ONCE A COMPETITOR…OLYMPIC MARATHON CHAMP ANXIOUS TO ANSWER CRITICS

Stephen Kiprotich, 2012 Olympic Champion

Stephen Kiprotich, 2012 Olympic Champion

Reigning World and Olympic Marathon champion Stephen Kiprotich of Uganda begins 2014 with his knickers in a knot —  which is not a bad thing by this reading.  As he embarks on the long training slog toward the highly anticipated Virgin London Marathon this April 13th, the soon to be 25 year-old (Feb. 27, 1989) has been stung by unnamed critics who suggest he has been more fortunate than good in winning his two gold medals.  Kiprotich took issue with the charge, snapping back in a story published by Uganda’s Daily Mirror that was then picked up as Quote of the Day by our friends at Letsrun.com.

“I know I haven’t run a very fast marathon in my career so far, but what people forget is that I am still learning. You can’t judge someone who hasn’t run more than 10 marathons. I have competed against very experienced marathoners and defeated them.”

There is no denying Kiprotich’s excellence as a championship runner. Only Ethiopia’s Gezahenge Abera has similarly worn Olympic and World Championship Marathon gold simultaneously (2000 Sydney & 2001 Edmonton).  But in his seven career marathons to date Kiprotich has only registered a modest PR (by today’s standards) of 2:07:20 from his debut at the 2011 Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands. As a side note, Enschede was also the only other marathon besides the World Champs and Olympics that he’s won (see full career record below).

“On a good day, I am sure I can run 2:05,” Kiprotich told the Daily Mirror, adding, “I can even attempt the world record (2:03:23). It’s very possible. It all depends on the course and how the body reacts.”

Date

Competition

Country

 

 

 

Result

 

 

Apr. 17, 2011 Enschede Marathon NED 1st 2:07:20
Feb. 26,  2012 Tokyo Marathon JPN 3rd 2:07:50
Aug. 12, 2012 London Olympic Games GBR 1st 2:08:01
Apr. 21, 2013 London Marathon GBR 6th 2:08:05
Aug. 17, 2013 Moskva IAAF World Championships RUS 1st 2:09:51
Sep. 04, .2011 Daegu IAAF World Championships KOR 9th 2:12:57
Nov.03, 2013 New York City Marathon USA 12th 2:13:05

One always likes to see an athlete rise to the bait, even if it’s hard to figure who set the hook.  But a ghost challenge is as good as a flesh and blood one, I say, if it gets the blood up.  At the same time, immediately upon reading the Kiprotich quote I was struck by the number 10.  “You can’t judge someone who hasn’t run ten marathons?”

Yes you can.  I do it all the time. Continue reading

GEOFFREY MUTAI – WINNER NEW YORK CITY MARATHON 2013

Geoffrey Mutai tunes up for New York in Udine Half Marathon in Italy

Geoffrey Mutai tunes up for New York in Udine Half Marathon in Italy

New York, New York — Alright, I’ve heard enough, I’ve seen enough, I’ve talked to all the players.  And here’s the deal, they don’t have a prayer.  Maybe in a best case scenario I might not wish it so, because I like close competitions, but Geoffrey Mutai is your winner of the ING New York City Marathon for 2013 right now.  And that’s from someone who has never been much of a predictor.  But it is what it is as surely as Al Salazar was the winner before the gun in 1981 – “my goal is to run 2:08 and to win.” So if you find someone that wants to take the field, take Mutai and put whatever money you have on him.  That’s the kind of form he’s on, and what I think of his chances. Now all he has to do is pull it off.

