Break­ing 2:15

Canadian Running - - EDITORIAL - Michael Doyle, Edi­tor-in-Chief @Cana­di­anRun­ning

In May, the run­ning world was in­spired by Eliud Kip­choge’s per­for­mance, where he f lirted with what was pre­vi­ously be­lieved to be im­pos­si­ble – break­ing the twohour bar­rier in the marathon.

But per­haps we shouldn’t have been so in awe as, in a sense, the mark had al­ready been bro­ken. Paula Rad­cliffe did it 14 years ago.

At the 2003 Lon­don Marat hon, Rad­cliffe low­ered her own world record from the pre­vi­ous year by nearly two min­utes to 2:15:25 . To­day, t hat stands as over two per cent bet­ter than the sec­ond fastest time ever (2:17:01, run this April by Mary Kei­tany). Ac­cord­ing to rep­utable anal­y­sis done a few years ago in the Jour­nal of Ap­plied Phys­i­olog y, Rad­cliffe’s world record trans­lates to 1:59:55 by a man.

This is arg uably the g reat­est sin­gle per­for­mance in his­tory – of any sport. And that it took well over a decade for any ath­lete to come within two min­utes is a tes­ta­ment to how im­prob­a­ble this time re­mains. A cynic would even say that it’s un­be­liev­able.

And it looks like the skept ic s a re get t i ng their way. This sum­mer, Rad­cliffe’s legacy-defin­ing run, one that is per­haps more im­pres­sive than Ban­nis­ter’s sub-4:00 mile and cer­tainly more so than Den­nis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 men’s marathon record, could be erased from the record book.

The iaaf, at hlet ics’ global gov­ern­ing body, is ag­gres­sively mov­ing to ex­punge pre-2004 records. The sport is drown­ing in a cloud of un­cer­tainty about the depth and breadth of its dop­ing prob­lem. And the iaaf is un­rav­el­ling, as new al­le­ga­tions of cor­rup­tion con­tinue to sur­face – with it often tied to dop­ing coverups. The or­ga­ni­za­tion is giv­ing fifa a run for its money as the dirt­i­est sports body in the world. That’s im­pres­sive. So, in an act of des­per­a­tion, pre­sented as bold­ness, iaaf pres­i­dent Se­bas­tian Coe is align­ing with the ar­gu­ment that the sport needs the sleight wiped clean. He thinks this will bring back fans. He feels it should start with all records set be­fore mod­ern dop­ing con­trol meth­ods were put in place. It’s the sort of fix you concoct with a group of friends in a bar, af­ter a few pints. It’s only stand­ing up as a so­lu­tion with the iaaf be­cause the right way to do this isn’t pleas­ant, and re­quires in­tegrity – never this or­ga­ni­za­tion’s strong suit. There are two ma­jor prob­lems with the world record nu­clear op­tion.

First, the iaaf is de­ceiv­ing it­self if it thinks that there is no longer a dop­ing prob­lem. Right now, Kenya and Ethiopia, the two main pow­er­houses of dis­tance run­ning, are badly in need of le­git­i­mate in­fra­struc­ture to mon­i­tor the prob­lem (and there is a prob­lem, po­ten­tially a cat­a­strophic one). This isn’t the right mo­ment press the re­set but­ton on the sport and be­gin reestab­lish­ing world records.

Sec­ondly, by gut­ting the sport of its great achieve­ments, and Rad­cliffe’s in par­tic­u­lar, you are merely se­lec­tively re­vis­ing his­tory. By this logic, Lord Coe should prob­a­bly also hand back his pair of Olympic gold medals from his run­ning days in the 1980 Games. Who knows what he and oth­ers were up to back then.

Yes, Paula Rad­cliffe’s 2:15:25 marathon is un­be­liev­ably fast. Yes, it’s the great­est per­for­mance in sports his­tory. And yes, we have to be­lieve she was just bet­ter than ev­ery­one else, and clean in do­ing so. She ran the im­pos­si­ble time, and we should be fo­cus­ing on run­ning down that time through in­no­va­tion and find­ing the next Paula Rad­cliffe. As she has ar­gued, we should put real ef­fort into fig­ur­ing out who was dirty and who should be ac­tual role mod­els, and move on to cel­e­brat­ing the sport. If that means deeper in­ves­ti­ga­tions into our icons and in­stant life­time bans for cur­rent cheaters, so be it. And, on an in­sti­tu­tional level, if that means do­ing away with the or­ga­ni­za­tion that fos­tered such cor­rup­tion, let’s get it over with and start anew. It’s time for real ac­tion and mak­ing tough de­ci­sions, so we can move on to some­thing peo­ple will actually care about, like break­ing 2:15 .

ABOVE Paula Rad­cliffe at the 2003 Lon­don marathon on her way to a world record

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