Tuesday, December 26, 2006

2006 Top 9


      Thanks for your suggestion.

      Click to return to Roocha.

      Monday, December 25, 2006

      Merry Christmas!

      Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you;
      he is Christ the Lord.
      (Luke 2:11)

      For to us a child is born,
      to us a son is given,
      and the government will be on his shoulders.
      And he will be called
      Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
      Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
      (Isaiah 9:6)

      Friday, December 22, 2006

      Your Cheatin’ Heart

      It is refreshing when athletes speak their mind rather than try to be politically correct. Many of them try so hard to not give away strategies that they end up saying nothing during interviews. So, it was quite interesting to read a candid interview with the up and coming American marathoner Fernando Cabada (training partner of Fasil Bizuneh), who spoke openly about his ambition and goals.

      Of course, there is always the risk of talking too openly to an extent where a whole segment of society gets offended. Take Turbo Tumo, one of the top Ethiopian marathoners in the 1990s. After he failed to finish the 1996 Olympic Marathon, he was asked why he dropped out. Turbo (killer name for a runner!) replied saying he thought it would be better to drop out rather than finish the race in a time only fit for women runners. Ouch!

      Someone should have told Turbo about the Tanzanian marathoner John Akhwari who represented his country with great dignity in the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. Akhwari managed to
      limp to the finish line with a cut knee and dislocated joint he suffered from a fall during the race. As he approached the finish line, an hour after Mamo Wolde won the race, he was given a thunderous ovation by the crowd. When he was asked later on why he did not drop out of the race, he replied with what has become one of the greatest quotes: "My country did not send me over 11,000 kilometers to start a race. They sent me over 11,000 kilometers to finish one."

      Speaking of athletes talking openly, who can forget what Paula Radcliffe did at the 2001 World Championships in Edmonton, Canada. She
      openly protested against the Russian 5000m runner Olga Yegorova who had tested positive for the performance enhancing substance EPO. At the 5000m race which Yegorova was competing in, Paula watched the race from the stands while holding a large sign that read “EPO CHEATS OUT.” Now, that is talking openly!

      Radcliffe surely did not mince her words on how she feels about athletes who cheat. And many of them do cheat. Those who get caught almost always deny cheating and come up with the
      wildest excuses. Others say all top athletes (including Ethiopians!) cheat with some type of performance enhancing drugs. Many question the legitimacy of some of the seemingly unreachable world records supposedly achieved with an enhanced performance. There was even suggestion of scrapping all records and start fresh as we entered the new millennium.

      Athletics has changed from an amateur to a professional sport, and the money that comes with such transition could be enticing for anyone to want to cheat. That is the easy explanation. The question that I find more interesting is why some athletes cheat when there is no financial motivation. Last week, I read an
      article that talked about a $12200 settlement offered to 167 former athletes of East Germany who were forced to take performance enhancing drugs. It is an acknowledgment that someone within the East German government had taken a deliberate action to cheat against competitors from other countries. Why? Perhaps to prove to the world that Communism is a superior ideology and those who live under it are “stronger” human beings. In the process, the government compromised the health of those very people whom it wanted to prove as being superior!

      It is even more curious when non-competitive runners are caught cheating. Of course, no dose of performance enhancing drug could propel a regular Joe/Jane to the front of the pack so these people resort to other form of cheating. The classic case of this is Rosie Ruiz who
      “finished” first in the 1980 Boston Marathon before being disqualified shortly there after. There are also cases of charity runners cutting course to shorten the marathon in order to
      “finish” within the prescribed amount of time. I can not understand why anyone who goes out to run a marathon at a very slow pace would feel compelled to take a short cut rather than honorably drop out like the brave Turbo Tumo…

      And that brings me back to the thought of professional integrity among Ethiopian athletes. Is it inconceivable that some Ethiopian athlete would use performance enhancing substances? Are Ethiopian athletes more honorable than others and would consider cheating to be beneath them? One can never say for sure whether a particular Ethiopian athlete does or does not use performance enhancing substance until a test result comes positive. But rest assured that there will always be a bad apple in the barrel.

