Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Korir, Petrova take titles at Los Angeles Marathon

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Wesley Korir set a course record Monday in capturing the Los Angeles Marathon, the 11th straight year a Kenyan man won. Russia's Tatiana Petrova was the top woman.

Korir, who ran at the University of Louisville, covered the 26.2 miles in a personal best of 2 hours, 8 minutes, 24 seconds. Ethiopia's Tariku Jafar was second in 2:09:32 and Kenya's Laban Kipkemboi was third in 2:10:29.

Paul Kosgei was taken to a hospital for dehydration but is expected to be fine, race officials said.

Korir broke the course record set by Kenya's Benson Cherono of 2:08:40 set in 2006. He took the pace at the 15-mile mark. He and Jufar exchanged the lead several times down the stretch, but Korir stepped up the pace when he passed the women's field at the 24-mile mark.

Korir eased to the finish line and didn't look fatigued, flashing smiles and shaking hands with fans. He earned $100,000 as part of The Challenge, a battle-of-the-sexes format that allowed the top women to start nearly 17 minutes ahead of the men. He also picked up an additional $60,000 for time bonuses.

Petrova broke away from the pack after 19 miles. She surged past Ethiopia's Amane Gobena to finish in 2:25:59, 49 seconds shy of the course record. Another Russian, Silvia Skvortsova, was third in 2:28:35.

Some of the elite runners were worried about the race date, but the weather was 59 degrees with 76 percent humidity at the start and 62 degrees when the field finished.

Nuta Olaru shared the lead for the first 10 miles, but the 39-year-old Romanian fell back and dropped out after 15 miles.

The lead pack started to string out soon after, with Petrova leading and Kenyans Alice Chelangat and Magdaline Chemjor close behind.

Petrova, who competed in the 3,000-meter steeplechase at the Beijing Olympics, earned $40,000 for the win. Her goal was to qualify for the road race at this year's world championships in August. The Russian federation will decide this week whether Petrova will represent her country in the event.

The race was under new management this year. Dodgers owner Frank McCourt bought the operating rights in September under his new company, Going the Distance, and the date for the race was switched to Memorial Day.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Best runners in world now hail from Ethiopia

BOULDER — They couldn't keep up with him. No one else in the Bolder Boulder field could. What chance did two fans have of running alongside 19-year-old Ethiopian sensation Tilahun Regassa? Still, the green, yellow and red Ethiopian flags they carried in his wake represented more than Regassa's country.

It symbolized Ethiopia's flag flying atop the international running world.

Ethiopians going one-two in both the men's and women's 10-kilometer race Monday were only the small print in the book Ethiopians are writing on the world running scene.

"They're definitely the top running nation in the world," said Fasil Bizuneh, an American of Ethiopian descent who finished 15th.

Remember Kenya and its running factory? Ethiopia has turned it into a Stop & Shop. In the past three Olympics, in the big three distance races (the 5,000 meters, 10,000 and marathon), Ethiopia has won 22 medals, including 10 gold. Kenya has won eight and one, respectively.
In the last three world championships, Ethiopia has won 20 medals, including nine gold, to Kenya's 12 and five. Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele owns the world records in the men's 5,000 and 10,000 — he won both at the Athens Olympics — and Haile Gebrselassie, the 2000 Olympic winner in the 10,000, owns the marathon mark. Tirunesh Dibaba, who won Olympic gold in the 5,000 and 10,000 in Beijing, has the women's world mark in the 5,000.

If you look closely, that lion on Ethiopia's flag is wearing Nikes.

"Ethiopian athletes are believers," said Hussein Makke', a Beirut-raised manager of about 60 Ethiopian and many Kenyan distance runners. "This is the key right there. They are believers and they believe in themselves and they thrive on this confidence."

In Ethiopia, running is what football, basketball and baseball — combined — is in the U.S. It started in 1960 when Abebe Bikila won the Olympic marathon in Rome running barefoot. Since then, children have found no problem running up to 10 kilometers both ways to school every day. Ethiopia has a national club system that finds talent in the hinterland and brings it to the capital of Addis Ababa for training.

"They get top athletes employed, and they make very good salaries," Makke' said, "plus bonuses, plus awards."

How good is the life of the Ethiopian running star? Dibaba makes an estimated $500,000 and drives the streets of Addis Ababa in a BMW 750. Hospitals, banks, even the government are rushing to sponsor Ethiopian runners.

Gebrselassie, the first marathoner under 2 hours, 4 minutes, has parlayed his earnings into a 10-story office building, Ethiopia's first modern cinema and the biggest road race in Ethiopia, the Great Ethiopian Run.

The African championships in Addis Ababa last May filled the 30,000-seat national stadium, with another 100,000 outside trying to get in.

"I talked to African journalists who say they've been to European soccer matches that weren't that loud," Makke' said.

Ethiopia's poverty doesn't match those of surrounding East African countries, and many runners come from stable homes. However, Ethiopia's running program makes some saves that make UNICEF proud. Take Regassa. When he was 3 years old living in the village of Nazret, his parents divorced and his mother left him with his father while she moved in with a son in Odana Nebe Dukem. His father died when he was 15 and showing promise as a runner. However, he could not move in with his mother. Odana Nebe Dukem is four to five hours away by walking. It is not accessible by car.

Instead, for three years he lived in the streets. He worked for a stone company and when hungry, he'd go to a local hotel where they'd give him food.

