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

Tue, 2 Sep 2003 16:46:38 -0400

World Views


You have to look back a long way in these pages to find reports about the goings-on at the highest levels of the sport. I've almost retired as that kind of reporter, but will never retire as a fan of the people who run the best.

Someone who has stopped caring for these results doesn't watch all 13-1/2 hours of U.S. television coverage from the World Championships and keep his computer connected to Paris for live results from this second-biggest of all track meets. Here are thoughts (on the races 1500 meters and longer) that I couldn't voice to anyone while following this meet from afar:

-- Organizers got very lucky with the weather. They ignored concerns for the marathoners' health and performances, and scheduled both starts for two o'clock in the afternoon. This would have been the worst possible time in summer, even if Parisians hadn't died by the thousands from record-setting heat earlier in August. Blessedly the marathon afternoons were the coolest of the month.

-- Japan is the world's strongest marathoning nation, at least when measured by talent-in-depth at this meet. It doubles as the World Cup Marathon, and the Japanese men and women won team titles, the women placing a near-perfect 2-3-4. The biggest flop: Kenya's men, with four of five runners dropping out. Another DNF: 2000 Olympic and '01 World champion Gezahegne Abera of Ethiopia, whose team placed only sixth. Kenya's Catherine Ndereba was East Africa's only medalist in this event, but it was a big one -- her country's first gold in a women's World or Olympic Marathon.

-- If placings here were the only way to judge success, American distance runners would have fared miserably. Finalists in races with qualifying rounds: one, Jorge Torres in the 5000. But the picture brightens somewhat when you compare some runners with themselves. Jill Gaitenby set a marathon PR (2:34:54, at age 36), and Kevin Collins missed his by just six seconds (with 2:15:38). Lauren Fleshman PRed in the 5000 heats (15:12.75), and Steve Slattery in the steeple prelims (8:22.32). Torres and Slattery just turned 23, and Fleshman isn't quite 22.

-- Early 20s is young by U.S. standards, but youth isn't as big a handicap as we think. Both 5000 winners, Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia and Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya are 18. As Larry Rawson noted on ABC-TV, "How many American high school seniors can run their pace [4:48 for Dibaba, 4:09 for Kipchoge] for a single mile?" How many U.S. teenagers imagine they can make an international team, let alone think, "I can win the whole thing"?

-- I'm glad to see that no runner won two distance races. Several tried: Kenenisa Bekele (third in the 5000 after winning the 10,000); Hicham El Guerrouj (first in the 1500, second in the 5000), and Berhane Adere (women's 10K winner, then 10th in the 5K). These results send two messages: (1) competition is too tough for anyone to win twice, and (2) don't be greedy; isn't once enough?

-- Bekele (who's 21, by the way) ran the second half of his winning 10,000 in 12:57.24. That's faster than any American has ever run without a 5K "warmup."

-- Canada had, at least in a couple of distance races, a better Championships than its nearest neighbor. The Canadians put two women in the 5000 final, with Courtney Babcock setting a national record of 14:54.98. Sandy Jacobson beat all U.S. women marathoners while PRing (by a single second with 2:33:51).

-- I predicted to a fellow fan before the meet that America's best medal hope, Regina Jacobs, wouldn't make the 1500 final. This wasn't a wish of bad luck but a guess based on her results from the Sydney Olympics (where illness idled her) and the Edmonton Worlds (injured). A year that began with a world indoor record last winter may have lasted too long.

-- Runners at this level can recover quickly. Marla Runyan pulled out of the World 5000, citing "lingering fatigue." Yet two days after that final was run, she set a national 20K road record in Connecticut.

-- Speaking of comebacks, the best of them was Deena Drossin's. She had surgery just a few weeks earlier for melanoma, an often-deadly skin cancer. Her 10,000 finish was the highest for any American distance runner, 12th in 31:17.86.

-- After spending 10 hours with ESPN2, I rate the network's coverage among the best ever for a meet of this sort. It's hard not to like a show that stays with an entire steeplechase final and most of the men's HEATS in the 5000. One irritant: a certain announcer's frequent use of second-person pronouns -- "our," we" and "us" -- for the U.S. team. That's cheerleading, and some of us don't limit our cheers to runners with "USA" on their chests.


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