Tag: IAAF World Cross Country Championships

LEADING FROM BEHIND?

During his second term in office, President Barack Obama was vilified for his policy of “leading from behind” in Libya. Whether such a strategy is viable in the realm of geopolitics is open to argument. But can leading from behind be a winning strategy in running?

I thought about that while watching yesterday‘s IAAF World Cross Country Championships from Denmark. One of the questions asked when the very difficult race course was unveiled was whether or not somebody laying off the pace could come from behind and still win. We don’t see much of that on the track or, as it turned out, yesterday at World Cross in Aarhus. In shorter distances races, contact is everything. But the marathon is another matter because you can let someone go early with the goal of reeling him/her back in later.  But it’s more than that. (more…)

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CAN RUNNING PULL ITSELF BACK FROM THE BRINK?

With a Warrior Games like course that has jaws dropped throughout the Twitter-sphere, there’s a real excitement for Saturday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus, Denmark. The hunger has been even further driven by biennial scheduling of what once the most competitive annual footrace in the world.  So, yes, Aarhus is a true God-send for a sport still reeling from recent disheartening news.

The amputation of long-distance races from the 2020 IAAF Diamond League tour – along with the reduced quotas for all athletics’ events in the 2020 Tokyo Games as the IOC announced the inclusion of surfing, skateboarding, sport climbing, and breakdancing for Paris 2024 – is a sobering recognition that 1) the sporting world is more competitive than ever as it expands and diversifies, and 2) that the arrested development and long-time corruption endemic to the sport of athletics – as well as its inability (or unwillingness) to grow out of its Balkanized amateur past into a fully functioning professional future – has now come up against Recognition No 1. 

It also illustrates that the emotional tether that once linked the best long distance runners to the great herd of joggers who run behind them every week across the globe – much less to a robust fan base – has unraveled. 

Yet in one sense, the IAAF’s reduction of distance running is nothing more than a reflection of what distance running has done to itself. (more…)

WORLD CROSS COUNTRY – NO MARCH MADNESS

Competition is an examining tool, a measuring stick.  It is an auger to uncover the known from the proposed.  Unfortunately, in the world of distance running the answers are no longer in question; which is one reason why the public has lost interest in the outcome of the sport’s competitions.  What’s to uncover, which anonymous individual from East Africa will be today’s champion?  We already know who is going to win before the starter’s pistol is ever fired.  Which is why if running ever hopes to reengage the public at large, it must find a way to reframe its competitions.

While the U.S. senior men’s team won a hard-earned silver medal at yesterday’s IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Bydgoszcz, Poland behind Ethiopia’s gold and in front of Kenya’s bronze, given that the Kenyan team was “the weakest in 20 years” according to BBC commentators, the results only underscored their dominance.

World Cross Champion Japhet Korir
World Cross Champion Japhet Korir

Not only did unknown Japhet Korir become the youngest man ever to take the individual men’s gold medal for Kenya, even as the top five places all went to fellow East Africans, the fact that the Kenyan squads — junior and senior, men and women — still won the majority of the day’s other medals over a course which was decidedly not African friendly, testified to the lack of competition offered by the rest of the world.

In fact, many of the old-world cross country powers no longer even sent teams to compete. Germany, Norway, Russia, and France all remained at home rather than make the short trip to neighboring Poland.  When its own member federations lose interest, how exactly does the IAAF propose to woo sponsors and attract sports fans? (more…)

WHEN WORLD CROSS FIRST CAME TO POLAND

Bydgoszcz, Poland
Bydgoszcz, Poland

Tomorrow, Poland will host the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for a third time, the second in four years in the city of Bydgoszcz.  But in 1987 the Polish capital of Warsaw held the honor, and I attended as a radio and newspaper reporter from Boston.

Since it would be my first visit to Poland, I also brought along my mother from St. Louis, as she was a native Pole whose extended family still lived in the homeland. And though Perestroika had begun to unravel the Soviet apparatus to the east under Gorbachev, Poland remained locked in the long winter of Soviet domination, a full two years before spring revolutions would loosen the Communist grip once and for all.

The following is just one memory from my first trip to the a country long savaged by war, then demeaned by its outcome. (more…)

CARLSBAD MISSING ITS LEAD-IN

     The granddaddy of all marathons is less than three weeks away in Boston, but the progenitor of the modern road race is up this weekend in Carlsbad, California.  Entering its 27th year, the suntanned Carlsbad 5000 began buff and has never lost its P-90X shape. Sixteen world road records have been set on the glittering sea-side course north of San Diego.  Add to that innumerable national records and Carlsbad’s reputation as the “World’s Fastest 5K” is more than secure. Not that that was the original goal.

In 1986 American mile legend Steve Scott and New Zealand Olympic 1500 meter champion John Walker re-designed the original inland layout that race founder Tim Murphy had plotted.  Scott and Walker remapped the course into its current T-shaped seaside configuration.  Then Steve won the first three editions of the race, establishing 5K road records in two of those years.

Three-time CBAD champ Steve Scott

“John and I weren’t thinking in terms of a fast course,” said Scott, who will miss his first Carlsbad 5000 ever, as he takes his Cal State San Marcos team out of town all weekend for the Cal-Nevada Championships. “We were thinking of the visuals along the beach for ABC Wide World of Sports and news photographers.  Then the two world records in the first three years established it as a world-record course.  Like in Oslo (home of the Bislett Games), people had a mind-set that they were going to run fast. So they did.”

It is all legend now, but less we forget, before Carlsbad the 10K was the most popular road distance, and nobody thought people would even sign up for a race as short as the 5K.  How wrong they were. Today, the 5K is the #1 U.S. road race distance – or, should we say “Road Event” distance, due to the mega Race for the Cure series.

“The 5K is still handily the road race “King of the Hill” with nearly 4.7 million finishers (yes, another record in 2010),” explained Running USA stats and press guru Ryan Lamppa. “It had 36% of all race finishers in 2010; the universal 3.1 mile distance has been #1 in the U.S. since 1994 when it surpassed the 10K.” (See Table 1 at: http://www.runningusa.org/node/76115#76910.) (more…)

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL

Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title
Lawi Lalang wins 2011 NCAA Cross Country title

Politically incorrect or not, the truth is both indisputable and self-evident:  The utter domination of distance running by athletes from East Africa, a continuing trend which has seemed to peak in 2011,  has now begun to shrink the sport itself.  The atrophy is as evident as the hollows beneath Demi Moore’s cheekbones.

More evidence was on display again today at the NCAA D1 Men’s Cross Country Championship in Terre Haute, Indiana in the person of Arizona freshman Lawi Lalang of Kenya.  A wholly inexperienced distance runner who showed up on the Arizona campus last fall “with no competitive running experience whatsoever” according to his Wildcat bio sheet, Lalang was, nevertheless, an easy runaway winner in today’s national championship over his more seasoned competitors.

This stark difference in talent was a contributing factor which led to the recent departure of sub-4:00 high school mile star Lukas Verzbicas from the track program at the University of Oregon to train full-time for triathlon at the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs – VERZBICAS CHOOSES TRIATHLON OVER RUNNING.  That was a particularly troubling loss, since it represented another strand of running’s DNA being torn away.  But young Lukas was quite straight forward about his decision.  After winning the ITU World Junior Triathlon Championship this year, he looked at what lie ahead, and didn’t see himself being able to run what he considered world-level times against the Kenyan and Ethiopian runners.  So off he swam /biked to triathlon where no such (dominant) competition awaited.  But the Lukas loss is just another example in an increasing trend that has diminished a once robust sport. (more…)