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Saturday, August 04, 2007

Get set for athletics

The Tour de France has come and gone, and the world's collective 'endurance-attention' now turns to athletics, whose showpiece, the World Championships, kick off on August 25th in Osaka, Japan. And here on the Science of Sport, that will be our focus for the best part of the next month. We're sure there'll be the usual diversion caused by doping in sport, be it remnants of the Tour or a new announcements in athletics, but we'll be sure to bring you the on-track science and off-track action of the IAAF World Champs.

To kick off, this weekend sees arguably the strongest half-marathon field in history gathered in New York for the NYC Half Marathon. Haile Gebrselassie, serial world-record breaker at track and on the road (apart from the marathon, where he's been inconsistent, but still incredibly fast) takes on Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya, Abdi Abdirahman of the USA, and SA's Hendrik Ramaala over 21 km. It's a fascinating race because it brings together athletes from the two extremes of the running continuum over a common distance - the track runner pedigree of Gebrselassie (and, to a lesser extent, Abdirahman) versus the marathon credentials of Cheruiyot and Ramaala should make for a great battle. The pre-race hype has focused on these four, and threw up a couple of great quotes.

The first is from Haile Gebrselassie, talking about whether his children will ever be great long distance runners. He says he doubts it...:

“You need a hard time when you are training, especially long distance,” he said. “My kids, they live a luxury life. Between my house and school, it’s 3K and they use a car. My age, it was 10K and you walked to school.”
One of the most interesting debates in track and field athletics is in fact whether the dominance of the Africans in the long-distance events is a genetic or a lifestyle issue. We alluded to this briefly in our previous post on Ethiopian running, but in future posts, now that the athletics season is upon us, we'll delve into this in a bit more detail.

The second quote is from Hendrik Ramaala, referring to the marathon event:
"I'm still afraid of it (the marathon). I think all the guys deep down, they are scared of the marathon. I'm scared of the marathon. If anything goes wrong after 30k, you know what is going to happen. You're going to have to drag yourself to the finish line... I'll always respect the marathon because it can humble you."
Comforting words for all mere 'mortals' who tackle the distance...we'll look at the event in more detail in the next few weeks.

Finally, on the tracks of the world, a busy time lies ahead, with the culmination of the Golden League series soon after the World Championships, and the promise of some 100m races to savour between Tyson and Powell, who have so far managed to avoid one another.

Let's hope it's a clean month for the sport, and we'll do our best to report on the science behind the performances.

R & J