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April 22, 2016
The Greatest Marathon Ever Run: London 2002

In light of the stellar field assembled for this weekend's London Marathon I thought it would be interesting to look back at the 2002 race, a race that is considered by many to be the most competitive marathon ever held.

The following is an excerpt from The Golden Age of Distance Running.

And then it was upon us – the London Marathon. Never before had so much ink been spilt, radio waves broadcast, and electrons transmitted to publicize a marathon race, and with good reason. Not only was the race the “pro debut” of Haile Gebrselassie and the first (and only) battle with his long time rival Paul Tergat at this distance, but the field supporting them was stupendous. Abdelkader El Mouaziz and António Pinto, the events last two champions, joined the big two. Ethiopian record holder Tesfaye Jifar showed up, as did World Champs bronze medallist Stefano Baldini. By the time the morning was over a man would run 2:09:50 and finish 9th. All this speed cost the organizers dearly. The total appearance fee budget topped $2.5 million. Gebrselassie alone was reported to be receiving $375,000. The race was wildly hyped, but for once the event matched its billing.

According to Haile, the day after his Edmonton 10,000m loss he began training for London. Piling on miles like never before, he fully expected the winner to run a world record and had every intention of being that man. Tergat also concluded a record was required and concentrated on preparing himself for the final two miles. Trying to outsprint Geb seemed unlikely, so he planned to make his Ethiopian foe suffer like never before. Victory would have to come before the finish.

Barely mentioned in the pre-race build-up was Khalid Khannouchi. The WR holder was going through a rough patch. Back and knee problems plagued him in 2001 resulting in defeat in the few races he ran. Things were looking up in 2002 with a pair of half marathon wins, but they sandwiched a dismal 10 Km race in Puerto Rico. Khalid did not appear to be in his record form of 1999 and for that reason he was an afterthought. The focus was on the big two, but America’s best Marathoner had been quietly prepping. London would not boil down to a two man race.

Standing on the start line, Geb showed no hint of anxiousness. He was his usual smiling self, joking with Jifar, as they awaited the cannon to send them on their way. The requested split for halfway was 1:02:30, only 14 seconds slower than Khannouchi’s fastest half marathon in the last two years. The weather was perfect; if they kept to the schedule it would be a remarkable day. And then they were off!

The rabbit quintet followed their instructions to a “T”. They led a dozen men, including all the main players plus Briton Mark Steinle and South African Ian Syster, through 10 Km in 29:37 – right on 2:05:00 pace. Haile assumed his accustomed position right on the lead pacer’s shoulder as El Mouaziz kept close tabs. Tergat and Pinto ran comfortably in the middle of the pack, but Khannouchi hung out in the rear. Was he biding his time or barely hanging on?

Little of import happened in the first half until they neared Tower Bridge at 12 miles (19.3 Km). Somehow El Mouaziz stumbled and sprawled onto the pavement. Showing great composure he picked himself up and took his time hunting down the pack. He rejoined them a little before half way. With everyone who mattered still in tow, the lead pacer reached 13.1 miles in 1:02:46. Unless they all blew up, a world record was in the making.

The pace was hot, and it got hotter. As the rabbits approached the drop out point at 25 Km they got antsy. After 14 miles (22.5 Km) run on the high 4:40s, they threw in a 4:39 for the 15th mile. The acceleration was enough to shed some pack members. By the time the pacers departed the lead bunch was down to 8 – Gebrselassie, Jifar, El Mouaziz, Pinto, Tergat, Syster, and bringing up the rear Steinle and Khannouchi. A couple of miles in 4:43 and 4:45 lost Steinle and then El Mouaziz made his expected long drive to victory. Coming into an aid station the Moroccan surged to the front, threw a cup of water on his head, and went. Immediately the remaining seven strung out with Gebrselassie and Jifar leading the chase. The move dropped Pinto and Syster, and before too long Jifar, but not the big two and the surprisingly persistent Khannouchi. El Mouaziz held on to almost 20 miles (32.2 Km) before handing the lead off to Geb and fading. He would not defend his title.

It was down to three. Running as the tail gunner was the five time World Cross Country Champion, former world record holder for 10,000m, and current record holder for the Half Marathon – Paul Tergat. Leading was two time Olympic gold medallist, five time World Champion, and world record holder for 5,000m and 10,000m – Haile Gebrselassie. And looking more dangerous with every mile they covered was the fastest man in history for the event being contested – Marathon world record holder Khalid Khannouchi. The worldwide TV audience and spectators lining the course knew what they were witnessing – the greatest Marathon ever run.

Haile scorched the 20th mile in 4:44. When they passed the checkpoint they were dead on 2:05:00 pace. Geb and Tergat knew each other like they knew the back of their hands, but their familiarity with Khannouchi was severely lacking. How fit was the American? Would he push hard to break away or did he prefer to wait and kick? For half a year the two East Africans trained while imagining racing each other to victory. The presence of a man many had written off was not part of the plan.

Geb let the pace sag, but if he backed off too much Khalid pushed to the fore and injected speed. As they scurried through the narrow, hilly, winding streets by the Tower of London, the two constantly exchanged the lead, chiefly determined by who had the shorter tangent through the turns. The trio continued on together through 24 miles, Khalid and Haile sharing the front, and Paul hanging out waiting to pounce in the final mile. It was the point in the race Khannouchi had trained for. Dozens of long runs ending with a big acceleration in the final miles prepared him for this. It was time to collect the dividends of all his harsh training. Khalid surged. The move caught Geb off guard and a small gap opened up. Tergat whipped around his friend and long time rival to latch onto the American’s back. Haile fought back and closed the gap, clipping Paul’s heel in the process. But for the first time since his loss to Daniel Komen in 1996, Haile Gebrselassie was in trouble. Just before 25 miles (40.2 Km) the Emperor broke. First he was with the lead pair, and then he wasn’t. The greatest distance runner in history couldn’t keep up.

Khannouchi and Tergat battled on, Tergat always following, waiting to spring his trap. Khalid kept driving, hammering the Kenyan, and trying to pummel the sprint out of his legs. It started working. Tergat was losing his grip. A crack of daylight opened up between them. Then Khannouchi was a whole stride in front. Then another stride, and another. The break was so subtle it was hard to believe it was happening, but happening it was. Khannouchi pulled away. In half a mile he gained 5 seconds. He was going to win, but the slow down over the final miles had eaten into the time. Could Khalid pull it together in the final kilometer and get his record? A glance back before the final turns confirmed he would not be caught. His arms pumped harder, trying to increase his turnover, while his eyebrows rose higher, displaying the utter desperation of the effort. Not until he was within meters of the tape did he relax. He could see the clock. Khalid Khannouchi was about to win the most storied marathon of all time with a new world record. 2:05:38! He shaved 4 seconds from his old standard. After a year and a half of injuries, DNFs, and indifferent performances, Khalid was back!

Sandra rushed out and embraced him, but the pair barely had time to savor their triumph. Just 10 seconds later Paul Tergat became only the second man to ever run under 2:06:00. Despite finishing 2nd the Kenyan great was delighted, and also hugged Sandra before offering his heartfelt congratulations to the victor. It had been a hard process but Tergat felt he was now mastering the event. Before long he would make it his own. His characteristic bounding stride looking more painful than usual, Haile Gebrselassie finished nearly a minute back, crossing the line with a bemused expression. The event proved much harder than he imagined, and despite his new Ethiopian record, it would be another 3 years before he attempted a marathon again. Meanwhile he and his Ethiopian teammates would conspire to run one of the most amazing 10,000m races in World Championship history. Rounding out the list of men who broke 2:07:00 on the day was Abdelkader El Mouaziz. As if to emphasize the difficulty of the morning’s race, the dethroned champion lost his breakfast just a few meters before crossing the finish.

The race was the deepest in history. The first 6 finishers recorded the fastest time ever for their place. There would be faster races in the future, but never again would such a collection of giants engage in such a titanic struggle. Track & Field News said it best; it was a “Marathon for the Ages”.

 

2002 London Marathon

1. Khalid Khannouchi (USA)                                      2:05:38 WR

2. Paul Tergat (Kenya)                                              2:05:48 NR

3. Haile Gebrselassie (Ethiopia)                                2:06:35 NR

4. Abdelkader El Mouaziz (Morocco)                        2:06:52 PR

5. Ian Syster (South Africa)                                       2:07:06 PR

6. Stefano Baldini (Italy)                                           2:07:29 NR

7. António Pinto (Portugal)                                       2:09:10

8. Mark Steinle (UK)                                                 2:09:17 PR

                      9. Tesfaye Jifar (Ethiopia)                                                 2:09:50

September 2, 2015
National Distance Rankings From Worlds

Given the flame-out by the American team, I thought it would be interesting to see how the nations compared in the distance races. Using NCAA style scoring – 10 points for 1st, 8 for 2nd, 6 for 3rd, 5 for 4th, on down to 1 for 8th – I gave each country a team score for the 800m through the Marathon. I then added up the scores for each event to get an overall meet total for each nation.

 

Here’s how it went down:

 

MEN

 

Everyone expected a fierce Kenya–Ethiopia battle because that is how it has been for the last two decades, but it didn’t happen in Beijing. Kenya completely overwhelmed their East African cousins. In fact the hapless US team managed to tie the Ethiopians despite going home medal-less. And the Americans definitely underachieved. Evan Jager, Ben True, Galen Rupp, Matthew Centrowitz, and Leo Manzano – surely one of them should have grabbed at least a bronze but the best finish by that group was a pair of 5ths for Rupp. The big story on the men’s side was the double gold for Mo Farah (who single-handedly ranked the UK 4th in the team scoring). Not to slight Farah, but everyone rolled over and played dead for him in the 5,000m and 10,000m. There is only one way to beat Mo when he’s in shape – push hard from the gun and force him out of his kicker’s comfort zone. Nobody tried that in Beijing, allowing him to relax until it was time to smoke everyone in the last lap. If the Kenyans, Ethiopians, and Americans employ the same tactics in Rio then there’s no point in even holding the races.

 

Men’s Team Scores

 

1. Kenya                     97

2. USA                        21

2. Ethiopia                  21

4. UK                          20

5. Eritrea                    13

6. Uganda                  10

6. Morocco                 10

8. Poland                     8

9. Italy                          6

9. Bosnia                     6

11. Algeria                   6

12. Bahrain                  4

12. France                   4

14. Qatar                     3

14. New Zealand         3

16. Turkey                   2

17. Canada                  1

 

WOMEN

 

The star of the meet was Genzebe Dibaba … until the last 3 laps of the 5,000m when she completely unraveled. Why did this happen? Because Almaz Ayana has guts! Doing what should have been done to Mo Farah, Ayana dropped the hammer just five laps into the race and then scorched the final 3,000m in 8:19! That’s 3 seconds faster than her official 3,000m PR! Dibaba followed her, looking like a hawk waiting to swoop in and steal gold until she blew up and barely salvaged bronze. Take note guys – this is how you can beat Mo.

 

On the women’s side the Kenya–Ethiopia battle was fierce with Kenya barely taking the win by 1 point. The American women by one measures were even worse than the men, placing fewer athletes into finals. But at least Emily Infeld overachieved, grabbing the lone US distance medal with 10,000m bronze. Unfortunately she did it at the expense of Molly Huddle who backed off two strides from the finish and lost a medal. Poor Molly will mentally replay this race for the rest of her life.

 

Women’s Team Scores

 

1. Kenya                       72

2. Ethiopia                    71

3. USA                          20

4. Belarus                     10

5. UK                             8

5. Canada                     8

5. Tunisia                      8

8. the Netherlands        7

9. Bahrain                     6

10. Germany                 6

11. Morocco                  5

12. Poland                    3

12. Sweden                  3

12. Ukraine                   3

15. Japan                      2

16. France                    1

16. India                        1

 

OVERALL

 

The East African duopoly continues. Kenya and Ethiopia trounced the rest of the world with the US a clear 3rd despite themselves. Don’t let the 4th place finish of the UK fool you. If not for Mo Farah, the once mighty Britons would be floundering in the pack with their European cousins.

