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The Week That Was August 24 - August 30, 2009

August 31, 2009

By LetsRun.com
To read last week's LRC Week That Was, click Here.
To read any 2009
LRC Week That Was, click Here.

IAAF Golden League
Dathan Ritzenhein En Route To 12:56

A Closer Look At Ritzenhein's 12:56
To us, last week was all about one thing. Dathan Ritzenhein's shocking American record of 12:56.27.

While we'll argue below that the record run shouldn't have been that shocking to distance aficionados, in reality the run was unbelievably surprising. Once the race was over, we placed a call to a mid-30s ex-elite (who has a PR of sub-3:40 in the 1,500) who was at work.

The call went like this:
LRC: Quick, an American born runner just ran 12:56 for 5k. Guess who it was?
Ex-Elite: Tegenkamp?
LRC: No.
Ex-Elite: Solinsky?
LRC: No.
Ex-Elite: Fam?
LRC: No.
Ex-Elite: You said born in America, right?
LRC: Yes, American born.
Ex-Elite: That's not possible. Oh yeah. Rupp?
LRC: No.
Ex-Elite: This is crazy. Who could it be? Ritz?

In reality, the record run may have been shocking. But from both a long-term and short term perspective, it shouldn't have been. We tell you why below.

The Record Was Due To Be Broken
13 years is a long time for a record to last. Bob Kennedy ran 12:58 13 years ago. American distance running has come a long way since then. It was time for the record to go. Ever since Matt Tegenkamp opened his European season with a 13:07.97, we've been thinking he might be able to go sub-13:00. So the fact that the record went isn't shocking, the fact that Ritz did it is what is surprising most people.


Dathan Ritzenhein - A Teen Phenom

Remember, Ritz Was Once THE Great Hope Of US Distance Running
The fact that Ritz is the one who broke Kennedy's record really shouldn't be stunning in the short or long term.

In the long term, people need to remember that until Alan Webb's 3:53 mile at the end of his high school career, Ritz was viewed by far as the greatest hope we had in this country in decades, certainly since the start of Foot Locker Cross-Country (formerly Kinney) in 1979.

Ritz is one of just two US-born runners to win Foot Locker Cross-Country (FLCC) twice (for non-US visitors, FLCC is the US high school cross-country championships). Winning as a junior is next to impossible for boys, but Ritz did it. As a junior, the seniors right behind Ritz at FLCC were very good. In 2nd place, 4 seconds behind Ritz, was eventual NCAA 1,500 champ Don Sage. In 3rd, some 5 seconds back, was eventual NCAA 5k runner-up and 2008 Olympian Ian Dobson.  Eventual NCAA cross-country champion Josh Rohatinsky was 4th (7 seconds behind) and future 13:04 guy Matt Tegenkamp was 5th (18 seconds back).

As a senior, Ritz destroyed what we say has to be the greatest Foot Locker class in history.

Ritz made a mockery of the race as he won by 20 seconds.

In 2nd? 20 seconds back was Alan Webb, who would go on to run 3:53 in the mile that spring to break Jim Ryun's 37-year-old record and would go on to break the US mile record in 2007.

In third? None other than future US half marathon record holder Ryan Hall (59:43), who is also the record holder for the full marathon (2:06:17) if you count only US-born athletes.

So Ritz beat the US mile record holder and US half marathon and US-born marathon record holder and he beat them by 20 full seconds over 5k. Then he went on to get 3rd at World Cross in the junior race. That's simply unreal. About as unreal as Bob Kennedy winning NCAA cross-country as a true frosh at Indiana.

Obviously Ritz was quite a talent. Please don't tell us that Webb and Hall aren't good XC runners, as Webb was 11th at NCAAs as a frosh and Ryan Hall was NCAA runner-up as a junior.

Ritz's success as a junior caused the LetsRun.com co-founders to develop a seious man-crush on Ritz. He was THE hope for America. Admittedly, since his marathon debut in 2006, Ritz had largely been forgotten as his Foot Locker classmates form 2000 stole the thunder, with Webb having an unreal 2007 and Hall having a great 2007 and 2008.

