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

BACK TO PACING AS USUAL

Running fast behind pacers is a thoughtless act. You know what’s coming — in fact, it’s been negotiated — and you can either do it or you can’t. But there is no thought required as there is in a pure racing format like the Olympic Games.

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Matthew Centrowitz and Nick Willis celebrate Olympic glory

One of the many highlights of the Rio Games was Matthew Centrowitz’s stirring front-running win in the men’s 1500 meter final. Yet, historic as it was — first American to take that title since 1908– there are some who question the standard of that gold medal run, because the 3:50 winning time was the slowest since the 1932 final.

Notwithstanding the Olympic motto, “Faster, Higher, Stronger”, such time-based considerations miss the entire point of the endeavor, and help define what’s missing in the staging and presentation of the sport in general. Continue reading

BEAT DOWN AT BIX

Davenport, Ia. — So there was this little dustup between miles four and five at the BIX 7 Road Race yesterday in Davenport, Iowa. Teshome Mekonen of Ethiopia was clipping the heels of race leader Silas Kipruto, and two-time champion Kipruto became a tad tired of it. Anyone who’s been in a pack has had that situation happen to them. At first it’s frustrating, but soon, if it keeps happening, it has a tendency to piss you off.

Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options

Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options

So after a couple of head turns and stern glares from Kipruto, and a corresponding ‘go eff yourself’ from Mr. Mekonen, the 6’4″ Kipruto took a MMA backhand swipe at the much smaller Ethiopian, which backed him off, and caused all kinds of panic in the pack, which by that time was made up of two Kenyans and two Ethiopians, the Yankees-Red Sox of distance running rivalries.

As it so happens, all four of the guys in that lead pack had been racing against one another on the tour, and so were well aware of one another.

On July 10 at the Utica Boilermaker 15K it was Ethiopian Mekonen who took the win, with countryman Belay Tilahun in 5th, followed Kenyans Isaac Mwangi and Silas Kipruto.

Then last week in Santa Cruz, California at the Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler it was Isaac Mwangi outkicking Silas for the win with Mekonen in third. So these guys were not strangers.

Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win

Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win

Yesterday at Bix Kipruto pulled away with Belay Tilahun in tow as Mwangi and Mekonen succumbed on the infamous Kirkwood Boulevard hills in Mike 5. New father Kipruto finally went on to win the race in a last 800m sprint to notch his third BIX victory.

But Mekonen then filed a protest saying he had been interfered with. But it’s not like it all happened in a vacuum. Mekonen was causing the problem by clipping the heels of Kipruto in the first place. But in any case, this is exactly what we need in the sport. At least in America.

Every sport in America that is successful has a modicum of violence. The most popular sport, football, is predicated on violence. If you want to find an audience better find a way to incorporate some version of it. So here’s a proposal. In every 5 km of a race there ought to be at least 100 meters designated as a full contact zone. Let’s let them go at it MMA style and let the chips (and teeth) fall where they may.

Meb Keflezighi came into yesterday’s race wanting to get out of his comfort zone as he heads toward the Rio Olympic Marathon in three weeks time. And he did the early race leading with U.S. Army WCAP runner Elkahan Kibet.  But there is nothing that will get you out of your comfort zone quicker than a shot of adrenaline from a well thrown punch.

Oh, Mekonen’s protest was disallowed.

“Are you ready to rumbbbllle!!??”

Let’s get it on?

END
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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

RYAN HALL ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

The end of an era is upon us.  And it is hard to believe, really. Ryan Hall announced his retirement from competitive athletics today at the still tender age of 33, leaving all who followed his career, whether as fans or reporters, feeling a little bit emptier upon hearing the news.

It seems like only yesterday that Ryan flew into our consciousness as one of the avatars of a new era of American running excellence. Along with Class of 2000 mates Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein, Ryan Hall took on the world, giving as good as he got, inserting himself at the front of the pack while exciting American distance running to a pitch not felt in years. There were times — Houston `07, Olympic Trials/New York ’07, Boston `11 — when his flowing stride produced results that were downright breathtaking.

Now, at age 33, the Big Bear, California native has announced he is retiring from professional running as chronically low testosterone levels have hollowed out his legendary endurance and stripped away his most elegant speed. Continue reading

MEB GETS NIPPED AT THE LINE, BUT COLLECTS TWO AMERICAN RECORDS AT ROCK `n’ ROLL

18th Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego

18th Suja Rock `n` Roll San Diego

San Diego, CA. — A minor controversy attended Meb Keflezighi’s introduction to the master’s category today at the 18th Suja Rock `n Roll Marathon & Half-Marathon. Though Meb won the USATF Master’s Half-Marathon championship, and established two U.S. road records along the way, he was out-kicked in the final 100 meters by 27 year-old Zambian native Jordan Chipangama who trains out of Flagstaff, Arizona, 62:27 to 62:29.

The controversy centered on Chipangama, who was brought in to pace the efforts of Matt Llano (4th), Shadrack Biwott (3rd) and Josphat Boit (6th), all clients of manager Josh Cox. Meb, however, was not privvy to Chipangama’s role as pacer, and raced as if the Northern Arizona University grad was a regular competitor.

After breaking away from the small pack at two miles and building as much as a 12-second advantage through eight, Meb got caught between miles 9 and 10, and then lost to Chipangama in the final sprint. Continue reading

MEB ENTERS MASTER’S DIVISION AT ROCK `N` ROLL SAN DIEGO

Meb hanging with young fans

Master Meb hanging with young fans

It happens fast. One day it’s “Hey, kid!” Next thing you know it’s “Hey, buddy!” Then one unsuspecting day it’s “Excuse me, Sir. Can I get a picture?”

There aren’t many athletes in any sport who can say, “I couldn’t have done it any better. I left nothing on the table.” U.S. distance runner Meb Keflezighi is among the small cadre who can.

With his 2004 Olympic Marathon silver medal, wins at the 2009 New York City and 2014 Boston Marathons — and more American road, cross country and track titles than he has fingers and toes — Meb enters the over-40 master’s division in perfect harmony, neither pressing or stressing, yet still pushing ahead for more.

This Sunday Meb — Sir, in the above request — will compete in his hometown at the Rock `n` Roll Half Marathon in San Diego, part of the weekend long Suja Rock `n` Roll Marathon & Half-Marathon, the birthing event of the Rock `n` Roll series, which has now spread world-wide. It will mark Meb’s debut in the master’s division having turned 40 on the 5th of May.

Appropriately, Sunday’s half marathon doubles as the USATF National Masters Championship, the first national title designation RnR San Diego has garnered in its 18 year history. Continue reading