 

Overall Team Scores

 

1. Kenya                      169

2. Ethiopia                    92

3. USA                          41

4. UK                            28

5. Morocco                   15

6. Eritrea                      13

7. Poland                      11

8. Uganda                    10

8. Bahrain                    10

8. Belarus                    10

11. Canada                   9

12. Tunisia                    8

13. the Netherlands      7

14. Italy                         6

14. Bosnia                     6

14. Germany                 6

17. France                     5

17. Algeria                     5

19. Qatar                       3

19. New Zealand           3

19. Sweden                   3

19. Ukraine                   3

23. Japan                      2

23. Turkey                    2

25. India                       1


August 20, 2015
IAAF World Championships Distance Preview - Steeplechase and Marathon

Men’s 3,000m Steeplechase

There are 45 athletes entered in this race but only 7 matter, and they all hail from Kenya and the US. Kenya has dominated this event for three decades but not since Mark Croghan in the early 90s has America produced a Steepler with the ability to grab a medal – now there are three. Evan Jager could actually win the whole thing. If not for an ill-timed stumble in Paris, Jager would have become the first non-African to break 8:00.00 and would have beaten all of the top Kenyans. And Donn Cabral and Dan Huling both beat the defending World Champion, Ezekiel Kemboi, in that same race.

Making matters worse for the Kenyans is a lack of consistency this year. Kemboi and Conseslus Kipruto each have one fast race to their credit along with several real stinkers. Brimin Kipruto has failed to win a race this season and time-wise is his team’s weakest link. Only Jarius Birech, the world leader at 7:58.83, has run more than one fast time but he would have lost to Jager in Paris had Evan stayed on his feet. The mighty Kenyan fortress is under assault and, as they have admitted, they are worried.

Look for the Kenyans to send out a sacrificial lamb in the final to goad Jager into a too-fast early pace. He probably won’t take the bait, leaving the East Africans with only three to counter the American trio. This should be an evenly matched race and will most likely be the thriller of the meet.

Steeplechase heats will go off at 10:25 AM on the 22nd Beijing time (10:25 PM on the 21st Eastern).

The final will be at 9:15 PM on the 24th Beijing (9:15 AM on the 24th Eastern).

Women’s Steeplechase

The Olympic silver medallist Habiba Ghribi (Tunisia) has run only one race this year, but it gave her the win at the Monaco Diamond League in a world leading time of 9:11.28. If you have to pick a favorite for Beijing Ghribi is the best bet, however she won’t go unchallenged. The Kenyan pair of Hyvin Kiyeng and Virginia Nyambura will give her plenty of company as will the Ethiopians Hiwot Ayalew and Sofia Asefa. Rounding out the front pack will be American record holder Emma Coburn who soloed a 9:15.59, indicating that she is in medal shape.

Again there is no clear-cut pick making this another exciting event.

The Steeplechase heats are at 9:45 AM on the 24th Beijing time (9:45 PM on the 23rd Eastern).

The final is at 9:00 PM on the 26th Beijing (9:00 AM on the 26th Eastern).

Men’s Marathon

This event is the first of the Championships taking place Saturday morning and it will be hot. Right now the forecast is for temps in the high 70s F (high 20s C) and should be over 80 F by the finish. And the athletes will be breathing the less-than-pristine Beijing air. This will be a sufferfest.

The temptation is to pick the guys with the fastest times as the potential medallists, but they ran those times on board flat courses in near perfect weather giving little indication of how they will fair on the roads of the Beijing wok. Still with three sub-2:05:00 men you gotta believe at least one of them will end up on the medal stand. Who are those three? – world record holder Dennis Kimetto (Kenya), the man who preceded as WR holder Wilson Kipsang (Kenya), and Ethiopian Lelisa Desisa.

The countries that have a long history of doing well in miserable conditions are Japan and South Korea, so don’t be surprised if Kazuhiro Maeda, Masakazu Fujiwara, Noh Si-hwan, or Yu Seung-jeop leads the parade into the stadium.

The Marathon is at 7:35 AM on the 22nd Beijing time (7:35 PM on the 21st Eastern).

Women’s Marathon

You might as well put all the names in a hat and pull one out to pick your favorite, this race is wide open. It will take place in the morning with torrid conditions similar to what the men will face and that should level the playing field preventing an East African runaway. Edna Kiplagat (Kenya) and Mare Dibaba (Ethiopia) are the only sub-2:20:00 performers but really anyone who has beaten 2:30:00, and that’s 1/3 of the field, could knock them off the medal stand. As with the men, the Japanese and South Koreans do well in the heat and you can also add the Chinese to that short list.

Personally, this writer will be rooting for 2014 US Marathon Champion and ZAP Fitness alum Esther Erb – GO ESTHER!

The Marathon is at 7:30 AM on the 30th Beijing time (7:30 PM on the 29th Eastern).


August 18, 2015
IAAF World Championships Distance Preview - 5,000m and 10,000m

Men’s 5,000m

Mo Farah’s best this year is 13:11.77 making him only 15th out of the 44 entrants, but he still has the meanest kick in the business. How can he be beaten? By the East Africans teaming up to take the race out at world record pace. It won’t happen. This is Farah’s race to lose.

His most serious threat comes from Ethiopian teen Yomif Kejelcha, who has raced this distance four times this year and lost only once – to Farah. Kejelcha has the backing of a team so strong that potential medallists Yenew Alimerew and Muktar Edris were forced to stay home. Despite all this firepower (Hagos Gebrihewet and Dejen Gebremeskel) the Ethiopians will still find it nearly impossible to bottle up the Brit, so they may be tempted to ignore him. That would be a big mistake. If they don’t apply pressure to Farah they may find he isn’t the only one who will plague them for the Americans are a real threat. Led by New York Diamond League winner Ben True, the team is completed by US Champion Ryan Hill and Farah’s training mate Galen Rupp. Will any of this trio win? Probably not. Will any of them grab a medal in a mass sprint? That is a very definite possibility. Look for Somali-Belgian Bashir Abdi and Japanese record holder Suguru Osako to also be prominent in the lead pack.

But you know which country is in trouble? Kenya! Isiah Koech, Edwin Soi, and either Emmanuel Kipsang or Caleb Ndiku make up the squad and none of them have been able to win a top tier 5,000m this year. Certainly they will have their noses in the race almost to the end, but the medal podium is likely to be devoid of Kenyan uniforms.

The 5,000m heats are at 9:35 AM on the 26th Beijing time (9:35 PM on the 25th Eastern).

The final is at 7:30 PM on the 29th Beijing (7:30 AM on the 29th Eastern).

Women’s 5,000m

If the race is fast, Genzebe Dibaba will win. If it’s slow, Genzebe Dibaba will win.

The tactics of the race won’t affect the winner but they will determine the lesser medals. If it’s fast Dibaba will be accompanied for most of the race by teammate Alamaz Ayana, who actually has a 1 second faster PR (14:14.32 to 14:15.41), allowing Ayana to claim silver. If it’s slow the race for silver and bronze will be a chaotic Kenya versus Ethiopia melee. Kenya’s Mercy Cherono and Viola Kibiwott will duke it out with Ayana and Senbere Teferi. Based on her performance in Diamond League meets, Marielle Hall is the only American with a prayer of being in the final mix.

The heats are at 9:40 AM on the 27th Beijing (9:40 PM on the 26th Eastern).

The final is at 7:15 PM on the 30th Beijing (7:15 AM on the 30th Eastern).

Men’s 10,000m

As with the 5,000m, this is Mo Farah’s race to lose. But unlike the 5,000m his stiffest competition will come from the Kenyans. Farah outkicked Paul Tanui and Geoffrey Kamworor in the year’s fastest race at Prefontaine and the final in Beijing should play out the same way. The days of the Gebrselassie-Bekele-Sihine Express are long gone and Ethiopia’s Muktar Edris and Imane Merga will be lucky if they can medal. They will probably be knocked off the podium by Galen Rupp, Cam Levins (Canada), and third Kenyan Bedan Karoki. The remaining 29 starters, including Americans Diego Estrada and Hassan Mead, will only be gunning for their own personal victories.

The 10,000m final is at 8:50 PM on the 22nd Beijing time (8:50 AM on the 22nd Eastern).

Women’s 10,000m

Luckily for the two-dozen women expected to start the 25-lapper Genzebe Dibaba will NOT be running this event. This leaves us with a very competitive field, nearly half of whom have the potential to medal, but by the late laps the race will look like a Kenya-Ethiopia-USA three-way meet. The fastest PR belongs to American Shalane Flanagan at 30:22.22 with Texas Tech grad Sally Kipyego (Kenya, but lives in Eugene) and Belaynesh Oljira (Ethiopia) hot on her heels. The best finishing wheels belong to Vivian Cheruiyot (Kenya), so if the others let her stay in contention she could grab all the marbles. Gelete Burka (Ethiopia) and American 5,000m record holder Molly Huddle also have the potential to spring a surprise. This race is impossible to call and will be very interesting to watch.

The 10,000m final is at 8:35 PM on the 24th Beijing (8:35 AM on the 24th Eastern). 

August 16, 2015
IAAF World Championships Distance Preview - 800m and 1,500m
 
The 2015 edition of the World Athletics Championships gets underway Saturday August 22 in Beijing with the Men's Marathon. This week I will provide a preview of the distance events detailing the athletes to watch and providing the schedule for these events. Beijing is exactly 12 hours ahead of the Eastern time zone that covers the eastern US and Canada, thus the morning events will take place during the evening of the previous day in the western hemisphere and the evening events will happen in the morning of the same day. For most of Europe you'll be watching morning events in the very very early morning and evening events in the afternoon, so keep the time difference in mind.

On to the preview.

Men’s 800m

The obvious choice for this event should be David Rudisha (Kenya). He’s the world record holder, Olympic Champion, and former World Champion, but he’s lost three times this year – twice to Nigel Amos (Botswana) and once to teammate Ferguson Rotich. So Amos is the favorite, right? Nope, despite being the second fastest for the year he lost twice to Eugene based Mohammed Aman (Ethiopia), the defending world champion. So is Aman the favorite? Again, no. Aman’s victories over Amos are his only wins in five races. More importantly, both Aman and Amos were beaten in the fastest race of the year by (hold onto your hats) … Amel Tuka!

Who?!

Amel Tuka of Bosnia-Herzegovina. This guy is almost as much a Cinderella story as Boris Berian. His PR coming into 2015 was 1:46.12, which he ran while finishing 6th at last year’s European Championships. Then, in July while running in some “B” league meets, he ran a couple of fast times – 1:44.19 and 1:43.84. The 1:43 bought him a lane in the Monaco Diamond League meet where he stunned the world. In 5th place behind a wall of four men with only 100m to go, Tuka swung out to lane 3 and flew past Pierre-Ambroise Bosse and Aman then slowly reeled in Ayanleh Souleiman (Djibouti) and, just before the line, Amos. The clock stopped at 1:42.51 makingTuka the 11th fastest man in history. 

Obviously Tuka has the wheels to win the big show, but can he make it through the rounds to the final. Further muddying the waters is Souleiman. The third fastest man this year, his Miler kick could prove decisive in a tactical race. We should also mention Frenchman Bosse, Poland’s dynamic duo of Adam Kszczot and Marcin Lewandowski, and Kenyan Trials winner Rotich. All four men are capable of grabbing a medal, though gold is unlikely. All told that gives us nine men to fill eight lanes, even if all things proceed as they should, one medal-worthy candidate will not make the final. This event is impossible to call, but it will surely be a thriller.