With London Marathon champion Tsegay Kebede and World Champion Stephen Kiprotich caught up in the World Marathon Majors drama and the $500,000 that goes with the series win, will either of them take the risk of trying to match a fully blooded Geoffrey Mutai for a chance at the $100,000 first place check?  Not likely.  In fact, Kebede has come right out and said in a race with 48,000 starters he’s only racing one man, Kiprotich. Continue reading

WORLD MARATHON MAJORS SHOWDOWN IN NYC

New York City Marathon start    There is even more on the line than usual at this year’s ING New York City Marathon.  From the city and New York Road Runner’s recovery efforts after last year devastation and race cancellation due to Hurricane Sandy, to the million-dollar payoff in the World Marathon Majors championship, there are stories of striving and overcoming that will make for a dramatic and emotional Sunday morning November 3rd.   Be sure to watch it live 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m. ET on ESPN2, and from 9 a.m.-2 p.m. ET on WABC. It also will be streamed online at WatchESPN.com and the WatchESPN app. A two-hour highlights show will air on ABC later in the day.

My focus will be on the men’s race as I will call that competition from the lead TV moto.  It’s the first time since 2006 that I will be out on the course rather than at the finish line anchor location.  And though I will sorely miss calling what promises to be a compelling women’s race, the men’s lead moto is a wondrous perch, and offers by far the best view of the action.

Two story lines dominate the 2013 New York men’s competition.  The question is how, or whether, they will intersect? Continue reading

SHOULD THE MARATHON CONTINUE AS A MEDAL SPORT?

Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich shocked himself, his nation, and the marathon world with his gold medal run at this year’s London Games.  His win over the superstar Kenyan team — two of whom, Abel Kirui and Wilson Kipsang, took home the minor medals  — and the inexperienced Ethiopian squad — all three of whom dropped out — made Uganda the 17th nation to have produced an Olympic Men’s Marathon champion since the Marathon was first introduced at inaugural modern Games in Athens 1896.

Though trained in Kenya, and from the larger Kalenjin community of nilotic ethnic speakers residing in Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania — thus Stephen shares the Kiprotich surname with Kenya’s bronze medalist Wilson Kipsang Kiprotich — the surprising Ugandan victory also continued Kenya’s own Olympic Marathon frustrations.

While Ethiopia leads all nations with four Olympic Men’s Marathon titles, to date, only the late Sammy Wanjiru has mined gold for Kenya, that in Beijing 2008.  Notwithstanding the anomalous Kenyan Olympic performances again manifest in London, the nation’s overall dominance of the sport paced on unabated.

In 2011 Kenyan runners commanded the marathon like never before, notching the top 20 official times of the year, taking the top two spots at the World Championships, while representing 65 of the fastest 100 performances.  Now, as we complete the 2012 calendar we can see that their traditional East African rivals from Ethiopia returned fire these past 12 months, placing seven in the year’s top 10 performances — though Kenyans Geoffrey Mutai and Dennis Kimetto held down the top two places (2:04:15 & 2:04:16) from their pas-des-deux in Berlin.

A deeper dive into the 2012 marathon stats shows that the two East African juggernauts combined for 89% of the year’s fastest marathons, Kenya with 58, Ethiopia with 31.  In comparison the fastest American of the year, Dathan Ritzenhein, languished back in 69th position off his 2:07:47, ninth-place finish in Chicago in October, yet still making him the fourth fastest American in history.  Meb Keflezighi’s Olympic Trials victory in Houston in January, a PR of 2:09:08, pushed him to # 128 for the year, while Ryan Hall’s 2:09:30 in Houston nestled him back into 154th position world-wide. The top non-African born runner on the list was Poland’s Henryk Szost in position 59 off his 2:07:39 second-place finish in Otsu, Japan in March.

According to the IOC, a sport or discipline may be included in the Olympic program if the IOC determines that “it is widely practiced around the world, that is, the number of countries and continents that regularly compete in a given sport is the indicator of the sport’s prevalence”.  With millions of marathon finishers across the globe, there is no doubt the marathon is widely practiced.  What is in doubt is whether that practice is at all competitive anymore.

Therefore, with tongue ever so gently in cheek, I wonder whether the marathon deserves its inclusion on the Olympic calendar in ensuing years, or should it be consigned to the non-medal “Demonstration” category, notwithstanding the Kenyan futility.  After all, the Olympics has a long history of adding and subtracting sports. Continue reading