Category: News

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…)

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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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MEB: WHAT’S IN A NAME?

Pride, rue, chagrin, the emotions any of us feel about our name can run a wide gamut. For instance, my name is Toni, but as you notice, it ends in an I, rather than a Y. That’s because in Poland, birthplace of my mother, they spell Anthony as Antoni, hence, Toni, not Tony (though I answer to both).

Since I reached my majority, no big deal, but as a young boy growing up in the American Midwest, having what my peers considered a girl’s name often proved challenging. In fact, it’s one reason why I started to run.  It was easier and less painful than fighting every time some chump chided me with my ‘girl’s name’ anomaly.

Which brings us to Meb Keflezighi, the American marathon star who was surprised  by several hundred friends, relatives, and fans Monday night (November 13, 2017) at San Diego’s Liberty Station two weeks after he concluded his remarkable career with an 11th place finish at the TCS New York City Marathon at age 42. The retirement  celebration also raised funds benefiting the MEB Foundation, which promotes health education and fitness programs for youth.

Meb arriving with wife Yordanos (photo by Bob Betancourt)

The evening brought into relief once again just how far the man has come. Not just through the long journey from war-torn Eritrea to Italy and finally America as a 12 year-old boy, or on the many ups and downs of his competitive career, from his days at San Diego High to UCLA all the way to the Mount Rushmore of American distance running. No, I mean simply in terms of culture.

Like the name Meb for instance.  The first time you hear it, sounds more like a distance than a name.

“How far did you run today?”

“I got in about sixteen Mebs, and threw in a couple of Hawis for good measure.”

But no matter the obstacle, be it cultural or sporting, Meb always found a way to surmount it and then triumph, while including many, many others in those triumphs along the way. (more…)

History of Cross Country Brought to Life

At colleges and universities across the nation students are settling into dorms, meeting new teammates, and learning routines for the soon to arrive cross country season. It’s an exciting time, and the promise is strong.

“Unlike track and field and road running, which had easy-to-manage lists of top athletes and times (along with historical venues with great traditions); similar attention had not been paid to cross-country,” writes Andrew Hutchinson in his voluminous new work The Complete History of Cross Country Running, From the Nineteenth Century to the Present Day.  Untamed running was a wonderful opportunity for athletes looking to escape the track, but…there was nowhere an athlete could go to learn about the stories, legacies and processes in developing the sport. That had to change.”

Mr. Hutchinson’s book is that attempt. Like Tom Derderian’s magnus opus Boston Marathon, History of the World’s Premier Running Event,  which saw its second edition come out last year along with a corresponding documentary movie, Hutchinson goes for an epic scale that matches his subject. (more…)

KIPCHOGE TO ATTEMPT OFFICIAL WORLD MARATHON RECORD IN BERLIN 2017

To nobody’s surprise Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will make a world record attempt this September 24th at the BMW Berlin Marathon, site of the last six men’s marathon world bests dating back to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie‘s 2:04:26 in 2007. That Kipchoge would run in Berlin this fall was always one of the probabilities coming out of Nike’s Breaking2  Project from this past May in Monza, Italy where the 2016 Olympic Marathon champion completed the marathon distance in a remarkable 2:00:25 in an unratified attempt to break the two hour barrier for 26.2 miles.

Kipchoge came so close to the sub-two hour barrier in Italy in May using a rotating stream of 30 even-tempo pacers, that a sub-62 first half in Berlin will seem modest by comparison. In essence Breaking2 will have been a speed session for Berlin.  (more…)

TIME TO GET UP!

People wonder where the next Steve Prefontaine is, that runner who can both race with charismatic elan while simultaneously challenging the status quo to the point where he/she draws a whole new category of fans into the game.

Pre died 42 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, and time has worked its magic, as it always does. Yes, Pre was special, but even Usain Bolt – who’s been exponentially more successful than Steve ever was – hasn’t been able to lift the sport to a realm it never reached in any previous epoch. Guess what?  Ain’t gonna happen. Know why?  Cause running isn’t that kind of sport. Wasn’t then. Isn’t now.

Once you get beyond the mile, running doesn’t pay off close scrutiny unless you are a hard-core practitioner yourself.  Distance running is a nuanced sport that builds dramatic tension, but only when the stakes are high. But since the stakes are almost never high – maybe twice  every four years, or at the Breaking2 Project  – there is no compelling drama in the intervening period unless you’re a die-hard.

The sports that are dramatic are episodic, sh*t happens every thirty seconds, like a pitch, a play, or a shot.  And those mini-dramas eventually lead to a denouement and satisfying dramatic conclusion, i.e. somebody wins the championship, like either the Penguins or Predators in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals ( Pittsburgh up 2-0), or tonight’s opening of the NBA Finals, Cavs v. Warriors.

