KIPCHOGE TO ATTEMPT OFFICIAL WORLD MARATHON RECORD IN BERLIN 2017

To nobody’s surprise Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will make a world record attempt this September 24th at the BMW Berlin Marathon, site of the last six men’s marathon world bests dating back to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie‘s 2:04:26 in 2007. That Kipchoge would run in Berlin this fall was always one of the probabilities coming out of Nike’s Breaking2  Project from this past May in Monza, Italy where the 2016 Olympic Marathon champion completed the marathon distance in a remarkable 2:00:25 in an unratified attempt to break the two hour barrier for 26.2 miles.

Kipchoge came so close to the sub-two hour barrier in Italy in May using a rotating stream of 30 even-tempo pacers, that a sub-62 first half in Berlin will seem modest by comparison. In essence Breaking2 will have been a speed session for Berlin.  Continue reading

WHERE TO NOW?

IAAF president Sebastian Coe is said to be seriously considering a proposal outlined at a recent European Athletics Council meeting which would erase all track & field records pre-2005, reasoning that’s when officials began saving blood samples for future testing.

“What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced, but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board,” European athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said.

Arbitrary? Sure. Necessary? Lay out some alternatives. Unless, of course, you believe the current situation is acceptable and maintainable. And I would love to hear that argument.

Yes, any one-size program will not fit all. Not every pre-2005 record is tainted, and athletes whose records may be in jeopardy are not happy.  So maybe the sport just lists them as the pre-2005 records, while attaching no further moral judgements one way or the other. Don’t deny them, simply differentiate them from the records where blood samples are available to be retested. There isn’t going to be a way that perfectly threads this needle.

But the way it stands now, you’re damned if you don’t run fast, jump high, or throw far enough, but you’re doubted if you do. Plus, things are awkward out there, elite athletes can’t even say hi to their local pharmacist anymore, much less visit a doctor, without arousing suspicion.

At the same time, the sport can’t survive if every time they hand out awards like Olympic medals, prize purses, or World Marathon Majors titles, they just have to keep taking them back later because the supposed winners were dirty. And let’s not even begin about what constitutes females or males.

Today’s system doesn’t get it done; it’s a loser. Who wants a medal upgrade ten years later? That only looks good in your obit. Continue reading

BREAKING 2 STILL ALLURING?

And so the grand experiment has come to a conclusion. And, oh, so close did it come to its vaunted goal, just one second per mile short of history’s first sub-2 hour time for the marathon distance. Not for the marathon, mind you, but for its distance – because a marathon by its historic formulation is a competitive event. What we witnessed yesterday in Monza, Italy was a time trial/lab experiment, not a race. But that is nitpicking, though a significant nit.

Notwithstanding, a huge congratulations go out to Eliud Kipchoge and the entire Nike Breaking2 Project for such a grand experiment in human performance, footwear technology, and scientific experimentation.

But what did we come away with after yesterday’s 2:00:24 performance on the Formula One racetrack in Monza?  Certainly, more questions as well as some answers. First of all, we know that the sub-2 is now possible, more likely probable, because he damn near did it! But since he didn’t quite do it, what else needs to be done that this experiment informed us as still being required? 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

SUB 2-HOUR MARATHON?

OK, how can I not weigh-in on the sub-2 hour marathon experiment by Nike? First, as to the potential. Alright, yes, based on every metric available, it is possible, barely, though not probable. As much of life is a matter of self-fulfilling prophecy, it is only when we think something is possible that it enters into the realm of the doable. After the belief it is a matter of execution.

There is no doubt Nike has the resources to make such an attempt valid, and the marketing savvy to maximize the public interest. The big question for me is the unintended consequences of the attempt. Continue reading

LONDON 2015 – A WINNING PROMOTION

PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

            PROMOTING EXCELLENCE

Hype can cut both ways.  Too much and the promotion can fall flat. Too little and the tree can tumble unheard in the forest.

In 2015 the Virgin Money London Marathon did a great job promoting its men’s and women’s professional fields. With a month long boxing-like ramp up that focused on the last two men’s marathon world record holders, Wilson Kipsang and Dennis Kimetto, and a “Fantastic Four” of Kenyan women, consisting of past London champions Edna Kiplagat (2014), Priscah Jeptoo (2013), Mary Keitany (2011-2012) and 2014 TCS New York City Marathon winner Florence Kiplagat (2nd, London 2014), London stacked its packs then piqued our interest with their pre-race set up.

The one thing it couldn’t control, however, was the outcome as Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge (2:04:42) bested Kipsang (2nd place, 2:04:47) and Kimetto (3rd place, 2:05:50), while Ethiopia’s Tigist Tufa, a 2:21:52 winner in Shanghai last year, upset the women’s applecart in a race where the pacers were all but ignored as place took precedence over time. Tufa arrived at the finish in 2:23:22 while Mary Keitany followed 18 seconds later in 2:23:40.  They were followed by two more Ethiopians, Tirfi Tsegay (2:23:41) and Aselefech Mergia (2:23:53).  Florence Kiplagat arrived in fifth at 2:24:15, while defender Edna Kiplagat (no relation) struggled home in 11th in 2:27:16.

