Week That Was: Meet Joseph Elsakr The Last Olympic Trials Qualifier and Robert Keter the Most Unlikely World Record Holder

By LetsRun.com
November 13, 2019

It was a light week last week in terms of actual action, so we just present a few random thoughts for our Week That Was. If you missed the Mary Cain story, catch up now:

Last week, we didn’t do our normal WTW but instead just recovered a bit from New York and gave our 4 Final Thoughts on The 2019 New York City Marathon.

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Each week when writing this column, we always use our subscription to Race Results Weekly to help us come up with story lines. This week it was particularly helpful.

Atlanta, This Is Getting Expensive

Thumbs up to the organizers of the CNO Financial Group Indianapolis Monumental Marathon and Half Marathon for offering a $1,000 bonus to all US Olympic Trials qualifiers. Fifteen men and 25 women achieved the qualification standards of 64:00/2:19:00 and 73:00/2:45:00. That means that there are more than 600 people qualified for the Trials, as heading into the weekend 200 men and 391 women were already qualified. That’s a record. In 2016, when the standards were the same, only 211 men and 246 women qualified.

Considering the Atlanta Track Club said it would cover travel expenses of all Trials qualifiers — not just the ‘A’ qualifiers (2:15:00/2:37:00), as required by USATF — it’s going to be quite expensive for Atlanta to host the Trials. The ATC is willing to pay up to $315 in travel expenses, plus three nights’ hotel accommodations and meals for all qualifiers — which should cost north of $300,000. We reached out to the ATC to see if they regret offering to pay for everyone.

Jay Holder, the Atlanta Track Club’s Director of Marketing & Communications, quickly responded with the following:

We do not regret offering to pay for the B athletes. It has definitely caused us to make some planning adjustments, but the core of our bid was that we would provide a championship race for ALL who qualified to be on the start line. This is about investing in the sport and the only way to do that is to invest in not just the Olympians of 2020, but the Olympians of 2024 and beyond. 

I do not know what the final expense will be, but yes, it is significantly more than we anticipated when we bid for the Trials. Right now, our focus is not so much on the finances as it is the logistics. Number one priority is ensuring the movement and preventing the congestion of athletes on the course and making sure the athlete’s access to personal fluids runs smoothly and efficiently. Finances are secondary. 

Some of you might be thinking: 600+ qualifiers? Why aren’t the standards harder? 

Well remember, there is a USOPC rule that says no US Olympic Trials standard can be stiffer than the Olympic standard. So before the 2016 Trials, USATF set the Trials standards at 2:19:00 and 2:45:00 (the 2016 Olympic standards) and kept them there when the 2020 Olympic Trials qualifying window began in September 2017. Subsequently, in March 2019, World Athletics changed the 2020 Olympic standards to 2:11:30 and 2:29:30, but since USATF already had the standards for the 2020 Trials in place, they didn’t change them. But now that the Olympic standards are faster, expect the 2024 Trials standards to get faster as well.

Meet Joseph Elsakr, the Former 10:13 HSer Who Just Qualified For the 2020 US Olympic Marathon Trials

The last of the Olympic Trials qualifiers in Indy was Joseph Elsakr. His story is a cool one. Elsakr, a former Duke University walk-on who now runs for the Nashville Running Company while he pursues his MD and PhD at Vanderbilt, crossed the line right at 2:19 and his official gun time was rounded up to 2:19:01. However, his chip time was 2:18:57, and after a successful back and forth with USATF, he has been granted a Trials qualifier. We reached out to the former 10:13 high school 2-miler, who only ran 31:17 for 10,000 meters in college, to see what it was like to be right on the cusp of a Trials qualifier. How panicked was he, considering he had hit halfway in 69:14? Did he realize how much he had faded and how close he was to missing out on the Trials?

Here is what he had to say:

“I didn’t have any [splits] written down but did have some memorized. I knew 5:18 pace (2:18:57 marathon pace) was 1:46:00 for 20 [miles] and we were still 30+ seconds ahead of pace then. Honestly I felt pretty solid through 21 and what was left of the pack was still together and I thought we’d all qualify. At 22ish my calves started to spaz a little like they wanted to lock up, and that seemed to get worse if I tried to push the pace. Got bad the last couple miles and since I was obviously pretty tired I started to slow significantly. I think I hit 24 around 2:07 or a bit under so knew I just had to hold on. Eventually, I got to a sign that said half a mile to go, so I looked at my watch and had 2:40 to spare. That’s when reality sort of hit me and I tried to suck it up and just deal with the calves and pick up the pace. I didn’t want to not qualify because I couldn’t break 2:40 for an 800! That proved to be difficult though and it really came down to the wire. Finished right as the clock turned to 2:19 and just had no idea if I’d made it and knew it was based on gun time. The initial emotion I felt was just that I was mad at myself for cutting it so close. But in the end it was an almost 3-minute PR so I decided I should be happy and grateful either way. Fortunately it all worked out in the end!”

