Since 1982 I've written a newsletter, Running Commentary. A new issue appears here each week, and material is archived.

Tue, 11 Sep 2001 09:36:32 -0400

World Watch


Seldom have I watched a marathon closer from farther away. U.S. television gave no glimpses of the men's race as it was being run, of course, so my view came through the nimble fingers of anonymous reporters for Runner's World Online.

They took me back to Edmonton. I've been there many times before, as a guest of good friend and World Championships Marathon director John McGee. I've toured the course three times in the past two years, and could picture exactly what the runners saw.

Many friends and acquaintances were my "eyes" there, both in the stadium and on the course. A few of them were even running. I could imagine what they saw:

Ronnie Holassie's imprudent early dash through the tall buildings downtown... Khalid Khannouchi's blisters growing intolerable on the long downhill run to the river, where he stopped... Abdelkader El Mouaziz's breakaway try on the two-kilometer climb out of the river valley... Four runners remaining in contention for three medals on the misty High Level Bridge, where an artificial waterfall rained down... Simon Biwott and Gezahegne Abera racing down the stadium ramp together.

"Watching" the race this way, and reading of its casualties, left my feelings mixed. The dark side of me wondered: Why run a marathon at the World Championships at all?

It's the wrong season. Marathoning is a spring and fall sport, not summer, and these races too often turn into sweatbaths.

Even in normally mild Alberta the start-time temperature was 83 degrees. Watching many of the world's best marathoners (including the two fastest active Americans) drop out and most of the others hurt more than usual for much slower times isn't pretty.

Asking them to run races like this three years out of every four, for the glory of their country, is too much. If World Championships are required, why not blend them into one of the major marathons every other year?

Counteracting these dark thoughts are brighter ones: This is pure racing... taking conditions of weather, hills, altitude as they come... no rabbits or glorified time trials... competing for medals instead of records.

Anyone who, in person or from afar, saw Abera and Biwott racing the last lap on the track, sprinting as if it were a 10-K, the outcome in doubt until the homestretch, would never suggest that marathoners don't belong in the World Championships.

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