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Answering a long-distance call

By Bert Rosenthal, Associated Press, 4/17/2000

ith no American man having won a major marathon in the United States since 1983, a bold plan to return US distance runners to the elite level has been put in place.

Jon Epstein, president of USA Fila, unveiled the program Saturday night and expressed confidence that it would eventually produce American champions.

The project, called Discovery USA, is modeled after Fila's successful Discovery Kenya plan, which produced 20 marathon champions throughout the world last year.

''We will go to great lengths to scout out talented young athletes who possess the exact characteristics that, through nine years of testing and refinement, contribute to superior performances in long-distance events,'' said Dr. Gabriele Rosa, who coaches many of the Kenyan runners. ''In three to six years, I fully expect to see Discovery USA runners winning world-class marathons.''

The program will begin in the fall with training camps in Atlanta, Chicago, Boston, and either Colorado or Arizona. Each camp will be staffed by coaches who are trained in Rosa's coaching techniques.

Initially, 4,000 athletes, most over 20, will be screened for characteristics common to elite long-distance runners. From that group, 400 will be chosen for more thorough evaluations, with 100 graduating to a third phase of exhaustive laboratory testing. Finally, 40 will be selected to enroll in one of the four camps.

''There's been a lament expressed by many in the sport that long-distance running in the United States lacks a plan, lacks vision, and lacks support,'' Epstein said. ''There's been a call for change.

''The high-altitude training camps developed by Dr. Rosa and Moses Tanui [the Kenyan who won the Boston Marathon in 1996 and 1998] has reaped phenomenal results.

''This project has the same plan, the same goals, the same vision as Discovery Kenya. The screening program eventually will lead to success. There's an abundance of distance runners in the United States who have turned to other sports. We want to change that.''

Epstein also said that some of the best runners to come out of the Discovery USA project periodically would go to Kenya and train with some of the great Kenyan distance runners like Tanui and Joseph Chebet, winner of the Boston Marathon and the New York City Marathon last year. And Kenyan athletes occasionally would visit the US camps.

George Hirsch, publisher of Runner's World magazine and co-sponsor of the program, noted that an American 10,000-meter runner spent time at the Kenyan camp last year ''and came back a better runner.''

''We've got to do something to help the sport,'' Hirsch said.

Craig Masback, chief executive officer of USA Track & Field, also expressed the urgency for improvement in American distance running.

''We're the No. 1 team in the world in track and field,'' Masback said. ''We're not the No. 1 team in long-distance running. The long-distance running movement in the United States deserves this. We have athletes with tremendous potential. This is a well thought-through program.''

Fila is spending between $750,000 and $1 million to start the project.

Each of the final 40 athletes will receive living stipends that will allow them to dedicate themselves completely to training for world-class competition, Epstein said.

The camps will not be open all year, but at certain times, he said.

The project is designed to end the drought in which an American has not won a major marathon in the United States since Greg Meyer won Boston in 1983.

This story ran on page E11 of the Boston Globe on 4/17/2000.
© Copyright 2000 Globe Newspaper Company.

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