But Ritz once was way bigger than Hall and Webb, and his 12:56 in reality just gets him back to where many thought he'd be when he was in the junior ranks.

Remember, when Ritzenhein made his 10,000 debut in 2004, LetsRun.com co-founder wrote a glowing piece on Ritz, where he remarked:

    "Ritz will go under 27:00 before it's all said and done. I'm saying that now so in a few years I can gloat and say, 'I told you so.'"

 

Well, Rojo was basically correct. Admittedly, Ritz hasn't broken 27:00 yet, but he's done something that he himself probably thought would be harder to do - break 13:00.

The whole saga proves one of the great axioms of running: "Talent never goes away."

Was Ritz's 27:22 In The Heat In Berlin Worth A Sub-27?
His huge negative-split 27:22 in  the heat of Berlin very well may have been worth a sub-27:00. And if you look at the McMillan calculator, a 27:00 flat is worth a 13:00.

So clearly, the fact that Ritz ran near 13:00 isn't that surprising. Is it surprising that Ritz actually broke 13:00 and ran 12:56, when he's considerd to be more of a marathon/10k type guy? Yes, a little.

But the fact of the matter is Ritz really hasn't proven himself to be an elite marathoner. From talking to insiders, his workouts leading up to London this spring were phenomenal and indicated a sub- 13:10/27:20/2:08ish type of fitness. But he only ran 2:10.00.

So maybe we'll find out that he is more of 5k/10k type than 10k/marathon. Although truth be told, we are hoping that he ends up being an amazing marathoner who just happened to pop the race of his life and run 12:56.


Ritz Talks About His 12:56.27

Lessons To Be Learned From The 12:56
We think there are a number of lessons to be learned from Ritz's run which we hope that he and other Americans learn from.

1. Marathon/Over-Distance Training Pays Big Dividends - We think Ritz's breakthrough at the shorter distance, just months after training for the London marathon where he faded to a 2:10:00, is yet again proof that endurance over-distance training pays big dividends for all runners.

Not that it's anywhere near the level of Ritz's performance, but LetsRun.com co-founder Weldon Johnson dropped his 10k time from the 29:50s to 28:06 after marathon training. Paula Radcliffe became unbeatable when she started training for the marathon. Alan Webb ran a 27:34 10k in 2006, the year before he set he world on fire with world leaders in the 1,500 and mile and a world #2 or #3 in the 800.

2. US Runners Need To Race The Big Boys More - The fact that Ritz set the US record at 5k after Berlin is a bit surprising, but it's clear that he was in US record shape for 10k in Berlin just as it was clear to us that Rupp was in similar shape last year in Beijing.

But one needs to realize that the Berlin race was basically Ritz's first track race that he was properly prepared for in 2009. And we always say that the best workout is a race, so the fact that he'd improve off of Berlin isn't outrageous.

The only amazing thing was that he got the 5k record. But we give him and coach Alberto Salazar a ton of credit for just putting him out there in the Golden League and letting it rip at a distance that wasn't thought to be his best.

Contrast that to Matt Tegenkamp, who hardly ever seems to race. We've been thinking all summer that he might be in sub-13:00 shape considering that he ran 13:07 in his European opener on July 18th and the fact that he ran 13:04.90 in 2006. But Tegenkamp hasn't given sub-13:00 a crack (although he's expected too very soon).

But what's the point of training if you aren't going to race?

And speaking of races, we think Ritz should run a 10k right now. Nike certainly has the money to set it up. But when you are hot and in shape, you need to go get the American record.

3. Changing Coaches/Environment Can Do Wonders - Immediately after Ritz's run, a lot of credit was given to Ritz's new coach Alberto Salazar.

From a physiological perspective, there is next to nothing a coach can do in 2 months to take a runner from 13:16 to 12:56 and some cynics have thrown drug accusations out there, which we don't believe but understand are bound to arise in the year 2009.