Americans Casimir Loxsom and Eric Sowinski will pull a big upset just by making the final. US Champion Nick Symmonds possesses the tactical savvy to do so, but because of the bureaucratic arrogance of USATF he will not be there. Don’t look for a red-white-and-blue uniform in the final – unless it’s French.

The heats for the 800m will be held at 11:50 AM Beijing time on Saturday August 22 (11:50 PM on Friday Eastern time).

The semis are at 8:15 PM on the 23rd in Beijing (8:15 AM on the 23rd Eastern).

The final will be 8:55 PM on the 25th in Beijing (8:55 AM on the 25th Eastern).

Women’s 800m

American fortunes are stronger in the women’s two-lapper, but they aren’t the top-dogs. The top top-dog is Kenya’s Eunice Sum. The defending World Champion is undefeated this year and sports the year’s fastest time of 1:56.99. She’s not a lock for gold but she’s pretty close, the rest should be fighting for silver and bronze.

Rose Alamanza (Cuba) leads the rest time-wise but has a spotty win-loss record against respectable competition, so it’s hard to predict how she’ll do. The American threesome of Molly (Beckwith) Ludlow, Brenda Martinez (2013 World Championship bronze), and Alysia Montano all have medal potential. Montano is completing a big comeback just a year after giving birth and beat Almanza to take Pan-Am silver in her final pre-Worlds race. Unfortunately the US is without the services of injured national champion Ajee Wilson who probably would have been the biggest threat to Sum.

Selina Büchel (Switzerland) is the only other credible medal threat while any of another dozen women could fill the lanes in the final. One more thing, Caster Semenya (South Africa) is back and as far as anyone knows she still has testes. Despite the natural testosterone boost she has not been able to recapture her old form and will be lucky to make it out of the heats.

The heats for the 800m begin at 10:25 AM on the 26th Beijing (10:25 PM on the 25th Eastern).

The semis are at 8:05 PM on the 27th Beijing (8:05 AM on the 27th Eastern).

The final is at 7:15 PM on the 29th Beijing (7:15 AM on the 29th Eastern).

Men’s 1,500m

On July 17 Asbel Kiprop ran the fastest 1,500m of the last 14 years. His 3:26.69 from Monaco made him the third fastest man in history with the fifth fastest time. It was an El Guerroujesque effort that saw the willowy Kenyan barely miss the world record, but unfortunately Kiprop is no El Guerrouj. Despite a fistful of fast times, an Olympic gold, and two World Championship titles, Asbel has not been able demonstrate the dominance of the Moroccan King of the Mile. In fact, sometimes Kiprop completely crumbles. He followed his 2008 Olympic win with an out of the medals 4th at the 2009 Worlds. He redeemed himself with a world title in 2011 but then spent the 2012 Olympic final running at the back and finished dead last. Over the years his stunning times have alternated with equally stunning failures that saw the field-fillers run him down. Asbel Kiprop is a box of chocolates – when he races you never know what you’re going to get.

Kiprop should win, but even if he races well there are some men capable of beating him. His teammate Silas Kiplagat has run the second fastest 1,500m of the last 14 years and has beaten Asbel on many occasions, but his championship record is even worse with only one silver after three Olympic/World Championships trips. Djibouti’s Ayanleh Souleiman has many Diamond League wins over the Kenyan pair plus a World Champs bronze from his only trip to the global meet. And 2012 Olympic Champion Taoufik Makhloufi seems to be miraculously rounding into shape after three years of indifferent results, finishing 2nd to Kiprop in Monaco with a huge PR of 3:28.75.

If these four spend the final watching each other instead of tearing up the track they could be taken down by a less obvious threat – the big kicking Americans. Matthew Centrowitz has shown an ability to come through with a devastating finish in big races, allowing him to take bronze and silver over much faster men in the last two World Champs. Leo Manzano owns Olympic silver, barely losing to Makhloufi in London when Leo burned up the final 100 meters. However, he actually outdoes Kiprop for inconsistency. Leo will be dangerous in the final, if he makes the final. The last American, Robby Andrews, is experiencing a career renaissance. A high school and college phenom, Andrews flamed out when he went pro in the 800m. Never giving up, he moved up in distance this year and is having the time of his life. Several times this summer he burst out of the crowd in the final straight to take major scalps. He could be the most dangerous man in a tactical final … if he makes the final.

The heats for the 1,500m begin at 10:35 AM on the 27th Beijing (10:35 PM on the 26th Eastern).

The semis are at 7:55 PM on the 28th Beijing (7:55 AM on the 28th Eastern).

The final is at 7:45 PM on the 30th Beijing (7:45 AM on the 30th Eastern).

Women’s 1,500m

World record holder Genzebe Dibaba (Ethiopia) – enough said.

Anyone who doubts she will waltz away with gold needs to watch the video of her supremely dominating WR race in Monaco.

Still, the unexpected is possible, Dibaba could fall or get ill. If she does the last two World Champions, Abebe Aregawi (Sweden) and Jenny Simpson (USA), plus several other speedsters will be gunning for her. Among that group is Dutchwoman Sifan Hassan who vainly attempted to hang with Dibaba in Monaco and came away with a PR of 3:56.05 despite massively rigging in the final lap. Had that race been 10 meters longer American Shannon Rowbury would have pipped Hissan for 2nd, but still the Duke grad managed to come away with the American record breaking Mary Decker’s mark set in 1983. Simpson was right behind Rowbury in Monaco giving the US a formidable 1-2 punch in this event. Look for Dawit Seyaum (Ethiopia), Laura Muir (UK), and Kenyans Mercy Cherono and Faith Kipyegon to fight over the scraps Dibaba, Hassan, Aregawi, and the Americans leave behind.

The heats for the 1,500m begin at 11:15 AM on the 22nd Beijing (11:15 PM on the 21st Eastern).

The semis are at 8:45 PM on the 23rd Beijing (8:45 AM on the 23rd Eastern).

The final is at 8:35 PM on the 25th Beijing (8:35 AM on the 25th Eastern).

In my next preview I will cover the 5,000m and 10,000m races.


June 22, 2015
Four To Watch At The US Championships

Beginning Thursday, Eugene, Oregon will host the USA Track & Field Championships. Not only will the meet crown national champions, but it will also select the team that will travel to Beijing in August for the World Championships. Hundreds of athletes will be competing for these coveted spots but only a few have realistic shots at making the squad. Counted among these few are a collection of very well known names such as Bernard Lagat, Shalane Flanagan, Galen Rupp, Jenny Simpson, Evan Jager, and Ajee Wilson. However, there are a few athletes who have come on hard this year who you may know little or nothing about. I’ve identified a quartet of these under-the-radar distance runners that seem destined to punch a ticket for Beijing.

Emily Infeld

If you’re a fan of NCAA track Emily’s should be a familiar name, but if you tend to focus on the professional aspect of the sport you may have seen her name and wondered who she is. Her athletic career began at 10 years of age as, of all things, a racewalker. By middle school the Cleveland, Ohio native converted to getting both feet off the ground at once and began concentrating on the 800m. Her focus led to four Ohio state high school titles in the two-lapper and a PR of 2:08.0. By junior year she expanded her repertoire to include cross country and the 1,600m, and snagged four more state titles in those events and a state record of 4:41.0 in the 1,600m. Upon graduation she followed her older sister Maggie to Georgetown to be coached by Chris Miltenberg.

Miltenberg realized her talent lay in the longer distances and had her concentrate on the 1,500m to 5,000m range resulting in a string of All-American performances and an NCAA title for 3,000m indoors in 2012. Emily received her undergraduate degree that year but still had a 5th year of eligibility remaining that she could have used as a graduate student. However, Miltenberg left Georgetown to coach in sunny California at Stanford, leaving Infeld in a quandary – stay for one more year under a new coach or turn pro. After consulting with Miltenberg she chose the latter route and joined Jerry Schumacher’s group in Portland, Oregon.

She joined “Jerry’s Kids” (the Bowerman Track Club) with a 5,000m PR of 15:28.60 off of training weeks that rarely exceeded 55 miles. Overnight the intensity and distance was increased as Emily became the “practice dummy” for Shalane Flanagan, and within a few months her wheels fell off. She managed to take 2nd in the 2013 US Indoor Champs 3,000m and make the World Cross Country team, taking 21st in the global meet, but in her first outdoor race she caved. A 4:21.23 for 1,500m left her only 12th at the OXY High Performance meet as exhaustion set in. Emily scrubbed her planned summer campaign and returned to Ohio for some much needed rest. A few weeks with her feet up did the trick. She returned to the track in late summer and walloped her 3,000m PR with an 8:41.43 in Rieti, Italy, before hitting the American roads to take 2nd at the USATF 5K Championships. Just as everything was coming up roses another setback hit. In November, pain in her butt was diagnosed as a stress fracture of her tailbone (sacrum).

The injury shut Infeld down once more and she completely disappeared from the track in 2014. By the fall she was back training and road racing but the real pay-off for her work didn’t come until this year. In May she entered her first 10,000m at Stanford’s Payton Jordan meet. Staying with the lead pack she finished 6th, taking the scalp of the reigning NCAA 10,000m Champion (Emma Bates), and easily beating the IAAF’s World Champs qualifying standard in 31:38.71. Suddenly Emily was an unexpected contender to make the team.

But it was last Saturday (June 13) when Emily really shook up the American distance scene at the Portland Track Festival. Racing her first 5,000m track race since college, Infeld broke away with Shalane Flanagan as the teammates built a big lead over Bri Felnagle, Kara Goucher, and Jordan Hasay. Then on the last lap, Emily did the unthinkable … she blew away Flanagan. Channeling her inner-Half Miler, Infeld flew a to a big PR in 15:07.19 and qualified for Worlds in that event. She has declared for both the 5 and the 10 at Nationals increasing her odds of making the Beijing team. Her first shot will come Thursday night in the 10,000m at 7:35 PM (10:35 PM Eastern).

Emily Sisson

The other Emily, Sisson is also familiar to followers of the NCAA but almost unknown to those who aren’t. Her athletic life began as a soccer player in Nebraska until she tried out track in 7th grade. She was an instant success, winning the AAU Youth 800m national title in her first season. She reached the national stage again her freshman year of high school, finishing 3rd at the Footlocker High School Cross Country Championships, a meet she qualified for the next three years. Though infrequently run by high schoolers, Sisson stepped up to the 5,000m and moved into the international realm. In 2007 she won bronze at the Pan-Am Junior Championships and then broke the American junior record with a 15:48.91 at the World Junior Championships.

With credentials like those Emily could choose which college she would attend and settled on her parents’ alma mater, the University of Wisconsin. As happens with many high school stars used to winning everything in sight, her freshman year proved a little rough. Despite a “good for a freshman” 10th place finish in the NCAA 5,000m, Sisson felt Wisconsin was not working for her. A conversation with her friend Shelby Greany convinced her to check out Providence College in Rhode Island. After talking to coach Ray Treacy, Emily made the move and everything started to click. She finally took out her high school PRs and began moving higher up the NCAA ranks. She finished 7th in the 2013 NCAA Cross Country Championships to lead the Providence Friars to the team title then two weeks later set an indoor PR of 15:40.62 at a very early season meet. After the indoor season, Treacy and Sisson decided to redshirt outdoor track and focus on building her up for her final collegiate campaign.

It began with a bang. At the Boston University Season Opener meet in December, 2014, Emily followed Wisconsin’s Sarah Disanza as the pair recorded two of the fastest collegiate indoor 5,000m times ever run – 15:21.84. The PR lasted less than three months. At the Big East Indoor Championships earlier this year, Sisson hammered the NCAA record down to 15:12.22 in what turned out to be a nice prelude to her first NCAA title at the same distance two weeks later. Two months later she took that speed to California for the Payton Jordan Invitational. Running in the same 10,000m as Emily Infeld, she finished two steps ahead of her slightly older namesake in 31:38.03 for the 4th fastest time in NCAA history.

