This week we take you back to the summer of 2016. Not just to the Summer Olympics as many of you would expect but to courageous fight to make the Olympic team that took place a few weeks before. Imagine the sense set in Eugene Oregon, Hayward field with the eyes of an entire nation set on who would make the US Olympic team and represent out nation at the Rio 2016 Olympics. There is always drama and tons of heart pounding moments at every Olympic trials but nothing compares to what Brenda Martinez went through that year. For us who grew up in southern California like Brenda she is our local running hero and all of us were trilled to have the opportunity to watch her race and make the Olympic team in her bread and butter event the 800 meter race. Not a doubt in our mind that she would make the team and move on to Rio to represent the US. Well at least not until that faithful moment when our hearts stopped pounding and just stood still. You see during the 800 meter final at the trials she was just meters away from qualifying for the Olympics when her feet got tangled up with Alysia Montano which cause Brenda to stumble just enough to allow 4 runners to scream by her in the final meters of the race and kill her hopes of going to Rio. I clearly remember sitting in front of my TV in utter shock and dismay at what had occurred. How could this have happened? I was angry for her. I wanted someone disqualified or something to be done. But as it turned out there was no going back.
What was even more amazing and telling of Brenda's personality and character was what she did after the race. She didn't put blame or point fingers at anyone. She took the disappointment and pain she felt and absorbed it. She decided to take the higher road and now focus on her next race, the 1500. Most of us might have given up but not Brenda! She was out to get her rightful spot on that team before the trials end. The road will be harder but if anyone can do it Brenda could! Just days after the tragedy she moved past the prelims and the semis by winning her heats in the 1500 and was now back to this all familiar spot of 1 race to determine if she gets to run in Rio! And living up to the drama and trills of trials this was one for the all time memories. With 200 meters to go she was in 5th place and this was it. Do or die for Brenda and all her fans! She moved past one runner and now was neck and neck into the final meters of the race with Amanda Eccleston to the last 3rd place spot on the team. It all came down to the final lean and no one could tell who got it not even the runners themselves. Both leaning hard and stumbling through the line. It all came down to a photo finish and just like that Brenda had done what many thought was all over a few days before! Brenda Martinez had made the Olympic team in dramatic fashion! Hats off to Brenda for showing us that its never over and you should never give up!
The Flying Finns were known worldwide for their ability to run and in the early Olympic years they were dominate in the distance events. But since the 1936 games Finland has not won even 1 gold medal. When the young Lasse Viren came to the Munich Olympics he carried the entire weight of his countrymen on his shoulders or should I say on his legs! He woudl first be racing the 10,000 Meters and the question no everyone's mind was could Viren bring back the glory to Finland that they were so proud of? Virne was by no means the favorite. While he was fast he didn't have the experience to match most runners in the field. Just the year before at the European Championships he had only finished 17th in the 10,000 Meters adn 7th in the 5,000 but still he set out to make history.
As the race went off he was greeted by a blistering pace set by Dave Bedford of Britain with a 69.9 split for the first lap. That pace continued through the first mile crossing the line in 4:15 well ahead of world record pace. It was clear it would be a fast race with 18 runners in the race that had already run faster than the current Olympic record at the time but no saw this pace happening. Even more amazing was that 11 men were still in the lead pack and no one was was backing off. As they reached the mid way point tragedy would strike in the form of a collision in the lead pack. It involved Frank Shorter of the US, Viren and Gammoudi of Tunisia who ended up doing a cartwheel into the infield. Viren fell as well and for a split second just lay there on there on the track without moving. That moment was only but a second but for the Finns its was an eternity. But of course Viren got up and sprang into action with a sense of urgency. Less than a lap after the fall Viren was back with the lead pack but unfortunately Gammoudi was not able to recover and would end up dropping out.
After about 6000 meters into the race Viren road that wave of adrenaline right to the front of the race. then Yifter took it back and so began a game of cat and mouse in the front pack with neither one of them wanted to release the lead. By 8000 the rabbit Bedford who had pushed the pace so hard in the early going had now hit the wall and dropped way off the pace. Now 4 are left in the lead pack with a little more than a mile to go. Each runner watching the other to see who would make that final move. With 600 meters left it was Viren who dropped the hammer and with a loud statement said go with me if you can! No one could Viren ran the last lap in a blazing 56.4 to win the Gold Medal. He ran a 27:38.4 breaking not only the Olympic record but the World record as well! If that wasn't enough Viren would go on to race and win the 5000 race in that faithful race with Prefontaine. And if that wasn't enough he would go on to win the 10000 5000 double once again at the Montreal games 4 years later. And yes you guessed it if that wasn't enough he also ran the Marathon at the same Olympics and took 5th. Don't see anyone doing that ever again.
