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On Running: A red, white and blue-ribbon year

- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 27, 2009

Even the most optimistic forecaster would have had a tough time predicting the amount of success U.S. runners would experience in 2009.

But indeed it was a good year, a year with a world championships in Berlin inspiring many top performances and a new sense of American self-worth among distance runners. That was fueled in part by the Olympic medal performances of Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi and continued success in the sprints.

The excitement truly began at the Reebok Boston Indoor Games in February. Shalane Flanagan, a 2008 Olympic bronze medalist, ran 14:47.62 to shatter Marla Runyan's U.S. 5,000-meter record of 15:07.33 from 2001. She adds the record to her U.S. marks at 3,000 meters indoors and 5,000 and 10,000 outdoors. Next stop, half marathon.

Then back in Boston, new sensation Kara Goucher and veteran Ryan Hall snagged thirds at the world's oldest continuous marathon in April.

August brought the world championships in Berlin, the focus meet for most U.S. professional track and field athletes. High times for Dathan Ritzenhein (sixth) and young Galen Rupp (eighth) in the 10,000, University of Colorado senior Jenny Barringer (fifth in a U.S. record 9:12.50) in the 3,000-meter steeplechase, and Bernard Lagat just missing gold but nabbing silver in the 5,000 (adding a 1,500 bronze later in the week).

Days later, Ritz went on a blitz, crushing the U.S. 5,000 record at Zurich, nixing Bob Kennedy's 13-year-old mark. This capped a brilliant performance by the 26-year-old, earning the first U.S. medal at the World Half Marathon Championships and also becoming the second-fastest American all-time on a record standard course behind Ryan Hall.

Then Keflezighi closed a phenomenal year for U.S. distance running by helping America take back New York from the international competition.

Keflezighi, who arguably co-championed the beginning of the return of the American distance runner along with Kastor, ended a 27-year American drought with his victory at the 40th New York City Marathon in November. He earned $200,000, but more important, he had the opportunity to read the "Top 10" list on "The Late Show with David Letterman" and share a float ride with Miss America at the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade.

But looking ahead, it was not just Keflezighi's win but the fact that American males took places 1-4-7-8-9-10 and American females 6-7-8-10, a throwback to the glory years of the 1970s and early '80s.

It also was a great year for ageless American Colleen De Reuck, who at 45 finished eighth in an amazing 2:35 at the Boston Marathon.

It was not such a good year for former Northern Virginia resident Alan Webb, who finally got going to a Nike training program in Portland, Ore., where his longtime critics had advised him to go years ago. Maybe 2010.

It was a mixed year for South Africa's Caster Semenya, the 18-year-old whiz kid who ran away with the women's 800-meter final at the world championships. After much drama and emotion, track officials agreed to let her keep the gold medal and prize money she won, but she will have to wait until 2010 to find out whether she will be allowed to continue to compete as a woman.