With the speed of a record setting 5,000m runner and the strength of a 10,000m runner, Sisson has become the total package. This was clearly evident at the NCAA Championships a little over a week ago. In the 5,000m she took the lead almost immediately and slowly applied pressure. The rest of the field died like lobsters in a pot of water slowly brought to boil. In the end Emily built a huge margin over 2nd place and cruised to her second NCAA title.

Sisson will only run the 10,000m at the US Champs but comes into the race with the 2nd fastest time by an American in 2015. Joining her in that race will be occasional training partner Molly Huddle, the second fastest American ever. Could the two apply team tactics to fight off Flanagan and Infeld? We’ll find out Thursday night.

Ben Blankenship

While the two Emilys had a fairly steady rise from high school, through college, to the pros, the two men on our list followed a much rockier path. Blankenship came out of Stillwater (Minnesota) High School as a good but not great Miler. His PRs of 4:09.10 for 1,600m and 9:08.35 for 3,200m yielded two state titles and a handful of scholarship offers. He took the one proffered by Mississippi State University where he ran well enough to be named to the SEC All-Freshman team. But the deep-south wasn’t where he wanted to be, so he contacted University of Minnesota coach Steve Plasencia and wrangled a spot on the U of M squad. Training with Hassan Mead (another athlete to watch at USATF) Blankenship slowly progressed over the next year and a half.

In the winter of 2010 he finally broke through, first with a Big 10 Indoor title in the Mile, then with his first sub-4 at the NCAA Indoor Regionals where he won the Mile in 3:57.87. Modest success followed before he reached another peak in the winter of 2011 by taking 2nd in the NCAA Indoor 3,000m. Competing unattached in the spring Ben slashed 3 seconds from his Mile PR at the Prefontaine meet, running 3:54.10 for 3rd place in the “B” heat. A brief European campaign followed, highlighted by a 1,500m PR of 3:37.23, that forecasted big things for the Gopher senior in his final collegiate year. Then everything went down the tubes. In December Blankenship broke his sacrum (the same injury as Infeld), knocking him off his feet for three months.

Discouraged, Blankenship decided he’d had enough of running, finished his degree, and moved to Colorado where he went to work for a friend’s excavation company and put some money in the bank. Feeling wealthy he took five weeks off and went to London to watch the 2012 Olympics. Seeing athletes like Galen Rupp and Leo Manzano, who he raced while in college, win Olympic medals inspired him and he laced up his running shoes once more. When he returned to the US he moved to Washington, D.C. and began doing real workouts with the faster local runners – and things started to click. After consulting with coach Plasencia, Ben moved to Eugene and talked his way into the Oregon Track Club, joining his old teammate Mead. A 3:58.66 to win his first race in 2013 showed he was back to his pre-injury form but then he stagnated. He was now fast enough to make the finals of national championships, but not fast enough to contend for the win.

This past winter he broke through again. On January 31 in New York City, Ben finished 1.15 seconds behind 2 Mile winner Cam Levins in 8:16.53. The time made him the 6th fastest American ever and more importantly placed him just ahead of American record holder Galen Rupp. A week later in Boston he took out his Mile PR, finishing just behind Olympic silver medallist Nick Willis in 3:53.13 and beating Olympic bronze medallist Abdelaati Iguider. Two weeks later he went toe-to-toe with the Kenyans in Birmingham, England and finished the 1,500m in their midst with a new PR of 3:35.28 – a good 5 seconds ahead of World Champs silver medallist Matthew Centrowitz. He faced Centro again at the USATF Indoor Championships and barely lost the sprint to take 2nd in a very tactical Mile – still not the champion, but close enough to taste it.

It was an exemplary indoor campaign, but the race that really turned heads came at the IAAF World Relay Championships. Running the 1,600m anchor leg of the Distance Medley, Blankenship got the baton dead even with Kenyan Timothy Cheriuyot as everyone expected victory for the East African squad – everyone but Ben. Looking Cheruiyot directly in the eye, Blankenship slowed to a crawl and dared the Kenyan to take the lead. Cheruiyot not only took the bait, he took off like a rocket, screaming through the first 400m in 51.96! Ben fell 20 meters behind but steadily hammered away, on pace to run the fastest Mile of his life. Whittling away at the gap Blankenship caught the ambitious African at the top of the last backstretch and rolled past, but Cheruiyot wasn’t done. Fighting back the lanky Kenyan pulled within a stride as they hit 100m to go. Then Ben hit the turbos. Gritting his teeth the Minnesotan dug down and pulled away to cross the finish 1st in 9:15.50 – a new world record! His 1,600m leg was completed in 3:51.24, the equivalent of a 3:52.5 Mile. (video here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_LxiorRGaWw )

Ben’s spring season leading up to the Championships this week included another race where he was the only non-Kenyan fighting at the finish in Shanghai (1,500m in 3:35.48, just 0.19 behind winner Silas Kiplagat), and a win in the “B” Mile at Prefontaine (3:55.72) where he not only bettered Cheruiyot again, but beat every American of consequence except Centrowitz and Manzano. The big two better watch out. If they spend too much time watching each other they may miss the brown mane of Ben Blankenship streaking past to take the US Championship. 1,500m heats begin Thursday night at 6:45 PM Pacific (9:45 Eastern).

Boris Berian

On June 13 the same question was transmitted thousands of times across cyberspace – who the hell is Boris Berian? Boris Berian may be the most unlikely member of the American squad going to Beijing, that’s who. His life story reads like an unbelievably schmaltzy made-for-TV movie. But every bit of it is true.

Boris is one of those guys who went out for track in high school just so he could hang out with his friends. Then Boris and his coach discovered he had some talent. His junior year he decided to get serious and actually work at it. The result was Colorado state titles at 400m and 800m. Success breeds success and Berian finished his senior year in Colorado Springs with two more state championships, an 800m PR of 1:52.18, and an invitation to attend Adams State College in the fall. His freshman year ended spectacularly with NCAA Division II 800m titles both indoors and out. Then the problems began.

Berian was a star on the track but in the classroom he was in over his head. His grades continually dropped and finally he was placed on academic probation and prevented from competing for the school. Continuing to work out with the team he entered a few meets unattached and pushed his 800m time down to 1:48.89, but his academic troubles went from bad to worse. Finally in the spring of 2014 Boris dropped out and returned to Colorado Springs.

If you went to the Walmart McDonalds in Colorado Springs during the summer of 2014 there is a good chance that the young man who waited on you was Boris Berian. Working the minimum wage job, he came up with a plan. Staying with a friend, his life consisted of four things: working, eating, sleeping, and training – training with the ridiculous goal of running in the World Championships and the Olympics. As a 1:48 Half Miler he was good but not nearly good enough to even qualify for the National Championships much less make the Worlds team. He seemed destined to fruitlessly labor away in anonymity. But someone had noticed him, someone who knew what he was doing.

In the fall of 2014 Joe Vigil, the former coach at Adams State and mentor to American Marathon record holder Deena Kastor, contacted Carlos Handler, the coach of the Big Bear Track Club and husband to World Champs bronze medallist Brenda Martinez. Vigil knew Handler was looking for someone with speed who might want to train for the 800m. Still in contact with Adams State, Vigil knew Berian’s story and thought he might be a good fit with Big Bear. Out of the blue, Boris got a Facebook message asking him if he would be willing to move to California, live a bare bones existence, and train hard at altitude with the goal of qualifying for the US Championships. He didn’t even think twice and showed up in the Sierra Nevada Mountains’ town in December.

On January 17 he ran his first race in almost two years, 600m indoors, and won. On Valentine’s Day he entered his first 800m in 2-/12 years and won that in a PR 1:48.53. That qualified him for Indoor Nationals and he made it to the 600m final where he finished 5th in a PR 1:16.57. Then things really started to happen. On April 11 Boris ran his first outdoor race since 2013 and tore his 800m PR to shreds finishing 2nd in 1:46.16. More significantly, the time qualified him to run at the US Championships. His dream of making the US team was still far-fetched but it was no longer impossible.

At Stanford his dream became more probable. Running in the fast heat of the 800m he faced the NCAA Indoor Champion Edward Kemboi and beat him, winning the race in 1:45.30 and meeting the standard for the World Championships. Berian’s dream was becoming a Cinderella story.

People began to take notice and the Stanford performance bought Boris a spot on the 800m starting line at the June 13 Diamond League meet in New York City, and there Cinderella kissed Prince Charming. Facing Berian were Pierre-Ambroise Bosse, the second fastest man in the world in 2014; Matthew Centrowitz; Leo Manzano; Olympian Andrew Wheating; the second fastest American ever Duane Solomon; and most ominously – world record holder and Olympic Champion David Rudisha. Boris was easily the slowest man on the track, but the way he ran you’d never know it. At the gun he set out hard and tucked in behind Rudisha when the field broke to the inside on the backstretch. They came through 400m in 50.10 and Boris grimly held his position in second as the pack strung out. On the backstretch Rudisha accelerated opening a gap as Bosse flew by the field and challenged Berian for his spot, but the American refused to yield. The Frenchman vainly tried to pass as the pair battled and in the end almost caught the world record holder. At the finish it was Rudisha 1:43.58, Berian 1:43.84, and Bosse 1:43.88. Boris hacked another second and a half from his PR and suddenly he was the fastest man in America! A happy ending for Cinderella now looked almost certain.

Boris Berian will begin his quest to run in the World Championships at 4:00 PM Pacific (7:00 Eastern) on Thursday. Of the men expected to race the 800m, Boris is the fastest this year by a margin of 1.56 seconds. At the beginning of the year he was a total unknown with a PR of 1:48.89. Now he’s the favorite to win the US Championship. Incredible! 


June 11, 2015
The Sub-4 High Schoolers

A week ago Grand Blanc High School senior Grant Fisher followed the pace of ZAP’s Tyler Pennel to record 3:59.38 for a mile. The PR run by Fisher makes him the 7th high-schooler in America to go sub-4 since Jim Ryun first turned the trick in 1964. In recognition of this achievement, it might be interesting to review the other sub-4 schoolboys and see what happened to them after they performed the feat.

In chronological order:

Jim Ryun – First sub-4 – 3:59.0, June 5, 1964 in Los Angeles, CA

Ryun, still only a 17 year-old junior, finished last in that race running against the “pros” but the entire field ran 3:59.0 or faster making it the deepest Mile in history. (story on the race) Before leaving the high school ranks a year later, Ryun broke the barrier four more times, taking the American high school record down to 3:55.3 where it stayed until 2001, and qualified for the Tokyo Olympics making it to the semifinals of the 1,500m. He also recorded the fastest Mile ever run in high school only competition when he won the Kansas State Championship in 3:58.3 (video here)

Upon graduating from Wichita East High School, Ryun followed his coach, Bob Timmons, to the University of Kansas and continued to collect records. Because of NCAA rules he was ineligible to compete for Kansas as a freshman but that didn’t stop him from racing. He got his first “world record” in June of 1966 by running 1:44.9 for ½ a Mile at Indiana State. After just missing Michael Jazy’s Mile WR with a 3:53.7 American record he thought his chances for the world record in 1966 were over. But after the USA vs Poland meet was canceled a hastily arranged meet was held in Berkley, California. Fortuitously, timers were set-up at 1,500m and at the Mile finish line. Ryun rolled through 1,500m in 3:36.1, the still standing American junior record, then sprinted home to crush Jazy’s world mark in 3:51.3 WR.