      As an unbelievable as it sounds (at least to me), there has been an Ethiopian elite runner, named
      Alene Emere, who has been caught using the performance enhancing substance EPO and suspended from competition in 2001. Even after serving his suspension, he was disqualified from a race where he registered with a different name in an apparent attempt to disguise himself.

      So, there is a cheatin’ heart in runners slow and fast, men and women, Ethiopian and American. Though we are stunned when we learn about stories of
      Ben Johnson, Regina Jacobs, Mary Slaney, Tim Montgomery, Dwain Chambers, Dennis Mitchell, Justin Gatlin, and even Ethiopia’s Alene Emere, we should never forget that there is no limit to the depth humans will sink to when left to their own devices.

      It is wonderful that all the big-name runners Ethiopia has produced have stayed out of trouble so far. However, we must be careful not to expect of them a super-human standard.

      Jeremiah 17:9-10

      The heart is deceitful above all things
      and beyond cure.
      Who can understand it?

      "I the LORD search the heart
      and examine the mind,
      to reward a man according to his conduct,
      according to what his deeds deserve."

      Psalm 19:14

      May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

      be pleasing in your sight,
      O LORD, my Rock and my Redeemer.

      Wednesday, December 20, 2006

      Running Tidbits 19-Dec-2006

      • We did not know it then but for the record, ex-Ethiopian middle distance runner Maryam Yusuf Jamal beat a man to win here 800M gold medal at last week’s Asian games. The Indian runner who won the silver medal in the women's 800 meters failed a gender test and was stripped of the medal.

      • Race Results Weekly has chosen Mesert Defar and Kenenisa Bekele as Runners of the Year saying...

        Bekele and Defar had such excellent years that we concluded our internal debate relatively quickly
        However, choosing Bekele was easier than choosing Defar because her compatriot, Tirunesh Dibaba, also had a spectacular year.

      Sunday, December 17, 2006

      Abebe Dinkesa and Wude Ayalew win at Venta de Baños

      At the 27th Cross Internacional de Venta de Baños, Abebe Dinkesa and Wude Ayalew each won their respective races. Abebe Dinkesa who has the third fastest Ethiopian 10000M time behind Kenenisa Bekele and Haile Gebrselassie beat out Kenyan Hosea Macharinyang. Abebe had had a great 2005 clocking 26:30.74 which was the third fastest 10000M that year. 2006 had been expected to be a breakout year for the 22 year old but an illness has set him back. This win will firmly put his career back on track. 18 year old Wude Ayalew has been cranking out wins in 2006 and this adds to her great year.

      Saturday, December 16, 2006

      Running Tidbits:16-Dec-2006

      • You have to jump through some hoops registering but the Great Run site has podcasts from the Great Ethiopia run. They claim to have an exclusive two-part podcast with Haile Gebrselassie but the links to Haile’s podcasts are broken.

      • This could be trouble: Chinese officials declared themselves dissatisfied despite winning 316 medals at the Asian games. China finished second to the USA at the Olympics in 2004 but has set its sights on finishing first at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The article says that officials are under intense pressure to deliver after a massive financial and personnel investment from the Chinese government.

      • U.S. 100 meter Olympic champ who will be banned for life from athletics, after testing positive for performance-enhancing drugs, is looking for another line of work. He has been trying out with several NFL teams.

      • What do a German swimming champion, an American college basketball player, an Australian professional surfing champion and a Jamaican world championship medallist have in common? Answer: They are all competing at the 15th Asian Games in the Qatar capital Doha. The article also mentions Zenebech Tola.

      Friday, December 15, 2006

      China Watch

      In 2008, at the Beijing Olympics, the Ethiopian long distance women runners face fierce competition from China’s 10000M and 5000M runners. One of China’s hopes, 17 year old Xue Fei, is on display this week at the Asian Games. She is the reigning 5000M Junior World champion.

      In addition to this 17 year old, the reigning 10000M champion is Xing Huina is also from China. In the past China has been a pain for Ethiopia's women. The 10000M women’s World Record is still held by the worm eating Junxia Wang of China, who in Atlanta '96 won gold the 5000 and was the silver medalist behind Portugal’s Fernanda Ribeiro leaving Gete Wami with a bronze at the 10000. Gete's bronze was the only medal the women won on the track that year.