But we do think Salazar deserves a lot of credit in the sense that the coaching change gave Ritz a new outlook, a renewed love of running. Not that he was totally going through the motions before, but Ritz has said several times recently that he is more committed now as he really has enjoyed the move as he loves having workout partners once again. Equally important, Alberto, a former elite himself, has told Ritz that he can compete with the best - he can run 2:05 - and that in turn has psychologically given Ritz a new lease on life.

After years of doing a certain system, we think almost all runners would benefit from a shift in training as it provides a different stimulus. Throw in a huge psychological boost from Salazar and 12:56 results.

To his credit, we think Salazar deserves a ton of accolades as well for praising the groundwork that Ritz's former coach, Brad Hudson gave Ritz with comments like, "Brad Hudson made the cake. I'm just putting the frosting on it." A very class move.

And Salazar is right. Physiolgically, Ritz's 12:56 is primarily a result of Hudson's regime, as there is very litle a coach can do in 2 months with an athlete except fine tune them. But without the move, there is no chance Ritz runs 12:56.

4. High Low/Training Helps - We have always been big believers in high/low training and Ritz's 12:56 proves it helps, as we don't think he was sleeping in an altitude tent prior to Salazar.

5. Ritz, Please Don't Let This Result Turn You Into A Track Runner - While we said earlier that Ritz isn't a proven marathoner, we think it would be a big mistake for him to give up on the marathon or stray away for long. It was a bit disappointing for us to hear him say he might focus more on the track now after his 12:56.

Certainly that's the natural reaction many would make, but to us, the marathon training is what got him good.

And let's be honest, a big part of the reason why Ritz was 3rd in Zürich was the fact that half the field tried to run 12:40 and blew up.

We think it's doubtful that we'll every see an American-born male of Caucasian descent medal in the 5k or 10k in our lifetime. With the marathon, a lot more can go wrong, making the race more of a dice roll, and thus one's chances are better there. Plus, watching an American stay in the lead pack at New York or London before finishing 5th is way more exciting than watching an American get dropped at 5k in a 10k and finish 5th in a 10,000 at the Olympics.

More: Video Of Ritz's American Record!


Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics
Shannon Rowbury
LRC's US #1

Anna Willard's Sub-4:00/Let's Don't Forget About Rowbury
Last week in Zürich, Anna Willard became the third American this year to break 4:00 in the 1,500. Because of Dathan Ritzenhein's 12:56, we aren't sure if very many people noticed and for two days, we highlighted the following message board thread: Anna Willard ran a sub-4 ... did anyone notice?

Willard's 3:59.38 makes her the third-fastest woman in US history and the 69th-fastest in world history.

Crazy to think that in the first 233 years of America's existence, only two American women broke 4:00 in the 1,500 outdoors (Jacobs did it once indoors while on drugs). And then in 2009, three women have broken 4:00.

And to think that the best 1,500 meter runner of 2009 in the US isn't even one of them. We're sure there might be some doubt this year as to who deserves the #1 ranking in the US, but to us. it's clear - Shannon Rowbury.

Rowbury won USAs and she won a bronze at World Champs - end of story. One can say, "But what if Burka hadn't fallen and Rodriguez hadn't been DQed, would you still rank her #1 if she was 5th at Worlds?" We might, as she was the top finisher at both Worlds and USAs, but we don't deal in hypotheticals. There is nothing that any other American can do this year to get the #1 ranking away from Rowbury.

Well, we take that back; if Barringer, who didn't run the 1,500 at Worlds, ran an American record, we might change our minds, but we imagine her season is over.


Who Needs Doping Tests? - Let LetsRunners Sniff Them Out
Last week, 40-year-old New Zealand marathoner Liza Hunter-Galvan admitted she was an EPO cheat. Doping is the biggest no-no we can think of in sports but we think a million times higher of cheats that admit to their doping when caught as compared to those who protest their innocence.

Hunter-Galvan's case is particularly sickening, as she used her comeback from a family car accident to generate publicity and community support, which in turn led to a lawyer, Bill Nash, taking her case pro bono to get her named to the 2008 Olympic team which New Zealand tried to exclude her from (we wonder if NZ insiders had a hunch she was a doper).

