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Bob Kennedy Talks About Drugs, Shoes, Success and Tegenkamp
by: Grant Lofdahl
Posted October 18, 2006 

Bob Kennedy, the greatest American born distance runner in the last 2 decades, is the American record holder at 3,000m (7:30.84) and  5,000m (12:58.21) and finished 6th at the 1996 Olympics in the 5k.

GR Press Reporter: So, what are you up to these days?

Bob Kennedy: Well, I have three running stores in Indianapolis, and I have 19-month old twins, and that's pretty much my life.

Press: You don't find time to run for fun?

BK: I run a little bit recreationally, a few times a week. But certainly, nowhere near the amount I used to run.

Grant Lofdahl: What have you been up to? You kind of addressed it a little bit, you've been working with your running stores, and your kids….

BK: Yeah, doing that from a business side, but it's also kind of a bonus that I get to do locally, in Indianapolis, these kind of these where I get out and talk to kids at schools and events and programs, which is a blast. As well as run a business, so that's always nice, too. I'm kind of putting my competitive energy into running the business at this point.

GL: So you're still living in Indy, then?

BK: Yeah.

GL: Well, looking back on your career, what's one moment, if you could pick something that really stands out above everything else?

BK: Well…the Olympics in Atlanta really stands out. Strangely enough (I get asked that question a lot), I was so focused in that race, and the result was the result. I walked off the track proud of the effort I put in on the day. But as I looked back at video later, it's the first time I realized the reaction of the crowd and the involvement of the crowd. I didn't get to experience that when I was actually on the track, because I was unaware of it, but the goosebumps and the chills that it brings me as I see it even today sometimes, it's still thrilling.

GL: What's the single biggest key to your success while you were competing, if you can isolate one thing?

BK: I think that it's hard to describe, but it's a way of thinking, it's a thought process that I was able to, um, utilize, that understood where I was trying to get, educated myself on everything on everything I could possibly educate myself on: physiology and training, from books and papers and trade journals, but also from other coaches and athletes, and weed through the things that work and don't work for me. But then to always be able to make decisions every day that kept me moving forward. We face so many decisions each day that can take us just slightly this direction, or that direction, or majorly in a different direction, and we need to kind of not do those things. And I was very good at doing that. Just staying on track, and keeping an eye on the prize, and not taking short-term success or benefits which would sacrifice something that was big and major. I think that was why I was always at my best late in the season. At championship races and when it mattered, when most of the other Americans were kind of trailing off and done.

GL: I know you trained in Kenya, and you trained in Europe with some of the top runners in the world, what was the hardest workout you ever did?

BK: I think the hardest workout we did, and we did it multiple time....was called "4-3-2-1." It was simply four laps, three laps, two laps, one lap, with two and a half minutes recovery, and it was flat-out. And I ran 3:56, 2:55, 1:54, and :54, and I was in the middle of the pack. I mean, with like Daniel Komen and these guys running faster. But, you know, that wasn't what we did every day of course, but it's an example of when we would really hit it hard, that's the intensity that we were running.

GL: With all the high-profile people who have been getting busted lately for EPO and things like that, do you feel like enough is being done to catch the cheaters? Are they improving at that?

BK: I think it's definitely being improved…I think the question then becomes when, and at what point are we, as organizing bodies, USA Track and Field, IAAF, the other national governing bodies from all over the world, going to really invest the money that its necessary in testing to keep up and get ahead of, the people who are using the system to cheat. And that will take money. It takes money to develop the tests for the different variants of the drugs that these people are coming up with, and only when you have that kind of investment will you really stop it. Otherwise, they're just faking it.

GL: What was your reaction when you heard about some of the recent ones, like Floyd Landis, Gatlin?

BK: I was disappointed in both of  'em. Floyd Landis I was disappointed in because I had thought, pre-Tour de France, when they really banned what was it, forty or fifty riders, and some big, big names, that'll maybe clean it up. Then Floyd came in and he had tough days and he still perservered and he won, I thought 'That is so cool,' and then to have him test positive was extremely disappointing.

