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Subject: RE: Renato Canova - Arthur Lydiard Coaches Roundtable
Here is a contribution from somewhere else by a very good coach and runner I wont name. I am copy/pasting his message. If he wants to say who he is, then fine:
It's pure gold. Livingstone is one of the sharpest guys I've ever come across in running circles.
On the Canova/Lydiard comparison: As a longtime student of social and political thought and intellectual history in general, this reminds me of discussions that often happen around comparisons between major figures from earlier historical periods and popular/influential figures of today. Here as there, there are a couple of things that are frequently misunderstood by those intent on cutting major figures "down to size", or suggesting that some contemporary figure has surpassed in basic understanding the major figure. One is that, to have been a major innovator does not mean to have developed something wholly new, and out of one's own completely independent research. Major innovators start out like anyone else, simply trying to solve a an existing problem/issue, or set of problems/issues. What gives them lasting important is the distance they manage to travel in addressing this problem/issue, and the directions for new thinking and research they manage to indicate. (And, of course, a few manage to move the masses and create large scale historical change). It's not a valid criticism, therefore, to list the number of lesser known contemporaries on whom the master relied for insight. Major figures become important because they are usually great synthesizers, managing to make more out of a basic insight than those around them. The second thing is that major innovators form earlier periods can't be faulted for not solving every problem. Even major figures are products of their time; they can't be evaluated in terms of their ability to solve problems that could not reasonably have occurred to them in their day. Nor can contemporary figures be credited for having things to say about these same problems.
Running is just running, of course, and Lydiard is not Karl Marx or Sigmund Freud; but, Lydiard is the closest thing distance running has to an innovator of that stature. It takes a bit of an effort of historical imagination to understand the context within which he was operating, and thus the full scale and importance of his innovation (or, you could just listen to some of the people who are either old enough to remember his impact or interested enough to do the research!); but, no one before or since has had even close to his impact on the sport. In fact, so important and basic has his contribution been that its origins have all but disappeared, such that many think it's simply "common sense" that's been around since time immemorial; or, that perhaps someone else, maybe even they themselves, came up with the ideas that are its basis (like J.M. Keynes "practical men" who are really "the slaves of some long defunct economist")!
Something like this is going on with a guy like Canova, who doesn't seem to appreciate his debt to Lydiard, or who seems to confuse method with practical application. The result is that he imagines he has "improved" on or "corrected" Lydiard without really understanding the nature of his basic insight, or owing anything to it. At best, a guy like Canova is a talented under-labourer to Lydiard, destined to be remembered alongside of a dozen other lesser figures in the history of the sport. Worse, I think Canova is a triumph of image over substance-- an opportunist and a colourful expositor of an ultimately minor and derivative version of what Lydiard and many of those he influenced were doing decades before him. As a European who has managed gain a special access to Kenyan athletes (and, let's face it, how many European or North American coaches would be willing or able to spend as much time in Kenya as he has?), he is in a very unique position to self-promote (which he's not shy about doing). He is clearly a knowledgeable and generally competent coach; but, how can we really compare his record to that of coaches without his special access to the largest single pool of athletic talent the world has ever known? Furthermore, it is widely (and quite reasonably) suspected that many of the top Italians from the era in which he did his coaching there were blood-boosting, casting still further doubt on his status as a top coaching mind. A nice and generous guy he may be, but he has no business whatsoever criticizing someone of Lydiard's stature.
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