Category: Commentary

HAS THERE EVER BEEN ANOTHER G.O.A.T. LIKE TOM BRADY?

Tom Brady American football GOAT

Super Bowl LIII is this weekend in Atlanta and we’re having a party as we do whenever the New England Patriots enter the fray. Of course, the dominant stories this year are whether Pat’s coach Bill Belichick and quarterback Tom Brady can add a sixth Lombardi Trophy to their display case in Foxborough, or will 32-year-old wunderkind coach Sean McVay and defensive player of the year Aaron Donald, defensive tackle for the Los Angeles Rams, find a way to upset the reigning NFL dynasty and maybe begin a new one of their own.

But another question I have is, who in sports history is analogous to Tom Brady, someone everyone whiffed on – 6th round draft pick, the 199th player chosen – who went on to become the GOAT? Let’s take a look at some other GOAT candidates in other sports and compare. (more…)

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OLYMPIC MARATHON QUALIFYING STANDARD STILL UNKNOWN

With the calendar’s turn to 2019, we have entered the year-plus long buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Along that road are the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, both marathon, and track & field, with the marathon trials in Atlanta up first in February 2020. The Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiled their Trials’ course layout just last week.

However, a new twist to Olympic and World Championships qualifying was introduced in November 2017 when IAAF announced its new World Rankings System. The idea was to make the sport more accessible to the public and to encourage more head-to-head competitions among the top-ranked athletes of the sport.

“For the first time in the sport’s history, athletes, media and fans will have a clear understanding of the competitions from the world through to global events, allowing them to follow a logical season-long path to the pinnacle of athletics’ top two competitions,” the IAAF said back in 2017.

In the new ranking system, every performance by an athlete in an international or national competition will be translated into a score, based on the IAAF scoring table, with the level of competitions also being graded.  The Olympics and World Championships will garner the most points and national championships the fewest.  The best five performances will be totaled and the average will be the athlete’s ranking score in his/her event. There are some other tweaks, but that’s essentially how it will work.

Though there is a consensus belief that a credible world rankings system is long overdue in Athletics, not everyone found the new system to their liking, which is understandable.  Among others, the North American, Central American and the Caribbean Championships (NACAC), one of the strongest member associations in the IAAF, took issue. “Understanding the system in the athletics community is limited, and on critical points, there are widely disparate views about fairness and viability of the system.”

In response to this and other reactions to the ranking system, the IAAF pulled its use as a qualifying factor for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar but plan to continue its use for Tokyo 2020/

Now, as we await the first big races of 2019 in the United States at the Houston Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, I received the following email message.  (more…)

A NEW YEAR BUT THE SAME OLD US

These days accusations fly across the political spectrum faster than shuttlecocks in an ambidextrous badminton tournament. But what’s a lie, and who’s to say?  There’s your question for the new year, kiddies. 

News that Russia missed the New Year’s Eve deadline to hand over data to the World Anti-Doping Agency from the laboratory in Moscow where its state-sponsored doping program was centered somehow caught WADA President Craig Reedie by surprise. “Bitterly disappointed”, I believe that was his quote. 

And you would be disappointed, too, if you had stepped out in November to recommend Russia be readmitted to international competition, despite not yet having met WADA’s conditions for that reinstatement.  “I find it very hard to believe that the guarantees, made to us by the Russian authorities, that they won’t deliver.”

Really?  When murdering journalists and political opponents are normative behavior, where do you think doping in athletics falls on the New Year’s resolution To Do list?

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WHAT COULD BE

In this season of hope, with a new divided government about to take over in Washington, Americans agree on one thing – and not much else, that the nation is more divided than at any time since the 1960s, maybe even the 1850s. 

Yet in this divisive political time in which identity politics has become the defining order, we still find that runners as a group remain human beings first before ever identifying as right-wing, left-wing, or centrist. It’s as if to say, ‘if we have this one thing in common, then all else becomes secondary.  Not immaterial, mind you, just less consequential, for at bottom this is who I truly am, and this is all I need to know about you to appreciate who you really are, as well.’

Stripped of their everyday, workaday costumes and clothed in the simple togs of motion, runners discover a unity through the pursuit of focused purpose, whether fast, slow or moderate in that pursuit. The same process unifies soldiers in combat, and other similarly focused groups. Perhaps that can serve as a lesson for Washington D. C. (more…)

DEFINING MARATHON PRs

It’s been another memorable year in the world of marathon running even as 2019 begins to rise with news that Chicago Marathon champion Mo Farah will once again run in London next spring, a race he finished third at in 2018. Though Cal International, Fukuoka, and Honolulu remain on the schedule for 2018, the bulk of the year’s work had been completed. 

Once again, the two East African nations of Kenya and Ethiopia dominate the top 100 times run during the year, Kenya leading the men’s list to date with 56 performances, Ethiopia topping the women’s ranks with 51 of the top 100. 

TOP 100 – Men

Kenya – 56; Ethiopia – 30; Japan – 6; USA (Galen Rupp) and GBR (Mo Farah) – 2; Turkey, New Zealand, Tanzania, Uganda – 1 each.

TOP 100 – Women

Ethiopia – 51; Kenya – 32; Japan – 6; Bahrain – 4; USA (Amy Cragg & Kellyn Taylor) – 2; So. Korea, Belarus, Morocco, Portugal, Australia- 1 each.

Kipchoge revels in new World Record in Berlin

Individually, World No. 1 was once again undeniably taken by Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge. In 2018, he not only won London in the spring but then broke countryman Dennis Kimetto’s four-year-old world record in Berlin in September by a stunning 78 seconds, lowering the record to 2:01:39, a mark that some believe could stand up for quite a span. But who knows about such things, truly?  In today’s running world, there is a growing belief that anything conceived is now possible to achieve. And while that might make a mockery of history, like the 54-51 shootout at the Los Angeles Coliseum last night between the winning L.A. Rams and the Kansas City Chiefs in American football, a new dimension in barrier-breaking road running also seems to have been reached. 

But getting back to Mr. Kipchoge. He’s proven himself not just the ultimate time-trialist, but the ne plus ultra within the competitive arena, too, most notably with his convincing win at the Olympic Marathon in Rio 2016. And though he has embraced a “Berlin Forever” mentality that binds him to the German capital, don’t you think somewhere down deep that Kipchoge might want to test himself on one of the two grand non-paced marathons of the world, New York City and Boston?  Or is the new era in running beginning to define itself strictly along the paced / non-paced continuum? Recall how after a three-year absence, Chicago returned to a paced format in 2018, and instantly returned to 2:05 status after three years at 2:09, 2:11, 2:09. (more…)

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…)

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…)