NEW WAY TO DEAL WITH PED USE

With Sunday’s running of the TCS New York City Marathon fast approaching, the fields are set, the course is ready, and the viewing parties have all been arranged.  All that’s left is an unsullied journey through the five boroughs with worthy champions awaiting to be crowned.

Only once in 48 years has there been a positive drug test of real consequence at the NYC Marathon, that being Toni Niemzcak of Poland, who finished second in 1986 behind Italy’s Gianni PoliNiemzcak failed a drug test which had discovered a banned steroid in his system.  His position was vacated and prize money not awarded.  There was one other drug positive in 2011, announced in 2012, of Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay who finished ninth in his 2011 debut and later was found to have utilized the blood booster EPO.   He, too, was DQ’d.

The problem of PED use persists, as New York’s Abbott World Marathon Majors partners in London, Chicago, and Boston have all been repeatedly burned in recent years by Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya.   In 2017, the AWMMs cut their athletic prize for the series title in half from $500,000 to $250,000, while only awarding a portion of that first prize award each year as a hedge against getting hit like they have in the past.  But what else can be done to end this scourge on all sports?  Here’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

 

 

END

Advertisements

AMERICAN MASTER MEB SAYS SO LONG

 

Meb after 2009 NYC win

On that bright but chilly (38°F) November morning, I had the catbird seat aboard the NBC lead men’s TV motorcycle as the 2002 New York City Marathon entered its critical stage coming off the Queensboro Bridge at mile 16.  The final pace-setter, the metronomic Joseph Kariuki of Kenya, had just pulled off leaving the pack edgy, crackling with energy as Manhattan’s First Avenue stretched ahead like a provocation with all the history, speed, and power it portended.  Amidst the lead group ran marathon debutant Meb Keflezighi, the U.S. record holder at 10,000 meters (27:13). The day before Meb’s long-time coach Bob Larsen told me Meb would go with the pace until First Avenue then decide what to do.

The resurrection of American distance running had begun to take shape in that fall of 2002. Following successful maiden marathons by Dan Browne at Twin Cities (1st, 2:11:35) then Alan Culpepper in Chicago (6th, 2:09:41, tying Alberto Salazar’s American d­­­­­­ebut record from New York 1980) the anticipation for Meb’s debut in New York City was running sky high.

Sweeping off the bridge first sped Rodgers Rop of Kenya, third in NYC the year before, and reigning Boston Marathon champion.  By 66th Street Rop had a five-second gap, leaving remnants of the pack receding like fading dust motes.  Mile 17 fell in 4:36.

Realizing the danger, Boston runner-up Christopher Cheboiboch, 2:06:33 South African Gert Thys, and Kenyan deb Laban Kipkemboi bridged up to cover Rop’s move. And then Meb came rushing up hard from behind to join the fray.  Decision made!  He was going! The crowd bellowed its approval.  Next, amidst a 4:40 18th mile, Meb surged to the front, not satisfied just to answer, he was anxious to dictate policy.

“I remembered that Salazar had won New York in his debut,” recalled Meb years later.  “And maybe I got too emotional.”

Rodgers Rop went on to win that 2002 race in New York in 2:08:07 to join Bill Rodgers (1978 & `79), Alberto Salazar (1982) and Joseph Chebet (1994) as the only men to win Boston and New York in the same year (in 2011 Geoffrey Mutai would join the club).

Meb took a full 35 minutes and change for his final 10K (5:40/mi. pace).  Chilled to the bone, he arrived in ninth place in 2:12:35. Afterwards, his mother Awetash made him swear he would never do THAT again. Continue reading

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

HEADING BACK TO BEEF STEW?

What is it with money in this game?  While purses and contracts in every other sport have continued to grow well into seven figures, in this fish market the scale has either remained stagnant or just gone down.

For their Series XI, which began in London last weekend, the Abbott World Marathon Majors announced a drop in its top prize from half a mill to a quarter mill, while thumping a new charity component that outstrips the top athletic prize by thirty grand, $280k to $250k. Yet can you blame them?

