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LetsRun.com The Week That Was
The LRC Week That Was is back in a huge week for running, especially in the American scene, as virtually every NCAA D1 conference held their league cross-country meet, the NYC marathon went off on Sunday, Marion Jones cried and lied some more on Oprah, and some of running's all-time greats laced them up again or unlaced them for the last time this week.
2008 ING New York City Marathon
We'll start with the ING New York City Marathon, where the biggest stories were on the women's side. Paula Radcliffe was back, Kara Goucher was there for her first try, the World Marathon Majors title was on the line, and Catherine Ndereba and Gete Wami were there to try to take the $500,000 prize from Irina Mikitenko. An overlooked storyline was the charge by Russia's Ludmila Petrova to take down the master's marathon world record. Both New York races, men's and women's, were great largely because they were real races with no rabbits. On a really windy day, the stars had some big decisions to make, and winning was going to be tough in those conditions. It seemed like there could be many possible outcomes, many potential stars.
Paula Radcliffe was absolutely the star of the show. We knew she was ready to roll after she blitzed a near-world-record 51:11 at the 10-mile BUPA Great South Run one week before New York, but was she ready to lead the entire marathon from the gun into the wind? Yes, Paula was more than ready. Watching the race on line and in person, we could almost feel the difference between being Paula and being another elite. Paula is at the front, making the pace,confronting a nasty wind head-on, while the rest are dutifully tucked in behind the taller Radcliffe, shuffling along, biding their time before surely one of them could make some sort of a move to challenge the more hard-pressed British woman. As the drink stations got closer, Kara Goucher would move out and pass Radcliffe to get a clear shot at her bottle (unfortunately, she dropped the second one and then, according to Julie Henner, dropped an f-bomb as well), and then would settle back in to second place. She might have been the only woman to be in front of Radcliffe at any point beyond the first kilometer of the race. After the halfway point, Ndereba, the greatest championship marathoner of all time, was off the back, then Rita Jeptoo, then Wami, then Dire Tune. The greatest marathoners in the world were simply being shed like our border collie's fur coat! Goucher, too, fell off, but was able to hang on and gobble up the broken African marathoners, almost nabbing Petrova as well. The Russian could handle the pace the longest, but in the end suffered the same fate as the others.
What does this say about Paula? We knew she was the greatest, strongest, fastest women's marathoner in history. But wasn't there a chink in her armor? Wasn't her body getting old and occasionally broken? That stuff is in the past, because Paula's performance was far from mundane or lethargic. This woman laid the smack down on everyone from the front on an extremely windy day and a tough course. No one should be able to be that dominant against such a field, but that is why she can run 2:15 and nobody, not even Paula on most days, can come close to that. She is the most dominant women's marathoner of all time, and the word dominant was chosen purposefully. The races she wins are won by domination, not by a kick or luck or strategy. She dominates, and it's really fun to watch. Paula has now won every marathon she's ever run - except for the Olympics. 8 for 10 and honestly this most recent Olympics shouldn't be held against her as she was only running it because it was the Olympics. Due to a stress fracture, she had barely run prior to it and had no business really starting there. When she's healthy, she's basically as unbeatable as a human being can possibly be at the marathon.
Paula even mixed her strategy up in NY with a huge negative split. Paula went out in 1:13:23 and came home in 1:10:33. Paula had only just started to drop Petrova at 35k, but crushed her the final 7k. Paula's fastest 5k? Her final one from 35k to 40k which includes the hills of Central Park as she ran 16:27. Although Paula nearly won by 2 minutes, she ran balls out until Columbus Circle until she first glanced over her shoulder to find out she was nearly 2 minutes ahead. She said afterwards, "I thought I was on my own, but wasn't sure. Gary [Lough, her husband] asked why didn't I pull my nosestrip off, but I would have looked an idiot if I had done that and someone was right behind me. If you look back and put your foot down a pothole, you look pretty stupid." (The Science of Sport Blog has a nice analysis of the splits)
Goucher's A Debut a Huge Success
Gomes dos Santos Flies the Second Half
On the men's side, we loved the return of Paul Tergat, the presence of former champs Hendrik Ramaala and Marilson Gomes dos Santos, the potential emergence of Abderrahim Goumri and Kenyans Rono and Kirui, and the intrigue of American entrants Abdi Abdirahman, James Carney, Josh Rohatinsky and even Nate Jenkins. We give a thumbs up to Goumri for running another great marathon and really going for it in the last miles. The fact that he has been outkicked now 4 times in marathon majors has elevated him to lovable loser status, and we look forward to seeing him try to get the win next time. Gomes dos Santos gets a huge thumbs up for a performance we did not see coming, only because he had run Beijing 9 or 10 weeks ago and had competed hard. It's not often at that level that you see someone get gapped in the last miles and then pull it back in the final minutes. We think Abdi is a little crazy for going up there and messing around with the pace in the first half, especially if he is trying to go for a top finish, but having an American presence near the front, whether it was Abdi Abdirahman or Josh Rohatinsky, did add to the experience.