He returned in 1967, now running for Kansas, and had the greatest five-week stretch of his career. On June 2 Ryun won the NCAA Mile Championship in 3:53.2. Three weeks later he ran the fastest Mile the world had ever seen to win the AAU Championship in 3:51.1. After two more weeks rest he took a shot at the 1,500m mark and ripped 2.5 seconds from Herb Elliott’s 7 year-old WR. Going into the Olympic year Ryun was a huge favorite to win gold, but mononucleosis, injury, a spat with Coach Timmons, Mexico City’s high altitude, and Kenya’s first superstar conspired against him. In the 1,500m final he faced Kip Keino, the world record holder for 3,000m and a man who had grown up at high altitude. Ryun thought that a time of 3:39.0 would be fast enough to win gold in Mexico City’s thin air and set out to run accordingly. He beat his goal, running 3:37.89, but couldn’t catch Keino who incredibly set an Olympic record of 3:34.91 that lasted until 1984. Ryun’s loss (he claimed silver) was treated as a failure in America and he was pilloried by the press. The reaction played with Ryun’s head and his senior year at Kansas turned into a disaster. It ended ignominiously at the AAU Championships when he dropped out of the Mile and decided to hang up his spikes.

Ryun’s retirement proved temporary and he came back in 1971 to make another go at the Olympics. He won the US Trials over 800m world record holder Dave Wottle and appeared set to take gold in Munich, but in the qualifying round tragedy struck. Ryun was tripped by another athlete and went down hard. He jumped back to his feet and finished 9th but didn’t make it into the semifinals. Despite admitting Ryun had been fouled the International Olympic Committee refused to advance him and Ryun’s Olympic dream died. Following the Games, Ryun joined the ITA (International Track Association), a professional track league where he renewed his rivalry with Keino. In 1976 the ITA folded and along with it Jim Ryun’s running career.

Post-track, Ryun worked as a motivational speaker and ran sports camps from his home in California. He and his family (he met his wife Anne when she asked him for his autograph in 1967) moved back to Kansas in 1981, and in 1996 he decided to run for Congress. He won that initial election and four more to serve at the Congressman for Lawrence, Kansas until 2006. Since then he has returned to his former career as a speaker and runs the Jim Ryun Running Camp http://ryunrunning.com/.

Tim Danielson – First (and only) sub-4 – 3:59.4, June 11, 1966 in San Diego, CA

Danielson finished 4th in a “pro” race to claim his only sub-4, chopping 7 seconds off his PR set earlier in the spring of his senior year. The race got the attention of meet promoters and allowed Danielson to spend the summer racing his way across Europe. It was a happy beginning to what became a very sad story.

In the fall of 1966 he arrived at Brigham Young University hoping that the altitude would help him prepare for the upcoming Mexico City Olympics. However, homesickness, a distaste for snow, and disputes with his coach prompted Tim to return to southern California the following spring. On his own he continued to train and raced the Mile in Bakersfield on June 23. At the gun he jumped into 2nd place and followed the footsteps of Jim Ryun, flying through the ½ mile in roughly 1:58.0. It was too fast for Danielson and he faded to finish 8th in 4:00.6 as Ryun broke the world record. Finishing just one step ahead of Danielson was high school senior Marty Liquori whose 3:59.8 made him the third sub-4 high schooler. (video here)

Tim enrolled in San Diego State and began competing for them but his personal life began to slowly unravel. In February 1968 he married his (first) wife, Carolyn Mooers, who was four months pregnant. The pressure of school and family took its toll on his training and he decided to try to make the less competitive 5,000m squad for the Olympics. Unfortunately he failed to make the qualifying standard for the Olympic Trials knocking him out of the meet. Coming into the 1969 NCAA season he was tagged as one of the favorites to win the Mile Championship along with Ryun and Liquori but was not fit enough to survive the qualifying rounds. Financial problems overcame him and in 1971 he left school to take a job as a chemical engineer.

Danielson continued to run, 5 to 10 miles a day according to his daughter, and won many local races in southern California, but his family life was on the skids. He divorced Carolyn and became an alcoholic. A second marriage to Kathleen Ruff ended in an ugly divorce after 2-1/2 years, though Ruff’s children did not back up her allegations of violence. Tim then had a child out-of-wedlock with a former convict before beginning an online relationship with a Chinese woman named Ming Qi. He traveled to China and brought Qi and her son to California, ultimately marrying her in 2006.

By 2008 Danielson and Qi divorced but continued to maintain a bizarre relationship. After moving out briefly, Qi returned to live in Danielson’s house while paying him rent. The couple occasionally appeared to be romantically involved but at other times were clearly not. In 2011, Danielson discovered Qi was seeing another man and became alternately despondent and angry. Qi made plans to move in with a friend on June 13. Early that morning Connie Danielson, Tim’s sister-in-law, received an email saying Tim had shot Qi and was trying to kill himself with carbon monoxide from a generator. She called the police. They broke into Tim’s house and found Qi dead on the bed and Danielson passed out in the bathroom. They rushed him to the hospital where he was revived and then arrested him for murder.

During the trial Danielson claimed the smoking-cessation drug Chantix made him depressed and erratic, and that he was not himself when he killed his ex-wife. The defense didn’t work and in May of 2014 Tim Danielson was sentenced to 50 years to life in prison. (For a detailed account go here)

Marty Liquori – First sub-4 – 3:59.8, June 23, 1967 in Bakersfield, CA

At the end of his senior year at Essex Catholic High School in New Jersey, Marty Liquori traveled west to make a sub-4 attempt. He succeeded, finishing 7th in the race where Jim Ryun set his world record of 3:51.1 and placing one spot ahead of Tim Danielson, making this the only race in history with three athletes who ran sub-4 in high school. (See the section on Tim Danielson for a video link)

In the fall, Liquori matriculated to Villanova University where he was coached by the legendary Jumbo Elliott. Success followed success, as Liquori made it to the Olympic 1,500m final in Mexico City; won the NCAAs in 1969, 1970, and 1971; won the AAU Mile Championship in 1969 and 1971; won the AAU/TAC 5,000m Championship in 1975, 1977, and 1978; and won three AAU Indoor Mile Championships. Never as fast as Ryun, despite beating him in 1971’s “Dream Mile”, Liquori’s Mile PR didn’t come until 1975. In that race, another Dream Mile – this time in Kingston, Jamaica, Liquori faced the world record holder for 1,500m, Filbert Bayi, the world record holder for 1,000m, Rick Wohlhuter, and an Irish collegian from his alma mater Villanova, Eamonn Coghlan. At the gun Bayi sprinted into the lead and built a huge gap through the ½ mile in 1:57.0. Glancing backward the Tanzanian saw Coghlan and Liquori making a run for him and the Wildcat duo ate away his lead. Just before the bell Coghlan came through on the inside to take the lead. Bayi reacted with a strong surge to again open daylight as Liquori started his charge (3/4 in 2:55.3). Down the backstretch the Irishman made another run at Bayi, nearly catching him, but it only served to prompt another surge from the African. Coghlan started to fade as Liquori passed around the turn and pulled within a stride of the lead. Glancing behind Bayi saw the danger and surged once more to hurtle across the line in 3:51.0, axing Ryun’s WR by 0.1 seconds. Liquori completed the fastest Mile of his life in 3:52.2 as Coghlan held on to break the Irish and European records in 3:53.3. (video here)

Liquori’s talent truly showed when he moved up in distance. In 1975 he took the recently deceased Steve Prefontaine’s American record for 2 Miles with an 8:17.12 in Sweden and he looked like a lock for the US team for the Montreal Olympics. Injury reared its ugly head and knocked him out in 1976 but he recovered and was hungry for more the next year. Traveling to Europe he ran a few warm-up races before heading to Zürich for the Weltklasse. Entered in the 5,000m he faced world record holder Dick Quax, 10,000m world record holder Samson Kimobwa, Henry Rono, Frank Shorter, and noted kicker Miruts Yifter. With a lap to go Liquori was at the tail-end of a group of five and heard the split of 12:19. Realizing he could break the American record Marty started his kick early and passed the lead quartet around the turn. Down the backstretch he built a 20 meter cushion, a margin even Yifter couldn’t close, and went after the world record. He came up short but butchered the American record in 13:16.00 and beat the toughest field of the year. Just ten days later he tackled the 5,000m again this time for the World Cup title. England’s Nick Rose took off at world record pace only to have “Yifter the Shifter” and Australia’s David Fitzsimmons go with him. Liquori trailed at what he thought was a safe distance, hoping they would die. The lead trio slowed toward the end allowing Marty to pull near at the bell. Around the turn Liquori erased the deficit, passing Rose and Fitzsimmons but not Yifter. Miruts knew what was coming and decided to strike first. The tiny Ethiopian scorched the backstretch while the tall American gobbled up the track behind him. Around the turn Liquori gained and nearly pulled even when they hit the final straight – then Yifter shifted. He hit a gear no one could match and pulled away to win in the 5th fastest time ever – 13:13.82. Marty broke his own American record with the 11th fastest ever in 13:15.06.

Liquori took a few more shots at the 5,000m record in 1978, running another 13:16.21 in Stockholm but age was beginning to catch up with him. Injury hobbled him in 1980 and the US boycott would have kept him out of the Games anyway, so he finally retired.

Retirement for Liquori did not mean inactivity. In fact he was already deeply immersed in the business world. In 1972 Marty and University of Florida track coach Jimmy Carnes opened the first Athletic Attic shoe store in Gainesville, Florida. That single store spawned a chain that grew to over 250 stores nationwide by the 1980s. The Munich Olympic year also launched his broadcasting career. Injury knocked him out of the games but prompted an invitation by ABC TV to provide commentary during the track events. The loquacious kid from New Jersey was a hit and went on to do more work for ABC, NBC, ESPN and various cable networks. Watch some of the classic distance videos on Youtube and half the time you will hear Liquori’s voice providing the play-by-play.

In 1991 Liquori was diagnosed with Chronic Lymphocyte Leukemia, a mild form of the cancer. After monitoring his blood for several years he was treated and has been in remission ever since. The episode caused him to become more involved with charity work and he now serves as a spokesman for the Leukemia and Lymphoma Society. And if his business and charity work isn’t enough to keep him occupied he can always pick up his jazz guitar. In 1997 a friend asked him to play back-up for her while she sang at a local Gainesville restaurant. One thing led to another and soon a jazz band coalesced around the former star Miler. If you are in Gainesville today you should drop by Leonardos 706 on Monday or Thursday night to hear Hot Club de Ville. Strumming away on guitar will be the third American high schooler to break 4:00 for the Mile.

Alan Webb – First sub-4 – 3:59.86, January 20, 2001, New York City, NY

“When you’re hot, you’re hot. When you’re not, you’re not.” So sang Jerry Reed in his #1 hit from 1971, a song that succinctly describes the career of Alan Webb. Probably more ink has been spilled and more electrons transmitted discussing the ups and downs of the high school phenom’s travails than for any other American Miler. It started as early as his sophomore year at Virginia’s South Lakes High School when he broke Jim Ryun’s 10th grade record by running 4:06.94. He threatened the four-minute barrier several times in his junior year but it wasn’t until his senior year that he took a serious shot at it. A week after his 18th birthday he traveled to New York City to race against the pros in the New Balance Indoor Games. Following Kenya’s Leonard Mucheru the kid embarrassed some of America’s best Milers by finishing 3rd in a high school indoor record of 3:59.86, the first high school sub-4 in 34 years and the first and only time a high schooler has beaten the standard indoors. (video here) 

Webb remained “hot” for the rest of the spring, capturing the high school indoor 1,000m record and becoming the fourth fastest high school Half Miler when he won the Virginia State 800m Championship in 1:47.74. But his iconic race came in Eugene, Oregon on May 27th. Entered in the Bowerman Mile of the Prefontaine Classic, the schoolboy went up against the world record holder, Hicham El Guerrouj, the Olympic bronze medallist, Bernard Lagat, and half a dozen other Olympians. Despite the array of talent it was Webb that everyone came to see and even ESPN interrupted Sports Center to broadcast the race live. The hoped for outcome? That Webb would finally break Jim Ryun’s high school record. The pressure on Alan was enormous, but you couldn’t tell. Cool as a cucumber, Webb went to the rear of the pack as the rabbits hauled El Guerrouj and Lagat through the first lap on target for a sub-3:50. In the second lap Alan began picking people off, claiming Olympic finalist Jason Pyrah as his first victim. He bagged a couple more in the third lap as he climbed the ladder towards the leaders. At ¾ of a mile Webb split 2:58.3 meaning he would have to cover the final ¼ mile in 57 seconds to get Ryun’s record, not that this mattered to him – Alan was in “racing” mode and focused on the next man ahead of him. Around the turn and down the backstretch he zipped by six more of the fastest Milers on earth and then locked horns with Moroccan Olympian Adil Kaouch. The pair came out of the final turn with Webb edging ahead and taking aim at the next man in line – Bernard Lagat. Lagat barely survived the high schooler’s closing rush by just 0.29 seconds. The stadium shook from the roar of the crowd as Alan screamed across the finish. Then all was silent as everyone waited for the time. El Guerrouj won in 3:49.92. Kevin Sullivan took 2nd ahead of Lagat as Kaouch salvaged his dignity by nipping Webb at the line by 0.03 seconds. Then the stadium erupted as 5th place came up on the board – Alan Webb 3:53.43. Jim Ryun’s 37 year-old high school record was history! (video here)

(Webb’s indoor record and his outdoor record are both described in detail in chapter 12 of The Golden Age of Distance Running.)

