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Friday, August 28, 2009

Zurich Reactions

SPOILER ALERT: if you're planning on watching this on TV on Sunday, don't read this. But if so, why are you on the internet anyway?

Results / IAAF recap / video-on-demand

This is the penultimate round in the final go-round of the Golden League. Good riddance, too. The whole jackpot thing is just a bit too contrived. For example, Kerron Stewart had the 4-for-4 thing going into today, and there was speculation that World champ Shelly-Ann Fraser would hold back to keep her compatriot in contention. If Fraser didn't hold back on purpose, then she just ran a piss-poor race. In any case, Jeter won, and made next week's final Golden League women's 100 meters mean...well, I guess it doesn't directly affect anything.

The big news on the world stage was the return to top form by Isinbayeva, who broke her own World Record (video link).

But to me, the bigger story is Ritz. He's legend around here, as the best schoolboy runner the rust belt has ever seen. His performance level after high school has been spotty, and rarely has he strung together several big things. So today's 5k American record, on the heels of his 10k PR for sixth in Berlin, means a lot. (Let's Run story / T&FN video interview)

That's one story, and a big one to me because it stands the conventional wisdom on its head. Here's why. The meet was on during my planning period, but I couldn't watch it on because I don't have administrator priveleges to install Flash player 10 at work. So I had to follow the meet on the various message boards and blogs. As my team was getting ready for practice, I told them the final event was the men's 5k, featuring one American, ten Kenyans, two Ethiopians, and a Ugandan. They laughed and predicted the American would be last. And through 1600 meters, they were right...but Ritz was on 12:55 pace at the time.

And after practice I delivered the shocking news that he'd taken third, to the World record holder and one other, and had run 12:56. Earlier in the meet, the USA took places 2-4-5 in the women's 1500, beating back a lot of damn good runners in the process. That the USA took 7th in the men's 800 and went 7-9 in the men's 1500 was considered well below expectations. This is a vastly different scenario at a Weltklasse meet than we've become accustomed to.

Do you remember what Golden League distance races looked like even five years ago? Americans couldn't get a spot on the starting line in any of them, and deservedly so. We were minor-league. Now we're major-league, and while we haven't won any championships (aside from Lagat's '07 double), we have a whole crew of younger runners all within spitting distance of them. Now, there is a reason for American TV to show distance races in their entirety. We're in them, and we affect the outcome of them.

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