Joseph Elsakr (center, blue armwarmers) en route to a Trials qualifier in Indy

Now, we did have to ask him what shoes he was wearing. You guessed it: a pair of Nike Vaporflys. Here are his comments on that:

“I think the shoes help. But I think the extent to which they help has gotten a little overblown. They don’t feel like springs or trampolines; they feel like great shoes with a lot of cushion that feels good in a long race. Finally, there’s always this question of having an asterisk next to your PR or whatever, which is something I thought seriously about when I first bought the shoes. It’s interesting to think about now that I only got under the standard by 3 seconds. Would I have made it without the shoes? Probably not. But I also wouldn’t have made it without the 100-mile weeks, the help of a great coach (Scott Wietecha, who you may know), all the other sacrifices I made, etc. And at the end of the day I’m a slow guy (10:13 2 mile in HS, 31:17 in college, never broken 60 in a 400!) who managed to be one of the 200-something best marathoners in the country wearing shoes that are widely available to anyone. I’d rather have an asterisk and be in Atlanta in February than not!”

We agree wholeheartedly. Congrats Joseph.

Meet The Most Unlikely World Record Holder in History

We just talked about an unlikely Trials qualifier, so let’s move on to talk about an unlikely world record holder.

Thumbs up to Kenya’s Robert Keter. A total unknown entering the weekend, his Tilastopaja profile tells us that he is 29 years old with personal bests of just 8:56 in the steeplechase and 14:19 in the 5,000 (both at altitude in Kenya). Now, assuming everything is ratified, he is the 5k road world record holder as over the weekend he ran 13:21.6 (rounded up to 13:22) to win the Urban Trail Lille 5k in France. The previous world record belonged to Julien Wanders and Edward Cheserek, who both ran 13:29 earlier this year.

Admittedly, the 5k record is extremely soft as World Athletics did not recognize a world record at that distance until this year (Sammy Kipketer ran 13:00 in Carlsbad in both 2000 and 2001), but it is a cool story nonetheless.

MB: Unheralded 29-year old Kenyan breaks 5k road WR with 13:22 in France 

Is $20,000 the Going Rate For a Sub-2:10?

According to Race Results Weekly, there were four different marathons in China last week offering at least $10,000 for first place. The Nanjing, Nanchang, and Hefei International Marathons all offered $20,000 for the win while the Xichang Qionghai Lake Wetland International Marathon offered $10,000 for first if the winning time was under 2:09:30/2:26:00 (the times weren’t that fast so they paid out $5,000 for first). The fastest times came in Nanchang, where Kenya’s Stephen Kiplimo won the men’s race in 2:09:54 and Ethiopia’s Melkam Gizaw won the women’s in 2:29:01.

Is $20,000 the going rate for an African runner who runs 2:09? Well, the week before Kenya’s Daniel Kibet won $50,000 by winning the Vodafone Istanbul Marathon in 2:09:44 — though Kibet is a guy who has also run 2:06 twice this year (the women’s winner in Istanbul, Hirut Tibebu of Ethiopia, picked up $70,000 for running a 2:23:40 course record).

Can’t Break 17 for 5k? Sorry, We Don’t Want You Running This Race

They don’t mess around in Australia. Australia’s premier 5km road race — the Asics Bolt 5km — was held in Noosa, Queensland, earlier this month. The race features a four-lap course, and any man that doesn’t run the first two laps in under 9:00 and any women that doesn’t cover it in at least 11:00 is removed from the course as race organizers don’t want anyone to get lapped. Their goal is for every man to break 17:00 and every woman to break 20:00. Jordy Williamz (14:08) and Genevieve Gregson (16:04) were the winners.

The NCAA XC Schedule Should Be Changed

The NCAA DII cross country regionals were held last week and the field for nationals, which takes place on November 23, is set. Can someone tell us why those in charge of the NCAA DII ranks can manage to run their regional cross country meets two weeks before nationals but the NCAA DI and DIII administrators can’t? It makes zero sense that DI runners race, at most, every other week all season long at 8k or less, then have to run back-to-back 10ks at regionals and nationals.

Stat of the Week/Making Bernard Lagat’s 2:12:10 at Age 44 All the More Impressive

2:57:07 – time recorded at the Athens Marathon last week by 48-year-old Stefano Baldini. Baldini won Olympic marathon gold in Athens in 2004.

Recommended Read

The Diamond League announced what events were cut last week and we loved this piece by long jumper Tianna Bartoletta:

Tianna Bartoletta Blogs About DL Cuts: “Diamonds Aren’t Forever” Bartoletta rips the IAAF and questions the research and justifications for the events they chose to cut.

To see our favorite reads from other weeks, go here.

Quotes Of The Day And Last Week’s Home Pages

To see the quotes of the day from last week or last week’s home page or any home page, go to our archive page.

Got a tip, question or comment? Please call us at 844-LETSRUN (538-7786), email us or post in our forum

Correction: An earlier version of this article stated that there were 24 women’s Olympic Trials qualifiers at the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon. There were actually 25 because the timer missed a finisher. Hat tip to David Monti for pointing this out.

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