Props to Rod DeHaven. His victory on Sunday in the U.S. Olympic
Trials marathon in Pittsburgh was rich in the courage and drama
that make the trials so compelling. DeHaven, a 33-year-old
part-time computer programmer for a Madison, Wis., insurance
company, endured ghastly heat and humidity and a tough, hilly
course to win in 2:15:30. In a race that bludgeoned the
country's best marathoners into submission--"You knew, with the
heat, that the course was going to eat people alive," said
fourth-place finisher Scott Larson--DeHaven ran with patience
and confidence, taking the lead just past the 22-mile mark and
running away from second-place finisher Peter De La Cerda.
It's a shame, then, that DeHaven's feat will find a notorious
place in U.S. marathoning history. Because no runner bettered
the Olympic qualifying standard of 2:14, DeHaven will be the
only U.S. male marathoner in Sydney. It will be the first time
since 1896 that the U.S. has sent fewer than the maximum of
three runners. "It's a sad day," said Dan Grimes, chairman of
USA Track and Field's long-distance running committee.
"Everybody feels a little depressed."
Three things helped cause Sunday's disaster:
--The place-and-times factor. U.S. Olympic marathon squads have
long been selected in the most direct way: The top three
finishers at the trials go to the Games. Olympic time standards
have never, until this year, been harsh enough to affect the
process. When the International Amateur Athletic Federation,
track's governing body, lowered the standard to 2:14 last
summer, however, the process of qualifying three U.S. Olympians
in the event became more complicated. Marathoners had from Jan.
1, 1999, through the trials to better the standard. Among
Sunday's starters, only David Morris and Joe LeMay had bettered
2:14; for either to go to Sydney, however, he had to win, or the
winner had to run sub-2:14--in which case Morris and LeMay would
both go... if the second- and third-place finishers in the race
did not meet the standard. Then Pittsburgh had unusually warm
weather on Sunday (61[degrees] at the start of the race,
77[degrees]at the finish, with drenching humidity), making it
all but certain that no one would break 2:14.
With times at a premium, the tough Pittsburgh course was a poor
site for the trials. However, the choice was made two years
ago--before the IAAF lowered its standard--and Pittsburgh
submitted, according to Grimes, "the only viable bid" to host
the trials. Among the guarantees made by Pittsburgh were ones
for housing, prize money (including $75,000 for the winner) and
"If guaranteeing three Olympic team members is to become the
most important factor, then the process needs to be
reconsidered," says USA Track and Field CEO Craig Masback. One
answer is to hold the trials on a fast, flat course with
predictable weather. This might mean eliminating prize money.
Asked if he would sacrifice his $20,000 third-place check for an
Olympic spot, Mark Coogan said, "In a second."
--The Khannouchi factor. Had Khalid Khannouchi, the 28-year-old
native of Morocco who last October ran 2:05:42 in Chicago to set
the world record and who gained U.S. citizenship five days
before the trials, been healthy enough to run in Pittsburgh, he
most likely would have won. Since Khannouchi ran under--way
under--2:14 in 1999, he would have dragged Morris and LeMay with
him to Sydney, whether he ran 2:14 in Pittsburgh or not.
However, Khannouchi, suffering from ligament damage in his left
ankle and a strained right hamstring after finishing third (in
2:08:36) at the London Marathon on April 16, declined to run the
Khannouchi came excruciatingly close to getting his citizenship
early enough to skip London. After more than three years of
trying to gain citizenship through the efforts of two New York
legislators, Khannouchi began working with Houston lawyer Harry
Gee in January. Gee expedited Khannouchi's case through Section
319(b) of the Immigration and Naturalization Act, which allows
for swift action when a candidate's American spouse is employed
by a U.S company and posted overseas. Khannouchi's wife, Sandra,
was hired in March by Elite Racing, a San Diego road race
promotion firm, and assigned to Madrid. Just before the London
Marathon, Gee told Khannouchi that his chances of getting
citizenship in time for the trials were "80 percent." The odds
evidently weren't good enough to persuade Khannouchi to pass up
what turned out to be a reported $150,000 appearance fee. Less
than three weeks later, Khannouchi was a citizen but too injured
Yet the time and Khannouchi factors are only diversions from a
more substantial issue:
--The just-not-good-enough factor. U.S. marathoners are simply
not fast enough to compete with the best in the world. Masback
called Sunday's failure a form of "good news," saying it will
shine a light on the needs of U.S. distance running. He proposed
early identification of promising young runners by his
organization and a system that supports them financially after
college--suggestions that are both worthy and expensive.
(Together they would cost as much as $1 million per year,
according to a member of the long-distance running committee.)
There's nothing like embarrassment to spur action. "Maybe this
is the low point for marathoning in this country," said DeHaven
on Sunday. "We can only go up from here."
Keeping Up with Jones
Marion's Off to a Flying Start
Rather than fleeing from pressure to win five gold medals in
Sydney, Marion Jones is embracing it. In the weeks leading up to
the Penn Relays, where on April 29 she anchored a U.S. team to a
world record in the seldom-run 4x200 meters, she sat for photo
shoots and interviews with GQ, Newsweek and Rolling Stone. It
was a typical week of talking the talk for an athlete who is
widely expected to be the breakout star of the Games and has
spoken of winning five Olympic events for two years now.
Jones's spectacular early-season form has only added to the
pressure. On April 16, showing no sign of the back injury that
cut short her appearance at the world championships last August,
she won the open 400 meters at the Mt. SAC Relays in Walnut,
Calif., in a sensational 49.59 seconds--the fourth-fastest time
ever by a U.S. woman--all but nailing down a spot on the U.S.
4x400-meter relay team in Australia. At Penn she was
midseason-sharp in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays.
Photographers and interviewers momentarily satisfied, Jones can
now concentrate on her biggest test so far this year: doubling
in the 100 and the long jump on Saturday at a meet in Osaka,
Japan. In the long jump Jones has struggled with landings; she
finished third in the 1999 worlds. That event most imperils her
plan for five Olympic golds and makes Osaka a significant
barometer of her readiness.