Human nature at times reveals itself to be very disgusting. Cheating while people try to help you pro bono ... it doesn't get much worse than that.

The question we have is this: When did Hunter-Galvan start cheating? We like drug cheats to be honest but aren't sure that Hunter-Galvan is telling the whole truth here. She acts like she only started cheating in the last year or two.

However, the letsrun.com messageboarders, who (while much aligned by the corporate giants in running) are the smartest students of the sport, first pointed the finger at Hunter-Galvan as being a cheat as early at 2005 as her results seemed to defy logic.

Just as it was clear to us at LetsRun.com that Regina Jacobs was a cheat at age 39 when she ran 3:59 for the 1,500, message board poster "dallas white rock" was suspicious of Hunter Galvan in 2005 when he wrote,

     Liza ran a great race today and pr'd in 2:33.55. That is her third marathon in 14 weeks, sprinkled with many other road races in between. Doesn't anybody out there think that something isn't right? How can she recover so much quicker than any other woman out there. World Champs Sept 1, San Antonio Marathon Nov 5, Dallas White Rock Dec.11.
     

Drug tests are great and all but they often have a narrow window of effectiveness. In reality, true students of the sport often are better at sniffing out drug cheats than the drug testers themselves.

 We're pleased to learn that like in the case of the Russians, the IAAF is going after certain suspicious people. We honestly think the IAAF should hire a statistician to come up with a list of suspected cheats who get more scrutiny.

So now we want to know if Hunter-Galvan was a cheat in 2005?

She seemingly says not, but Greece's Fani Halkia, who won Olympic 400 hurdles gold in 2004 but tested positive in 2008 also says she wasn't a cheat early in her career, but we don't believe her as she dropped from 56.40 to 52.77 in one year.

More: MBoard Thread Of Year: LetsRun.com Message Boarders Realized Galvan Was A Cheat Back in 2005 *New Zealander Liza Hunter-Galvan Admits She Was A Doper "There's not a lot more to say. It's an awful mistake and I deeply regret it." Although we wouldn't call it a "mistake." *2nd Article On Doping With Quotes From Peter Snell *Blog That Just Rips Galvan To Pieces


Caster Semenya - Press Conference
Caster Semenya Returns Home

Caster Semenya Returns Home To Hero's Welcome
Last week, there was a lot of Caster Semenya news as she returned home to great fanfare in South Africa.

You can read about all what happened below, but we really liked the following excerpt from ESPN.com's Mary Bukheit's column, entitled "Caster Semenya Is Being Treated Unfairly."

    Shaquille O'Neal is a veritable giant, genetically unlike almost any man we know, but we don't ask if he's human. Instead, we call him an athletic freak. A superman. Michael Phelps' torso-to-leg proportions, combined with his large paddle-like hands, make him a marine machine. Yet we call it a gift, not a laughable genetic blunder. Jockeys with 27-inch waists and small shoulders might lack the physical stature we've come to expect of men. Still, we don't call them womanly. We deem them built to race horses.

    There's an undeniable double standard at work in sports. As long as women have competed (and as long as evolving attire has allowed us to see their bodies), people have depreciated and humiliated some of the best female athletes by calling them manly. Their enigmatic strength and athleticism is countered with derisive criticism and gender judgments. Society wants women to be toned, not muscular. That's weird. It hopes women are athletic, but not too competitive. That's not cute.


We agree 100% with what Buckheit has written, but would add that the whole episode reveals a big reason why women's sports aren't nearly as popular as men's. A very good female athlete is often "very manly" in many ways and that sort of goes against the whole concept of women's sports.
With men's sports, it's simply a matter of who is the best athlete, period.

With women's sports, it's a matter of who is the best female athlete. Not having to add that adjective is a big part of men's sports popularity because men's sports isn't really men's sports - it's just sports. If you added women into men's sports, the results obviously wouldn't change.

