Category: Commentary

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 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…)

SEPARATE AND EQUAL

With today’s announcement of the very strong pro women’s field gathering for the 2018 TCS NYC Marathon, another old idea resurfaced in the attempt to help focus attention on the actual racing side of the game. 

2018 NYC Women’s Field

Just as I recently posited how it might be fun (though impractical) to stage a pure match race between Galen Rupp and his former training partner Mo Farah in Chicago in order to truly focus public attention, I have always thought that the two U.S. Abbott World Marathon Major partners in the fall, Chicago and New York, should work together rather than compete for the same stock of athletes. 

Imagine if each event focused on just one gender at the tip of the spear where all the top female athletes go one place, and the best males line up at the other. Then, the following year they swap.  (more…)

TIGER ROARS AGAIN

Tiger Woods celebrates after making a birdie putt on the 18th green during the final round of the PGA Championship golf tournament at Bellerive Country Club, Sunday, Aug. 12, 2018, in St. Louis. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson)

Oh, the airtime and pixels that were dedicated to Tiger Woods’ second-place finish at the 100th PGA Championships in St. Louis last weekend. For those stuck in a cave somewhere, Tiger roared to a final round 64 at Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis to place second to young stallion Brooks Koepka who won the third major of his career, while becoming only the fifth golfer to ever take the U.S. Open and PGA titles in the same year (Woods, Jack Nicklaus, Ben Hogan and Gene Sarazen).  In the end, Koepka beat Tiger by two, and the field by three and more with his final round 66, 16-under total.

Still, it was the closest run Tiger  had made to a major win since Torrey Pines 2008, where he won the U.S. Open on a broken leg, the last of his 14 major titles. His run electrified the St. Louis faithful, and sparked a 69% increase in TV ratings over last year’s PGA.

But the greatest comeback ever, as some pundits were opining if he actually won? Don’t let Ben Hogan fans (or Tiger for that matter) hear you say that. Hogan almost died in a car crash driving home to Texas with his wife after the Phoenix Open in 1949. Docs said he might not ever play golf again, especially after a blood clot permanently closed the major vein to his lower extremities. And yet he came back to win the 1950 U.S. Open 16 months later. Now that is a legendary come back.  (more…)

NEVER MIND THE MATCH RACE

Well, so much for sticking my head inside the lion’s mouth outside the Chicago Art Museum. 

I’m getting hammered pretty badly across different fora and websites for my last blog post suggesting that the Chicago Marathon ditch its deep elite men’s field for a match race between defending champion Galen Rupp of the United States and his former Nike Oregon Project teammate Mo Farah of England. 

OK, I get it, bad idea.  And I even understand why. Sorry. At least I spurred a little extra interest in the race. (more…)

CHICAGO 2018: TOO MANY CANDIDATES ON THE BALLOT

Though it was a Frenchman, Michel Bréal, who first suggested that a distance race be held in the 1896 Olympic Games and be called the Marathon, it may be that fate, too, had a hand in the formulation.  You see, Athenian democracy, described as the first known democracy in the world, developed around the same fifth century BC time frame as the myth of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger whose run from Marathon to Athens telling of a great military victory over an invading Persian force was the genesis of our modern sport. And what is the Marathon but the most democratic of all sporting events where all are welcome to participate and the winners are decided by open competition?  It is in the light of that history that I make the following observation.

The 2018 BofA Chicago Marathon has set up another great open field for October 7th.  Announced yesterday, it is loaded with past and current champions from around the racing world. 2018 Boston, Dubai, Prague, Paris, Rotterdam, and Tokyo champions have all signed on. But hidden deep within that collection of mostly anonymous talent is something this sport has longed for since the days when Bill Rodgers first challenged Frank Shorter in the short mid-1970s window when both were at the top of their game, a great mano a mano duel. 

Here we have defending Chicago champion Galen Rupp and his former Nike Oregon Project training partner Mo Farah signed and sealed. It’s something the sport (and track and field) has been starved for and lax in developing for years, a truly intriguing match race. The last such match race worth its spit was staged in 1996 when Olympic long sprint champion Michael Johnson of the USA took on short sprint champion Donovan Bailey of Canada over an intermediate 150-meter distance in Toronto following the Atlanta Games. And though the race itself fizzled with Johnson pulling up lame midway, the promotion itself was a big success.

Now, for the first time in memory, we have two well branded Olympic distance medalists, men who used to be teammates, going head-to-head for the first time in the marathon, both looking to bust a fast time on one of the fastest courses in the world. Accordingly, Chicago is reinstating pacers after discarding that crutch following the 2014 race. And it makes perfect sense because both Rupp and Farah are past track burners who have yet to break through in terms of marathon times on par with their 10,000 meters PRs.

Here, then, is a natural rivalry that people might actually want to see, one that can be marketed, Galen versus Mo,m. And then they go lard it up with all these admittedly fast but anonymous extras who do nothing but steal the spotlight from the one thing that might get average people to stop and pay attention. Why?  Cause we’ve always done it this way? (more…)