Webb moved on to the University of Michigan with expectations that he would dominate the collegiate ranks and soon challenge the world, but it didn’t work out that way. After winning Big-10 titles in cross country and track he disappointed with a 4th place finish in the NCAA 1,500 Championship. To make matters worse he was struggling to come close to his high school times. In the summer he left Ann Arbor, returned home to Virginia and his high school coach Scott Raczko, and turned pro. But 2003 turned out little better than 2002. Webb managed to collect a couple more sub-4s but he was still way off his performances of two years earlier. After finishing 10th at the US Championships he pulled the plug on the season. The pundits of the track world wrote him off, another Tim Danielson destined for obscurity. Alan Webb was definitely not “hot”.

They wrote him off too soon. Webb and Raczko decided to make one more go of it in the Olympic year. The first sign that things were turning around came at the USATF Cross Country Championships. Running through the snow in Indianapolis, Alan surprised everyone by going to the front of the 12 Km race and pushing the pace. He eventually fell behind the hard charge of the legendary Bob Kennedy but took 4th ahead of 10,000m Olympian Abdi Abdirahman. The rest of the spring looked like a repeat of 2003 with Alan struggling to reach his high school times, but then things started to click. On May 22 he stubbornly battled the wind in Carson, California and fought his way to a 1,500m PR, his first in three years, of 3:35.71. Then a short trip to Europe yielded a shocking result – he beat Lagat! … and a bunch of other fast Milers while pushing his 1,500m down to 3:32.73. His final race before the Olympic Trials came at the scene of his high school record, the Prefontaine Classic. He crushed the field, winning by nearly 3 seconds, and most importantly, finally beating his high school Mile PR in 3:50.85. Once again Webb was “hot”!

At the Olympic Trials he won the 1,500 when it was only half over. Running the backstretch in 12.6 seconds, Alan built an insurmountable lead in the third lap then coasted through the finish to become an Olympian. His response to the legions of critics who wrote him off was a mighty roar that echoed throughout the stadium. Alan Webb was back!

A rookie mistake sent him out in the first round of the Olympics but 2004 served as a nice springboard for 2005. A second US 1,500m title was preceded by an American record 2 Mile in 8:11.48 at Prefontaine, and then followed by a new Mile PR of 3:48.92 in Oslo. He traveled to Helsinki as one of the 1,500m medal favorites for the World Championships and this time made it through the rounds with authority. Unfortunately the world had learned Alan’s tactics by the final and when he sprinted to the lead on the third lap the field went with him. Unable to match the kicks of the international stars, Webb finished 9th. He gained some consolation after the championships by shaving a fraction of a second from his 1,500m PR and then running a sizzling 13:10.86 PR for 5,000m in Berlin.

2006 began auspiciously at a bizarre distance for the Miler – 10,000m. Racing against fellow high school wunderkind Dathan Ritzenhein, Webb traded leadership duties with Ritz until the final lap when he blew away the competition to win in 27:34.72 PR, the 2nd fastest 10,000m by an American for the year. But then things went haywire with nagging injuries sinking the rest of the year. Webb never managed a sub-4 for the season and once more the pundits wrote him off.

He wasted no time proving them wrong in 2007 with a strong indoor and spring campaign that culminated in his third US Championship over 1,500m, this time beating new American Bernard Lagat. Then he went to Europe and set the track on fire. His first race yielded an 800m PR of 1:45.80 but gave little hint of what he was about to do. In Paris on July 6 he won the Golden League 1,500m in 3:30.54 PR to record the fastest time of the year. Then two weeks later in a small meet in Brasschaat, Belgium he created his masterwork. Following two rabbits with only Australian Mark Fountain daring to go with him, Webb went after Steve Scott’s American Mile record of 3:47.69. The first lap went by in 56 but the second slowed putting Alan behind schedule at 800m in 1:53.5. Fountain lost contact as Webb pressured the second rabbit to speed up. He reached 1,200m in 2:50.0 needing to run the final 109 meters in 57.68 to beat Scott. His compact form churning like mad, the high school phenom repeatedly written off by the experts went for it. 3:46.91! Steve Scott’s 25 year-old American record was gone. It was the fastest Mile by anyone in six years and since that day no one has surpassed it. (video here) His next race was almost lost in the excitement. A week later Webb won the 800m in Heusden-Zolder, the Netherlands in 1:43.84 PR. It held up as the 2nd fastest 800m of the year.

Webb went into the Osaka World Championships as the favorite to win the 1,500m, but once again he couldn’t hang with the kickers in a relatively slow race and finished 8th, just 0.92 seconds behind the champion Lagat.

Alan began a long battle with injuries in 2008 and his performances began to slide. In 2010 he left Raczko and joined Alberto Salazar’s group in Portland, Oregon, with a few upbeat performances providing a glimmer of his former greatness, but then the slide continued. Working his way through two more coaches with little success, Webb announced his retirement from track in early 2014 with a new goal in mind – the Olympic Triathlon. He briefly trained with another sub-4 high schooler, Lukas Verzbicas, before moving to Arizona to train with the US triathlon coaches. He achieved modest success in a few races but then his plans were tragically derailed. On June 6, 2015 Alan was racing the bike leg of a triathlon when he crashed breaking several ribs. He will recover but his hope of making it to the Rio Games is almost certainly over.

Lukas Verzbicas – First (and only) sub-4 – 3:59.71, June 11, 2011, New York City, NY

While not actually an American citizen (he was pursuing citizenship in 2013 but I can’t find any record that he has been sworn in), Lithuanian born Verzbicas moved to the US when he was 9 years-old and attended high school in Orlando Park, Illinois. He first came to prominence as a Triathlete, a sport that allows him to compete as an American without obtaining actual citizenship. In his junior year of high school he won the Pan-Am Junior Triathlon Championships and the World Junior Biathlon (run – bike) Champs before taking the Footlocker US High School Cross Country title. He closed his junior year at the New York Diamond League meet by winning the high school Dream Mile in 4:04.38, setting tongues wagging that he might join the schoolboy sub-4 list the next year.

He continued on schedule for that goal with his second Footlocker win in 2010, a feat only two other boys had accomplished in prior years. Competing indoors he set a high school record for 5,000m by winning the New Balance High School National Championship in 14:06.78. He warmed up for his sub-4 attempt with another high school record, this time for 2 Miles. Racing the big boys at the Prefontaine Classic he finished last in a field that included six sub-13:00 5,000m men, but got pulled to the only sub-8:30 2 Mile ever run by a high schooler – 8:29.46!

Finally Verzbicas returned to New York for the 2011 edition of the Dream Mile. On a rainy day, Verzbicas tucked into 3rd behind a rabbit and Jantzen Oshier as they slogged through the ½ mile in 2:02. The stadium announcer predicted that, given the rain and slow pace, a sub-4 was out of the question. That was the motivation Lukas needed. He eased by Oshier and surged to reach ¾ in 3:01. Oshier challenged for the lead again but then faded with 300m to go just as Verzbicas really cut loose. He reached 200m to go needing to cover the last furlong just under 30 seconds. All alone he dug down and squeezed across the line right before the clock hit 4:00.00. His 3:59.71 led what turned out to be the deepest high school race ever run as fourteen schoolboys ran 4:11.68 or faster. (video here)

Verzbicas returned to the triathlon for the summer, winning the World Junior Championship title in September before joining his new teammates at the University of Oregon. His collegiate career lasted all of two races. Halfway through his freshman season Verzbicas left Oregon after deciding he would concentrate on the triathlon, a sport where he was already one of the best in the world. He made good progress, winning some professional races in early 2012 but then crashed while on a training ride on July 31. The accident broke two vertebrae and temporarily paralyzed his right leg.

After a year of rehab he began racing again and threw in some track events to work on his running, including a 14:51.77 5,000m. He continues to train with the Rio Games as his goal – if he can ever get his citizenship.

Matthew Maton – First sub-4 – 3:59.38, April 17, 2015, Eugene, OR

The son of former NCAA Cross Country Champion Michelle Dekkers, Maton ran for Summit High School in Bend, Oregon until he had a falling out with his coach in the spring of 2015. Displaying a strong independent streak, Maton ran the Footlocker Cross Country Championship in the fall of 2014 so he could race his biggest rival, Michigan’s Grant Fisher. Doing so prevented Maton from joining his team for the Nike Cross Nationals, angering his coach, and costing them points at the “national team championship”. But Maton had been playing second fiddle to Fisher (the consensus pick for the next sub-4 high schooler) for two years, so his desire to race the Michigander was understandable.

Once he was off the team, Maton began jumping in collegiate races and collected some fast times. On April 17 he finished 4th in the fast section of the Oregon Relays 1,500m and in doing so broke 2012 Olympic silver medallist Galen Rupp’s state record in 3:42.54. Suddenly the sub-4 focus switched from Fisher to Maton. Three weeks later he returned to Eugene for the Oregon Twilight meet where he went up against NCAA Indoor 3,000m Champion Eric Jenkins in the Mile. Paced by former NCAA 1,500m Champ Mac Fleet the race went out at a good clip in 1:57.7 for the ½ mile, but Maton was floundering back in 7th place a good 30 meters off the lead. Second rabbit Matt Miner brought the leaders through ¾ in 2:57.5 setting up Jenkins and Will Geoghegan nicely but still Maton seemed to struggle about 5 seconds back. Finally the high schooler came alive. Around the turn and down the backstretch he collared a pair of collegians and set his sights on the two U of O runners in the lead. He began closing the gap until Jenkins and Geoghegan launched their final sprints but the acceleration brought Matthew rapidly to the line. Moments of anxiety followed as everyone waited for the times. 3:59.38! Maton fell to his knees in disbelief and was helped up by Jenkins who then joined the youngster on a victory lap. (video here)

Unfortunately Maton’s season ended there. The race aggravated a nagging achilles injury forcing him to withdraw from the Prefontaine meet and a much anticipated showdown with Fisher at the New York Diamond League. But every cloud has a silver lining. The injury freed up time for Maton to cheer on his girlfriend, Alexa Efraimson, who broke Mary Cain’s American junior record for 1,500m at Pre … and then they went to the prom.

