Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The perfect stride - Can Alberto Salazar straighten out American distance running?

by Jennifer Kahn for TheNewYorker
If on Sunday, November 7th, you watch the New York City Marathon, chances are that one of the first things you’ll see is a pack of emaciated-looking men hurtling down the street at a little over twelve miles an hour, or about four minutes and fifty-five seconds a mile. To the onlooker, they will be an incomprehensible blur: a stampede of sharp-elbowed, highly focussed gazelles, so economical in their motion that they hardly seem to be touching the ground at all.

Somewhere in the middle of this pack will be a slight, pale runner from Michigan whose race bib reads “Ritz.” As the underdog, Ritz—whose full name is Dathan Ritzenhein—will attract less attention than the race favorites: Meb Keflezighi, who last year became the first American to win the race in a quarter century, and Haile Gebrselassie, an Ethiopian marathon legend and the world record holder in the event. This is fine with Ritzenhein, whose New York “d├ębut,” as marathoners say, came in 2006, when he was twenty-three years old and so hot a prospect that, according to Running Times, race organizers paid him about two hundred thousand dollars. (Ritzenhein’s agent disputes this figure.) A National Collegiate Champion in cross country, Ritzenhein arrived in New York amid predictions that he would be the next great American marathoner. For the first twenty miles, he seemed primed to fulfill that promise, staying on the heels of the leaders. But, as the race entered the Bronx, he started to lag. By the time the runners reached the homestretch, in Central Park, Ritzenhein was practically crawling. He finished eleventh.

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