WHO HAS TO FIGHT THE LAW?

i_fought_the_law_by_norealityallowedWhile the clock tells no lies, neither does it ask any questions. Instead it merely records our passing in cold indifference. And so in athletics’ ongoing fight to rid itself of the scourge of fraudulent performance the question arises, where does the responsibility for actually giving a damn lie? And, is drug testing in and of itself enough to achieve the goal?

I ask because based on the evidence of continued PED use, and the institutional corruption that allowed and benefited from it, one might conclude that the intended deterrence has not been achieved, and that some other stick or carrot may be required.

That thought was brought to mind yesterday while watching Alabama Senator Jeff Sessions appear at his confirmation hearing before Congress as Attorney General designate.  During one exchange Senator Sessions said the following in response to whether fraudulent speech is protected under the First Amendment to the Constitution:

“Fraudulent speech, if it amounts to an attempt to obtain a thing of value for the person making the fraudulent speech, is absolutely fraud, and can be prosecuted.”

In the case of performance-enhancing drug use the intent is specifically ‘to obtain a thing of value’, i.e. race prize money. Therefore, when a WADA doping control officer goes over the doping control official record at time of testing, a negative declaration by the tested athlete becomes, in fact, a form of speech, and therefore should be considered a prosecutable offense if subsequent testing produces a positive finding of drug use. The same ask-and-answer should be required of appropriate coaches, managers, and federation officials, as each category has been found complicit in past PED distribution. No accusations, mind you, simply covering bases. Continue reading

GEEKING ON KENENISA’S NUMBERS

2014 Paris Marathon champion Kenenisa Bekele

2016 Berlin Marathon champion Kenenisa Bekele

On January 20th Ethiopia’s triple Olympic track gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele will start the sixth marathon of his career at the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon.  Coming off a near-world record 2:03:03 win in Berlin last fall in his last start there are indications that the great Ethiopian track and cross country runner may have his sights set on the current marathon world record of 2:02:57, set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in Berlin 2014.

Now I am one of those journalists who has consistently lobbied for a greater concentration on competition over time, but since this is what is on offer, I thought I would take a deeper dive into the probabilities of a new world record, using the past as prologue.

Though I have heard some faint murmurs from Addis Ababa that the political climate in Ethiopia is affecting some people’s ability to train freely – the troubles are in line with Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa’s anti-government protest at the Rio Olympics and his subsequent move to the U.S to seek asylum  –  let us assume for this study that all is well with Bekele’s preparations, and that he will arrive in Dubai in top form.

On April 6, 2014 Kenenisa Bekele ran his marathon debut in Paris, France.  Against a less than competitive field the 31 year-old won by over 2 ½ minutes, stopped the timer at 2:05:03, which was a course record, sixth fastest debut in history, and fastest first-time marathon ever by a man over 30.

At the time I thought it would be interesting to look ahead by looking back (NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT).  After all, record performances are the links that allow fans to compare and contrast athletes of different eras in much the same way baseball fans compare stats across time (at least until the steroid era kind of ruined that –  Oops, do we have more in common with baseball than we realize?)

Anyway, I decided the best way to compare Kenenisa’s potential in the marathon would be to judge his marathon debut and projected career personal best (PB) against other former track record holders who subsequently moved up to great success in the marathon. Accordingly, I saw Kenya’s Paul Tergat and Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, as the canaries in this very high quality coal mine, as both pre-dated Bekele as world record holders at 5000 & 10,000 meters on the track before adding the marathon record to their resumes.

After Bekele’s near-world record 2:03:03 win in Berlin in September 2016, I thought it might be fun to see how those projections from 2014 have played out so far. Continue reading

BEKELE SIGNS ON TO DUBAI & LONDON

Bekele finishing 3rd in London 2016 signs on for 2017

Much of what push back there’s been against the three Sub-2 Hour marathon projects concerns their focus on time rather than competition.  Now comes word came that Ethiopian superstar Kenenisa Bekele has signed on to the April 23rd Virgin London Marathon, just days after being announced to run the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon on January 20th in what is likely a world record attempt.  Hmmm.

