And more and more and more: the Irish pipeline to Villanova

Villanova's flying Irishman, Ron Delany

Villanova’s flying Irishman, Ron Delany

On March 1st, 1981, an Irish-Republican prisoner by the name of Bobby Sands began a hunger strike in Maze Prison, Northern Ireland. His demands, and those of his followers, were that the inmates be treated as political prisoners, rather than common criminals. Four days later, Frank Maguire, the sitting MP for Fermanagh and South Tyrone, died relatively suddenly, prompting a by-election for his seat in the British House of Commons. The imprisoned Sands ran for the seat from his cell, winning election in mid-April. Despite this electoral victory, Sands had still not won the concessions demanded before his hunger strike. His health continued to decline, until he passed away in the first week of May. More than 100,000 people mourned at his funeral, Sands having become a martyr to Irish Nationalism. Many credit his electoral victory as proving populist support for the Republican cause, and paving the way for the Republicans’ “Armalite and Ballot Box” strategy, in which they simultaneously fought for power using paramilitary groups (Armalite refers to the AR-18 assault rifle they largely used) and elections — a strategy which became increasingly focused on elections during the 1990’s, when the cease fires and Good Friday agreement led to the large-scale disarmament of paramilitary groups. While the direct influence of Sands’ hunger strike remains ambiguous (the demands were never fully acceded to, and the strike was abandoned after nine further deaths), he remains a powerful symbol of pride in Irish National circles, the subject of murals throughout Ireland.

Mural in Falls Road, Belfast

Mural in Falls Road, Belfast

All of which is to say, it’s unlikely that many in Ireland noticed that, on March 22, 1981, only 3 weeks after one of his Irish Proteges (Eamonn Coghlan) set the world indoor mile record, Jumbo Elliott, head coach of Villanova Track & Field and de facto leader of an Irish athletics revolution in college track, passed away. During the previous 30 years, Elliott’s “Irish Pipeline” had become a mainstay of collegiate track and field, helping the school to four cross-country titles and one track and field championship. It’s no surprise that in John Parker’s novel “Once a Runner”, one of the protagonists primary rivals is “Eamonn O’Rork” a “genuine imported Irishman”.*

(*Interestingly, in the book there’s a throwaway line that mentions O’Rork attends East Tennessee State, which, according to an article by  PJ Browne apparently had an Irish Pipeline of its own, including ‘the Leddy brothers, Frank Greally, and most notably [1974 Boston Marathon Champion] Neil Cusack’. So there you go.)

The Villanova pipeline began just following the 1948 London Olympics, when Jim “Jumbo” Elliott, Villanova class of 1935 and the newly instated part-time Athletics coach, convinced Jim Reardon, a 47.8 400M runner and Cummin Clancy (Discus), both from Ireland, to attend the school. When, a few years later, the Irish half-miler Ron Delany was considering attending school in the US, Reardon’s father recommended he make the trip to Villanova. After a slightly off-putting first interaction with Elliott (in which Elliott critiqued his form and declared Delany to be a miler, despite Delany’s not having run that race), Delany bought into the coach’s plan. The plan worked, with Delany upsetting the local favorite John Landy at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics 1500M — the premier event in a world that had just witnessed the competition to break four minutes for the mile. Upon this foundation, Elliott’s reputation was built — which in turn kept the talented Irishmen showing up at his door to be turned into champions.

And how did Elliott train his athletes? He raced them. A lot. The winter, in particular, consisted of week after week of races on the indoor tracks of the Eastern Sea-board. The Boston Garden, Madison Square Garden, wherever. Coghlan’s success on the indoor planks earned him the nickname “Chairman of the Boards”. Delany, Coghlan, and Marcus O’Sullivan, all Irish runners who went to Villanova, combined for 16 wins of the Wannamaker Mile (the premier event of Madison Square Garden’s Millrose Games), and 7 world records at either 1500 or 1 mile indoors.

