Abebe Bikila 1960, 64& Feyisa Lilesa 2016


Saturday, July 28, 2012

Ethiopian-Born Marathoner Runs for Israel – Forward.com

Ethiopian-Born Marathoner Runs for Israel – Forward.com:

'via Blog this'

Zohar Zemiro Immigrated With Family When He Was 10

Marathon Man: Zohar Zemiro was born in Ethiopia, but came with his family during the airlift of Jews when he was 10. Now he’s running for his new homeland in the Olympics.
Marathon Man: Zohar Zemiro was born in Ethiopia, but came with his family during the airlift of Jews when he was 10. Now he’s running for his new homeland in the Olympics.

By Blair Thornburgh

Published July 28, 2012, issue of August 03, 2012.
After placing 10th at the Amsterdam marathon last April and becoming the first Israeli athlete to qualify for the 2012 Olympic Games, Ethiopian-born Zohar Zemiro was succinct about how he felt: “It is the happiest moment in my life,” the distance runner told the Israeli Athletic Association, which named him its 2011 Athlete of the Year.
With a time of two hours, 14 minutes and 28 seconds in Amsterdam for the grueling race of 26.2 miles, Zemiro broke his previous personal best: two hours, 21 minutes and 33 seconds, achieved just a few months earlier, at Israel’s Tiberias Marathon, where Zemiro placed second among all Israelis and 18th overall.
About 120,000 people make up the Israeli Ethiopian community, and a number have become distinguished athletes, many in track and field events. Besides Zemiro, who made aliyah at age 10, other Israeli Ethiopian distance runners include fellow marathoners Setegne Ayele and Asaf Bimro, a retired Olympian who represented Israel in 2004.
Zemiro’s road to the Olympics wasn’t without its twists and turns. After a last-minute decision in the fall of 2011 to run sockless, a common practice among Ethiopian runners, Zemiro dropped out midrace at the International Association of Athletics Federations World Championships marathon in Daegu, Korea, after 25 kilometers. And in June of this year, he tested positive for terbutaline, a banned substance commonly found in asthma inhalers. The failed test was an unfortunate blow, leaving his future as a competitor uncertain a little more than a month before the July 27 start date of the games in London. Though dismayed, Zemiro was confident that he would recover. ”I have always believed in fair and clean competition,” he told Haaretz on June 14. “I am certain that the circumstances that have resulted in [this] will not prevent me from representing Israel at the Olympics.”
Sure enough, the Anti-Doping Committee lifted his suspension later that month. With the way finally clear, Zemiro, once again, did not mince words. “I’m happy that this hell is behind me,” he told The Jerusalem Post.

Read more: http://forward.com/articles/160016/ethiopian-born-marathoner-runs-for-israel/#ixzz21wRLt8DX

Biological passport, special analyses, and re-testing uncover sophisticated doping


- READ ON for English and French language version
- La traduction française suit le texte anglais

Monte-Carlo - Within days of the start of the Games of the XXX Olympiad, London 2012, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is pleased to announce the latest successes in its fight against doping in Athletics, serving a warning to all those who attempt to cheat their sport and their fellow competitors that they will be caught.

The Athlete Biological Passport and the re-testing of samples through special analyses (Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometry, Growth Hormones) have uncovered sophisticated doping by a total of 9 athletes.

The details of these cases can be read on the IAAF website via the two links -

Six new athletes sanctioned under the IAAF Athlete Biological Passport programme:

Re-analysis of 2011 IAAF World Championships samples finds three further cases of doping:

"Today’s announcements underline the IAAF’s continued and unwavering campaign against doping in Athletics," commented IAAF President Lamine Diack. "They demonstrate the IAAF’s commitment to use advanced methods to detect doping and to enforce increased sanctions when justified. We will not stint in our resolve to do everything in our power to eradicate cheating."

