From Renato's interview with Douglas:
"If Renato Canova coached just one runner currently under his direction, he would be a success, and a seemingly busy one at that. So it's staggering to consider even a short list of his athletes: steeplechase world record holder Saif Saaeed Shaheen, known as Stephen Cherono before he switched citizenship from Kenya to Qatar; New York City and Boston Marathon winner Rodgers Rop; 26:30 10,000m runner Nicholas Kemboi; Ahmad Hassan Abdullah, the former Albert Chepkurui, bronze medalist at the World Half-Marathon and long-course World Cross Country Championships; and the second-fastest 3,000-meter runner of 2004, James Kwalia, to name just a few.
Canova is also the official coach of the Qatari national track team, which is comprised of former Kenyans, Burundians and other East Africans who have relinquished their native citizenship to run for the oil-rich Gulf state. When we spoke in Iten, Kenya, in December, Canova and a few members of the Qatari team had recently arrived for an extended training camp. The rest of the team arrived by early January, and further raised Iten's already solid claim of being the training site of choice for many of the world's best distance runners.
A few caveats: Although Canova speaks excellent English, Italian is his first language, so below there will be a few oddities to American readers, such as "fantasy" where we might say "imagination." Also, like most in Kenyan running circles, when speaking about the world record holder in the steeplechase, Canova randomly switches between "Stephen Cherono" and "Saif Saaeed Shaheen." Finally, the interview was conducted in late December, so when, for example, Canova says "last year," he means 2003.
MensRacing.com: There's a lot of curiosity in the U.S. about the whole Qatari thing. How does one become the coach of the Qatari national team? You're from Italy. How did that happen?
Renato Canova: I was already the coach of Stephen Cherono, and before was the coach of his brother, [1999 steeplechase World Champion] Christopher Kosgei, so it was a family affair. When Cherono won the  World Championships, in Qatar nobody knew who was the coach. Stephen introduced me to the federation, telling them, 'This is my coach.' So the official of the federation wanted it official, that I become the coach of Qatar. It was a long situation, because I never look at it for money, but I wanted the opportunity to have a strategy for developing the country, not only to be the coach of Shaheen.
I coach maybe 30 Kenyans of a top level. I was told when I become official coach of Qatar, I cannot continue to coach athletes from other countries. So one of the parts of my negotiations was I told them every country can ask me what I can do, but not to tell me what I must not do. This is my choice — if they wanted me, I continue with my others. The problem is the personal relationship you have with the athletes — it's not something like a soccer team, where they change all the time. So I had a relation with Kenyan athletes, Ugandan athletes, and I could not cut these because of Qatar.
Also, there was something official between Qatar and Kenya for having some other athletes in this way. So every change was with full agreement. Every change was with a letter, no objection.
It was very strange. Many times with the Kenyan federation, we asked for names that they didn't know! Because you know, in Kenya, there is not a master list of athletes attached to some club. In Kenya, you are free — you are here, you run faster, and nobody knows. I ask for these guys to change citizenship. I give to the federation their names. The federation never heard of them, but the president of the Qatar federation is a member of IAAF, so there were relations at the top level. In many cases we had long, long procedures for changing.
But anyway, the athletes that are here in Kenya...In Qatar, it is not possible to train for long distance. Qatar is a small country, 600,000 people. And [it's at] sea level. For five months, the weather is exactly the contrary of what we need. We had athletes there for four months — it was 48, 50 degrees [Celsius, more than 100 degrees Fahrenheit], 95% humidity, so they were completely out of shape. So the solution is for these guys to stay in Kenya, to train in Kenya. We are looking for a permanent camp during winter, then [cross country] World Championships, and then maybe again here in April and May. After that, we stay in St. Moritz [Switzerland] for a long time.
The big difference between the Qatar federation and an African federation is that Qatar, having the money, can support any type of training project. So we stay, for example, for two months in St. Moritz, and the Qatar federation pays everything. When I coach Kenyans, we have to find some solution, a private solution, and everyone has to pay part of the expense.
