My old Runner’s World friend and long-time chronicler of the sport Peter Gambaccini wrote on my FB page in response to “WHAT A WORLD!” (RECORD) about the first sub-two hour marathon this past weekend in Vienna: “I am much more impressed by the 2:01s Kipchoge and Kenenisa Bekele ran in “real” marathons (in Berlin 2018 and 2019) than I am by what transpired in Vienna (INEOS 1:59 Challenge).
“Marathon racing is supposed to involve decisions, and Kipchoge had very few to make last weekend. I was glad to see Kipchoge finish hard on his own, and I suppose we should be grateful that elite running got more coverage from the general interest media than it had since the days of Bolt. But there’s no point in any more extravaganzas like Vienna, is there?”
I thought Peter’s question was worth sharing and answering. So here goes. Continue reading
With the good and proper news that Welshman Steve Jones has been awarded the prestigious Members of the Order of the British Empire (MBE) by Queen Elizabeth II, I thought it would be fitting that we go back to the time when Steve first lifted his name into the marathoning spotlight along Lake Michigan with his 2:08:05 world record.
In those days, the sport was still heavily centered around the Boston – New York City axis. The London Marathon had only been around for four years, and the Los Angeles Marathon was still two years from its beginning. Bringing world-class competition beyond its East Coast roots was a major accomplishment for Chicago and an important factor in helping grow interest in the sport.
Jonesy’s stellar run in Chicago `84 also represented another turning point in the game. It marked the last time the men’s marathon world record would be set without the aid of pacesetters. Here, then is my contemporaneous race report from Chicago 1984, a day to remember in the annals of marathoning history and jumping off point for one of the great marathon careers of the all-time. Congratulations, Sir Steve!
Steve Jones sets World Marathon Record in Chicago 1984
Chicago, IL. — And then there was the weather, forty-four degrees with a wind-driven rain like an icy finger tracing the nape of your neck. Over 10,000 huddled runners jittered anxiously at the dual starting lines on Clark and Dearborn Streets for the 8:45 a.m. signal to begin the 8th America’s Marathon/Chicago (as it was known in those days).
On the front row stood some of the best marathoners in the world. “It’s the Olympics all over again”, said one punter as champions from every continent pawed the ground, anxious to be off on their heat-generating journey to Lincoln Park. This was no place for the skittish, rather an end-of-the-season, post-Olympic blowout engineered by Beatrice Foods sponsorship money and race director Bob Bright’s orchestration.
“The Games are over. We’ve nothing to lose. So let’s have a go,” was how Welshman Steve Jones prophetically put it the day before. Continue reading
Jamaican runner Kemoy Campbell
Though his future in competitive racing remains cloudy, it was heartening to hear that Jamaica’s Kemoy Campbell had been released from the hospital in New York City last week and is making progress in his recovery from a heart-stopping collapse at the Millrose Games while serving as a pacer in the 3000 meters on February 9.
But Mr. Campbell’s health scare brought to light an issue confronting many athletes in a sport that finds itself facing a number of challenges, from fairness in women’s competitions (hyperandrogenism) to Olympic and World Championships qualifying to healthcare.
In that last realm, it is because athletes like Mr. Campbell are signed to shoe company contracts as “consultants” and to races as “independent contractors” – rather than drafted as “team members” or hired as “employees” – that such individuals need not be provided with benefits including healthcare insurance. And in a sport that constantly stresses both internal and external body systems, that you’re-on-your-own policy is like doing trapeze work without a net.
Thus is Mr. Campbell left to pay his substantial medical bills via the kindness of his shoe company sponsor, Reebok, which pledged $50,000 to Kemoy’s cause, and by GoFundMe.com contributions. But that is not a system.
On the other hand, as we read in Outside Magazine, American athletes are provided with Participant Accident (PA) coverage by USATF for exactly the kind of medical emergency faced by Mr. Campbell. Overseas, the IAAF Diamond League also provides participating athletes with accident coverage, though that policy does not apply across the board to all IAAF-sanctioned events. This patchwork system reflects the direction that American healthcare itself has been headed for decades. Continue reading
In the past, it was the pure strength men, or those who couldn’t quite finish fast enough on the Olympic track to earn medals, who sought solace in the marathon. Back then the world record was less a goal than an outcome. Names like Derek Clayton, Ron Hill, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Toshihiko Seko, Alberto Salazar, Rob de Castella, Steve Jones, and Juma Ikangaa are still venerated by old hearts.
Today, with the rewards to be made, young men come into the game totally fearless, all the progeny of the late Sammy Wanjiru, the mercurial Kenyan who announced a new era in marathon running when he attacked the 2008 Beijing Olympic course on a hot summer’s day as if he were on a 10k romp through a dewy meadow on a perfect spring morn. The following spring in London he goaded pacers to a 28:30 first 10k on the way to a 1:01:36 half and a brave, but fading 2:05:10 win.
Wanjiru forever changed the relationship between racers and the distance in those two races, stripping the marathon of much of its mystique, and arming marathoners everywhere with new courage at starting lines around the world.
We saw the full effect of the Wanjiru Era last May in Monza, Italy when former 5000 meter world champion Eliud Kipchoge came within 25 seconds of the two-hour barrier at Nike’s Breaking2 Project exhibition. And now on September 24th in Berlin, Kipchoge, along with defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia and 2013 winner and ’16 runner up Wilson Kipsang of Kenya will meet at the 44th BMW Berlin Marathon, hunting for sub-2:02:57, the official marathon world record. It is a glorious matchup between two former track men moving up and one pure marathon man, each a past winner in the German capital. Continue reading
New York, N. Y. — When you are riding a full load, when training has gone right and you carry a certain tonnage, baby, “let the games begin!”
At those rare times the race comes to you any way they want it, from the front, the middle, or sit and kick. What’s more, the uber well-prepared are usually anxious for engagement. Bring it on!
Steve Jones World Marathon Record Chicago 1984
The day after Thanksgiving has traditionally been one of the special football days of the year in America. While high school rivalries and the NFL play on Thanksgiving itself, the day after, Black Friday, has always belonged to the NCAA.
Today, there are two decent games — Washington takes on in-state rival Washington State, while Navy sailed into Houston for a match up of one-loss teams.
But before the rise of cable, there was usually just a single college game featured, usually a marquee match-up on one of the networks for a nation still digesting it’s Thanksgiving dinner.
In 1984 The Game pitted the 8-2, 10th ranked Boston College Eagles versus the defending national champion Miami Hurricane. “The U” was full of NFL draftees, though they weren’t having the same quality season as usual in ’84, coming in ranked 12th in the national polls.
Still, playing at home against the upstart BC Eagles, Miami was still a strong favorite as BC was viewed as the small Catholic school from the northeast where college football wasn’t nearly the religion as it was in the South and Midwest.
But this was the peak of the Doug Flutie era, when the Natick, Mass. native was single-handedly bringing the BC program to new heights under Coach Jack Bicknell. Continue reading
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