In addition to the usual extensive anti-doping programme which is carried out at all major Championships and Games, 200 Athlete Biological Passport tests will be carried out in the sport of Athletics in London.


Le Passeport Biologique et des ré-analyses ciblées permettent la découverte de cas de dopage sophistiqué

25 juillet 2012 – Monte Carlo – A quelques jours de l’ouverture des Jeux de la XXXe Olympiade, Londres 2012, l’Association Internationale des Fédérations d’Athlétisme (IAAF) adresse une mise en garde aux athlètes tentés de tricher et de tromper leurs adversaires, en annonçant ses derniers succès sur le front de la lutte contre le dopage en athlétisme.

Le Passeport Biologique de l’Athlète et des ré-analyses ciblées (Spectromètre de Masse à Rapport Isotopique, hormone de croissance) ont permis de révéler des pratiques de dopage complexes impliquant 9 athlètes au total.

Les détails de ces cas sont disponibles sur le site internet de l’IAAF sur les liens suivants :

Six nouveaux athlètes sanctionnés dans le cadre du programme de Passeport Biologique de l’IAAF:

Trois nouveaux cas de dopage révélés après ré-analyse d’échantillons prélevés lors des Championnats du Monde 2011:

« L’annonce de ces nouveaux cas vient récompenser la lutte continue et sans relâche que mène l’IAAF contre le dopage en athlétisme » a commenté le Président Lamine Diack. « Ces cas illustrent l’engagement de l’IAAF de recourir aux méthodes de détection les plus avancées pour mettre au jour des cas de dopage et d’appliquer des sanctions renforcées lorsqu’elles sont justifiées. Nous ne relâcherons pas nos efforts pour éradiquer le dopage dans notre sport. »

En complément des nombreux contrôles antidopage mis en œuvre dans les compétitions majeures et aux Jeux Olympiques, 200 prélèvements sanguins dans le cadre du Passeport Biologique de l’Athlète seront effectués en athlétisme à Londres.

Thursday, July 26, 2012

Ethiopian swimmer eyes personal best in London | Reuters

Yanet Seyoum Gebremedhin strokes across a public swimming pool in Addis Ababa, calmly gliding past, and around, leisurely swimmers as they frolic along her path, determined not to lose her focus.
In Ethiopia, athletes are usually associated with the graceful, wiry figures of the nation's long-distance runners rather than with any other sports.
So when Ethiopia's soon-to-be first female Olympic swimmer struts her stuff in the chilling waters of the Ghion Hotel's 50-metre pool ahead of the London Games, few pay attention apart from her civil servant mother Tsigework Abebe, who uses a mobile telephone to time her daughter's laps.
"There are no lanes here. Everyone does whatever they want," she told Reuters while standing by the side of the pool, the interview drawing newfound attention. "You really have to mind your pace."
Born in the northern town of Kombolcha, the 18-year old Yanet was drawn to swimming at the age of 12 with her family taking occasional leisure trips to the area's only pool.
The child from a country famous for producing world-beating runners like Haile Gebrselassie and Kenenisa Bekele soon discovered she had talent and started competition a year later against rivals twice her age.
Five years and dozens of domestic titles later, she will participate in the 50 metre freestyle in London, granted under the Games' universality policies.
A male colleague has also been awarded a spot in London.
"I feel proud for representing my country for the first time at the Olympics. It's a big deal," she said.
Yanet, an engineering student, has already won 40 gold, five silver and two bronze medals while competing in domestic events ranging from participation in 50 metres to 5,000 metres.
She has also taken part in two World Championships, a World Youth Olympics and an All-African Games event in the last three years.
Though her chances of taking a leaf out of her running compatriots' books is unlikely, she hopes to turn into a bona-fide contender as the years go by.
Yet, there is a serious dearth of facilities in landlocked Ethiopia.
Only a handful of swimming pools exist throughout, often manned by former navy personnel as life savers, who were rendered jobless following the secession of Eritrea, a former province along the Red Sea, in 1993.
Yanet relies on a trainer of the same mould, though she is reduced to just making phone calls for training tips as he lives 100 kilometres away.
"I'm working hard for her, in a field I barely know anything about," Tsigework said of her daughter's training regimen.
"I come straight from work and push her to work hard and not miss training, but it's her coach who gives her the real direction."
Yanet's finest hour came at the world short course championships in Dubai, clocking a personal best of 32.87 seconds, something she would be aiming to better in the London pool.
"To be a winner first you have to improve your time."
(Editing by George Obulutsa and Greg Stutchbury)