He developed stomach problems, which he continues to have, but local coaches told Makke' about his promise. He found him last year living in the streets of Nazret. He hadn't run competitively in five years, but the Ethiopian system put him in a hotel, fed him and trained him. In his first half-marathon, in Lille, France, last year, he ran a 59:34, nearly breaking the junior record. He beat countryman Tadese Tola on Monday by 19 seconds in 28:17, the third-fastest time in Bolder Boulder history.

"I have a car now," said Regassa, who won $5,750. "I'm living in a rented home, and I'm about to buy a house. It's a big difference."

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Dibaba joins New York cast, high powered match-ups announced - IAAF World Athletics Tour

New York, USA - Double Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba and twice Olympic 200m champion Veronica Campbell-Brown will headline just two of several high powered match-ups at the Reebok Grand Prix in New York City on 30 May, organisers announced.

The Reebok Grand Prix is the first of two IAAF World Athletics Tour meetings this season in the U.S.A.

Dibaba vs. Smith in the 5000m

Dibaba, who is also a nine-time world champion Tirunesh Dibaba will make her 2009 debut in the 5000m, an event in which she has already set three world records. The Ethiopian will be challenged by, among others, Kim Smith from New Zealand. Smith was a four-time NCAA Champion at Providence and is the national record holder at 5000 and 10,000m. Also added to the field is Werknesh Kidane of Ethiopia, the 2003 World Cross Country champion and 10,000m silver medallist at the 2003 World Championships; and Genzebe Dibaba, Tirunesh’s younger sister. The younger Dibaba won the 2009 World Junior Cross Country Championships and just two weeks ago won her first Ethiopian national title at 5000m.

Campbell-Brown vs Williams in the 100m

The women’s 100m dash will feature a world class field including defending champion Campbell-Brown of Jamaica and American 2004 Olympic silver medallist Lauryn Williams. Campbell-Brown and Williams have gone head-to-head multiple times in recent years and have a history of performing well in major competitions. The two-time Olympic gold medallist at 200m, Campbell-Brown defeated Williams in a photo finish at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka in the 100m. Two years earlier, at the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki, Williams won the gold at 100m with Campbell-Brown finishing a close second. The results of the Women’s 100m at this year’s Reebok Grand Prix could serve as a preview for the IAAF World Championships set for Berlin later this summer.

Gebremariam, Lagat, Soi and Kogo aiming for a sub-13 in the 5000m

The superb field for the men’s 5000m is headlined by defending 1500 and 5000m World champion Bernard Lagat of the United States. Reigning World Cross Country champion Gebre-egziabher Gebremariam of Ethiopia, 2008 Olympic 5000m bronze medal-winner Edwin Soi of Kenya and 2008 Olympic 10,000m bronze medalist Micah Kogo, also of Kenya, will take on Lagat in a race that will threaten to break the 13 minute barrier for the first time ever on U.S. soil. In 1996, Bob Kennedy was the first American athlete to run inside 13 minutes for 5000m, and his American Record still stands at 12:58.21.

USA vs Jamaica in the women's 400m

America’s best will face Jamaica’s best in the women’s 400m. The American duo of Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards will take on Jamaicans Novlene Williams-Mills and Shericka Williams. Felix, America’s reigning World Champion and two-time Olympic silver medallist at 200m, ran the world-leading time at 400 meters several weeks ago in Doha. Richards has been dominant at this distance with the fastest time in the world in three of the last four years. Shericka Williams won the silver medal at 400m at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing just ahead of Richards. Williams-Mills is a two-time Olympic 4x400m Relay bronze medallist and was the 2007 World Championships 400m bronze medallist. At themoment, Williams-Mills has the second fastest 400 meter time of 2009, right behind Felix.

Fraser in the 200m

One of Jamaica’s sprint divas from the 2008 Olympics, Shelly-Ann Fraser, will take center stage in the women’s 200m. Fraser won gold at 100m in Beijing with a personal best time of 10.78. Among her challengers will be up and coming Americans Shalonda Solomon and Bianca Knight. Solomon set an indoor American record at 300m in February and Knight won the NCAA Indoor Championships at 200 meters in 2008.

Payne, Trammell, Wignall and Doucouré in the high hurdles

Two-time Olympic silver medallist Terrence Trammell, Jamaican Olympic finalist Maurice Wignall and 2005 World champion Ladji Doucouré of France will square off against 2008 Olympic silver medallist David Payne in the men’s 110m Hurdles. Doucouré, who finished fourth behind Payne in Beijing, won the gold medal at the European Indoor Championships in the 60m Hurdles last March. Trammell, the 2007 World Championships silver medallist, is coming off an indoor season that saw him run the fourth fastest time in history over the 60m hurdles. Wignall, the Jamaican record holder, is the reigning Commonwealth Champion in the high hurdles.

The Reebok Grand Prix, which will in 2010 join the IAAF Diamond League, is held at the state-of-the-art Icahn Stadium on New York's Randall's Island and is the fourth stop of the 2009 USA Track & Field’s Visa Championship Series.

Sunday, May 17, 2009

Gebrselassie and Cheruiyot take expected Manchester victories but record hopes blown away

Manchester, UK - Haile Gebrselassie's hopes of regaining his World 10km record and Vivian Cheruiyot's intention of smashing Paula Radcliffe's UK All-Comers record were scuppered by strong winds at this morning's BUPA Great Manchester Run (10km).

