The Way I See It

By Pat Bigold

Tuesday, April 15, 1997

U.S. marathon runners
falling off the pace

THERE'S a $1-million bounty out there, baby, and it's only for Americans.

That's what New Balance is dangling in front of U.S. marathoners in hopes that someone will move the sport forward in this country and break one of two national records.

The men's record, set in 1994 by Minnesota's Bob Kempainen, is 2 hours, 8 minutes and 47 seconds. The women's cobwebbed mark is 2:21:21, set in 1985 by Maine's Joan Benoit Samuelson.

There should have been a stampede of the top U.S. marathoners to go for the cool mill at the highly visible 101st Boston Marathon (live coverage on April 21 on ESPN), but that's not happening.

The last American to win at Boston was Greg Meyer in 1983, and the strongest likelihood is that next Monday's laurel wreath will go to a Kenyan or Mexican. That's the way the elite field is stocked.

There is really only one American who can be considered a genuine contender -- 35-year-old Olympic Trials winner Keith Brantly -- and he is a long shot.

Jerry Lawson, who ran in Sunday's Flora London Marathon, is among the all-time top 10 U.S. marathoners but Brantly isn't even in the top 50 all-time.

South African expatriate Mark Plaatjes, now an American resident, clocked a 2:10:29 for his personal best but that was at the Los Angeles Marathon six years ago.

Don't count on him to carry the American cause too far.

ONE letter writer to the editor of Runner's World asked, "Why didn't Boston use its considerable resources to bring in top American marathoners and 10,000-meter runners to try to set up a record attempt?"

He made the point that a U.S. record set at Boston would have more impact than a record set at a race with less press coverage.

Can't argue with that. The race is covered by 1,220 media people from around the world and the prize purse is $500,000.

But the event's sponsor, John Hancock, goes for quality not patriotism.

Once again, the issue of what's wrong with America's marathoners is thrust into focus on a global stage.

Leading up to last weekend's Flora London Marathon, not a single American had clocked faster than 2 hours and 20 minutes this year in a marathon.

It hasn't taken so long for an American to crack 2:20:00 since 1971, when Hawaii resident Kenny Moore ran 2:16:49 on June 6.

No American woman has broken the 2:30:00 barrier this year, either.

Remember that the $1 million bounty is for breaking American records.

KIND of scary to think what it would take for one of our own to smash the prevailing world marks: Ethiopian Belayneh Densimo's 2:06:50 (1988) and Norwegian Ingrid Kristiansen's 2:21:06 (1985).

While we can't expect an American victory, there is a strong possibility that the 1997 Boston men's winner will have a Honolulu Marathon connection.

Two-time (1992, 1993) Honolulu runner-up Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya , who had his three-year win streak at Boston broken last year by countryman Moses Tanui, is back.

Also in the elite invited field are 1996 Honolulu runner-up Jimmy Muindi of Kenya (2:13:37) and 1996 Honolulu fourth-place finisher Thabiso Moqhali (2:14:26) of South Africa.

On the women's side, courageous Uta Pippig of Germany, who captured her third straight Boston win last year under incredibly brutal personal circumstances, leads a superb field of challengers, including 1996 gold medalist Fatuma Roba of Ethiopia and 1995 Honolulu champion Colleen DeReuck of South Africa.

Pat Bigold has covered sports for daily newspapers
in Hawaii and Massachusetts since 1978.

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