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Abdi Abdirahman Eyes American Record at 10k, Olympic Marathon Team in 2007
January 25, 2007
by: LetsRun.com

2006 was a great year for Abdi Abdirahman. Abdi had the top time in America at 10k (27:22, the #3 time ever by an American), the half-marathon (1:01:07, at the time it was the #2 time ever by an American - now it's #3), and finished 4th at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon (2:08:56, #2 time in America behind Khalid Khannouchi, also making him #2 American ever on a non-aided course). His accomplishments did not receive a lot of fanfare, but for performances spanning the 10k, half and full marathon, he had the most impressive year ever by an American.

Abdirahman has already turned his attention to the new year and accomplishing even bigger things in 2007. Priorities include trying to break the American record at 10k (27:13.98) and making the US Olympic Team in the Marathon at the Olympic Trials in NY in November.

"The focus this year is the track and the Olympic Marathon Trials," said Abdirahman over the phone from his training base in Tucson, Arizona. "I'm more focused on the track season this year (than last). I'm going to put more emphasis on it. I want to run a good fast 10k. Hopefully I'll try and get the American record. I felt like I was capable last year (of breaking the record) but I wanted to run a good marathon, and it (the 10k record) just didn't fit in my schedule," said Abdirahman who passed up a shot at the American 10k record in the Brussels 10k, to run the inaugural New York City Half Marathon (where he finished third in 1:01:34).

World Cross Country in Mombasa a Homecoming of Sorts
Before Abdirahman turns his attention to the track, he will first focus on the cross-country season. This year cross country is extra special for Abdi because the World Cross Country Championships are in Mombasa, Kenya, the city where Abdirahman spent his childhood from the age of 3 to the age of 12.

Abdirahman was born in Somalia, but his father worked for an oil company in Mombasa, so Abdi spent his formative years on the coast of Kenya instead of in Somalia. At the age of 12 in 1989, Abdi moved to the United States.

Abdi is excited about possibly being back to Mombasa for the first time since he left, this time as a member of the United States world cross country team., "It will be a great experience for me to go back where I grew up, where I still have friends."

Abdi not only wants to see his boyhood friends and family, but wants to expose his American teammates to the African continent. He believes his fellow Americans will learn a lot by going to Africa.

"It (Africa) will be eye opening (to many members of the team). A lot of people have misconceptions of Africa. There are a lot of good places in Africa, just like in other countries," Abdi said as he noted many Americans only think of poverty when they think of Africa.

At the same time, Abdi realizes there is tremendous poverty in Africa, on a scale that Americans have a hard time conceptualizing. "In America, we don't (all) appreciate life. Some of us do, but a lot of us (often) don't appreciate what we have. In America, if you work hard, you will be rewarded. In Africa you can work hard and be in the same situation, 20 or 30 years later... In America we take for granted the basic necessities (that we have).... heaters, refrigerators, hot water, air conditioning.... In Africa there are plenty of people without refrigerators, without clothes, (even) without food, but some of them still have a good life, just living every day to the fullest being happy with what they have... In America we have these necessities (and take them for granted), but at the same time, once you have them, you want more."

Abdi believes the lack of any other economic opportunities in the cash economy is one of the reasons African runners are so successful on the international circuit. Running represents for many Africans the only substantial chance to gain access to cash while for Americans running is not an end all be all financially:

African Runners Have Stronger Financial Incentives to Be the Best
Abdirahman said, "Most of us (American runners) are college graduates. Even if you make really good money (while running), it's just a part of your life, a stage of your life you're going through, and after running ,we know we have to get a job. But for the African runners for most of them, that's their life... When he's done running, he doesn't have any other (opportunity for) income so he tries to make the most money he can at that one point...They work harder because they know what they come form. They appreciate it when they get their paycheck and have more incentive to go for that record... because that will change the rest of their life...Just to get to Europe (to race), its going to cost them $1500, $1600. That's a lot of money for them (per capita consumption was estimated to be $215 in Kenya in 2001 by the World Bank, per capita GDP $1200) so they're there to maximize their chance. They don't want to just show up and just run a race to make an appearance. They always go for it (the win, the record), and have a different mentality than we do."

While Abdi hopes Kenya is an educational experience for his teammates, world cross country has always been a learning experience for himself. Abdi has had some success the World Cross Country Champs (15th place and part of the bronze medal team in 2001, and 11th place in 2002 (the highest American finish in the long course since Todd Williams impressive 9th in 1995), but says worlds always puts him in his place.

"Running with Meb (Keflezighi) and Bob (Kennedy) at Worlds, it humbled me.. But it showed what we need to do to get better... I'd come home, and it always made me work harder."

US Runners Pushing Each Other to New Levels
American distance running is definitely on the upswing and Abdi thinks things for the US team will only continue to get better. "I think we have a good chance to do great things for US running as a team (at worlds)...We're up there right now (as one of the top teams). The next couple of years, the next 3 or 4 years, I'm not sure about the Kenyans, but we but we might be able to beat them," said the optimistic Abdirahman.

