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Already looking forward to April

BOSTON, MA—January 10, 2006—In its 21st year as the major sponsor of the Boston Marathon, John Hancock Financial Services announced the entry of two-time American Olympian and U.S. 10,000 meter record holder Mebrahtom “Meb” Keflezighi for the 110th running of the race.

That’s the opening graph of the press release I just got, about an hour old. Links are mine.

This is good news, as good (or better) than Alan Culpepper’s entry last year. For years (decades!) the really good American marathoners didn’t come to Boston. Sometimes this was to be expected (Boston would, for example, come too close to the Olympic Trials marathon,) but more often it was the stated policy of John Hancock head (and Olympic sponsor and critic) David D’Alessandro to fund the best athletes—with the pointed observation that American marathoners didn’t make the cut. For a long time, that meant Kenyans: some stars like Moses Tanui (or Cosmas Ndeti, who ran phenomenally quickly in Boston but bombed everywhere else,) and some lesser-known names like Lameck Aguta or Timothy Cherigat. Lately, there have also been the Ethiopians, starting with Fatuma Roba and including Hailu Negussie.

Things have been changing in the last few years. Meb, for example, won a silver medal in Athens, and followed it up with a second-place finish in the NYCM. Culpepper was 10th in Athens—which would’ve been the best American performance in twenty years, had Meb not been there—then ran fourth in Boston last spring, with Ryan Shay 10th. It’s clear, now, that there are American men who can compete with the best in the world.

What’s missing is the win. Deena Kastor’s win in Chicago last fall broke a long drought, but it has been a very long time since an American male won the Boston marathon. (This sentence started as “…major marathon,” but there’s the curious case of Moroccan-born and raised Khalid Khannouchi and Chicago.) I wrote a column about a dinner last fall where Greg Meyer stood up and told a gathering of coaches, “Find somebody who can win the Boston Marathon. I don’t want them wheeling me out until I die, saying, ‘There he is again, the last American man to win the Boston Marathon.’”

Culpepper took a pretty good swing at it, placing higher than anyone since Bob Kempainen’s 3rd in ‘94 (the “Year of the Tailwind.”) Now what’s happening is world-class American marathoners without a major-marathon win are meeting major American marathons without American winners. Maybe Meb will be the one, rolling down out of the Newton hills with the Kenyan bus and crushing them on Comm Ave with his 10,000m speed. Imagine the noise from the post-game Red Sox crowd in Kenmore Square if Meb was in the lead with a mile remaining.

Now Playing: Maria from Failer by Kathleen Edwards

Comments

This is good news…and you’re starting to sound like the golf commentators as they say, “best golfer never to have won a major.” It’s nice to finally see. There is the argument that we lack depth behind these few (and some argue, in my opinion, incorrectly), that Meb isn’t really an American. In the end, just getting guys and gals up with the frontrunners will build our sport. At the same time, I have to ask how do we fund the second tier runners to keep them in the sport?

that is FANTASTIC news, and i’m so glad that people are accepting meb as the american runner that he is.

i’m just bummed that i’ll be running it, and not watching the finish.

Jeff, that’s what VCRs are for. See you up there. I’m the fat, old guy in the Shore AC singlet crossing the line in 3:46 (I hope!)

The best comments on the “Is he really an American” debate are in the Running Times article by Jon Beverly and Roger Robinson, at http://www.runningtimes.com/issues/03janfeb/americans.htm .

I’m proud of Khannouchi, as I am of Bernard Lagat, as a top-level athlete who wants to be a citizen of the country which gave him opportunity. I’m proud of Meb as one who is a product of the American development system. It is, I admit, different.

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