Looking to Diamond Head from Waikiki Beach

Honolulu, HI – The Honolulu Marathon may not be a World Marathon Major, but it is a major world marathon. Now in it’s 47th year, the island classic began as more of an end-of-the-season lark for the handful of top local runners and a few island hopping elites brought over by their shoe company sponsor.  Winning times would generally fall just under 2:20 for men and 2;40 for women.  But it was always a fun time more than a fast time.  

Then something happened, and over the last 30 years Honolulu has become a springboard for some of the greatest marathoners of the modern era who utilized the Honolulu Marathon as a proving ground for greater glory on the world stage.

Ibrahim Hussein set new records in Honolulu and kick-started the Kenyan marathon revolution

Kenya’s Ibrahim Hussein was the first Kenyan champion in Honolulu, winning three straight from 1985 to 1987.  More than that, the University of New Mexico grad twice broke the Honolulu course record, slashing three-plus minutes off Dave Gordon’s 1982 mark of 2:15:30 with a 2:12:08 in 1985, then slicing another 25-seconds off in 1986.

Before Hussein the assumption was that Kenyans were not disciplined enough for the marathon distance. Attacking 26 miles as if it were 10K road or 12K cross country event, Kenyan athletes flamed out well before the finish lines of marathons far and wide.

Think of that assumption today in light of the last three decades of marathon domination that has emerged from training camps in and around the towns of Eldoret and Iten in the Central Highlands of Kenya.

Hussein went on to become the first Kenyan to win the New York City Marathon in 1987, then duplicated that first with three wins in Boston in 1988, ‘91, & ’92. Continue reading


Kenya’s Mary Keitany is all smiles at London Marathon 2017

This is a strange game, isn’t it?  Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.

Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill  or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003.  But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005.  But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?

When reading through the chattering class on, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served  as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se.  But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. Continue reading


Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicao 1984

Steve Jones World Marathon Record Chicago 1984

The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of the special football days of the year in America. While high school rivalries and the NFL play on Thanksgiving itself, the day after, Black Friday, has always belonged to the NCAA.

Today, there are two decent games — Washington takes on in-state rival Washington State, while Navy sailed into Houston for a match up of one-loss teams.

But before the rise of cable, there was usually just a single college game featured, usually a marquee match-up on one of the networks for a nation still digesting it’s Thanksgiving dinner.

In 1984 The Game pitted the 8-2, 10th ranked Boston College Eagles versus the defending national champion Miami Hurricane. “The U” was full of NFL draftees, though they weren’t having the same quality season as usual in ’84, coming in ranked 12th in the national polls.

Still, playing at home against the upstart BC Eagles, Miami was still a strong favorite as BC was viewed as the small Catholic school from the northeast where college football wasn’t nearly the religion as it was in the South and Midwest.

But this was the peak of the Doug Flutie era, when the Natick, Mass. native was single-handedly bringing the BC program to new heights under Coach Jack Bicknell. Continue reading


Last year, after the final pacer pulled off course at 30 kilometers, Kenya’s Wesley Korir shattered the integrity of the Chicago Marathon lead pack, ripping a sudden tear in the fabric of the race by accelerating past an aid station as others peeled off for their liquids.  But as he told me yesterday, “Even when I made that move, I was thinking of (Moses) Mosop.  I expected him to go by me, and when he did I gave up, and was happy with second place.”

What Korir just described is the Alpha Effect, the psychological control a single athlete has on his competitors by nothing more than his very presence.  The power an Alpha has over other runners can corrupt even their best moves before they have been played out. Last year in Chicago Kenya’s Moses Mosop, arriving as the 2:03:06 Boston Marathon runner up and world record holder at 30K on the track, was the Alpha male.  We’ve seen them through the years, men like Toshihiko Seko, Rob de Castella, Paul Tergat and Haile Gebrselassie, the athletes who everyone else has their eye on, waiting to see what he does, controlling the race no matter where he may be in the pack.

The professional athletes of the 2012 Bank of America Chicago Marathon met with the press corps yesterday at the host Chicago Hilton Hotel. Outside, the burly American city known for its architecture, music, and neighborhoods lay shrouded beneath low-hanging weather moving restlessly east out along the great lakeside where the bulk of the race will be contested this Sunday.  Continue reading


Wesley Korir’s Winning Smile

The 116th Boston Marathon stands as one the warmest in the event’s illustrious history.  Dire warnings were posted on the BAA website offering entrants the opportunity to by-pass the expected broiler without having to re-qualify for 2013 (Boston is the only major marathon that requires entrants to qualify by age-graded time standards).

