RBR Book Review: 14 Minutes, by Alberto Salazar & John Brant, Reviewed by Jeff Benjamin, note by Larry Eder

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14 Minutes, by Alberto Salazar and John Brant

One of our favorite correspondents, Jeff Benjamin, sent in this review of Alberto Salazar's new book, 14 minutes. The book was written by Alberto Salazar and RW senior writer, John Brant, who also wrote, Duel in the Sun.

The book is well done, and gives the reader a pretty honest view of how Alberto sees his world and his role in sports. A tremendous athlete, Alberto Salazar has evolved into a very thoughtful coach, whose concern for his athletes is legendary.

Alberto gives the reader a fascinating view of his loving, emotional, close family life. His father could be a book in itself, and Alberto should be given kudos for giving the reader a view of a father, Jose, who loves his family, is proud of his sons, including Alberto, and who is defined, and tortured, in many ways, by his past. Alberto could have painted a severe picture of a very complicated man, he does not. The sections on the father are some of the most poignant in the book. 

Alberto Salazar also speaks of a very deep religious upbringing, and how he and his wife, Molly, shared that with their family. He pulls no punches, not asking you to approve, but, helping you understand his journey, which, again, to this reader, is fascinating. 

Alberto Salazar also makes no excuses for his sporting career. Well written, the book gives the reader an insiders view into a parallel universe called Nike, and how that influences Alberto's every waking moment. The writing style and syntax shows that John Brant, one of the great journalists of our era, gave this book much attention. Brant helped Alberto show his life honestly-it is a book of which both should be very proud.

14 minutes is the story of a complicated man, sports hero, sports coach, father, husband, brother, son. Alberto Salazar has experienced death, and better than most, he understands the little time we have on this small planet. He chooses to live, coach and love his family to his fullest. An admirable goal. 

And, a very good summer read. 

14 Minutes---by Jeff Benjamin

Salazar_Alberto-USOlyT08.JPGAlberto Salazar, photo by PhotoRun.net (July 2008, US Olympic Trials)

Say what you want about Alberto Salazar; he was never one to be shy about things. The world's best marathoner during the high peak years (1980-1984) of the "Running Boom", his legendary performances in three NY Marathons (culminating in a world best in 1981) and his 1982 Boston "Duel in the Sun" victory over Dick Beardsley all stand out to running afficionados as truly legendary.

  Salazar was also known back then for his straightforward assessments about his training and racing predictions, which always exuded self-confidence (some would say arrogance) and were always right on as he predicted his upcoming performances,silencing his competitors and the critics.

However, as time marched on, the always training/racing Salazar sadly turned into a declining athlete, in which his greatest disappointment culminated with his 14th place finish at the Los Angles Olympic Marathon, an event which, closed the curtain on Salazar's dominance as well as possibly the first phase of the American "Running Boom".

Through the upcoming years after Los Angeles, Salazar struggled with himself and his body as he tried to rise to the top again.

Since 2000, as he immersed himself into becoming one of the world's greatest distance coaches in guiding  the athletes of the Nike Oregon Project to great performances, one might have said that Alberto Salazar had already faced down the great challenges in his life, and conquered them.

But not until, that fateful day in 2007, when he suffered a heart attack, falling to the ground around his athletes (Galen Rupp among them), did he face his greatest challenge of all--survival!!

The title of his new book, 14 Minutes, co-written with longtime running author John Brant, describes how long Salazars' heart had stopped, and it is from that experience, an experience from which he miraculously recovered, that inspired him to share his life story in the only way he knows--straight and to the point.
The book is thoroughly enjoyable to generations of runners, both young and old. We are treated to the young Salazars' experiences with the Greater Boston Track Club and his older teammates, such as Bill Rodgers, whose 1975 Boston victory debut would impact the young Salazar in his drive to become the best as well.

Salazar_Alberto-USind12.JPGAlberto Salazar, photo by PhotoRun.net (US Indoor, February 2012)

Salazar's first brush with death from dehydration at the 1977 Falmouth Race is covered as well. There is also a rich trove of stories about his days at Oregon, training with his best friend Rudy Chapa (remember him?) and under his coach Bill Dellinger.

There are also his experiences at New York, Boston, and other great Cross-country and track performances accomplished by him. The authors also reminisce about those great characters from the running past, such as Fred Lebow, Bill Squires, and Henry Rono among others.

The reader is also brought into Alberto's world as he tries to fight, rationalize and cope with his decline after 1983. Also presented in the book is his experiences with Nike creator and CEO Phil Knight, who along with the late Geoff Hollister, were always there to sponsor, support, advise, and eventually hire Salazar.

A major component in the book is Salazars' unshakeable loyalty to Nike, which resulted in the creation of the Oregon Project, which was approved by Knight.

Admittedly learning from his mistakes later on is what drove him to try and be a successful coach, and lots of attention is devoted during this time in the book to his athletes (both past and current) such as Kara and Adam Goucher, Dan Browne, Dathan Ritzenheim, Allan Webb, and his great protege, Galen Rupp.
But the book is also enjoyable to generations of non-runners. Salazar's remarkable Cuban family background (most notably his father, a Castro ally who originally supported him and then fled Cuba) is interesting and shows their influence upon him.

A terrible incident is recounted in the book as well, where the 9 yr old Alberto experiences another childs' death which would have a profound effect upon him.

As the book travels through his days as a world -class runner, Salazar also discusses his high school/college years on a social level, which would eventually lead him to a successfully married and happy life.

Alberto Salazar, photo by PhotoRun.net (2012 NIke Pre Classic)

Like all fathers, he has to juggle work and family commitments. Yet his tenacity as a great competitor would haunt him during those post 1984 years, as he struggled to find himself.

These experieinces would include  his foray into the restaurant business, his travels to the Christian religious shrine at Medjugorje, his taking of Prozac, and eventually his desire to work at Nike.

All the more amazing during this period showing one more flash of his greatness by winning one of the hardest endurance races in the world, the Comrades 65-mile Ultra-Marathon in South Africa in 1994.
By this point of the book, the running and non-running experiences seem to intersect to put Salazar is in a contented place in his life.

But then, his experience over 14 minutes arrives suddenly, and from that experience where his heart stopped beating over that time (some say the longest on record!!) Alberto Salazar emerges miraculously from this experience with an old tale to tell, but from a fresh perspective, and as always, straightforward!!

A valuable book for anyone not just interested in ( to paraphrase Bill Bowerman) the meaning of running, but also the meaning of life.

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