Film screening to benefit Ethiopian towns - Houston Chronicle

  • Hawii is one of the young people featured in "Town of Runners," a new documentary about the rural Ethiopian village of Bekoji, whose runners have won
8 Olympic Gold medals, 32 World Championships and
broken 10 world records in the last 20 years. Hawii hopes to be as successful as her sister, who runs in the United States. Photo: Courtesy Of Dogwoof / HC
    Hawii is one of the young people featured in "Town of Runners," a new documentary about the rural Ethiopian village of Bekoji, whose runners have won 8 Olympic Gold medals, 32 World Championships and broken 10 world records in the last 20 years. Hawii hopes to be as successful as her sister, who runs in the United States. Photo: Courtesy Of Dogwoof / HC


More Information

Town of Runners
The screening benefits library construction in Yirgacheffe and Bekoji, Ethiopia, by Ethiopia Reads.
When: 7 p.m., Aug. 7.
Where: Sundance Theater, 510 Texas.
Tickets: $26.20; brownpapertickets.com.
Information: ethiopiareads.org.
For the past six years, Houstonians have watched promising Ethiopian runners fly through the city in pursuit of greatness.
Ethiopians have won the women's division of theChevron Houston Marathon since 2007. They've also been first in the men's race for five of the past six years. Three of them - Dire Tune, Deriba Merga and Teyba Erkesso - went on to win the Boston Marathon months after triumphing here.
And just as many elite Kenyan runners come from the same area - the Rift Valley - so do Ethiopian runners - in their case, the country's southern highlands.
One village in particular stands out. In the past 20 years, runners from the rural town of Bekoji - population 16,000 - have won eight Olympic gold medals and 32 world championships. They have also broken 10 world records.
Promoting literacy
"Town of Runners," a new British documentary, travels to Bikoji to follow the journey of three up-and-comers who hope running is their path to a better life. The movie will be presented Aug. 7 in a screening to benefit Ethiopia Reads, a nonprofit group that promotes literacy. The event will include conversations via Skype with director Jerry Rothwell and Adam McDowell, who ran in the men's Olympic marathon trial in January.
Young residents of Bikoji, particularly girls, have few opportunities beyond subsistence agriculture. But under the guidance of a local former gym teacher, Sentayehu Eshetu, some have escaped rural poverty. Among them is Derartu Tulu, who became the first African woman to win an Olympic gold medal in 1996.
Still, the path is not easy. Rothwell followed his subjects for three years, documenting their successes - and failures.
Their stories would resonate with anyone, but with runners in particular, the event's organizer says.
"It is an opportunity to think about how one becomes a runner and why. It gives us an opportunity to reflect on and maybe challenge how we train," said Jay Stailey, a Houston runner and Ethiopia Reads volunteer.
Global community
Stailey, a retired school principal and part-time storyteller, became involved with Ethiopia Reads during a month-long trip to the country last year with children's book author Jane Kurtz.
After Stailey returned, he saw a flyer promoting Ethiopia Reads in a local Starbucks, where manager Angela Lara was trying to raise $10,000 for a library in Yirgacheffe, Ethiopia, a coffee-producing area. So they teamed up.
Stailey said a silent auction in November brought in about $5,000. He raised another $1,400 on his own by collecting pledges for a half marathon in Washington, D.C., earlier this year. He calculates that if the film sells out, they'll surpass their goal and be able to start funding a library in Bikoji as well.
"Runners should come to this film, because by coming together, we are reminded of our membership in this local running community, as well as our membership in a much-larger global running community," Stailey said.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Kenya's investment in women pays off - chicagotribune.com

