The RBR Interview: Nike's John Capriotti on the Pre Classic, and Bekele's 10k WR attempt, by Larry Eder


On Sunday, May 11, 2008, Tom Jordan, the Meet director at the Nike Pre Classic announced the not only was Kenenisa Bekele running at the Pre Classic, but the world record holder at 5,000 meters, and 10,000 meters indoor ( plus two miles and 5,000 meters indoor), would be attempting to break his own world record for 10,000 meters (26:17.53) at 9:30 AM on June 8, the morning of the Nike Pre Classic.

As Tom Jordan has said more than once to me, if he is the gatekeeper of the Prefontaine Classic, a memorial meet to one of America
s great middle distance runners, then, John Capriotti, the Director of Athletics Sports Marketing, is the man behind the meet. Cap, as he is known to his friends, and his team of Josh Rowe, and Tim Phelan (and Pascal Dobert) work on making this meet the yearly affirmation for Nike's committment to running.

In some ways, John Capriotti has the best job in our sport. Overseeing a global athletics sports marketing program which promotes elite track and field, elite road running, grass roots cross country, track and the Nike brand, Capriotti has a problematic job. Capriotti was a fine prep runner, and in college ran 14:05 for 5,000 meters at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. He was also a college track coach and watches meets and athletes with the keen eye of a track coach.

It is obvious to anyone who knows Cap, as he is called by his friends and co workers, that the Pre Classic is one of his favorite projects of the year. It is also one of the most important. Nike is a company fraught with symbolism.

The Nike Pre Classic is all about being a showcase of the sport. It is also a litmus test of Nike's continuing support of the sport on the global level. It is also a memorial to the late Steve Prefontaine, an irreverent, talented athlete who inspires and haunts this little shoe company of 15,000 or so people located in Beaverton, Oregon. It is John Capriotti's duty to provide meet director the tools to pay homage to Prefontaine each and every year. This year, though, will be quite special.

We spoke to John Capriotti and Josh Rowe late on Tuesday afternoon.....

First, John, we are very excited about the 10,000 meter attempt! How did it come about?

John Capriotti: So, for various reasons, like Kenenisa (Bekele) could not make it to Pre due to training, we wanted to find a way to get Bekele here. I spoke to Jos Hermans, his agent about Kenenisa coming to Prefontaine to originally run the two mile. Then we heard that Bekele may be making a 10k attempt at Berlin, so I spoke to Hermans about doing it in Eugene. We have talked about this for the past three to four months. We spend alot of time on the Pre, well, Josh Roe and Tim Phelan, ( Nike Athletics Sports Marketing-Josh works Global and Tim works Europe), and I have known Hermans for many years, so it was the fact that we wanted to have Bekele run here and a 10,000 meter world record attempt sounded very exciting....

RBR: This is probably the time to ask, why is the Prefontaine so important for Nike?

John Capriotti: If you planted the Nike flag anywhere, you would have to, in my opinion, plant the Nike flag in the middle of Hayward Field. It is where Bowerman, the coach, and Phil Knight, the athlete, lived. It is also where Steve Prefontaine, an athlete who is very important to Nike, trained and raced and lived. It is all about the passion....

We work very hard to make this meet exciting. We just do not bring in Nike athletes, but we bring in athletes from all the brands-it is important to have the best fields. Josh Rowe, Tim Phelan and Tom Jordan work all year on this!

A couple things.. it is all about passion. The way I judge a track meet, I go to a meet and watch it, and I want to be entertained. I want to be excited and I want to leave, wanting more races! I love my job, but the two and half hours of the Pre is probably the most enjoyable two and one half hours of the year for me. Do not get me wrong. We do alot of great things. Josh can tell you that, Tim can tell you that, Tom Jordan can tell you that, with the Nike indoor, Nike nationals, we do alot of great events, but the the two and half hours of the Pre are pretty unbelievable.

Runblogrun: The 10,000 meter world record of 26:17.53 is an unbelievable record. Just how fast, Cap, do you think Bekele can run?

John Capriotti: First of all, I think it is a very difficult record. I kind of parked this on Tom. For me, the challenge in the next couple of weeks will be finding the right rabbits, I need two guys who can run 13:10. I have a problem: I can not have the second 13:10 guy just jump on track for second half. I need two world class runners. And this early in the season, finding a guy who can run
13:08 this early in the season. I talked to Jos (Hermans, Bekele's agent), he will probably ask for a guy to hit 13:08 for 5,000 meters. For the next couple of weeks, we have a lot of work to do lining up the rabbits for this race.

Runblogrun: Kenenisa Bekele is at his prime, he takes on all comers, from 1,500 meters to 12k in cross country. Where do you place him in track and field history?

John Capriotti: Let's see, ten world cross country championships, he also set world records outdoor at 10k, 5k, and 5k and 2,000 meters indoor . He is twenty-five years old, he is a legend in the making. I remember seeing him in Ireland seven or eight years ago at a cross country championship.

Bekele has taken on all comers, from 1500 to 12k. Where do you put him on the sport. Ten world cross, set outdoor 10k, 5k, and 5k indoor and 2,000 meter indoor record? 25 years old, legend in the making. I think a guy who has been in profession twenty ears. I remember see him in Ireland

Runblogrun: Tell us about the field for the 10,000 meters?

John Capriotti: We will have the pacemakers. We have really good runners. All of the agents are helping. We should have a dozen guys
under 27:15 for 10,000 meters.

Runblogrun: How would people come to this event? Do they have to have a ticket for the Pre Classic?

John Capriotti: Tom Jordan will have several announcements. Fans holding tickets will be able to get in. And we are planning for some other events between the 10,000 meter attempt and the regular schedule for the Pre Classic.

Runblogrun: Will TV cover the 10,000 meters?

John Capriotti: That is really Tom's place. My guess, and I do not really know, is that the TV will use something from it int he show. The show time is not changing so they will have the race on tape.

Runblogrun: What is the significance of the 10,000 meter world record attempt?

John Capriotti: I think that you do not have many opportunities like this. You will have to go back to 1996 to find a 10,000 meters of this quality in the US. The 1996 Olympics with Gebrseleassia, Tergat and Hissou. That was a race. We need to change the notion that all of the great meets in our sport are in Europe. There will be great races this next month in the US and you are going to see some great racing!

Runblogrun: With this 10,000 meter attempt, will we see Nike promote an American record for, say the mile?

John Capriotti: If the opportunity comes....

Runblogrun: We have three great elite meets indoors and outdoors, how many meets do we need in the US?

John Capriotti: We have meets in New York, LA and Eugene, we have state meets, NCAA Championships, Conference meets,
National champs. We have enough meets, we just need to make the meets we have much better.

I am pretty excited about our sport between now and Beijing. We have the Olympic Trials, and they are going to be unbelievably amazing, such depth. In the sprints, in the hurdles, we are going to leave some great is the only meet where what you have done before means nothing. If you are not on that day of your event, you do not make the team.

Runblogrun: Okay, Cap, you have always been pretty good at picking new athletes, anyone you excited about right now?

John Capriotti: It is too early to tell. I am still concentrating on the Pre.

And with that, the interview was over. Watch this blog over the next few days to see more info on the Nike Pre Classic.

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