AMERICAN MASTER MEB SAYS SO LONG

 

Meb after 2009 NYC win

On that bright but chilly (38°F) November morning, I had the catbird seat aboard the NBC lead men’s TV motorcycle as the 2002 New York City Marathon entered its critical stage coming off the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16.  The final pace-setter, the metronomic Joseph Kariuki of Kenya, had just pulled off leaving the pack edgy, crackling with energy as Manhattan’s First Avenue stretched ahead like a provocation with all the history, speed, and power it portended.  Amidst the lead group ran marathon debutant Meb Keflezighi, the U.S. record holder at 10,000 meters (27:13). The day before Meb’s long-time coach Bob Larsen told me Meb would go with the pace until First Avenue then decide what to do.

The resurrection of American distance running had begun to take shape in that fall of 2002. Following successful maiden marathons by Dan Browne at Twin Cities (1st, 2:11:35) then Alan Culpepper in Chicago (6th, 2:09:41, tying Alberto Salazar’s American d­­­­­­ebut record from New York 1980) the anticipation for Meb’s debut in New York City was running sky high.

Sweeping off the bridge first sped Rodgers Rop of Kenya, third in NYC the year before, and reigning Boston Marathon champion.  By 66th Street Rop had a five-second gap, leaving remnants of the pack receding like fading dust motes.  Mile 17 fell in 4:36.

Realizing the danger, Boston runner-up Christopher Cheboiboch, 2:06:33 South African Gert Thys, and Kenyan deb Laban Kipkemboi bridged up to cover Rop’s move. And then Meb came rushing up hard from behind to join the fray.  Decision made!  He was going! The crowd bellowed its approval.  Next, amidst a 4:40 18th mile, Meb surged to the front, not satisfied just to answer, he was anxious to dictate policy.

“I remembered that Salazar had won New York in his debut,” recalled Meb years later.  “And maybe I got too emotional.”

Rodgers Rop went on to win that 2002 race in New York in 2:08:07 to join Bill Rodgers (1978 & `79), Alberto Salazar (1982) and Joseph Chebet (1994) as the only men to win Boston and New York in the same year (in 2011 Geoffrey Mutai would join the club).

Meb took a full 35 minutes and change for his final 10K (5:40/mi. pace).  Chilled to the bone, he arrived in ninth place in 2:12:35. Afterwards, his mother Awetash made him swear he would never do THAT again. Continue reading

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BASS FISHING

I was sitting at gate A6 in Lambert St. Louis airport heading to Atlanta for the 48th AJC Peachtree Road Race, the biggest foot race in America with its 60,000 entrants. Sitting across from me was a guy wearing a fishing vest over a checkered shirt, jeans, half-boots,  and a ball cap. We don’t see too many such as he on the road circuit. But such is the nature of sport in its kaleidoscopic array.

Whether aerobic, anaerobic, or hardly breathing at all, sport continues to animate the American experience, hovering near war on the most revered of its activities list.  Over the course of many years I have covered a number of sports other than my specialty, foot racing, including, oddly enough, sumo wrestling.  But in the mid-1990s I worked on a series for ESPN called In Pursuit that followed the exploits of disabled athletes all over the globe over a wide expanse of the sporting spectrum.  In April 1998 I was assigned to cover the 12th U.S. Open Bass Tourney on Lake Monroe in Sanford, Florida.

“Bass fishing?” I queried my producer, wondering how I had received the assignment.  But once I dipped my journalistic toe in the water, I soon found out that competitive fishing, like competitive anything, reveals itself to be a world of peculiar charms and attractions that can stand against any other sporting contest.

Upon reaching Lake Monroe, the first thing I wanted to know, as I did when approaching any new contest I was unfamiliar with was, “where is the competitive dynamic?  Where’s does IT happen?”

In short order what I learned was that professional bass fishing was a sport of high pressure and calm nerves, a combination that began even before the first lure was cast. And what I eventually came to fully understand, even appreciate, was whether it was balls-out racing or tender hooking an elusive gill-flapper, the common denominator in all sport revealed the human capacity to handle pressure under fire. Continue reading

TOP 10 POSTS OF 2016

The author

The Blogger in an analog state

As the interesting, arresting year of 2016 comes to a close I thought I’d go back through this year’s blog offerings and see which ones captured the reader’s imagination or piqued your interest most.

Here then the Top 10 most read posts on this site from the now fading year.  Topics range from Olympic performances, to State of the Sport issues, to presidential politics,  and beyond.  Many thanks to all who stopped by for a read and maybe even a reply. Happy 2017 to all!