The Americans did end up with some credible performances as Americans finished 6th (Abdi 2:14:17), 7th (Rohatinsky 2:14:23), eighth (Jason Lehmkuhle 2:14:30), and 10th (Bolota Asmerom 2:16:37). Four in the top 10 is about as much as could be hoped for, although we imagine most of the African elites could have run 2:14 if they'd run a pace trying to finish 5th instead of 10th.
Perhaps most impressive about dos Santos victory was his huge negative split which has been overlooked. The early pace was very slow (1:06:07 half way and then dos Santos and crew blitzed the second half (1:02:36) (The Science of Sport Blog has a nice analysis of the splits)
World Marathon Majors Has a "BCS" Moment
The World Marathon Major prize is a great branding tool for the "Big 5" marathons and has created a little more interest in the sport of marathoning. We were critical of the winner take all format (the winner gets $500,000, 2nd place nothing) and said it did very little for the athletes. This year's WMM title supported our point. Men's champ Martin Lel had the title locked up and was given the $500,000 check (he didn't even need to run a fall marathon) without having to compete.
On the women's side Irina Mikitenko and last year's champ Gete Wami tied for first place after the head to head tie breaker. As a result, the WMM race directors were forced to break the tie with a vote. And just like that, Mikitenko was given $500,000 and Wami nothing. No wonder the WMM race directors looked so grim in explaining their decision. Feel free to email us if anyone knows of any other sport where first place gets so much and
second place nothing.
Two Greats Exit -"Q-Chan" Retires Elegantly
Japan's Naoko Takahashi retired this week from professional running at the age of 36. The 2000 Olympic marathon
champion Takahashi was the first woman to run under 2:20 in the marathon (2:19:46, Berlin, 2001), still a major barrier. Only 9 women have ever run under 2:20, and three of them are Japanese. Takahashi is the most famous and arguably the most
revered of all Japanese marathoners, in large part due to her win in Sydney in 2000, Japan's first marathon gold. Mizuko Noguchi followed Q-Chan's lead and also won Olympic Gold in 2004 in Athens, and now holds the Japanese national record of 2:19:12 set in Berlin in 2005. Takahashi was the inspiring force in Japanese women's marathoning, and the fame and pressure that came with her success were at times very
difficult for her to bear. She kept cranking, despite her body's slowdown, and ran by far her slowest ever marathon in 2008 while trying to make Japan's Beijing marathon team. In her retirement press conference, Takahashi was incredibly gracious. Compare this 2000 Olympic champion to the disgraced star Marion Jones below; nowhere is the gap between hero and
"Hello, I am Naoko Takahashi. I planned to run the Tokyo, Nagoya and Osaka International Women's Marathons but have to give it up. To the fans, staff and sponsors who supported me I offer my sincerest apologies. I had this goal to run these three races as a thank you or goodbye to everyone but now I find that I've spent everything my body has, that I've done all I can and am left with just a peaceful feeling. It's not that something happened, I just can't do the kind of training I need in order to stand in front of you all as the Pro Naoko Takahashi, the kind of running I can be proud of, anymore. I don't want to just show up and run badly anymore either. The years when I won the Olympics and set the world record were like a typhoon, and now the typhoon has passed and there is just a gentle breeze blowing. I love running and will keep going into my 50s and 60s, but from now on it'll be as the 'Jogger' Naoko Takahashi."
For what it's worth (and we think it's worth a lot): Takahashi, because she (presumably) didn't cheat her sport and her fans in every way possible, can retire with honor and dignity, and she is left with a "peaceful feeling."
Jones, fresh off of a 6-month prison sentence for lying to federal prosecutors about her drug regimen and check fraud scam, refused to admit any culpability for her role in taking a host of illegal performance-enhancing drugs. She continued to insist that she never knew the substances she was taking were illegal PEDs. "When I stepped on that track, I thought everybody was drug-free, including myself," said Jones.
She also said she thinks she still would have won all of her medals without cheating.
"I'll ask myself, 'Well, if you hadn't been given 'the clear,' do you think you would've won?' I usually answer, Yes."
Oprah, a powerful influence on many Americans, threw Jones softball questions and refused to ask Jones even a remotely difficult question such as, "but, Marion, how could you possibly sit here and continue to say that you had no idea all of those chemicals your coach was putting in your body were illegal PEDs?" Oprah was clearly just having Marion on the show for ratings (can't fault "O" for that) but the two women's actions send the message again to millions of people that it's okay to lie and cheat and steal as long as you cry about how you never meant to do it and didn't know you were doing it at the end.
The Chicago Tribune's Philip Hersh ripped Jones perfectly:
"Maybe, Marion, the problem is you have become something of a pathological liar. You lied to federal investigators about use of performance-enhancing drugs. You lied to federal investigators about your role in a money-laundering scheme."
Although Takahashi failed to run fast toward the end of her career, she never failed herself by cheating.
