NYC HALF MARATHON 2013 STORY/
By ELLIOTT DENMAN
NEW YORK – I’ve been around the track a few times.
I’ve been down roads here, there, everywhere.
And I plan to keep heading in all these familiar directions for years and years to come.
I heard this radio flash on May 6, 1954 – “Roger Bannister of England runs the first sub-four minute mile.”
I picked up the newspapers the morning of June 30, 1956 to learn that (a) Charlie Dumas had become the first human to loft himself over a high jump bar set at seven feet or more, and (b) Glenn Davis had become the first ever to run the 400-meter hurdles under 50 seconds, both at the USA Olympic Trials the night before.
I actually got to see Jim Hines run the first electronically-clocked 100 meters in 10 seconds or less – his 9.95 at the Mexico City Olympics, October 14, 1968. Bob Beamon long jumped clear past the 28-foot “barrier” – to 29- 2 1/2 – at Mexico City, too.
I got a glimpse of Jonathan Edwards triple jumping 60 feet (and a quarter of an inch) at the Goteborg, Sweden World Championships, August 7, 1995.
I was up in the stands to see Usain Bolt run his incredible 9.58 100 and 19.19 200 at the 2009 World Championships in Berlin.
With all this in a portfolio of great barrier-smashings, I’m getting antsy all over again.
It’s perfectly obvious – it’s about time a human being ran 42.195 kilometers in less than two hours. It’s the performance the world awaits – the kind of performance that could and should generate the kind of headlines Bannister earned on his day of days running his four laps around the Iffley Road track in Oxford.
The accepted world record for the marathon is 2:03.38 and Patrick Makau of Kenya ran it Sept. 25, 2011 in Berlin. Of course, Geoffrey Kiprono Mutai had run even faster – 2:03.02 at Boston, April 18, 2011 – but it never went into the books because of the legalities involved – the Boston course has a net elevation drop of 3.25 meters per kilometer, and its 91 percent start-to-finish separation.
But who? where? when? will first break two ?
Wilson Kipsang of Kenya would seem to be a likely candidate for this kind of Bannisterian breakthrough. Then again, just check the world lists and you’ll see there are a flock of others in the same vicinity.
He owns a marathon best of 2:03:42. He turned 31 last Friday and is supremely fit, at the very top of his game.
Proof came in his 1:01:02 triumph in the eighth edition of the NYC Half Marathon on Sunday. In cold, windy conditions – and remnants of Saturday’s snowfall still in evidence – Kipsang led virtually start to finish in outclassing an array of world-class pursuers. His big push past the 15K mark broke it all open.
Impressive as his 1:01:02 was, it was merely the 18th fastest time in the relatively brief history of the NYC Half, run as a big-time race for the first time in 2006.
The event record remains the 59:24 run by the magnificent Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia in 2007. Three others – Peter Kirui (59:39) and Deriba Merga (59:48), both in 2012, and Peter Kamais (59:53 in 2010) have sped the NYC Half – Central Park to the southerly tip of Manhattan Island – in less than an hour, too.
A quick listing of the fastest-ever half marathons anywhere shows that no less than 49 performances of 59:25 or swifter have been recorded since Moses Tanui’s epic 59:47 – as first man under the hour mark – at Milan in 1993.
When Paul Tergat lowered the WR to 59:17 on that same Milan course in 1998, it was a huge improvement.
Yet such is the quickening pace of the global elite that the all-time world top-50 list now includes just two marks from as far back as the 20th century.
Just three nations are represented in that top-50 performance lineup – and they’re all East African – Eritrea, Kenya and Ethiopia.
It’s topped by Eritrean Zersenay Tadese’s 58:23 at Lisbon in 2010. And right behind that one is Tadese’s 58:30 return to Lisbon in 2011.
The late, great Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya owns the Number Three world mark – his 58:35 at The Hague, the Netherlands, in 2007.
And so the sub-two marathon question was posed to Wilson Kipsang after his NYC triumph.
“I think it is not easy, not easy to run a sub two hours, ” he said, quickly weighing the possibilities.
Clearly, he’s a man of gradualism.
“I think the main target, maybe for the athletes of the moment, is to go for the world record,” he said.
“The more we bring it down, you (will) find that in the near future the sub two hours will be possible.”
Kipsang’s next big start will be at the London Marathon, a race he won last year in 2:04.40. That, in turn, was just .04 off the course record set by Kenya countryman Emmanuel Mutai in 2011.
There is strong talk of world record opportunities awaiting in London, and
Kipsang knows he can be right in the mix.
His analysis: “The timings of the (first) half, if we will be at world record pace and still have a strong group, then I think the possibilities will be very high.”
A totally simplistic view of all this record-breaking is that humans are not really running faster than their predecesssors – they’re simply running faster longer, stretching the velocity they already possess, over greater and greater expanses of the world’s real estate.
For sure, for sure, it’s more than simple arithmetic – the sub-one hour half marathon, now a relatively commonplace occurence, times two.
But it’s surely do-able.
Having applauded the outrageously indominatable spirit of Sir Roger, Charlie Dumas, Glenn Davis, Jimmy Hines, Bob Beamon, Jonathan Edwards and Usain Bolt, I can’t wait for Wilson Kipsang – or anyone – to cross a finish line in 1:59:59.