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

MAKE IT PERSONAL

wmmHeader
The Fall 2014 marathon season is upon us, and with the 41st BMW Berlin Marathon about to step out this weekend, we can see how the efforts and budgets of the three fall majors were spent, and what might lie ahead in the coming six weeks.

As per usual, the clock is once again in focus in Berlin, as the USA’s Shalane Flanagan guns for Deena Kastor’s U.S. marathon mark of 2:19:36, set in London 2006.  Shalane sacrificed quite a bit in terms of money by going to Europe rather than racing in the States in Chicago or New York City. But Berlin is the preferred record venue with its flat course, paced races, and more predictably seasonable weather.  Plus, at age 33 the Marblehead, Massachusetts native feels the clock ticking.  Not that she won’t have competition. Paris course record holder Feyse Tadese , and Tokyo record holder Tirfi Tsegaye of Ethiopia will also lace up in Berlin this Sunday, but Shalane has forthrightly admitted that time is the goal, not place, and she won’t sacrifice an even pace for a competitive surge.

But on the men’s side, Berlin has gone against type and recruited three ex-World Marathon Majors race champs rather than a single comet blazing toward another world record attempt behind a phalanx of pacers. In Dennis Kimetto, 2013 Chicago winner; Tsegay Kebede of Ethiopia, reigning WMM series champ; and former London course record holder Emmanuel Mutai, Berlin has three of the strongest racers in modern marathoning.   Kebede once again leads the 2013–2014 standings with 55 points.  Kimetto stands in third with 50, and E. Mutai still has an outside shot for the title, resting in fifth position with 30 points.

There are 25 points at stake for the Berlin win, and with $500,000 on the line for the WMM series winner, yet Mr. Kimetto’s “I know I am ready. My preparation has been good and I’m confident for Sunday. If the conditions are good, yes, we could break the world record,” indicates time seems always to be the primary focus in Berlin.  But who doesn’t enjoy a bloody good race more than a sterile time trial?  Even better when both occur as in London 2002 when Khalid Khannouchi broke his own record in a power tussle against Paul Tergat and the debuting Haile Gebrselassie.

In fact, that is the point of this post. Often, the events and the athletes tout themselves by comparing personal bests (PBs) instead of individual match ups. For men it is how many sub-2:04s, or sub-2:05 are in the field. For the women it is the number of sub-2:20s. But twenty years ago it was how many sub-2:10s and sub-2:30s were running. Times change, and when we reduce the competitors to their times, what we lose are their personalities – assuming they have one.

As a result, when you ask almost anyone but the hardest of hard core fans who they think will win a race, odds are they will say “a Kenyan”, or maybe “an Ethiopian”. While that response might be a market satisfier in terms of promoting Kenya and Ethiopia as places that develop great runners, it is a market dis-satisfier in terms of marketing the individual athletes or developing the sport to a wider audience.

Point is, in order to make it stick, it has to be personal. Enough of this “I am just trying to run my best race”. It has to become “I want to beat that guy!” Him against Him, Her versus Her, not them against the clock. There is no emotional appeal to a time-based presentation. Every once in a while, like with Flanagan in Berlin, it might make sense, but the general public doesn’t know a 2:03 from a 2:13 or 2:23. What they do understand is white hats and black hats, or stakes of $500,000 or more. 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

USATF ENTERS GAME AS CGI DEPARTS

Greed is Good?

Greed is Good?

News that the Competitor Group Inc. has slashed its North American elite athlete program to the bone has moved through the running industry like poop through a goose. Then late yesterday came word that the San Diego-based event management and media company has cancelled two of its 30 Rock `n` Roll events, one in St. Petersburg, Florida, the other in Pasadena, California, as both had underperformed in their second years of operation.

As was speculated, private equity is a close-to-the-bone business that, like a shark, can’t stop moving if it hopes to survive and prosper. Performance is king, but not in the same sense as in racing.  In that regard CGI is in a different line of work than other running event managers.  For them running is only the tool used in their real game, the money game, rather than an end in itself for the betterment of community and the sport. And that’s fine. For many people the RnR experience is all they are looking for.

But in all the rigmarole of the last few days, there has been angry talk on social media of boycotting CGI events, to punish them for dropping elite racing from their events. That kind of negative reaction seems counter-productive and unnecessary. People will make their own judgements independently.  And say what you will about private equity, tying CGI up with Oliver Stone’s “Greed is good” motto from his movie Wall Street is too facile. Continue reading

USATF.TV TO DEBUT AT NATIONALS IN DES MOINES

USATFNationals2013     If we can bitch and moan when things aren’t being done well — and God knows I have — then we must salute when something is.  So while track & field (“athletics” to the rest of the world) may still be well behind the curve of other individual sports like golf and tennis in terms of having its own broadcast channel, under new CEO Max Siegel USATF is launching an array of media coverage for its upcoming National Championships in Des Moines, Iowa that should make even die-hard critics doff their caps in recognition of progress.  The following presser was released today on the eve of the USATF Championships. Continue reading

NEW WMM POLICY TO AWARD PRIZE PURSES BY COIN-OF-THE-REALM

Kenyan shillings

Kenyan shillings

The domination of long distance running by athletes from East Africa has reached such heights that in an effort to balance out future race fields organizers of the six World Marathon Majors will soon announce a new prize purse policy which will award cash winnings on a “coin-of-the-realm” payment schedule.

According to a well-placed World Marathon Majors source, an announcement will be made next week in Boston where the new policy will be instituted at the April 15th race.  The new system will stipulate that any athlete who wins the 2013 Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, or New York City Marathons, and then Tokyo in 2014, will receive the event’s top prize in the same numerical amount as listed, but instead of being paid across the board in U.S. dollars, each prize will be linked to the athlete’s home currency. Continue reading