Saturday, April 05, 2008

Out of hibernation

After a rough winter, I am coming out of hibernation. If you have lived in the Upper-Midwest you know already that the first warm days don’t really come till early April. This is the first time this year the weather has been such that one can go out for a long outdoor run on the weekend. You can be sure I will enjoy it.

While I was hibernating a lot has gone on over the winter. In March, saying that Beijing’s pollution was a huge problem, Haile who has asthma, said he would not compete in the Marathon. Haile did leave open the possibility that he would run in the 10,000. Dube Jillo, Ethiopian Athletics Federation Technical Director, a throwback to the old days and old ways of handling athletes retorted that "It is not up to Haile Gebrselassie to decide on participation in the marathon event in Beijing."

While I am not entirely pleased that Haile is not running in the Olympics I am not disappointed. While I don’t want to dismiss his health concerns, I suspect he thinks that he would perform poorly in hot conditions and is looking for a graceful exit. Can you imagine the build up and hype if Haile were to run in the premier Olympic event which is staged on closing night. Can you imagine the depth our disappointment if Haile were to drop out or fade. Would we end up thinking of him as a looser? The sorry images of 2004, a Haile in pain and fading, are still etched in the Ethiopian psyche. That event did not end up being painful because the pain of watching Haile fade was soothed by the joy of Kenenisa’s coronation. The King is dead. Long live the King! But if Haile fades in Beijing there is no King in waiting to crown. Entering his twilight years Haile does not have a lot of opportunity for glory to make up for disappointment in Beijing. If he fails we won’t forget easily.

While it looks disparate, I think Haile's filtering with the 10,000M may be due to his realization that this event is his only chance of getting a medal this time around. There is even talk that Kenenisa will run the 5000 clearing the way for Haile to lead the charge. I seriously doubt that will happen. Even if it did happen Haile is not a lock to win. Dr. Woldemeskel Kostre put the nails in the coffin when he said that "It's very tough for him because he can't compete with the younger men over the 10,000." I don’t expect Haile to run the 10,000. Haile, more than anyone knows if he is capable of meeting a challenge. Smart guys don’t go after things that don’t make sense. By pulling out of the Marathon, Haile, being a smart guy did what a smart guy would do. Exist gracefully.

Dube Jillo on the other hand damaged the Federation with his out of dated dictatorial way of management. Let’s say Dube has his way and forces Haile to run in Beijing, what is to stop Haile from dropping out after the first mile. Does Dube actually think this style of management would yield good results? Dube Jillo’s handing of this issue was a throw back to the communist era when the federation controlled everything, it was so outdated that he was embarrassingly repudiated by the International Olympic Committee which said which said the withdrawal was “fully justified” and that no one could force Gebrselassie to run. Amen!

But we do have a problem. Ethiopian athletes consistently complain about and underperform in hot weather. Last year, Mombassa was an embarrassment and later the World Championship was reminders that unless the Federation changes how it selects and trains athletes Ethiopia will perform poorly in Beijing. I am not optimistic there have been changes. This dispute between Dube and Haile shows you that the Federation has not caught on. Beijing is not Haile’s type of marathon. Haile is not a tactical runner. All his great runs have been in races that were speed runs. He tends to do better when he has no serious challengers. He has not run a hot weather marathon. A hot weather marathon is a different beast. So why would the federation want to run Haile, a cool weather runner, in the Olympics? It needs to update it's selection criteria. The federation simply can’t change the way it does things. This, my friends, is a problem that is all too common in Ethiopia.