Well, the 2012 Olympics just wrapped up after seventeen fun and exciting days of competition. This was the first Olympics in which I seriously focused on the running events. Here are some observations:
Runners come in all shapes and sizes : There’s a huge difference in body type between the sprinters (100m, 200m, 400m) and the distance runners (5000m, 10000m, marathon). Running is much more specialized than swimming, where a single athlete (like Phelps) can win all the events. The sprinters have more in common with those competing in the jumping and throwing events, than they do with the distance runners. We all have a combination of fast twitch and slow twitch muscle fibers. Sprinters have a higher percentage of fast twitch, which gives them more explosive power, while distance runners have a higher percentage of slow twitch, which gives them more endurance.
Fastest Man in the World : Usain Bolt’s antics can be bit obnoxious, but you gotta admit the dude’s exciting to watch. He’s a genetic anomaly that comes along maybe once every hundred years. We’re lucky to be able to witness that kind of speed and power. After his three gold medals in London, Bolt now may be the most famous runner EVER and certainly the most well-known Jamaican since Bob Marley. And despite the fact his training regime consists of Chicken McNuggets, Guinness, video games and late nights dance parties, he is good for the sport of running and for sport in general.
More running please : I’ve heard some people complain that there are too many swimming events (it seemed to dominate the whole first week). Instead of cutting back on the swimming, I suggest we include more running events. Running is one of the most popular recreational activities in this country, yet few of us can relate to races run around a track with competitors wearing spikes and one-piece spandex jumpsuits. I say we add a half marathon (which has become the most common recreational distance in the last few years) run through the streets of the host city. The winners would finish in about a hour, short enough to keep TV viewers interested. I would also add a trail running and ultra marathon event, since these are two fast-growing activities as well.
Go Meb Go : Overall, the marathon was a bit of a disappointment. In an effort to make the event spectator friendly, the London organizers designed a loop course that slowed things up considerably and caused some runners to cramp up on the many turns. Three of the six U.S. runner did not finish due to injuries. Yet 37 year old Meb Keflezighi ran a gutsy race and finished fourth. This former Olympic silver medalist and New York marathon winner was dropped by Nike last year because they thought he was over the hill. He struggled to find a new sponsor and was only able to secure a deal with fitness shoe maker, Skechers. Since then he’s been a man on a mission, finishing fourth at New York last year (while setting a new personal best), winning the U.S. Olympic Trials in January, and now finishing fourth in London. Getting dropped by Nike may have been the best thing that could have happened to him.
I want my BBC : NBC I feel did a poor job of televising the Olympics. I realize there are challenges with time differences and the fact that different viewers want to see different events, yet still they could have done a much better job. They made it extremely difficult to try and figure out when a specific event was going to be televised. Many important events were not shown live so that NBC could show them during prime time, by which point most viewers would have already known the outcome. The final straw for me was on Saturday when we had three Americans in the final of the 5000m and instead of televising this exciting race they chose to show a handball match.
Silver Lining : The U.S. racked up more than a hundred medals in London, including 46 golds. Because we always do well in the Olympics, we tend to ignore the non-gold medal winners. Yet for me, the most impressive performance in these games was the silver medal won by Galen Rupp in the 10,000m. Galen Rupp grew up in Portland and went to Central Catholic High School, just a few blocks from my apartment. In 2000, he was discovered by Alberto Salazar while doing sprints in soccer practice. If you are not familiar with Alberto Salazar, he is a running icon and probably the last American to be considered the world’s best distance runner. Salazar won several major marathons, like New York and Boston, yet his career was tragically cut short due to overtraining. If you want to known more, check out this recent article by Malcolm Gladwell on Salazar in the New Yorker.
Galen Rupp has incredible natural talent, yet Salazar has been extremely cautious in helping him to develop. Rupp could be a case study on the benefits of slow, gradual, progressive improvement. Nothing crazy or sexy, but never an injury. It all came together in London when he became the first American to medal in the 10,000m since 1964. Rupp’s training partner, Mo Farah of Great Britain, won the gold (and a second gold in the 5,000m). Bravo Mo, Galen and Alberto.