Tirunesh Dibaba won the Beijing double: 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters. In winning both, she lead for a very small part of either race. While her 10,000 meter win was masterful, her 5,000 meter race was one of the slowest and most boring tactical races in our sport's history. Pat Butcher, who blogs at www.globerunner.org, had some choice
comments on Tirunesh and her racing tactics. The issue of class also came up, and I wanted to comment on the whole brouhaha:
I have seen Tirunesh Dibaba in all of her championship glory-I have seen her win at her leisure since 2003. Her surprise win in Paris in 2003 at the 5,000 meters, her bronze in the Olympic 5,000 meters, her defense of the 5,000 meters in Helsinki and her 10,000 win in Helsinki were brilliant! In Osaka, Tirunesh came as close to being human, as she nearly had a complete melt down in the 10,000 meters, but fought back and blew the field away in that hot and humid race.
In 2008, Dibaba broke Meseret Defar's 5,000 meter world record from last year, and her 10,000 meters in Beijing was the first time that two women had broken thirty minutes in championship race! Tirunesh is the perfect runner in a championship race-stay out of trouble, watch the moves and when it is time to go, sprint a 60 second last lap!
In the 5,000 meters, the race was pedestrian at best. Take into consideration the hot, humid conditions on the track, take into condition that Dibaba had raced 15,000 meters in the past six days, and take into consideration that Tirunesh Dibaba could have won that race, fast or slow, having a sack lunch and then flossing her teeth before the final kick, does Ms. Dibaba have a responsibility to the sport to put something into the race besides a final kick?
Mr. Pat Butcher thinks so. The former FT sports columnist writes a timely blog, www.globerunner.org. In two of his most recent tomes, Is Tirunesh Dibaba the Most Boring Runner Alive? (http://www.globerunner.org/blog/?p=57) and Tirunesh Two (http://www.globerunner.org/blog/?p=61), Mr. Butcher journals into the areas of athlete responsibility and the class of an athlete.
Let me try and translate. Mr. Butcher believes that as a world class athlete, and a dominating athlete in her events, Ms. Dibaba owes the sport to help provide a more entertaining race than a 5,000 meters where time is nearly 90 seconds slower than her world record race of 14:11. In his second blog, Mr. Butcher reflects on class, and uses one of the world's most frustrating books, Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, which is a philosophical battle between the classical and romantic approaches to philosophy going on in one man's head, which brought the writer, Mr. Robert Pirsig to near madness. In the early 80s, as I was running 120-140 miles a week training for the perfect 10,000 meters, that book drove me to consider Bernard Lonergan's Insights, another challenging philosophical tome, as peanuts compared to the above mentioned novel.
Here is what Pat Butcher is saying in his second blog, numero 61--Tirunesh Dibaba, is she had class, has not shown it by taking the easiest form of racing, racing to win, and boring the 91,000 fans in the stadium to tears. If she had class, and we would know it if we saw her run tough, like Kenenisa Bekele who ran a four minute mile, then cranked a 53 plus second 400 meters, smiling around the last turn. That was a race!
So, my response? I am verklemped. I recall John Walker noting that in the Montreal Olympic final, he was praying for a slow race inhabited by many senior citizens. Walker was the guy with the bulls eye on his back, the world record holder at the mile, and one tough racer and trainer. Walker ran a tough 1,500 meter final in Montreal and won, horsing his way though the likes of Eamonn Coglan, Paul Heinz Wellman and Rick Wolhuter, to name a few. That, however, was a classic race.
In this day and age, track & field is getting hit from all sides. In the US, NBC did all that it could to delay, spindle and mutilate for the US crowds what was one of the best track & field meets in recent Olympic history. That the US got medals in normally barren events, and that the sprints blew up was a great story, but perhaps way too sophisticated for a Network so obsessed with guaranteed profits, and trying to justify its purchase of Olympic TV rights. Wait until ESPN and the Disney folks get involved in
2014, the price should be amazing!
My point is this. Sports is entertainment. Track & Field is entertainment. Take a peak at the IAAF web site (http://www.iaaf.org), and note that there is IAAF radio, IAAF digital video, IAAF blogs, IAAF daily ticker, IAAF stories-this is a website worthy of a global sport!
Our athletes need to be household names. Our sport needs to be showcased besides every four years. The drug issues continue to challenge us even with better drug testing and enforcement.
Butcher's issue is that Dibaba needs to race with more style and that type of race is one that will be talked about for the ages. Her double win in Beijing was an amazing feat, 20,000 meters of top racing. But 4,600 of the last 5,000 meters was virtually a junior college 5k. Such racing does not belong on a world stage, if we want fans, sponsorship dollars and the sport to grow and prosper.
For more on Pat Butcher, http://www.globerunner.org