Tag: Frank Shorter

A NEW YEAR BUT THE SAME OLD US

These days accusations fly across the political spectrum faster than shuttlecocks in an ambidextrous badminton tournament. But what’s a lie, and who’s to say?  There’s your question for the new year, kiddies. 

News that Russia missed the New Year’s Eve deadline to hand over data to the World Anti-Doping Agency from the laboratory in Moscow where its state-sponsored doping program was centered somehow caught WADA President Craig Reedie by surprise. “Bitterly disappointed”, I believe that was his quote. 

And you would be disappointed, too, if you had stepped out in November to recommend Russia be readmitted to international competition, despite not yet having met WADA’s conditions for that reinstatement.  “I find it very hard to believe that the guarantees, made to us by the Russian authorities, that they won’t deliver.”

Really?  When murdering journalists and political opponents are normative behavior, where do you think doping in athletics falls on the New Year’s resolution To Do list?

(more…)

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CHICAGO 2018: TOO MANY CANDIDATES ON THE BALLOT

Though it was a Frenchman, Michel Bréal, who first suggested that a distance race be held in the 1896 Olympic Games and be called the Marathon, it may be that fate, too, had a hand in the formulation.  You see, Athenian democracy, described as the first known democracy in the world, developed around the same fifth century BC time frame as the myth of Pheidippides, the Greek messenger whose run from Marathon to Athens telling of a great military victory over an invading Persian force was the genesis of our modern sport. And what is the Marathon but the most democratic of all sporting events where all are welcome to participate and the winners are decided by open competition?  It is in the light of that history that I make the following observation.

The 2018 BofA Chicago Marathon has set up another great open field for October 7th.  Announced yesterday, it is loaded with past and current champions from around the racing world. 2018 Boston, Dubai, Prague, Paris, Rotterdam, and Tokyo champions have all signed on. But hidden deep within that collection of mostly anonymous talent is something this sport has longed for since the days when Bill Rodgers first challenged Frank Shorter in the short mid-1970s window when both were at the top of their game, a great mano a mano duel. 

Here we have defending Chicago champion Galen Rupp and his former Nike Oregon Project training partner Mo Farah signed and sealed. It’s something the sport (and track and field) has been starved for and lax in developing for years, a truly intriguing match race. The last such match race worth its spit was staged in 1996 when Olympic long sprint champion Michael Johnson of the USA took on short sprint champion Donovan Bailey of Canada over an intermediate 150-meter distance in Toronto following the Atlanta Games. And though the race itself fizzled with Johnson pulling up lame midway, the promotion itself was a big success.

Now, for the first time in memory, we have two well branded Olympic distance medalists, men who used to be teammates, going head-to-head for the first time in the marathon, both looking to bust a fast time on one of the fastest courses in the world. Accordingly, Chicago is reinstating pacers after discarding that crutch following the 2014 race. And it makes perfect sense because both Rupp and Farah are past track burners who have yet to break through in terms of marathon times on par with their 10,000 meters PRs.

Here, then, is a natural rivalry that people might actually want to see, one that can be marketed, Galen versus Mo,m. And then they go lard it up with all these admittedly fast but anonymous extras who do nothing but steal the spotlight from the one thing that might get average people to stop and pay attention. Why?  Cause we’ve always done it this way? (more…)

AN ENCOURAGING WORD IN A VOLATILE WORLD

We were broadcasting the National Scholastic Track & Field Championships for ESPN from the Carrier Dome in Syracuse, N.Y.  It was Sunday, March 11, 1990.  The very next day the Lithuanian parliament would vote 124-0 to secede from the Soviet Union, marking the first break from Moscow by a Baltic state forcibly annexed in 1940 – and the first independence vote of any kind in the 68-year history of the Soviet state.  The questions circling the Sunday morning news shows that day asked ‘how far would the 1989 revolution extend?’, ‘how would the United States play it?’, and ‘what shape would the world eventually take?’

Nearly 30 years later, those same questions still linger in an even more volatile world with Putin’s Russia still uneasy about the loss of her satellites, and the world anxiously wondering ‘how will the U.S. play it under President Trump?’.

Though I had been interviewing him for more than a decade, the 1990 National Scholastic meet was the first time I found myself actually working alongside 1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.  During one of the breaks in our coverage as we prepped for the boy’s two-mile run, I asked Frank what his best high school two-mile had been.

“9:38,” he replied, recalling his days at Northfield Mount Hermon Academy in western Massachusetts class of `65.

A few moments later an eager-faced young man approached our broadcast location from the stands below.  Looking up, he tentatively called out, “Mr. Shorter?”

Occasionally prickly with his peers, Shorter had never been anything but gracious with young athletes.  And amidst their ensuing conversation, it came out that this particular young man had come to the Carrier Dome to watch the meet because he’d just missed qualifying for the nationals in this about to be contested two-miler.

“My best was only 9:36,” he told Shorter dejectedly, explaining how hard he had tried to make the standard.