File photo shows Jelimo of Kenya celebrating winning women's 800m final while team-mate Busienei follows to finish second at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games
File photo shows Jelimo of Kenya celebrating winning women's 800m final while team-mate Busienei follows to finish second at the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games (Dylan Martinez, REUTERS / July 21, 2012)

ITEN, Kenya (Reuters) - It has taken Kenya nearly five decades to gain the upper hand over its neighbor and greatest athletics rival Ethiopia, but the winning formula was staring Kenyan track officials in the face all along.

The London Games will be the next battleground between the two giants of middle and long-distance running, who have tussled for east African track dominance since the 1960s.

Kenya finally toppled Ethiopia from its perch in the medals table by going against the grain to focus on female athletes in a male-dominated track team.

It was only then that the number of gold, silver and bronze medals around Kenyan necks went through the roof.

"Kenya was shooting itself in the foot initially by not including women," said Paul Ereng, Kenya's 800m Olympic gold medal winner at the 1988 Seoul Games.

Ereng, a cross-country head coach at the University of Texas, said Kenya would often select three male athletes to compete for an Olympic event but only take one woman.

"Our societies are male dominated. It is said women belong to the house and all that but I think we are disturbing those ideals," Yobes Ondieki, Kenya's 1991 world champion over 5,000m, told Reuters in Eldoret, a town in western Kenya's Rift Valley.

"We are giving women a chance and women are proving themselves," Ondieki said, looking at his old friend Ereng, who nodded. "You can say it's like an Arab Spring for women."

After Ethiopia narrowly pipped Kenya in the medals table at the 2004 Athens Games, Kenyan athletics officials realized the majority of Ethiopian medals at Athens were won by women and decided to bring women's athletics to the high level of men.

"We got more sponsorships (for women), we trained more coaches to focus on the women...," said Peter Angwenyi, a spokesman for Athletics Kenya.

The new strategy started to pay off when 18-year-old Pamela Jelimo won the 800 meters at the 2008 Beijing Games to become the first Kenyan woman to win an Olympic gold medal.

But Jelimo wants even more financial investment in women, insisting: "We still have a long way to go."


Ethiopia heads to London hoping to improve on the Beijing Games, where Kenya won twice as many medals, eager to prove its athletics factory can still produce great champions.

But its preparations appear to have run into trouble.

Ethiopia experimented with a more conventional training approach after the Beijing Games, allowing athletes to report to camps only ahead of major competitions, but went back to stricter methods after the country's runners flopped in two subsequent world championships.

Daegu 2011 represented a steep downfall for Ethiopia, a country used to outpacing its rivals in the 5,000m, 10,000m and marathon -- it only won a single gold medal and four bronze.

Kenya, on the other hand, scooped seven gold, six silver and four bronze medals.

"What happened in Berlin (in 2009) and Daegu is a reflection of that (conventional training approach)," said Yilma.
"I'm not saying they don't train at all in those circumstances, but the concentration levels and commitment won't be the same if they are based on their own."

At Addis Ababa's stadium, Ethiopia's elite athletes scamper in groups in a return to the old Soviet-era boot camps that thrust Ethiopia's long distance runners to the sport's pinnacle.

It's eight months since the Ethiopian Athletics Federation summoned 200 athletes ahead of the world indoor championships in March and the London Olympics in July and August.

"We keep a close eye on our athletes because we want to monitor their forms at close range and to avoid a situation where they would return back burnt out from over-competing," said national team coach Yilma Berta.


In contrast, Kenya favors the open-house philosophy and a desire to keep athletes training near their rural homes.