      Despite the Ethiopian clean sweep at the 2005 world championships, the Ethiopian women are not a lock at this event. China has a bag of tricks. The Chinese program is not squeaky clean. Last year the 2003 World Championship silver medalist and Athens 5000M Olympian Sun Yingjie failed a doping test and is now suspended. There are some that have always thought that there was something fishy behind the sudden dominance and quick disappearance of Chinese runners. In 1993 Wang Junxia came out of nowhere to break world records, in 3000M and 10000M and claimed it was the worms she eats that helped he. Her records haven't broken since she set them 13 years ago.

      This article from last year sums up the mess in Beijing.
      China has scored a sporting own goal, as its first rehearsal for Beijing's Olympic Games in 2008 descended into a farce of alleged match-rigging, bribery, unfair judging and doping scandals.
      The scandals have highlighted how Chinese sport remains tainted by the corruption prevalent in the sporting systems of the former Soviet Union and East Germany.
      Corruption in sports is always problematic and should never be tolerated because corruption makes for fertile grounds for performance-enhancing drugs to thrive.

      Last October, Dick Pound, the head of the World Anti-Doping Agency in October summarized the problem before his visit to China.
      China was among "many countries" that have been identified as sources of "performance-enhancing drugs that have been sent to other countries.
      and he continued ...
      An Olympic host country has the special responsibility, both at home and around the world to demonstrate its commitment to doping-free sport.

      Now is the time for all countries, including China, to make sure that they have put into place programs necessary to remove doping from sport.

      The pressure to win at home in 2008 is sure to exasperate the situation. Let’s hope China cleans up.

      Thursday, December 14, 2006

      Switched Allegiance

      Been thinking aboutAllegiance.

      And of course, living in the United States, the first thing that word brings to mind is The Pledge of Allegiance with which millions of American children begin their school day. “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the Republic for which it stands, …” I am sure that for many of these children it is just a daily ritual they go through without giving a second thought to the seriousness of their uttering. It is recited day after day, year after year, “… one Nation under God, indivisible, …” even as hidden rifts are exposed with events such as the 2000 Presidential Election. The pledge concludes “… with liberty and justice for all” just as we are told this very week that, after all, the Middle-East may not be so eager to embrace American type democracy and “liberty for all” may really not mean for all.

      Needless to say, allegiance is serious business. And those who truly understand where their allegiance lies, and remain faithful to it at any cost, are truly inspiring. One of my favorite verses in the Bible is Hebrews 11:26 where we read about how Moses chose disgrace for the sake of Christ rather than the riches of Egypt. I think of the early Chrisitans who chose being burned at the stake rather than affirm “Ceasar is Lord.” In more recent times, the story of people such as the runner Eric Liddell is quite inspiring and it has been made into the movie Chariots of Fire.

      Conversely, it is astonishing to hear stories of people who switch allegiances, some of them at a drop of a dime. I was amazed to learn that the staunchly conservative Republican President Ronald Reagan was once a Democrat! In 2001, Senator Jim Jeffords decided that he was no longer a Republican and instantly tipped the power balance in Congress. I often remember how Arsenio Hall once joked that he would gladly don the hood of KKK if the money was right.

      Just like many issues of regular every day life, the issue of switched allegiance has been present in the sport of running for sometime now. The winner of the 1936 Olympic Marathon ran for Japan although he was a Korean native. We can at least give him a pass considering he was forced to run for Japan against his wishes. Of course, he did not have to win for Japan so I am not sure that he should get a full pass. In the 1984 Olympics, one of the most infamous races in Olympic History featured Zola Budd, a South-African-turned-British. It seems like the way the race unfolded caused more of an uproar than Budd’s switched citizenship.

      More recently, Khalid Khannouchi, a former marathon world record holder, became an American Citizen few years ago and he openly talks about his desire to bring an Olympic Medal to his newly adopted country. In a clear indication of where his allegiance now lies, Khannouchi has made it known that he has no desire to wear the uniform of his native Morocco:

      "I could still go run in the Olympics for Morocco. The king himself has called to ask me to do that. My own father, whom I love dearly, has asked me to do that. The Moroccan track federation said it would put me on the team.