It may have helped that some of Elliott’s Irish imports were older, and therefore more physically mature, than their American competitors — Reardon was 22 when he started, Coghlan turned 20 a month into his time at Villanova — which may have helped them survive Elliott’s punishing regimen.

During dual and championship meets, Elliott often asked his team to sacrifice their favored events in order to win points for the team. In particular, he focused on relays — often runners found out only days or hours before the event what they would be running. There are countless stories of Elliott hashing out the potential scoring opportunities and shuffling line-ups mid-meet in order to secure victory.*

(*There’s a great anecdote in Sports Illustrated’s obituary of Elliott, about a time he asked longer-distance runner Browning Ross to run the anchor leg of a 4×800 race. Despite starting with a 15-yard lead, Ross was tracked down by a speedier rival. Exhausted, Ross stumbled up to Elliott and panted, “Jesus Christ, Jumbo”. Elliott, equally taken aback by the loss and the invocation of the Lord’s name, replied “That’s who I’m gonna have run anchor for us next year!”)

Elliott’s favorite event — his favorite race — was the Distance Medley Relay at Philadelphia’s own Penn Relays. From 1966 through 1980, his team won 15 consecutive college DMR titles, often with an Irishman or two carrying the baton. In 1981, six weeks after Elliott’s death, Irishman Marcus O’Sullivan ran the 800 leg in Villanova’s 16th straight college DMR victory at the Penn Relays. They wouldn’t win it again for 20 years.

It’s worth mentioning that during his extended part-time coaching career (he was a millionaire through the heavy-equipment business he owned) Elliott coached great non-Irish athletes as well, including American Marty Liquori (premier mile and 5000M runner in the early 70’s — won the Wannamaker mile in 1970, ’71, and ’72) and Sydnee Maree — who came to Villanova because of Elliott’s strong international reputation. Maree was a world-record holding middle-distance runner who didn’t get to race in major international meets during his prime because he was South African, and there was an international ban on South Africa’s competing due to the country’s Apartheid policies. While Zola Budd, a white South African, was able to use her English ancestry to allow her to compete for Great Britain, Maree, who was black, was unable to compete. He gained US citizenship and came 5th in the 5000M at the 1988 games, when he was 31.)

Opinion on Ryan Hall (…is that he sort of isn’t worth opining about)

