It is not a coincidence that US distance running fortunes, during the era of Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar and Greg Meyer were pretty good. Lots of US marathoners, formerly track athletes, were running long distances fast during the seventies and eighties. Hard work paid off. And no one in that generation was afraid of hard work.
The drought at the ING New York City Marathon for American women has been since 1977 when Miki Gorman won the race (she had also won in 1976). Gorman was no one hit wonder. Miki also won Boston twice. It has been thirty-one years since we had an American women win in New York. Many have tried. Deena Kastor has come close, winning in London and Chicago, but no New York or Boston.
Now, we have another attempt, by an American athlete who has run the 5,000 meters, 10,000 meters and will debut over the marathon at New York, racing Paula Radcliffe. Her name is Kara Goucher and she could reinvent the marathon in the U.S., if she wins the ING New York City Marathon. I sure hope that does not put pressure on Kara.....
Kara Goucher has come full circle. Known in college as a promising athlete, but one of those fragile ones, Kara and Adam moved from Boulder to Portland less than three years ago to train with Alberto Salazar.
Alberto Salazar is one of those rarified few elite athletes, who through making and learning from their own errors, become fine coaches. For an elite athlete to become a great coach is like putting a camel through the eye of a needle (now, where did I steal that one from?). Seriously, the late Emil Zatopek once told Joe Mangan (coach at San Mateo CC, and friend) and I that " great athletes make terrible coaches...I was too nervous..it was easier to do it myself. My Daniela (Zatopek's wife) was a coach too, she got so upset, she went back to throwing the javelin eight years later..it was easier for her to coach herself than the young girls..(she won a bronze Olympic medal after taking nearly eight years off)."
So, Alberto has learnt from his mistakes, perhaps he is a bit more relaxed, whatever. The only thing that truly matters is that Alberto's athletes believe in him. We became aware of that confidence in Osaka, last year, after Kara won the bronze at 10,000 meters. " I knew that I had done everything that I could to prepare, now it was time to race. My coach told me that I could medal, I needed to run my race..." that was the commentary that Kara Goucher gave us after her stupendous run in muggy Osaka. After running a personal best at 5,000 meters, Kara dusted Paula Radcliffe over the half marathon distance last year, suggesting that Ms. Goucher could be formidable
over the marathon distance.
Kara ran well at the U.S. Olympic Trials, especially at 5,000 meters, screaming around the final 200 meters to take a hotly contested five thousand meters from Shalane Flanagan and Jenn Rhines. In Beijing, Kara ran a personal best at 10,000 meters, in 30:55, but because of an earlier mistake, put herself out of contention for a medal at 10,000 meters. That night, it was Shalane Flanagan's turn. In the ensuing 5,000 meter final, the slowest women's final on record, Kara finished an exhausted ninth, and Shalana an exhausted tenth.
Kara Goucher has recovered from Beijing. Her 53:11 ten miles at the Mediatronic Ten Mile US championship on October 5 showed she was a) fit and b) able to run by herself for a long, long time. Kara Goucher was alone in that ten mile race for most of seven miles.
Sunday's race should prove interesting. Paula Radcliffe just ran 51:11 for ten miles at the BUPA Great North Ten Miles, so she is in good speed shape. Whether she can run 2:22 or better after her tough time on the streets of Beijing remains to be seen. When I asked Alberto in early October how Kara Goucher would do, Alberto smiled, and noted that it could be " a very exciting race" and a " fun race to watch."
When I saw Adam Goucher in the San Jose airport, he noted that Kara was training well and, being the proud, be realistic husband, Adam just said, ' her workouts have been great, she is ready to race."
Kara Goucher is a very tough competitor, as are this whole generation-Flanagan, Rowbury, Rhines, Fleshman. She and Paula Radcliffe have different talents, but, over the marathon, this could be a test similar to Rodolfo Gomez and Alberto Salazar had on the old New York courses in 1981 and 82.
I think that Goucher, Radcliffe and crowd will be together until about 30 kilometers, and then the fitness will start getting tested. Watch for little surges, testing, to see who is weak, who is reaching their limit. Watch for someone to nearly falter: I believe one of them will come close to faltering, but this race is going the whole 26.2 miles.
Radcliffe is the world record holder and she is a road warrior. Goucher is the new marathoner, but few have come as prepared to race, down to the final, final steps on the course. This may be the classic footrace.
If it comes down to the last mile, the last eight hundred, the last three hundred meters, I can see Radcliffe and Goucher neck and neck, and 300,000 fans lining the ING New York final miles screaming their heads off.
If Kara Goucher can win this year, and I, for one, believe she will, an American women winning the ING New York City marathon will give even the most cynical non running sports writer something to write about.
Deena Kastor has lead the way for American women distance runners for over a decade. Her focus on the marathon, her American record, her wins in London and Chicago have elevated American women marathoners. Her poise and class have shown women athletes how to comport themselves. I for one, believe the press conference held in Boston after the US Women's Trial was one of the most fascinating events in women's sports history. Kastor is recovering from injury, and Goucher is moving into this marathon distance.
They key is, however, an American women must win BAA Boston and ING New York now. Kara Goucher looks like she may be the first to do that, at ING New York at least. Having two tough marathoners in the US on the women's side could also bring some strong press to focus on the sport for a few years. Our sports needs this type of a rivalry.
In the annals of American sports writing, the late John Jerome was a giant among pretenders. In an early issue of Outside magazine, then called Mariah, Jerome observed, " by putting twenty-six five minute miles back to back, Frank Shorter re invented running..". I will say it here, by putting two hours, twenty-two minutes of hard work on the streets of the five boroughs of the ING New York, Kara Goucher could reinvent American women's marathoning.
I for one, am wishing her much luck on the streets of the ING New York City marathon, this coming Sunday, November 2, 2008.
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