I mean, what can you say at this point? There’s no winning here. If you embrace this weekend’s marathon performances in Vienna and Chicago at face value, you have to be wearing pretty tight blinders because of what history has shown us in recent times shenanigans-wise. And if you poo-poo them, then you’re just a cynic and a hater and nobody wants to hear it.
Yesterday in Vienna, the wondrous Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to go sub-two hours over the classic marathon distance in a staged exhibition sponsored by the petro-chemical company INEOS. In it, organizers shaved every impediment as close to the bone as possible, and then went into the marrow in several others like replacement pacers, so that Kipchoge’s 1:59:40.2 time was ineligible for record purposes. Not that they ever said they were going for a legit record.
Immediately after crossing the line, the Olympic champion celebrated by hugging his wife and friends before sprinting back up the course to high-five fans like he just finished the Carlsbad 5000 (which he actually did in 2010). No problemo.
And today (October 13, 2019) fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei tucked in behind her two male pacers at the BofA Chicago Marathon out on the ragged edge of 2:10 pace through 5K heading toward an unwavering 2:14:04 world record, even when one of the oldest adages in the sport says you can easily lose your marathon in the first 15 minutes by making an error in pacing. Evidently that rule no longer applies.
Then there are the magic shoes, sneakers that look like they are about to enter the Mr. Olympia shoe contest, and you’re left with a sinking feeling that this running world of ours has moved into an all new territory, where nothing is as it seems, nothing is as it once was, and where logic and gravity no longer seem operable.
Old Guard, New World
I was texting with two of my generations greatest runners this morning as we exchanged views on Chicago. Today, Bill Rodgers and Patti Dillon’s best times and one-time American records are two miles behind today’s standards. Bill put Brigid’s Kosgei‘s time into context: “Kosgei is faster than Amby Burfoot (1969 Boston Marathon champion), who took 7th at Fukuoka in 2:14 in 1968.. I let him know..fun stuff.”
And here’s Patti: “It’s hard to get excited about performances, and I do…and then I feel silly because of the cloud. The everyday runner trying to get a decent time, or a Boston qualifier, I’m excited…no clouds.”
I know how she feels, because I was at San Diego’s Mission Bay Park yesterday for the USATF Master’s 5Km Cross Country Championships where the old spirit of camaraderie and competition for its own sake seemed like it ought to have been exhibited in black and white only.
Cynicism is its own deadly disease; it can cut the heart out of any enterprise. And this sport is no stranger to cynicism. For instance, Brigid Kosgei is represented by the same agency as three major recent doping positives: Asbel Kiprop, Jemima Sumgong, and Rita Jeptoo, the 2013 Chicago champ and disqualified 2014 champ.
And I’m sorry to have to bring that fact up, because in this small universe of a sport we’ve known and been hosted by Rosa Associates many times over the years. Just the same, the connection to past sins does exist, and though courts in Kenya exonerated Federico Rosa, and despite the fact that Chicago still invited Brigid Kosgei and men’s champion Benson Cherono, for some that past connection is all the proof that’s needed to assume that what we just saw can’t be possibly be kosher.
It’s the same people who look at the spate of drug positives that have come out of East Africa in recent years and say, “put them all away!” and “you can’t believe any performance you see.”
But from the other side of this unbalanced world, there are just as many who say, when we do it, it’s called cheating, while what you guys do is get away with TUEs (Therapeutic Use Exemptions) and everything is fine.
In it’s way, it’s like what the mob bosses always used to say when they got hauled up before a congressional committee.
“When we do it you call it criminal conspiracy. When you do it, you call it passing laws.”
Guess it all depends on who’s holding the gavel or the prescription pad.
And so it goes, round and round, each accusing the other in a sport which maintains the most transparent drug protocol of any sport, yet gets hurt by that very transparency as other sports use euphemisms while keeping all their offenses on the QT.
As the Wicked Witch of the West so aptly put it as she melted away in the Wizard of Oz, “what a world, what a world.” And what a weekend it was.
I guess some of us are getting old just in time.