The race between Mara Yamauchi and Irina MIkitenko had much of Great Britain glued to the BBC broadcast last Sunday. It is true that now, with Mara and Paula Radcliffe, if she can get healthy, Great Britain can have two possible women marathon medalists. Add Mo Farah, who, under the watchful eyes of UK endurance mentor Ian Stewart, is running with a new found confidence. Globerunner blogger Pat Butcher has some thoughts on the significance of the few British male distance runners...
Pat Butcher, the former FT sports columnist and the man behind the blog, globerunner.com, has written a column on the dearth of distance runners in the UK: http://www.globerunner.org/blog/?p=145. The column is thoughtful and articulates why Butcher believes that, at least on the male side, Great Britain's distance hopes are few and far between.
In the U.S., it took two decades of soul searching, and hard work by many coaches, athletes and media to help develop a process where the U.S. distance fortunes could actually get better.
Kara Goucher, Galen Rupp, Meb Keflizighi, Deena Kastor, Ryan Hall, German Fernandez, Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Solinsky, Shannon Rowbury--none of them came out of a vacuum. From the NSSF to coaching clinics to Stanford Distance Carnivals to Mammoth to the Oregon Project, and all in between. In the hard years, we had Todd Williams, Bob Kennedy, Jim Spivey, Brian Deimer and company, who would give us a bit of a respit, but, in our hearts, we knew that our best athletes were going to football, soccer, basketball, all sports that worked to attract the best all around athletes.
Just as our sport has weathered such periods in the U.S., Great Britain is coming off the 80s, the 90s, where they had superstars, but the Stewarts, Coes, Ovetts, and such are gone now, and the chance for new stars is not good. Butcher does not offer suggestions to improve, he states the facts, and perhaps, just perhaps, that is where the home of modern distance running has to start before change can happen.
I remember Buddy Edelen, our American record holder in the marathon, who went to England to become a distance runner.
Last weekend, while I was in London, I had coffee with Jim Hogan, the 1966 European marathon champion, who is one ball of energy at the age of seventy-seven. Hogan was one of the wild ones-he ran hard, he raced hard, and he lived a quiet life with his lovely wife, Mary. He remembered Edelen, and told me stories of the others, from a young Scot named Ian Stewart to a pre mustachioed David Bedford.
Change can only happen when people are focused on the need for it, from the top of UK athletics to the smallest club in the smallest town in the north of Wales or England. It will come.
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