“WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD)

I mean, what can you say at this point? There’s no winning here. If you embrace this weekend’s marathon performances in Vienna and Chicago at face value, you have to be wearing pretty tight blinders because of what history has shown us in recent times shenanigans-wise. And if you poo-poo them, then you’re just a cynic and a hater and nobody wants to hear it.

Yesterday in Vienna, the wondrous Eliud Kipchoge became the first person to go sub-two hours over the classic marathon distance in a staged exhibition sponsored by the petro-chemical company INEOS.  In it, organizers shaved every impediment as close to the bone as possible, and then went into the marrow in several others like replacement pacers, so that Kipchoge’s 1:59:40.2 time was ineligible for record purposes. Not that they ever said they were going for a legit record.

Eliud Kipchoge goes sub-2 in Vienna!

Immediately after crossing the line, the Olympic champion celebrated by hugging his wife and friends before sprinting back up the course to high-five fans like he just finished the Carlsbad 5000 (which he actually did in 2010). No problemo.

And today (October 13, 2019) fellow Kenyan Brigid Kosgei tucked in behind her two male pacers at the BofA Chicago Marathon out on the ragged edge of 2:10 pace through 5K heading toward an unwavering 2:14:04 world record, even when one of the oldest adages in the sport says you can easily lose your marathon in the first 15 minutes by making an error in pacing. Evidently that rule no longer applies. Continue reading

KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE

It’s a completely defensible position because it has been taken from a completely defensive posture. If your product can’t be guaranteed for purity, even with new and improved testing, you do what you must to mitigate the potential downside while still maintaining brand growth and awareness.

Today, (December 19, 2017) on the same day that twice-banned U.S. sprint star Justin Gatlin  was tangentially implicated in an investigative drug sting,  Abbott World Marathon Majors announced that Edna Kiplagat of Kenya has been awarded its Series X women’s championship and the $500,000 prize that attends it.

Ms. Kiplagat had originally finished second in the Series X cycle to fellow Kenyan Jemima Sumgong, the 2016 London and Rio Olympic champion.  But after the putative champion gave a positive sample for EPO in an out-of-competition test in February 2017, the series title was held up awaiting disposition by Kenyan doping authorities. Today,  Ms. Kiplagat, runner up in Chicago 2016 and winner at the Series X closing 2017 Boston Marathon, was officially moved into the top spot as Ms. Sumgong was banned for four years by the Anti Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK).

Ms. Sumgong’s drug failure marked the fourth time in its ten-cycle history that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has had to disqualify a women’s series winner for a failed a drug test, not the outcome the original five series events had imagined when they banded together in 2006. Continue reading

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. Continue reading

NEW WAY TO DEAL WITH PED USE

With Sunday’s running of the TCS New York City Marathon fast approaching, the fields are set, the course is ready, and the viewing parties have all been arranged.  All that’s left is an unsullied journey through the five boroughs with worthy champions awaiting to be crowned.

Only once in 48 years has there been a positive drug test of real consequence at the NYC Marathon, that being Toni Niemzcak of Poland, who finished second in 1986 behind Italy’s Gianni PoliNiemzcak failed a drug test which had discovered a banned steroid in his system.  His position was vacated and prize money not awarded.  There was one other drug positive in 2011, announced in 2012, of Ethiopian Ezkyas Sisay who finished ninth in his 2011 debut and later was found to have utilized the blood booster EPO.   He, too, was DQ’d.

The problem of PED use persists, as New York’s Abbott World Marathon Majors partners in London, Chicago, and Boston have all been repeatedly burned in recent years by Russia’s Lilya Shobukhova and Rita Jeptoo of Kenya.   In 2017, the AWMMs cut their athletic prize for the series title in half from $500,000 to $250,000, while only awarding a portion of that first prize award each year as a hedge against getting hit like they have in the past.  But what else can be done to end this scourge on all sports?  Here’s a tongue-in-cheek suggestion.

 

 

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ABBOTT WORLD MARATHON MAJORS: MAKING AN “IS” OUT OF AN “ARE”

Before America’s Civil War people said ‘the United States of America ARE’, thinking of the country as primarily an aggregate of individual states rather than a single national entity. Only after Robert E. Lee‘s surrender at Appomattox and the re-knitting of the Confederate States into the union did people begin to say, “the United States of America IS”.

The difference is subtle but instructive. For one might equally argue that the Abbott World Marathon Majors continue to be more an aggregate of independent events rather than a coherent series made up in six parts. They (as opposed to it) have unfortunately found their time together also running concurrent to a tainted era in the sport, as now four of their women’s series titles have fallen to doping disqualifications – that’s two Lilya Shobukhova’s , one Rita Jeptoo, and now one (sample A) Jemima Sumgong doping positives that have marred what was intended to be series celebrating athletic excellence.

Is it any surprise then that the six AWMMs just this year decided to draw down their top prize for Series XI beginning this weekend in London by half from $500,000 to $250,000, while earmarking a new $280,000 to charity? Yes, they have also included smaller payouts to second and third prizes in the series, $50,000 and $25,000, but overall the runner’s purse has been cut 35%.

Hard to argue the move.  You can’t keep publicly awarding prizes that a year later you have to take back because your winners have tested positive for banned performance enhancers. That’s not the message you want to be announcing.  After getting burned so many times it’s not so much a sport right now as much as it is a big mess.  And historically you sweep messes away.

I have already written how the sport might bolster its attack on the doping problem by increasing blood testing of the athletes till their arteries collapse – TESTING: PUTTING THE MONEY WHERE IT NEEDS TO BE – but let’s also look to the WMM competitions themselves. Boston down, London next. 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

YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!

Sport, like life, is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, for what you think you can do sets the stage for the reenactment of the belief in performance. As such, championships are first won in the mind before coming to life via blood, breath, and bone.

It’s not like 2016 Olympic Women’s Marathon champion Jemima Sumgong of Kenya hadn’t been a winner before. In fact, she began her marathon career with the win at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas in 2006 (2:35:22). But though she also took victories in Castellon, Spain in 2011 and again in Rotterdam 2013, her Abbott World Marathon Majors record was that of a solid contender, but not a champion. Not until the spring of this year did she mark herself as a medal favorite for Rio when she stood atop the podium at the Virgin London Marathon, the de facto Olympic prelim. Continue reading