MONDAY NIGHT RAW

Two titans in Berlin

Two titans in Berlin

What were they thinking — or not thinking, as the case may be? In a race that close, the stakes so high, I mean why didn’t Wilson Kipsang invite Keninise Bekele’s goat-getter (maybe Mo Farah) onto the Berlin Marathon press truck just to needle him a little in the final kilometers? In a marathon 10-seconds is a blink. It wouldn’t have taken very much to throw him off his game. Didn’t these guys follow news reports between training sessions?

The BMW Berlin Marathon might have kicked off the 2016 Abbott World Marathon Majors fall campaign in real style (Bekele in 2:03:03 to Kipsang’s 2:03:13), but there’s no doubt which is the major race of the season. Continue reading

HAPPY BIRTHDAY WILSON KIPSANG

Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Happy birthday to Wilson Kipsang, the former marathon world record holder, who turns 34 today. Last year Wilson ran a strong second to fellow Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge in the London Marathon, 2:04:47 to Kipchoge’s 2:04:42.  In today’s marathon world the two 30+ year olds are a bit of a throwback as youth (and drugs) has emerged as a dominant player.

We go through eras in sports, and unfortunately the current era in almost all sports will be linked to drugs (though institutional corruption is making a big play for attention, as well). The only good thing we might see ahead is that the era of drugs as the preferred method of performance enhancement is coming to an end as gene manipulation promises a strong future in the 21st century. Continue reading

WILSON KIPSANG – WHEN THE MARATHON BEGINS TO HURT

Former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang speaks with Ato Boldon, Adidias’ Spencer Nel and me about when a marathon begins to hurt, and the final stretch in last year’s TCS New York City Marathon (which he won).  From the Global Athletics Conference in Durban, South Africa.  Current record holder Dennis Kimetto sat in, as well.

END

SHOWDOWN IN LONDON: HEAD TO HEAD

The Virgin Money London Marathon announced its 2015 professional men’s field today, and the gathering is already making salivary glands water among the faithful world-wide.  But though it is already being dubbed “Greatest Field in History” – and how many times have we heard that before? – what I found most appealing about the roll-out was how binary the London organizers made it.

Kipsang vs Kimetto clashofchampions

While former London Marathon champion and course record holder Emmanuel Mutai has also been signed, along with 2014 Chicago king Eliud Kipchoge, and the redoubtable Keninise Bekele of Ethiopia, any one of whom might well expect to see his name up on a race marquee, notwithstanding the presence of those other stars, it’s the current and former marathon world record holders who are primarily being touted. This is a welcome sign of marketing savvy, and takes a page from how boxing promotes it’s major fights. Continue reading

MARATHON YEAR 2014

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

Dennis Kimetto, marathon world record holder

There were highs (American Meb Keflezighi‘s magnificent win in Boston) and lows (Kenyan Rita Jeptoo testing positive for EPO), but some things ran along a well worn path in the world of marathoning in 2014. Chief among those was the utter domination of Kenya and Ethiopia in the ranks of the men’s marathon.

Fully 95 of the top 100 times posted this past year hailed from those two nations (57/38), led by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record in Berlin in September. By comparison, last year 89 of the top 100 marathon times came from Kenya (55) and Ethiopia (34), led by Kenyan Wilson Kipsang‘s 2:03:23 world record, also in Berlin.

This year presumptive world number one Kipsang had to console himself with major wins in London (2:04:27 course record) and New York City (2:10:59 in chilled and windy conditions). Those two wins sewed up the $500,000 bonus for winning the 2013-2014 World Marathon Majors series.  Nice consolation.

Wislon Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title.

Wilson Kipsang battles Lelisa Desisa for New York title in November.

However, revelations out of Kenya late this year pointing  to a growing drug scandal and corruption charges have left the more cynical among us wondering how pure that dominance may be, or if we truly are in a golden age of the sport or simply an increasingly deceptive one. However, until further evidence surfaces we take what has been presented at face value. Continue reading

2014 TCS NEW YORK CITY MARATHON REVIEW

On the bridge before the start

Starched flags fly on the bridge before the start

New York City Marathon Logo TCSNew York, New York — A cold, blustery day welcomed the 50,0000 runners at the 2014 TCS New York City Marathon.  Once again I was aboard the lead men’s motorcycle camera bike providing commentary for the ESPN2 television coverage. Here is how the men’s race played out from that close vantage point.

My misery index had been set the day before during a frigid, rain-drenched TV rehearsal, and I wasn’t going to be caught cold again.  In the 43 degree Fahrenheit conditions with NNW winds blowing at a steady 20 – 25 mph, gusting even higher, I wore so many layers on Sunday morning I must have resembled a Russian nesting doll.

From the racer’s standpoint such conditions are the functional equivalent of adding distance to the event. Last year the 48 degree temps and 15-19 mph headwinds tacked about one kilometer onto the standard 42.2K in terms of finishing time, as 2011 course record holder Geoffrey Mutai won his second title in 2:08:24.  Same guy, same course, same effort, but three minutes slower than his course record 2:05:06.  And since A-level male marathoners race at or near 3:00/km, conditions on November 2, 2014 might mean a full mile extra effort would be added to the already testing course. Continue reading

BATTLE LINES DRAWN IN KENYAN TAX REVOLT

PAAK

PAAK

Taxation can impoverish as well as replenish, overturn empires or elevate kings. It is getting the balance right that counts.   Last Wednesday 400+ members of Kenya’s running nobility gathered in Eldoret, the center of Kenyan running in the North Rift Valley, to unite in opposition to an imposition, an imposition of a direct tax on their athletic earnings.

In one voice the athletes said, nay! we already pay indirect tax via the local levies on holdings, businesses, and the like.  (Athletes are the Republicans in this scenario, the trickle down, job-creators.)  On the other side sits the Kenyan Revenue Authority (KRA) which says the law is simple, all Kenya citizens must pay (30%) tax on all earnings.

But as always in Kenya, there is the law and then there is the policy.  For years Kenyan athletes have been seen as ambassadors for their country, elevating its world standing by their superb racing exploits. What’s more, their income was considered an engine of commerce as they poured their earnings back into their local economies.   And since those businesses and investments were always subjected to taxation, the athletes say the imposition of a direct tax on earnings would not only stifle future economic development, it would double tax them as their earnings are already taxed in the countries in which they race.

But there’s more to it than that.  Just 50 years free from British colonial rule, Kenya remains a young nation, and the ties that bind a nation together are not as developed as one might assume. What further underlies the athletes’ opposition to the new policy is the duplicity they see as coming from the government.

Kenyan Parliamentarians are among the highest paid in the world in a nation whose citizens earn an average $1800 per year.  Last summer the MPs succumbed to public pressure and agreed to drop their salaries by nearly 40%, but from $120,000 a year to $75,000!  Then they voted themselves exempt from paying any tax!  That’s good work if you can get it.

The argument from the KRA vantage point says that the policy of not directly taxing the athletes’ income was initiated decades ago when there was just a trickle of men running overseas. Today, that trickle has become a torrent, and the time for such a lenient tax policy has long since passed, and the athletes must now be treated like any other citizen.  Thus, what we see is one side looking to overturn tradition, while the other wants to maintain its legacy. Continue reading