Category: News

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…)

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FINAL TRACK SESSION FOR WINTER TRAINING CAMP

Foggy morning in Chula Vista

Chula Vista, CA. – With a roll of low-lying fog still clinging to the hillsides, and valleys along the U.S. – Mexico border, the final track workout of the winter training camp for Kenya’s Team Ikaika took place this morning at the Chula Vista Elite Athlete Training Center – formerly the U.S. Olympic Training Center.

Led by team manager Davor Savija and Coach Daniel Ngetich, the four men toured the track for 8×1 kilometer at 2:41 – 2:48 pace (64-65 seconds per lap) with a one minute 30-second jog recovery between. 

2:41 per kilometer

Team Ikaika (Hawaiian for “strong”) consists of Shadrack Kiplagat (60:06  half-marathon PB); Titus Sang (will make half debut this spring at the Istanbul Half Marathon); Ambrose (“The Cobra”) Kiptoo Bore (61:01 PB); Abel Kipchumba (59:22 PB), and an injured Evans Cheruiyot.

The group has been in San Diego for two months prepping for a series of half-marathons in April. But it’s more than just training they’ve come to experience. (more…)

ATLANTA TC EX. DIR. RICH KENAH ON NEW OLYMPIC STANDARDS

Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah

In an addendum to my post earlier today, NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS, I received the following email from Atlanta TC executive director Rich Kenah, who will host the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials next February.

“The thrill of a U.S Olympic Trials is unrivaled. USA Track & Field’s make-or-break selection system of a top-three finish at the Trials, while attaining a reasonable qualifying mark, allows every participant and spectator to dare to dream regardless of an athlete’s seed time at the start line. With due respect to the leadership at the IAAF and the decision makers involved with yesterday’s announcement, Atlanta Track Club is concerned that the uncertainty created by this massive change from past practices will render a U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Marathon irrelevant for participating athletes, and wildly confusing for the media assigned to cover them. I recognize the need for a credible world rankings system, but I hope the powers that be reconsider the damage this will do to the Olympic movement in the U.S., the organizations committed to organizing Trials events, and most importantly the athletes who are chasing their Olympic dream in 2020.”

 

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Me again:  Staging an Olympic Marathon Trials is an enormous and costly undertaking.  It would have been one thing if these new standards would have been in place before the bidding process for the Marathon Trials began and everyone knew what they were up against. Now it seems like what’s the point? In looking at every element in this far-ranging, in need of repair sport, the one thing that wasn’t broken, perhaps the most compelling competitions in the entire sport outside the Olympics themselves have been the U.S. Olympic Trials, both track and marathon editions.

Kenah and his team at the ATC have done an excellent job of elevating what was already one of the standout track clubs in the nation.  The 2020 Marathon Trials would have (and still will) only bolster their reputation.  Unfortunately, some of the glamor of the event may have been lessened by today’s news out of Doha.  Then again, maybe the athletes will step up and make these Trials one for the ages.  For ATC’s sake, let’s hope that is case.
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NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS

The entry standards for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were released yesterday (March 10, 2019) by the 216th IAAF Council meeting in Doha, Qatar, site of this summer’s IAAF World Championships.

Across the board, 100 meters to 50K walk and field events, the standards for Tokyo 2020 are significantly stricter than for Rio 2016.  Interestingly, the 2012 standards for the London Games were generally harder than for Rio 2016, too, but slightly easier than Tokyo 2020. 

The only events that had a harder standard in 2012 than either 2016 or 2020 were the men’s triple jump where it took a hop, step, and jump of 17.20 meters to qualify for London, while only 16.85m for Rio and 17.14m to get into Tokyo 2020. Also, the men’s Hammer Throw, which took a heave of 78 meters in 2012, 77m in 2016, and 77.5m for Tokyo.

2020 Olympic Entry Standards

But the generally more stringent standards for Tokyo confirmed the changing nature of the Olympic Games as the International Olympic Committee looks for new eyeballs and sponsorships and accordingly has put the squeeze on the IAAF to reduce the number of track & field athletes at the Games.  No doubt, the landscape of what it means to be an “Olympian” continues to undergo fundamental change with the evolving nature of sports participation and viewing worldwide.  Recall how Breakdancing is making its case for Olympic inclusion for Paris 2024.

