Saturday, July 29, 2017

V 7 N. 51 (9) Jon Hendershott's Most Memorable Women's Distance Races and Marathon


Women’s Distances & Marathon.

by Jon Hendershott

Ruth Chebet

In 2016, at the age of 19, Ruth Jebet—born in Kenya but Bahrani since ’13—lowered her steeple personal best to 9:15.98 in her first race of the Olympic year, at the Shanghai Diamond League affair. The diminutive Jebet (5’5”/108lb) had been running the splash-and-distance event for only three seasons and had placed just 11th in the Beijing World Champs final.
In the ’16 Prefontaine Classic DL contest, she would face none other than that ’15 Worlds winner in Hyvin Jepkemoi of Kenya, as well as U.S. record holder Emma Coburn. Their clash would produce my most memorable women’s steeplechase.
It turned out to be two separate races, as Jebet and Jepkemoi moved out almost immediately to a wide margin over Coburn, who then had her own large gap back to the trailing runners. Emma really was in no-woman’s land as the front-running pair dueled.
Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi
At the bell, Jebet held perhaps a 30-meter pad ahead of Jepkemoi, but the world champion doggedly chipped away at the lead. Off the final barrier, she charged hard but Jebet stayed just in front to the line, even if only by about one step. Jebet clocked 8:59.97, then the No. 2 time ever and the fastest time ever run on U.S. soil. Jepkemoi cut her best to 9:00.01 to become then-No. 3 all-time.
Emma Coburn
Then all eyes turned to Coburn, who cleared the final barrier at around 9:00. She worked hard over the closing stretch and crossed the line in an American Record 9:10.75. Coburn lowered the old 9:12.50 AR set at the ’09 Worlds in Berlin by her then-training partner in Colorado, Jenny Simpson.
Later, Coburn said, “I knew the Kenyans were going to run fast today, so I was happy to be conservative early on. I came through in 8:02 with a lap to go. Honestly, it’s really hard to close under 70sec in a steeple when you’re tired. But I thought that if I closed perfectly, I could do it.”
Coburn went on to place 3rd in the Rio Olympics and cut down her AR to 9:07.63. Jebet again ran sub-9:00 with 8:59.75 to win the Games title from Jepkemoi and two weeks later slashed the global record to 8:52.78 in the Paris Diamond League meet. Brilliant running by all three women and it started in that superb Pre race.

3000m Steeplechase Women Prefontaine 2016 Clik here
5000 METERS:
Tirunesh Dibaba

The ’08 Beijing Olympic 5000 was far from a quick time—or pace. As an IAAF history noted, the opening tempo was “turgid”: an 83.2 first circuit, followed by a 91.8 (really) and an 89.3 on the next two. Did the other runners honestly think they could outsprint the superior finishing talents of the favorites, defending champion Meseret Defar and her Ethiopian teammate Tirunesh Dibaba? After all, “Tiru” had earlier won the 10,000 in an Olympic record 29:54.66.
Meseret Defar 2nd
So later-to-be-doping-DQ’ed Elvan Abeyelegesse of Turkey turned up the heat with a 68.8 fifth circuit, but the pace dropped again so that the 3000 was passed in 9:58.13. Tiru & Defar had to have been licking their chops. At 4K (13:04.77), Dibaba led and she cranked out closing laps of 65.5 and 60.9 before adding final 200 of no less than 30.2 to cap her 15:41.40 winner. It was slower than any other Olympic 5000 winner—men or women. Abeyelegesse initially placed 2nd in 15:42.74 and Defar 3rd at 15:44.12 but the Turk was DQ’ed a couple of years later and Defar moved to 2nd with Kenya’s Sylvia Kibet (15:44.96) elevated to bronze.
Sylvia Kibet 3rd

Yet how utterly dominating was Dibaba? She ran her last 400 in 59.54, final 800 in 2:03.96 and last kilometer in 2:36.63—the latter merely 13:03 pace!

Elvan Abeyelegesse  joined the ranks of the DQ'd.

Beijing 2008 Women's 5000   Clik here

10,000 METERS:
In Barcelona in ’92, South Africa returned to Olympic competition after a 32-year absence following the fall of its oppressive regime of racially-segregated apartheid. One of the Springbok’s most noted stars was distance runner Elana Meyer and she waged a memorable 25-lap duel in the hot conditions with Ethiopian Derartu Tulu.
Britain’s Liz McColgan, who had won the ’91 global title the year before in Tokyo in similarly-steamy conditions, led through halfway in 15:35.91, while Meyer took the lead with less than 4K to go. Her 72-second pace shed everyone save Tulu and the pair remained together until just after the bell.

Then the tiny Tulu sped up and the race was over. She crossed the line in 31:06.02, with Meyer (31:11.75) next and American Lynn Jennings clocking an American Record 31:19.89 to earn the bronze medal.
Tulu and Meyer
But after the race came the truly memorable part: Tulu and Meyer took a victory lap together, a black Ethiopian and a white South African with their arms around each other’s shoulders, sharing in their collective achievements as athletes, as women and as citizens of a united world. The 31 minutes of their race had been memorable, yes, but those few additional minutes as they circled the track together as equals was worth so much more.