The BUPA Great Manchester Run is an IAAF Gold Label Road Race.

Gebrselassie aiming to better the 27:01 achieved by Kenya's Micah Kogo at the end of March was on schedule at the halfway point to attain his target at the head of the massive 33,000 field.

But after blasting through the first five kilometres in 13:31 his plans were blown away when facing a very strong headwind on the return to the city centre finish line.

However, the 36-year-old Ethiopian easily won a second Manchester title after his victory four years in a time of 27:39 ahead of Ali Zaied of Libya and Ukraine's Sergiy Lebid who respectively clocked 28:13 and 28:36.

Gebrselassie who set a UK All-Comers' record of 27:25 on his last visit to Manchester - arch rival Kogo lowered it by four seconds in 2007 - was still delighted considering the unhelpful weather conditions with what was an outstanding display.

"Today it was wonderful in the first half but on the way back the wind was horrible," said the World marathon record holder after posting the fourth fastest time in the world so far this year.

Gebrselassie who fought bravely but without success to master the elements, added: "I wanted to run a world record but in the second half it proved too difficult."

However he believes his outing today was the perfect preparation ahead of his attack on one of his own World record, the One Hour Run which he’ll attempt on the track in Hengelo on 1 June. His current record is 21.285m which he ran in 2007 in Ostrava.

In the women’s race Cheruiyot who had her eyes on Paula Radcliffe's UK all-comers mark of 30:38 also saw her opportunity wrecked by the elements.

The tiny Kenyan and world's fastest woman over 10 kilometres this year also produced a fast start, storming through the halfway point in 15:27 but then the World 5000m silver medallist who was over 200m clear of the field also found herself battered by the wind before coming home in a still respectable time of 32:01.
"I broke clear after 4km and the race was not hard to win but the wind was so strong I couldn't achieve the time I wanted," said the 25-year whose next major appearance will be challenging the 2000m World record on the track in Eugene on 7 June.

Portugal's Sara Moreira this year's European Indoor 3000m silver medallist excelled to finish second in 32:33 with the consistent two-time former New York Marathon champion Jelena Prokopcuka of Latvia, third in 32:41.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Tadese Tola smashes Central Park 10k record

New York, USA - Tadese Tola of Ethiopia made history by running 27:48 - the fastest 10K ever recorded in Central Park - at the Healthy Kidney 10K. This was his second match-up with Kenya’s Patrick Makau in New York City and his second win, after last year’s NYC Half-Marathon, in which he edged Makau by one second.

Tola and Makau ran the first half of the race side by side until Tola pulled away in the fourth mile. Judging by his form and the ease with which he won, Tola was in control of the race from start to finish.

“After mile four, we were moving at a fast pace, and I was confident I’d have the record,” Tola said. “This was a good course for me, and I am very happy now.”

Makau, recovering from his Marathon debut—a fourth-place finish in 2:06:14 at the Fortis Rotterdam Marathon a little more than a month ago—took second in 28:28, nine seconds slower than his winning performance from last year.

“This was good to see my endurance—my body is coming back,” he said. Boaz Cheboiywo of Kenya ran 28:31, good for third place in his Healthy Kidney debut.

Earlier this week, Tola said, “If the temperature is good, I think I can break the record by running 27:56 or 27:58.” In spite of the rain that fell intermittently during the race, Tola bettered his prediction and earned the coveted Zayed Bonus for a course record. The $20,000 prize had been won only once before, by Dathan Ritzenhein in 2007. Tola crushed Ritzenhein’s record by 20 seconds.

The frontrunners were followed by Wegayehu Tefera of Ethiopia (fourth), Stephen Chemlany of Kenya (fifth), and Worku Beyi of Ethiopia (sixth). Aziza Aliyu of Ethiopia won the women’s race in 33:38.

More than 7500 finishers, split fairly evenly between men and women, came out despite the fog and rain to be part of the fifth running of the Healthy Kidney 10K. The turnout was the largest ever.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Holyfield to fight Ethiopia exhibition bout in July

ADDIS ABABA (AFP) – Former world heavyweight champion Evander Holyfield will fight an exhibition match in Ethiopia in July to help raise funds for AIDS victims, promoters announced Friday.

The 46-year-old will take on Ethiopian-born American Sammy Retta in Addis Ababa on July 26, in what will be the Horn of Africa nation's first ever showpiece boxing bout.

"The two boxers and their team will arrive in Addis Ababa on May 17th to conclude a contract and for promotional purposes before the match on July 26," promoter Eshetu Belay told a press conference.

The match will cost organisers upto seven million dollars, Eshetu said, but declined to disclose how much Holyfield would receive in appearance money.

"Evander showed extreme enthusiasm to fight for the first time in Africa. He is very much delighted to be part of such a worthy cause," Eshetu added.

His scheduled opponent is a 35-year-old super-middleweight.

The four-time world champion last fought a competitive match at the end of last year when he lost in controversial circumstances to Russian Sultan Ibragimov in an attempt to clinch an unprecedented fifth title.

Holyfield is best remembered for having his ear bitten off by Mike Tyson in 1997 in a match which was later coined as the "The Bite Fight".