With temperatures soaring to over 100 degrees Fahrenheit on the road surface, two-time L.A. Marathon champion and 2011 Chicago runner up Wesley Korir bided his time, watching as fellow countryman Matthew Kisorio (recently suspended for a steroid doping violation) Levy Matebo and defending champion Geoffrey Mutai opened up a sizable lead through the mid-section miles of the historic route.  Mutai was running in his first hot weather marathon, and discovering it was not his cup of tea.   At 18 miles he pulled off by the side of the road, felled by the sweltering conditions.  At 21 miles atop Heartbreak Hill Matebo broke free of Kisorio. Wesley Korir was in sixth place more than a minute behind.

“I had to be careful,” Wesley told me the following day at the annual day-after press conference at the Copley Plaza Hotel, “because with crowds I really get motivated. So I had to stay in the moment and be smart.  I kept telling myself, “be smart.  Be smart.”

Gradually, like a long-line fisherman, Korir reeled in the fading leaders, finally passing Matebo on Beacon Street before entering Kenmore Square with one mile to go.

“When I passed him I knew he was struggling,” Wesley recalled. “I said, ‘I’ve got this’. Then all of a sudden I began cramping up really bad, and I had to slow down, because I knew if I continued pushing I wouldn’t finish the race.”

Nobody was immune to the conditions that April day.  But this is where Wesley Korir began to separate himself from the everyday champions of the sport.  In his moment of crisis, with victory at history’s oldest marathon at stake, he stopped thinking like an athlete.

“As I was running, I knew my family was first, and my running was second. I didn’t want to do anything crazy to hurt myself, because I know my family depends on me. I know they love me, and want to see me back home safe.”

Another kilometer down the course as the route dipped below Mass Ave at the Tommy Leonard Bridge adjacent to the old Eliot Lounge, Wesley was able to get away from Matebo. But…

“I won the race not because of my ability to run, but because of my ability to process things. I thank God for bringing me to America to go to college.  I won because of my intelligence rather than my physical abilities.  I had to be conservative.  I had to take care of my body. I didn’t want to end up in the hospital, and maybe ruin my life forever.  But things like this you only get with education.  You don’t only think of winning. You think of the big picture of your life.”

It is this quality of perspective, of prioritizing, of seeing beyond the moment to the larger picture that has led Wesley Korir into the hearts of marathon fans world-wide, and made him an easy rooting favorite – along with American Dathan Ritzenhein – for Sunday’s marathon in Chicago.

“I’m still growing as a marathoner,” Wesley says.  “I couldn’t believe I won the Boston Marathon.  It’s nice to win L.A., but to win the Boston Marathon is like winning the Olympics and the World Championships all of them together.”

Believing the Boston Win

Squatting on his haunches having just crossed the finish line on Boylston Street, Korir’s expression was one of wonder and disbelief.

“I asked the volunteer ten times to pinch me.  Did I really just win the Boston Marathon?”

Yes, Wesley, you did, following in the footsteps of many fellow Kenyans. But maybe none more so than the original Kenyan champion at Boston, Ibrahim Hussein (1988, 1991-`92).  I say this because you, like Hussein, came into your pro running career as a college graduate, having taken a biology degree at the University of Louisville in 2008.

A generation ago college was the path almost all Kenyan runners took to the U.S.  Men like Ibrahim Hussein, Mike Musyoki, Henry Rono, and Joe Nzau arrived on scholarship.  But as the 1990s dawned, money in the sport opened, then grew.  Slowly, then decidedly, young Kenyan runners and greedy agents began to eschew long-term goals, and instead struck early and often.  Without any standards to hit, or obligations required to earn professional status, Kenyan athletes flooded the American road circuit, hitting as many races as possible, even at the expense of their own best interests.

“I was talking to the Athletics Kenya chairman (Isaiah Kiplagat), who was here (Boston),” explained Wesley.  “I told him, ‘we need to encourage athletes in Kenya to go to school’.  You don’t have a lifetime to run (competitively), but you do have a lifetime to use knowledge. I think most runners who are struggling financially in Kenya, who cannot do something with their life, struggle because they don’t have that knowledge. And that’s when people take advantage of them.”