Grant Fisher – First sub-4 – 3:59.38, June 4, 2015, Saint Louis, MO

After beating Maton in the 2014 Dream Mile in 4:02.02, Fisher became the focus of sub-4 mania as the track world eagerly awaited his senior year at Grand Blanc (Michigan) High School. Like Verzbicas, he went through cross country season on track, capturing his second Footlocker title. Then he capped his indoor season with a win at the New Balance High School Championships Mile in 4:03.54. Once he moved outdoors he took a short break from competing for his high school team to travel to California and the Payton Jordan Invitational. Racing college boys he pushed his 1,500m PR down to 3:42.89, a time indicating he was ready to go sub-4. Realizing this, the organizers of the Michigan State High School Championship set up two finish lines for the 1,600m – the normal one and another one 9 meters farther down the track to make it a full Mile. Running solo for most of the race, Fisher won the state title when he crossed the 1,600m line in 4:00.28, a state record. Then he set a Mile PR of 4:01.66 when he crossed the second line a moment later. So close but still not sub-4.

Five days later Grant stood on the starting line in Saint Louis with the pros, including 3:52.42 Miler Jordan McNamara and US Marathon Champ Tyler Pennel. The rabbit was assigned a ¾ mile target of 2:55.0 but except for McNamara the field ignored him in the early going and allowed a big gap to form. Finally Aaron Braun worked to pull the field up to McNamara as Fisher settled in behind Pennel and the field hit the ½ mile just over 2:00. Hitting the backstretch Pennel surged hard to take the lead and force the pace into sub-4 territory. Fisher clung to the back of the lead pack as Pennel hit ¾ in 2:58 looking to make his first trip under 4:00. Like Maton in Eugene, Fisher finally started to roll, passing McNamara and Braun and hitting the final straight in 2nd just behind Pennel. Closing all the way home, Grant gained on the Marathoner all the way to the line while McNamara charged hard on the outside to make sure the high school kid didn’t beat him! The times quickly flashed up: McNamara 3:58.81, Pennel 3:58.99, and Fisher 3:59.38 – he matched Maton’s time to the hundredth of a second! (video here)

The race marked the first time two high school boys had beaten 4:00 in the same year. This Saturday Fisher will hope to join a very exclusive club. He will return to New York to race the Dream Mile. If he can break 4:00 again he will follow in the gigantic footsteps of Jim Ryun and Alan Webb as only the 3rd high schooler to go sub-4 more than once. Will anyone else in the field join him?

June 4, 2015
Beijing 1993: Those Incredible Chinese Records

On September 8, 1993 Zhong Huandi hit the halfway mark of the Chinese National Games 10,000m in 15:05.69, just a step ahead of the newly crowned World Champion, Wang Junxia. If the pair kept the pace rolling they threatened to shave a few seconds from Ingrid Kristiansen’s world record mark of 30:13.74, a tall order given their comparatively modest PRs of 30:49.30 (Wang) and 31:12.55 (Zhong). But not impossible. With a strong effort they could do it, so the duo bore down.

Approaching the 7,000m mark (passed in 21:14.3) the record was still in play but Zhong was tiring. It was now up to Wang, who eased by her teammate and floored the accelerator. The next 7-1/2 laps were astounding. After averaging 72-73 seconds per lap for the first 18 laps, Wang sped up by 6 seconds per lap, a pace that was surely suicidal. Zhong rapidly fell behind as her training partner rushed to her appointment with death – but death never came. Instead, Wang scorched the final 3,000m in 8:17.47. Wang Junxia ran the final 3,000m of a 10,000m race 5 seconds faster than the 3,000m world record!

Wang’s incredible close took her to the finish line in 29:31.78 to rip a gargantuan 42 seconds from Kristiansen’s record. Over half a lap behind when Wang finished, Zhong held on to take 2nd in 30:13.37 allowing her to also slide under the Norwegian’s mark. And it didn’t stop there. The next four finishers ran 31:23.92 or faster, a time that only Wang and Zhong had previously beaten in all of Chinese history. In total, thirteen Chinese women finished before the clock ticked over to 32:00 making it the deepest race in history. Every athlete in the race ran a PR. Wang tore a ridiculous 1:18 from her previous best and Zhong hacked 59 seconds from her fastest. None of them would ever run this fast again – not even close.

When the news broke the athletic world was stunned. It was not unheard of for one athlete to make a big breakthrough to record a previously inconceivable effort, as Wang had done. It wasn’t even that unusual for a fast race by one person to drag another along to an astounding time, as Zhong was dragged. But for the entire field, a field mostly composed of complete unknowns, to record such mind-numbing efforts was a little hard to swallow. The Chinese Games continued on for another five days. The limits of credulity would be stretched to ridiculous extremes.

In the 800m heats 17 year-old Wang Yuan came into the race with a 2:02.98 PR from the World Championships. She demolished that with a 1:57.19 world junior record in 2nd behind Liu Li who took a second and a half off the Chinese record in 1:56.96. Neither was able to match Liu Dong in the final and watched from behind as Liu sliced another 1-1/2 seconds off the NR in 1:55.54. The top six in the 800m final beat the Chinese record coming into the race and even the 7th and 8th place finishers only missed the previous standard by 0.07 seconds.

Then came the 1,500m. Wang Yuan claimed another world junior record in the heats, but only by 0.03 seconds. That’s because another teen, Lu Yi, chased her home as they recorded 4:01.79 and 4:01.82 to pulverize Zola Budd’s existing mark by 2-1/2 seconds. As fast as these youngsters were they proved no match for their elders in the 1,500m final. That race was set-up as an assault on Tatyana Kazinkina’s world record of 3:52.47 and brought in to rabbit was an unlikely and astonishing choice – Liu Dong, the 1,500m victor at the World Championships just two weeks earlier! Liu took off like a rocket hitting splits you would expect to see in a men’s race: 400m in 57.1 and 800m in 2:00.7. Hot on her tail were the World Champion at 3,000m, Qu Yunxia, and the brand new 10,000m WR holder, Wang Junxia. When Liu retired the lead duo wisely slowed but not by much. At 200m to go Wang tried to seize the lead but Qu responded with a superior sprint and stopped the clock at 3:50.46 for a new WR. Wang also beat the former mark in 3:51.92, an inconceivable time for a long distance specialist. Behind them it was PR-city as seven women came home under 4:00.00.

It’s informative to compare the results of this race to the best efforts of the athletes prior to this meet (PPR = PR before this meet):

  1. Qu Yunxia            3:50.46 WR                    PPR = 3:57.08, improved by 6.62 seconds
  2. Wang Junxia         3:51.92 beat old WR      PPR = 3:58.00, improved by 6.08 seconds
  3. Zhang Linli           3:57.46                          No previous PR on record
  4. Wang Renmei       3:58.64                          No previous PR on record
  5. Li Liu                    3:59.34                          PPR = 4:00.20, improved by 0.86 seconds
  6. Zhang Lirong       3:59.70                          PPR = 4:00.96, improved by 1.26 seconds
  7. Wang Yuan           3:59.81 WJR                   No previous PR on record
  8. Lu Yi                     4:00.05 beat old WJR     PPR = 4:06.06, improved by 6.01 seconds
  9. Li Ying                  4:02.12                          PPR = 4:09.04, improved by 6.92 seconds

None of these athletes ever ran this fast again – not even close.

The week closed out with the 3,000m and that’s when the racing really wandered off into the realm of fantasy. When the first qualifying heat lined up the official world record belonged to Tatyana Kazankina at 8:22.62, but after the amazing run of Wang in the 10,000m everyone knew the record would soon be history. It managed to live another 8:22.06, the time run not by Wang but by Zhang Linli who barely made it home ahead of Zhang Lirong’s 8:22.44. That’s right – two women broke the 13 year-old world record in the qualifying heat! Kazankina’s WR may have lasted 13 years but Zhang’s didn’t. In fact it may have set a record for shortest-lived world record. Wang Junxia and Qu Junxia followed Wang Yanfang who rabbitted (yes, a rabbit in qualifying!) at a smoking tempo through 2,000 before yielding. Wang and Qu then strode on together with Wang edging ahead to win the heat. Times? Wang – 8:12.19 WR. Qu – 8:12.27 also under the WR. Oh, and Ma Liyan was also sucked along to record the 3rd fastest time ever in 8:19.78. Two qualifying heats and five women under the old world record, this could not be happening!

Wang Junxia (#6) and Qu Yunxia
When the athletes lined up for the final they should have been exhausted. In the previous five days Wang (#6 in the photo) had raced the 10,000m, the heat and final of the 1,500m, and the 3,000m heat. Qu (#3 in photo) had raced the heats and finals of both the 800m and 1,500m plus the 3,000m heat. Their legs must have been dead, there is no way they could possibly top what they had already done – but they did it anyway. Race reports say there was no rabbit for the final but how could you tell? No rabbit was going to be able to hang with Wang. The 10,000m World Champion hit the front immediately and started to hammer! The field tried to go with her but only Qu could hang on. The 1,500m world record holder lasted until the final kilometer then it was all Wang. Accelerating through the final laps she stopped the clock at 8:06.11 for another record. Qu held on for 2nd and squeezed under her PR to record the second fastest ever in 8:12.18. Three more women made it home before the clock reached Kazankina’s pre-meet record time.

Once more it’s worth comparing the results of this race to the best efforts of the athletes prior to the National Games:

  1. Wang Junxia             8:06.11 WR               PPR = 8:27.68, improved by 21.57 seconds
  2. Qu Yunxia                8:12.18                     PPR = 8:28.71, improved by 16.53 seconds
  3. Zhang Linli               8:16.50                     PPR = 8:29.25, improved by 12.75 seconds
  4. Ma Liyan                  8:21.26                     No previous PR on record
  5. Zhang Lirong           8:21.84                     PPR = 8:31.95, improved by 10.11 seconds
  6. Wei Li                       8:39.74                     No previous PR on record
  7. Zhong Huandi          8:41.67                     PPR = 9:14.55, improved by 32.88 seconds
  8. Li Ying                      8:42.39                     No previous PR on record

None of these athletes ever ran this fast again – not even close.

As soon as the meet concluded worldwide accusations of drug use ensued. The record-breaking orgy was impossible to believe. Most of the athletes who excelled in the women’s distance events in Beijing ran for “Ma’s Army”, the training group coached by Ma Junren. Ire was directed at him with claims he doped his athletes. He defended them by saying they trained harder than anyone else (very likely true) and that they received a nutritional boost from a diet that included turtle blood and caterpillar fungus. Could they have been doping? Maybe, although none of them ever failed a drug test. But those who focus on Ma’s Army and doping are missing the bigger picture. It wasn’t just Ma’s athletes who ran out of their heads, practically every female runner in the meet did!

Let’s look at the wider results. I can’t find complete results anywhere but between an old issue of Track & Field News and the IAAF’s official database at AllAthletics.com I was able to reconstruct most of the women’s results and some of the men’s. In the women’s sprints – 100m, 200m, and 400m – at least six women beat the former Chinese record for the respective distances. In the 800m, six women beat the former NR in just one race. Two beat the Chinese record (and the world record) in the 1,500m, as did two in the 10,000m. At least eight did so in the 3,000m – eight! Even in the hurdles and relays the Chinese records were broken. Only one woman beat the NR in the 100m hurdles, but at least two did it in the 400m hurdles. And provincial teams from Guangxi and Hebei beat the relay records set by the Chinese national team. Every female Chinese national track record was broken over the course of six days by at least 23 different women!

And contrary to what doping proponents have argued, it wasn’t just the women running out of their heads – the men also joined in. In the early 1990s the Chinese men, with the exception of hurdler Li Tong, were awful. Virtually none were fast enough to qualify for international competition so finding data on them was quite a chore, but I did find some and it was somewhat revealing. In the 100m, winner Li Tao broke the Chinese record while the 2nd and 3rd placers tied it. The winner of the 400m also broke the NR with the only sub-46.00 time of his career. In the steeple, 19 year-old Sun Ripeng not only broke the Chinese record, he became the 2nd fastest junior in history! In a career that lasted another eight years Sun only beat the 8:24.87 he ran in Beijing twice. Once by 0.11 seconds in 1995 and then by 14 seconds in the 1997 Chinese National Games in Shanghai, another meet with a plethora of suspicious performances. Surely the second fastest junior ever should have run many races under 8:10.00 when he matured, as the Kenyans surrounding him on that list did, but not Sun. Even 400m hurdler Yang Xianjun broke the NR with a performance nearly a second faster than he’d ever run before or since.