Lynn Jennings  3rd

Barcelona Women's 10,000 Clik Here

Joan Benoit  1st

Unlike my men’s memories of the marathon, when I didn’t feel I could claim to have seen an entire men’s race, I can do so with a very significant women’s race.
Well—full disclosure again—I watched much of my most memorable women’s 26-miler on the giant screen inside the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum at the ’84 Olympics. But I did see the entire race, so I feel morally okay in claiming that I did.
A bit of background: with the Games being in LA in ’84 and me living at the time in Mountain View in the San Francisco Bay Area, it was natural that I drove south to the Games. Office colleagues Dave Johnson and Howard Willman had flown to LA, but they knew I had driven. So both DJ and Howie—being massive fans of every aspect of the sport— dropped very broad hints to me in the days leading up to the August 5 marathon that they would really like to see it from start to finish, and inside the Coliseum.
Their desire to see the race was totally understandable: after all, it was the Olympic debut of the women’s marathon. And there was the dramatic story of top U.S. contender Joan Benoit, who had undergone arthroscopic knee surgery only some six weeks before the spring U.S. Trials in the 26-miler. Yet Joanie had won the Trials and had to be considered a viable contender for the Olympic title.
But it wouldn’t be an easy race, since Grete Waitz of Norway, the inaugural world champion from the year before, as well as her teammate Ingrid Kristiansen plus Portugal’s Rosa Mota all would be running.
I admit there was a side of me that didn’t want to have to get up early on race day morning to grab breakfast before driving in to the Coliseum. We accredited journalists often got home from the evening sessions at the Games quite late at night and valued some morning sleep time (well, this one did).
But the more I thought about it, the more I knew DJ and Howie were right: we had to be there to watch this historic race. And I am so glad we were. After we took our seats in the Coliseum’s media section and waited for the start, we quickly found out that the concession stands were offering the nice touch of bagels (with cream cheese and strawberry jam) and espressos. What a civilized way to watch a marathon, I decided.
It was a sunny, mid-70s Sunday morning in the Coliseum, though out at the start in Santa Monica, it was cooler and overcast. (It would warm up plenty by race’s end, which led to one of the most dramatic finishes ever at the Games—in any event.)
After the start, the field jockeyed around for the first couple of miles. Then after about three miles, Benoit—easily recognizable on the big screen thanks to the white painter’s cap she wore—had had enough. Joanie moved away and opened up a lead of some 6 seconds at the 5K mark. Waitz, Kristensen and Mota, among others, played it cautiously and didn’t follow. They must have been gambling (hoping?) that Benoit would tire and come back to them in the later stages.
No such luck. Benoit just kept stretching her margin, all the way into the Coliseum. By the time she emerged from the big entry tunnel near the sprint starting line at the head of the homestretch, she was nearly 90 seconds ahead of Waitz. Benoit ran the final lap inside the stadium before finishing as the first Olympic women’s marathon champion by thrusting her arms over he head in triumph.
Greta Waitz  2nd

Rosa Mota 3rd
Joanie clocked 2:24:52, an Olympic Record that stood for 16 years. Waitz finished in 2:26:18, 39.0 ahead of Mota (2:26:57) with Kristensen 4th at 2:27:34. Mota would go on to win the Games title four years later in Seoul.
Then the United Nations parade began as the trailing runners entered the stadium for their last circuit of the track before finishing. As one of those back-markers came out of the tunnel, it was clear that she was in dire physical distress. Swiss Gabriele Andersen-Schiess wobbled crazily on rubbery legs, yet seemed to slyly avoid any attempts by medical personnel to aid her.
It was agonizing to watch, yet exhilarating and inspiring at the same time as the raw determination to finish this Olympic race impelled Andersen-Schiess forward. The Coliseum crowd watched in can’t-look-away fascination as the runner in red weaved her away around the final lap. In the homestretch, several medical people were no more than an arm’s length away from her, but Andersen-Schiess deftly eluded any aid to avoid the risk of being disqualified.
Finally, the finish line mercifully ended her ordeal and Andersen-Schiess collapsed into the awaiting arms of the medicos. She was whisked to a hospital, yet had recovered well enough after only two hours that she was discharged.
She placed 37th out of 42 finishers in the historic race, that long closing lap being clocked at 5:44. Her final time of 2:48:42 would have won the first four men’s Olympic marathons—and five if you count the unofficial 1906 edition.
The race was a mixture of a classic triumph by Benoit coupled with an historic example of the will and drive inherent in all athletes. I’m so glad Dave and Howard kept after me to drive in to see the race. It was unforgettable.

Los Angeles 1984 Women's Marathon

(Next: women’s relays.)

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