 Hall and Ritz
(Dathan Ritzenhein about to beat Ryan Hall… again)
Recently a few publications have run articles about Ryan Hall (presumably planned before he dropped out of the NYC marathon), and I have a fair number of thoughts about him as a runner and an athlete, so why not share.  For those who don’t follow, he has been “America’s most promising marathoner” for the past ~7 years, and has the fastest marathon times of any American born runner (Khalid Kannouchi, who initially competed for Morocco but became a US citizen, has run faster).  Hall has bounced around professionally, working with a few different coaches (sometimes with no coach), but has probably never quite reached the heights people expected.  My question is a simple one — when you (or Hall) look back at his career, what do you think was his greatest victory?  I’m not sure there is one.  Let’s get to the thoughts:
  • Ryan Hall is a very good, but not great, long-distance runner.   None of his PR’s is ‘spectacular’, and for the most part his PR’s are ~5-10 seconds per mile slower than the truly world class runners at shorter distances (i.e., 10K and half-marathon), though he doesn’t go out of his way to race these often.
  • Ryan Hall is not a good long-distance racer.  This is probably my most important point — Hall has rarely (if ever) shown an ability to race and beat a close rival in a contested race.  You’ll notice the two results I list above are only sort of races — One he lost, and one he won, though really was one of three winners (no difference between 1st and 3rd in Marathon Trials — they all qualify).  For comparison, do you know who won the 2012 Olympic Trials?  I did not.  (It was Meb).  So let’s go through Hall’s career and try to identify competitive races where he truly beat a rival (i.e., people he was competing against for the same prizes)
    • High School:  Hall was winning most meets, including California state championships.  In a surprise, Hall did not win the Foot Locker West Regionals that year, though he still qualified for a major national showdown: His biggest race was the 2000 Foot Locker National Championship, which I’ve written about before, where he ran against Alan Webb (more of a miler, always) and defending champion Dathan Ritzenhein.  Ritzenhein had been training at 80-100 miles a week all summer, and had running commentators saying things like: “Dathan races like Prefontaine and Salazar… He’s willing to kill himself. You hate to race those kinds of guys, because they will make you hurt really early and really bad”.  Nobody ever said this sort of thing about Hall.  Anyhow, Ritzenhein stayed within himself for the first mile, then just started sprinting, obliterating the field for the title (Hall 2nd, Webb 3rd).
    • College:  Hall went to Stanford, where he raced cross-country, 1500, and 5,000.  His best result in cross-country, where he finished 2nd in the nation as a junior, losing to Dathan Ritzenhein.  There’s a good clip (bad video) of the race with interviews with both guys.  Ritzenhein talks for about two minutes about how he felt unwell, had side stitches, didn’t like his race plan, and had trouble with the weather.  He finishes with “My racing this year… it’s been a heard season… I mean I won them all, but…”.  He comes across as totally honest, but also totally focused on winning, a perfectionist insistent on picking apart his own flaws.  Hall, whose team won very easily (24 points — even if he hadn’t been there, they’d have won very easily), sounded a different note:  “Just to be there [running] is such a pleasure — there’s never any ‘I’m gonna try and win this’ kind of thing, it was always ‘where are my [teammates]?'”.  Really?!  You lose by one second and you’re ‘just happy to be there’?  He did end up winning one individual national title, in the 5,000 meters the following spring.  His closest competitor was his own teammate.  You can only beat who you’re racing against (and there were some good runners in that race, for sure), but it’s much easier for an uncompetitive person to beat his own teammate, I think, than someone he doesn’t know.
    • Professional: Hall won the 2007 Houston Half Marathon in 59:43, the first American to go under 60 minutes, and beat Meb by 2:30ish.  Later that year, he won the 2008 trials by 2 minutes, though, again, the goal here for most people was top 3.  (Also, one of his closest friends, Ryan Shay, died of heart failure during this race — I have no idea how this affected the deeply religious Hall).  In Beijing, Hall came 10th losing by ~30 seconds to the 9th place Ritzenhein.  Since 2008, his major victories have been the Philadelphia Half Marathon and the USA 7-mile championship.  He’s had a smattering of top-5 finishes in Boston, NYC, and Chicago (but none higher than 3rd).  He did come 2nd in the 2012 Olympic Trials, where Ritzenhein came 4th (though he would go on to qualify for the Olympics in the 10,000 meters).
    • Which all prompts the question:  When you look back at Ryan Hall’s career, or when he does, what is the happiest/most impressive victory?  Frankly, I don’t really see any big ones.  Maybe the NCAA 5,000 meter championship?  Maybe the Houston half-marathon?  Probably making two Olympic teams?  Either way, it’s probably not “All-time great” material.
  • How does he compare to American rivals:
    • Meb has a 1st and a 2nd at the US Olympic trials (same as Hall, but in 2012 and 2004 respectively — he broke his hip during the 2008 trials, but also won the 10,000 trials in 2000), a 2nd and 4th at the actual Olympics, 4 NCAA individual titles in different disciplines (XC, 10,000, 5,000 indoor and outdoor), a 1st, 2nd, and 3rd at the NYC Marathon, and a boatload of US titles at strange distances (e.g., 15K, 7 mile).  This one isn’t even close.  Meb in a landslide.
    • Ritzenhein dominated Hall early in their careers (see above), but began developing pretty serious health issues during his sophomore year of college (he redshirted due to stress fractures).  After experiencing moderate success (top-5’s) as a Freshman and (redshirt) Sophomore, he decided to turn pro.  Since then, he’s competed largely on the European circuit etc., never quite hitting his potential due to chronic injuries.  I’m not sure Ritzenhein was definitely better than Hall, but he certainly beat him consistently for a while, and if you’re looking for a “what might have been” in American running, I think it’s Ritzenhein, not Hall.
  • Non-running:
    • Hall has done very well for himself with sponsors, part of which may have fed his lack of victories.  While he had (I imagine) a pretty nice deal with ASICS and other companies, Meb (who had a deal with 3rd tier company Skechers) had to run a lot of races to make money.  In the lead-up to the US Trials in Houston (2012), Meb told the NY Times that he had run the New York Marathon in November, two months before the trials, because he needed the money.  Hall isn’t so desperate, likely because he commands bigger appearance fees.  (I think if Meb’s name were “Tom Williams” and he were born in the US, he would have had an easier time making money, by the way…).  If he had needed the money, I think he’d have been a great race-pacer at the top professional level.  In fact, I think he’d have been an absolute stand-out, but he never needed to resort to it to make money.  (In fact, his best race, in Boston, he basically was a pacer for the first 16 miles and people loved him for it).
    • Hall is, of his own admission, deeply religious, and seems to be aware that there are things to value in life beyond running (God, family).  This has probably affected the way he trains and prepares for races (e.g., having God as his coach, believing that God has a hand in races).  I’m not sure if there is a God, or if she cares about who wins races, but if that is the case, I bet she prefers those who have trained the hardest.
    • Hall seems to be generally ‘happy’, even if his running career hasn’t been as successful as he’d hoped.  Good for him, and he’s had a conventionally successful career, I think, so I don’t want this to be unduly harsh, but let’s stop arguing about whether he is America’s greatest distance runner.
  • Last note on “Marathon PR’s”:  It’s a bit bizarre that we measure marathon runners by their best times, given the dramatic differences in courses and conditions.  I can’t think of any other sport that is measured so much by a relatively less useful metric, when things like “wins” and “placing” are available.  The only similarity I can think of is if we measured golfers by their lowest score on any course, regardless of context.  When in doubt, bet on the winner to win, I’d say.
Enjoy the November weather

