AIDED?

     Following Boston’s monumental 115th running last Monday, the talk once again has turned to the cold vivisection of the finishing times rather than the hot-blooded competition that produced them.  

     The question is simple, was Kenyan Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 not just the fastest time ever run over 26.2 miles of roadway, but, in fact, a marathon world record?  The general consensus is NO, Boston was wind-aided on April 18th with a steady 15-20 mph push the entire way.  Add in the net elevation drop of 459 feet from Hopkinton to Boston, and the combination makes the venerable old course ineligible for record recognition.

     Academically, I agree.  I called the race for WBZ-TV in Boston, and have covered every Boston since 1977.  I believe the tail wind last Monday was worth two minutes overall.  It was like swimming down current; the same physical effort created faster overall speeds.  We have seen similar results in other notoriously windy Boston Marathon days in 1975, 1983, and 1994.  But if Boston 2011 was aided, then so, too, is every year’s Berlin, Chicago, London, and Rotterdam, the creme of the “legal” courses on which records traditionally have been set. (more…)

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COMING TO AMERICA

Visa to America 1945

She sailed out of Antwerp on Tuesday, December 4, 1945.  Everything she owned she carried in pigskin leather bag: two dresses from her time in Nuremberg, a sweater, some underwear, one pair of shoes, and the little French-English dictionary she kept from her escape out of Krakow.

With the clean sea breeze brushing along her brow, Bisia Reavis stood alone along the rail of the Belgian Unity, a Liberty Class freighter bound for New York City.  Just one month past her 24th birthday, she looked back at the only world she had ever known as it slipped from view.  Ahead awaited the American husband she had met and married just ten months ago in her native Poland.  Behind lay an old way of life still smoldering in ruins.

No longer the headstrong schoolgirl who thought the war would be a big adventure,  Bisia’s six years of fighting under occupation had shattered the world she had inherited, so, too, many of its people.  Some, like Bisia, now found themselves scattering like wind-blown seeds to far away lands with only their memories and dreams to replant.

     I didn’t know what to think. All I knew was that there was a world out there for me to see, and there would be no second chances, no second thoughts. (more…)

MEMORIES OF GRETE

    April 18, 2011 will forever be remembered as one of the most bittersweet in running history.  After a magical morning when the running gods blessed us with a once-in-a-generation Boston Marathon, they took back much more with the passing of Grete Waitz, a once-in-a-lifetime hero.  The great Norwegian track, cross country, and marathon champion succumbed to cancer late Monday night at her home in Oslo, Norway, ending a courageous six-year battle and a life of 57 too short years.  Grete died as she had lived, with dignity, grace, and the love of her family and friends.

Those of us fortunate enough to call her a friend knew of the improbability of her prognosis when cancer was first discovered in 2005.  Yet this most private of people who won the hearts of the most public of cities, New York City, maintained the incomparable grace that made her much more than a championship runner.

Sport is a meritocracy.  Thus each game must be fortunate in its champions.  In the late 1970s, the growing sport of marathoning could not have chosen a more perfect candidate to flower than the 27 year-old school teacher from Oslo.  At the time, Grete was on the cusp of retirement, figuring she had run out the string on what had already been a remarkable career.

After five world cross country titles and two track Olympics – but no distance beyond 3000 meters available – Grete only reluctantly accepted race director Fred Lebow’s invitation to the 1978 New York City Marathon because husband/coach Jack convinced her it would make for a nice second honeymoon.

I was fortunate enough to be the finish line announcer that fall day in the Big Apple.  As the women’s race entered its final stages word was relayed to me from the lead vehicle that bib #1173 was winning by a wide margin. I paged through my entry list, but found no such number.

“Well, I don’t know who bib number 1173 is,” I informed the Central Park crowd, “but she’s gonna break the world record!”

When Grete crossed the finish line in her Norwegian national colors in 2:32:30, she not only lowered Germany’s Christa Vahlensieck’s world record by 2:18, she unknowingly lit the fuse on what would soon become the women’s Running Boom.  Running had already crowned its king in the person of Bill Rodgers, whose boy-next-door wins in the Boston and New York City Marathons through the late 1970s brought marathoning to the next level after Frank Shorter’s Olympic glory in 1972 & 1976.  What the sport had yet to find was a fitting queen.  (more…)

East African Marathon Dominance By the Numbers

     Since Ibrahim Hussein outkicked Tanzania’s Juma Ikangaa in 1988 to becomeBoston’s first African champion, Kenyans have won a total of 18 Boston Marathon titles, Ethiopians 3, Italy and Korea 1 each.  It is the most dominant stretch ever seen by a single nation in Boston history. It included a 10 year win streak from 1991 to 2000.   

Previous 23 years,  1965 – 1987:

USA  8 wins – Japan 5 – England  3 – New Zealand, Australia, Colombia, Finland, Ireland, Canada  1 (more…)

New Direction Outlined for Boston Athletic Association

    

     With the 115th Boston Marathon just four days away, new marathon executive director Tom Grilk outlined an ambitious new guiding philosophy for the 123 year-old Boston Athletic Association today, an organization he has served as president for the last seven years and race day announcer for the last two and a half decades.

      “Nothing is off the table,” Grilk told me following a press conference at the Copley Plaza Hotel.  “After Monday (marathon day) my job really begins.”

      Grilk, who took the day-to-day reigns of the marathon from long time executive director and now Senior Director for External Affairs Guy Morse on January 1, 2011 met the media along with Morse, race director Dave McGillivray, and new BAA president Joann Flaminio, the first woman to serve as president in the BAA’s 123 year history.

      The four principals shared the dais at a mid-afternoon presser to outline their respective avenues of responsibility, and the changes being instituted for Monday’s race, most notably the three-wave start for the 27,000 starters. What came across most distinctly, however, was the synergy of the four, and their desire for the BAA to take a more forward role in the shaping of running both inMassachusetts, and in the industry at large.  (more…)

Boston Marathon Week Kicks Off

    

     The skies are leaden, and the rain is pelting down.  It must be Boston Marathon time again.  The 115th marathon week kicks off today at the Reggie Lewis Center where former Boston champions Bill Rodgers, Greg Meyer, Joan Samuelson, and Catherine Ndereba join defending men’s champion Robert Kiprono Cheruiyot in a series of running clinics given to area high school students chosen for their leadership by their track team coaches.  15 Boston high schools will be represented.  (more…)

19th Century Sport in Search of 21st Century Foothold

   

     Running has long found it difficult to secure a solid foothold on the American sporting landscape.  One reason is lack of professionalism when compared to other mainstream sports.  Another is the growth spurt of X Games events and modern day heroes like Shaun White in the popular culture.  But another reason is as simple as formatting. 

The most popular American sports are episodic in nature, featuring a pitch, a play, a shot every 30 seconds. They are also segmented into quarters, periods, or halves, making for easy television coverage.  So even with tens of millions of self-designated runners bounding about the continent for the last thirty years on personal quests, Americans have yet to fully embrace a sport which is linear, doesn’t involve a ball or violence, and only pays off on an investment of interest shown over a long, gradual build up. (more…)