The Kenyan Team is announced. And Gebrselassie's Real reason for not running the Beijing Olympic Marathon?
Just time for two very brief news items today from the world of marathon running:
Kenya's Olympic Marathon team - as expected...
The first is that the Kenyan team for the Olympic Marathon has been announced, and not surprisingly, it consists of the big three "winners" from the recent series of Spring marathons.
That is, the team consists of:
- Martin Lel - London winner, and fastest in the world this year at 2:05:16
- Sammy Wanjiru - Second in London behind Lel, and perhaps the best half marathon runner in history
- Robert Cheruiyot - the impressive, front-running winner in Boston, where he destroyed an admittedly weak field with a sustained period of pressure
And then perhaps most sadly, it means no place for Paul Tergat, the great Kenyan, who has won two Olympic silver medals at 10,000m, and is someone we would love to see win Olympic Gold. That will now not happen, though in truth, Tergat would really struggle against this new generation of marathon racers who have followed in his lofty footsteps.
Another word on the heat issue
In yesterday's post, we discussed whether these three Kenyans would feature as strongly in Beijing, as a result of their preference for remaining in Kenya during the preparation phase. Problem is, Kenya in June and July is relatively cool and has very little humidity, and so the problem with the Beijing heat may pose a bigger challenge than people think. The default is to assume that Africans enjoy the heat, but the combination of timing, seasonal environmental changes and training habits make Beijing's Olympic race an intriguing one.
One of our readers, Stan, mailed and suggested that perhaps simply running in warm clothes in a moderate environment would suffice, and certainly, this is the very least they might wish to do, as part of the preparation. I'm not 100% convinced that the effect is the same, because the sensation of the heat and humidity can never be 100% replicated through clothing. However, one would hope they're doing that. If so, and if they carry the same kind of form into August as we saw from these three in Kenya, perhaps we'll see an all Kenyan podium? I doubt it - the Olympic Marathon produces some surprises, and the conditions will be a great leveller, but it's a formidable team, for sure!
Gebrselassie announces his "Real" reason for missing Beijing - a Berlin WR
About two months ago, Haile Gebrselassie, marathon world record holder, announced that he would not take part in the Olympic marathon, citing "fears for his health" as a result of the much vaunted pollution in Bejing.
When we covered that story, we were highly sceptical of his reasons. There were two main concerns:
First, the pollution was at best a speculative excuse - everyone is worried about it, and talk of gas masks and late arrivals has been abundant, but ultimately, to bypass the Olympic race (an ambition he's stated for a long time, recall) on the basis of a "maybe" seems a little reckless.
But more important, from a scientific point of view, there was no reason at all to believe that Beijing's pollution was so bad that the three days in Beijing plus 2 hours of marathon running would pose a long term health risk. We wrote at the time that the worst that would happen is that he'd be forced to withdraw at say 10km with difficulty breathing. But a week after that, no problem. And of course, this would be a justified reason for not competing, but the talk of "long term health risks" was bizarre. And then finally, he said that instead of the marathon, he'd run the 10,000m event instead. In my opinion, the 10,000 m is EVEN MORE likely to be affected by pollution than the marathon, simply because the rates of ventilation are so high. It's a race done at 95% of VO2max, the marathon is only at 80%, and that high rate means if pollution is going to be a problem, it will affect the shorter distance races more.
In any event, this speculation all led to the conculsion that in fact, Gebrselassie had another race plan in mind.
Turns out that this "other race" may have been the incentive all along, because Gebrselassie announced yesterday that his ambition is to return to the Real Berlin Marathon where he set his world record last year. That race takes place in October, and so comes too soon after the Olympic Games to run both races. So rather than risk an Olympic race that was bound to be tactical (bear in mind that Gebrselassie has never won a tactical, competitive marathon race, his victories have all been solo finishes), it would seem that he has opted for the world record incentive.
Of course, there is the alternative explanation, put forward in some articles about this latest news, which is that he’s come under pressure to retract his earlier explanation, because of the embarrassment it has caused the Chinese organizers (who are more than a touch self-conscious about the pollution risks). That may be a valid explanation – certainly, it would seem that this form of subtle “censorship” will be a feature of China in the build-up to the Games. However, being somewhat cynical, I still suspect that the more likely explanation is that the intention was to run in Berlin all along, and the pollution provided a convenient excuse to do so. And only then did any pressure come to bear and cause him to express the Berlin goal.
Regardless, it’s a real shame for the Games, because it denies us the chance of seeing the three magnificent Kenyans in a race against the world record holder. And I suspect we’ll never see that race – Gebrselassie will run in Berlin, and then he’ll probably line up Dubai as another paced record attempt next year. And from then on, he’ll run those two big races a year, aiming to crack that 2:04-barrier he’s spoken about. The Kenyans, for their part, will continue to race each other in the Majors, and the race we all want to see won’t happen.
And the biggest irony at the end of all this – I doubt we’ll see another world record. And we almost certainly won’t see a sub-2:04 clocking. The event is too unpredictable, requires too much to fall into place on the day, and Gebrselassie is, unfortunately, nearing the end of his lifespan as a 2:04-runner – he’s done perhaps 8 high class marathons, and needs another two huge performances to bring that time into the mid-2:03's. Not going to happen...But that’s just my feeling, time will tell! Ross