Sunday, March 8, 2009

Fire on the Mountain

"Long distance runner, what you standin there for?
Get up, get out, get out of the door."
The Grateful Dead

As a fan of track and field and a devoted distance runner I want to write about something fantastic that's going on in this country. A renaissance is going on from the mile to the marathon. Don't get me wrong, we're not at the level of the Kenyans and Ethiopians but things are beginning to look up.

The United States has never really been a distance power, at least not in my lifetime. 1964 was an exception with the performances of Billy Mills, Bob Schul, and Bill Dellinger in Tokyo.

Jim Ryun showed what was possible at a tender age making the 64 team before his senior year in high school and following that up with American and World records. Frank Shorter and the rivalry that followed with fellow marathoner Bill Rodgers did a lot to promote distance running and was partly responsible for the jogging craze and the rapid growth in road racing. But at a world level with a few notable exceptions like Craig Virgin, Steve Scott, Alberto Salazar, and Bob Kennedy, American distance running was laughable.

Something started to happen in the 90's. A lot of it I believe is due to the Internet which connected high school distance running geeks. And a trio of exceptional young runners appeared at about the same time, Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenheim, and Alan Webb. Each of these high school phenoms brought the sport to a whole nother level and laid the groundwork for what has happened over the last decade. A certain respectability has returned to U.S. distance running.

An influx of foreigners who became U.S. citizens didn't hurt either. Men like Bernard Lagat, Meb Keflezighi, Abdi Abdirahman, and Khalid Khannouchi have all help elevate the American prescence on the world stage. Despite a disappointing Olympics in Beijing, we shouldn't overlook the American records set by Hall in the marathon, Webb in the mile, and Lagat's two world championship golds in 2007.

Young runners like Galen Rupp, pictured above with Adam and Kara Goucher, along with German Fernandez, are tearing up the track this indoor season. America running has much to be excited about. Fernandez has a legitimate shot at finishing in the top three at the World Cross Country Championships. Rupp has already taken down the ancient American indoor record for 5,000 meters and may be capable of something really special outdoors at 10,000 this spring.

There are other youngsters like Dorian Ulrey, Matt Centrowitz, and Luke Pudskedra who hold a lot of promise. We may not have the quality of depth of the Africans but we're beginning to produce runners capable of competing with them at the top levels.

The women have been just as sharp. Shalane Flanaghan has an Olympic medal and a handful of American records. Kara Goucher ran a great debut marathon in New York City and should run well in Boston is her indoor track season is any indication. Jennifer Barringer, a steeple specialist just took down the American collegiate indoor record for the mile. And God knows what Jordan Hassay will do this spring... a whole lot of high school girls distance records could go by the wayside.

For me it's exciting stuff. Spring is at hand and so is outdoor track. Time to go for a run.

1 comment:

  1. Hmmm... concerning sports, usually the thing to get excited about in spring is Spring Training! Baseball!!! I wonder if Jerry ever sang the National Anthem at a track meet.