As the dawn sunrise peers over acacia trees and lush green hills in western Kenya's Rift Valley, it is the sight of slim torsos that catches the eye in Iten, a small Kenyan town some 2,400m above sea level.

The ranks of runners jogging through the maze of trails around Iten's gentle hills is swelled every year by foreign athletes who visit the 'Runner's Mecca' in hope that the magic formula will rub off on them.

Pieter Langerhorst, Dutch national athletics coach who co-owns the High-Altitude Training Centre in Iten, says athletes from dozens of countries have trained in his camp over the past year, including the likes of Mo Farah and Paula Radcliffe.

"A lot of top Ethiopians are also training here in our place," Langerhorst explained, pointing out that Kenyans do not go to the main training camp in Ethiopia. "You can't compare what they have (in Addis) to here."

But one of the biggest concerns for Ethiopia, according to local commentators, is the lack of talent coming through the ranks to replace the likes of the great Haile Gebrselassie, while Kenya is reporting one of its greatest crops ever.

"Kenya had an absolute and huge reservoir of athletes training so it was only a matter of time before the Kenyans would wear (the Ethiopians) down," said Brother Colm O'Connell, an Irish missionary who has trained 25 Kenyan world champions and four Olympic gold medal winners in the last 36 years.

"The same as Jamaicans in sprinting -- it's only a matter of time before the cream comes to the top."

(Additional reporting by Aaron Maasho; Editing by James Macharia)

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

London 2012: Ryan Hall, U.S. marathon runner aims to win gold at Olympics - thestar.com