Sudden fame and instant riches can become their own curse, as evidenced by the tragic death of 2008 Olympic Marathon (and 2X Chicago) champion Sammy Wanjiru last May.

Wanjiru Wins in Chicago 2010

“He was a very good friend of mine,” said Korir.  “The reason I won Boston is because in Chicago when I ran with Sammy he told me, “Wesley, you run like a champion. And I tell you the truth, you will be a champion one day’.  That motivated me to work so hard, and I wanted to win Chicago last year for him. I didn’t (he finished second to Moses Mosop). But when I came to Boston I told coach (Ron Mann, University of Louisville), ‘I have unfinished business’.

“Sammy was a great guy.  But why was he unable to manage his life? Why did these things happen to him?  Because he didn’t get an education.  That’s why other people were leading his life, not him.  And that’s what my education gives me, the understanding to know what comes first.”

Wesley points to Sally Kipyego, nine-time NCAA champion out of Texas Tech who has a nursing degree as well as a silver medal from the 2011 World Championships at 10,000-meters, as his female role-model counterpart.

“Sally and I are perfect examples of what needs to be done in Kenya. First you need to go to school. You can still run after that.  I don’t think all I’ve done in the four years that I have been a professional runner I would have done if I went pro immediately.”

Then Wesley brought general theory back into everyday practice.

“I have a young brother (John Kipkosgei).  He is 13 years old, and very fast.  Last year (2011) he was about to make the Kenyan Junior team, but I told him and my mom, ‘no running until he finishes school’.  He has the talent. There’s no doubt about that. But get an education first. I even told his teachers, ‘no running.  Let him do the exercises, but no competitive running until he finishes school’.”

The Korir’s:  McKayLA, Tara & Wesley

These days Wesley, wife Tarah, and their two-year-old daughter McKayLa (named by combining Tarah’s maiden name with LA, site of Wesley’s first two marathon wins) split their time between homes in Kentucky, where he and wife Tara met, her parent’s home in Kitchener, Ontario, and Kenya.

Wesley is one of nine siblings who hail from Biribiriet, a small village in the Central Highlands of western Kenya where life offers no guarantees.  One of his other brothers died several years ago of a poisonous snake-bite when there was no medical clinic near enough to save him.

Today, Wesley’s Kenyan Kids Foundation supports youngsters in their educational goals, while a new medical clinic in his home village, built with the support of friend Ryan Hall’s STEPS Foundation and set up by the University of Louisville Medical School, has brought something approaching hope, if not a guarantee, to Biribiriet. At the same time it has elevated Korir beyond the valued, but narrow, scope of world-class distance runner, and shown him the road ahead beyond his competitive years.

As he told Phil Hersh: “When you would help the children, you would see their families smile. I told my wife, ”This is what I want to do the rest of my life, to make people smile.’ ”

I have often said that every sport must be fortunate in the people who become their champions.  Sport, after all, is a meritocracy.  But if there is anyone in the 40,000+ field for the Chicago Marathon who would no more with the 2012 title than Wesley Korir, I really don’t know who that might be.



Like the other great running writers of his era, men like the late Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe and Neil Amdur, former sports editor of the New York Times, Phil Hersh of the Chicago Tribune is a master of the long-form profile, once a staple in the newspaper business.  With a gemologist’s eye for detail these writers have a way of weaving a tapestry in words that captures something beyond the facts to reveal the essential nature of their subjects.  Hersh The Chicago Tribune’s Phil Hersch penned an in-depth profile this week on Kenya’s Wesley Korir as a lead-in to Sunday’s 2012 Chicago Marathon.


On one hand…

As the professional fields for the 2012 BMW Berlin and Bank of America Chicago Marathons have been announced, it reminds us that the marathon requires a different combination of strengths than its shorter-race cousins where contact is the name of the game.  In the longer race you can moderate early, and still strike late.  Last year in Chicago, Wesley Korir made the first major move at 30Km, but it was eventual winner Moses Mosop who made the last.  That said, it is very difficult mentally to allow others to “get away” without responding in the initial engagement or not to get too discouraged with one’s inability to match that first move.  Patience remains key in the marathon.

The same principle holds in politics where the instant response can, in the long run, be ill-advised or misguided.  We saw an indication of that this week when Mitt Romney issued a harsh condemnation of the Obama administration after the attacks at American embassies in Benghazi, Libya and Cairo, Egypt on the anniversary of 9/11.

