Bob Kennedy and Todd Wiliams, Running US champs, Indianapolis, 1997, photo by PhotoRun.net.
I thought I would take a shot at what Dathan Ritzenhein breaking Bob Kennedy's AR for 5,000 meters really means. So, here we go:
In the day, the 1990's, Bob Kennedy, Todd Williams and Mark Croghan were three of the loneliest guys in North America. There were a few others in that realm. Some would settle for running 13:45 over here and getting squashed in Europe. All three of the above realized, however, that to be the best in the US was not good enough. You can count the other guys who raced in Europe from the US on one hand.
Kennedy began training with the best runners in the world, many of them Kenyans and Ethiopians: all of them worked hard, and challenged themselves constantly. Todd Williams was our lone guy at 10,000 meters, Mark Croghan in the steeplechase and Bob Kennedy in the 3,000 to 5,000 meter range. His record, 12:58.21, was a big bulls eye in my mind. If you really wanted to be world class.
If you thought you could be among the best half dozen in the world, then you have to put it on the line, you have to train hard, race hard and find a way to get to that place where, as Frank Shorter once said, the knife slices into you and the pain just becomes a constant. You must embrace the pain. You use it as the barometer. Repeat miles at near four minutes? Fast 400 meters? This is not running for fun. This is running to see what one is made of, to see where the limits are. This is character building, and the effects last a lifetime. Try and see what you are truly made of means risking failure, and for many, that is a frightening place to be. Some are not brave enough to go there, some have to go there, some are drawn there.
Ritzenhein was in seventh place with two laps to go, and by the finish, he was in third, driving, driving to the finish, 12:56.27! On the broadcast, Ritz's facial expression was a combination of oxygen debt and real shock-what happen's when your dreams become reality?
Ritz's sense of racing is exciting to watch, and his focus and drive give us a sense of how far ahead Bob Kennedy was thirteen lonely years ago...
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