This week let's look back at a race that no one can ever forget. The day that Alan Webb took down the Jim Ryan's American high school record. Alan Webb stands as the greatest American miler of all time from his very young years of breaking the HS Sophomore record by running 4:06.94 to his eventual American Mile record of 3:46.91 which still stands today. Along the way he broke one record after the other in amazing fashion. To watch Webb run was truly something special and that day in 2001 at Hayward field was no exception.
If you can picture the day at the iconic Hayward field in Oregon with a sold out crown in the stands at the Prefontaine Classic. Now keep in mind Webb was a senior in high school but this was not a high school race. This race had some of the best distance runners in the world including the ageless legend Bernard Lagat and of course the King Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco. These two are to this day among my top distance runners heroes but in this day the race was stolen by high school kid from South Lakes High School in Reston Virginia. If you can picture this kid toeing the line with these elite runners. Some I'm sure were thinking who is this kid and why is he here? And can you even imagine what Webb must have thought and felt stood shoulder to shoulder with some of the best in the world? As impressive as this must have been Alan Webb knew it was not time to be star struck. He had a mission to accomplish. He was out to not only break 4:00 minutes in the mile, which we had already done a few months before at the New Balance Games making Webb the first high school runner to ever break 4 indoors, but he was chasing Jim Ryan's All-time high school mile record. At the time, Ryan's record of 3:55.3 had stood for over 36 years and many at the time including yours truly thought it was unbreakable. Well was I ever wrong!
As the gun went off Webb got a good start and settled in the middle of the pack. He was not there to win the race but to run his race at the correct pace. Many of the other runners fairly quickly ran around the high school "kid" and in a silent manner saying "hey kid don't get in our way!" Webb moved back to last place but was running his race. He came through the 400 meter mark in 58 seconds, an almost perfect pace to break the record. The pace overall was fast.Two pacers were leading El Guerrouj out at 53 seconds to run the fastest mile ever on American soil. This was living up to being a historic race one way or the other. Mid way through the 2nd lap Webb begin to make a move and passes one runner so no longer in last place. At the mid way point Webb crosses the 800 meter mark in 1:58, putting him exactly where him and his coach had planned and as he came through he passed another runner and now was beginning to connect back up with the main pack. Unbelievable this high school "kid" was literally running with the best of the world with 2 laps to go. Heading into the bell lap with 400 meters to go Webb crosses in 2:58.3 and knew he will need a sub 60 last lap to break the record. He immediately make a move and yes you guessed it begins to pass more runners on the outside. Not just one but several runners now.
In all this excitement lets not forget the excitement happening a few meters up front of the race with El Guerrouj pulling away from Lagat and charging for home daring anyone to stay with him. This move strung out the field to a single line. Webb had now moved into the middle of the pack as the race came to 200 meters left. Many would had been happy to finish here in 10th or so place but not Webb! He unleashed a kick for the ages passing runners on the outside and as unbelievable as it sounds moving into the top 5 with 60 meters to go and almost even catching Bernard Lagat! as he crosses the finish line in 4th and almost 3rd place. Fitting as it was El Guerrouj runs over to Webb to be the first to congratulate him for not only finishes 4th in a stacked race but yes breaking the 36 year old high school mile record! Alan Web now held the record at 3:53.43. A record that still stands today almost 17 years later! The said it was impossible to break Jim Ryan's before Webb now many say Webb record is impossible but records are made to be broken and I for one hope to see it done soon by the amazing high school runners we can seen lately. Forever in our hearts and memories Webb stands a legend in his own right. Let's see who the next young legend will be to emerge on the running scene! Check out the video below:
This week we are taking you back to the Sydney Summer Olympics in 2000 to witness one of the greatest Olympic 10,000 meter races in history! In my younger years I idolized the Ethiopian and Kenyan runners and to have an opportunity to watch them bring their best from both countries in a head to head grudge match was a moment in running history I will never forget. The stage was set for an epic race between the 2 countries that had dominate this event in recent memory and not to mention their respective champions. Paul Tergat from Kenya and Haile Gebrselassie toed the line each posed to make history. Haile Gebrselassie had not lost any 10,000 race in over 7 years at this point and with one more would solidify his place among the greatest of all time! Paul Tergat having won the world XC crown 5 years in a row, but had stood on the podium countless times in the 10,000 but always to watch Haile receive the gold and listen to the Ethiopian national anthem instead of his Kenya anthem. Would this be the day when Tergat would finally slay the King of the 10,000 meters?