Oprah NewsPhilip Hersh On Marion's Oprah Fiasco LRC Message Board Thread On Marion Jones
NCAA Collegiate Cross-Country Conference Action
All Streaks Must Come To An End
Washington Women Dominate
35 In A Row? Nope.
If you visited our homepage on Tuesday, you were greeted by a black page honoring the passing one of the greatest streaks in sports history. Coming into the 2008 SEC Championships, the Arkansas Razorbacks men's cross-country team had won 34 straight conference crowns - 17 in the old SWC, 17 in the Big SEC - all under legendary coach John McDonnell. Well, under new coach Craig Bucknam, the Hogs have a new streak - a losing streak of one year. To the Hogs' credit, they went for the win and Bucknam was justifiably proud of them after the race as they certainly ran their best race of the season as they were only 11 points behind #11 Auburn.
We're not sure if even McDonnell could have beaten Alabama this year. That being said, as big-time cross-country fans, we must admit that we found it odd that the Arkansas AD Jeff Long hired Bucknam, a man who only won a total of five conference crowns in 26 years of coaching at Northern Iowa (and he coached the women as well for many years) to replace McDonnell. In his last four years at Northern Iowa, Bucknam's men finished fifth, fifth, seventh and seventh in cross-country in the less-than-stellar Missouri Valley Conference. Maybe the AD came to believe that the days where a school with a limited natural recruiting base like Arkansas could expect to compete for national titles in all three sports - cross-country, indoor, and outdoor - is over and he'd rather focus on two sports (indoor and outdoor) rather than just one (cross country). Bucknam certainly had some very good track teams at Northern Iowa.
Big 12s - 13 Is Unlucky For CU As Well, As The Colorado Men Lose For First Time Ever
The quest for 13 in a row for the Colorado men in the Big 12 didn't go well for the Buffaloes. The Buffaloes, who came into the meet ranked 17th, lost for the 1st time since they joined the Big 12, falling to to #2 Oklahoma State. The Buffs barely held off #22 Iowa State 66 to 67. Up front, the Oklahoma State Cowboys put on a clinic as they took four of the top 5 spots, with super-frosh German Fernandez getting the individual title. They very well could challenge for the NCAA title but the 38 second gap between their 4th and 5th man is a bit disconcerting for them for sure. Matt Barnes-Smith, who was 48th in the team scoring last year at NCAAs, was only the Cowboys' 7th man at Big 12s. If he can regain that form from last year, they will be hard to beat.
In the battle for the title of "worst men's cross-country team from a BCS conference", we believe we have a winner. Oklahoma, whose top man ran 26:43, was last with 365 points whereas Kansas St. had 355. Actually, we take that back. We forgot about the Big East. Upon further review, both of these Big 12 teams would crush the Big East's South Florida. Their top man is at 27:00 and their 5th man is over 30:00.
The Big 12s weren't a good one for the Colorado women either, as Texas Tech, led by NCAA phenom Sally Kipyego, garnered its first ever title. The Buffs, who had won 11 of 12 titles in Big 12 history, were only 5th - yes 5th.
PAC 10 Women: How Good Are The Washington Women?
The biggest news from the conference action was the remarkable performance put on by the #1 University of Washington women. At the PAC 10 meet, they faced 4 ranked teams, including #2 Oregon. What happened? Can you say total domination by the Huskies? They shockingly went 1-6 on the Ducks and the rest of the conference. Unbelievable. And to think the Huskies haven't even raced their #3 woman from last year, multiple time All-American Amanda Miller.
13 In A Row? Not A Chance
The Stanford women, winner of the last three NCAA team titles, had won 12 straight PAC 10 crowns under Vin Lananna and Peter Tegen. New coach Jason Dunn will have his hands full winning any in the near future given how powerful Washington and Oregon are. The Cardinal finished 3rd. Meanwhile, Washington coach Greg Metcalfe after not really having a chance to ever win the Pac 10s has the best team we've ever seen on the women's side of NCAAs.
Pac 10 Men - Galen Rupp Impresses
The team that the Oklahoma State men will try to upset at nationals, the #1 Oregon Ducks, had a good PAC 10 conference, as they cruised to the title with 28 points. Galen Rupp showed that he very well may give Liberty's Sam Chelanga a battle for the individual title as Rupp was sensational in his 2008 debut, winning by 37 seconds. Super-freshmen Luke Puskedra of Oregon and Chris Derrick of Stanford were second and third which is super impressive.
Not All Streaks Have To End
While new coaches at powerhouse schools with long winning streaks (Stanford women, Arkansas men) didn't fare so well, Mick Byrne had no trouble guiding the Wisconsin men to their 10th straight Big 10 crown. Byrne's old school, Iona, won it's 18th straight MAAC title, although we're not sure if it's really newsworthy as the conference is so watered-down besides Iona. The Portland Pilots did win their 30th straight title but, as is the case with Iona, their conference is easy for them to dominate.
*Photo above from trackandfieldphoto