Abdirahman hopes all the Americans who qualify for Worlds will go and run because he believes the US could have a very strong team this year. Abdi said, "If you're not going to go to World Cross Country what is the reason of even running the US champs? If you make worlds, go to worlds. World Cross Country opens our eyes".

Before Abdi books his ticket back to his childhood home, he knows he'll have to finish in the top 9 of the strong field assembled at the US championships in Boulder this year. This year the US champs return to just being 1 race (instead of having a short course and long course xc champs), so for the first time in a decade, nearly all of America's distance stars will meet together in one race.

From Meb's Olympic silver medal in the marathon, to World Marathon Major top 5 finishes by Meb, Abdi, Alan Culpepper, and Brian Sell, to the incredible 59:43 half marathon by Ryan Hall earlier this month, Americans are starting to turn some heads on the world stage.

The resurgence of American distance running, only inspires Abdirahman to perform even better, "I'm glad to see everyone running well, but Ryan (Hall) especially. 59:43 that is a world class time, especially running solo (nearly the entire race). If you want to be competitive in the US, you have to step your game up... If I want to compete against Meb, Abdi, Ryan, Dathan (Ritzenhein), Matt (Tegenkamp), I've got to step my game up. Everyone is training harder. And everyone wants to be the best. The competition brings out the best in US distance running and more people are running fast."

Abdi will have his hands full at US Cross because he readily acknowledges he will not be in top shape in Boulder. "Cross-country is important but they way Coach (Dave) Murray structures my training, I'm not in peak shape in February. We're slowly building. I'll run the cross country and know I'll run well, but at the same time I won't be in the best shape of my life."

US XC in Boulder: A Race the Fans Won't Forget
On the Boulder race he says,"I think its going to be a great race... great for the sport... The best US distance runners from the 1990s and 2000s competing in once race.. It's going to be great and exciting and I encourage all the fans to come out.. It'll be something they'll remember for the rest of their lives."

Abdi is hopeful US cross-country will be the first race of a memorable 2007 that culminates with him making the Olympic team at the marathon trials in NY. This is the first year the Olympic Trials have been in the fall the year before the Olympics, but Abdi says the fall date will not affect him from going after his goals on the track which include running the World Champs on the track at 10k.

"I don't think it (the fall marathon date) will affect it (my track training) that much. My 10k training and my marathon training are almost similar... The main point is to be strong."

Abdirahman has unfinished business in the marathon. Each marathon he has run he has improved, and each marathon has been a learning experience. In his debut he blew up the last few miles and ran 2:17:09 for 14th in New York, the next year he came back to finish 5th at the ING NYC Marathon in 2:11:24, and then this past year finished 4th at the LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon in a personal best of 2:08:56.

Still Learning Each Time Out in the Marathon
Abdi says of his marathons, "Every single race I've run in the past couple years has been a learning experience for me. Chicago was a race where I learned a lot. At mile 16, I took the lead, I was the one who broke it open... I don't know about Haile (Gebrselassie), but (Chicago and Boston champ) Robert Cheruiyot may be the best championship marathoner in the world right now... (2nd placer finisher) Daniel Njenga, the guy has heart (so perhaps it is understandable Abdi fell off in the final miles)... I was inexperienced at the end of the race."

Abdi believes he made a tactical mistake at the last water stop when the other runners accelerated while he was drinking his water, but admits to struggling the final couple of miles. "The last 2 miles are harder than first 24. That's how it feels. To be honest (the last miles in Chicago), I wasn't thinking anything positive. There's a point when your body feels terrible. If someone tells you they ran the marathon and it felt so easy, they're lying."

Abdirahman who turned 30 this month, hopes his experience at the top of the sport propels him to an even higher level in 2007. "I look at age as just a number... (but) if I told you I felt the same (now) as when I was 23 or 21 I would be lying to you. But I'm more experienced and still learning. I ran my best times ever last year and hope to do even better his year."

If Abdirahman does better in 2007 than 2006, his accomplishments garner more of the running public's attention. However, external recognition is now why motivates Abdirahman to compete, "It's not about getting attention. It's about personal satification, focussing on my own running, and (improving) my own times. But I long as I achieve, and reach the time time goal's I have out there, people will notice."


Other thoughts from Abdirahman:
On whether he was surprised by Ryan Hall's 59:43 half-marathon:: "I wasn't shocked. I was surprised. I knew he had the talent. I knew he was focusing on the time. At the same time, it's a real fast time. I was like 'Man that's a fast time.' It just motivated me. It's a great thing for US distance running."

On the conflict in his native Somalia: Abdi pointed out that nearly everyone in Somalia is Muslim and 99% of the them speak the same language, "yet at the same time, they can't get along."

Of the recent overthrow of the Islamic Courts government: "I think its heading in the right direction. But it's not going to get better overnight."

Abdi's optimistic that things will get better the next few years in Somalia and is "glad to see the US is there."

Abdirahman is from the same clan in Somalia as British 5000m runner and Euroepan XC champ, Mo Farah, 1987 1500m World Champ Abdi Bile, and Mohamed Suleiman, who now runs for Qatar but won the 1500m bronze medal at the Olympics in 1992 for Somalia.

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