Now a cynic might conclude that with defending London and Olympic champion Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya, along with former Boston champ Lelisa Desisa of Ethiopia signed on to this spring’s Nike Project Breaking2 (at an as yet undisclosed location), London’s major name (if not two) has been stripped from the event marquee.  So, notwithstanding Bekele’s Dubai appearance 13 weeks earlier, London needed a big name to build its 2017 race around.  You can bet this isn’t the scenario the Abbott World Marathons Majors had in mind when they put together their series ten years ago.

But as the paydays of the marathon have continued to spread (if not actually grow), and the World Marathon Majors series title now paying off as a five-year $100,000 annuity rather than a one-fell-swoop $500,000 (because of Rita Jeptoo and Lilya Shobokhova stealing three Majors’ titles via drug disqualifications), we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and challenge the old assumptions and the old-line events. Not only are the old warhorses like Bekele willing to squeeze more into less in terms of rest and recovery, youthful runners who might once have gone to the track ovals in Europe are now running marathons like they were halves.

With a marathon training cycle of 12 weeks, give or take, and a full recovery assigned one month, conventional wisdom has long held that two per year was the way to best schedule a top marathon career — with exceptions made for an Olympic year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic glory (World Championship not so much).  The original five Abbott World Marathon Majors built their series upon this convention. But racing is not simply an exercise in trophy collection, it’s a business opportunity with only so many years available to stake your claims.  Athletes like 22 year-old Lemi Berhanu Hayle is a prime example. Continue reading

CORRECTING THE RECORD(S)

track-startGive them this, the IAAF, heretofore one of the premier La Cosa Nostras of international sporting organizations, has at least begun to honestly wrestle with the scourges of performance-enhancing drug abuse and bribe-fueled corruption that have brought their sport into such worldwide disrepute and public disregard.

And so we see where an open letter to IAAF head Sebastian Coe from Gianni Merlo, president of the International Sports Press Association (AIPS) suggesting that the sports’ record book be scrapped and a new one be opened, received a thoughtful public response from the home office in Monaco.

A clean break from the old records isn’t a bad idea, given who knows how many of those marks were achieved on the level. But rather than just erasing the current books, here’s another way of achieving the same goal by turning the record book pages back a bit. Continue reading

2016 INTO 2017

OK, we closed the books on the 2016 campaign, which was a bit of a momentous year both in the sport and around the wider world.  Now we move on into 2017, which is an odd year, but at the same time it remains all pink and fresh and unsullied. That won’t last for long, of course, but at present we are all once again full of potential and optimism.  As always there will be lots of ups and more than a few downs over the next 12 months, but as a grizzled curmudgeon there were a few lingering thoughts that rattled around year’s closing.  So here we go with a few random considerations.

#1.

nyc-crowd-first-avenue

Come on 2017! You can do it!

I know they mean well, but don’t you sometimes wish bad things on the good people standing on the sidelines while they blithely cheer on passing runners?  Yeah, they can be a godsend, but late in the race when things have gone sour, and you just want to be invisible and get the darn thing finished, that one-cheer-fits-all lack of effort, I mean, depending on your state of affairs, can’t they sometimes just make the long journey that much more arduous?

First of all, the only reason races like the six Abbott World Marathon Majors have crowds the size they do is because their courses run past peoples’ houses.  It’s not like folks drove to the game; they just walked outside.  And with races starting so early to avoid upsetting even more of the driving public, you run through entire neighborhoods where half the people are standing out there in their pajamas, scratching their private parts, drinking coffee while mumbling encouragement with half-chewed cheese Danish hanging from their yap.

And if you have already gone about 20 miles, you’ve burned through your glycogen stores, lost all contact with endorphins, have sore feet, achy legs, bad breath, and the formation of a chip on your shoulder the size of Rhode Island.  So when some normal in PJs yells out, “you only have six more miles left”, thinking they’re being part of your effort, what they don’t realize is if there was a gun handy, and you could reach it, you’d shoot yourself in the head (and maybe them as you fell).