“You know,” Frank replied, “that’s two seconds faster than my high school PR.”

The kid’s eyes opened even wider.

“9:38?  You mean I might not be finished yet?”

The world may change, invariably getting smaller, more crowded, more contentious.  Times may change, too, invariably getting faster.  But the incentives to achieve remain constant, whether for a people in search of national recognition or for a young athlete needing only an encouraging word from one of his heroes who has come before.

(From Journal #26 -> Tues. 27 Feb. to Thurs. 24 May 1990)

END

RELENTLESS SHALANE WINS IN NEW YORK CITY

Like many a Boston Marathon finisher, Shalane Flanagan walked downstairs with a tender tred after the race. The Marblehead, Massachusetts native had attacked the old course with a willful intention on Patriot’s Day 2014, convinced that an unrelenting pace from the start would discourage her opponents and set her up for victory.  But now, after the savage pace she set on the rolling hills from Hopkinton to Heartbreak Hill in Newton had shredded her quads, the walk downstairs from the VIP room of the House of Blues to the main stage for that night’s award ceremony was proving to be yet another painful journey.

Once on stage, the top ten women were presented to the boisterous crowd. Shalane was number seven. Then, as the champion (now confirmed drug cheat) Rita Jeptoo of Kenya basked in the spotlight and applause gowned up like a beauty pageant contestant, Shalane stood behind her still unrelenting, still feisty and unbowed.

“You’re welcome,” Shalane said tartly from behind as I introduced Jeptoo to the crowd. We heard her.  It was an acknowledgment that Flanagan knew exactly what role she had played in the fastest Boston Marathon in history, her own 2:22:02 time in seventh being the fastest ever by an American in Boston.

Shalane Flanagan leading the charge in Boston 2014

The plan for Boston 2014 had been set months in advance by Shalane and her Bowerman Track Club coach Jerry Schumacher. And to a degree, it had worked, delivering the 33-year-old to the Boylston Street finish line in exactly the time she was trying to achieve. Unfortunately, it was nearly four minutes behind the drug queen, and two minutes off that which Buzunesh Deba of Ethiopia fashioned in second place – 2:19:59.

“When I first heard of Jeptoo (drug bust),” remembered Shalane, “I was angry. But then I was relieved. I could do that two minutes.”

And she nearly did, six months later in Berlin, again gunning for time rather than place. This time it was Deena Kastor‘s American record 2:19:36 from London 2006. (more…)

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. (more…)

BERLIN 2017: IS PAST STILL PROLOGUE?

In the past, it was the pure strength men, or those who couldn’t quite finish fast enough on the Olympic track to earn medals, who sought solace in the marathon. Back then the world record was less a goal than an outcome. Names like Derek Clayton, Ron Hill, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Toshihiko Seko, Alberto Salazar, Rob de Castella, Steve Jones, and Juma Ikangaa are still venerated by old hearts.

Today, with the rewards to be made, young men come into the game totally fearless, all the progeny of the late Sammy Wanjiru, the mercurial Kenyan who announced a new era in marathon running when he attacked the 2008 Beijing Olympic course on a hot summer’s day as if he were on a 10k romp through a dewy meadow on a perfect spring morn. The following spring in London he goaded pacers to a 28:30 first 10k on the way to a 1:01:36 half and a brave, but fading 2:05:10 win.

Wanjiru forever changed the relationship between racers and the distance in those two races, stripping the marathon of much of its mystique, and arming marathoners everywhere with new courage at starting lines around the world.

We saw the full effect of the Wanjiru Era last May in Monza, Italy when former 5000 meter world champion Eliud Kipchoge came within 25 seconds of the two-hour barrier at Nike’s Breaking2 Project exhibition.  And now on September 24th in Berlin, Kipchoge, along with defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and 2013 winner and ’16 runner up Wilson Kipsang of Kenya will meet at the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon, hunting for sub-2:02:57, the official marathon world record. It is a glorious matchup between two former track men moving up and one pure marathon man, each a past winner in the German capital.   (more…)

FALMOUTH ROAD RACE FOUNDER TOMMY LEONARD TURNS 84

This Sunday the New Balance Falmouth Road Race turns 45.  But today race founder and guiding spirit Tommy Leonard celebrates his 84th birthday.

Back in the Summer of `72 Tommy was tending bar at the Brothers 4 on Falmouth Heights when Frank Shorter ran to the gold medal at the Munich Olympic Marathon.  Inspired by Frank’s win, Tommy dreamed up a local road race to help raise funds for the Falmouth Girl’s Track Club.  45 years later, both the founder and his founding spirit live on.

Tommy Leonard

Though he summered on Cape Cod, T.L. called Boston’s Eliot Lounge home for nearly a quarter century, and it was there that his legend took root.  In honor of his birthday, here is a little verse that recalls the days when a visit to Tommy was on every runner’s wish list. (more…)