Sunday, August 05, 2012

The only worse tactic would have been to lend roller blades

Going into the men's 10,000, it was clear that, in a turn of events maybe more striking than the eventual finishing order, the Kenyans and Ethiopians weren't going to win anything if they let the race come down to the kick. None of the Kenyans had a fast kick, and the best among them was noted for his complete lack of it. Of the Ethiopians, Kenenisa Bekele's best chance at winning was a fast pace. So, an opening 200 of 30 seconds looked good, but after that, the pace was unimaginably slow, going through 2k in 5:59 (the women opened in 6:11 yesterday).

 At that point, it was still possible for the Africans to make a go of it with a withering pace over the final 5 or 8 kilometres. Instead, there was the odd surge and quicker lap, mostly by perennial nice guy (in that he gives us a race worth watching) Zersenay Tadese, but they continued to plod through, with a 2:47 6th kilometre and a 2:46 9th kilometre. A large pack, maybe with 12 men in contention at the start, but those with the finishing speed were obviously more in contention than those without.

Bekele finished fourth and Tadese sixth in what was the slowest championship 10,000 since the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton, which was also the last one where an Ethiopian didn't win. Obviously, there's no guarantee that Bekele the Elder could have won or even earned silver or bronze by setting a faster pace. Considering that Farah and Rupp have run 26:46 and 26:48 of late while Tariku Bekele won the Ethiopian trials at Hengelo, the medals probably went to the most deserving runners and in the right order.

Many of those who missed out on medals trusted in their kick, but runners like Bekele and Tadese simply do not have that luxury. Tadese was never going to beat anybody in any kick of any kind, and a 13:25 second 5k didn't run the legs off of anybody. The Ethiopians, Kenyans and to a lesser extent the Eritreans simply showed up lacking in fitness, tactics, positioning in varying quantities.

Farah and Rupp are on the upside of their careers while much of the field on display today has been running championship distance races at the highest level for a decade. That the medals went to a Briton and an American in what is probably the single most competitive distance race will hopefully have two effects. The first effect should be to put to rest the notion that only East Africans or those with East African genes can compete at the highest levels of the sport, seeing as how Rupp ran a 54-second last lap to finish second, but also, for example, that Derek Clayton ran a 2:08 almost 50 years ago while Dave Moorcroft ran 13:00 30 years ago.

Second, this might help to revive distance running as a global sport. Farah's victory and subsequent celebration in front of a home crowd was a great moment in distance running, the sort that hasn't been seen in a long time. I don't think it's true that a sport dominated by East Africans can't be compelling, just as the 100 being dominated by Americans and Jamaicans doesn't keep people from watching. Others, sadly, do feel that Western athletes need to be winning in order for the sport to be in health. Now that the moment is here, hopefully something comes of it.

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