What would you do if international diversity completely disappeared from the top end of your sport, or if half your women’s series champions turned up doped – then didn’t give the money back, so you had to pay out twice?  Not to mention all the negative PR that comes with the news. Not quite the idea you had in mind a decade ago when you began the series, then, is it?

And just today we read that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has announced a ten-year strategic partnership deal with Wanda Group in China to develop marathoning in Asia (outside Japan) and Africa with the emphasis on participation, charity fundraising, and economic impact.

“The World Marathon Majors Series was founded in 2006 to advance the sport of marathon running and to honor the world’s best male and female runners and wheelchair athletes,” read the press release. “Now, every year, more than 250,000 runners participate in the AbbottWMM races worldwide, raising nearly $150 million annually for good causes, and the Series celebrates its Six Star finishers, runners who have successfully completed all six races in the Series. Additionally, Abbott WMM is a world leader in anti-doping initiatives, financing the biggest private-funded drug testing program in sport.”

Notice the order of focus and intention. Sport is still involved, yes, but now it is last in line and focused on doping, no longer the centerpiece of the enterprise.

But that aside, why is the money in this sport still organized the way it is in the first place? Because for some odd reason we can’t shuck our amateur past where the illusion fostered was that there was no money at all, while the reality was there was no ‘visible’ money? Continue reading

ABBOTT WORLD MARATHON MAJORS: MAKING AN “IS” OUT OF AN “ARE”

Before America’s Civil War people said ‘the United States of America ARE’, thinking of the country as primarily an aggregate of individual states rather than a single national entity. Only after Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox and the re-knitting of the Confederate States into the union did people begin to say, “the United States of America IS”.

The difference is subtle but instructive. For one might equally argue that the Abbott World Marathon Majors continue to be more an aggregate of independent events rather than a coherent series made up in six parts. They (as opposed to it) have unfortunately found their time together also running concurrent to a tainted era in the sport, as now four of their women’s series titles have fallen to doping disqualifications – that’s two Lilya Shobukhova’s , one Rita Jeptoo, and now one (sample A) Jemima Sumgong doping positives that have marred what was intended to be series celebrating athletic excellence.

Is it any surprise then that the six AWMMs just this year decided to draw down their top prize for Series XI beginning this weekend in London by half from $500,000 to $250,000, while earmarking a new $280,000 to charity? Yes, they have also included smaller payouts to second and third prizes in the series, $50,000 and $25,000, but overall the runner’s purse has been cut 35%.

Hard to argue the move.  You can’t keep publicly awarding prizes that a year later you have to take back because your winners have tested positive for banned performance enhancers. That’s not the message you want to be announcing.  After getting burned so many times it’s not so much a sport right now as much as it is a big mess.  And historically you sweep messes away.

I have already written how the sport might bolster its attack on the doping problem by increasing blood testing of the athletes till their arteries collapse – TESTING: PUTTING THE MONEY WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE – but let’s also look to the WMM competitions themselves. Boston down, London next. Continue reading

TESTING: PUTTING THE MONEY WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE

TD Beach to Beacon 10km start line
Photo: Victah Sailer@PhotoRun

We see a version of the honor system every weekend at road races across the globe where thousands of strangers align themselves into a solid grid behind posted pace signs.  But while runners might consider themselves an honest lot compared to the general population, there are less than honorable types mixed in as well, ranging from small-time PR fibbers to major event thieves who utilize performance enhancing drugs to claim what others rightfully deserve.

Asking human beings to self-regulate is to welcome disappointment, as any IRS agent or local priest hearing confessions can attest. But from a purely physiological standpoint, bad behavior can in part be attributed to hardware. The area of the brain responsible for self-regulation is the frontal cortex, which is a late-bloomer. It develops gradually over adolescence, though in some cases never at all. Accordingly, we must protect ourselves against the lesser angels within.

From the Ten Commandments on down men have attempted to regulate behavior through laws and their consequences.  But here we are again and again, and again and again, and maybe once more

THE DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF SCANDAL

staring at a headline announcing another positive drug test that tears the guts out of this sport, leading us to wonder at what point does the insanity definition kick in: doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result?

It is with this question in mind that we absorb the news of Olympic Marathon champion Jemima Sumgong‘s positive doping test for the banned blood booster EPO announced this past week by the IAAF. 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