REDDING, CALIF. — Ryan Hall rocked slightly, palms up, closing his eyes or singing softly to lyrics projected on giant screens at the evangelical Bethel Church. Other worshippers jubilantly raised their arms and swayed and jumped in the aisles. A band played onstage, and a woman waved a fabric flag like a rhythmic gymnast.
Thin and blond and boyish at 29 — flight attendants still asked his age when he sat in an exit row — Hall wore jeans and a blue shirt labelled with the shoe company that sponsored his running. At the 2011 Boston Marathon, he ran a personal best of 2 hours, 4 minutes, 58 seconds. No other American has run faster.
The Boston course is not certified for record purposes because of its drop in elevation and its layout. Still, of the 29 fastest marathon performances in 2011, Hall’s was the only one achieved by a runner from a country other than Kenya or Ethiopia. His next marathon will come Aug. 12 at the London Olympics. On a Sunday in March, Hall firmly believed he could challenge the East Africans for a gold medal.
“Light a fire in me for the whole world to see,” he sang.
The Bible downloaded on his iPhone, Hall read along with Psalm 68: “Let God arise and his enemies be scattered.”
He took notes as Bill Johnson, the pastor, casually hip in a sports coat and jeans, spoke to hundreds of worshippers about risk-taking, saying, “If you live cautiously, all your friends will call you wise, but you won’t move mountains.”
The sermon seemed particularly resonant with Hall, a Stanford graduate with a degree in sociology, a surfer-dude mien and an approach to running that is experimental and unorthodox. He has pushed the boundaries of conventional training, seeking to confront the dominant East Africans and the unforgiving way that the fastest marathons have become something like 26.2-mile sprints.
He coaches himself, running alone instead of with an elite training group here in Northern California, two hours above Sacramento, where the flat land of the Central Valley begins to buck and heave like a rodeo bull.
For the Olympic marathon trials in January in Houston, Hall trained entirely at sea level, contravening a widely held belief that altitude training is necessary to increase oxygen-carrying capacity and enhance performance. Although he has incorporated some altitude training for the Olympics, Hall has headed to the highlands of Flagstaff, Ariz., for weeks, not months, at a time. He runs 100 miles a week instead of the typical 120, taking one day off each seven days. Every seven weeks, he runs once a day instead of twice, the standard regimen.
Hall has yet to win a major marathon. He finished 10th at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. After taking fourth at Boston in the spring of 2011, he finished fifth at the Chicago Marathon last fall. His preparation for the London Games has been complicated by foot problems, disappointing tune-up races and an acknowledgment that his initial training strategy — to try to shatter the world record — did not work. But Hall remains flexible, adaptable. He has four weeks until the Olympic marathon to refine a new approach begun over the past month.
“Sometimes, you have to fail your way to the top,” Hall said in his open, easy manner in March. “Thomas Edison found a thousand ways not to make a light bulb before he got it right.”
Underpinning his running is his faith. The marathon is so isolating in its training, so impossibly fast at the elite level, so restricting to two performances a year for most top runners, that many athletes seek a purpose larger than themselves, something to believe in more than the numbing miles of roadwork. For some, it is their families or an escape from poverty. For others, it is their religion.
“If you run without any reason, you are just chasing the wind,” said Wesley Korir, the reigning Boston Marathon champion from Kenya.
During the 2011 Chicago Marathon, Hall began singing praise to the Lord. Freestyling, he called it. Korir joined in.
“Come Lord Jesus, come,” the two runners sang as they ran. “Come Holy Spirit, come.”
After finishing second at the 2011 U.S. half-marathon championships, Hall went to drug testing, a standard procedure. Asked on a form to list his coach, he wrote: God.
You have to list the name of a real person, a doping official said.
“He is a real person,” Hall responded.
It is while running, or thinking of running, Hall said, that he feels most conversant with and dependent on God. And it is through this professional excellence that Hall believes he is best able to show God to the world, to display his goodness and his love.
Joe Bottom, who won a gold and a silver medal in swimming at the 1976 Montreal Games and attends Bethel Church, compared Hall’s Olympic pursuit to that of Eric Liddell, a Christian runner from Scotland who won the 400 meters at the 1924 Paris Games. Liddell’s story was featured in the movie Chariots of Fire.
In the movie, Liddell is portrayed as saying, “I feel God made me for a purpose, but he also made me fast. And when I run, I feel his pleasure.”
Bottom said in an email: “It’s fulfilling, even exhilarating, to feel God’s pleasure in our willingness to pursue and occasionally fulfill the dreams He puts in our hearts and the purposes He built into us. Co-operating with that purpose and those dreams is the greatest fulfillment that one could experience.”
