GEEKING ON KENENISA’S NUMBERS

2014 Paris Marathon champion Kenenisa Bekele

2016 Berlin Marathon champion Kenenisa Bekele

On January 20th Ethiopia’s triple Olympic track gold medalist Kenenisa Bekele will start the sixth marathon of his career at the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon.  Coming off a near-world record 2:03:03 win in Berlin last fall in his last start there are indications that the great Ethiopian track and cross country runner may have his sights set on the current marathon world record of 2:02:57, set by Kenya’s Dennis Kimetto in Berlin 2014.

Now I am one of those journalists who has consistently lobbied for a greater concentration on competition over time, but since this is what is on offer, I thought I would take a deeper dive into the probabilities of a new world record, using the past as prologue.

Though I have heard some faint murmurs from Addis Ababa that the political climate in Ethiopia is affecting some people’s ability to train freely – the troubles are in line with Olympic silver medalist Feyisa Lelisa’s anti-government protest at the Rio Olympics and his subsequent move to the U.S to seek asylum  –  let us assume for this study that all is well with Bekele’s preparations, and that he will arrive in Dubai in top form.

On April 6, 2014 Kenenisa Bekele ran his marathon debut in Paris, France.  Against a less than competitive field the 31 year-old won by over 2 ½ minutes, stopped the timer at 2:05:03, which was a course record, sixth fastest debut in history, and fastest first-time marathon ever by a man over 30.

At the time I thought it would be interesting to look ahead by looking back (NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT).  After all, record performances are the links that allow fans to compare and contrast athletes of different eras in much the same way baseball fans compare stats across time (at least until the steroid era kind of ruined that –  Oops, do we have more in common with baseball than we realize?)

Anyway, I decided the best way to compare Kenenisa’s potential in the marathon would be to judge his marathon debut and projected career personal best (PB) against other former track record holders who subsequently moved up to great success in the marathon. Accordingly, I saw Kenya’s Paul Tergat and Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie, as the canaries in this very high quality coal mine, as both pre-dated Bekele as world record holders at 5000 & 10,000 meters on the track before adding the marathon record to their resumes.

After Bekele’s near-world record 2:03:03 win in Berlin in September 2016, I thought it might be fun to see how those projections from 2014 have played out so far. 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

THE NEED FOR WHITE HATS V. BLACK HATS

Tesfaye Abera wins in Dubai

Tesfaye Abera wins in Dubai over defender Birhanu

Last night’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon showed in microcosm all the strengths as well as all the weaknesses confronting foot racing as public spectacle. From a purely athletic standpoint it was a terrific show with 23 year-old unknown Tesfaye Abera of Ethiopia coming back in the final 500 meters to sling shot past defending champion Hayle Lemi Berhanu by nine seconds in 2:04:24 to notch a five-minute PR!

But except for a small, but enthusiastic gathering of Ethiopian ex-pats at the finish, the dead flat, three-turned Dubai course layout was as empty as the Revlon makeup counter at the local mosque.

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"Money" Mayweather bling

“Money” Mayweather bling

Say what you will about Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, the recently retired-now unretired boxing champion (and richest sportsman in the world in 2015), the guy could sell the be-jeezus out of his fights. People just hated the guy with a passion for his swaggering, make-it-rain lifestyle, his pimped up, iced-out persona. And boy, did the people want to see him get his ass handed to him. The fact that none of his opponents could knock his block off just made his next fight sell all the more pay-per-view buys. The guy could sell the sh*t out of his fights.

But the fact is, however you chose to see Mayweather – and his numerous trips to court to defend his treatment of women gave validity to the charge he wasn’t putting on that much of a show, he might actually have been a bit of a d*ck after all – a sport needs its Black Hats to gin up interest going up against the good guy White Hats to promote the game. Continue reading

HAILE CHALLENGES THE SPORT

Coming April 13, 2014

Coming April 13, 2014

Honolulu, Hawaii – Even as the Virgin Money London Marathon features a fearsome field of contenders for its 2014 edition this Sunday morning, former marathon world record holder, and Sunday London pacer, Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia has offered a bleak prognosis for the sport he bestrode for so many years.

“Athletics has to change a little bit, bring in new ideas, new concepts,” said the holder of 27 world records to the assembled London press corps. “Otherwise it’s going to be just a bit boring to watch.”

That’s a little ironic, perhaps, since Haile will play a key role in one of running’s most labored old ideas this Sunday morn, lead pacer in the marathon. New ideas? How about letting the athletes compete over the entire distance? Boring to watch? How about knowing for a certainty that NOTHING will happen for the first half of the race — Unless there is an error in judgement, like we saw in 2013 when they went through the half in 61:34, or in 2009 when they went through 10k in 28:30 on the way to the half in 61:36.  Those kind of errors just blow up the race, not the SOMETHING race organizers might be looking for.