So what really is important for me in this situation is to have financial backers so we can have the full support. That is something that normally with African runners is very difficult to find. In this case, I could see that when the Africans stay long time with me, they can improve very much. The same Africans that already before were with me, but with the normal system, the normal programs, is not the same. For example, the case of Nicholas Kemboi last year [who ran 26:30 for 10,000m to take more than a minute and a half off his PR]. Already I was his coach for three years. But it was always the same — 13:26, 28:something, staying maybe some time one week here, one week in Italy. When we were together last year for practically 55 days, almost two months in Switzerland, I discovered something that I didn't know about him. I was sure that he was very, very slow, and my idea was for to move him to the marathon. After one and a half months of preparation, of going uphill and a lot of things, he was able running one time 200 meters in 22.7. So I discovered he was fast, no? But still, 50 days before [Kemboi ran 26:30], five people running 13:42 [for 5,000m], in the last lap, he was number five. So I ask of him, 'Nicholas, you are faster. Why are you last in the group on the last lap?' 'No,' he says, 'I am fast only if I am in front.' I said, 'No, if you are fast, you are fast. The problem is to change your mind, to understand what you have to do.'
The problem of training the African is a problem of education. It's not only to give a program. You must speak very much. Mentally, they have a lot of limits, limits that start from their culture. And also their attitude. In Kenya, for example, nobody uses short recovery in training because, due to altitude, it is difficult, no? Normally in Kenya, there were never many big runners [who competed in the] 1,500. We have big runners at 800 and long distance, but 1,500 in the history, no. If you think back 20 years, when Britain had [Sebastian] Coe, [Steve] Cram, all these people, the best Kenyans were two and three seconds back, and already were the best in 5[K] and 10[K] and other specialties, steeple especially. So it was something due to some, not mistake, it's not accurate to speak of mistake...I think an athlete, when he's capable of running fast, cannot do many mistakes, so you must know what he does in training, knowing his attitude for sure. If you are able to look at the talent of everyone, you can have an idea where with his talent this athlete can arrive and what already was able to do. Okay, you are already running 13:00, so it's not wrong, your training. But I think that with your talent, you can run 12:45. So explain your training. I don't want to change your training. I want to add what you don't do. Because, for example, if I speak about Sergiy Lebid, I know what he normally does, coming from the Russian tradition. So, for improving, he has to do something like Africans that normally he doesn't do. And Africans have to do something that they don't do.
In any case, what the Kenyans have, and the Europeans and Americans at the moment don't have, is, in their very simple type of training, the most important thing for middle distance. Long distance — not long, long, long. Maybe from 20 to 40 minutes very, very, very fast. Very fast. So everyone in this country has a threshold level higher than in Europe. Why Europeans are now good in marathon, for example, but no more in 5 and 10k? We have [Stefano] Baldini and others, but... Because in marathon, the system of training is the most important mean of success, while in 5 and 10k it's not as important as the power of the engine. So Europeans and also, I think, Americans are no more able to work and build themselves at high intensity. Americans use a lot of intervals or a lot of long runs, slowly. But I don't know how many use, for example, a long middle [distance] run very fast. I don't know.
You cannot assemble these two situations. You can become more faster, you can become more resistant, but the resistance is not endurance, it's different. So, for running faster 5 and 10, you must run faster in training, long. You can do 50 x 400 meters with short recovery, and you are no good in 10,000. You can run three hours, and you are no good in marathon.
Here, when we start with these guys, very young and or not, already they have this mental attitude, and we're able to build their body, their physiology; that's the most important thing. So, if you are already running all the time 40 minutes fast, maybe in one year, you can become a good specialist in half-marathon. And in two or three years, go to marathon.
