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

Mon, 17 Sep 2001 12:45:57 -0400

World Watch II


Mike Tymn writes a sometimes provocative column for National Masters News. I quoted his contrarian views last spring when he essentially said of prize money, who needs it? ("Out of the Money," RC 361). Now Mike has said the same about nationalism: Who needs it? Specifically, why should it matter to us how U.S. distance runners do in top-class competition?

His August column begins, "Every time I read or hear about someone lamenting the lack of distance running talent in the United States, I wonder what gives rise to the concern. I also wonder if something is wrong with me because I don't share the concern."

American results from, say, the just-concluded World Championships in Edmonton didn't make or spoil my days. But obviously I was curious enough about them to lead off three issues in a row with this news.

I don't say whether these results should matter to you, or speculate on how whether they could be better. I only report what is. The report card for U.S. distance runners shows no progress, and even some slippage, in the past year.

Compare results from the Olympics and Worlds. Twenty-three American runners, 1500 meters and up, competed at Sydney. One way to judge their success at this level is by how many make the finals.

But the term "finalist" is vague because the sizes of finals vary by events, and some races have no qualifying round. The smallest final is the 1500, with 12 runners, so let's use that number as a standard of excellence for all events.

Overall, five U.S. runners made the top dozen at Sydney. The highest finish was Marla Runyan's eighth in the 1500. In that event and the men's 10,000 this country had a pair of top-12 placers.

Now to Edmonton: More U.S. runners competed, with expanded marathon teams pushing the total to 29. Four placed in the top dozen, and none broke into single digits. Paul McMullen did best, with 10th in the 1500, and a trio finished 11th -- Deena Drossin in the 10,000, Tim Broe in the steeple and Adam Goucher in the 5000. (Canada's leader, 1500 runner Leah Pells, also placed 11th.)

So far these results look similar for the Worlds and the Olympics. The big difference is in the number of dropouts.

Every American distance runner finished at Sydney last year, some in distress. Drossin was injured, Alan Culpepper and Rod DeHaven were ill, but they all saw their races through.

An unsettling statistic from Edmonton: Five Americans didn't finish. The most unfortunate comment came from Suzy Favor Hamilton, who said that after falling out of contention she stopped to save herself for an upcoming European race.

Several RC readers commented on the non-finishers. In this week's letters column Gary Fanelli writes an I-told-you-so note about high-profile DNFs Regina Jacobs and Khalid Khannouchi. Richard Leutzinger says that he is prouder to see a slow-finish than a no-finish.

As for me, I try see these results as personal disappointments for the runners, not as national failings. As Mike Tymn asks in his National Masters News, "Is national pride really at stake here? Do we have to hang our heads in disgrace when we encounter someone from Kenya or Russia? Do we have to dominate everything?"

No. No. No.

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