blood, ill will, and stolen money, it’s got all the bases covered except sex. And as in life, you can’t have it all. (more…)

PROFESSIONALIZING THE GAME

Ever wonder why average runners have to qualify for the Boston Marathon, but the elite runners don’t?

Well, for one thing, there is a competitive marketplace for the top athletes and invitations with appearance fees are the means of recruiting them. It’s a holdover from the sport’s shamateur (sic) past but one that has proven resilient to change, despite the introduction of prize money purses in the 1980s.

We have just gone through a small tempest at this year’s Boston Marathon after the Boston Athletic Association separated the “invited” men’s field from the Wave 1 runners for the first time – by two minutes – thereby bringing the invited men’s field into line with the elite women who have started 28-minutes ahead of the men for the last 15 years.

Depending on how you view the sport, this is either a welcomed and needed change or a travesty. Highly regarded scribe Jonathan Beverly in Podium Runner holds to the latter, calling the new separation policy “puzzling” and contrary to the spirit of the sport.

“It’s a seemingly minor change,” writes Beverly, “one that will economically affect only a few sub-elites who might have a breakthrough day. But it ensures that an anonymous runner will never stand on the podium, putting to rest the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race—a notion that is arguably one of the greatest aspects of our sport. Now, if you’re not one of the few pre-selected to be in the first start, you are, quite explicitly, running in a different competition.”

Jonathan has it exactly right except for the notion that we’re all competing together in the same race where the average Doheny is theoretically competing against the best in the world.  That has always been a misnomer. The thousands of citizen runners don’t run against or with the pros, they run concurrently.  Only a historic weather event like we had in Boston 2018 can wipe enough pros from the field that one or two “regular” runners can end up in the prize money positions from the mass field.

The example Jonathan gave of an uninvited runner winning the March 17th New York City Half Marathon missed the point that Ethiopian Belay Tilahun may not have been invited, but he was definitely elite.

Besides, Boston already makes a distinction between charity joggers, recreational runners, and Boston Qualifiers. That, among other things, is what makes Boston special.  But until the sport, in general, makes that same distinction between BQs and professional-class runners, we are going to have this amorphous amalgam that the public  doesn’t understand much less take seriously as a sporting event. Instead, they view even major marathons as more like, you know, the Pope’s visit, or the tall ships sailing into Boston harbor, primarily a big civic event. (more…)

BETWEEN HOPE AND INTENTION

Back home in San Diego now after another memorable Boston Marathon week. I flew back on the same flight as Marathon Grand Marshall and 2014 champion Meb Keflezighi who carried a Gronk-signed New England Patriots football helmet along with the good wishes of dozens of blue-jacket clad marathon finishers.

During the long, cross country trip I chatted with row-mate Elisa Wiggins, a native San Diegan and Brown University grad who was dealing with some dire quads after Monday’s race. 

But I also had a chance to reflect on what we had witnessed in the 123rd running of the world’s most famous long-distance race.

As in all sports, so too, in the marathon, there is a mighty fine line between winning and losing. That margin in Monday’s 123rd Boston Marathon men’s race, the difference between first and second, 2:07:57 for champion Lawrence Cherono and 2:07:59 for runner up Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia,  A difference of 0.0002% over a 128-minute span.

Nobody I’ve talked to saw anything close to a two-second spread.

“They were still shoulder-to-shoulder with 10 meters left,” said Giannia, the manager of decisive women’s winner Worknesh Degefa.

It makes no difference. Time was secondary. Cherono clearly won as Desisa slumped in his final stride, knowing his cause was lost.

So, did Cherono win, or Desisa lose?  (more…)

THE DAY AFTER BOSTON 2019

Boston, Ma. – The Marathon is such a challenging distance that most athletes have no desire to take it on solo. Instead, they form up in packs, serving as confederates through much of its length, working as one until they come to the final third of the course where the  real racing begins and the winning is generally done.

That’s exactly how the men’s race played out yesterday at the 123rd Boston Marathon with the outcome in doubt til the final 5 meters when Kenya’s Lawrence Cherono prevailed against two-time Ethiopian winner Lelisa Desisa. It was thrilling stuff, indeed.

But as my broadcast partner on WBZ-TV4 Shalane Flanagan said, “the women’s race was the polar opposite.”

In that competition, the short but powerful Worknesh Degefa of Ethiopia gently but convincingly went to the front in Ashland and began to turn the screw after reaching  only the second of eight cities and towns that make up the historic Boston course.

Worknesh Degefa all smiles the day after

“After 4 miles the pace was too slow,“ 28 year-old Degefa said at today’s day-after press conference. “So I decided to take off. I kept going and that made me a winner.”

The last time we saw a move this bold this early in a major race was way back in 1984 when Maine’s Joanie Benoit pulled away from the inaugural Women’s Olympic Marathon field in Los Angeles at 5km and ran alone to win the first women’s Olympic Marathon gold-medal. Her time of 2:24:52 stood as the Olympic record for many cycles. It was only bested as the fastest time west of the Mississippi River this past March at the Los Angeles Marathon.

Yesterday it was with seeming ease that Worknesh Degefa gradually eased away from a pack that included four previous Boston women champions. They knew that this was the fastest woman in the field with her 2:17:41 performance at the January 25th Dubai Marathon. But maybe because it was her first attempt on the technically challenging Boston route with its rolling hills and iconic Heartbreak Hill, that they figured she would come back and they could reel her back in. (more…)

TIME OF SECONDARY IMPORTANCE IN BOSTON

Boston, MA. – The clock. Yes, the clock. We watch it incessantly as it ticks relentlessly. But just like how three-point shots in basketball are worth noting – like last night when Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry passed Ray Allen for the most three-pointers made in playoff history – they aren’t the most important numbers. That designation falls into the category of wins and losses, like how the Warriors beat the L.A. Clippers 121 – 104 in game one of their opening round NBA playoff series.

In that sense, time is only of secondary importance in the outcome of a marathon like Boston, a classic race over a difficult course, unpredictable weather, and an absence of pacesetters.

As was proven again in 2018 with wild, wind-driven rain, Boston is primarily a race against other runners with the clock no more than an impassive attendant to the human drama. So while much of the marathon world focuses on the clock, at times slavishly so, Boston concentrates on racers.    (more…)