But at the moment, I think the situation, the technical situation for the marathon is very, very, very back[wards]. It's very back[wards]. My idea is that it's not difficult to run under 2:04 for a lot of runners that are here, but the training is not correct. Also, because it's not possible to control [them]. We can control track here, because track is track. A distance is a distance. But when you speak about marathon running, it is really difficult, because the story of Kenya is this one: You have an athlete that runs in a camp who nobody knows. The leader of the camp pushes with the manager, 'Hey, I have someone running very fast with me, you can arrange some competitions for him.' Most of the time, he is no good. But sometimes, he is good. So he arrives in Europe for a marathon, nobody pays his ticket, but the manager can have a special agreement with the organizer: 'Okay, if this athlete runs under 2:13, you pay for ticket. If he runs sub 2:12, you pay blah blah blah.' So this athlete, completely unknown, is able to come to Europe and run 2:09:30, winning a marathon. So you think, for running 2:09:30, he knows something about training.
So, what happens? This guy, for example, wins $20,000, $25,000, that many times the organizer pays six months later. Arrives to Kenya two days after the competition, thinking, 'What I have to do with the $20,000? What is my business?' Normal business here is to build a house. Thirty houses, not any apartment is rented. It's a wonderful business — no more money, 30 houses, no apartments rented. So he wants to build a house, but he is not the builder. He hires someone. Every day he is there for a long time, to see what the builder is making, and he forgets to train, completely, for maybe two months. Then starts again, running, not training, because there is a big difference between running and training. He arrives at the beginning of September, for example, and the manager calls him, 'Hey, I was able to arrange for you a marathon, 8th of October, you can have $5,000 for appearance, for starting.' 'Yes, I'm ready! Sure! No problem!' The manager says, 'If you run slower than 2:13, a cut of 50%.' This one goes, not ready, already ran 2:09 before, but now not ready, maybe runs 2:17. So out of prize money, half appearance, comes back with $2,500 only. Very bad for him, very bad for manager. Maybe the manager doesn't want to work again with this guy.
You think he has to know the reason why he was able to run 2:09. A European, an American, when you've run faster, you know what you did for running fast, so you understand if you are eight minutes slower there is something that is not the same. Here, no. Why? Because before when you were at the camp you were not the best, so you follow the camp. After this you go to the manager and tell the manager, 'I ran well. So I go home. And I build a camp in my home, so I can have four, five, eight younger runners from the village.' But before he was just one involved in the camp. Now he is the number one. So what happens? Without control over courses, because they change the courses, you never know if you are faster. I can write every type of program. But the program is following your sensations, so tell me how you feel. They will say, 'I feel okay.' But what does this mean? You feel okay running 3:30 [per kilometer] or you feel okay running 3:10? To feel okay is good, but you must know whether you feel okay running fast or slow.
Also, to train a Kenyan on tarmac is practically impossible. They don't want that solution. But the marathon, where is the marathon? It's on tarmac, no? So the compromise is, okay, we go one time maybe every 10 days on tarmac, but one time is enough for controlling the situation, for developing some kind of pace. When I go, for example, five times 5K at marathon pace with 1K interval, if I have my courses well controlled, it's possible to understand.
So it's another type of job, to train an African instead of a European. I never train an American, but I think it is like a European.
MR: I wanted to ask what you think the genetic differences are. I mean, just walking around Iten, it's very easy to see from the general body type that it's very different from walking around Europe or the US So if you could comment both on the outward appearance as well as internally, in terms of what might be differences.
RC: The difference, you are speaking about the difference in training or in attitude?
MR: Neither. Difference in genetic makeup.
RC: The first thing is, personally, I don't think there are big differences genetically. I don't know. I don't think so. "
Three words: Are you joking?
"No big difference genetically"?
Sure, that's why Americans have been getting their posteriors handed to them over every distance 800-marathon for upwards of 2 decades.
It's all "training."
Garbage. Tell this to WEbb, Ritzenhein, Kennedy, Culpepper, Goucher, Meb, and anyone good in the U.S. The work as hard or harder than Kenyans and get dusted.