The greatest percentage change in athletics qualifying from 2016 to 2020 came in the women’s marathon where the sub-2:45 of 2016 was lowered 9.4% to sub-2:29:30 for 2020 (the ‘A” standard in 2012 was 2:37).  Besides the racewalk category, which showed a 6.51% lowering in the men’s 50K and a 5.21% tightening in the women’s 20K, the men’s Olympic Marathon standard underwent the next biggest drop from sub-2:19 in 2016 to a sub-2:11:30, representing a 5.4% thinning (the “A” standard was 2:15 in 2012).

The qualifying window for the racewalks, the marathons, and the 10,000 meters has already begun (1 January 2019) and will end on 24 May 2020. All other events begin their qualifying window on 1 May 2019.

In related news, the IAAF Council also announced in Doha fundamental changes to the Diamond League beginning in 2020.  Most dramatic was news that the 3000-meters will be the longest track event on the schedule.  What’s more, the number of DL meetings will be cut from 14 to 12 with only one meeting per week leading to a single, one-day Final, rather than the two-meets that currently end the season.  The number of contested disciplines will also be trimmed from 32 to a core 24, the same 12 for both men and women.  And the meets themselves will be trimmed from two-hours to ninety minutes.

Also, at the end of each season the IAAF will decide which are the most entertaining disciplines going forward.  One can only wonder how much longer the 5000 and 10,000 meters will last as Olympic events at this rate? That, in itself, is an entire column of thought. Imagine the Olympic legends that would never have been if the 5000 and 10,000 were never contested?

But in terms of the Olympic Marathon, based on 2018 results, and leaving aside the IAAF Ranking System, which will combine in a 50-50 percentage breakdown with the time-based standards to create the final list for Tokyo 2020 – Our friends at LetsRun.com have an excellent summary here  – Americans would have only qualified five men for the Olympic Marathon in 2020 under the new guidelines.

Galen Rupp ran 2:06 twice in 2018, winning in Prague (2:06:07) and taking fifth-place in Chicago (2:06:21).  The next best American was Jared Ward, whose 2:12:24, though outside the 2:11:30 qualifying standard, came home with a sixth-place finish from the New York City Marathon last November.

He, along with Scott Fauble of Northern Arizona Elite, four seconds behind in seventh; Shadrack Biwott in ninth-place in 2:12:51; and Chris Derrick at 2:13:08 in tenth would qualify based on a top-10 finish at any of  the six Abbott World Marathon Majors (within the qualifying period).

Runners who finish top-five in any IAAF Gold Label marathon, and top-10 at the IAAF World Championships Marathon are also deemed qualified. However, Elkanah Kibet, who ran 2:12:51 to finish 13th in Chicago would have come up short.

On the women’s side, there were ten Americans who went under the 2:29:30 entry standard in 2018 led by Amy Cragg’s 2:21:42 third-place finish in Tokyo 2018. Another nine would have qualified by finishing top-10 at World Marathon Majors, combining for a total of 19 qualified American women. (more…)

R.I.P. TOMMY LEONARD (1933 – 2019)

Tommy Leonard

The great Tommy Leonard passed quietly from our midst yesterday at JML Care Center in Falmouth, Massachusetts at age 85. The beloved founder of the Falmouth Road Race and long-time bartender at Boston’s legendary Eliot Lounge, Tommy was the patron saint of running to thousands of people around the globe.

Tommy’s dear friend Russ Pelletier sent the following note last night. 

“Just want to let you know that he never lost his sense of humor.  I was with him yesterday afternoon.  It was obvious that he was at the end of the line.

Around the bed were three women on the JML staff and myself.  He was having difficulty breathing and couldn’t speak.  But we knew he could hear us.

So I told him, “Tommy, no matter what the situation, you always have young ladies taking care of you”.

I couldn’t hear his reply, but the nurse closest to him did.  I asked, “What did he say?”.  She looked at me and said, “I have the best seat in the house”.

He went out on his own terms.”

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Thanks to Russ for bringing one last Tommy-made smile to our faces. 

Those who knew him well loved him dearly, not just for a shared love of running, but for his selflessness and generosity of spirit.  Even those who had never met him felt like they knew him from the stories they’d heard.  Such was the effect Tommy had on people, a best friend you might not have ever met.

TL’s contributions were incalculable, and not just to the running community. He and fellow Back Bay barkeep at the Bull & Finch Pub (the Cheers bar on TV) Eddie Doyle raised funds for causes far and wide through the years from their posts behind the hardwood.  And though he had grown up in an orphanage and foster homes in western Massachusetts, Tommy created a worldwide family with his Irish glint, zest for life, and an embracing you-centered concern.  Like a human endearment machine, Tommy worked perfectly all the way to the end.

