What does it takes to win a World Championship Medal?


The world championships are the the height of our sport. Athletes who make the qualifications standards are the best in their discipline in the world. Athletes who make it through the heats to the semi-finals are to be commended and honored. An athlete who makes the final at the World Championships should be considered a threat for a medal (with the clear exception of the 10,000 and the marathon). So, what does it take to win a world championship medal? As it requires a much different skill set than merely running fast, jumping or throwing far....

In 1992, in Barcelona, just when everyone had their eyes on Nouradine Morcelli, a young, focused Spanish runner, with eyes in the back of his head, made his move. From a running start, Fermin Cacho ran a 50.4 last 400 meters. Catching Morcelli unawares, Cacho had a strong lead that Morcelli could not counter. Even though Morcelli ran 50.6, he did not get the gold that everyone had given him before the race. Fermin Cacho would challenge the world's best for the next half decade and pick up more than a few medals.

I always had fun watching Cacho running in the nineties. He always seemed to be in the right place at the right time, an I would always swear that the guy had a sixth sense-he knew how to stay away from the rail, he knew when to kick and when to run for the medals, Cacho was a championship runner.

In 1999, after Cacho and his business partner, Abel Anton ran in Sevilla, I interviewed both of them after their victory celebration on the next to the last day of the World Champs. As impressed I was of their runs, I was also impressed that Cacho and Anton could stay up all night, party and then show up for a series of interviews the morning after their victories ( quite early in the morning, if I remember well).

Cacho's records in World Champs' competition alone was pretty impressive-fifth in 1991, second in 1993, eighth in 1995, second in 1997, fourth in 1999. Abel Anton's records in World Championship marathons were pretty darn good as well-wins in 1997 and 1999. What was fascinating to these two men, who were from the same town, ran the same soccer shop, also had the same coach.

In interviewing their coach that morning, it was clear that Cacho and Anton both were well trained, both had done the base work, and the early speed work and the final buildups, like many others around the world. There were big differences-Anton and Cacho probably did more miles and tougher sessions than many of their competitors-and they were willing to do the training needed.

But the big difference was, Cacho and Anton knew how to race. They knew the difference between an invitational or a big city marathon and a world champ final or world champ marathon. The only thing that matters in a world championship is who is in the top three at the end of the race. Cacho knew that, Anton knew that. In both of Anton's marathons, the first 5k was run in five and half minute per mile pace, and his last five kilometers were under 4:40 a mile pace. Like Cacho, Anton knew how to race and when.

Osaka, Japan will be hot, humid and a world championship in all meanings of the phrase. There will be surprises, surprise winners and suprise loosers, but the best prepared, the best focused, and the most wary ( as well as the luckiest) will mount the medal stand.

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