In Praise of Sport Notes on Great Feats of the Recent Past-Part 1

An unknown Kenyan.  How many times have we heard that before?  Yet again, a young man from that most prodigious nation of long distance runners came from out of nowhere, (in the sense that he was an an-almost-unheard-of runner in his second 26.2-mile race ever), to set a course record in the 2009 LA Marathon.  Wesley Korir, 26, ran the race of his life, finishing in two hours, eight minutes and 26 seconds, 14 seconds faster than the previous best time set in 2006

On the spot he was awarded $160,000 and a 2009 Honda Accord EX-L.  The largest part of his cash prize was the $100,000 Banco Popular Challenge award to the first finisher of either gender.  The elite women are given a head start that is determined by the difference between the women’s course record and the men’s course record.  This year, it was 16 minutes, 57 seconds.  In the four years of this practice the sexes are tied at two each.

Mr Korir didn’t think he had a shot to win, let alone break the course record.  He is quoted as saying…“I thought my chance [to win] was zero”.   The field was stacked with top elite runners including favorite Tariku Jufar of Ethiopa who finished second in 2:09:32.

If the 2:08:26 time doesn’t seem that fast to you because you know the world record is 2:03:59 consider this: the Los Angeles course is not a fast course (it’s not flat enough and usually not cool enough).  Also, it wasn’t until last year that any marathon runner had run ten races in less than 2:09 hours. That was Sammy Korir, 37, of Kenya and it required 12 years.  

Taking into account that marathon runners usually peak in their thirties it is possible that, in Wesley Korir, the future world record holder may have just been unveiled in Los Angeles.  (The current WR was set last September by Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia at the age of 35.)  Of course, Mr. Korir has a lot of competition from his countrymen, especially Evans Cheruiyot, 26, who won both the 2007 Milan Marathon and the 2008 Chicago Marathon (also his first two races at that distance).

Lights, camera, action.  With the narcissism of a true Angeleno I say: “Isn’t our marathon the marathon?  Seriously though, this victory mimics a Hollywood sports-movie script:  “This is an American story.  A poverty-level child from a Kenyan village successfully runs from poverty, runs for his life to find opportunity in the United States.  The true story of Wesley Korir.  

Running is the way out from a dead-end life for Kenyans blessed with the ability to perform competitively at the collegiate level.  Mr. Korir said, that in his circumstances, there were no possibilities for a career or an education in his home country.  He came to America on a scholarship to the University of Louisville where he settled in as a premier 5000 meters (5K) specialist.  His most prestigious showing was a third place finish in the NCAA Championships in 2007.  He began running longer distances and in his first marathon race, the 2008 Chicago Marathon, he finished fourth. 

The Kenyan national dominance of the men’s marathon is stunning.  It seems as though if your resume doesn’t say, in the country-of-origin box, either Kenya or Ethiopa you don’t belong on the road.  In the men’s marathon a new world record has been set by a different man, i.e., not an athlete breaking his own record, ten times since 2003. Eight of those records, spots two through nine were achieved by Kenyans.  

Wesley Korir has had his first turn on one of long-distance running’s most glorious stages.  Congratulations to him.  May he garner many endorsements and much future success.


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