Early on in the race we saw the field settle into a comfortable pace with only tactical testing moves occurring. With the quality of runners in this race everyone knew no one even Tergat or Gebrselassie could get away on their own. Knowing full well that 25 laps around this track was not going to be won in the early laps we saw very little testing from the field. As the race reached the last 1/4 of the race the lead pack was well defined. It was all 3 Kenyans, 2 Ethiopians, and 1 Moroccan runner. This pack had pulled away from the rest of the field and now the pace had begun to quicken. Paul Tergat was brave and bold leading much of the race but now with about 1 mile to go his teammate takes the lead and really starts to push the pace with the hope of breaking Haile. The Kenyans knew that they had to break him early if not in a final sprint it was almost impossible to beat him! As much as the Kenyans were trying to break Haile the laps went through and right there in second was Haile with Tergat was in 3rd with each man waiting on the other not wanting to make the first move. We all knew them move was coming but by who?
With 400 meters to go Haile's teammates move right next to him putting Tergat in a difficult position to pass. Those that don't think running is a team sport don't know our sport. with 300 meters to go knew he had to go and started to go wide around the Ethiopians and just at the 200 meters to go point he darts into the lead and manages to get a meter or 2 jump on Haile. Tergat was going to make that count and runs well around the last curve into the final straightway still leading and even with Haile chasing at full speed he seems to be holding him! Could this be his day finally? Tergat holding off the king of 10,000 but then in fashion we were all used to seeing from the Great Haile Gebrselassie he surged again finding the almost impossible other gear and just before the finish just out leans Tergat to win once again! After 10,000 meters, 6.2 miles, 25 laps it came down to the last few meters and the margin of victory was 0.09 seconds. Believe it or not that margin of victory was closer than the 100 meters race was won at that very same Olympics. These are the moments that define our sport and looking back at them is one way to find motivation for the moments each of us will create in our running lives! Below is a video of that epic final minutes of this race!
For this week's throwback I want to take all of you back with me to one of the reasons I even started to run. I was a junior high kid at the time in 6th grade with very little idea of what truly my life would be like. When it came to sports I knew what I was NOT good at, baseball, football, tennis, and a lot of other hand eye coordinated sports. Watching this race made me look at running in a whole new light and running the mile in PE class took on a whole new meaning. The rest is history and running became my life. I clearly remember watching the race on TV and being in awe at how hard it was for me to run 1 mile and these runners were running 26.2 miles much faster than I could ever dream to do! While most of my friends said that must be boring I was glued to the TV set sitting 3 ft away from it watching every step of that race and listening to every stories the commentator spoke about. You see the 1984 Olympic Women's Marathon was the very 1st ever women's Olympic Marathon. Yes that's correct women before 1984 were not allowed to run the marathon as it was thought to be way too difficult and a health hazard. Its unbelievable to think that today after watching some amazing marathon performances year after year. In fact Women had been banned from even running the 800 meter race before 1960! Saying it was too physically demanding for women??? After much effort by the running community in 1984 women finally were able to race the marathon in the Olympics and what a race it was! Race conditions were not ideal. With temperatures in the high 80's high and humidity even high at 95% you would have expected a slow pace with a ton of strategy until the end but Joan Benoit Samuelson of the US had other plans. Early in the race she made what would be a decisive move to take and extend the lead. Many of you competitors thought is was running suicide to go out that fast on a day that humid and hot so no one gave chance a mistake that was fatal as Benoit ran away with the race and won by over a minute over second place the great Grete Waitz. I remember as Benoit entered the stadium to a crowd 100,000 spectators as they all rose to their feet and the noise was just truly amazing! I got goosebumps as she ran her last lap and on to victory! They joy on her face made me want to experience that for myself. I wanted to run! As I watch other runners finish and thought about changing the channel something entirely magical happened. Gabriela Anderson-Schiess from Switzerland entered the stadium and I remember how tired she looks barely being able to keep her body upright and not fall. At first the crowd and all of us watching this didn't know how to react. Do you cheer do you cry with her to you feel sorry for her? No she proved to all of us that she wanted us to cheer to push her to push through the pain with her! I had thought the cheers were loud for Benoit when she won but now the entire stadium was on its feet the noise was deafening as Anderson struggle to walk and run with every step. She was now moving in across