Monday, November 29, 2021

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Guest Commentary

Historic 5,000-meter run unsets the pace at ‘blue oval’


With all the great races enjoyed by the folks who journeyed to Drake Stadium for the USA Track and Field championships, maybe it’s to be expected that they should have to endure one troubling, one vastly disappointing performance at the vaunted “blue oval.”

And the weather — you know, so-called “Relays weather” — didn’t have anything to do with it. Nor did the fifth-place, but still admirable, finish of local favorite Lolo Jones in the 100-meter hurdles a day earlier figure into it.

What it was was historic in its own way.

What it was was the penultimate event of the championships: the mens 5,000-meter run.

What it was was one of the slowest winning times in that event in more than 75 years!

Prep Iowa

The time was just under 15 minutes, and the top three winners still get to represent USA, USA, USA at the world championships in Moscow, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, RUSSIA, in August.

OK, so maybe strategy was involved. As long as you finished in the top three, you got to go to Moscow. Obviously, that suited Bernard Lagat, 14:54.16, Galen Rupp, 14:54.91, and Ryan Hill, 14:55.16, just fine. But, good grief, their times were within 10 seconds of Don Lash, who won the 5,000 in 15:04.2 in 1936; their times were much worse than most times since then.

And it wasn’t as though the champ — who was 38 by the time the race ended — was nursing an injury.

“I feel really strong, good, no injuries,” Lagat said, according to one website. “I’m feeling strong right now because I’ve had good, good training… so I came here prepared. People didn’t know but I was really ready for this race.”

So Lagat, Rupp and Hill are on their way to Moscow despite numbing the crowd with a first lap time of 83 seconds and not much improvement after that.

By the time they happened by for the second and third laps, their reception was akin to the greeting given a less-than-favorite uncle, who shows up on your doorstep every four or five years:

“Oh, you’re back again? Seems ages!”

By the eighth and ninth laps, it was a metric version of “The Man Who Came to Dinner” — the 1930s Broadway Hit by George S. Kaufman and Moss Hart, in which a dinner guest overstays and overstays his welcome.

By the 11th lap, the pace picked up — having nowhere else to go — and Lagat et al punched their tickets to Moscow.

Yes, 5,000 meters — 3.1 miles or so — is a long way to walk, let alone run. And a time of 15 minutes is well beyond the dreams of most of us. But when other sports do not reward athletes and teams for under performing, it’s a shame to inflict one of the worst efforts in 77 years upon a track and field crowd.

If such race strategies are acceptable, maybe some changes are in order:

1. Have the favorites spot the others 400 to 800 meters and then try to catch them. Judging from their previous times this season, Lagat et al could have spotted the field a lap or two and still finished their 5,000s before the rest of the field did.

2. Even if an athlete finishes in the top three in a USATF event, that person has to have met a USATF track or field performance standard sometime during the season to qualify for the world championships. How about not crowning a national champ if the “winning” time or distance is the worst in, say, 50 years?

3. If we’re so smitten with “strategy” over performance, how about having “snails” set the pace, the way “rabbits” now get a race off to a fast start before dropping out?

Great having the USATF championships in town. Wonderful events — except for the historic 5,000. CV

Herb Strentz is a retired administrator and professor in the Drake School of Journalism and Mass Communication and writes occasional columns for Cityview.

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