The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, May 07, 2010

Project 30 Watch List: Men's 10k

This is the second entry in an occasional series looking at prospects for fulfilling the goals of Project 30, the plan to win 30 medals at the 2012 Olympics.

Previously I had examined the men's hammer throw, and decided our only hope was Kibwe Johnson, and he's a long shot at that, probably 20-to-1.

In the wake of the recent American Record set by Chris Solinsky, I think it's appropriate to examine the men's 10,000 meters. We have a significantly better chance of winning a medal here, but I wouldn't say it's a good chance.

First, let's examine what a medalist is likely to bring to the table. The typical 10k medalist at World and Olympic competition this decade has been between 22 and 27 years old. The only athletes age 29 or older to have won a medal in this time period are Haile Gebrselassie and Paul Tergat. We may have some good runners, but we haven't got anyone like those two. So we either have to buck the trend (unlikely) or only conisder guys who are currently age 25 or younger. So we don't even have to wonder if Dathan Ritzenhein or Matt Tegenkamp will pursue the 10k at the 2012 Olympics, because they will be over the hill by then.

Usually, the race is run in such a way that only four to six athletes are still in contention with a lap or two to go, and the biggest kickers win the medals. So we need someone who can run a fast pace and who has a strong kick. For an American, to have a strong enough kick means he must have shown good 1500-meter form at some point in his career. For this reason I think we can eliminate Galen Rupp as a likely Olympic medalist. He simply isn't fast enough. He could win a medal in the way that Shalane Flanagan did, which is by not staying with the leaders and then eventually passing all but two who tried and died, but's that's a fairly unlikely scenario.

The runners in question need not be "full-time" 10k runners because most Olympic and World medalists aren't. They run mainly 3k and 5k races on the Grand Prix circuit, and move up to 10k just to make their national team and then for the championship race. Solinsky's record, coming in his first-ever run at the distance, shows there's little in the way of a learning curve. We need not exclude American runners who have not yet run many 10k races, if any at all.

So who do we have who is a) 25 or younger, b) has been good at both 1500 and 5k, and c) isn't afraid of the longer distances? Chris Solinsky, Evan Jager, and German Fernandez.

Now, there's another complicating factor. Most championship 10ks are run in very hot weather. This does not favor heavy runners, and by "heavy" I mean over about 140 pounds. Solinsky weighs in at significantly more than that, and Jager is listed at 145. It would seem that we're down to one contender. But that complicating factor may not be a big deal after all; London is not Beijing or Athens or Sydney. Late-evening August temperatures in London average in the 50s, and 40s wouldn't be terribly unusual. So the huge advantage African runners have by their extremely small size will probably be minimized at the 2012 Olympic, and those of the typically larger northern European lineage have a chance.

I'd still rate all three of these athletes as long-shots. It's not guaranteed that any of them will even try to make the Olympic team in the 10k, and Fernandez would still be in college (if he doesn't leave early for the pros). But I think any one of these three stand as good a chance as any runner who isn't from Ethiopia or Kenya (or an expatriate of the same). Each of them is about a 15-to-1 long shot, and combined that makes it maybe 5-to-1. Multiple medals is a virtual impossibility, but a single medal is a distinct possibility.

EDIT: I need to adjust those odds. Solinsky is 6 to 1, Fernandez and Jager both 25 to 1. But overall, it's still 5 to 1.

No comments: