Thursday, January 28, 2010

Research says Abebe Bikila was right

PARIS (AFP) – If running is your thing, you may want to throw away those pricey sports shoes and just do it barefoot, according to a study released Wednesday.

Three-quarters of runners who wear shoes land squarely on their heels -- about 1,000 times for every mile run.

But even well-cushioned sports shoes that help distribute weight across the foot cannot fully absorb the shock of these blows: 30 to 75 percent of regular runners each year suffer repetitive stress injuries.

By contrast, the vast majority of unshod runners don't hit the ground with their heels, landing instead on the sides or balls of their feet, the study found.

The practice is especially common in several east African countries where long-distance running is nearly a national past time.

In 1960, for example, a shoeless Abebe Bikila of Ethiopia won the 1960 Olympics marathon in record time.

By not "heel-striking," barefoot runners avoid painful and potentially damaging impacts that concentrate the equivalent of two or three times one's body weight on to a coin-sized surface.

"People who don't wear shoes when they run have an astonishingly different strike," said Daniel Lieberman, a professor at Harvard University and lead author of the study.

"By landing on the middle or front of the foot, barefoot runners have almost no impact collision," he said in a press release.

The merits of shoelessness are hotly debated in specialty magazines and online forums, and major manufacturers have started to make thin-as-skin shoes in anticipation of new markets.

But up to now, there has been little scientific evidence supporting the claim that barefoot is better.

Lieberman and colleagues helped fill this void by studying the gaits of three groups of runners in the United States and Kenya: barefoot, shod, and those who had converted to shoeless running.

"Most people today think that barefoot running is dangerous and hurts, but actually you can run barefoot on the world's hardest surfaces without the slightest discomfort and pain," the study found.

"All you need is a few calluses to avoid roughing up the skin of the foot."

But making the switch to barefoot running is not simply a matter of kicking off one shoes, the authors caution.

Running unshod or in so-called "minimal shoes" requires the use of different muscle groups. "If you've been a heel-striker all your life, you have to transition slowly to build strength in calf and foot muscles," Lieberman said.

The study, published in the British science journal Nature, also bolsters evidence suggesting the human foot evolved for rapid upright motion, said William Lungers, a professor at Stony Brook University Medical Center in New York.

"Bipedalism" -- walking on two feet -- "has been around for millions of years, and we have been unshod for more than 99 percent of that time," he wrote in a commentary, also in Nature.

A radical reshaping of the foot about two million years ago, including shorter toes and a fully-arched foot, probably occurred to enhance our ability to move quickly over sustained periods.

"Our endurance running abilities may have evolved to enable our ancestors to engage in 'persistence hunting'," the ability, in other words, to run down one's prey, he said.

Monday, January 25, 2010

Keating, Mandefro wins 3M Half Marathon titles

Despite a posted start time of 6:45 a.m., the 16th annual 3M Half Marathon & Relay got off to a later start at 7:36 a.m. due to windblown barricades. Start time for wheelchairs as well as runners was delayed by nearly an hour as crews worked to replace barricades knocked over during event preparation by westerly winds gusting up to 28 mph at 6 a.m.

“Our first priority is to keep our athletes safe,” said Matt Fagan, 3M Half Marathon & Relay race director. “Delayed starts are an inconvenience to everyone, especially for a sold out race like this, but it’s more important to keep the runners safe. Everyone was doing the best they could in a difficult situation. We’re grateful to all of the folks helped ensure a safe event for our participants and volunteers, and to the local media outlets who let the community know about the situation to help mitigate traffic problems.”

Winds continued to strengthen during the event overall. By the end of the four hour event, the National Weather Service in Austin/San Antonio issued a wind advisory today, expected to be in effect until 6 p.m. this evening. A Wind Advisory means that sustained winds of 26 to 39 mph are expected.

Regardless of the weather, the event’s historically strong elite field did not disappoint. Westly Keating a University of Texas Pan American graduate from Edinburg, Texas took first place in the 2010 3M Half Marathon with a final time of one hour, three minutes and 22 seconds (1:03:22), leaving intact Martin Fagan’s (current event record holder and no relation to the race director) event record of 1:01:05 set last year. Keating was one of the ones to watch, coming off a 2009 San Antonio Rock ‘n’ Roll Half Marathon win with 1:05:24. Coming in second, Bado Worku-Merdessa of Ethiopia clocked in with 1:03:51. His countryman, Abiyot Endale, rounded out the top three with a time of 1:04:17.

In the women’s open division, Hirut Mandefro of Ethiopia led the pack with a time of 1:14:24, followed closely by Aziza Aliyu of Ethiopia at 1:14:32. Returning 3M competitor and 2008 second place finish for the women’s division, Claudia Carmargo of Argentina took third with 1:16:52. Defending women’s champion, Belaynesh Gebre of Ethiopia was unable to attend Sunday’s race due to snowy weather.

In the female masters division, Austin’s own Catherine Barrerra took top honors with a time of 1:26:03. Colorado’s Brad Seng won the men’s masters division in 1:09.46. Returning wheelchair champion Brad Ray of New Mexico, was the overall male wheelchair division winner for the third consecutive year at 53:22. A new entrant to the women’s wheelchair field, Sandi Rush of Colorado, took the female wheelchair division title from local Kristen Messer with a time of 1:08:58. Messer finished with 1:36:50.

Start time weather conditions for the race were fair with clear skies and with temperatures about 54 degrees (Fahrenheit) with west/northwest winds of 10 miles per hour with gusts up to 17 mph; humidity was 34 percent.

This was the largest 3M Half Marathon ever, with 5,500 runners registered for the two events: a 13.1 mile half marathon and a two-person half marathon relay (legs of 6.4 and 6.7 miles). The event sold out Thursday evening, Jan. 21, before packet pickup began. The previous high water mark was set in 2008 with more than 5,300 registrants.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Gebrselassie fights off back pain and late race challenge to collect third Dubai victory

Dubai, UAE - Haile Gebrselassie won the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon for the third time in a row this morning, clocking 2:06:09, and again raking in $250,000, the richest prize in marathoning.

But a back problem, which required intensive pre-race physiotherapy, ruled out a World record attempt from the start, and when two of his lesser known compatriots – Chala Dechase and Eshetu Wendimu - caught him in the final stages of the race, it looked like a massive upset was on the cards.

But the experience of close to 20 years of record breaking pulled Gebre through to his eighth victory in ten completed marathons, with an average time of 2:05:40, easily the most consistently excellent marathoner in history, all capped by his superlative World record of 2:03:59 from Berlin 2008.

Dechase was second in 2:06:33, a personal best by two minutes, and Wendimu was third, the same as last year, but this time two minutes faster in a personal best 2:06:46.

“This night was not a good night for me,” said Gebrselassie, “I slept in a wrong position, on my stomach, and when I woke up, I knew I had a problem, it was not good. I called my physiotherapist, and he came and cracked my back, and said, ‘what have you done?’”

“I was surprised at how humid it was at the start, but I still tried to run fast, but at halfway, I decided just to win the race. When the pacemakers dropped at 30k, I tried to go, but I couldn’t change a gear, so I waited for the second group, and just tried to win. I heard the crowd and knew where the finish was, and I was able to win.”

“This is not an indication I’m old, I still think the World record can be broken here, but these things happen.”

Daska takes an upset in women’s race

The upset was reserved for the women’s race. An Ethiopian won, as expected, but it was Mametu Daska rather than favourites, Bezunesh Bekele, who was fourth, or Askale Magarsa, who finished sixth.

A group of eight reached halfway together, but then began to break up, with only Daska, debutante Aberu Shewaye and last year’s third placer, Kenyan Helena Kirop left in contention at 35k. A kilometre later, Kirop was dropped, and Daska and Shewaye continued their struggle until less than two kilometres from home.

Despite being violently sick in the finishing straight, Daska held onto the 50 metres lead she had forged in the last kilometre, to collapse across the finish line, in 2:24:18, another personal best, ahead of Shewaye’s debut clocking of 2:24:26. Kirop was again third, in 2:24:54, a personal best for her. The prize money was the same as for the men.

Conditions had been more clement than expected, the humidity dropped as the race progressed, and the temperature only rose a degree from 17C (62F) between start and finish. And although the direct sun will have made it uncomfortable for the runners in the second part of the race, Gebreselassie has to add the misfortune of a bad back to the overenthusiastic start two years ago – a first half in 61:45, well under World record pace – and a downpour last year, making it a hat trick of horrors affecting an record attempt, in contrast to the much more satisfying victory treble.

Pat Butcher (organisers) for the IAAF

1. Haile GEBRSELASSIE, ETH 2.06.09
2. Chala DECHASE, ETH 2.06.33
3. Eshetu WENDIMU, ETH 2.06.46
4. Abiyote GUTA, ETH 2.09.03
5. Debele TULU, ETH 2.09.43
6. Abraham CHELANGA, KEN 2.10.28
7. Dejene YIRDAW, ETH 2.10.50
8. Lonard MUCHERU, KEN 2.11.08
9. Japhet KOSGEI, KEN 2.11.20
10. Yimane MEKONNEN, ETH 2.12.39

1. Mametu DASKA, ETH 2.24.18
2. Aberu SHEWAYE, ETH 2.24.26
3. Helena KIROP, KEN 2.24.54
4. Bezunesh BEKELE, ETH 2.26.05
5. Isobella ANDERSSON, SWE 2.26.52
6. Askale MAGARSA, ETH 2.27.29
7. Tedesse YESHIMEBET, ETH 2.27.45
8. Genet GETANEH, ETH 2.30.23
9. Woyshinet TAFA, ETH 2.32.06
10. Shuru DIRIBA, ETH 2.32.36

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gebrselassie returns for spring NYC Half-Marathon

NEW YORK (AP) — Haile Gebrselassie will run in the first NYC Half-Marathon held in the spring.
The New York Road Runners announced Wednesday that the marathon world record-holder will compete on March 21.

He set a course record of 59 minutes, 24 seconds in his NYC Half-Marathon debut in 2007.

Gebrselassie says he got "such a warm welcome" in New York City when he ran that he wanted to return. The NYC Half-Marathon had been held in the summer since it began in 2006.

The Ethiopian has won nine of 10 career 13.1-mile races, including a then-world record 58 minutes, 55 seconds in 2006 in Tempe, Ariz.

On Friday, he'll defend his title at the Dubai Marathon.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

World record is worth a million to Haile

Dubai, UAE - Haile Gebrselassie pronounced his preparation “perfect” for Friday’s Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon (22), but reminded everyone at today’s press conference that all the other elements had to be perfect too, even for an attempt on his World record of 2:03:59, set in Berlin 18 months ago.

“I’ve made sure I’m in perfect shape,” said the 36 year old Ethiopian, who will be running in Dubai for the third year in succession. “But everything has to be perfect, the weather, the pacemakers. If everything is perfect, I can run 2:03:30. I don’t promise, if I promise and fail, we’ll all be disappointed. Two years ago, it was a little bit warm at the end (he ran 2:04:53, then second fastest in history), last year, it was raining (he ‘only’ ran 2:05:29, eighth fastest)”.

He dismissed the notion that his first half in 61min 45sec, 2:03:30 pace, in 2008 might have been too fast. “I didn’t run too fast, I want to do the same on Friday. It’s good the race starts at 6.30(am), but above all, I want to keep to the schedule all the way through. Even if you run the first kilometre to slow, you’re catching up all the way.”

His two victories here have netted him half a million dollars, since the race was upgraded in 2008 with a million dollars prize money, with a first prize of $250,000, for both men and women. But there is also the little matter of a million dollar bonus for a World record, offered by Dubai Holding.

Replying to someone who asked what he might do if he won the million dollars, Gebrselassie first said, “I will tell you after I get the million dollars,” then adding as the laughter died down, “If I could get the record by paying a million dollars, I’d do it”.

Three of the pacemakers who delivered him on schedule to 35km last year, before the rains ruined the record attempt - Fabiano Joseph of Tanzania, and John Kales and Sammy Kosgei of Kenya – are in there again.

And another Kenyan Sammy Korir, who was once second fastest in the world, says that he is not in the field as token opposition. Korir ran 2:04:56, one second behind colleague Paul Tergat’s then World record, in Berlin 2003, but has a dozen sub-2:10 times, more than Gebrselassie.

Korir, 38, finished third here two years ago, and said today, “After my run in Berlin, I had injuries and it was difficult, coming back to racing and then getting injured again. But now I have shown I can run fast, 2:07 again (winning in Seoul 2008), so I am looking forward to the race. Dubai is a very good course for running fast”.

Before the 42.2k on Friday, Gebreselassie went off to tackle the half-mile high Burj Khalifa, as one of the first famous guests up the recently opened world’s tallest tower.

And having reiterated today his desire to run the Olympic marathon in London 2012, the inference is that Haile is not planning to slow down any time soon. So, weather and pacemakers permitting, expect another towering time from the Little Emperor on Friday.

Pat Butcher for the IAAF

Monday, January 18, 2010

Ethiopian sweep at the Cross della Vallagarina

Villa Lagarina, ITA - Ethiopia dominated the 33rd edition of the Cross della Vallagarina near Rovereto on Sunday (17) by taking the win in both the men’s race with Abere Chane and the women’s race with Asmeraworch Bekele.

Men’s race -

Chane killed off the competition with a gun-to-tape race taking the lead from the early stages of the 8.8 km race. Abere, who finished fifth at the 2004 IAAF World Junior Championships in Grosseto in the 10,000m and has run a PB of 27:47 over the distance, went to the lead during the first lap. The only athlete who was able to follow the Ethiopian was Ukrainian 2:10:36 marathoner Vasyl Matvichuk who tried to close the gap on Chane during the first lap.

Matvichuk, who is planning to run the Marathon at the European Championships in Barcelona next summer, managed to keep up with Chane briefly on the downhill section of the course during the first lap but his effort probably took its toll uphills when Chane pushed the pace increasing his gap to 20 metres.

Meanwhile the chasing group formed by Italian runners Stefano La Rosa, Gabriele De Nard, Yuri Floriani, Gianmarco Buttazzo and Martin Dematteis fought for third place but they were well behind. During the second lap Chane continued to push the pace carving out a solid margin over Matvichuk which proved to be decisive. The Ethiopian continued to pull away lap after lap with a margin of more than 20 seconds at the bell. During the last lap he continued his stroll taking the win at a canter in 25:52 by 29 seconds over Matvichuk. During the third lap Matvichuk suffered from a stitch but managed to hold on defending his second place in 26:21 prevailing by five seconds over Stefano La Rosa, third overall and first among the Italians.

“It was a very good race. It was a easy win but the course was tough with a lot of ups and downs. I am now returning to Ethiopia for the National Cross Country Championships”, said Chane, who won the Vienna Silvester race on 31 December.

Women’s race -

In the women’s race a quartet formed by 2006 European Cross Country Championships Tatyana Holovchenko, the two young Ethiopians Asmeraworch Bekele and Tizita Bogale, and local favourite Federica Dal Ri went to the front from the early stages. Holovchenko was the first to launch an attack during the first lap. The Ukrainian kept the pace in the front closely followed by the two young Ethiopians and Dal Ri, who won last year in Vallagarina ahead of Holovchenko.

Bogale, who was born in 1993 and finished fifth in the 800m at the IAAF World Youth Championships in Bressanone last summer, and Bekele launched their decisive attack during the second lap breaking away from the European pair of Dal Ri and Holovchenko. Dal Ri managed to pull away from Holovchenko uphill during the second lap.

Bogale and Bekele battled it out for the win during the third and last lap. They ran a neck-to-neck race until the final metres when Bekele edged out her compatriot in a dramatic final sprint into the finish-line. They shared the same final time of 18:37. Dal Ri, who finished 19th at the European Cross Country Championships in Dublin and third at the Campaccio on 6 January, took third place to the delight of local crowd and the local Quercia Rovereto athletics team for which the Italian runner started her career. Holovchenko finished a distant fourth in 19:17, 25 seconds behind Dal Ri.

Bekele was born in 1991. She has clocked 4:10 in the 1500m but is planning to run over longer distances in the future. She finished ninth in the 1500m at the IAAF World Junior Championships in Bydgoszcz 2008. During 2009 she finished fourth in the 1500m at the Ethiopian Championships and seventh at the National Cross Country Championships. More recently she won the Vienna Silvester Race on 31 December.

“I am returning to Ethiopia for the National Cross Championships. I am aiming at qualifying for the World Cross Country Championships in Bydszgoxz on 28 March. The half marathon may become my distance for the future,” the young Ethiopian said.

Diego Sampaolo for the IAAF

Leading Results:

MEN (8.8 km) -
1. Abere Chane, ETH 25:52
2. Vasyl Matvich, UKR 26:21
3. Stefano La Rosa, ITA 26:26
4. Gabriele De Nard, ITA 26:29
5. Yury Floriani, ITA 26:42
6. Gianmarco Buttazzo, ITA 26:44
7. Martin Dematteis, ITA 26:49
8. Stefano Scaini, ITA 26:57
9. Bernard Dematteis, ITA 27:01
10. Josef Katib, GER 27:17

WOMEN (5.5 km) -
1. Asmeraworch Bekele, ETH 18:37
2. Tizita Bogale, ETH 18:37
3. Federica Dal Ri, ITA 18:52
4. Tetyana Holovchenko, UKR 19:17
5. Renate Rungger, ITA 19:36
6. Simona Santini, ITA 19:37
7. Livia Toth, HUN 19:39
8. Ivana Iozzia, ITA 19:44
9. Barbara La Barbera, ITA 19:45
10 .Silvia La Barbera, ITA 19:49

Gelana sprints to record time, blazing finish

Teyba Erkesso stunned nobody by defending her title and lowering the women’s course record again Sunday morning. Anything else would have been a surprise.

But there were plenty of reasons fellow Ethiopian Teshome Gelana shouldn’t have found himself in the George R. Brown Convention Center sporting a new cowboy hat and pointing his index fingers high in the air, having just run the fastest 26.2 miles in Texas history to claim the championship of the 38th Chevron Houston Marathon.

For starters, marathon officials originally had told Gelana’s agent, Hussein Makké, that all the deadlines had passed and there was literally no more room at the inn. After all, it was early January and the elite field is generally set by mid-December at the latest.

Gelana, 25, didn’t pack much clout, either. Not well known here with a personal best of barely under 2 hours, 12 minutes — more than four minutes slower than Deriba Merga’s sizzling course record of a year ago — he hardly offered a compelling reason for special treatment.

But Makké refused to take no for an answer when he spoke with David Chester, the race’s longtime elite athletes liaison, saying: “David, just put his name in your computer. I will take care of everything else.”

Which Makké did, with one nearly disastrous exception. Nobody, Gelana included, realized his passport was on the verge of expiring. Had the letter of the law been followed, he shouldn’t have been allowed to fly to the United States from Addis Abba, Ethiopia. And, once he arrived, he could have been refused entry.

Difficult entry
But the slender Gelana looks like a world-class runner, so common sense prevailed and customs let him through. After checking into a room occupied by two other Ethiopian runners, he made it to the starting line with no further obstacles.

For the first 22 miles, nobody paid much attention to him. He was just one of a half-dozen East Africans bunched at the front of the field and, although the pace was swift, it wasn’t expected to threaten Merga’s 2:07:52.

Then … whoosh!

Approaching the Shepherd Street bridge to cross Buffalo Bayou and start the Allen Parkway homestretch, Gelana took off like he’d suddenly commandeered a motorcycle. With a 4:40 mile there, he exploded from the pack and churned home unchallenged. His 2:07:37 beat countryman Zembaba Yigeze by 50 seconds and erased Merga’s mark by 15.

“I was laughing to myself,” Makké said. “I’m thinking he is the luckiest runner in the world this week.”

Said Chester: “I’d done some research on (Gelana) and I wasn’t sure he’d be (competitive). I’d seen what he’d run before. But Hussein and I have a terrific relationship and he insisted, so I said, ‘Why not?’ We can always find room for one more.”

Why was Gelana a late entry? The original plan, Makké said, had called for him to compete in the Phoenix Marathon on Sunday, but his coach had a gut feeling Houston was where he belonged after he prevailed in the Addis Abba race in early December.

Pushing the limits
That’s another thing. How many runners win two marathons six weeks apart? And, in the second, lower one’s personal best by more than four minutes? His previous fastest time was a 2:11:50 in Reims, France, in 2008.

“I did not expect this,” Gelana said through an interpreter.

He wasn’t alone.

Amazingly, six runners wound up breaking 2:10, which only Merga had accomplished in the previous 37 Houston Marathons. And Merga obliterated a 20-year-old record.

Brett Gotcher’s excellent 2:10:36 in his debut marathon was tops by an American in the race’s history, yet all it earned was seventh place.

“They showed they’re the real deal today,” Gotcher, 25, said of his African rivals, who included the pre-race favorite, Kenyan Jason Mbote, who had to settle for third (2:08:58). “I thought they were going out too hard, but I was staying in contact with them about halfway through — ‘All right, I told myself, I’m back in the race’ — but they put the pedal to the metal and they were gone. That second half was ridiculous.”

Gelana ran a 1:03:09 over the final 13.1 miles, competitive with the 1:01:54 Antonio Vega put up to win the Aramco Half Marathon.

Erkesso, 27, subsequently ensured a clean sweep by Ethiopians for the second year in a row when she came in about 15 minutes later, pushed to near perfection by her husband, Kasime Adillo, the runner-up in the 2008 marathon.

But Adillo’s only mission this cool, sunny day was to be her “rabbit,” keeping Erkesso focused and motoring along. Her 2:23:53 bettered the 2:24:18 she ran in 2009 and was nearly five minutes faster than the 2:28:44 posted by runner-up Margarita Plaksina of Russia.

