TIME FOR AN AMERICAN WOMAN’S WIN IN BOSTON

Boston MA – What were the Pilgrims thinking? Did you feel it? Yeah, that was springtime that blew through Boston yesterday for about two hours from 9 till 11 am. Then winter came roaring back on a raw, east wind that had everyone scrambling back to their hotel rooms for more hats, gloves and turtlenecks. And with rain and even sleet coming today with temperatures never out of the mid 30s, maybe we should be thankful that Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon only predicts temps in the 40-50s with rain and strong headwinds.

But that’s New England, always something to overcome, from its rocky earth to its unrelenting winters. But as Boulder Wave Agency head Brendan Reilly, an old Bostonian himself, said to his client, defending women’s champ Edna Kiplagat, “three hours after the start somebody is going to be standing up on that podium with the mayor receiving a trophy as champion.  So it might as well be you.”

Defending Boston women’s champion Edna Kiplagat displays her race number

Good, stoic New England advice, that, but hard to implement just the same.  Though training has gone very well, Edna does not like cold and rainy conditions, only placing 14th in her tune up half marathon in Japan in 73:45.  “I never ran in snow before.” Just the same, this is the most accomplished runner in the field, so never write her off, even at age 38.

Since this Boston women’s field was first announced, the feeling that this would be the year for an American woman to win this race for the first time since Lisa Weidenbach (now Rainsberger) in 1985 has been strong. Now with the withdrawl of the Olympic silver medalist Eunice Kirwa of Bahrain, and slight injury reports on Ethiopians Mamitu Daska (slight ankle problem after 3rd in New York last fall) and Buzu Deba (missed a week of training with a tweaked left knee), that leaves 3x Dubai champion Aselefech Mergia, 2015 Boston champ Caroline Rotich, newcomer Gladys Chesir and defending champ Edna Kiplagat as the main challenge to the four top Americans. 

But Rotich has dropped out of the last two Bostons, and hasn’t popped a good one since she won in the cold and rain of Boston 2015.  For her part, though she carries a 2:19:31 best, Mergia ran her PR six years ago and has only run one non-paced marathon with hills in her career (2nd, 2015 NYC),

Gladys Chesir is a newcomer, but hasn’t shown to be a winner in her track and cross country career leading into her 2:24:51 2nd place debut in flat Amsterdam last fall. 

When was the last time it would have been considered an upset for an American woman not to win Boston?  Certainly never in the prize money era. But that’s where we are before Monday’s 122nd Boston Marathon. 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

DESI GOING FOR THE WIN IN LA TRIALS

Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Los Angeles, CA. — There’s a whole different vibe to an Olympic Trials race, because by its very nature it is not a final, but a prelim. Top three is a win no matter how you slice it because that’s the goal, to determine the team going to the Olympic Games.  And yet for some the win is very important. This year in Los Angeles in the women’s Olympic Marathon Team Trials race 2012 Trials runner-up Desi Linden has made no secret that her goal is to break the tape first.

“Thanks for mentioning all my second-place finishes,” Desi quipped after USATF’s Jill Geer introduced Desi at the press conference yesterday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at LA Live with a list of her accomplishments, including second place in Boston 2011,  runner-up at the Trials 2012 in Houston.

“Hopefully this will be the breakthrough race where I can break the tape and get a win.”

Both Desi and Luke Puskedra, the other featured athlete at the kick-off presser that included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, USATF CEO Max Siegel, and Conqur Endurance Group CEO Tracy Russell, agreed with Desi that what it would take the ability to close well, handling that last 10k to win the race and make the team. Not hanging on, but closing well.

“You need to be ready for everything,” said the 6’4” Luke, whose 2:10:24 in Chicago last fall made him the fastest American of 2015 in the marathon.  “Even if someone goes early, it will take a 2:08 effort even if not a 2:08 time in the heat.”

Trials’ racing is different. I remember the 1984 Olympic track & field trials where Craig Virgin came into the meet with a bit of a knee injury.  Yet he pressed the pace in the 10,000m final, before coming in second to the late Paul Cummings of Utah 28:02 to 27:59. Afterwards I asked Craig why he pushed the pace when he was less than 100%.  And he said, “because I only wanted someone who was a peer to beat me. I didn’t want the pace to be slow, like 29 minutes where a bunch of people who normally couldn’t beat me might be in the position to do so.”

Pfitz nips Al in Buffalo `84

Pfitz edges Salazar in Buffalo Trials `84

At the 1984 Marathon Trials in Buffalo, New York Pete Pfitzinger opened a good lead in the second half. Then Alberto Salazar came and caught him. I was in the lead moto calling that final sprint. “They’re saving nothing for Los Angeles, they’re going for the win! They’re going for the win.”

Things get heated. Athletes are competitors.

And in Houston 2012 Ryan Hall dropped it into high gear right from the start on a chilly ideal racing day. Boom!  4:50 out the door! How do you do! 1:03:25 halfway.  I talked to Josh Cox yesterday who is agenting these days, and he recalled, ‘they took off at 2:06 pace. We were in the second pack around 2:08:30 pace. But we had no choice. You had to be in the in the second pack, cause we realized only two of those guys up front were gonna make it all the way through. So you had to win that second pack race if we wanted to make the team.”

Now, it didn’t turn out that way as Meb Keflezighi went by Ryan at 25 miles, and Abdi Abdirahman held off Dathan Ritzenhein for third.  But that’s the kind of mentality you have to have in a Trials race.

There’s a race for victory, and then there’s a race for third. But Desi has put it out there, after the disappointment of having to step off the Olympic Marathon course in London 2012 after two miles because of an injury, she’s here in Los Angeles going for her second team, but also the National title that will attend it.

“She’s saving nothing for Rio!  She’s going for the win! She’s going for the win!”

And we wish her well (along with all the others)

END

THE HEAT WILL BE ON IN LA

2012 Olympic Trials, Houston, Tx.

2012 Olympic Trials, Houston, Tx.

 

Twice in recent men’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials history the weather has been a significant factor.  This coming Saturday in Los Angeles that number will jump to three as temperatures in LA have been forecast for the low-70sF (21C) at the 10 a.m. start, going up to 80F (27C) at noon.  Not ideal, by any measure, but consider that the average daily range in Rio de Janeiro in August for the Olympic Marathon will be a low of 66F (19C) and a high of 78F (25C), fairly similar to LA this Saturday. Continue reading