- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 1, 2005

The fact that Alan Culpepper, Peter Gilmore and Ryan Shay had the Boston Marathon on their schedules for 2005 is admirable. The fact that the three Americans placed in the top 11 last month in one of the world’s most prestigious marathons is commendable.

However, I would be hesitant to proclaim, as many have over the past two weeks, that there has been a resurgence by U.S. men in the marathon.

And I would refute any claim that the Kenyan domination of the sport is faltering. Quite the opposite, I believe. The Kenyans’ domination continues to deepen.

When you closely examine the Boston results, along with others around the world, many issues become clear.

First, if you are looking for a fast time, you don’t run Boston.

Second, if you are looking for huge guaranteed appearance fees, you don’t run Boston.

Third, if you are looking for consistently favorable weather for a 26.2-mile race, you don’t run Boston.

But if you want to be a part of history, as four-time winner Bill Rodgers emphasizes, then you have to pony up and run the Boston Marathon.

And pony up is exactly what Culpepper, Gilmore and Shay did. On a day when it was fairly warm, and on a hilly and challenging course, they fared well against some of the best marathoners in the world.

Of course, their times were comparatively slow. Culpepper, with a personal best of 2:09:41 on a fast Chicago course in 2002, ended in 2:13:39. Gilmore, who ran 2:14:02 on an easier course at the California International Marathon in December, finished in 2:17:32. Shay, with a 2:14:08 best at New York last November, ran 2:18:17.

All this on a day when the Boston victor (Hailu Negussie) ran the slowest winning time in 18 years, a 2:11:45. His best marathon of 2:08:16 was run in 2002. The runner-up (Wilson Onsare) came in with a best of 2:06:47 from 2003 and ran just 2:12:21 at Boston. The heat and the hills do not just affect the Americans.

When you look at how the Americans placed, the 4-10-11 trifecta looks rather impressive. It isn’t so impressive when you realize that three years ago, Keith Dowling ran 11 seconds faster than Culpepper’s time this year and barely made the top 15. The temperatures reached 70 that year, too.

The headlines out of Boston lauded the Americans for their best placing since 1993, when Mark Plaatjes and Keith Brantly went 6-9 for the red, white and blue. The headlines also lauded Culpepper for the top placing since Dave Gordon was fourth in 1987. On a day that was quite windy and humid, Gordon ran 2:13:30, similar to Culpepper’s time this year.

Before you race off and make sweeping proclamations on the state of the sport, consider this: If just one man, Alan Culpepper, had not run Boston, there would be no discussion of a resurgence in the sport. Meb Keflezighi’s silver medal in the Olympic marathon last year, on a horribly hot day with a clocking of 2:11:29, also does not constitute a resurgence, nor does his runner-up finish at New York.

Had a few more Africans decided to run Boston, Culpepper, Gilmore and Shay might have been run out of the top 10. Some of those Africans took hefty appearance fees and ran London a day before Boston. Others went to Paris or Rotterdam the week before. Still others went to Los Angeles in March.

The results: The winning time in London was 2:07:26, with six athletes under 2:10 and four Kenyans in the top 10, including first. The winning time in Paris was 2:08:02, with Kenyans filling five of the top seven places, including first and second. The winning time in Rotterdam was 2:07:49, with Kenyans grabbing eight of 10 places, including the top three.

At Los Angeles, 2:09:35 won it, with Kenyans in the first seven positions and eight of 10.

Khalid Khannouchi set the then-world and current U.S. record of 2:05:38 at London three years ago. What has mystified me for five years is that his name is rarely mentioned when discussing the state of American marathoning. His four marathon completions since renouncing his Moroccan citizenship and becoming an American citizen in May2000 rank as the top four U.S. times ever and are Nos.3 and 4 in the world.

Is it because he is not a homegrown American, even though he has lived in New York full time since 1992? Or because he has not represented the United States in the Olympics and dropped out of the World Championships in Edmonton two years ago with an injury?

Instead, it is Culpepper who carries the weight even though he ranks as merely the 10th fastest American ever and is miles back on the all-time world chart.

Sure, he could have waited a week and ran for the easier $15,000 first prize at the less than competitive Salt Lake City Marathon, won by an Ethiopian in 2:15:14. Instead he ponied up and came to Boston. He left $18,000 richer, with a check from the Boston Athletic Association.

It is positive news for Americans, but not a resurgence quite yet.

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