Hall said that God spoke to him regularly, giving him training plans, even a race strategy for the London Olympics. He does not hear a voice; rather, he will pray or scroll through workouts in his head and a heightened thought will give him a sense of peace, grace and empowerment. Or a passage from the Bible will seem particularly relevant and urgent. Hall is still learning to distinguish his own thoughts from what he believes are God’s words to him. And sometimes, he has done workouts that in retrospect seem unwise — a thigh-shredding hill run in Flagstaff, a bicycle time trial a week after the Boston Marathon.
But Hall has also found biblical reinforcement for his training. He takes one day off a week, just as God rested on the seventh day. Every seven weeks, for restoration he runs only once a day instead of twice, an allusion to Exodus 23:11 and the admonition that farmers should leave their fields fallow every seventh year.
At night, he rubs his legs with anointing oil, another reference to Exodus and the belief that the human body is the temple of the Holy Spirit. Hall bought — but did not immediately use — a weighted vest for uphill running, an idea gleaned from Judges 16:3 and Samson’s hoisting the doors of the city gate of Gaza on his shoulders and carrying them to the top of the hill facing Hebron.
In spacing three days between his most arduous workouts, Hall refers to the Holy Trinity and the time that Jesus spent in the tomb; for him, this period represents resurrection, completeness, new life.
“The Bible is not going to tell you how to be a good runner, just like it’s not going to tell you how to build a computer,” Sara Hall said. “I don’t think Ryan is looking at the Bible for a formula, necessarily. There are certain things that God highlights for him that he applies to his training. The majority is what he hears from God.”
Some elite runners seem taken aback by Hall’s faith-based training.
“So he really thinks God is saying, ‘Run 10 times 1,200 metres today,’ or ‘Take tomorrow off?’” said Dathan Ritzenhein, who finished ninth in the marathon at the 2008 Beijing Olympics, one spot ahead of his countryman Hall. “Wow.”
Hall’s belief in a direct conversation with God was not a fringe occurrence, according to T.M. Luhrmann, a Stanford anthropologist who spent a decade researching charismatic evangelicals and wrote a recent, critically acclaimed book, When God Talks Back. Polls have shown that about a quarter of Americans have reported a direct revelation from God or have experienced a voice or a vision through prayer.
“Just the way a well-parented child will carry with them the soothing voice of their mother and father, these folks are really trying to build God as that kind of personal relationship,” Luhrmann said in an interview. “It really does give an emotional buffer to people. It seems people are able to carry with them a sense of comforting reassurance and a sense of inspiration. So it’s not as alien as it seems.”
On Aug. 24, 2008, Hall reached the starting line of the Olympic marathon in Beijing, expecting, along with many others, that pollution, heat and humidity would slow the race. A moderate time of 2:09 might win the gold medal, he thought. The temperature at the start was 70 degrees, with 72 per cent humidity. Through the race, the temperature rose to 84 degrees. Anything above 55 was considered less than ideal for a marathon.
Still, Hall had anticipated this moment since he was a short, skinny eighth grader in Big Bear Lake, Calif. At the time, baseball was his passion. He wanted to emulate his father, Mickey, who was a pitcher at Pepperdine and was drafted by, but never signed with, the Baltimore Orioles. His father ran, too, as a triathlete. Ryan had loped through a mile in physical education class, but he dreamed of a career in baseball spikes, not racing flats.
Mickey Hall said, “Every time Ryan went for a run, he’d come back and say, ‘I’m not a runner.”’
Then, as Ryan rode with his teammates to a basketball game one day, Hall experienced what he described as a vision from God, urging him to run around the lake at Big Bear. The family was deeply religious, belonging to a Pentecostal church. The next weekend, wearing basketball shoes, Ryan and his father covered 15 miles. His father tried to dissuade him, but Ryan persisted.
“He kept bugging me till he drove me crazy,” Mickey Hall, a teacher, said with a laugh. “I finally said, OK, but this is a bad idea.”
Ryan eventually grew tired, and his father stopped for cold drinks. Ryan remembers soaking his legs in the cold water of the lake. When he got home, he collapsed on the couch, exhausted but changed. Soon, Hall gave up other sports. He was now a runner. He went on to win multiple California high school championships, and an NCAA title at 5,000 meters at Stanford.
“I felt like God was saying, ‘I’m giving you a gift to run with the best guys in the world, but I’m giving you that gift so you can help other people,”’ Hall said.
At a young age, he said, he did not understand about helping people. But he understood, “OK, I’m going to run in the Olympics one day.”
That day had come in Beijing. Hall was considered a medal candidate. But he felt sluggish, and when the gun sounded, his race plan crumbled. Sammy Wanjiru of Kenya had an entirely different, unanticipated strategy. He went out at a searing pace. This was a marathon, but it felt like a 10k race.