2013 NYC Marathon thoughts and preview

 

I have a number of fairly disparate thoughts, most at least semi-related to this weekend’s NYC marathon, so a bit of an arbitrary e-mail this week.  I also have a bunch of Ryan Hall thoughts, but there’s already a bunch to chew on below (including the really interesting WMM section towards the bottom, which is required for those who like to follow/watch major marathons), so those may come by later this week, or sometime next.

 

Note that the NYC Marathon is being televised on ESPN2 on Sunday Morning, if you’re interested.

 

  • Money, Money, Money:  Both the NYC and Boston marathons talk about being larger than ever in terms of runners, and I’d guess that a lot of this has to do with money.  The financial statements for fiscal 2012 don’t seem to be out yet, but the previous year’s shows that New York Road Runners (NYRR) takes in ~$50M of revenue yearly.  Simple math dictates that well over 1/4 of this comes from Marathon entry fees (Fee is ~$220, and there are ~65,000 entries — about 25% of those entered don’t run).  According to a recent Runner’s World article, of the entrants in 2012, ~32,000 took a refund, and 22,000 deferred to the 2013 race.  What this means, essentially, is that NYRR has expenses for 2012 and 2013, but revenue only from 2013.  (Note that most of their expenses probably still had to be paid — the biggest being race appearance fees.  I’m not exactly sure how these work, but the purpose of them is largely to pay for Pros’ opportunity cost of not entering another race — if they had hung out their pros to dry last year, I think they’d have been blacklisted.  Therefore, I think they still paid appearance fees, or at least a large % of them.  I don’t know this.).  Anyhow, it’s pretty clear to those who run/watch New York and Boston that more runners isn’t better for racers — it gets crowded.  The races need the money, though, and since the race makes all the marginal profit, and the individual runners bear most of the burden of the extra runners (think Tragedy of the Commons), it’s not surprising to see the races trumpeting that they must come back “stronger than ever”.  (Side note:  I was on a governing committee at Amherst College as a student when the economy went south, and simply taking more students was suggested as a very real solution to budget issues.  Same reasoning:  $$ goes to the school, burden is on students (crowded dorms and classes) and professors (more advisees, bigger class sizes, etc.))
    • Also, the NYC Marathon signed a new head-sponsor agreement early this month — after 10 years of being sponsored by ING, the marathon will now primarily be sponsored by Tata Consultancy Services (starting with the 2014 race).  The details haven’t been released (it’s richer, though), but I wouldn’t be shocked if there was impetus to sign the extension due to liquidity issues.  (all speculation)