As you can see, many many athletes at this meet ran far faster than they had before, not just Ma’s athletes. And for nearly every one of them it was the best performance they would ever achieve by a wide margin. Drugs don’t pump you up for just one meet and then let you down so that you never reach that level again, so drugs can’t explain these results. But if not drugs then what caused it?

A short track.

But wait, aren’t all tracks certified by the IAAF to be the correct distance? No. Even today only tracks that will be used for international competition are required to be certified for accuracy by the IAAF. This requirement didn’t come about until 1999, six years after the National Games were held on the Beijing track. Prior to that time it was up to each country to certify track accuracy as they saw fit. The Chinese bureaucrats responsible for laying down the track in Workers’ Stadium had no incentive to make sure the track was a full 400m, but instead likely profited by cutting corners and squirreling away any cash they saved. And this didn’t just happen in China. In the late 1980s a group went out and measured a bunch of tracks used for the big European meets – none of them were accurate. So how short was the track? We can use the athletes’ performance statistics to roughly figure that out.

I was able to construct a database of athletes who not only raced in Beijing but also had a performance recorded either before or after the 1993 National Games so I could compare the times. Of the 34 women in the database only 1,500m World Champion Liu Dong (the rabbit in Beijing) did not run a PR. Of those 34, not one ever beat her Beijing time in the future. Of the nine men in the database, all of them PRed in Beijing, and only three ever improved on their Beijing times. In all, out of 43 athletes, 42 PRed in Beijing and only three ever improved on their efforts there. On average, the 43 athletes improved their PRs by 2.85% in Beijing. After the meet the average fall-off in performance was 2.62% (discounting any times from the 1997 National Games in Shanghai). If you have a track that is 10 meters short, that 10 meters is equal to 2.5%. If the track in Beijing was 390m instead of the full 400m it would yield the incredible times that were seen in 1993. Using 2.5% as the inaccuracy level, here is how the women’s races would have panned out:

                                1993 Result              Corrected by 2.5%

            100m               11.02                           11.30

            200m               22.56                           23.12

            400m               49.81                           51.05

            800m               1:55.54                        1:58.43

            1,500m            3:50.46                        3:56.22

            3,000m            8:06.11                        8:18.26

            10,000m          29:31.78                      30:16.07

            100m H            12.64                           12.96

            400m H            53.96                           55.31

            4x100m            43.16                           44.24

            4x400m            3:24.28                        3:29.39

Even with the 2.5% correction the results still yield six Chinese records and one world record – 8:18.26 for Wang Junxia in the 3,000m. But at least now the performances of the athletes are more in-line with what they did prior to and after this meet. It’s obvious that the track was at least 10 meters short. So why didn’t the IAAF send someone to Beijing to verify the track’s accuracy? Probably willful ignorance. If they let the results stand then the sport got sensational headlines, but if they discovered the track was indeed short it would have caused a major scandal. That’s the last thing the IAAF wanted. Better to leave well enough alone, even if it cheated future athletes (Sonia O’Sullivan, Gabriela Szabo, Genzebe Dibaba, Paula Radcliffe, Tirunesh Dibaba, and Meselech Melkamu) of their rightful records.

Can we go back and measure the track now? No. In 1994 the Chinese tore up the track as part of a renovation of Workers’ Stadium. This is a mystery that will be forever unsolved.


April 22, 2015
Where Are the Women’s World Records?

You may have noticed a decided male-bias to this site and wondered why there isn’t any information on the distaff side of the sport. It’s not because I’ve made a conscious effort to ignore women. In fact, once I complete The American Distance Renaissance I plan to start providing video links and information about all the fast ladies who add to the excitement of the sport. But up to now I’ve concentrated on men for a simple reason – with the profound effect drugs have on the women it’s almost impossible to figure out what female performances are legitimate. For reasons I can’t discern, there also appears to be more skullduggery happening on the women’s side.

 

Let’s examine the IAAF’s list of official WRS for 100m through 10,000m and you’ll see what I’m getting at. The current records (April 2015) are:

 

100m                    10.49          Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA)

200m                    21.34          Florence Griffith-Joyner (USA)

400m                    47.60          Marita Koch (East Germany)

800m                    1:53.28       Jarmila Kratochvílová (Czechoslovakia)

1,000m                 2:28.98       Svetlana Masterkova (Russia)

1,500m                 3:50.46       Qu Yunxia (China)

Mile                      4:12.56       Svetlana Masterkova (Russia)

2,000m                 5:25.36       Sonia O’Sullivan (Ireland)

3,000m                 8:06.11       Wang Junxia (China)

Steeplechase         8:58.81       Gulnara Galkina (Russia)

5,000m                 14:11.15     Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia)

10,000m               29:31.78     Wang Junxia (China)

 

Anyone with respectable knowledge about the sport will read through this list and find several records that are impossible to believe. Personally I’d say at least half of the records listed are bogus.

 

Florence Griffith-Joyner’s 100m & 200m records – Flo Jo was always one of my favorite sprinters because (at the risk of sounding like a male chauvinist pig) she was beautiful and had a pleasant persona. That changed the first time I saw her step on a track in 1988. I immediately thought, “They took Florence’s head and stuck it on Ben Johnson’s body!” She was much bigger and much much more muscular than she was in any previous season. She came into the year with a 100m PR of 10.96, which was one of only three times she’d ever broken 11.00 in her entire life (according to All-Athletics.com). In her second race in 1988 she beat her PR with a 10.89 into a slight headwind. In all of 1988 she ran thirteen 100m races. Ten of those races were faster than her pre-1988 PR. The story is similar for the 200m. Her PR coming into the year was 21.96 and that run was the only time she had ever beaten 22.00. She tied her PR in her second 200m of 1988 and then only ran slower than that once, in an easy Olympic qualifying heat. Six times she ran faster than her pre-1988 PR. Flo Jo had been racing internationally for seven years with barely any improvement, for her to suddenly improve her 100m by 4.3% and her 200m by 2.8% seems very unlikely. (There are claims that her 10.49 for 100m was wind-aided and the true record is her 10.61, but that would still be a 3.2% improvement.) Speculation that Florence was on something was rampant and she was actually booed at European meets. She then abruptly retired at the end of the 1988 season when it was announced that out-of-competition drug testing would begin the next year. In my opinion there is no way these are legitimate records.

 

So what are the true 100m & 200m records? For the 100m it’s probably Carmelita Jeter’s 10.64. She’s never failed a drug test but has been accused by some (jealous?) competitors of doping. Luckily we don’t have to go to the next person on the all-time list – admitted drug cheat Marion Jones. Unfortunately Jones is the next name on the 200m list at 21.62. We know that’s not right, so by default Merlene Ottey’s 21.64 would be the record.

 

Marita Koch’s 400m record – When the Berlin Wall came down reams of documents detailing the East German doping program came to light. All of their athletes were on drugs, so this record is not clean. Next on the all-time list is Jarmila Kratochvílová. She’s also from an East-Bloc communist country with a systematic doping program. Plus – look at her. There’s no way she wasn’t on steroids. That gives us France’s Marie-José Perec. She ran 48.25 in 1996 and has never failed a drug test, though she did start training with Wolfgang Meier, Marita Koch’s husband, after that Olympic run.

 

Jarmila Kratochvílová 800m record – This record is unbelievable for the same reason her 400m time can’t be considered legit. Next on the list is Soviet Nadezhda Olizarenko. Like her East German and Czech sisters she was almost certainly on steroids because the Soviets also had a doping program. Scratch her name off the list. That brings us to Kenya’s Pamela Jelimo. We’ll go with her 1:54.01 as the record since she has never failed a drug test, but her name has been linked to a German doctor known to aid doping athletes.

 

Svetlana Masterkova’s 1,000m and Mile records – Svetlana has never failed a drug test and has never been directly linked to any shady characters. Optimistically we can assume her records are good despite ongoing widespread drug use in Russia.

 

Qu Yunxia’s 1,500m record and Wang Junxia’s 3,000m & 10,000m records – Qu and Wang were members of the Chinese training group coached by Ma Junren that came from out of nowhere to become the top distance runners in the world in the early 1990s. Ma said his success was based on hard work and turtle soup, though it is widely suspected that there was something besides turtle in the soup. There is evidence to support this suspicion. Six of Ma’s athletes were removed from China’s 2000 Olympic team for failing a pre-Games drug test. But even if Qu and Wang were clean there is another excellent reason for nixing their records. All three marks were set at the 1993 Chinese National Games in Beijing. Both Qu and Wang broke the existing 1,500m record there, certainly a feat within the realm of possibility, but when you move up to the 3,000m the performances become outlandish. At the start of the Games the official WR was 8:22.62 run by Soviet Tatyana Kazankina (who was definitely doping). During the heats and final of the 3,000m, five athletes beat the world record a total of ten times! In the 10,000m Wang and Zhong Huandi also broke Ingrid Kristiansen’s existing WR of 30:13.74 by running over a minute faster than they ever did before or since. Could they have been on drugs? Maybe, but a better explanation for the spate of aberrant performances is that the track was short (subject of a future blog article). Nobody outside of China thinks these times are the real records.

 

So what are the real records? Let’s go through the all-time lists again. The 1,500m is a nightmare. Next on the list are China’s Bo Jiang at 3:50.98 and Lang Linglai at 3:51.34. They ran those times at the 1997 version of the Chinese National Games in Shanghai. Neither of them ever broke 4:16.26 when running on any other track. That Shanghai track was very short. Next is Wang’s time from Beijing and we already know that’s wrong. Drug cheat Kazankina comes next followed by another Chinese time run in Shanghai by Yin Lili. Romanian Paula Ivan never failed a drug test but comes from an East Bloc country with a known doping program, so strike her. Next there are three more Chinese runners from the Shanghai meet and Soviet Olga Dvirna, another East Bloc drug guinea pig. Finally we reach Algeria’s Hassiba Boulmerka. At 3:55.30 she is listed as being the 12th fastest ever with the 14th fastest time. Her time is probably the real 1,500m WR.

 

The 3,000m and 10,000m are easier to figure out because we know we can ignore the 1993 Beijing times. That means Kenya’s Helen Obiri holds the 3,000m record at 8:20.68 and Ethiopia’s Meselech Melkamu holds the 10,000m record at 29:53.80.

 

The records for 2,000m, the Steeplechase, and 5,000m are probably all good – at least as far as we know.

 

Thus we are left with a revised world record list that looks like this:

 

100m                    10.64          Carmelita Jeter (USA)

200m                    21.64          Merlene Ottey (Jamaica)

400m                    48.25          Marie-José Perec (France)

800m                    1:54.01       Pamela Jelimo (Kenya)

1,000m                 2:28.98       Svetlana Masterkova (Russia)

1,500m                 3:55.30       Hassiba Boulmerka (Algeria)

Mile                      4:12.56       Svetlana Masterkova (Russia)

2,000m                 5:25.36       Sonia O’Sullivan (Ireland)

3,000m                 8:20.68       Helen Obiri (Kenya)

Steeplechase         8:58.81       Gulnara Galkina (Russia)

5,000m                 14:11.15     Tirunesh Dibaba (Ethiopia)

10,000m               29:53.80     Meselech Melkamu (Ethiopia)

 

And let’s face it, there are still marks on the revised list that are a little questionable.

 

This is an example of why I have focused on the men thus far with this website. While drugs can improve a man’s performance the effect isn’t as radical as it is with women because men naturally produce testosterone, which is already a potent performance enhancer. And for some reason the men’s side of the sport has escaped a lot of the underhandedness that has made such a mockery of the women’s record list.