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Support not up to speed

Talented runners need some help

By Frank Dell'Apa, Globe Staff, 4/16/2002


Men  |  Women  |  Wheelchairs  |


Women: Okayo KOs course in debut
Men: Rop puts Kenyans back on top
Runner-up: Ndereba is still first-rate
Ryan: Their absence didn't last long
US runners: Support not there
Beardsley: He returns for more fun
Masters: At 43, Kipkemboi in prime
Wheelchairs: VanDyk wins again
Notebook: Runners kept their cool
The start: Meeting first challenge
First-person: To end, the hard way
Heartbreak Hill: Over the top
SporTView: Coverage lagged
Faces in pack: Miles of smiles


Memorable moments
During the race
Before the race
Sunday pasta party
Sports & Fitness Expo

The loneliness of the American distance runner continued yesterday at the Boston Marathon.

Keith Dowling of Reston, Va., finished 15th overall in 2:13:28. Clint Verran of Rochester, Mich., (17th, 2:15:19), Mark Coogan of Attleboro (19th, 2:17:35), and Chris Wehrman of Okemos, Mich., (22d, 2:19:03) were the only other US runners to finish ahead of the women's champion, Margaret Okayo of Kenya (2:20:43).

No further proof is needed that the development programs in the United States have been running on empty at least since 1983, when Greg Meyer won Boston in 2:09:00, a time which would have placed first yesterday.

''There is a good support network in high school and college, but once you graduate it's really tough,'' Verran said. ''Society puts so many other demands on you. You have to get a real job, there are mortgage payments, kids. It's tough to focus on running.''

There is hope for the future, though. Keith and Kevin Hanson of Rochester, Mich., are making strides toward changing the trend toward American running mediocrity. The Hansons have established a club that subsidizes elite runners - including three of the top five US finishers yesterday.

''The system is definitely a little flawed,'' Kevin Hanson said. ''We haven't produced a world-class distance runner for a long time. We lose a lot of them after they graduate from college. They are encouraged to take a job and use their degree. Sometimes the runners give up if they don't see the results they want in a few months. And, at 22, it's very hard to determine if they have a future as a distance runner unless they give it some time.

''Americans are not given the right opportunities. The East Africans would chuckle to hear me say that because we have everything in this country. But in Africa, they don't have the same distractions as we have here, plus they have a support system which develops runners.

''What we have done is set up a group support system. In the '70s, Greg Meyer, Bill Rodgers, Bob Hodge, they had that. What we are doing is taking what they did and trying to better it.''

Verran, 26, is among the first products of the Hansons' project.

''We are training in groups every day, which is what the Africans and Japanese do,'' Verran said. ''So we have competition every day. We've gotten away from that type of training in the '80s and '90s. It will take five or 10 years, but we will be there again. I am just happy to be bridging the gap because the guys who will do it are younger than us. They will make a quantum leap. Alan Webb is one and then there is Dethan Ritzenheim, who is only 18 and is going to be a world-beater. He already is a world-beater.''

Among the US favorites, Josh Cox pulled out because of illness and Coogan, 35, finished 19th.

''[Coogan is] going to have a breakthrough,'' said coach Bill Squires, ''but he is not likely to challenge the elite foreigners.

''Cox is more our future, he has the body for this course. He eats right, sleeps right, acts right. He trained with the Kenyans. He has the [quadriceps], and if you look at the Ethiopian and Kenyan runners that is what they have, their quads are proportionately developed the way they need to be. It's the same as European soccer players, the emphasis on their [leg] development is superior to our players, and you can see the difference. You can see the muscle definition.''

Dowling, 32, stayed with the lead pack through more than half the race yesterday, surprising himself with a 1:05 split, but then slowing down while the leaders sped up.

''I wanted to be able to at least see the lead pack at the halfway mark,'' Dowling said. ''It was a relatively easy pace at the start and that helped. Ignorance is bliss, I didn't wear a watch. I feel watches are for training and when it's time to race I just lace 'em up and race.''

Jill Gaitenby of Northampton was the top US woman finisher, 13th in 2:38:55. Gaitenby overcame a heel injury, thanks to the moral support of the crowd, especially near her alma mater, Boston College.

''This was my first disastrous marathon ever and it was bound to eventually happen,'' Gaitenby said. ''Hopefully, I'll have a lot more success before I have another one.''

This story ran on page D4 of the Boston Globe on 4/16/2002.
© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company.

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