 

  1.  RUPP IS IN!!! – Galen announces his debut marathon will be the U.S. Oly Trials in Los Angeles. Kinda thought he might do well. Now, it’s on to Boston 2017!
  2. THEORY OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN RUNNING – Foot-racing, which used to be the focus of running events, is now just a supporting element.
  3. IN THE WAKE OF THE WOMEN’S 800 – A crash, tears and histrionics in the women’s 800m final at the Olympic Trials.
  4. DO YOU BELIEVE IN MAGIC? – Almaz Ayana smashes the women’s world record in the 10,000 meters by 14 seconds without as much as a furrowed brow.
  5. CHICAGO 2016 – For the second year in a row the Bank of America Chicago Marathon staged a no-pacesetters competition with a slow winning time.
  6. COE ATTEMPTS TO WALK IAAF OFF THE LEDGE – New IAAF prez tries to draw his sport back from the cliff of doom.
  7. SUB2 PACK FORMS UP – Like the murmur of far off hooves, the Sub – Two Hour marathon quest became a lot more audible in December.
  8. IN TRUMP WE TRUST – And we thought the Chicago Cubs winning the World Series was historic!
  9. THE HEAT WILL BE ON IN L.A. – Conditions for the Oly Trials Marathon in L.A. were forecast from the low-70sF (21C) to 80F (27C) at noon.  Not ideal, by any measure.
  10. BACK TO PACING AS USUAL – Pure racing for high stakes is what grabs the attention of the common man.

That’s the Top 10 from 2016.  Safe New Year’s celebrating, and we will get together again in 2017!

TR

END

 

CUBS WIN!!!

  • The Chicago Cubs beat the Los Angeles Dodgers 5-0 last night at delirious Wrigley Field to win their first National League pennant since 1945, a time that dates to the Greatest Generation. Now the northsiders will take on American League champion Cleveland Indians in the Fall Classic beginning next Tuesday.

Towns goes crazy! Historic Series awaits!

Better than food!

Better than food!

 

The Cubbies haven’t won the World Series itself in 108 years (1908), the Indians in 68 years (1948). It all reminds me of that night back in 2004 when the Boston Red Sox broke the Curse of the Bambino to end their own 86 years of World Series frustration.

My Chicago friends have always argued that the Cubs’ World Series drought was worse than the Red Sox because it was longer in duration (108 years to a mere 86).  But since their last appearance in the Series in 1945 the Cubs have been perennial losers, never really coming close, almost always out of the pennant race by mid-summer.

Oh, there was the Steve Bartman incident in 2003 when the Cubs were up 3-2 in the NLCS against the Florida Marlins, but the Red Sox have starred in any number of Shakespearean baseball tragedies. Line them up: 1946 and 1967 against the Cards in seven-game series, 1975 against Cincinnati’s Big Red Machine, also in seven, and most horrically in 1986 against the N.Y. Mets. Agonizingly just one out away,  congratulations already up on the Mets’ scoreboard, then the grounder dribbles through Buckner’s legs and the champagne gets wheeled away.

And that doesn’t even take into consideration the one-game playoff loss to the Yankees in 1978 for the AL East title on Bucky “effing” Dent’s home run off Mike Torres over the Green Monster.

So heartache and pain have long been etched more deeply into the soul of the New England fans than that of the hapless though hopeful Cubby faithful.

So let’s go back to the fateful night of October 27, 2004 when the Red Sox finally won it all against my hometown St. Louis Cardinals. Because this is what it might finally feel like in Chicago in a very short time.  Continue reading

SOLINSKY’S GREATEST RUN

Even as the sport celebrates the 10,000 meter debut of American master phenom Bernard Lagat at last night’s Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, California — a world master’s record win in 27:49 — we recall that six years ago today Chris Solinsky ran his own 10,000m debut at Payton Jordan in what turned out to be the run of his career.   Here is how I reported it on our old Runnerville.com website, created by by Tracksmith founder Matt Taylor.
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May 2nd, 2010

SOLINSKY AR 26:59.60!!!

by

Solinsky in American Record form

Solinsky in American Record form

Well, they sold it as an American record attempt at 10,000 meters.  Just top-billed the wrong guy.  In a stunning debut in track’s longest event, former University of Wisconsin All-American Chris Solinsky shocked the field, the fans, and even himself with a sensational 26:59.60 win at the Payton Jordan Invitational 10,000, ripping 14 seconds off Meb Keflezighi’s 27:13.98 record set on the same track in 2001.