More: Video Of Caster Semenya's Homecoming *ESPN's Mary Buckheit: "Caster Semenya is being treated unfairly." *Guardian: "Caster Semenya is a hero - but in South Africa being different can be deadly for a woman." *AP: "South African villagers praise world champion." *South African Column: Finding The Words For Caster Semenya *South Africa To Name Stadium After Semenya


Recommended Reads From Last Week

1) Amazing ESPN "Outside The Lines" Article On Flo Jo, Husband Al Joyner And Their Daughter Mary Unless you're a speed reader, it might take you an hour to read, but it is a powerful story.
2) Interview With York High School Coach Joe Newton Newton touches 'em all in this fascinating read, including Abraham Lincoln and his former houseguest Arthur Lydiard. He says he never uses a computer and the key to coaching is saying each of his 225 runners' nicknames every day at practice. If you're a coach, you should read this article.
3) Irish Writer Cliona Foley Wonders Why Next Worlds Were Given To ... Daegu?
4) Can Anyone Beat Bekele? He has not lost over 5,000m since 2006. He'll have a couple of fresh Kenyans to contend with in Zürich. Boards: Ritz in 5k Today!


Remembering The Last Week With The Quotes Of The Day - Day By Day:

Monday: "Although I told my coach Jon Drummond I've stopped writing goals down because Usain keeps breaking them before I do! But the bottom line is, if I stay healthy and train hard, I believe I can get myself to that (9.5) level."
- American sprint king Tyson Gay, who will race for the first time on Monday in London since setting his 9.71 AR in Berlin.


Sunday:
12:56.27

- So great, it deserves a 2nd day up top.

Saturday: 12:56.27

- Shocking.

Friday:
"I'm an avid reader. I have read about Abraham Lincoln. I was reading this in the '40s or '50s and he said that 'whenever I make a decision in life, no matter what it is, immediately 50% of the people think I'm right and 50% think I'm wrong, so I follow my course to the end.' That really helped me early on in my career because when we were really kicking ass and doing all of the [Arthur] Lydiard training, all of these other coaches were saying, 'He's crazy. He's killing his guys. They never run in college.' Last year, I had 35 guys running in colleges all over America ... Now, I just turned 80, so all of the guys who used to hate me are, 'How you doing Coach Newton? Are you okay?' They feel sorry for me because I'm so old. Things change."
- Excerpt from an interview with Joe Newton by Matt McCue of dyestat.com. Newton is entering his 50th year as cross-country coach at Illinois' York High School. His boys teams, now with a roster over 200, have won 26 state titles in cross-country. The interview is definitely a Recommended Read.


Thursday:
"In our minds, he (Berlino) should be the official mascot of the IAAF and all World Champs. Like Usain Bolt, the loveable bear simply has natural charisma. Amazing considering he or she is hidden in a bear suit (we're assuming Berlino is a he because the mascot is pretty strong, but if the 2009 Worlds have taught us anything, it's to not make assumptions about sex)."
-LetsRun.com's Week That Was on Berlino the World Champs mascot. Berlino is generating a lot of news here and here and even Usain Bolt wore a T-shirt praising him.


Wednesday:
"I was under a lot of pressure. After we lost the women's 10,000m gold medal, everyone in Ethiopia was shocked. Everybody wanted me to run the 5,000m and win it. If I did not run today (Sunday), I knew that I would be [accused] of saving myself for money competitions. It was not easy."
- A busy Kenenisa Bekele closed his 10,000m in 13:05 on August 16, ran a 5k prelim on August 20, and beat Bernard Lagat in a sprint finish on August 23. He continues his quest for the $1,000,000 Golden League jackpot in the 5k/3k with a 5k on Friday, August 28 in Zürich. It's pretty obvious he did not want to run that 5,000m.


Tuesday:
"It was very hard, I wanted to hide. I have no more tears to shed. Now I feel a bit better but last night I could not sleep. I had to go out for a walk around the city because I could not sleep." - Spain's Natalia Rodriguez talking the day after her DQ after crossing the women's 1,500 meters first. Rodriguez called her actions a "tactical mistake," but former Olympic gold medallist Fermin Cacho called a spade a spade and called it a shove.

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