2002: The Year in Running
This is the time of year for looking back, a chance to offer commentary and perhaps gain perspective on what has transpired to change and affect the world during the previous 12 months. In that spirit, I will take the opportunity to review the year in running.
Posted Saturday, 21 December, 2002
On the world scene, two world records highlighted the year: Tim Montgomery's 100-meter mark of 9.78 and Paula Radcliffe's 2:17:18 marathon in Chicago. How these records were received by both the media and the running community offers great insight into how much the world of running has changed during the past several years.
In the past, a 100-meter world record would have been front page sports news, a legitimate big-time story, on par with winning the Masters in golf or Wimbledon in tennis. Traditional media outlets did cover Montgomery's speedy sprint, but for the most part it slipped by with little fanfare. In the running community (apart from track and field enthusiasts) it was a virtual non-event. It proved just how much fan interest has eroded in track and field. Whether it is due to mismanagement, the endless stream of positive drug tests, or the lack of charisma among current day stars, the fact is that track has been largely marginalized in the sports world. And the average road runner has even less interest in track and field than most traditional sports fans.
In stark contrast was Paula Radcliffe's marathon record and overall performance during 2002. Cleary she is at the top of her game; her star power has transcended everyone else in the sport—and it's not even close. In her native Britain she is a certified phenomenon. Articles chronicling her life are written on an almost daily basis. She even outpolled soccer star David Beckham as Britain's top athlete, unheard of in that soccer-mad nation. Even in the U.S. she has garnered her share of media attention, having appeared in Oprah after her record run in Chicago. That's about as mainstream as it gets. More importantly, Radcliffe has served as a huge inspiration to countless women, showing just what is possible for women to achieve. There are many other great female runners in the world, but none like Radcliffe. She is attractive and articulate, and has been a standard bearer in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs. She is the new face of running, offering hope for the sport's future and irrefutable evidence that it is no longer all about the 100-meter dash.
Participation in road running—the marathon in particular—continued to be strong during 2002, despite the fact that entry fees escalated ever higher. Charity fund raising programs continued to fuel the interest in marathon running; not only in Boston, New York and Chicago, but also in Richmond, Huntsville, and Wichita.
Speaking of smaller marathon markets, Birmingham, Alabama and St. Louis Missouri are gearing up as sites for the 2004 men's and women's Olympic trials marathons, respectively. Despite the abysmal state of elite U.S. marathon running in recent years, 2002 offered a glimmer of hope. Alan Culpepper turned in a fine 2:09:41 sixth-place finish in Chicago, Dan Browne won the Twin Cities 26-miler in 2:11:35 and Meb Keflezighi ran 2:12:35 in New York. Of course, the world's premier marathoner is an American too. Khalid Khannouchi defied the experts by winning both London and Chicago this year. No one can deny him the title of the world's best, as he turned back track superstars Paul Tergat and Haile Gebreselhaisse (making his marathon debut) in London, and Tergat and a host of fast Kenyans in Chicago. A sub 2:06 marathon has only been run four times—and Khannouchi has three of them.
Of course, even Khannouchi could not entirely escape controversy. Only Radcliffe seemed capable of that. Khannouchi let it be known that he has installed a hyperbaric chamber in his house to simulate living at high altitude, while continuing to train at sea level, the best of both worlds according to most phyisologists. The ethics of using such devices have been called into question, however. Where does one draw the line when it comes to performance enhancement? If a hyperbaric chamber and the drug EPO both effectively achieve a similar result, how does one draw a distinction between the two? It is inevitable that technology would be employed to enhance athletic performance. An article in Wired magazine detailed the inner workings of the Oregon Project, a Nike-funded experiment in controlled living conditions that is currently being used by some the shoe company's top distance runners.
Inspiration is a big part of running, and is sometimes found in the most unusual places. This past year was no exception. The 25th place finisher a Washington D.C. three-mile race lists his residence as 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. George W. Bush showed he is no slacker when it comes to running—and racing. He averaged 6:50 per mile for three miles, a pace most runners would love to run. All of us who bemoan the lack of time and freedom to train need only look to the country's chief executive to see that it is possible to train and race if sufficiently motivated, despite a life full of responsibilities and time constraints.
Similarly, Marla Runyan showed us courage and excellence in her own way. The legally blind Runyan has risen through the ranks to world-class status. She ventured off the track and onto the streets of New York for the marathon debut in October and did not disappoint her many admirers, finishing fifth and the top U.S. woman in 2:27:10, the tenth-fastest time ever by an American woman.
The sport mourned the passing of many during 2002. Included among them was Ethiopian Mamo Wolde, winner of the 1968 Olympic Marathon. Wolde also gained fame for his decade-long imprisonment, which stirred political activism among the worldwide running community. The running world also lost agent Kim McDonald, the first to bring Kenyans runners—and big paydays—to America and Europe, and "Bullet" Bob Hayes, the 1960 100-meter gold medalist. Gone too early were 38-year-old Kim Gallagher, a two-time Olympic middle distance medalist, 48-year-old former marathon standout Andy Palmer, and 35-year-old Francesca Moser, the 1996 New York City Marathon winner. The death of young Cynthia Lucero in the Boston Marathon brought to light a very dangerous condition known as hyponatremia, in which drinking too much water can cause a dilution of the body's electrolytes.
Other notable's from the world of running in 2002:
· A smooth-striding Kenyan named Rodgers Rop became just the fourth marathoner to complete a Boston-New York double in the same calendar year.
· Hicham El Guerrouj continued to assert his dominance at the middle distances. All he is lacking is an Olympic gold medal, something he will surely attempt to add in Athens in 2004.
· Like El Guerrouj, Marion Jones continued to dominate. The sprinter made more news thorough her romantic involvement with men's 100-meter record setter Tim Montgomery than her track exploits, which were again unparalleled in women's sprinting.
· David Krummenacker established himself as the top U.S. middle distance runner, clocking world ranked times at both 800 and 1,500 meters. He posted the fifth fastest 1,500-meter time ever by an American, 3:31:93, to go along with a personal best in 800 meters of 1:43.95. One has to go back to Jim Ryun to find a U.S. runner as accomplished at both of the middle-distance events.
· Collegiate running was a bust for Alan Webb, who set the high school mile record in 2001. After a disappointing year Webb left Michigan University, lured by a six-figure bonus from Nike and a reunion with his high-school coach.
· For the second year in a row, Deena Drossin was the fastest female marathoner in the U.S., although her time of 2:26:53 in Chicago was something of a personal disappointment, given her hope for a low 2:20s effort.
· Pam Reed made news as the first women to ever win the searing Badwater Ultramarathon outright, 135 miles in the heat of Death Valley. Reed beat all of her competition by nearly five hours, setting a women's course record of 27 hours.
· Tim DeBoom successfully defended his title at the Hawaii Ironman Triathlon, joining names such as Dave Scott and Mark Allen as multiple winners of the famed multi-sport test.
· California's Helen Klein turned 80 in 2002 and made the most of it, setting an age-group marathon world record of 4:31, taking nearly three quarters of an hour off the old mark.
· Given the explosion in adventure running and racing, it is not surprising to learn that someone has now run an ultra distance marathon on all seven continents in one calendar year. Ireland's Richard Donovan laid claim to the feat, highlighted by a win at the South Pole Marathon, the first to complete the distance at the pole.
What is in store for 2003? The year before an Olympics is usually a quiet one on the world scene, but with the usual plethora of events, there are sure to be many stories and new faces to emerge during the next 12 months.