Don’t be telling me I’ve got six more miles to go! That’s like Moses telling the Israelites, “Suck it up! You’ve only got the Sinai left to cross to get home from Egypt.”  Not helpful. Continue reading

BOSTON ASSEMBLES STRONG AMERICAN FORCE FOR 2017

President-elect Donald Trump won this year’s divisive U.S. presidential campaign in part by touting an “America First” agenda.  Seems he isn’t the only one thinking about the home team.

Lest we forget, the Boston Marathon is contested on Patriots Day, an April holiday in Maine and Massachusetts commemorating the 1775 Battles of Lexington and Concord, the first military engagements of the American Revolutionary War.  Accordingly, Boston’s marathon in its early years was known as “The American Marathon”.

For the last generation, however, The American Marathon, like all marathons around the world, has become the exclusive province of athletes from East Africa.  So overwhelming has the transfer of power become that the sight of American Meb Keflezighi pulling out a victory in 2014 was so unusual, such a welcome surprise, that even runner-up Wilson Chebet of Kenya joked, “I would have been the most hated man in Boston if I had caught Meb.”  Keflezighi’s 11-second victory became the marathon equivalent of the Boston Red Sox World Series baseball win a decade earlier, as each snapped losing streaks of historic proportions.

Though Meb’s win in Boston was the first by an American in 31 years, even before Patriot’s Day 2014 there had been a resurgence in American running, in no small measure due to Keflezighi’s silver medal in the Athens Olympic Marathon 2004 and his New York City Marathon victory in 2009.  Still, even with the occasional peak performance by Meb or Ryan Hall, there was no lessening of the East African domination, either. But the spirit of Meb’s win in 2014, and game challenges by Hall, local-born Shalane Flanagan and fellow Olympian Desi Linden (2nd, 2011) in the women’s races had whetted the locals appetite for more.

This week Boston’s major sponsor John Hancock Financial Services announced their American field for Patriots Day 2017, and it is as strong a home contingent as the old town has seen since the U.S. Women’s Olympic Trials were contested in Boston in 2008.  While the international field has yet to be announced beyond defending champion Lemi Berhanu Hayle of Ethiopia, and 2012 champion Wesley Korir of Kenya, the American lineup will prove formidable. Five of the six 2016 U.S. Rio Olympic marathoners were announced, led by Boston debutant and Olympic bronze medalist Galen Rupp (a man coached by 1982 Boston champion and local product Alberto Salazar), 2014 champ Keflezighi, Utah’s Jared Ward, Marblehead, Mass. favorite Shalane Flanagan, and the aforementioned Desi Linden. (see linked JH announcement for full U.S. field) Continue reading

SUB2 PACK FORMS UP

Like the murmur of far off hooves that rises from a distance on a tailing breeze the Sub Two Hour marathon quest became a lot more audible this past week.

First, Nike’s Project Breaking2 was publicly announced on Monday 12 December with a goal of breaking the 120 minute mark this coming spring. Two years in the making (though secretly) and featuring three of the world’s top distance runners, Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge, Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa, and Eritrean Zersenay Tadese, the project still remains somewhat hazy in its particulars as if the announcement came in haste to pip the Adidas announcement, which showed up later in the week via the Wall Street Journal.  Nike’s joint announcement through Runners World and Wired. com arrived as the second entry in the sub2 quest, coming on the heels of University of Brighton sports science professor Yannis Pitsiladis‘ 2014 Sub2Hr Project, which is affiliated with top running agent Jos Hermens.  That project carries a stated five year time frame, but is still searching for full funding.

So, now there are three going for a sub2 over 42km, and you know, we may finally have something here after all.  Perhaps something ironic, in that none of the three projects are using actual runner competition as the mechanism to 1:59:59 or below. Instead, like in the days of  Wes Santee, John Landy, and Roger Bannister, who independently pursued the sub-4 minute mile in the late 1940s, early `50s, it will be through the three-way project chase itself that the Everest marathon mark may be reached.  But that shouldn’t come as a surprise.  This blog has written on the topic of competition vs. record setting before. And again here. Continue reading