The Bekele WR video from 2004 is finally online. Watch it here!
The Bekele WR video from 2004 is finally online. Watch it here!
Yesterday evening I met up with a few runner friends and spent four hours in the pub putting the world to rights. The main topics of conversation were running and running, with the odd anecdote about running thrown in. OK, not strictly true; we did talk about other things but I can’t quite remember what they were.
One of the questions posed was which track world records were most likely to be broken in the near future. “Easy,” I said, stating the men’s marathon world record as the one with the shortest shelf life, before considering the actual question and remembering that the marathon is a road event and not run round a 400m oval.
We threw a few out there. Rob opened the bidding with a very creditable “men’s 800m,” an obvious but sensible choice given that the current record is only a year old and the man who set it, David Rudisha, is in his early twenties. I weighed in with a similarly obvious “steeplechase – men or women,” justified by the fact that the women’s event is fairly new and that Brimin Kipruto came within 0.01 seconds of the world record this summer on the men’s side.
The reason world records are held in such high esteem is that they are, well, actually bloody hard to set. Olympic gold aside, they are the pinnacle of athletic achievement and with this in mind it is obvious why we soon ran out of ideas. So naturally the conversation turned to the untouchables: the records that are out of sight of the current generation of athletes. We debated the women’s 100m world record of 10.49, set by Florence Griffith Joyner. Didn’t Jeter come pretty close a couple of years ago? (she did) Who do you think can break it then? (no one) Was she on drugs? (hang on now, let’s not go there).
We shared thoughts on the women’s 800m record, again set during times when drug and gender testing were not considered important elements of quality control in athletics. We were less willing to grant this one untouchable status by virtue of the fact that some athletes (Jelimo and Semenya) have come pretty close in recent years and are both still young.
At this point we turned our attentions to the current crop of female distance athletes and expressed our sympathy for them and their futile attempts to chase records well out of their reach. With the exception of Dibaba’s 5000m record, all these records were set during a time when women were men, men were on drugs, and drugs were not effectively tested for. Consider Qu Yungxia’s 3:50:46 for 1500 from the 1993 Chinese National Championships. No woman ran within 9 seconds of that this year. NINE seconds. That is over two seconds per lap.
We neglected to mention the women’s 3000m record of 8:06 last night too. The top four times ever were all set at the same national championships as the 1500 record. How can any woman today expect to compete with that time, set by Wang Jungxia? The fastest time this year was 8:38. The one record that did get a mention was the 10000m, also set by Wang. I will leave it to the reader’s imagination where and when that one was set, but will say that 29:31 is 22 seconds quicker than the next best time ever. Not even Paula Radcliffe broke 30 minutes, let alone run that fast.
My original aim when wiritng this was to group the records into some vague and ill informed categories along the lines of ‘broken soon,’ ‘next few years’ and ‘no chance.’ I even started typing them up, but then came to realise something. With a couple of exceptions, anything set by a woman on the track is untouchable. Don’t even bother. My advice to female track athletes is simple: enjoy the racing and try and beat your contemporaries because you sure ain’t going to beat the women of the past. I also noticed that no one is anywhere near the men’s 400, the men’s 1500 and mile or the men’s 3000, but that most of the others are fair game. Having said that, Bekele’s 10000 will not be broken any time soon, not for lack of individual talent or depth in distance running, but because anyone good enough in the next few years will step right up to the cash-rich marathon. The 25 lapper is dying out.
I love making predictions. They’re usually wrong. Watch this space.
The big (ish) news in athletics this week is that Paula Radcliffe is the world record holder in the marathon. Hang on, I hear you ask, wasn’t she always the world record holder? Of course you are right – she was and still is, but the IAAF, kind people that they are, have added 2 minutes on to her world record. So why has the world’s governing body decided to alter the world record by a margin large enough to make a cup of tea in?
In April 2003, Paula Radcliffe shocked the world by running the greatest marathon ever, winning the London Marathon in a time of 2:15:25. She had previous of course, having captured the world record half a year earlier in Chicago, but her London time was absolutely stunning. However, in both races she had the assistance of male pacemakers, rendering the races ‘mixed races’ and thus ineligible for world record purposes.
Mercifully Paula is still the record holder, by virtue of the fact that she completely dominated the women’s marathon for several years in the early part of last decade, and the third fastest time ever also belongs to her. But this isn’t right. I appreciate the benefits of having a pacemaker; indeed most modern distance records were set with the assistance of someone else who didn’t finish the race, but to disallow this particular record seems foolish, and moreover sets a very strange precedent. Where do we draw the line now a world record is not a world record? Presumably Bernard Lagat’s US record at 5000m does not count because he was following someone faster from another country, thus gaining an advantage not available to other Americans? Christophe Lemaitre ran a national record this summer trailing in Usain Bolt’s wake. Cancel it. And whilst we are on the subject, my 5k PB might as well be disregarded as I was chasing people who were better than me. Of course I bloody was, that’s why I set it.
The main argument seems to be that in men’s races the pacemaker drops out before the end of the race. The athlete is beating a genuine competitor, albeit one who can run 30k at world record pace but knows he can’t go any further. This is why race organisers don’t just let someone fresh step in after the first pacemaker is finished; they wouldn’t be genuine competitors. The men who paced Paula to her London time were genuine competitors, as she has pointed out this week. They were asked to run at 2:16 pace and did so until Paula decided she had more in the tank and dropped one of them. He couldn’t keep up with the pace that Paula was setting, not the other way round. She did that all by herself. It’s not her fault that there were no women good enough to run with her.
We now have an interesting situation where the two best male times and the two best female times for 26.2 miles do not count as world records, the best of these being given the second-rate ‘world’s best’ tag. There is a reasonable argument for not ratifying the former of these times, set during this year’s freakishly fast Boston Marathon, as the athletes benefitted from tailwainds for the entire length of the point-to-point course. But try telling Paula Radcliffe she couldn’t have run 2:15 without assistance, when the world record list for women reads like a who’s who of people who have quite clearly had assistance.
What a shame.
I don’t run the mile, but if I did I’d want to run it like this. Absolutely stunning athleticism from Hicham El Guerrouj and Noah Ngeny, both of whom break the former world record. Just like the commentator says, it is so refreshing to see two men racing each other for a record in an era when world records are so often run as solo time trials. I could watch this all day.