      "But this I will not do. I will run in the Olympics for the United States, God willing, either this summer in the 10,000 meters or in the marathon four years from now, and I will be in world meets for this country in the near future."

      The list of runners who have switched allegiance goes on an on. Two of the current top American marathoners, Meb Keflezighi and Abdi Abdirahman are natives of Eritrea and Somalia, respectively. Merlene Otey, the ageless Jamaican sprint queen, is now a Slovenian citizen. The current top American miler, Bernard Lagat, is a Kenyan native. The fact that Lagat competed for Kenya in the 2004 Athens Olympics, while keeping silent about his newly acquired American Citizenship prior to the Olympics, is quite telling about how one can be torn apart by switching an allegiance. The Kenyan native Danish runner Wilson Kipketer missed out from participating in the 1996 Atlanta Olympics, at the prime of his career, because his allegiance had changed from Kenya to Denmark.

      America and other wealthy nations are often the beneficiary of switched allegiance- be it in science, politics, or even athletics. But on rare occasions, they also find themselves on the losing side of the deal, as in the case of Felix Sanchez. Though he was born and raised in New York City, Sanchez brought the first ever Olympic Medal to the Dominican Republic and he is a national hero there.

      It is quite fascinating to see some of these athletes who have switched nationality win a race and then go on to celebrate their victory with two flags in hand. Meb Keflezghi always carries the American and Eritrean flag during his celebration. Even the super-star Marion Jones opted to celebrate with two flags, one American and the other Belizean, upon winning the 100M race in the 2000 Sydney Olympics. What a stark contrast to Emperor Haile proudly, and exclusively, carrying Ethiopia’s Tri-Color.

      In all the cases mentioned above, it is the athletes themselves that sought out the citizenship change as a means of expanding opportunities for their trade. And I have no problem with that in the same way as my partner blogger ATTILATHEHUN. However, I am disturbed by the most recent “runner for hire” African expedition of Middle-Eastern countries in aggressive pursuit of coveted championship and Olympic medals. To make matters worse, these countries are not content on simply transacting a citizenship change, but are also requiring a name change and apparently change of religion too!

      It has been quite sad for me to see talented Ethiopian runners having to switch their nationality in order to find success in their profession. Although it is getting more media coverage now, Ethiopian natives running for other countries is nothing new. The two best Marathon runners Israel has on its rosters are Ethiopians- Haile Satayin and Asaf Bimro. One of Australia’s best marathon runner is an Ethiopian named Gemechu Woyecha. Even Haile Gebrselassie’s older brother Tekeye is a Dutch citizen and represented the Netherlands on many occasions in the past.

      Of course, thousands of ordinary Ethiopians have also switched their allegiance by taking citizenship of another country in the post Revolution era. It would therefore be quite hypocritical to single out elite athletes and fault them for doing the very same thing other Ethiopians do on a daily basis. After all, why should athletes be held to higher standards than, say, Medical Doctors?

      I have met and talked to several Ethiopian elite runners at local races on weekends around the Washington, D.C. area. These runners, although talented enough to have represented Ethiopia in the past, are pursuing challenging lives in the United States where they work multiple jobs and run races on weekends hoping to win couple of hundred dollars to help make ends meet. I have nothing but admiration for the talent they possess and the little financial reward they get in return from their running talent.

      But one has to wonder how much is too much for a person to concede for the sake of opportunity. Is changing a name OK? The Ethiopian runner Hewan Abeye is now the Turkish Elvan Abeylegesse. And she is fighting tooth and nail to take medals and records away from Ethiopian runners.

      How about changing a religion? How about losing a family tie? The Ethiopian Zenebech Tola is now the Bahraini Maryam Jamal. Ethiopia has lost a runner and Ato Tola has lost a daughter. Incidentally, it is interesting to ponder how the world would respond if the United States made Abdi Abdirahman change his name to "John Christiansen" as a pre-requisite for representing USA in competition?

      I think the lesson here should be two fold: first, we should be immensely grateful to those athletes who choose to train in Ethiopia and compete for Ethiopia. Unlike many, they are proving their worth by remaining faithful in their allegiance to Ethiopia. I am sure Haile and Derartu could have made even more money than they now have by accepting citizenship of a “wealthier” country. Instead they have kept their allegiance to Ethiopia and have already contributed immensely for the betterment of Ethiopia in athletics as well as other sectors.