Running comes to one conclusion each in a hundred different places after many minutes (even hours) of soporific sameness. That was a hard enough sell when the only other sports were horse racing and wife brow-beating, you know, when leisure time was a fantasy.  Today, the competition is stiffer than ever, and running’s presentation is sealed in amber.

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I was at a Target store yesterday, and a crew from the local NBC affiliate came up to me and the wife and said they were doing a story on whether schools should start later than they do. The premise being cause kids are not getting enough sleep they can’t retain what they’re being taught.

I looked it up.  The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) shows that average start time for the 39,700 public  middle and high schools in America is 8:03 a.m.  In 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged middle and high schools to modify start times to enable students to get adequate sleep by starting no sooner than 8:30 a.m.

How about go to bed earlier? There, now you got enough sleep.  Problem solved.

When did parents give up being in charge of their kids? I respected my parents, was afraid of them, too, with good reason, teachers, yeah, them too.  Why? There were consequences to non-compliance. That had a tendency to grab your attention. And what is government anyway but forced compliance? Do whatever you want until you get on the wrong side of the law.  Then see how it works out for you.

For a very short time I used to be a schoolteacher. Back then it was the adults (parents and teachers) in league against the kids, because we knew better. Screw up in school and you’d be in even more trouble at home. Today, it seems like the parents and kids occupy a united front against the educators, because evidently nobody knows better.

We had to go to bed at 8 o’clock when we were kids. Didn’t want to. Wanted to stay up and watch The Untouchables and Sea Hunt. But we went to bed against our will because parents looked at us. Who’s callin’ the shots here?  What lessons are really being taught?

But for some reason when every American adult of certain learning has the stunted attention span of the President of the United States, good effin’ luck with delayed gratification, discomfort, and doing stuff you don’t want to do – like going through with a deal you made with the rest of the world.

That’s why running doesn’t resonate, and never will. It’s the sporting equivalent of going to bed early to be ready for training tomorrow morning.  Think Pre ever told Bill Bowerman to move practice back so he could sleep in after staying up late?

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GRETE’S PLACE

We learned last week that the apartment building Grete Waitz (nee Anderson) grew up in in Oslo, Norway had been fitted with a plaque recognizing the place as her girlhood home.  The five time IAAF World Cross Country champion, nine time New York City Marathon winner, inaugural IAAF Women’s World Marathon Champion in 1983, and silver medalist the following year in the initial Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles was commemorated not only as a champion runner, but as a leader in the development of women’s sport.

In May 2011 I flew to Oslo for a service celebrating Grete following her passing the previous month at age 57. She had succumbed to a several years bout with cancer with the same grace she had displayed throughout her public career.  Later, Grete’s husband Jack, a friend not just from the circuit but from our wintertime days in Gainesville, Florida throughout the 1990s, took me to the Keiseirlokka (Kaiser Field) neighborhood where Grete had grown up with her older brothers Jan and Arild.

Grete Waitz girlhood apartment, second story on left

Today, Kaiser Field is a quiet working class neighborhood, but in the post-war years when the Anderson’s lived there it was bustling with children, an idyllic place to grow up. Nearby stood Hasle Lutheran Church where Jack and Grete were married in 1975.

“She was the only girl in the family,” Jack explained. ”And her mother, Reidun, ran a tight ship. Grete was given all the tasks in the house. They made her take piano lessons, and they weren’t too enthusiastic about her running, because it wasn’t considered a girlish thing to do.”

A track star and school teacher before her second career began as a marathon champion in New York in 1978, Grete had to overcome the prevailing girls-staying-in-their-place headwinds that her own running, and that of others in her generation, helped turn around for future generations of girls everywhere.

Today, Grete’s greatest legacy lives on in her Aktiv Against Cancer Foundation, which works to ensure that physical activity will become an integral part of cancer treatment.

helle aanesen & grete waitz Aktiv against cancer co-founders
Helle Aanesen & Grete Waitz Aktiv Against Cancer co-founders

AKTIV Against Cancer was founded by Grete and Helle Aanesen in Norway in 2007. After donating more than $14M and helping to create 15 physical activity centers in cancer treatment facilities throughout Norway, AKTIV Against Cancer established its official 501(c)(3) presence in the United States in 2014.

Today, the work of incorporating physical activity into cancer treatments, and researching the effects continues throughout Norway, and at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where an AKTIV Against Cancer pledge of $3.3 million helps fund exercise oncology research by Dr. Lee Jones, PhD.  Work in exercise oncology has also been initiated in Ethiopia via Aktiv measures.

Grete’s influence was enormous during her all too brief life, due not just to her athletic excellence, but to her quiet dignity and innate elegance.  She wasn’t one to call the spotlight to herself, in fact, she dodged it whenever possible. But it found its way to her all on its own. Nice to see the beam still glowing around her memory.

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