multiple lanes zig zagging almost as if with no control over her body and where she was going. Her back was bent almost in a cramp and couldn't get upright. Her legs muscles were lock almost straight with very little bend. It many ways to was both horrifying to watch yet unbelievably inspirational . Here was a runner in 37th place 20 minutes behind the winner that was not going to give up not goign to stop not going to fail at living her Olympic dream for her and for her nation! She was fully dehydrated and possibly very close to a heat stroke yet refused to let medical personal help her s she would have been disqualified. She was going to reach that finish line! As she made her way around the last turn with 100 meters to go I remember thinking "she's going to do it!" I yelled out "GO!" to the TV as if somehow she could hear me! At this point the whole world was focused on this brave runner the crowd was cheering for her effort for her heart for what she was giving our sport that day! As she stepped over the finish line she collapsed into the arm of an official and medical personnel rushed to carry her to the medical tent. The goosebumps the joy the utter amazement we were all feeling was enough to make everyone want to be her that day! I was hooked on that feeling from that day on! To see a person have that much gut that much grit that much dedication to anything inspired a whole generation. The 1984 Olympics was historical for many reasons. The first every Olympic marathon for women and Joan Benoit and her historic performance but for me and many I'll remember the extraordinary efforts of Anderson for the rest of my life! Hope you enjoyed this piece of running history! Video below of the inspiration finish!
When we speak about the benefits of running we often speak about all the health benefits, the stress relief, and the pure joy it brings but yesterday I was reminded of one of the most overlooked benefit our sport has to offer, Friendship. I had the pleasure and opportunity to sit down for lunch with a group of runners from Cal High from the 1970's and their beloved coach who had such an impact in all their lives! Coach Lew Jones was the the coach at Cal High in the 1970's before XC races were even 3 miles and before girls ran separate races. Coach Jones was in his own right an amazing runner running at Sierra High School and Whittier College. A grad of Whittier College in 1967 he still to this day holds 2 records (800m – 1:50.75 and 1 mile – 4:10.5 – co-held). Even with all his accomplishments as a runner it was clear that the love these runners have for their coach so many years later had much less to do with this performance on the track and more with his role as a coach, a mentor, and role model for each and everyone of them. I heard story after story about them back in the day. Some were fast some not as much but all had plenty to say about the bonds they created while running and racing together. Stories about how some got into trouble and coach help them get straight and become strong young men on the right path. Some talked about races they remember and some spectacular performance that to this day they can still remember together and share from year to year! One of the stories that they told me just left me spelled bound. Running cross country in the 1970 during the first running boom in america was an experience in itself but to have been in high school the day of the death of Steve Prefontaine was of epic levels. The runners talked about when they first found out about the tragic accident that took this young runners life and how by pure instinct they all went straight to their coach's classroom almost in a trance with teary eyes and aching hearts. During such a sad time they knew no other than their coach that could help them make sense of hearing of their heroes death. It was moments like this and so many others that made it so clear how close they all were and how close they all continue to be to this very day! In 2011 Dan McMillan (1976), Bob Kuenzig (1977) and Dave Keck (1978) put together an email list and started asking friends and associates from the 1970’s track and cross-country teams to join us in a scholarship program which we called the Lew Jones Scholarship. The idea was to support students who had committed themselves to Cross Country and were college-bound with a small scholarship donation. Over the years they have given out 44 scholarships in excess of $11,000 total. The bond they forged in the 70's not only has helped them but is now having an impact in a whole new generation of runners in our community! To this day this group of runners gets together for lunch or dinner every 6 months like clockwork with their coach. As a coach, I can only hope a dream to have this bond so many years later with my runners as well. They are truly an inspiration to us all! Like them there are teams and clubs all over the country and world that share this trait in common and will one day hope to be following in the footsteps of these runners still laughing and talking about those years they spent doing the greatest sport in the world!
Coach Rojas has 11 combined years of coaching experience at various levels including coaching a high school D1 State finalist team and 3 years in a row of a top 10 state ranking. He is passionate of the sport of running and loves to see new runners take up the sport! He wants to share a lifetime of running experience to all