“It’s like if you were to come out in a boxing match, kind of hoping to work into things, and the guy comes out and, bam, pops you,” Hall said.
He kept checking his mile splits. He was running fast and yet drifting so far back.
“What’s going on?” he wondered.
He felt dazed, hoping the lead pack would come back to him. It did not. Hall grew discouraged and quit checking his splits. A helicopter providing a television feed of the leaders kept moving farther down the road.
Dejected, Hall finished 10th in 2:12:33. He was unable to watch a replay of the race for three years. Emotionally scarring, he called it. At the dining hall in the athletes’ village, Hall sought consolation by stuffing himself with cookies and other junk food. He saw the celebrative Wanjiru walking out with a handful of fruit.
“I was like, ‘Just salt my wounds,”’ Hall said.
That night, he attended the closing ceremony at Bird’s Nest stadium. He found himself perhaps 50 feet away from the medal podium as Wanjiru had gold placed around his neck, Jaouad Gharib of Morocco received the silver, and Tsegaye Kebede of Ethiopia was awarded the bronze.
“Man, I’m going to get myself there in four years,” Hall told himself.
It would not be easy. Marathon running became something different in Beijing. Wanjiru broke the Olympic record by nearly three minutes, winning in 2:06:32. It was Kenya’s first gold medal in the marathon. Given the oppressive conditions, some considered it the greatest run ever. A certain fear of the distance had been lost. The best runners no longer thought they had to hold back at the start to conserve energy.
Wanjiru would not live to defend his Olympic title in London. His personal life grew messy. He drank heavily by many accounts, and he died last year after a fall from a balcony at his home in circumstances that have never been resolved.
Still, his effect on the marathon has been sweeping. Of the 24 sub-2:05 marathons that have been run internationally, 20 have come since Wanjiru’s blazing victory in Beijing. The current world record, set last September in Berlin by Patrick Makau of Kenya, is 2:03:38, a pace of about 4:43 per mile. At least one scientist has said that a sub-two-hour marathon is possible by 2015.
“It’s almost like how we measure time — before Beijing how the marathon was and after Beijing how the marathon is,” Hall said. “People stopped being afraid. They are much more aggressive now. Guys just go for it.”
Eventually, that defeat in Beijing changed from deflating to liberating for Hall. He embraced risk and lost his fear of failure.
“I don’t see failure as a negative thing at all anymore, which is a huge shift for me,” he said. “I just see that as part of my training, my process, learning, experimenting, getting it wrong so that I can get it right.”
Among the most interested observers of Hall is Alberto Salazar, a former U.S. marathoner who now coaches elite athletes. He, too, is a renowned tinkerer whose Catholic faith played a significant role in his career. Salazar said he had the utmost respect for Hall but also believed that God wanted his followers to take responsibility for their daily actions and “not depend on him for the answer to everything.”
“I don’t believe God is necessarily interested in what workouts I should give my runners,” Salazar said.
At the same time, he said, “I may not understand how Ryan believes, but what I respect him for tremendously is that he has the guts to share his faith.”
Hall does not appear defensive about challenges to his beliefs. Instead, he seems to relish the discussion. He does not view his reliance on God as an abdication of responsibility but as a means of empowerment.
“I’m my own toughest critic,” Hall said. ‘‘I’ve messed up, but the mistake wasn’t on God’s end. I really believe God is always wanting to speak to me and reveal secrets to me and tell me what I need to be doing. I just mess it up sometimes.
“I’m very open about saying I don’t have it all figured out,” Hall said. ‘‘I don’t necessarily feel I’ve hit a marathon completely right yet. But I don’t think that’s a reflection of some character flaw. I’ve learned to see myself as God sees me. We believe God sees us as perfect, almost as if we have a Jesus suit on, because he died for us and took away our sins.
“If that’s how the creator of the universe sees me, that’s a very honouring thing,” Hall said. “It builds your confidence. It makes you see yourself in a very good light. I don’t have a lot of issues with my identity.”
He has begun to compress his training, placing two days between his hardest workouts instead of three. And he has quit wearing a watch while he trains, so he will not be discouraged by slow splits or inhibited by fast ones. He says he does not plan on wearing a watch in London, either. He feels unbound this way, running for the joy of it, more closely connected with God.
“It’s going to take a special day,” Hall said of his gold medal chances. “But I feel like I went for it, regardless of how the race goes. I’ll always look back on this as a season of joy. Sometimes it works out, and sometimes it doesn’t. That’s part of the fun of life, taking some chances and seeing what happens.