      Secondly, the Ethiopian Sports Federation should learn, sooner than later, to take good care of its athletes and provide fair and unbiased treatment. I have heard some disheartening stories of mistreatments by the Federation from some of the Ethiopian athletes who have decided to stay in the US.

      Elvan and Maryam are obviously highly talented athletes that got away. It is also obvious, by the fact that they decided to leave, that they were not given opportunity to blossom within the existing system. As a result Ethiopia has a reduced talent pool to pick from for competitions. Even now, after these expatriate athletes have achieved success outside of Ethiopia, they are viewed as enemies and are not welcome to train with other Ethiopian athletes when they visit their homeland. If Ethiopians can have occasional training sessions with Kenyans, Morrocans, and Mexicans, what is so terrible about training with Ethiopian natives who compete for other countries?

      As Ethiopians, we have lost much too much over the past 25 years. It is my hope that 25 years from now we will not look back and realize the fate, and the faith, of Ethiopia’s extraordinary athletes have been sold to the highest bidder.

      Long live ROOCHA and Jesus is LORD!

      Wednesday, December 13, 2006

      Running Tidbits

      • Mark this date! Tirunesh Dibaba will run at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games in Boston on January 27, 2007. In 2005 she set a 5000M world indoor record at this venue. She will be attempting another indoor- 5000M world record. It’s not often that we have a chance to see our athletes perform on the track this side of the Atlantic. If you are anywhere near Boston this is a great opportunity to catch some live action and cheer her on to a new world record. Tickets ($20,$40, $60) are already on sale here.

      • The Great Ethiopian Run site has a very frank interview with coaching legend Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre who says that his biggest regret is not seeing Derartu Tulu break a world record. He feels that Kenenisa’s form has stagnated since he won gold in the Olympics and sees one problem in Ethiopia which is that some athletes have adopted a sense of individualism and points out Abebe Dinkessa, Gebregziabher Gebremariam, and Ejigayehu Dibaba as examples. He also says he wants to coach again.

      Tuesday, December 12, 2006

      Bahrain Calling

      The influx of African athletes has transformed this month's Asian Games in Doha Qatar. Former Africans have won at least 15 medals for Bahrain and Qatar who now have a total of 27 medals between them placing these countries in the top echelon of Asian nations at the games.

      The Guardian article from last year covers how Qatar went about the business of acquiring athletes.

      The Qatari commitment to buying sporting success started in 1999, with the bulk purchase (in every sense) of seven Bulgarian weightlifters. The International Olympic Committee's rules define a three-year period for change of nationalities, but Qatar persuaded the Bulgarian Olympic Committee to waive that rule. The modest success of the Bulgarian lifters in Sydney, a single bronze medal by Said Asaad, did not dampen enthusiasm for the idea.
      With the Athens Olympics fast approaching Qatar was back at it.
      Athletics was next on the shopping list, and Kenyan athletes were targeted. Qatar reaped their richest reward with the signature of the world's best steeplechaser, Stephen Cherono, though this time they could not persuade the Kenyan Olympic Committee to let him compete in Athens.

      Stephen Cherono has been Saif Saaeed Shaheen of Quatar for over three years and has shatters the Asian records for the 10000, 5000 and 3000 Steeplechase and made a lot of doe. There is nothing wrong with a big pay day and Saif Saaeed Shaheen has been pretty open about it. I even remember him having a good sense of humor mocking his new name.

      All these moves led to International Olympic Committee chief Jacques Rogge’s condemnation of mercenary athletes.

      But that did not stop the shopping.

      Roland Schoeman is no ordinary swimmer, so when Qatar came knocking on his door last month, the South African Swimming Federation were close to panic. Olympic sport in South Africa is in critical condition and the prospect of a Commonwealth Games in Melbourne next March without Schoeman, who had been inked in to win four titles in a potential South African total as low as six, was too dire to contemplate.