True, he was more of a dreamer than a hands-on producer. But TL was a wizard at bringing the right people together – like John Carroll and Rich Sherman in Falmouth, and Eddie Doyle in Boston – while creating an atmosphere where good times were to be had by all.   Today, we mourn his passing from a world where such character and traits seem increasingly anachronistic.

It’s with full hearts we send TL off on his next great adventure. Off beyond “the powder-puff clouds and shimmering Vineyard Sound” to make God laugh, angels weep, and more souls that can fit on the head of a pin happy.

Bless you, Tommy Leonard, your light and spirit will continue to shine through to show us the way.

 

“With Tommy Leonard tending taps, 

The guru in his lair, 

Every runner’s true best friend, 

With a heart big enough to share.”

Tommy Leonard at his station at the Eliot Lounge

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CAN’T HIDE YOUR LYIN’ EYES

Pre-race interviews are tricky things. Though regularly scheduled at most road races and track meets, I’ve always found them to be of limited use.  Maybe I’m just a poor interrogator, but I’ve always likened the experience to a trip to the dentist, with me being the dentist and the athletes in the role of reluctant patients as I try to pull teeth, or in their case information out.  Inevitably, nobody says jack to give their condition away, which is totally understandable, though on rare occasions you can elicit a telling story to share with readers or a TV audience.

In general, however, a pre-race interview is a ritual with both sides accepting the other as readily as two eighth-graders at a fortnightly dance.  And yet it remains one of the only means of reading an athlete’s tea-leaves to determine their readiness and frame of mind beyond traveling to their training camp and observing their workouts first hand.

But in the not too distant future, the pre-race TV interview may come to be one of the most important tools in the sport, the means of screening for drug cheats.  (more…)

MARATHONING 2017 – BY THE #s

When the calendar flips I always like to do a deeper dive into the past year in marathon running, just to see what the numbers might suggest.  And from the looks of it, not much changed in 2017 other than the Breaking2 Project in Monza, Italy in May when world #1 Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya came oh, so close to 1:59:59.

Other than that, it was more general excellence out of East Africa,  undercut by yet another drug sanction of a TOP echelon athlete (2016 London and Rio Olympic champion, Kenyan Jemima Sumgong).  And, finally,  though their times weren’t any different than in previous years, there were two American breakthrough wins in Majors at the end of the season, Galen Rupp in Chicago, then Shalane Flanagan in New York City.  But in this post I focus on the men.

Here are the numbers, then, as I attempted to count them on the IAAF.org site, and a comparison with the earlier years of this teens decade in century 21.

BREAKDOWN OF SUB-2:10s 2017

Total – 186
Kenyan –   113 (60.75%)
Ethiopian – 41 (22%)
American –    2 (Galen Rupp, 2:09:20, 1st in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:32, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2016
Total- 150
Kenyan –     98 (65.3%)
Ethiopian-  39 (26%)
American –   0 (Galen Rupp, 2:10:05, 3rd, Rio Olympics)
TOP time – 2:03:03, Keninisa Bekele, Berlin

2015
Total – 172
Kenyan –     97 (56.4%)
Ethiopian – 57 (33.13%)
American –    0 (Luke Puskedra, 2:10:24, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time: 2:04:00, Eliud Kipchoge, Berlin

2014
Total – 180
Kenyan –  106 (58.88%)
Ethiopian – 57 (31.6%)
American –    1 (Meb Keflezighi,  2:08:37, 1st in Boston)
TOP time – 2:02:57, Dennis Kimetto, Berlin

2013
Total – 189
Kenyan –    99 (52.4%)
Ethiopian- 61 (32.2%)
American –   1 (Dathan Ritzenhein, 2:09:45, 5th in Chicago)
TOP time – 2:03:23, Wilson Kipsang, Berlin

2012
Total – 220
Kenyan –  120 (54.5%)
Ethiopian – 64 (29%)
American –    5 (Dathan Ritzenhein (twice), 2:07:47, 9th in Chicago, also Ryan Hall, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman)
TOP time- 2:04:15, Geoffrey Mutai, Berlin

2011
Total – 182
Kenyan –  110 (61%)
Ethiopian – 42 (22%)
American –    3 (Ryan Hall (twice), 2:04:58, 4th in Boston, also Meb)
TOP time – 2:03:02. Geoffrey Mutai, Boston

2010
Total – 144
Kenyan –     79 (54.86%)
Ethiopian – 47 (32.6%)
American –    0 (Brett Gotcher, 2:10:36, 7th in Houston)
TOP time – 2:04:48, Patrick Makau, Rotterdam

Conclusions?

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