The fight would rank as one of the highest-profile all-American boxing bouts on African soil since the legendary 1974 "Rumble in the Jungle" that pitted Muhammad Ali against Joe Frazier in the former Zaire.

Bolt and Gebrselassie ready to dazzle Manchester with their athletic brilliance

Manchester, UK - Beijing sprint king Usain Bolt and World marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie are in this northern English city which hosted the 2002 Commonwealth Games, respectively to compete in a 150m dash in the Bupa Great City Manchester Games and a 10km road race at Bupa Great Manchester Run - an IAAF Gold Label Road Race - on Sunday 17 May.

Bolt, the Olympic 100 metres, 200m and 4x100m relay gold medallist has enjoyed a short rest period and a few days training since a serious car crash in Jamaica just over a fortnight ago which left him requiring minor surgery on his left foot.

Bolt flipped over his BMW M3 Coupe when driving fast in wet conditions. The injuries from the crash necessitated him having thorns, which he had stepped on after leaving his car after the accident, being surgically removed from his feet.

The 22-year-old insists he is 100% for the innovative Bupa Great 150m Sprint on the streets of Manchester on Sunday. The World 100m and 200m record holder only confirmed his fitness to race last Monday (11) and he said he was looking forward to the event in Manchester city centre where there are hopes he can break Donovan Bailey's fastest-ever 150m time of 14.99 secs over the rarely-run distance.

“I think I ran 14-something but I have run it only in training. I don't go worrying about times. That is when you start running slower," said Bolt. “It is a competition for me because I take everything seriously.”

“You cannot compare it with breaking the World records, but I told my coach that I really wanted to come here. After the accident he was having second thoughts about sending me, but I wanted to come here. I am happy to be here.”

Records on Haile's mind

The weekend's world-class programme will also see Haile Gebrselassie attempt to regain the UK All-Comers' 10km record of 27:25 he set in Manchester in 2005, a time which was broken at the same venue two years ago by Micah Kogo of Kenya.

Kogo ran four seconds quicker over the same course and to rub salt into Gebrselassie's wounds, recently lowered* the Ethiopian's World record by a second with a time of 27:01 in Holland.

Gebrselassie said of a possible double record bid: “We'll see what happens on Sunday, you can never predict what will happen but I am in good shape, know the course is very fast and I will be trying my hardest.”

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Isinbayeva and Bekele’s $1 Million mission – ‘One month to go’ to ÅF Golden League 2009

Monte-Carlo - There is just one month to go until the hunt for the $1 Million Jackpot of the ÅF Golden League 2009 commences in the German capital’s atmospheric 1936 Olympic stadium at the DKB-ISTAF Berlin meeting on Sunday 14 June.

Spearheading the season long quest to win at least a share of the $1 Million by remaining unbeaten at all six meetings of the ÅF Golden League are 2008 female World Athlete of the Year Yelena Isinbayeva (RUS) and 2008 Olympic 5000m and 10,000m champion Kenenisa Bekele (ETH).

Two years ago Isinbayeva, the World, Olympic and European champion and World record holder for the Pole Vault secured half of the $1 Million prize and with her discipline returning as one of the designated Jackpot events this year the peerless Russian has signed-up to contest the entire series again.

The other high profile athlete secured for the six meetings is Bekele, another former Jackpot winner. The Ethiopian who is a multiple global champion on the track and across the country and holds the World records for 5000m and 10,000m took a share ($83,333) of half of the original Jackpot in 2006, the season in which athletes who had won five of the six meetings were also rewarded.

In 2009, as the previous two seasons since Bekele’s win, this secondary prize has also existed but with the added caveat that it only becomes available should NO athlete manage to attain six victories. Bekele’s chosen event for the ÅF Golden League in 2009 is the 3000 / 5000m, with the latter distance being run in Berlin.

Negotiations are on-going with a number of other star athletes, announcements regarding which will follow during the next month.


There are TEN ÅF Golden League event disciplines designated to the Jackpot in 2009, five events for men and five for women, as follows:

Men: 100m, 400m, 3000m/5000m, 110m Hurdles, Javelin Throw.

Women: 100m, 400m, 100m Hurdles, High Jump, Pole Vault.

Athletics’ biggest yearly payday - ÅF Golden League Jackpot

The prize - $1 Million

The requirement - ‘6 out of 6’

The annual drama that is the season long campaign to claim the $1 Million Jackpot offered by the ÅF Golden League continues in 2009 with its ‘winner takes all’ ethos. Athletes are required to win at all six meetings in the series to acquire at least a share of athletics’ biggest yearly payday.

The possibility of a secondary prize also exists:

To sustain the active participation in the Jackpot of as many athletes as possible through to the culmination of the series, should NO athlete manage to attain six wins and claim the $1 Million, then anyone with five victories will share half the original prize - $500,000. NOTE. this secondary prize is only on offer should nobody win his or her event at all six meetings.

Cities and Dates for 2009 -

Berlin, GER – Sunday 14 June
Oslo, NOR – Friday 3 July
Rome, ITA – Friday 10 July
Paris, FRA – Friday 17 July
Zürich, SUI – Friday 28 August
Brussels, BEL – Friday 4 September

Dire Tune returns to Ostrava with two World records on her mind

Ostrava, Czech Republic - For third time in row following Haile Gebrselassie‘s two world records in 2007, and Dire Tune‘s World record last year, the organisers of 48th Ostrava Golden Spike in Czech Republic will stage in the pre-programme a long distance world record attack.

The Ostrava Golden Spike is a Grand Prix status event as part of the 2009 IAAF World Athletics Tour.

Tune who won the Boston marathon last year and was a very close second in that race last month will return to Ostrava where last year she set the World record for the One Hour Run but this year she will try for two records. First to improve her own One Hour mark (18 517 metres) and then to continue until 20,000m to try to better the 1:05:26.6 by Tegla Loroupe of Kenya in 2000.

“I am very excited to return to Ostrava and attempt another World record for 20k this year. After my experience and results I achieved in Ostrava last year in addition to the way the organizers and spectators treated me, it left me with a feeling that I will come back again to do something special. I am very proud to come back to Ostrava again and am looking forward to 17 June,” confirmed Tune.

Another top name added into the stellar entry list for the meeting is Olympic 800m silver medallist Ahmed Ismail of Sudan.

“My big goal this year is to win in Berlin at the World Championships. I’m looking forward to Ostrava. I have good memories from winter in Praha when I clocked the world leading mark of the season,” said the Sudanese runner. He hopes to attack not only his PB 1:44.34 but also the meet record 1:43.24.

Also in the 800m field is Kenyan talent David Rudisha and there will be a rare appearance at the distance by current 1500m world season leader Augustine Choge of Kenya.

Already announced are stars including Usain Bolt, Dayron Robles, Pamela Jelimo, Barbora Spotakova and Blanka Vlasic.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Gebrselassie and Zambia's great hurdler Matete team up to launch Great Zambian Run

Ethiopia’s World marathon record holder Haile Gebrselassie and Zambia’s Samuel Matete, the 1991 World champion at 400m Hurdles, teamed up to launch the first leg of the Great African Run series, the Great Zambian Run 10km, in Lusaka, Zambia last week.

The Great African Run is a series of road races planned across many parts of the continent and is organized by Nova Africa, the African subsidiary of Nova International, which organizes the Great North Run in the UK among a slew of other world class events. The Zambian leg of the series will take place on 29 November 2009.

Young Global Leader

In a pre-prepared video message, Gebrselassie, who yesterday was selected as a Young Global Leader for 2009 by the World Economic Forum, could not attend the launch event in Lusaka as he was preparing for a 10km World record attempt in Manchester this Sunday, welcomed the move to spread mass participation racing across the African continent.

"I feel very happy to see Great Run spreading in Africa," he said. "I tell you this event goes far beyond a sporting festival, strengthening brotherhood, fighting HIV, promoting a healthy living style, building positive image of the country to out side world and leaving a lasting memory to the people of Zambia. I share all the excitement the event brings to the country I love, Zambia."

Multiple medallist over the barriers

Matete, who in an illustrious career as well as his World title achieved silver medals at the Olympics (1996) and World champs (1993 / 1995), is one of the patrons of the event, travelled 400km from his hometown to attend the launch in Lusaka.

"It is a privilege to see this dream event coming to Zambia and certain it will produce the best athletes of Zambian in the distance," said Matete.

But the event in Lusaka will be much more than a mass-participation race bringing Zambians together in the spirit of running. Organisers hope to lure world class athletes from Kenya, Ethiopia, and Europe to what they call a fast, flat, and record course which also includes major landmarks of the city.

“Elite participation is always the culture of Great Run events,” said Gashaw Zergaw, General Manager of Nova Africa Event. “But we will have athletes taking part in the race from Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Europe. 10,000 participants are expected to take part in the inaugural event.”

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Shitaye Gemechu leads Ethiopian charge at Prague Marathon

Prague, Czech Republic – Kenneth Mungara will return to the streets of the Czech capital to defend his title while Ethiopian Shitaye Gemechu is aiming to end a three-year Russian victory run in the women’s race at Sunday’s 15th running of the Volkswagen Prague Marathon.

The Volkswagen Prague Marathon is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.

Hoping for a memorable anniversary celebration, organisers are aiming for a sub-2:10 performance in the men’s race and sub-2:26 in the women’s, and possible assaults on the event records of 2:08:52 and 2:26:33 set in 1998 and 2001 respectively. Given the proper conditions, both aims are in the cards.

Ivuti looking to return to sub 2:09 territory

In the men’s race, four men have run faster than the current Prague record, set 11 years ago, topped by Kenyan Patrick Ivuti whose 2:07:46career best was set in 2005. Two years later, he won the Chicago marathon and last year, he won the Honolulu marathon with time of 2:14:35. Ivuti has set himself a goal for the Prague race to run below 2:09 to again dip under 2:10.

Others in the hunt include Kenyans David Kemboi Murkomen (2:08:34), Leonardo Mucheru (2:09:37) and Stephen Kipkoech Kibiwot (2:10:10); Moroccan-born Spaniard Hicham Chatt (2:07:59) and Oleksandr Sitkowski from Ukraine (2:10:18).

Familiar to the thousands who are expected to line the charming streets of Prague will be last year’s winner Kenneth Mburu Mungara, who won last year in 2:11:06 after running solo over the last few kilometres. He is aiming to break his personal record of 2:10:37 set at the 2008 Tiberias Marathon.

Chief local attention will focus on Czech Robert Štefko. Now 41, Štefko has a 2:09:53 career best from London in 1998.

Among the several notable debutantes are Kenyans Jonathan Maiyo (1:00:10 in this year’s Rotterdam Half Marathon) and Stephen Kosgei, who has a Half Marathon best of 60:34 from this year’s Nice Half Marathon where he finished third. Belgian track standout and 2008 Olympian Monder Rizki will also be making his debut.

Gemechu leads Ethiopian assault – Women’s race

Russian women have won the last three editions of the Prague Marathon, and this year a trio of Ethiopians will be looking to aim that stretch. Leading the field is the diminutive Shitaye Gemechu, who at 150cm and 39kg packs a deceiving wallop. Her 2:26:15 personal best was set at the 2008 Paris Marathon and is hoping to dip under 2:26 should the conditions allow.

Eyerusalem Kuma Mutal, who returned from maternity leave a year ago, brings 2:26:51 credentials with her, a performance from this year’s Dubai Marathon where she finished a respectable sixth.

The third Ethiopian looking to get noticed is Mulu Seboka Seyfu, who has a 2:29:06 personal best.

Leading the European charge is Russia's Olga Glokova (2:30:40) and Malgorzata Sobanska of Poland who has run 2:26:08, but in the past three years hasn’t run faster than 2:31:10.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Isinbayeva, Bolt and Bekele head Weltklasse Zürich’s star cast – ÅF Golden League

Zürich, Switzerland - Weltklasse Zürich 2009, the penultimate meeting of the 2009 ÅF Golden League, will offer yet another magnificent athletics spectacle on Friday 28 August.

Reigning Olympic champions and World record holders Yelena Isinbayeva, Usain Bolt, and Kenenisa Bekele have all already signed up for the meeting. Bolt will run the 100m and Bekele the 5000m at the meeting, and of course Isinbayeva will be pole vaulting!

The three athletes combined, hold as many as six outdoor World records and eight Olympic titles. “Between 2004 and 2008, we always had the strongest fields in the world, and it goes without saying that we are aiming at defending this position this year,” underlined Meeting Director Patrick K. Magyar.

Numerous stars will be signed up in the months to come. By tradition, Weltklasse Zürich will confirm most of the participants after the beginning of the outdoor season. As a result, the very best athletes will compete in the 16 disciplines of the meeting’s programme of events.

The Nations’ Challenge, the U23 match among eight teams that was successfully introduced last year, will once again provide the prelude to the main programme. Switzerland will try hard to defend its title from last year. Finally, the Zurich Trophy, a men’s 4x100m relay, will be staged for the third time.

But for once, the Zürich Trophy will not mark the final event of the evening, however. This honour will be granted to the legendary wheelchair athlete Heinz Frei’s farewell from track. The race will be a very special one, with female competitors covering a 2600m race distance and male athletes competing on 3000m.

Tickets on sale from Tuesday 5 May

Preparations for the 2009 edition of Weltklasse Zürich are well under way, not only as far as the athletes’ engagements are concerned.

The Weltklasse Zürich promoters have thoroughly analysed the second meeting in the new Letzigrund Stadium of last year. “Compared to 2007, we were able to implement improvements in nearly every area, as audience polls we carried out immediately after the event confirm,” explained Magyar. 73% of the audience stated that they planned to attend the meeting again. The Zurich organisers take these results as a good omen for the 2009 ticket sale that starts tomorrow (Tuesday, 5 May, 9 a.m.).

In 2009, no fundamental changes are planned: “We will continue to pursue our goals, and aim at improving individual aspects,” Magyar explained. “We are closely working with our timing partner Omega/Swiss Timing to provide results even faster, for instance.” In addition, the closing ceremony will be a very special highlight.

IAAF Diamond League

More dramatic changes will take place in 2010, when the current Golden League will be replaced by the newly created, much broader IAAF Diamond League. Weltklasse Zürich will then gain even further significance, as it will host one of two finals of the series. “We are working with the IAAF and our colleague meeting organizers on the trend-setting new series,” said Patrick K. Magyar.

Organisers for the IAAF

Monday, May 4, 2009

Kenyan-Ethiopian finishes Bloomsday in record time

SPOKANE,Wash. - It wasn't Lineth Chepkuri's first win at Bloomsday, but it was her most spectacular. The Kenyan-Ethiopian broke away from the pack, finishing the race in 38:37, the fasted women's time ever at Bloomsday.

With temperatures hovering around 45 degrees, it didn't take long for Chepkurui to heat things up. A pack of nearly 20 stayed with her through the first mile-and-a-half, but then the pack began to thin as the runners headed up the first hill. By the third mile Chepkurui had begun to gap most of the talented pack except for Ethiopian Teyba Erkesso, who hung on gamely to the bottom of Doomsday Hill, the final ascent on the course.

Going up the hill to the five-mile mark, the Kenyan-Ethiopian matchup began to unravel, as Chepkurui poured it on. Chepkurui crested the hill in the lead, and from there to the finish she continued to build on her margin, finishing in 38:37. It was the fastest women's time ever recorded at Bloomsday except for Delillah Asiago's 1995 time of 38:31, a time adjusted to reflect what proved to be a short course.

Erkesso finished 40 seconds behind in 39:17, and the next four women all broke 40 minutes. It was the first time in Bloomsday history that six women finished under the 40-minute mark. Sally Meyerhoff of Temp, AZ, was the first American with a tenth place finish.

Angola, Ethiopia start athletics partnership

Luanda – The chairman of the Angolan Athletics Federation (FAA), Carlos Rosa, Sunday in Ethiopia formally discussed with the local authorities, the establishment of Angolan athletes in future in that country.

The information is contained in a press note from the embassy of Angola in Ethiopia that reached Angop on Sunday.

According to the source, Carlos Rosa met in Addis Ababa with several athletics officials, with stress to the chairman and secretary general of the local federation.

Carlos Rosa, the note further states, also discussed issues concerning training of Angolan trainers and the possibility of an Ethiopian mid and long distance technician to come to Angola.

Favourites generally dominate, but Legesse shocks Mekonnen in 1500m - Ethiopian Champs, Day V

Addis Ababa, Ethiopia - Favourites Gelete Burka (women’s 1500m), Genzebe Dibaba (women’s 5000m), Ali Abdosh (men’s 5000m), and Roba Gari (men’s 3000m Steeplechase) dominated their events in the fifth and final day of the 38th Ethiopian Athletics Championships (29 April- 3 May 2009).

In the biggest surprise of the day, youngster Henok Legesse beat World Indoor champion Derese Mekonnen in an exciting 1500m final.

Sole run for Abdosh in record chase

African 5000m bronze medallist Ali Abdosh had set his eyes on Kenenisa Bekele’s 5000m Addis Ababa stadium record time of 13:34.01 before the start of the race and was on schedule to break it until four laps to go.

By that point Abdosh was more than 50m clear of his next challenger Dino Sefer but he tired and settled for victory in 13:42.56, eight seconds off Bekele’s time, which was incidentally set in May 2004, four weeks before Bekele set the World 5000m record time of 12:37.35 in Hengelo, the Netherlands.

“Yes the record was always in my mind,” said Abdosh after the race “I knew that I was in great shape from my training, but I got a bit tired with three laps left. I wanted to move to the marathon this year and even started training for the event. But I want to give the 5000m a try this year and qualify for the World championships in Berlin.”

Dibaba over Utura in 5000m

While the 1500m was largely a one-woman show, the women’s 5000m kept the crowd at the Addis Ababa stadium at the edge of their seats for much of the twelve-and-half-lap contest. For many, it was the perhaps the first chance to see two-time World Junior Cross Country champion Genzebe Dibaba, the younger sister of Tirunesh Dibaba, for the first time in a track competition.

And the 18-year-old did not disappoint her new legion of followers with a display taken from the Dibaba family finishing text book.

Much like her elder sister Tirunesh, Genzebe run behind the leaders until the final lap when she first drew level with long-time leader Sule Utura and then overtook her 200m from the finish to take an impressive victory.

It was the first national track title for Genzebe and an early indication of an exciting summer of possibilities for the Muger Cement sports club athlete.

Gun-to-tape victory for Burka

The women’s 1500m set the scene for an action-packed final day at the Addis Ababa stadium pitting All-African Games and African 1500m champion Gelete Burka with fellow Olympian Meskerem Assefa, who took the Addis Ababa Municipal title three weeks ago and looked comfortable in the qualifiers.

But the race between the two leading 1500m runners never materialised as Burka stamped her authority on the race from the onset, breaking away from her challengers in the final for a third national 1500m title. Her winning time of 4:11.23 was no where near her championship record time of 4:08.27, but her confident front-running surely indicates exciting times ahead for the 22-year-old.

Assefa also looked comfortable in securing second place ahead of East African youth champion Shito Wincha.

Legesse surprises Mekonnen for 800m/1500m double

Like Burka in the men’s event, World Indoor champion Derese Mekonnen had seemed to have planned the perfect tactics for his title defence. He led the field through the first lap, pulled back a little to conserve energy for the finish in the second, and looked on course for victory when he powered ahead at the bell.

But youngster Henok Legesse cut Mekonnen’s celebrations short when he came from fourth at the bell to overtake him 100m from the finish for victory in 3:41.11. The victory completed an impressive 800m/1500m double for Legesse, who was fifth in the African Championships last year over the 800m.

“I knew Derese would run like that and I wanted to surprise him,” confirmed the race winner. “There are a lot of talented middle distance runners in Ethiopia, but we are not given enough attention. My dream is to qualify for Berlin. I want people to take notice.”

Experienced Gari triumphs over Lemiso

The absence of defending champion Nahom Mesfin due to injury and national record holder Yacob Jarso, who did not return from his training base in Japan, may have dealt organizers a blow before the men’s 3000m Steeplechase. However, Roba Gari, the other Ethiopian who took part in the Beijing Olympics, made sure that they were not missed with a gun-to-tape victory.

Gari was always in control of the race, but a surprise looked on the cards when Legese Lamiso the World Youth 2000m steeplechase champion moved ahead of the 27-year old at the bell. But Gari drew level at 150m from the finish and powered home for victory.

Aynalem thrashes championship walk record

In the day’s other highlight, African junior champion Bekashigne Aynalem smashed the championship record in the women’s 20km walk and beat African senior silver medallist Asnakech Ararsa to win the title in 1:42:60. Cherenet Mikore, fourth in the African championships, took a one-second victory from Mulugeta Tesfaye in the men’s event.

Elshadai Negash for the IAAF

Saturday, May 2, 2009

African runners compete for livelihood in Pittsburgh Marathon

In some regards, Jared Abuya left behind a much simpler life when he came to the United States to be a professional runner six years ago.

Like everyone where he grew up in western Kenya, Abuya lived on a farm. His family raised chickens and cows and grew vegetables, so there was no need to shop for food. There were no property taxes. Once you own land, it's your land. If people had running water, it was usually free.

"But it's hard to make money," said Abuya, 32. "There's no jobs."

There certainly is no future for a professional runner. So Abuya, who is competing in the Pittsburgh Marathon on Sunday, came to the United States.

Even people who don't run and don't follow running know that at virtually any big race on any given day, the winner will have an unfamiliar name that's difficult to pronounce. Africans - Kenyans and Ethiopians in particular - dominate the racing scene and have for years.

Escaping poverty

But beyond the image of the lanky, dark-skinned runner tearing through the finish-line tape is the reality of what they left behind, why they left and what life is like for them here.

Mike Barnow knows that reality perhaps better than anyone.

The New Yorker and coach of the Westchester Track Club for elite runners coached the Somalia national team at the 1984 Olympics and has been helping African runners who come to the U.S. ever since.

"There's nothing for these guys back home," Barnow said. "They can maybe be farmers, but there's no work. One percent of the country owns everything. So it's very understandable that these guys want to come here and stay here."

Two of Barnow's athletes, Kassahun Kabiso and Genna Tufa, will be running the marathon on Sunday, and a betting man could wager that one of them will win.

Already this year, Tufa, 24, was eighth overall in the Chevron Houston Marathon, fifth at the Carlsbad Half-Marathon in January and second at the National Marathon for Breast Cancer in February. His fastest time in the marathon was 2:17:38 in 2007.

Kabiso, 26, placed second in the ING Georgia Marathon in March and 14th (out of roughly 40,000) in the ING New York City Marathon in November. He was fifth with a time of 2:18.56 the last time the Pittsburgh Marathon was run in 2003. In 2007, he ran a marathon in under 2:15.

Kabiso said he came to the United States from Ethiopia in the summer of 2003, when he was "around 19." He left behind 16 brothers and sisters and barely spoke English.

"I wanted to come for running," Kabiso said.

Barnow said that Kabiso was invited to the Vancouver Marathon, where race officials most likely paid a good portion of his airline ticket. Someone then brought him to Barnow.

"His English was terrible, but we got by," Barnow said. "He said he wanted to stay here, so I took a chance."

Making ends meet

Kabiso drives a cab in New York and lives with several other runners in the Bronx. Barnow said it's typical to find six to seven African runners living together in one apartment to keep expenses down.

Often times, African runners are in the country on three-month travel visas, and winning races is their only means of income. Even those who have longer visas or green cards and live in the United States year-round often do nothing but train and race, even at the risk of injury.

Tufa arrived in the United States from Ethiopia three years ago at the age of 21.

"It is my favorite country," Tufa said. "It is better than Africa. I love being here."

When asked what he likes most, he said "everything."

With the help of Barnow, Tufa got his green card earlier this week.

"I appreciate America for giving me this opportunity," he said. "There are so many people helping me to get this, and I'd like to appreciate them, too."

Tufa hopes to one day earn citizenship and race for the United States.

"I want to wear the American flag one day," Tufa said. "That is my dream in this country."

Tufa shares an apartment with three other African natives in the Bronx, and his only income comes from racing. He runs 20-50 miles a day, six days a week. He said he doesn't know how much money he makes in one year because it varies.

The top male and female runners in the open category on Sunday will get $4,000 for first place, $2,500 for second, $1,500 for third, $1,000 for fourth and $500 for fifth.

But just because these athletes are here to make money as runners doesn't mean they're getting rich.

Not by American standards, anyway.

"Not at all," said Barnow, who is coaching 23 Africans in weekly workouts in Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx. "If they win a lot of money during the year, they maybe will make $25,000. That's nothing. For a marathon, the big payday is $5,000, but how many times a year can they do that? Twice?"

Helping their families

Most of the money they earn goes toward living and travel expenses. But many will try to send some back home.

"If they can send $1,000 home, it goes a long way when an annual salary is $2,000 a year, maybe $3,000 a year," Barnow said. "I have one runner who supports his mother back home. If he sends $200 or $300, it lasts several months."

Barnow often takes money out of his own pocket to help pay for his runners' entry fees, travel expenses and shoes. He worries that if they don't learn English and find other ways to make money, they'll be in trouble when they can no longer win races. He worries that if they're not winning, they're not eating. He takes exception when others suggest that they shouldn't be racing in this country.

"A lot of races are happy to have these guys, but in some races, there is a backlash," Barnow said. "I wouldn't say it's racism, but a lot of races don't want the top 15 guys being Kenyans and Ethiopians. They want to see a white guy in there. ... A lot of big races would like to see someone other than an African winning the race. But the thing is, you can't fix this stuff. The essence of competition is simple -- the best runner should win. These guys are here. They live here. This is their home now."

Abuya, who lives in Washington, D.C., is already planning for his future beyond racing. He is a running specialist for Dick's Sporting Goods and is building up a business as an agent. One runner he has helped is Rahab Ndungu, 30, a middle-distance runner who is favored to win the women's half-marathon.

"I hope God will help me to do good," Ndungu said. "I have trained hard so that I can improve my time."

And, one could argue, improve her life.