From Kenenisa Bekele’s near World Record run at the Berlin Marathon on Sunday to the announcement of Alberto Salazar’s ban Monday night and 3 Gold medals for Team USA today, being a fan of athletics the last three days has felt like drinking from a fire hydrant. As we reach the halfway point of the 2019 World Championships, the running world is in a state of chaos. Here are our Four Hot Takes from the last 72 hours.
1.) It Has Taken Incredible Storylines the Last Two Days For the Berlin Marathon to Feel Like a Distant Memory
With all the excitement about the World Championships in Doha, the Berlin Marathon was not expected to be much of a story this year. Besides Sara Hall’s first part of her planned fall marathon double, I wasn’t paying much attention. Sure, Kenenisa Bekele was on the start list, but he had been so inconsistent and dropped out of so many races over the last few years that I honestly was not expecting much from him.
However, waking up and checking Twitter on Sunday morning proved how naive I had been to sleep on Berlin. Not only had Bekele actually finished, but he ran 3 (THREE) seconds off Eliud Kipchoge’s World Record for the second best time in history, 2:01:42. From the reports after the race it became apparent the Bekele had finally fully committed to training for the first time in his marathon career, and the results spoke for themselves. No one, including myself, saw Kipchoge’s record getting that much of a scare anytime soon, much less someone closing the gap to 3 seconds within a year. Even though Bekele is the maybe the greatest ever, beating Kipchoge on the track for years at the Olympics and World Champs and holding the 5K and 10K World Records, I made the mistake of assuming his career was ostensibly over. Lets just hope and pray that both Bekele and Kipchoge make it to Tokyo next year healthy and in similar form to this fall.
Besides the obviously stunning results from Bekele, there were a couple fantastic results from the Americans in Berlin. First, Sara Hall became the sixth fastest American over the distance with a 2:22:16 for 5th place in the first marathon of her Berlin/NYC double this fall. For hardcore fans, this was the breakthrough race we had been waiting for Hall to have in the marathon. She’s been primed for a big one after consistently building the last few years, running 2:26 last fall and winning convincingly at a few races on the USATF Road Circuit. With question marks around the health of several of the top US women in the marathon, this certainly makes Hall a favorite to make her first Olympic team next year at the age of 36.
Additionally, long time US pro Matt Llano completed his comeback from several years of injury and a major surgery with a 2:11:14 PR. Llano split from his long time team, NAZ Elite, last year and is now coached by Sara Hall’s husband and US Half Marathon record holder Ryan Hall. While we have known how talented Llano is for years, it was awesome to see him getting back on track with a big PR headed into 2020!
2.) The First Half of Doha 2019 Has Been Electric, Even if the Location Sucks and Beatrice Chepkoech is Dirtier Than My Balega Socks From This Morning’s Run
Where to begin.
800 meter US record is broken after 34 years. A pole vault competition for the ages. A new king of the 200 meters is crowned. And that was just today.
That doesn’t even take into account how exciting Monday was. The best race of the meet so far, the men’s 5K, got the East African heavy crowd rocking. Team USA went 2-3 in the women’s 800. The chest-pounding viking king of the 400 hurdles retained his crown, fending off his American rival and the hometown favorite. Emma Coburn medalled again.
Even though Sunday was dominated by Berlin, the track action was still incredible. Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce ran 10.71 after running 10.8 and 10.81 in the prelims and semis to complete her comeback to the top after her pregnancy. Great Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith got her first World medal. Christian Taylor maintained his triple jump dominance. The “Sandi Morris-comes-so-close-to-gold-but-has-to-settle-for-silver” saga continued in the women’s pole vault.
Entirely too much has happened in the last few days to go into depth about all of them (personal circumstances have gotten in the way of me recapping the last few days, but we’re back now!). But my point is that these championships have been incredible, and they are only halfway through. Sure, the crowds have been sparse and quiet, except for the distance races. Sure, Emma Coburn will be upgraded to Gold in a few years, and Andre de Grasse probably should be, too. But overall, the show has been fantastic, the athletes are bringing it every day, and the competition has never been better.
3.) The Day of Reckoning For Alberto Salazar Has Come
While political Twitter has been having a moment over the Trump-Ukraine scandal the last couple weeks, track Twitter had a MOMENT Monday night. After years of investigations and allegations, USADA finally handed down a ban on Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar and his witch doctor Jeffrey Brown. Few people were surprised, but the ban finally gave closure and a definitive ruling on the rumors and accusations that had followed Salazar and his group for years. Funnily enough, this came just two days after Salazar’s current pupil, the Netherland’s Sifan Hassan, ran the last 1500 of Saturday’s 10000 final in 3:59, an absurd time. It’s nice to be able to say with certainty that Hassan, and others coached by Salazar, are at least connected with a convicted doper, even if they never tested positive. It puts performances like Mo Farah’s 3:28 1500 and Yomif Kejelcha’s indoor mile World record into question, along with a litany of medals won over the last decade by Salazar’s athletes.
While it hurts anytime to see top level athletes and coaches tainted by doping, this is the closure we needed. I first started running my junior year of high school, cross country season of 2012. I watched Mo Farah and Galen Rupp go 1-2 in London in the 10K that summer. They were my heros. I remember watching that race and being so excited to be in a sport like running.
Then my coach told me that their performance was suspect, that their coach was pushing the limits of what was legal in terms of doping. This was back in 2012. We have known that anything and anyone Salazar-related is tainted, fairly or not, for years. There are tons of athletes’s whose accomplishments and legacy are now going to always be questions because they were NOP members. It hurts to watch Brazier win Gold and set the American Record, and be a little suspect just because he is a NOP athlete. But this needed to happen for our sport to move forward in the right direction and grow. Growth is never easy and never painless.
4.) There Is A Lot To Be Excited About, Both For the Rest of Doha 2019 and the Upcoming Olympic Year
While the Salazar news and questions around certain athletes is very disheartening, I can’t help but think about how many amazing and exciting things are happening in athletics right now. I look at athletes like Noah Lyles, Sam Kendricks, Emma Coburn, Mondo Duplantis, Sydney McLaughlin, Sandi Morris, Rai Benjamin, Mike Norman, and more. There are stars in almost every event, they have personalities, they are young, they have rivals, and, most importantly, they are willing to put on a show. While moments like this can make me want to become cynical about the sport, I see too much hope, excitement, and brightness coming from our sport right now to become cranky and disbelieving of anything good.
So let us question those that need to be questioned, demand justice be served to those that have done wrong, and cheer loudly for the exciting and incredible future of our sport. Because there is a lot to be excited about, so much to cheer for, and even more to look forward to the second half of Doha 2019 and in the upcoming Olympic year!
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