U.S. runs out of money, but not excuses

April 18, 1995|By PHIL JACKMAN

It's difficult remembering the last time an American won a big marathon. Figure it was Alberto Salazar when he won in Boston and dominated the New York City Marathon. Good grief, that was years ago, the early '80s.

Still, with each passing year of frustration and consistent failure to put a home-grown runner as far up as the top 10 of a name event, we have apologists popping up like daffodils, spouting justifications, excuses and explanations. Everything, it seems, but acceptance of the facts.

They ran another Boston Marathon yesterday, No. 99 in case you're keeping score, and to the surprise of no one, the old U.S. of A. finished far out of the money. Which is an apt term when applied here.

For the third straight year, Cosmas Ndeti of Kenya ruled the run from rural Hopkinton to the Back Bay section of Beantown, winning by exactly a minute over countryman Moses Tanui in 2:09:22. Luiz Dos Santos of Brazil was third. Kenyans have now won the last five and six of the last eight Boston Marathons.

In the women's race, Uta Pippig of Germany prevailed in 2:25:11 with Elana Meyer of South Africa second in 2:26:51 and Madina Biktagirova of Belarus third in 2:29:00.

Long before the gathering of about 12,000 answered the noontime cannon 26 miles and 385 yards west of Boston, it was well established that a Yank male would not be up in the lead pack, or even back in the second entourage a hundred meters back.

Checking out the pre-race situation, Dr. David Martin, chairman of the sports science committee of USA Track & Field, blamed the race organizers.

"I wish they would go after the best marathoners," he said. "Why didn't Bob Kempainen and Arturo Barrios [seventh and fifth, respectively, last year] come back? Why did they run Los Angeles last month?"

The man's questions deserved an answer and there with the goods was Dave D'Alessandro, senior vice president for the sponsoring John Hancock Insurance Co. He told the Boston Globe that any suggestion that the sponsor hasn't supported American runners would make better fertilizer than most brands being sold at Hechinger's, Home Depot and Frank's.

John Hancock, which has dumped nearly $2 million a year into the race for the last 10 years, has spent an average of about $130,000 a year in appearance fees for U.S. runners.

"And that doesn't include another 30 percent we pay for transportation, lodging and training expenses," said D'Alessandro. Of course, we haven't begun to talk about the prize money yet.

He gave an example of an American runner who "pleaded" for appearance money this year, so he delved into a previous account with the man: "It turns out the guy cost us about $12,500 in basic fees and he ended up finishing 15th. It's factually a lie for anyone to accuse Hancock or the BAA of not investing in the Americans."

The problem is U.S. runners aren't worth the appearance money they feel deserving of because they're nowhere to be found when time comes to pass out the prize money. They can't "double dip," or qualify for both in a hugely competitive race like Boston, so they cut deals elsewhere.

D'Alessandro calls it "a question of fear and greed. Fear that they'll lose and greed that they'll lose."

Before allowing that "Americans don't want to get beat," Dr. Martin pointed out that the United States held its national championships earlier this year, sent two men and two women to last month's Pan American Games in Argentina and also had five men and five women at the April 9 World Cup Marathon in Greece a week ago. And that depleted our supply totally?

Besides not wanting to lose and be embarrassed, American runners want to go where it's convenient. If they can compete close to home, they decline Boston. The Hub is no longer the mecca for America's elite runners as it is for the Africans, Europeans and Orientals because, once you are soundly thrashed, you no longer qualify as an elite runner.

Bill Rodgers, a four-time victor whose record three in a row (1978-80) was equaled by Ndeti yesterday, said, "The top Americans should always be here." It won't happen until the Road Runners Club of America and USA Track & Field show more interest: "But USA Track & Field never has cared about distance running. It's the orphan of the sport," Rodgers said.

Besides turning the annual Patriot's Day romp into a great international race minus the United States, Boston serves as the Olympic Trials for such potent distance-running countries as Kenya, Tanzania and others.

It has been years since Boston served as the U.S. Trials because, as D'Alessandro says, "USA Track & Field wants to make money. They sell the rights to the trials, thinking it's a showcase. Americans do better when running against the best competition."

Or at least they improve. "The world has caught up to us and passed us," said Dr. Martin, stating something pretty obvious for the last decade.

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