      The Qatari’s were offering £4.5m which was one-third of the entire swimming budget on one swimmer. They did not succeed in South Africa but that did not stop them and they were able to get Duje Draganja the Olympic silver medallist in the 50m freestyle at Athens. There acquisition took an interesting twist in that the Croatian public opinion largely turned against Draganja, the press portraying him as a villain with no respect for his homeland. Draganja accepted a Qatar passport in August 2005 claiming that he will keep his Croatian passport and will not change his religion. However, in February 2006 he reversed his decision and will not compete for Qatar.

      So, it was with interest that I read this article about a very talented runner called Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain who has won two medals at this week's Asian Games in Doha.

      Ethiopian-born Maryam Yusuf Jamal insists her decision to switch allegiance to Bahrain was borne out of love of athletics, not for money.

      Oil and gas rich Bahrain and Qatar have between them won 22 Asian Games medals in athletics, 15 of which came from former Africans who have switched citizenship.

      Maryam Yusuf Jamal the former Zenebech Tola Kotu says her reason for changing allegiance is that "she chose Bahrain when Ethiopian athletics chiefs shunned her because of her tribal background."

      In 2002 she left Ethiopian and applied for political asylum in Switzerland and had been away for two years before she cleared the 1500m Olympic standards at Luzern and asked the Ethiopian federation to include her in the team for Athens. The federation of course did not include her and it seems like there is a bit of bitterness still lingering. Her husband Mnashu Taye now known as Tareq Sabt Hasan calls Ethiopia's refusal to select her "stupid".

      There is nothing stupid about this decision. I don’t see any reason why the federation should pick a runner that hasn't been part of the national training group for a couple of years. Ethiopia has many deserving athletes and there is always the shortage of resources. Clearing the Olympic standards on its own is not sufficient for being selected to the Olympic team.

      Regarding money, the couple keeps insisting that the change of allegiance it wasn’t for money and that they are different from Kenyan athletes. There is an element of truth to this. Perhaps her impatience to work within the Ethiopian system sent her on this detour. Perhaps she would have never emerged from the huge pool of talent had she stayed in Ethiopia. If Ethiopia wouldn’t take her was Bahrain her only option? Why would one jump through hoops, changing names and religion when there are other options? Judging from this article it seems like Maryam Yusuf Jamal has encountered some culture shock.
      Bahrain: 'Indecent outfit' worn by athlete angers lawmaker

      An outfit worn by a Bahraini athlete last week at an international track meet has caused an outrage in Bahrain.

      A leading parliamentarian blasted the sports authorities for "disrespecting Islamic precepts and offending local values".

      The published picture of Maryam Jamal dressed in a short sleeveless top and shorts after winning in the 3,000 metres in Oslo.

      Islamist lawmaker Hamad Al Muhannadi yesterday said: "We were all shocked by the look of the young woman who was representing Bahrain at the international gathering. The outfit is not in any way related with the normal clothes that Bahraini young women are accustomed to wearing."...

      "We are all aware of the mental, emotional and physical importance of sports and we want to promote athletic activities. However, we must ensure that they are within the perimeters of Islam and our local traditions," the legislator said....

      I am not against Athletes changing citizenship for money. If I had talent that someone would pay for, that's something I would do. Athletes work hard and they face a lot of insecurity so they owe it to themselves to make as much money as they can when they can. So I don’t blame the athletes. What I think is disguising is the empty nationalism of Bahrain and Qatar and the corrupting influence their money has had on the federations of poor nations.

      Maryam Yusuf Jamal could turn out to be an Olympic medalist that got away. But that's not a big deal since Ethiopia has so much talent that goes untapped. Let’s face it - it’s hard to become a track star in Ethiopia. Zenebech Tola Kotu, even with an Olympic medal wouldn’t have been noticed too much. With so much talent and so much ambition in Ethiopia the the era of the individualistic athlete is upon us. The bottom line is that the world has changed and this isn't going to be the last time we hear such a story.

      Fasil Bizuneh

      Fasil Bizuneh the Dallas White Rock Half-Marathon last Sunday and here is a clipping from the Dallas Morning News:

      Fasil Bizuneh, a 26-year-old from Bristol, Tenn., won the men's half marathon division after passing Valentine Orare just before the finish line. Both runners were clocked in 1:02:59, with Bizuneh setting a personal best by three minutes.