“Everything went according to plan,” Erkesso said, also through an interpreter.

Erkesso prevailed despite having raced this past weekend in the lucrative Abu Dhabi Half Marathon. She finished ninth there, using it as a trainer for Houston.

In retrospect, she admitted it took enough of a toll to cost her a chance to run a hoped-for sub-2:23 time Sunday.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Kenya's Ndiso wins Mumbai Marathon

NEW DELHI (AP) — Dennis Ndiso has won the Mumbai Marathon to continue the dominance of Kenyan runners at the event.
Ndiso finished in 2 hours, 12 minutes, 34 seconds in humid conditions Sunday. Siraj Gena of Ethiopia was second in 2:13:58.

Bizunesh Mohammed won the women's race in 2:31:09 as Ethiopians claimed the 10 top positions. Last year's winner, Haile Kekebush, finished second and Azalech Masrecha came in third.

More than 38,000 runners participated in the 26.2-mile race.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

In-form Deneke on course to race away with marathon title

Ethiopian distance runner Teklu-Tefera Deneke is seeking to defend his Bermuda International Marathon title on Sunday, and last month he showed he has the fitness to possibly produce one of the fastest times seen on the Island for many years.

Deneke was runner-up in the St. Jude Memphis Marathon in December when he ran a time of two hours, 16 minutes and 40 seconds.

No athlete has run a faster time in Bermuda's International Marathon since record holder Andy Holden in 1981.

More on Here

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Dedebit Soccer Club appear unstoppable

After a dramatic 3-2 victory over Defense Force, premier league newcomer Dedebit are run away league leaders, eight points ahead of defending champions Saint George.
Insurance are also on a winning spree, while Electric have lost four matches in a row. Meta Abo are bottom of the table with a mere six points.
Dedebit's recent 12 match unbeaten run has drawn admiration from league observers, who are happy to have a new force emerge so quickly. Coach Wubetu Abate's strong squad has collected 32 out of a possible 36 points from 12 games, with 10 wins and two draws.
Temesgen Tekle is one of the three leading goal scorers with eight goals after his double strike at the weekend to give Dedebit the 3-2 victory.
With the absence of a number of key injured players, defending champions Saint George are now second in the table with 24 points after Mohammed Naser scored his eighth goal of the season from the penalty spot to help earn a 1-0 victory over Electric FC. This was the fourth defeat in a row for Electric. Awassa lost 2-0 in the away match against Sebeta Kenema, who are on the rise under the leadership of Paulos Getachew. The defeat was the second of the season for Awassa. After their surprise victory over Saint George a week ago, Metahara Sugar went one better with the demolishing of Trans Ethiopia 4-1. Insurance grabbed their fourth win in a row with a 3-2 victory over bottom club Meta Abo Brewery and now sit sixth in the table with 17 points. Following a goalless home draw with Ethiopian Coffee, Adama Kenema took the third spot with 21 points; one above fourth placed Awassa Kenema. Seifedin Hulder of Defense, Temesgen Tekle of Dedebit and Mohammed Naser of Saint George share top place in the top scorer's chartwith 8 goals each.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Race fans stunned as Bekele slides to defeat

WE shall probably never know exactly why Ethiopian legend Kenenisa Bekele slithered to a shock defeat in the Great Edinburgh International Cross Country in Holyrood Park on Saturday, over much of the course where he won the 2008 World title, but it was certainly a shock of seismic proportions that the double Olympic 5000 metres and 10,000 metres champion could finish only fourth.

Was it the conditions, was it the quality of the opposition with two young Kenyans, Joseph Ebuya and Titus Mbishei seizing the moment to realise their undoubted potential by snatching the first two places or was it that Bekele was perhaps not in the best of shape? The 28-year-old running machine, who is possibly the finest distance runner the world has ever seen, graciously faced his interrogators afterwards and lamely offered the excuse that: "Maybe I made a mistake coming three days before the race as I couldn't train because of the weather."

He would hardly have lost significant fitness in such a short space of time – much more likely is that he is behind in his preparations for what is a relatively fallow year internationally and just did not want to take risks charging down the hill from Haggis Knowe on a slippery surface in vain pursuit of the three Kenyans, the former winner Eliud Chipchoge completing the rout by finishing third over the nine-kilometre course.

But, as baffled observers pointed out, Bekele had lost a shoe in his 2008 World victory at Holyrood and still caught up and won.

By contrast, his countrywoman Tirunesh Dibaba, pictured right, who was also having her first experience of racing in snow, looked supremely in command as she decided the conditions were not too bad and piled on the pressure in the second half of the race to win by ten seconds from the world 5000 metres champion Vivian Cheriuyot of Kenya, who was distinctly unhappy in the snow. "Not good," she gasped.

Third was Kalkidan Gezahegn (Ethiopia), just ahead of two fast-finishing Brits, Hayley Yelling-Higham and Steph Twell.

Scotland's recent "convert" Twell, who claims that Holyrood is her "favourite course in all the world", was quite chipper with her performance despite being pipped on the line.

The 20-year-old Aldershot-based student was outsprinted by European champion Yelling but was still delighted with her fifth spot in a world-class field.

"I felt extremely strong and I just wanted to show that I could mix it with that sort of opposition and I think I've shown that," said Twell, who was bitterly disappointed with her poor showing in last month's European in Dublin.

"That wasn't me in Dublin – that was due to a combination of things including university stress," explained the former European Junior champion.

"But for the last three weeks I've really been a full-time athlete and able to train."

The feisty Twell led the three African medallists going into the last lap of the 6k race.

"Maybe what we did played into Dibaba's hands a little bit – we did the hard work and she got a little bit of a tow but hopefully she'll now know who I am and feel my presence in other races."

Edinburgh's Freya Murray also bravely went with the leaders in the early stages but may have paid the penalty and was forced to drop back on the last lap to finish eighth. "I'm pleased and I'm not – pleased to be in the top ten and pleased I tried to go with them," explained Murray, who left yesterday for some warm weather training in South Africa.

There was another shock when Britain's Mo Farah, the breakaway early leader, was pushed into third place in the men's 4K race and briefly had to have medical attention as he did in the European in Dublin where he fainted and was taken to hospital.

First to take up the chase was Steve Vernon who, in turn, was overtaken by Ricky Stevenson, who produced a storming finish to win in 13:20, with Vernon second in 13:23 and Farah third (13:28).

Central's Robert Russell was first Scot in eighth place in 14:08 with Corstorphine's Dougie Selman 17th (14:52).

John Newsom (Pitreavie) had the distinction of finishing first Scot in the 9k-long course race in 14th place (31:22), a place behind Napier University student Dal Mulhare (31:18).

But perhaps the most encouraging performance of the day from a local viewpoint was another under-17 victory for Ross Matheson (Lasswade).

Whoever is appointed this week to be the new boss of Scottish Athletics will be hoping for a few more Mathesons to emerge between now and the 2014 Commonwealth Games in Glasgow.

Ethiopian Deriba Merga breaks events record: Events break tape as far as popularity

When he speaks about the Chevron Houston Marathon, managing director Steven Karpas often says, “We must be doing something right.”

That's too modest, though. It seems they are doing a lot of things right. Even Mother Nature wants on the bandwagon.

The 38th running of the race, which again will be the largest annual single-day sports event in the city by a long shot, sidestepped this weekend's deep freeze and, if the long-range forecast holds, will go off Jan. 17 with temperatures in the 50s. If the showers that are possible hold off, that's perfect weather for the record field expected to approach 30,000 with the wheelchair and 5K competitors included.

The marathon and Aramco Half Marathon participation cap has been increased significantly — by 4,000 to 22,000 — yet the places sold out in less than three days. It took the event three months last year for 18,000 places to be locked up, and that was the fastest at that time.

This year also marks the first time the 5K sold out in advance of race weekend.

All those runners mean extra cash for the many charities the race assists. Karpas said $1.4 million to $1.5 million is a viable goal, up from $1.1 million in 2009.

Bigger, of course, isn't necessarily better competitively, and the marathon has again left itself with a tough act to follow. Ethiopian Deriba Merga shaved more than two minutes off the 20-year-old course record last January by finishing in 2:07:52 — the fastest 26.2 miles run in Texas.

Merga then went on to conquer the famed Boston Marathon, a triumph he is pointing toward replicating this April.

New champ guaranteed
Unfortunately, for that reason Merga returns this week only as a VIP guest, having told organizers his training schedule for 2010 is designed for him to peak later in the year.

But instead of wringing his hands over Merga sending his regrets, Karpas contends a slower winning time — if it is slower — would hardly guarantee less drama.

“I think we're going to have one of those turn-the-corner-on-Rusk-(Street)-sprint finishes,” he said. “Last year, we had Merga all by himself.

“Our elite (runner) coordinators worked hard at getting us a great race this year. To be honest, as a running geek, that's what I'm looking for.”

When Merga crossed, you couldn't see runner-up Benson Cheruiyot approaching because he was nearly four minutes behind. But the current field's depth at the top should take the “rabbit” pace-setters out of the equation, and that's a positive thing.

The hired guns have mostly underperformed in recent years. They failed Merga in his stated goal of breaking the North American marathon record of 2:05:42.

Kenya's Cheruiyot returns in better shape than a year ago, Karpas said, as does his no-relation countryman — three-time Houston champion David Cheruiyot, who failed to finish in 2009.

But Karpas thinks two newcomers, also from Kenya, might set off some fireworks in their hot pursuit of the $35,000 first prize.

Jason Mbote ran a personal-best 2:07:37 for third place in the 2008 Seoul Marathon; Charles Kibiwott posted a 2:08:30 in the same race. Those times would indicate they at least have a shot at collecting the $10,000 bonus for breaking Merga's record.

Added attraction
On the women's side, Teyba Erkesso of Ethiopia will try to collect an extra $10.000 by eclipsing the women's course record — the 2:24:18 she ran in 2009.

And the half-marathon will have a buzz with 10,000-meter Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan attempting her first half-marathon.

The men's and women's half-marathons continue to serve as the annual U.S. championship races.

Flanagan, 28, finished Beijing's 10,000-meter course — about half as long as a half-marathon — in 30 minutes, 22 seconds, setting the U.S. record and becoming just the second American to medal in the event.

“Being on the road is a little foreign to me,” she said when it was announced she was coming. “But Houston's got good weather, a fast course and a good crowd. I'm really excited to toe the line in Houston and tackle a whole new event.”

Karpas said Flanagan's decision to enter Houston is another indication of the esteem with which the city's competitions are held. He also noted that the race directors for the New York Marathon and the Boston Marathon will be among the weekend's VIP guests, an indication they must think Houston's doing something right.

“Our event's a jewel,” Karpas said. “It's awesome.”

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Bekele slumps in Edinburgh cross-country defeat

EDINBURGH — Ethiopia distance star Kenenisa Bekele could only manage fourth place in the nine kilometre Edinburgh cross-country race as he suffered a rare defeat on Saturday.

Joseph Ebuya led a Kenyan clean sweep of the podium places as Bekele, returning to the snow-covered Holyrood Park venue for the first time since winning his sixth World Championship on the course in 2008, finished well behind the leading trio.

"I got killed by three Kenyans," said Bekele, the reigning Olympic champion at both 5,000 and 10,000 metres, after Ebuya, Titus Mbishei and Eliud Kipchoge came in ahead of him.

Bekele added he had missed training sessions after coming to Scotland via London, where he visited the 2012 Olympic Games site on Thursday.

"I normally would only arrive a day before so I missed a couple of training sessions," added Beleke who apart from failing to finish at the 2007 World Championships had only once before suffered a cross-country defeat.

Better news for Ethiopia came in the women's race where Tirunesh Dibaba, who also won the 5,000m and 10,000m titles at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, outpaced her opponents on the final lap to take a victory on the six kilometre course.

Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot and Ethiopia's Kalkidan Gezahegn were second and third respectively.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Ethiopian duo raise the bar

I’m not sure we know how lucky we are that Kenenisa Bekele and Tirunesh Dibaba have chosen to make so many appearances in the United Kingdom.

The world’s two greatest distance runners - with a collective total of 45 Olympic and world golds - are due to be in action again at the Great North Cross Country in Edinburgh on Saturday.

Between them they have won this corresponding race on seven occasions and in Bekele’s case, his 2001 victory as a teenager was the first of a six-year 27-race win streak at cross country.

The Ethiopian pair are not just great distance runners, they are among the finest sportsmen of their generation.

Having dominated for most of the noughties there is every sign they will do so throughout the “teens” and even into the 2020s.

Their Ethiopian predecessors Haile Gebrselassie (now 36) and Derartu Tulu (37) are still winning big races and setting records. Bekele and Dibaba will not reach those ages until 2018 & 2022 respectively and Dibaba has already talked of competing at the 2024 Olympics.

Why are they so good ? They run fast, they win big races and make it look easy.

Bekele has held the world records at 5000m (12:37.35) and 10,000m (26:20.31) since 2004. He alone has operated at that level since then. Could he be the first man to run 5000m in less than 12:30, which would represent sub-60 400m for twelve and a half laps.

Put another way, this would be 4:01 miling for more than three miles.

He and his agent have talked of 2010 as being the “year for world records,” with Kenenisa saying he wants to add the very tough 3000m world record to his portfolio.

We should savour such moments because records of that calibre will not come along as frequently as the men?s 100m or women?s pole vault have done in recent years.

Dibaba has been known as more of a racer than a pacer, but a woman who can finish a quick 5000m race with a lap of 57 seconds clearly has much left in the tank.

One feels she could even approach the Ethiopian record at 400m (54.42) - though she could not have been more disinterested when I once made that suggestion.

Dibaba has set world records at 5000m, indoors and out, and then at the end of a low-key year in 2009, ran a phenomenal 46:28 for 15km in Nijmegen to break the official world record at that distance by 27 seconds.

And yet the statistics show that was not near her limit on that occasion. Incredibly, she was 30 seconds behind world record schedule at 10km but her final 5km of 15:05 was 57 seconds quicker than the old record holder!

So whereas Bekele is now looking for success at shorter distances, Dibaba has given us a glimpse of what might be possible for her at half marathon (21.1km) and beyond.

Unless the Olympics are awarded to Ethiopia in the near future, Bekele and Dibaba can never win a bigger race for them than they have done so already on multiple occasions.

Bekele has held at least one Olympic or world title ever since 2001, Dibaba since 2003. Both won the 5000m & 10,000m double in Beijing and have taken world titles at both distances.

At the IAAF World Cross Country Championships they are the most successful performers of all-time, including the additional medals which they have gained as part of winning Ethiopian teams.

Collectively they have run and won 18 races at 10,000m. So far no-one has beaten them at these distances and these have not been staged events against weak opposition. They have taken on and defeated the best in the world.

Athletics is not like figure skating were points are awarded for presentation, but if it were then Bekele and Dibaba’s scores would be near to 10.0.

Biomechanical experts have already remarked on Bekele’s smooth and efficient running action. I don’t think I have ever seen Dibaba lose form at any stage of a race.

Images of either of these super runners in full flow could be used in a textbook of distance running.

Their only weakness, if it is a weakness, is that each are relatively media-shy in comparison with sporting stars of similar prominence.

For the moment they appear unwilling to share as much of their personality as the wider sporting media demand.

For the rest of us it is enough to let their feet do the talking so let us look forward to seeing the latest demonstration in Holyrood Park on 8 January.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Kenenisa and Meseret named Running Times' Top Runners of The Year

Ethiopia's double-Olympic champion Kenenisa Bekele has been named Runner of The Year 2009 by Running Times (RT) magazine along with Ethiopian Meseret Defar topping the list among women runners.

RT rankings take into account all certified races 3,000m or longer, track or roads, giving the greatest weight to winning or placing in the most competitive races.

In an article subtitled Emperor Haile vs King Kenenisa, it compares the achievements of Ethiopia's two greatest athletes, Haile and Kenenisa. You would have to read from RT for the full detail which requires subscription.

In the Women's list, Meseret Defar has been named as Women Runner of The Year.
Ethiopia finished second among the Top 10 nations for runners with Kenya taking first place. Ethiopia is followed by U.S, Qatar and Spain.

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Lilesa and Bayisa lead Ethiopian sweep in Xiamen

Xiamen, China - Rising star Feyisa Lilesa, won the Xiamen International marathon on Saturday (3) followed about a minute later by fellow Ethiopian Negari Getachew Terfa, and last year’s winner, Kenyan Samuel Muturi Mugo.

Another Ethiopian, Atsede Bayisa, made history in this coastal city of 2.3 million by becoming the first foreign athlete to win the woman’s race with a time of 2:28:53.

The Xiamen International Marathon is the first IAAF Gold Label Road Race for 2010.

Men’s race – Lilesa bides his time

Lilesa’s time of 2:08:47 broke the course record set last year by Mugo by four seconds. He surprised marathon onlookers when he definitively broke free of a tight-knit group of top runners in the 38th kilometre.

Terfa’s time was 39 seconds slower than last year’s performance as number two with 2:09:40. The Ethiopian’s PB is 2:07:41 in Berlin in September. The 2009 winner, Mugo, fell behind in the last part of the race after leading for at least 10 kilometres ending with 2:10:11.

Lilesa’s Xiamen run, his first in China and only the second in his career, saw him break his own PB of 2:09:12 which he set in his debut in Dublin. But Lilesa was not reveling in his achievement.

“Today, I’m not good. My leg,” Lilesa said as he bent over while being supported by Chinese volunteers who lead him away holding flowers and donning an olive branch wreath. Lilesa’s leg started bothering him about the fifth kilometre, he said. His manager, former Ethiopian marathon runner Haji Adilo, confirmed that he complained about his leg muscles suspecting it came from training on soft grass ahead of the marathon.

“The last kilometres were a bit difficult. It was a bit cold,” explained defending champion Mugo who, the day before, said he planned to do better than last year if the weather cooperated.

About 50,000 runners, the most since the first edition, from 32 countries participated in the 5 km, 10 km, half-marathon, and marathon in dry conditions at about 11˚ Celcius.

Lilesa was part of a group of Ethiopian and Kenyan runners that dominated much of the race. From the beginning Ethiopian Berga Bekele, with a 2:09:41 PB from Beijing in October, and Kenyan David Kemboi Kiyeng, who clocked 2:06:26 in Paris last year, led the race.

Both ran together during most of the race with Kiyeng slowing down at the water stands to get two glasses. He would hand one to Bekele before speeding up again ahead of the race.

By kilometre 25 (1:16:30), the elite group was thinned to eight: Kenyans Kiyeng, Mugo and 2008 Xiamen winner Kiprotich Kenei (PB: 2:07:42), and Ethiopians Bekele, Lilesa, Terfa, Abebe Ngewo (PB 2:09:52), and Alemyehu Shumye (PB: 2:08:46).

The pack dispersed by kilometre 30 (1:31:34) with Mugo, Terfa and Shumye one second ahead of Bekele and Lilesa. Kenei fell about a half minute back and Ngewo 40 seconds behind him.

The two pacemakers lost their lead by kilometer 35 and Shumye also fell back to fourth place, 10 seconds behind the three who eventually claimed the podium.

Mugo, Terfa and Lilesa ran as a tight-knit group until kilometre8 when Lilesa surged ahead. Near the 40-kilometre mark at 2:02:18 Lilesa battled on with Terfa while Mugo fell 16 seconds back.

By kilometre 41, however, Lilesa secured his victory with Terfa lagging 53 seconds behind.

Bayisa dominates – women’s race

Unlike the men’s contest, Bayisa, the Paris Marathon winner in 2:24:42 last year, faced little resistance en route to her 2:28:53 victory.

More than five minutes behind her was Sun Juan with 2:34:12, and just under two minutes later came third place winner, Jin Lingling at 2:36:00.

Bayisa, 22, was running unchallenged by kilometre 27. After the race, she smiled widely and was happy with her performance in her first marathon in China. She’d broken free of two Chinese men who kept up with her until the last kilometre. Bayisa mistakenly took a turn the wrong way when she followed the lead about 100 metres ahead of the finish line until she was redirected for her final sprint.

“I’m very surprised. Two of them won the race,” said Adilo, who als manages Bayisa. Of Bayisa, he said, “She’s afraid to run alone. 1:19 at the halfway mark. After that she continued to push.”

Number two among the women, Sun, has more experience running half-marathons, and was fourth in last year’s Xiamen half-marathon. Sun was a second behind Bayisa for the first half but fell six seconds behind by kilometre 25 and 50 seconds by kilometer 30. Five kilometres later Bayisa had built a two-minute lead.

Third place finisher Jin, 22, broke her own PB by three minutes, set in his race last year. Jin secured third place by kilometer 15 but also fell back significantly by kilometer 25.

World champion Bai Xue ran symbolically for five kilometers after participating in the flame lighting ceremony ahead of the starting gun. Cheng Rong said she did not run due to a leg injury she sustained.

Cyrille Cartier for the IAAF

Leading results -

1. Feyisa Lilesa (Eth) 2:08:47
2. Negari Getachew Terfa (Eth) 2:09:40
3. Samuel Muturi Mugo (Ken) 2:10:11
4. Kiprotich Kenei (Eth) 2:10:46
5. Alemyehu Shumye (Eth) 2:11:20
6. Berga Bekele (Eth) 2:13:45
7. Abebe Ngewo (Eth) 2:14:11
8. Yin Shunjin (Chn) 2:14:16

1. Atsede Bayisa (Eth) 2:28:53
2. Sun Juan (Chn) 2:34:12
3. Jin Lingling (Chn) 2:36:00
4. Zhang Junli (Chn) 2:37:04
5. Yue Chao (Chn) 2:42:23
6. Xu Junliang (Chn) 2:43:32
7. Yin Yuan Yuan (Chn) 2:48:37
8. Yang Meng (Chn) 2:51:17