BERLIN’S DREAM RACE

This is one of those everyonevhasanopinion races.
Like the prize fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor August 26, or Triple G vs Canelo Alvarez last Saturday (16 Sept.), this coming Sunday’s BMW Berlin Marathon has something for everyone.

It is an interesting notation, however, that never in modern history have all the top marathoners in the world been on the same starting line at the same time. Even the Olympics limits competitors to three per nation. With so many events glutting the calendar, there is a natural leveling in the quality of all race fields, including within the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which all draw from the same talent pool.  This year, however, and perhaps for the first time, Berlin race director Mark Milde will showcase a trio of past champions that make his race the brightest light in the fall marathon firmament.

On September 24th defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia will again take on 2016 runner-up and 2013 champ Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, with 2015 Berlin winner, 2016 Olympic champion, and 2017 Breaking2 supernova Eliud Kipchoge adding to the thunder.  In this time of natural dilution, Berlin has gathered the dream (men’s) race everyone wants to see.

Last year Bekele and Kipsang battled to a near world record in the German capital, with Bekele besting his Kenyan rival by ten seconds, 2:03:03 – 2:03:13, Bekele just six seconds shy of Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record set in Berlin `14.  Eliud Kipchoge arrives off a historic 2:00:25 Breaking2 marathon exhibition in Monza, Italy in May. And last year he not only won the Olympic gold in Rio, but came within eight seconds of the world record in London in April.  All three men have been sharpening their pencils to rewrite the record book on Sunday.

To date, the Dream Race title holder is the 2002 London Marathon where America’s Khalid Khannouchi – remember him? – took on Kenya’s Paul Tergat and a debuting Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, with Special K taking the win, breaking his own world record by four seconds in 2:05:38, ten seconds up on Tergat and 37 seconds clear of Geb. Continue reading

Advertisements

TWO MARATHONS PER YEAR?

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi is notably famous for his relentless marathon schedule. Since his humble start in February 2009 when he finished 20th at the Beppu-Oita Manichi Marathon in 2:19:26, the now 30 year-old school custodian has run 67 marathons, 22 of which have ended in victory. Twice, 2014 and 2015, he has started 12, and generally his time range has been from 2:09 to 2:18.

Kawauchi, however, is the outlier. The conventional wisdom has long held that at the very highest level professional marathoners optimized at two per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. The original cast of five Abbott World Marathon Majors was built on that assumption.

With a marathon training cycle of roughly 12 weeks, and a proper recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathon career, with exceptions made for an Olympic or (possibly) a World Championships year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic or WC glory.

Wilson Kipsang breaks from Eliud Kipchoge in 2013 Berlin, the only loss in Kipchoge’s marathon career

The perfect illustration of this is the current world number one marathoner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Since the ’03 5000m world champion began with a win in Hamburg in April of 2013 (2:05:30), he has run two per year like clockwork, one in the spring, one in the fall, winning each and every race except his second career start in Berlin in September 2013 where he took second place (2:04:05) to Wilson Kipsang‘s then world record 2:03:23.

Even last year when Eliud won in London in April in a near-world record 2:03:05, then came back in Rio in August to claim Olympic gold, he didn’t force a fall start, saving himself instead for the mighty effort in Monza, Italy this past May in the Nike Breaking2 Project.

So, too, with rival Wilson Kipsang. His marathon career has stretched from Paris 2010 (3rd, 2:07:13) to Tokyo in late February 2017 (1st, 2:03:58). Only twice in that span has he added a third marathon, 2012 when he took bronze at the London Games, and 2015 when he DNF’d at the Beijing World Championships.

Ethiopia’s Keninisa  Bekele, too, has generally stuck to the two-per-year model since he began in Paris 2014 (1st, 2:05:04). However in 2015 he only made one start, DNF’g in Dubai in January as he worked through an injury.

But as the paydays continued to spread around the world and opportunities began to crop up where the weather was conducive to marathon running in what previously might have been off season, we have begun to see more and more athletes stretch their wings and challenge old assumptions. Continue reading

ASSESSING WOMEN’S MILESTONES

There is an interesting article in Outside Magazine online penned by Sally Bergesen, founder of Oiselle, the Seattle-based women’s athletic apparel company, asking where are the female equivalents of the sub-four minute mile or the sub-two hour marathon? (Article)

“How are our own benchmarks so unfamiliar?” she asks rhetorically.

Her conclusion, in part, is that “the dearth of women’s milestones and tradition is a result of our relatively recent entry into competitive sports.”

I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment, but perhaps in that understanding there is another way to look at the underlying question.

What if there have already been such women barrier breakers, but since women’s athletics have only in recent times come into the spotlight, we missed them in their own day? Continue reading

TRACKTOWN FREEZE OUT

So there’s this story on LetsRun.com today talking about how Dallas SportsRadio 1310/96.7 The Ticket was mocking the TrackTown Summer Series final last Friday, which they evidently ran into the night before on ESPN while channel surfing.

The Freeze, Nigel Talton

Mostly, the hosts focused on The Freeze, Nigel Talton, the sprinting groundskeeper / mascot for the Atlanta Braves who has captured baseball’s attention chasing down fans who are given a head start as they race foul pole to foul pole along the outfield warning track.  At the TrackTown Summer Series Final in New York, The Freeze raced a bunch of track fans who were given a 20-meter head start – two of the fans actually beat him.

Oh, and the Dallas sports radio guy’s mocked the whole thing quite viciously, even suggesting that the well-mocked WNBA “is laughing at these guys.”

But mocking isn’t altogether a bad thing. You know what mocking is better than? Silence, or total indifference. Like it or not, think it’s gimmicky or not, the Tracktown Summer Series has people talking in the mainstream media. It might not be the kind of talk they would prefer, but talk is talk. Continue reading

LONDON DIAMOND LEAGUE COVERAGE

Though it has always seemed to be something of a cottage industry in this sport, personally I am always loath to criticize how others may cover the sport of track and field. Having covered the sport myself for many years, I am fully aware that mistakes are part of the game. But I jump to give a nod of approval when it’s deserved.

Today’s NBC coverage of the London Diamond League meet was notable for several reasons.  First, the commentary by Paul Swangard, Ato Boldon , and Josh Cox was concise and drew attention to the athletes rather than themselves.  But more than that, there was finally a technical level of proficiency that merited attention (though, as pointed out in a response below, the video feed was provided to NBC by the Diamond League organizers, to which they added the commentary of Paul, Ato, and Josh).

I have long said you could make a 44-second 400 look unusually pedestrian by shooting it with the stationary camera positioned high in the stands looking down at the track. But today there was temendous gator-mounted tracking camera footage utilized to bring the power and speed of the sport into America’s living rooms (or wherever one may have watched). Continue reading

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.  Continue reading

SIMPLE, PURE, AND HEARTLESS

The 10,000 meter finals at the USATF Outdoor Nationals ran late last night in Sacramento due to the steamy weather that is coating much of the western half of the country.  But you couldn’t say the results were a product of the weather. Instead, if they showed anything, it was the relentless, heartless nature of the sport itself.

Highlights, of course, were the wins by Molly Huddle for the women, her third, and Hasan Mead for men, his first. But equal stories were to be found a bit behind in the forms of previous champions and Olympic medalists, Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp. We could say the same for retiring 800 meter star Nick Symmonds Continue reading