Category: At the Races

RWANDA USING SPORT TO REUNIFY WHILE OPENING ITS ARMS TO THE WORLD

Kigali, Rwanda-  25 years ago Rwanda descended into the darkest corner of the human heart, a place devoid of empathy or compassion. It led to a 100-day genocide that eviscerated the nation and left a stain that only time can diminish if not fully erase.

A quarter-century later, however, Rwanda has made remarkable progress in its long cleansing and rebuilding effort.  In a single generation, the country has brought conciliation to its people, and reached out to the world. Signs through Kigali announce “Remember, Unite, Renew”.

Led by its President Paul Kagame, Rwanda has expanded opportunities in all areas of society. In business, it has the second fastest growing economy in all of Africa (7.5% per annum since 2007). Primary school education is now available to 98% of its children. It is the fifth safest country to walk at night worlwide, and it has the largest percentage of women in Parliament in Africa at 61%.

Rwanda also has a goal of becoming the hub of sports for Africa, which is what brought me to Central Africa for the 15th Kigali International Peace Marathon. (more…)

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STEVE JONES AWARDED MBE BY QUEEN ELIZABETH II: REMEMBERING CHICAGO 1984

With the good and proper news that Welshman Steve Jones has been awarded the prestigious Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it would be fitting that we go back to the time when Steve first lifted his name into the marathoning spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record. 

In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis.  The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning.  Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishment for Chicago and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.

Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game.  It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters.  Here, then is my contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history and jumping off point for one of the great marathon careers of the all-time.  Congratulations, Sir Steve!

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Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984
Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicago 1984

Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the nape of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the 8th America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).

On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and race director Bob Bright’s orchestration.

“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. (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 Gianni Dimadonna, 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…)

2019 BOSTON PRESS DAY

Boston, MA – Other than too many people and not enough time, it all went perfectly well at the John Hancock elite athlete press conference for the 123rd Boston Marathon this morning at the Fairmont Copley Plaza Hotel.

It was like old home week. There was Rob de Castella the 1986 champion here with his indigenous running team from Australia. There was ‘83 champ Greg Meyer hanging out with fellow Grand Rapids Michigander Dathan Ritzenhein. And three time women’s champion Uta Pippig with a wave and a hug still mourning the passing of her father.  Everywhere you looked was an old friend. 

But this was not a day to simply chat about yesterday. This was a press conference to see who might do what on Monday from Hopkinton to Boston. (more…)

FIRST BOSTON PREVIEW BEFORE THE DELUGE

In last year’s IAAF Competition Performance Rankings for the marathon,

At number 82 Boston Marathon USA 16 APR 2018 515 3 7967 110 0 8482
Where we are headed

So, we have ourselves the first official Performance Rankings for athletics, road racing, and the marathon by the IAAF, a means, they say, to better follow the sport for we fans.  And according to those rankings, last year’s Boston Marathon ranked No. 82 in the world.  Really?

Anyone else think Boston 2018 wasn’t better than 81 other marathons worldwide?  I guess that’s the difference between a systematic ranking and an emotional expression.  Same date, same time, same competitive point standing, but none of the heart or soul.

People run Boston from the heart to the core of their being.  It’s a love affair.  Something about the place and the people, the history.  Boston isn’t a marathon, it’s The Marathon like Augusta is The Masters.

This will be Des Linden’s seventh time on the old course, first as defending women’s champion.  The two-time Olympian and Southern California native was one of the favorites going into 2018 regardless of the conditions, but her chances improved mightily in the lashing winds and stinging sheets of rain.

Yes, after initially thinking she would drop out, then deciding to help her fellow Americans Shalane Flanagan and Molly Huddle, somehow Des found her own rhythm instead and ran away with the race.

Yuki takes it in stride with Tommy Meagher alongside

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi was never, ever a favorite, even for a podium position on a normal day.  But in that cold and rain, he became master of his domain.

This year Des and Yuki will be tested the way all great events honor their champions, by facing a field ready to beat their brains out. (more…)