      Last month, Orare placed second in an eight-kilometer race in Richmond, Va., finishing 10 seconds ahead of Bizuneh. A fifth-place finish there earned Bizuneh $100. Sunday, the former Arizona State All-American won $5,000.

      That's a big help when you're a professional runner, as Bizuneh is. He has a degree in chemical engineering, but for the last seven months he has focused on his running.

      "I'm sponsored by New Balance, and they pay me a stipend, but this is my career. I don't do anything else," Bizuneh said. "To make $5,000 here, it's good for my bank account."

      Bizuneh made his marathon debut Oct. 1, running 2:18:14 and placing fifth at the Medtronic Twin Cities Marathon – which doubled as the USA Marathon Championships. But it's Sunday's performance that really gives him confidence for next month's USA Half Marathon Championships in Houston.

      "Now I've got a faster PR," Bizuneh said. "It will help me mentally to compete with some of the fastest guys in the country and compete for a national championship."

      Fasil Bizuneh is part of a training group called The American Distance Project and is coached by Scott Simmons who has been a national team coach twice. The training group has a web site, www.americandistanceproject.com. The site includes short bios, and news. The site also has a FasilBlog which is actually an interview about his 2:18 marathon debut. The 2:18:12 qualifies him for the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials.

      Monday, December 11, 2006

      Aloha Ambesse

      Ambesse Tolossa a member of the 2004 Ethiopian Olympic Men’s Marathon team and a fellow who achieved the unlikely feat of finishing 19th in two World Championship marathons won the Honolulu Marathon this weekend.

      In the heat of Athens, the 2004 Ethiopian Olympics men’s team turned in a poor performance when Tereje Wodajo (I am sure there is a typo on his passport) finished 46th and highly regarded Hailu Negussie dropped out. The only decent performance was Ambesse Tolossa’s 15th place finish. Contrast that with the 1, 3 and 22 finish the men had in the on a crisp day in Sydney in 2000. The lack of success that Ethiopian runners have had in warm weather is another blog entry on its own. For Ambesse, who is undefeated so far this year this has been a breakout year winning the Tokyo Marathon Feb 12th in 2:08:56, the Rock 'n' Roll Marathon in San Diego on June 4th in 2:10:08 and now the Honolulu Marathon in 2:13:32. The Honolulu time is decent considering that it’s a tropical marathon and the course is hilly. The course record is 2:11:12. The key is winning and winning races in warm weather.

      Of all male Ethiopian Marathon runners Ambesse seems like the one guy that does well in warm weather and the successes Ambesse has had in this race and in June in San Diego are notable because these could be the seeds of a great performance in the sweltering summer heat of Beijing.

      Saturday, December 09, 2006

      Is Marathoning Too Much of a Good Thing for Your Heart?

      This New York Times article starts with a story of a runner that had a heart attack during the Marine Corps Marathon. Another runner also died of a heart attack in the same race.

      This has been an unusual season for the cardiac health of marathoners. After years in which almost no deaths were attributed to heart attacks at this country’s major marathons, at least six runners have died in 2006.

      So there is renewed scrutiny. This topic comes and goes but what makes this article noteworthy is that has the findings of two studies.

      Here is the first study:

      Sixty entrants from the 2004 and 2005 Boston Marathon were tested before and after the race. Each was given an echocardiogram to find abnormalities in heart rhythm and was checked for blood markers of cardiac problems — in particular for troponin, a protein found in cardiac muscle cells. If the heart is traumatized, troponin can show up in the blood. Its presence can determine whether there has been damage from a heart attack.

      The runners (41 men, 19 women) had normal cardiac function before the marathon, with no signs of troponin in their blood. Twenty minutes after finishing, 60 percent of the group had elevated troponin levels, and 40 percent had levels high enough to indicate the destruction of heart muscle cells. Most also had noticeable changes in heart rhythms. Those who had run less than 35 miles a week leading up to the race had the highest troponin levels and the most pronounced changes in heart rhythm.
      The second study finds that:

      More than a third of the runners (in the study) had significant calcium deposits, suggesting they were at relatively high risk for a heart attack. Only 22 percent of a control group of nonrunners had a comparable buildup.