Galen Rupp, the Alberto Salazar-trained Nike star who the record attempt had been built around, ended up doing much of the second half pace work.  And though he achieved his goal of dipping under Meb’s old record, his 27:10.74 clocking could only garner him fourth place as a slew of records fell in the wake of Solinksky’s shocker.

”It hasn’t sunk in yet what I ran,” a surprisingly fresh Solinsky told the gathered media that surrounded him after his historic run.  “We came in hearing about Galen Rupp trying to break the record. This was a glorified tempo run.  This was just an indication race to see where I was, because we are going to Oslo for a 5K (June 4th).  This was my debut. No one expected it.  I didn’t expect it!” Continue reading

FRIDAY IN THE PARK WITH MEB

San Diego, Ca. — It’s been a busy week on top of a busy year for 2014 Boston Marathon champion Meb Keflezighi.  After accepting two awards this past week, one last Friday night at the TRIpalooza Awards Gala where he was recognized as the Endurance Athlete of the Year, and the other on Monday night when he was honored as a 2015 Star of the Year at the 69th Annual Salute to the Champions event hosted by the San Diego Hall of Champions, Meb was once again the center of attention this morning as the countdown to the April 20th Boston Marathon gains momentum.

Photog Emily Maye taking aim at Meb doing post-run drills

Photog Emily Maye taking aim at Meb doing post-run drills

Today it was just a quiet photo shoot for Meter Magazine, the literate broadsheet and digital offering brought out by Tracksmith, the premium performance apparel company started by my friend Matt Taylor in Boston that celebrates the style and culture of running.

In the next issue of Meter Meb will be featured in a story I penned, so photog extraordinaire Emily Maye drove down from her home in Santa Barbara last night for the morning shoot in Balboa Park. Emily spends much of her time in Europe covering the cycling circuit, but is also responsible for most of the excellent photography featured in Meter.

As is almost always the case, even when pressed from this side and that, Meb was generous with his time and patience. This morning’s run was a no frills 10-mile recovery run as he looks ahead to the United New York City Half Marathon on March 15th, his sole test before he defends his title in Boston a month later. But I can tell you from a simple eyeball test, Meb looks to be in fine form. Continue reading

ON THE ROAD 1994: LAMINGTON NATIONAL PARK

surfers-paradise       Friday 15 July 1994 – Surfer’s Paradise, Australia

      Following a 10 a.m. press conference at the Hyatt Hotel for the weekend’s Gold Coast Marathon, the entire crew loaded up for the ninety minute drive to Lamington National Park along the border of New South Wales.

Passing inland south from the Gold Coast of Queensland the countryside beyond became a tufted brown patchwork as rolling hills lifted the land with each passing mile.  All along the way idly grazing cattle dotted the properties around corrugated-roofed ranch houses outlined by shaded verandas. With little more than a squint one could easily imagine being back in the American Southwest at the turn of the 20th century.

Our destination was O’Reilly’s Rainforest Retreat at the top of the park, a three-generation business which anchored the area’s tourist economy. After a concluding thirty-six kilometer switchback ascent to O’Reilly’s, we arrived high atop the rainforest at an altitude of 7,000 feet.

Overhead the sun hung glazed amongst a formation of cumulus clouds with not a mote of pollution to filter the rays. Yet within the shade of the forest the air reminded us of the season at hand.

Rope bridgeRope ladder    We bounded along Indiana Jones-like bridges stretched 50 feet above the brush. Through mesh-encircled ladders we climbed another twenty meters into the treetops, gazing over branches to a lawn of trees stretching to the Richmond Mountain range fifty kilometers to the horizon.

Birds of exploding blues, reds and greens passed close by as winter’s sun began to relinquish its hold, pushed by a rising moon covetous of the cool evening sky. Told of a lovely waterfall by a family of locals, we hustled to the van for the one kilometer drive down the road leading to it before the sun fully set. Once at the trail head American mile record holder Steve Scott and I lit out down the winding path.

The dense tree cover further chilled the light. Our pace met it head on, maintaining an even warmth as we wound down and through the arch of quadruple canopy. Behind came our crew: producer Rich Jayne, along with cameramen Dale Wong, Tom Wall, and Jim ?, equipment in tow, but falling behind the strong pace Steve was setting.  Like a shade being drawn, the darkness descended with each passing curve as fewer and fewer swatches of light managed to evade the enveloping cover.

After fifteen minutes we began to make out the slightest whisper of moving water in the distance to our left. Continue reading