 

  • Who’s going to win the NYC Marathon?:  Great question, and I’m guessing your asking because you recall that I accurately predicted both the men’s and women’s winners of Boston last spring (it’s okay, I’ll wait as you look through your framed collection of my e-mails to confirm…).  The answer is… I’m not sure yet — let’s talk it out.  First, worth noting that the weather looks perfect for the race — high 40’s, no rain.  Should be fast (for NYC).  Also, we have a collection of great tactical racers — Mutai, Kebede, and Kiprotich (and Meb) are all really smart runners I think, so it should be fun:
  • Men worth following:
      • Geoffrey Mutai:  Probably my personal favorite marathoner — in part because I saw him run his 2:03:04 in Boston live.  He won Boston and the following New York, so is a strong racer, particularly when there aren’t pacers.  He’s probably the favorite, and not a bad pick.
      • Stephen Kiprotich:  The Olympic and World champion — also a great tactical racer.  Reasons why he may not run all that well:  1)  He’s more of a warm weather runner, and has never run all that fast (P.R. in the 2:07 high region, I think), 2) I think he’s in it for the appearance money too.  Neither of those two races pays well (at all?), so the economic benefit to winning is that you can charge a high appearance fee after victory.  I think Kiprotich is eager to capitalize financially on his success, so is willing to run even if he’s not 100% ready.  Keep in mind he won the world championships in August, so the turnaround is fairly quick.  That said, he has 500,000 reasons to run well (see below)
      • Tsegaye Kebede:  You’re right, he’s my favorite (male) marathoner.  The diminutive Ethiopian has been a consistently great marathoner for 5-6 years, and I’d always back him to place highly in a race.  He’s also coming in straight off the back of the World Championships (4th, I believe), after winning London in late April.  He races more than most marathoners anyways, though, and doesn’t ever seem to be injured.  I’d never count him out, but it feels like more of a 3rd/4th place finish for him this time. (see below, as well)
      • Peter Kirui:  This guy has speed, but it’s unclear if he can sustain it.  He is probably most famous as a pacemaker, having paced Patrick Makau and Wilson Kipsang to the two fastest official times ever in 2011 (in races 1 month apart).  He’s had mixed results on his own, but could be poised for a break out race.  I’m not sure I predict it here.
      • Stanley Biwott:  Biwott has been slowly improving, and had a great 2012 season, winning Paris, Philadelphia Half, Beach to .Beacon, and Falmouth Road Race, and followed it up with 2nd in a major half marathon in UAE.  He’s 27 years old, so should just be reaching his peak shape for the marathon distance.  I’m a bit torn, but I kind of like him in this race.  Nah, too much pressure.
      • Meb Keflezighi:  More on him below, but in a fast race in good conditions, I don’t think he quite has the speed.
      • How do I see the race going?:  I’m not sure who will win, but my prediction is this:  A lead group will form, from which Biwott and Mutai will be the last survivors — Biwott will seem to be leading or in control, but will fade late in the race, giving Mutai the lead, and allowing Kebede and Kiprotich to catch back up.  In the end, I think they catch him, but not Mutai, so:  Mutai, Kiprotich, Kebede, Biwott (though at mile 19, people will think Biwott has a great shot).  (Though, after reading the below, it’s highly possible that Biwott has actually been hired to run largely as a pacer by Kiprotich.  Just possible.)
    • Women worth following:
      • Should be a straight race between Priscah Jeptoo and Edna Kiplagat — not unlike the London marathon, where Kiplagat broke away, then Jeptoo caught her, and ran right by: It’s hard to root against someone with that running form.
      • Firehwat Dado and Buzunesh Deba are the two Ethiopians who decided the last race (2011).  You may remember that sort of bizarre race where Mary Keitany set out at World Record pace, and just died at the end.  I don’t expect these two to win.
      • Kim Smith:  She’s usually good for a “leading at mile 11”.  Bostonians will know her as the winner of the BAA medley winner (which is a great deal — all she has to do is have the fastest combined time in a 5K, 10K, and Half, and she gets a 100K bonus.  If you’re a fast runner, and there are plenty faster than Smith, you’re silly not to do this, I think.)
      • Joan Benoit Samuelson:  Despite having the third-fastest PR in the field, the 56 year-old is not a major favorite to win.  Still, if I were a good marathoner, I’d love to run next to her for a while (she’s still much faster than I am — she’ll finish in 2:52ish, I bet)
      • How do I see the race going:  Again, I’m basically going chalk here — I think the lead group will slowly winnow itself down to Jeptoo and Kiplagat, and it’s a bit of a coin flip between them.  Again, I’m a sucker for that running form, so let’s say Jeptoo gives Kiplagat the slip and wins it.  If this were a horse race, I’d probably bet the exacta box (and on the men’s side, Kebede to show)