      Last year a nonmarathoner cousin of mine in his late thirties who had no symptoms and was fit was struck by a heart attack but survived so frankly this article has put a bit of a scare in me. One suggestion is for a visit to a cardiologist for marathoers over 40 to get a Spiral CT scan which is one of the best ways to detect any heart abnormalities. The other suggestion was to do the training and on marathon day watch the marathon on TV. I am not sure the last suggestion will work.

      Tuesday, December 05, 2006

      Haile in Japan

      Halie’s win in Fukuoka was remarkable in that he proved that he can produce a sub 2:07 marathon consistently. In fact, he has had only one race that was not sub-2:07. He also happens to be the second person ever to run four career sub-2:07 races. To put things in perspective our own Belayneh Dinsamo ran 2:06:50 on Apr 17, 1988 and for more than ten years no one included Belayneh Dinsamo could run faster than 2:06:50. A sub-2:07 was a rare achivement just eight years ago.

      Haile's Marathon Times
      314-APR-2002 London 2:06:35

      What do we have to look forward to? Haile thinks he can set the World Record sometime next year. The fact that he ran negative splits (1:04:19 for the first half and 1:02:33 for the second half) indicates that he probably could have run faster on Sunday. I put Haile's half-marathon time and his 10K times into a race time predictor at Runners World and the predictions are that - based on his half marathon time of 58:55 Haile is capable of running a 2:02:50 and based on his 10K time of 26:22.75 he is capable of running a 2:00:31 marathon. These are impressive times but I won’t bet on these predicted times. However, I would bet that if Haile can stay healthy he would break the world record sometime next year.

      Saturday, December 02, 2006

      Meskel Adebabay

      Contrasts fascinate me. I am intrigued by seeing two extreme sides of things. Take Sam Walton- he was content driving an old pick up truck while ranking as the world’s richest man. How about a mother that has twin babies, one black and the other white? Back in the 1980’s I was fascinated to read in one issue of Time Magazine a story about a three year old billionaire baby, only to see few pages later an ad for a charity with a picture of a little girl, about the same age, hanging on to a pair of crutches with a heartbreaking look on her face. I cut out pictures of those two girls, taped them together, and kept them with me for many years as a reminder of extremes present on this earth.

      It was such fascination with contrasting extremes that froze me in my tracks couple of years ago, when I came across a stunning picture in the March 2004 issue of Runner’s World Magazine. The picture itself was quite simple; a multitude of people running across Meskel Adebabay in the heart of Addis Ababa as they completed a 10K race.

      But there was more to the story. True to its name, Meskel Adebabay was serving as center-stage to an event that so poignantly symbolized the “cross-roads” that Ethiopians have traveled in the preceding twenty-five years. I was so moved by the picture that on March 29, 2004 I sat down and wrote the following to the editor of Runner’s World:

      The first glance I took of the picture you put in your Warm Up section of the March 2004 issue immediately transported me back some 25 years in time. I am sure almost all of your readers simply saw a sea of humanity traversing Meskel Square, en route to completing The Great Ethiopian Run 10K.

      However, I couldn’t help but be taken back to the mid 1970’s where Meskel Square, then Revolution Square, was filled (though not by choice) with hundreds of thousands of Ethiopians every September 12, with the backdrop of huge portraits of Marx and Lenin, to commemorate the day when Emperor Haile Selassie was deposed by a communist military group. A military parade full of Soviet war machine would always take place, followed by hours of communist tirade from dictator Mengistu Hailemariam. I even recalled how on one occasion
      [April 17, 1977]
      Mengistu tried to intimidate his opposition by smashing down several bottles filled with blood on the asphalt of Meskel Square as he spewed hate and anger at the top of his voice.

      This very same place was now transformed by the presence of thousands of Ethiopians who had come out, of their own free will, to participate in the beautiful sport of running. What a testament to the power of running- to even lift the spirit of a nation!

      In the 1970’s, during my elementary school years, I crossed Meskel Adebabay daily, many times on foot. I now long for the day when I will get my chance to trample on the grave of Communism with a beautiful run across Meskel Adebabay.