BRADY AND PATRIOTS TRANSCENDANT

 

 

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The Boston Globe’s Dan Shaughnessy – author of The Curse of the Bambino, no less, a book about the Boston Red Sox – suggested in his Super Bowl lead today that the New England Patriots’ improbable, cataclysmic, can-you-effing-believe-it! 25 point comeback win over the Atlanta Falcons in Super Bowl 51 may be the greatest moment in Boston sports history.

So much emotional weight was freighted onto this Deflategate Revenge Tour finale in Houston, along with the possibility of Pat’s quarterback Tom Brady and coach Bill Belichich winning their unprecedented fifth Super Bowl title, that the game rose above any of the previous 50 Super Bowls, which on its own has become the national sporting event of the year. But the best moment in Boston sports history? Let’s consider the rivals in the three other major professional sports and our own minor one of running. 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

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

BACK TO PACING AS USUAL

Running fast behind pacers is a thoughtless act. You know what’s coming — in fact, it’s been negotiated — and you can either do it or you can’t. But there is no thought required as there is in a pure racing format like the Olympic Games.

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Matthew Centrowitz and Nick Willis celebrate Olympic glory

One of the many highlights of the Rio Games was Matthew Centrowitz’s stirring front-running win in the men’s 1500 meter final. Yet, historic as it was — first American to take that title since 1908– there are some who question the standard of that gold medal run, because the 3:50 winning time was the slowest since the 1932 final.

Notwithstanding the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, such time-based considerations miss the entire point of the endeavor, and help define what’s missing in the staging and presentation of the sport in general. Continue reading

CROWD CHAOS AT TOUR DE FRANCE

Wild times on Mont Ventoux

Wild times on Mont Ventoux

“There’s no way to control a crowd like that if they don’t want to be controlled,” said former Boston Marathon race director Will Cloney after huge throngs on Heartbreak Hill forced runners into a single file as they climbed the iconic rise. The narrowed channel made for great excitement, great theater, but also dangerous racing conditions as it was all but impossible to pass anyone in the bedlam.

Accordingly, the Boston Athletic Association soon installed rope lines and finally snow fencing and barriers all along Heartbreak Hill and other crowded sections of the course to keep the crowds at bay in the name of race safety. 

CONVENTIONAL WISDOM

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Lemi Hayle & Lelisa Desisa battling in Boston

Boston, MA. – Modern day conventional wisdom held that professional runners could optimally race only two marathons per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. With a full marathon training cycle taking 12 weeks or so, and a proper marathon recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathoner’s career for both excellence and length.

But as the popularity of the marathon continues to spread around the world, and opportunities crop up in parts of the world outside the U.S. and Europe where the weather is conducive to marathon running in non-traditional months, we’ve begun to see more and more top athletes stretch their wings and open their calendars.

With the money that now attends these newer events, and with youthful runners who might once have gone to the ovals in Europe now running marathons as a primary profession, the two-per-year order has evolved.

Racing is not simply a trophy collection exercise, but a business opportunity. And youthful legs like those of Lemi Hayle, 21, who just won the Boston Marathon after taking second place in Dubai in January in a PR 2:04:33, don’t seem to experience a perceivable drop-off even with a shortened training regime and following recovery.

In 2015 Hayle won Dubai in 2:05:28 then came back in April to win in Warsaw in 2:07:57. And we can be fairly certain that if he is selected for the Ethiopian Olympic team for Rio (and why wouldn’t he be?) there’s even a chance he might run in the fall again, as well. Young legs and hungry hearts bounce back quicker.

Whether there are any other factors involved we will set aside for the moment. Though the cynicism that might have been decried in the past is hard to dismiss out of hand anymore.

But returning to the gist of the post: Last year two-time Boston champion Lelisa Desisa ran four marathons, taking second in Dubai (2:05:52), first in Boston, then seventh at the Beijing World Championships and finally third in New York City.  Yemane Tsegay ran three majors, second at Boston and the World Champs before fifth in NYC.

Those results didn’t appreciably slow them on Monday in Boston where they went second and third in slow conditions. And their countrywoman Titfi Tsegaye finished second at Boston in the women’s race coming off a 2:19:41 PR winning Dubai in January, which was get 19th career marathon.

What jumps out from this list is that it’s all Ethiopian.

“Most Kenyans still listen to us,” said athlete manager Federico Rosa, whose Kenyan, Paul Lonyangata, finished fifth yesterday. “It is in Ethiopia they want to run more. They want to keep rolling in races, but we don’t want to kill the body. We want the athletes to be 100% ready for their next race, and to have a long career.”

Exuberance and indestructibility are hallmarks of youth. Perhaps the old marathon isn’t such an endurance event anymore, but a speed test over a long distance.  Then again maybe it’s just luring youthful prey into its less than tender trap.  It will take a few more years to determine how sharp the old distance’s teeth still are.

Good recoveries and congrats to all the Boston finishers.  Let’s see what London has in store next week.

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2016 BOSTON MARATHON PRESSER

Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Joan Samuelson talking prospects in Rio where Amy & Shalane just visited.

Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg and Joan Samuelson talking prospects in Rio where Amy & Shalane just visited.

Boston, Ma. –  U.S. Olympians Shalane Flanagan, Amy Cragg, Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall were an added attraction at today’s 2016 Boston Marathon elite athlete press conference. But with the top end Americans resting from February’s Olympic  Trials and preparing for Rio Games this summer, there are fewer marquee names in this year’s marathon field. Plenty of very fast runners, mind you, just not a lot of star power.

The biggest story in Boston 2016 is probably Lelisa Desisa’s attempt at a third BAA crown.  The 26 year-old Ethiopian has won two of his three Boston starts, 2013 and 2015. Only a DNF in Meb’s year of 2014, when Desisa stepped on a water bottle at 25K forcing him from the race at 35K, has seen him off the winner’s stand.  And speaking to his coach Haji Adillo, and his manager Hussein Makke, Desisa is laser focused on that three-peat.

“He is in top form,” said Coach Adillo, “better than ever, more mileage than before.  But after the World Championships (7th in Beijing in August) and third place at New York, we said, ‘enough’.  So we took it easy after November with only one race scheduled before Boston.”

Lelisa won that race, the Aramco Houston Half Marathon in January in a fine 60:37, showing he is in perfect position to become the ninth runner to take three Boston wins in a career, and first since Robert Cheruiyot won the third of four in 2007.

But Boston is a tricky race with no pacesetters, and a course as undulant as a Moroccan belly dancer.  Continue reading