 

  • So the goal is to win the race?:  Kind of.  This is complicated, but helps figure out who will care about winning.  The World Marathon Majors is a competition that accounts for a runner’s 4 best “major” races over a two year period (NY, Chicago, Boston, London, Berlin, Tokyo, plus either Olympics or World Championships).  The prize ($500,000 each to the top man and woman) is given annually, so obviously each year’s race counts in two competitions.  NYC Marathon is the last race of the 2012-2013 competition, so it’s fairly clear what incentives there are:
    • Men’s standings (and placing in races that count — points given is 25, 15, 10, 5, 1):
      • Kebede (65):  1, 1, 3, 4
      • Kiprotich (50): 1, 1 (only two qualifying times)
      • In the event of a tie score (e.g., 75-75, if Kiprotich wins and Kebede is second), Kiprotich will be the champion (because of head-to-head wins).  So basically, if Kiprotich wins, he wins, and if he comes 2nd, Kebede needs to come 3rd.  (4th does Kebede no good, since only 4 races count, and 4th is already his worst result).  So:  Expect to see Kebede stay right next to Kiprotich, and certainly not attack the field. 
    • Women’s standings (same)
      • Rita Jeptoo (65) (Not Racing)
      • Edna Kiplagat (55) (1, 2, 2)
      • Priscah Jeptoo (50) (1, 2, 3)
      • Now, pretty clearly one of the 2nd two should win the title, and if either wins the race, she also wins the WMM title.  If Kiplagat beats Priscah Jeptoo to 2nd, Kiplagat wins.  If Jeptoo comes 2nd and Kiplagat comes 3rd, there’s a three way tie on points, and Rita Jeptoo (the one not racing), gets the $500,000, based on the tiebreaker of needing fewer races to amass 65 points.  What does that mean?  –> Collusion. 
        • It’s unlikely to happen, but… if somebody runs away from Kiplagat and Priscah Jeptoo to win, and the two of them are battling for second, they should by all means have a sort of under-the-table agreement whereby Kiplagat is assured of 2nd, wins the $500K prize, and gives some portion of it to Jeptoo.  Keep in mind that this would be for 2nd place, so there wouldn’t be a ton of lost prestige or prize money (as there would be for missing out on first place)
    • Cool, right?  There’s a lot more there than meets the eye.  Onto the racers (note, the below section was written first)
    • Shout if you have any questions on the above!  I know it’s complicated.

