http://www.thedailycamera.com/bdc/other ... 55,00.html
Americans resurgent in distance running
By Michael Sandrock, For the Camera
May 4, 2003
At the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, marathoners Rod DeHaven and Christine
Clark trudged home long after the leaders had finished, their sad
shuffle into the Olympic stadium an apt metaphor for the fallen state of
U.S. distance running.
How far the once-mighty American distance runners had fallen from their
glory days years before, one spearheaded by Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers,
Alberto Salazar and Joan Benoit.
Those 2000 Olympic Games, when only DeHaven and Clark qualified for the
U.S. Olympic marathon team, can be seen as the nadir of distance running
in the United States. While there were a handful of top Americans in
the 1990s — runners like Bob Kennedy, Todd Williams, Lynn Jennings and
former Boulder residents Mark and Gwyn Coogan — capable of doing battle
with the best in world, the depth, times and performances in
international competitions were not there.
Now, Americans are once again in the forefront of the world's runners,
thanks to some new training groups, new talent and new enthusiasm by a
large group of young men and women that includes several from Boulder.
"I don't think those questions of 'Where have all the Americans gone'
are being asked anymore," said Louisville's Alan Culpepper, one of the
best of the bunch. "In general, those doubts have subsidized, and at
some point myself or one of the others will medal in the Olympics or
After a great run Friday night at Stanford, next up for Culpepper will
be the Memorial Day Bolder Boulder 10K, a race where Culpepper will
compete against some of the best road racers in the world. According to
Bolder Boulder race director Cliff Bosley, the difference between
American running now and a few years ago "is like night and day. The
talent has always been there, and now it has finally happened."
Look at the results of the Bolder Boulder elite race and you can track
the fortunes of U.S. distance running. After victories by Shorter and
Ric Rojas in the early years, the last American victory came from Herb
Lindsay back in 1984, just about the time scores of foreign runners
began flocking to American road racing in order to snatch the new, large
prize money purses.
"The closest we've gotten since then was Alan, last year," Bosley said
of Culpepper's runner-up finish in the men's elite race. "And his race
was not an anomaly. I think we are now starting to see more people like
Alan, Adam (Goucher) and Clint (Wells) pop up."
Some of the nation's best new runners are in Boulder attending the
University of Colorado, people like Sara Gorton (one of the fastest
collegians ever over 5,000 meters), Ed and Jorge Torres, and youngsters
like sophomore Dathan Ritzenhein, bronze medalist in the World Cross
Country junior race, and freshman Billy Nelson, winner of the 2003 U.S.
junior cross country championships.
"Seeing these new runners come along is really exciting," said Bosley. "The
intensity is up around the country; we have gotten back into the
program. The undertow is strong, and I believe we are going to do well
in the 2004 and 2008 Olympics."
One commonality between the old days of Shorter and Rodgers and the
runners of today is a new-found emphasis on group training. After
graduating from Yale, Shorter moved to Florida to train with Jack
Bacheler, then the best U.S. runner, and Rodgers had a great group of
runners to train with at the Greater Boston Track.
After the 2000 Olympics, the Team USA program was formed and has now
expanded to include five training groups that includes elite runners
such as U.S. marathon record holder Deena Drossin and 10,000 record
holder Meb Keflezighi. In addition, there are groups like the Army's
World Class Athlete Program, which is helping develop runners such as
Ryan Kirkpatrick, as well as all the CU runners, current and past,
training under principles formulated by coach Mark Wetmore.
"What Mark is doing, what all the training groups like Team USA are
doing, and what we and other road races are doing, is cumulative," said
Bosley. "In and of themselves they are not responsible for the
resurgence in American running, but together they have the horsepower to
create something good. Line them all up and it works."
Paul Christman, publisher of the Boulder-based Running Stats, has been
following American distance running for nearly three decades. He says it
was not just the times and victories of Shorter and Rodgers that helped
make the U.S. great in distance running, but also the confidence those
two gave all the runners who were chasing them, people like Benji Durden,
Greg Meyer, Rojas, Garry Bjorklund and Craig Virgin.
"In the 1970s Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers got America running,"
Christman explained. "The two marathoners singularly inspired many not
only to lace up their shoes, but talented runners to believe they could
be internationally competitive. Subsequently Mary Slaney, Joan Benoit
Samuelson, Lynn Jennings and Bob Kennedy were among those keeping the
impetus going before the onslaught of the African high plains force
Chris Lear, author of the soon-to-be published "Sub-Four," points to the
high school success of CU's Ritzenhein and miler Alan Webb as helping
today's prep runners set their sights higher, which is translating into
faster times across the nation. Then when these runners go to college,
they see people like Jorge Torres defeat a strong group of international
runners in the NCAA cross country championships, which in turn inspires
the young runners even more.
Said Christman, "These are the performances upon which potential
immortals will draw inspiration in order again to ignite the future of
American distance running. While Americans still hover behind the
African wellspring of talented souls dominating international roads,
tracks and turf, Keflezighi, Drossin, Webb, Culpepper, Goucher, Torres,
(North Carolina's) Shalane Flanagan and countless others may over time
match or surpass the ardor and hard work of even (British marathon world
record holder) Paula Radcliffe."
And if they do, look for even more U.S. success in the future, said
Bolder Boulder elite athlete coordinator Rich Castro.
"What impresses me is the depth and quality we have now," he said. "They
feed off each other and create a catalyst. It is not unlike a nuclear
reaction, or like ping pong balls that bounce off each other. Programs
like CU are a great inspiration and have a great legacy. We have a lot
of dynamic, young runners in the United States, and guys like Dathan are
now a real inspiration to the new younger guys. They learn what it
means to be successful, the dedication, drive and work ethic required,
and then are successful themselves."
Rodgers, four-time winner of the Boston and New York City marathons, put
it this way in a recent article in the Boston Globe: "We've got some
talent starting to crank up. There are a lot of pretty good people in
the 2:09-2:16 (marathon) range whose names aren't well-known yet, but
they're starting to show results. Culpepper's 2:09 — that's for real."
Christman and other local track fans were at Potts Field Thursday
afternoon watching CU's Nelson, a freshman, win the 1,500 meters. The
track is new, but it was down at Potts where Shorter used to train and
sometimes race, followed by greats such as Steve Jones, Rob de Castella,
Lorraine Moller, Arturo Barrios, Rota Mota, Durden, the Coogans, then
the Culpeppers and Gouchers, and now Ed and Jorge Torres, Ritzenehin and
the newest freshmen.
"The icons are again blossoming into place," said Christman. "The (training)
camps are smoldering with would-be internationals. U.S. middle and long
distance running can only continue to gain momentum. ... Potential
stars must again learn to walk instead of always riding in cars; must
forgo fast foods and ignore bad weather; and must train like there is no
tomorrow. Only then will Olympic and World Championships distance event
medals again come within grasp and the public's imaginations be fired
like they were back during Shorter's historic run in Munich."