To the Victor Go the Smiles

                                    To the Victor Go the Smiles

Just as in Chicago last October, Eliud Kipchoge’s lips split wide as he powered away from his final challenger today in the British capital. Last fall Sammy Kitwara fell victim. Today it was defending London champion Wilson Kipsang, the only man to defeat Kipchoge to date over the marathon distance (2013 Berlin when Kipsang ran a world record, since broken, 2:03:23, while Kipchoge finished second in a PR 2:04:05).

Often teeth baring betrays the rictus of effort, but for the 30 year-old father of three from the Central Highlands of Kenya, the softened crinkles around his eyes revealed his real mood. This, then, was the simple smile of satisfaction playing out over a face now used to such expressions of self-regard.

Less we forget, Eliud Kipchoge was just 18 when he upset world-beaters Hicham El Guerrouj and Keninise Bekele to take gold in the 5000 meters at the 2003 IAAF World Championships in Paris, the same year he won the IAAF World Cross Country Junior Championships in Lausanne, Switzerland. A year later he won bronze in the Athens Olympics over 5000m. Four years later he upgraded to silver in Beijing.

These days, after retooling his body for the longer road distances, Kipchoge once again took the measure of the best runners on offer with yet another flash of speed in the waning stages of a major competition.

The range of the man is remarkable. Only Ethiopia’s inestimable Haile Gebrselassie is in the same mile-to-marathon league with Kipchoge. What makes the two even more laudable is how each was able to sustain excellence over an extended period of time over a range of distances requiring very different training regimens.

KIPCHOGE PR LIST

Distance           Time         Venue              Date

1500m               3:33.20     Hengelo (NED)  31 May 2004

Mile                    3:50.40     London (GBR)  30 July 2004

3000m               7:27.66      Doha (QAT)       6 May 2011

5000m             12:46.53      Rome (ITA)         2 July 2004

10,000m          26:49.02      Hengelo (NED)  26 May 2007

10K Road        26:54          Madrid (ESP)     31 Dec. 2006

Half Marathon  59:25          Lille, (FRA)         01 Sep. 2012

Marathon       2:04:05         Berlin (GER)      29 Sep.  2013

GEBRSELASSIE PR LIST

Distance          Time          Venue                  Date

1500m               3:33.73      Stuggart (GER)       6 June 1999

Mile                    3:52.39     Gatehead (GBR)    27 June 1999

3000m                7:25.09    Brussels (BEL)        28 Aug. 1998

5000m               12:39.36    Helsinki (FIN)          13 June 1998

10,000m            26:22.75   Hengelo (NED)         01 June 1998

10K Road          27:02        Doha (QAT)             13 Dec. 2002

Half-Marathon   58:55        Tempe (USA)             15 Jan. 2006

Marathon        2:03:59        Berlin (GER)             28 Sep. 2008

So just when we thought the marathon had traded out old track stars for fresh faced road warriors, Eliud Kipchoge proved the old ways still have their charms, even as both champions showed that the marathon remains one of the most challenging of all sporting events to predict.

***

15London Paula RatcliffeAnd finally, any sport must be lucky in those who become its champions, as sport is pure meritocracy.  In that light, distance running has been blessed by many a fine representative.  But none better than three-time London and New York City Marathon champion Paula Ratcliffe who ran her swan song today.

The still standing women’s world record holder — 2:15:25 (London 2003) and nobody in shouting distance — hung up her marathon racing flats with a 2:36:55 effort.  No hype would ever be too great to adequately measure Paula’s long run at the top.  I can still recall her taking the IAAF World Cross Country junior title in snowy Boston in 1992 in her first  of many international triumphs.  Though snake bitten at the Olympics, whether in triumph or despair, Paula provided inspiration that will last for decades to come.  Her contributions to the sport, already vast, one would hope have only just begun.

END

MARATHON YEAR 2014

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

There were highs (American Meb Keflezighi‘s magnificent win in Boston) and lows (Kenyan Rita Jeptoo testing positive for EPO), but some things ran along a well worn path in the world of marathoning in 2014. Chief among those was the utter domination of Kenya and Ethiopia in the ranks of the men’s marathon.

Fully 95 of the top 100 times posted this past year hailed from those two nations (57/38), led by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record in Berlin in September. By comparison, last year 89 of the top 100 marathon times came from Kenya (55) and Ethiopia (34), led by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record, also in Berlin.

This year presumptive world number one Kipsang had to console himself with major wins in London (2:04:27 course record) and New York City (2:10:59 in chilled and windy conditions). Those two wins sewed up the $500,000 bonus for winning the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors series.  Nice consolation.

Wislon Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title.

Wilson Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title in November.

However, revelations out of Kenya late this year pointing  to a growing drug scandal and corruption charges have left the more cynical among us wondering how pure that dominance may be, or if we truly are in a golden age of the sport or simply an increasingly deceptive one. However, until further evidence surfaces we take what has been presented at face value. Continue reading