Saying the health and well-being of the sport (meaning track & field) has been masked by the over-sized presence of Jamaican superstar sprinter Usain Bolt, Haile wondered what the sport would do in his absence?

“We have to upgrade the situation,” he concluded, “attract more of an audience (and give) what they like. We have to attract sponsors. If the sponsors think nobody cares about athletics, who is going to sponsor you?” Continue reading

NUMBERING UP BEKELE’S MARATHON DEBUT

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

2014 Paris Marathon champion Keninisa Bekele

After 31 year-old track and cross country champion Keninisa Bekele’s superb marathon debut in Paris today, 2:05:03 — course record, sixth fastest debut in history, fastest first-time marathon ever by a man over 30 — I thought it would be interesting to look ahead by looking back.  After all, records are the lattice upon which the sport of athletics grow, while giving fans a chance to compare and contrast athletes of different eras in much the same way baseball fans compare stats across time (at least until the steroid era kind of ruined that).

Before we glance back, however, let us look into the very near future as we await another highly anticipated debut, that of England’s own double Olympic track champion Mo Farah.   Also 31,, the 2012 5000 & 10,000m Olympic gold medalist will hope to thrill the home crowd at the Virgin Money London Marathon. And he will know how high the Bekele standard has been set.   But while Paris was a showcase for Bekele with a very good, but not great field, and his manager Jos Hermens riding alongside on a motorbike, Mo will have to negotiate a field of steely-eyed killers, record holders, and Olympic medalists in London.

So while Keninisa was able to pull free of his competition after 25k on his way to victory in Paris, one can expect Mo to be challenged much later into London’s 42 kilometer soiree next Sunday. At the same time, London is historically a faster layout than Paris, so it will be difficult to make a direct apples-to-apples comparison between the two.  But why should that stop us from having some fun with numbers?

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MIKE LONG TROPHY TO BE AWARDED AT HAILE MARATHON

The late, great Mike Long

The late, great Mike Long

This Sunday, October 20th, marks the inaugural running of the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon in Hawassa, Ethiopia.  Hosted by the legendary distance runner who set 27 world records during his remarkable career, the Haile Marathon is limited to 1200 participants and 500 guests, and features a series of travel tour options to go along with the marathon itself.

Among the prizes awarded to the male and female champions will be the Mike Long Trophy, named in honor of Haile’s now departed dear friend.  The trophies are a fitting testimonial to the legacy of love and friendship that Mike engendered during his career as elite athlete coordinator for San Diego-based Elite Racing from 1990 to his untimely death in July 2007. Continue reading

RUNNING VS BOXING: CONNECTING WITH THE SPORTING PUBLIC

Foot racing and boxing are two of the world’s most ancient and primal forms of athletic competition. Over the last 24 hours we have witnessed two great sporting contests, one in each of those sports, both pitting titans of their respective disciplines against one another. But only one registered outside its own arena and industry.

Mayweather remains undefeated, whips Alvarez

Mayweather remains undefeated, whips Alvarez

Last night boxer Floyd “Money” Mayweather lived up to that moniker as he took home a guaranteed $41.5 million — with the potential payoff of $100m – winning a majority 12-round decision over 23 year-old Mexican superstar Saul Canello Alvarez at the MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.  Though one judge inexplicably saw the bout as a draw, the other two judges — and the viewing public — saw a clear win for the 36 year-old Mayweather.  The fight was the pinnacle of a lavish three –month long build-up that developed the bout into one of, if not THE, richest fights in history.

2013 Great North podium, Mo Farah, Keninise Bekele, Haile G.

2013 Great North podium,, (l-r) Mo Farah, Kenenise Bekele, Haile G.

The foot race, the Bupa Great North Run, was staged in Newcastle, England where veteran Ethiopian track and cross country superstar Kenenise Bekele halted England’s favorite son Mo Farah from wresting the title ‘undisputed greatest runner in the world’ by holding off the reigning double Olympic and World Champion over the final 800 meters of the half-marathon distance.  For spice, the man renown as the Greatest Runner of All Time, 40 year-old master Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia more than held his head high, finishing a respectable third after leading the contest for much of the way while establishing a new master’s world best for the distance (60:41).

But while Mayweather vs Alvarez was watched by millions on pay-per-view TV at $65 (standard definition) and $75 (high def), the contest between three of the world’s greatest runners was seen on BBC domestically in England, but was unavailable for viewing in the USA other than through a hacker website.  Continue reading