Wednesday, November 01, 2006

Lance Armstrong can go fuck himself. I say this categorically and without hesitation. Imagine opening up the sports section one day to read about last night's Leafs game but instead found Michael Jordan on the cover, along with a detailed account of Jordan watching the Leafs game. Granted, Runner's World, which featured Armstrong on its cover, is more like the section with phone sex ads than the sports section. Nonetheless, the inordinate amount of attention focused on Armstrong, running the New York Marathon this Sunday, is disgusting.

The New York Marathon is no joke of a race. Lance Armstrong should not even receive one thousandth of the attention given to, say, Hailu Negussie, Rodgers Rop or William Kipsang. These men are the second tier in this race, paling in comparison to Stefano Baldini, Paul Tergat, Hendrick Ramaala and Meb Keflezighi, four of the biggest names in the sport. For those who don't know, Baldini is the Olympic champion, Tergat holds the marathon world record (along with dozens of other honours), Keflezighi is the Olympic silver medalist and Ramaala is one of the best road racers in the world. All Negussie has done is win the Boston Marathon, Rop has won both Boston and New York and Kipsang is the 17th fastest marathoner ever. Clearly, if the response is that Armstrong and his friends at Runner's World and Nike are bringing attention to the sport, it is a highly specious claim. If anything, they are obscuring the sport. In fact, it could even be said that they are killing the sport. What else would you say about a sport that needs to appeal to another sport for attention?

I can't say I'm surprised. Armstrong and his feel-good cult has amazing marketing potential. It would be criminal to ignore the chance to feature a white American who is a household name and avoid having to mention a gaggle of foreign niggers who just happen to be the best at what they do. More broadly, the running industry is determined to speak of every freak show and carnival curiosity before it speaks of the best in the sport. This September, the Toronto Waterfront Marathon gave equal importance to: the man who ran 2:10 to win the marathon, a 75-year old man and a man who ran while juggling three balls. Imagine if the NFL promoted Peyton Manning's accomplishments with the same intensity as Matt Bryant's 62-yard field goal and Mark Brunell's 22 straight completed passes. Imagine if basketball was more concerned with records for consecutive free throws made than with championships.

Only with running is there a concerted effort verging on a conspiracy to do anything but acknowledge that some people do it better than others. The marketing machine at Runner's World is not only obscuring, it is a lustrous liar as well. Indeed, breathlessly anointing Armstrong to be the "fittest first-timer" (my apologies if the quote is inexact) in the race is a lie. It is a complete and utter fabrication, intentionally so. Anyone who has semi-seriously followed the race knows that American Dathan Ritzenhein, for example, is running his first marathon at New York and is likely a little fitter than Armstrong (unless Armstrong would also be the fittest player on the New York Giants, Yankees and Rangers).

In protest, I will buy these for anyone who asks. Armstrong may or may not have ruined cycling, the truth may never be known on that matter, but I will not accept his eroding what little seriousness remains around running.

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