By ELLIOTT DENMAN
The final 300 meters of the 1968 Olympic marathon were directly ahead.
“As I came out of the tunnel (and into Mexico City’s Estadio Olimpico), a vast cheer erupted,” Kenny Moore wrote in his 2006 epic “Bowerman And The Boys Of Oregon.“
The cheer, though, was not for Moore but for fellow Oregonian Dick Fosbury, who had just cleared his gold medal-winning, Olympic record-setting high jump height of 7 feet, 4 1/4 inches (via the revolutionary “Fosbury Flop” method.)
“He (Fosbury) was galloping around so heedlessly, I thought I’d have to dodge him when I passed by,” Moore wrote on.
“But he heard me yell ‘way to go,’ turned and saw that a Mexican marathoner was 40 yards ahead of me. ‘Get that guy,’ he ordered, so I sprinted for him, the stadium screaming for the gringo to fail. The gringo got the 40 down to three, but the gringo failed.”
Four years later at Munich, Moore would dramatically improve on that 14th place, 2:29:49 finish in the Mexico City marathon, where he’d been the first American finisher, after leading the pack through the first 10K. He raced home fourth at Munich in 2:15:39, just 31 seconds out of podium position in the race won by Frank Shorter in 2:12:19, the performance that ignited the modern “running boom.”
Kenny Moore would also write zillions other words on the sport that was clearly an essence of his life. His perspective as a world-class runner gave him insights few of the sport’s other wordsmiths could possibly match.
And so the New York Road Runners added to the many “truly well done” plaudits he’s received over the years by presenting him with the George Hirsch Award for journalism excellence. The awards ceremony took place just hours before the cancellation of the ING NYC Marathon was announced. Many of Moore‘s running and writing colleagues were there at the Timex Media Center, just a short dash yards away from the planned finish line of the marathon that would never be,
At least NYC Marathon Week wasn’t a total loss. At least this justice was done. At least
Kenny Moore got his due.
“I felt ridiculously lucky,” Moore said, reflecting on the ‘amazing’ mentors he’s had throughout his running and writing careers. They included, of course, Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, and earlier, an outstanding high school coach, Bob Newland. They went on to editor Gil Rogin at Sports Illustrated. And to Robert Towne, the noted filmmaker who guided him through the scereenwriting process for “Without Limits,” the Steve Prefontaine bio-story often considered one of the finest films on running/track and field ever made.
Moore was introduced by Joan Benoit Samuelson, the history-making winner of the 1984 women’s Olympic marathon in Los Angeles. As she told Moore, “I can’t think of another writer out there who has covered the sport with the passion and the love and the knowledge you possess.
“You really are a folk hero,” she added. “May your stories never end., may you never find that finish line, and may we continue to share many more wonderful miles together.”
A major problem, so many in the sport now lament, is the perceived lack of heroes for younger generations to emulate. As the Olympics grow larger and more opulent, track and field’s role in the Games,
and the media’s attention to it, often seems to diminish.
“The main thing is that young people have to be exposed to it at an early age,” said Moore.
“Kids, growing up, have to be exposed to the whole culture of the sport and the feeling that it’s important.
And that’s not really happening now.
“I’m kind of stymied right now. Everytime I think of what the great populace thinking is,
it’s (track/running) just not there.
“I live in Eugene (Oregon) and I regard the Register-Guard (the Eugene newspaper that is perhaps alone American papers in treating track/running as a major league sport) enormously.
“So I’m just spoiled rotten and can’t really answer why it’s not like that elsewhere.”
Is is the lack of overwhelming American performers? Would it make any difference if,
for example, Usain Bolt was to change vests from Jamaica to USA?
“Personalities like that are so rare,” said Moore. .” Sure we had Carl Lewis. We had Michael Johnson. They still didn’t become mainstream names, like so many in the other sports..
“The London Olympic Games were fantastic. And Sebastian (Coe) did great, it was fantastic. I think I’d have to rank it number one all-time. It was an amazing gathering in a great city, a place where people really understood sport.”
As luminous in London as he was in Eugene (where he demolished the world decathlon record at the USA Trials) was Ashton Eaton.
Ans Moore sees it, he’s just the kind of athlete the nation needs to pick up on – but now isn’t.
“He’s just a pure athlete,” said Moore. “No (artificial) bulking up, doing the best he possibly can with what he’s got. Then going out and going beyond. He’s just a kid from Bend who’s put it all together.”
But unfortunately not “turning on” the media, either.
With cycling riding into the sunset – the aftermath of the Lance Armstrong revelations – might track/running be wise to guard itself against a similar fate?
“No, I really don’t think that’s the case right now,” said Moore. “Maybe it’s possible if someone came up with some sort of genetic modification ability, but I just don’t see that happening,”
Moore feels the testing process now in place would be able to detect even such gross invasions of the human system.
“Something would always show in an athlete’s marker,” he said. “There would always be some marker that would be caught. I don’t see the possibility of anyone getting away with that right now. I just don’t see that happening.”
Nevertheless, thanks often to the saddening stories of Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, Tim Montgomery, etc., many naysayers don’t see track/running ever regaining the status or the respect it enjoyed three, four or five decades ago.
And that only makes it tougher for the writers, who really appreciate, who really understand the sport, to focus on those doing it the right way, the honest way.
Over the years, Kenny Moore has told the story of so many of the sport’s greatest figures and brilliant events,
It’s been a marathon of success – much like his old training routines.
Building to the 1972 Munich Olympic marathon, he’d run 30 to 35-mile training spins every two weeks. For much of that race, he’d been in contention for either the silver or gold medals, But that wasn’t to be. Back of Frank Shorter’s 2:12.19, Belgium’s Karel Lismont ran 2:14:31 and Ethiopia’s Mamo Wolde 2:15:08.
Kenny Moore would settle for fourth in 2:15:39.
But his description of the performance – in the Bowerman book – was pure gold.
“If it is run right, a marathon inflicts some damage,” he wrote. “Muscle cells rupture. Joints,
crunching together 22,000 times, wear away at tendons and cartilage. I ran it right, the crowd’s approval roaring in my head, on a cushion of blood blisters.”
But Shorter was uncatchable and Lismont and Wolde barely ahead.
Newland, his old high school coach, had always told him after his major races, “lift up your head, you ran the hardest you humanly could.”
Over the years that followed, Kenny Moore‘s writing has lifted us up, too.