 

Predictions:

  • Men:  Mutai, Kiprotich, Kebede, Biwott (Kebede wins WMM)
  • Women:  Jeptoo, Kiplagat (Jeptoo wins WMM)

Lasse Viren and the reindeer milk diet

  • Fame is being on a Mongolian stamp…
    Viren stamp

Let’s talk Viren:  Lasse Viren is an otherwise unheralded runner who has basically never won a single major race… except for the Olympic 5,000 and 10,000 races… in back to back Olympics…  This makes him a fairly controversial/polarizing figure, because, while some people point to his being able to have his best performances when it matters most, others think there is another reason he did very well, very rarely (hint, it rhymes with “Blood Doping”.  Wait, it doesn’t rhyme with that, it just is that.)

Let’s review:

  • Viren came 7th and 17th in the 5,000 and 10,000 meters at the 1971 European Championships in Helsinki
  • He then started training in Kenya, qualifyin for the 1972 Olympics
  • In the 1972 10,000 meter final, he fully tripped and rolled onto the infield (1:45 of that clip), got up, chased down the pack, and won in a world record time. 
  • A week later, he chased down Steve Prefontaine (among others) to win gold in the 5,000
    • Fun fact!  My movie debut involved this scene.  For Prefontaine, they filmed the “Munich” scenes at Husky Stadium in Seattle, and invited extras to come sit in the stands, eat free hot dogs and soda, and cheer as the actors ran the last lap of the race over and over again
      • N.B. 1: this is the less good of the two Prefontaine biopics that came out basically simultaneously – if you see one, see Without Limits
      • N.B. 2:  I was probably about 10 years old, and as a kid who wore “husky” jeans, I was pretty susceptible to the promise of free hot dogs
  • Let’s save the rest of my Prefontaine thoughts for another time… it’s complicated…fine I’ll come out with them
    • He was a very good runner, but a lot of his “I don’t have talent but I’ve got heart” schtick runs a bit dry with me.  He was really good, but he also had otherworldly physical gifts (off the charts VO2 max of 84.4 – Kenny Moore referred to Prefontaine as having “lungs like bellows”, and he (Moore) has this great set piece in multiple articles where he juxtaposes those lungs with the image of them being crushed by Pre’s car – in this sort of Greek Tragedy way where the hero’s greatest gift is the lynchpin to his downfall).
    • Speaking of gifts, you know that famous poster that says “To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift”—Steve Prefontaine (see below if not)?  Well how about this quote:  “there is always a sanctuary more, a door that can never be forced, whatever the force, a last inviolable stronghold that can never be taken, whatever the attack; your vote can be taken, your name, your innards, even your life, but that last stronghold can only be surrendered. And to surrender it for any reason other than love is to surrender love.”  Well, they sound pretty similar, right?  What if I told you the 2nd quote comes from the book “Sometimes a Great Notion”, written in 1964, and which takes place in a fictionalized version of Prefontaine’s hometown of Coos Bay, Oregon?  I’m just saying – I think Prefontaine knows a good quote when he hears one, and borrwed it accordingly.
    • Also, the dude could run – for sure.   I’m just saying, he was a very good runner, but let’s not turn him into Jesus Christ.
  • Right, back to Viren.  So it’s 1972, he wins the double, does a few other good races… and basically disappears for four years.
  • So now it’s 1976 (note: Most sovereign African nations boycotted the Montreal Olympics after the IOC refused to ban New Zealand, who had recently played rugby in Apartheid South Africa), and Viren wins the 10,000, then wins the 5,000 by basically sprinting the last mile (his time over the last 1500 would have placed him 8th in that race alone).  As an encore, he entered the Marathon the very next day.  What?!  He ran a 2:13.
  • What’s funny, if you watch the 1976 race clips on youtube, is that the announcers were discussing blood doping during the races he was winning.  Such controversy is not new in sports.  This type of early accusation returned after Taoufik Makhloufi won the Olympics 1,500 in London – he hadn’t even crossed the line, and people were already mentioning it.  Kenny Moore, who I don’t think ever raced Viren directly (having run the Olympic Marathon in 1968 and 1972, but not 1976) wrote about the controversy in 1977, back when “writing about a potential blood doper” meant “Going to visit him at his home in Finland”.  It’s a nice article.  Viren attributes his success to “reindeer milk”, and thus the title of the post.