GL: When you were competing, five or ten years ago at your peak, how widespread was the doping problem?

BK: I think, I would only speak to distance running, but it existed. I would say, of the top twenty guys in the world, there were probably four or five that I could point to and was pretty sure they were using something, even if they didn't test positive. But it tended to be four or five of the guys up there and so, it was there, it existed, it wasn't everybody. But it was enough that it cost me money, over the years. People beating me or doing things that, because of artificial substances, they otherwise they wouldn't have had.

Press: That's gotta be frustrating, too, when people are beating you and you're working your tail off and you know what they're doing.

BK: It was frustrating, but I kind of am at peace with it. Because ultimately as I grew through running, I ran for myself and I ran for own personal challenge…Someone told me years and years ago when I was a junior in college, it was one of my teammates actually, Terry Brahm, who was an '88 Olympian (in the 5k). Something was going on, I foget what it was, I was trying to make one decision over another, and he said 'Think about ten, fifteen years from now, sitting on your couch. What would you wish you had done at that point? That's the way to make a decision.' And you know, I've used that ever since. So I can sit on my couch now, happy and content with my running career. I don't regret anything. There's very few things I say 'I wish I would've done that, wish I would've tried that.' I went to the wall, all the time. And so I'm very…I'm in a good place, at this point.

GL: Shifting gears to a little more positive [topic], how cool is it (I know you're with Puma now) to have your name on everybody's favorite spike, the Zoom Kennedy?

BK: Which is gone!

GL: They're not making them anymore, right?

BK: No. They can't. [chuckling] No, it's cool. It's an honor to have that happen, they don't have to do that. It was nice, and I still have the original pair in a box sitting in my closet. So that was nice…My relationship with Nike was good. It was very positive and beneficial for both of us. It ended, and now I have a great relationship with Puma, and that's good for me and good for them. So, you know I think a lot of times fans and coaches and athletes that are in the business, we forget that it's a business to some extent. There's no entitlement, no shoe company owes you a contract. They're in it to sell shoes, and product, and if we forget that, we kind of forget what adds value to them.

GL: When you were in your prime, it was pretty much you and Todd Williams representing America. What do you think of the resurgence there's been in the last five years or so?

BK: It's exciting! I'm excited, I'm thrilled with Matt Tegenkamp. I don't know him, but one of my good friends, Pascal Dobert from Wisconsin helps coach those guys. From Pascal, I know that Matt has the mentality, the kind of solid, the aggressive, not afraid of anything….just solid, just grounded in reality, that it takes to be good at the highest level. And I'm thrilled that Bernard Lagat's an American citizen, and ultimately that, I'd be surprised if at least one of my records wasn't broken this year by Bernard. I'd be very surprised.

GL: Of the young guys coming up, maybe not Bernard as much, but who do think is most likely to break 13?

BK: Well, Matt. I mean, he's four seconds away. I'm continually disappointed in a sense…and I'm not blaming the athletes because I know there's so many factors involved, but you show so much progress early in the season, the last couple of years we've had wonderful national championships in the 5,000 meters: 13:15, 13:14. And Matt's been the first one to really jump from there, and carry that through the European season and do something bigger and better. The national championship in my mind should be looked at as a stepping stone to greater and bigger things, not the end-all, be-all. But we have so much talent in the sport right now.

GL: One last question: could a comeback ever happen? Are you retired for good?

BK: Yeah.

GL: It's not in the cards?

BK: No, and I can say that because I know, as I said earlier, I'm just so content with the career that I had. I was fortunate to have a very long career, thirteen years professionally. I made no sacrifices, I was away from home five or six months a year, training with the best of the best, racing, and so yeah, I don't miss it all, other than just the competitiveness, which I have other outlets for now.

GL: Thanks for all your time, Bob!

BK: Thank you.
Grant Lofdahl is a freelance writer and runner based in West Michigan. He had the chance to catch up with Bob Kennedy in late August at a high school cross country meet where the Olympian was speaking on behalf of Puma (his new sponsor) and Gazelle Sports running stores.

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