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Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Haile Gebrselassie is bigger than the entire New York City Marathon.

Not physically bigger--in that respect most people are bigger than he--but more famous and more important. The above video was the shocking announcement that today's DNF at 16 miles was the end of his competitive career. The decision was apparently made in the few hours between his dropping out and the post-race press conference.

The news overshadowed the entire race. Even in the decidedly non-track-friendly American sports press, it was big. Geb's retirement was the headline at over the race winners.

Geb is track's Say Hey Willie, our Magic Johnson. Not just one of the greatest of all time, he is (by all media appearances at least) one of the friendliest and most outgoing of all time as well, and truly happy in competition. It says all you need to know about him that he waited at JFK airport for an hour to greet Chilean miner/runner Edison Pena at his arrival. (More on Pena later).

Good runners win races. Martin Bingisser is impressed at my ability to call races. On Thursday's House of Run podcast, I said Gebre Gebremariam was my upset pick to win. And, of course, Gebremariam did win. Honestly, the running media made it easy for me to look smart because everyone ignored him. But in terms of recent accomplishments, he was probably the best runner in the race. Anyone who wins a World Cross Country Championship, as Gebremariam did 20 months ago, automatically must be considered one of the world's best runners.  Only Abel Kirui's recent accomplishments were on the same level, and today wasn't his day.  With Gebrselassie's DNF, that left Gebremariam alone among the runners I saw as threats to win.  So win he did.

Surprises always happen.  Edna Kiplagat was on no one's short list of threats to win the women's race, but in Central Park she pulled away from Shalane Flanagan and Mary Keitany for a solid victory.  Credit is due to, who mentioned her eighth in their preview:
Edna Kiplagat made her name on the roads at shorter distances and this spring won the LA Marathon in 2:25:38 in her second marathon. This summer she has been running well on the roads (Boilermaker winner, 3rd at Peachtree and Falmouth). If LA means she now knows how to run the marathon, she could be one to watch.
As for my prediction, I said that Shalane Flanagan would only fail to break the US rookie record (2:25:53) if the pace was slow and the winning time was slower than that, in which case she would be fighting for the win. I was right about that, although I am very surprised and impressed that Flan outfought Mary Keitany for the runner-up spot.  Given the slow-then-fast nature of today's race, I thought it played right into their hands but they were both defeated by someone else.  I'd like to have seen some betting odds; I'd have to guess Kiplagat paid off 50-to-1 or more.

Universal Sports sucks.  Well, I guess we already knew that.  In the last year, I can barely remember a webcast that didn't have technical problems.  Today had a lot in the first hour or so.  The NYC coverage boasted three camera feeds all for one price, but it was basically impossible to either have all three open or to switch between them.  We also had to sit and look at a black screen for two minutes during TV commercial breaks (unlike past major marathon webcasts, where the video kept going with no announcer audio).  In the early coverage, the fade-to-black happened in the middle of announcers actually talking.  Sheesh.  Universal Sports is not winning any fans with their webcasts, I can tell you.

The USA continues to get better.  The old joke at major marathons is that after the pros go by, there's a noticable gap and then everyone says "Here come the white guys!"  This was slightly untrue today, and would be more untrue if the top US marathoners weren't a diverse bunch.  Meb was sixth, Ritz was eighth, Jorge Torres eleventh, Tim Nelson thirteenth and Matt Downin seventeenth.

On the women's side, Shalane Flanagan represented the first US runner-up in 20 years.  While no other Americans were near the front at the finish, Katie McGregor took eleventh (and beat the defending champ and the last two Boston champs in the process) and three more were in the top 20.  Americans accounted for 25% of the top 20 runners in each race.  I would guess the last time this happened was during the Reagan administration.

Nobby Hashizume is not impressed with Alberto Salazar.  While even dedicated track fans are unaware of who Nobby is, they shouldn't be.  For many years he was the right-hand man to Arthur Lydiard, doubtless the greatest distance-running coach of all time.  He created the Lydiard Foundation, which is dedicated to continuing the coaching education that Lydiard did.  If you'll forgive the possible sacrilege, Nobby is to Lydiard as St. Peter is to Jesus.  When he speaks, you should listen.

Via Twitter (much of which is now deleted), Nobby has recently wondered why Alberto Salazar's discovery of the importance of running form was heralded by the media as a big deal, since Arthur Lydiard was doing basically the same things some 65 years ago...and he didn't end up injuring his proteges in the process.  Lydiard called out Salazar on his inefficient form back in the early 80s, and of course the US sports press excoriated him for it.  Referring to Dathan Ritzenhein's hard 20-miler three weeks before the NYC race, he tweeted the following:
After hearing his 20-miler @ 2:07 pace, I thought he's either ready for 2:05 or bomb out in 2:14. Well...

Ritz's time was 2:12. I guess he peaked for 3 weeks earlier and his perfromace of the year was a 4:51 pace 20-miler. Any medal for that?

Edison Pena is a bona fide star.  The Chilean miner who ran daily while trapped underground was asked to come see the NYC race.  He said he wanted to run it instead, and the NYRR obliged.  He was on Letterman's show on Wednesday night, and was alternately funny and serious depending on the subject, but was humble throughout and displayed a winning personality.  Obviously less than fully prepared, and with aching knees hurt by his time underground, he struggled but got through the 26.2 miles with dignity and huge crowd support.  And all the rest of us were so happy he kept the attention off other celebrities: Jared "Subway" Fogle, Al Roker, Robin Quivers, Bobby Flay, and all kinds of other people who make me want to get punched in the face just so I don't have to see them anymore.

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