- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 25, 2005

When the press release announcing that Khalid Khannouchi had withdrawn from the Oct.9 Chicago Marathon came this week, I immediately went to his Web site for an explanation.

The headline: “Khalid withdraws from the Chicago Marathon due to injury.”

In his statement, Khannouchi said he had to withdraw from the race because a “minor injury is causing me to lower the intensity of my training.” He also said he would “be risking my chances to participate at the Olympic Trials and with this as well losing my hope to make the Olympic team. Right now the Trials and a chance to make the Olympic team is my main priority.”

Olympic trials? Wait a minute. The trials were last year.

Turns out the site had not been updated since 2003, but his decision this year is yet another letdown for Chicago.

Khannouchi is a nice guy, but he is also one of American distance running’s greatest disappointments.

Granted, he owns the top three U.S. times ever — the then-world record 2:05:38 at the 2002 London Marathon, 2:05:56 at the 2002 Chicago Marathon and 2:07:01 at the 2000 Chicago Marathon. He set his first world record as a Moroccan — a 2:05:42 in Chicago in 1999 — and is still third all-time in the world behind Paul Tergat’s 2:04:55 and Sammy Korir’s 2:04:56.

But Americans are always judged, at least in America, by the number of Olympic and World Championship medals they win. Unfortunately for Khannouchi, that number is zero.

Even his comments in the press release from organizers of the Chicago Marathon sounded like a flashback to 2003.

“It is certainly disappointing that I won’t be competing in this year’s LaSalle Bank Chicago Marathon,” Khannouchi said. “Chicago is the best place in the world to run a marathon, but due to some setbacks and injuries I won’t be able to perform at a competitive level.”

The former Moroccan runner, who now lives in Ossining, N.Y., has been plagued with hamstring, foot, ankle and knee injuries from the time he became a naturalized American citizen on May2, 2000. Two days later, he withdrew from the Olympic marathon trials with an injured left ankle and right hamstring he suffered in London on April16.

Khannouchi dropped out of the 2001 Utica Boilermaker with back spasms and missed eight days of training before the 2001 World Outdoor Championships in Edmonton — his first international competition as a U.S. citizen. There, however, he dropped out midway through the race because of blisters and the heat.

After a stellar 2002, Khannouchi withdrew from London in the spring of 2003 because of tonsillitis and missed the 2003 World Championships in Paris that summer.

He then canceled on Chicago that fall, saying he did not want to risk aggravating a minor injury that would keep him from the 2004 Olympic marathon trials. In December 2003, Khannouchi withdrew from the trials, citing chronic, recurring injuries to his foot and knee during the previous eight months.

Again this past February, Khannouchi withdrew from London with an injury, saying he wanted to focus on just one marathon: Chicago. He had minor surgery in June and did not race for at least two months, missing the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

His test run at the Sept.11 USA 5K Championships in Providence, R.I., yielded sub-par results. So it was no surprise when the 33-year-old pulled out of Chicago nine days later.

Khannouchi is never mentioned when people talk about the present and future of American marathoning. Instead, it’s Alan Culpepper, 2004 Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi, Dan Browne and Abdi Abdirahman.

I used to think that Americans still hadn’t accepted Khannouchi as one of their own because he came from somewhere else. But Keflezighi is from Eritrea and Abdirahman from Somalia, and they are revered in this country.

It’s disappointing because Khannouchi has had so much potential, but it just hasn’t happened.

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