“It’s disgraceful that the Obama administration’s first response was not to condemn attacks on our diplomatic missions, but to sympathize with those who waged the attacks,” the candidate said in a prepared release.

Of course, the response he denounced wasn’t released by the White House, but by the American embassy in Cairo where hostilities were mounting outside their compound.  Also, their statement came out before the assault in Benghazi which led to the death of American Ambassador to Libya Chris Stevens and three others.

There is an old Washington adage that partisanship ends at the water’s edge.  In times of crisis, goes the theory, Americans of all political stripes rally to our elected leaders – like we did for President Bush 11 years ago on 9/11 – not only because they hold the constitutional reins of authority, but because they are privy to more information, so we must assume they know things we don’t which might color their decisions.

Therefore, even if we disagree with their response or policies, we wait to voice those disagreements until information clarifies the situation in the aftermath of crisis.  Only then do we assert our opposition and rally others to vote on our behalf.  But ambition is a powerful lure, especially in the heat of a presidential election, especially when you have recently come under fire from your own partisan punditry for lack of clarity on the financial positions you propose to adopt if elected.

“A slave has but one master,” wrote 17th century French essayist Jean de La Bruyère.  “An ambitious man has many masters as there are people who may be useful in bettering his position.”

This may well be the fault line of the Romney candidacy, a lack of fixed political views now subordinated to those who may be useful, but whose passions and prejudices outpace the wisdom required of the office he seeks. Continue reading


The following is a response to my last post TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD which outlined the political wranglings at last weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix where American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones were barred by meet director Ian Stewart for being “liabilities”.

Today’s responder is none other than legendary 1980s Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who helped steer what was then a regional-quality event into the deep waters of the marathon mainstream.

With the backing of Beatrice Foods sponsor money, Bright brought marathon recruitment to a new level of sophistication. After taking the helm in 1982, he was the first to scour the  European track circuit for marathon talent.  There Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 Bright lured Jonesy to Chicago for a $1500 fee to try on the marathon for size. 

After a DNF caused by a run-in with a pothole past half-way, Jones returned in 1984 ready, willing, evidently able.  Avoiding all hazards of the Windy City roads Jonesy bested the reigning Olympic champion Carlos Lopes of Portugal and 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia by breaking the marathon world record (2:08:05). 

The next year Bright engineered the Joan Samuelson-Ingrid Kristiansen-Rosa Mota women’s battle that produced Joanie’s 18-year standing American record 2:21:21.

What follows is Bob’s recollection of the 1986 Chicago Marathon and his behind-the-scenes tangle with Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, at the time the women’s marathon record holder.  Evidently the more things change, the more they remain the same. 


“Toni,  I read your last post with interest and it sparked memories of some long past shoot-outs.

After a 25 year walkabout, I have to agree with you, nothing has changed.  There appears to be zero leadership. With no leadership, meet directors become war lords. I liked the war part but never reached the lord status.

Meet directors cannot let athletes run over them, and athletes in some cases are vulnerable. A proper governing body would set standards, enforce rules and help solve problems similar to the recent London kerfuffle.  We will differ here; I would support the Ian Stewart position. Here is why and you might have some insight into this situation.

In the spring of 1986 I received a call from the Ingrid Kristiansen’s connections in Norway stating she wanted to try and break the marathon World Record in October. I flew to Oslo, met with Ingrid and her people for four hours in a bank with no lunch.  The deal:  a $40k appearance fee with travel and accommodations for five people. No Joanie, Rosa or any other heavy who would pressure Ingrid in the race. Just a greased skid where she could blast. The grease was $40K.

As October approached, I heard rumors from European contacts that she was slightly injured. I tried but couldn’t make contact with her coach or agent.  On Wednesday before the race her party (8 people) shows up.  They need rooms and travel money for the additional folks.  Ingrid hides in her room and sends her husband to collect her appearance fee. Not much luck with that stunt. The running gun-battle is launched. Alan Ladd has gone missing.  Lawyers, agents, hangers-on and journalists jump into the melee. I’m surrounded.

I have a slightly? injured athlete demanding her appearance money (not hiding but resting) and an agent representing IMG declaring she is under contract to wear a MAZDA racing singlet which will upstage a race sponsor.  Right there, I should have declared Ingrid a ‘LIABILITY’ and sent her packing.  Where was Ian Stewart when I needed him? Continue reading