Kenenisa Bekele

Winter Games XC -- why not?

SOPOT, Poland — The Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics rang the bell on a year of imagination and fresh thinking for the International Olympic Committee. The IOC’s all-members session immediately before the opening ceremony produced, over a day and a half, 211 comments from the floor.

The signal was clear for the new president, Thomas Bach, under the guise of his “Olympic Agenda 2020” program, as the IOC launched itself toward Monaco in December and another all-in assembly — he has a clear mandate for change, the members urging a fresh look at, well, pretty much everything.

In short: Be visionary. Be imaginative. Be creative.

The snowy scene at the 2013 world cross-country championships at Bydgoszcz, Poland // photo Getty Images

So: here Thursday, the question emerged anew as track and field — still the most important of the international sports federations — prepared for its three-day indoor world championships.

Why not cross-country at the Winter Games?

Of course there’s already cross-country skiing at the Winter Olympics.

What about cross-country running?

“I think we have to contribute to the fight of this direction,” Lamine Diack, the president of the track and field federation, the IAAF, said at a news conference, adding a moment later, “Certainly, ourselves, we are looking at that.”

To begin with the most obvious challenge:

It’s commonly accepted that the Olympic charter says Winter Olympic sports must be played on snow or ice.

Here is what the charter says, word for word: “Only those sports which are practiced on snow or ice are considered as winter sports.”

Parse that as you will.

Here is what Bach has said, albeit in a different context, and parse this, too: “The Olympic charter is not set in stone. We have to evolve, adapt to modern times.”

The next issue: what about the weather?

It was of course warmer in Sochi, with its palm trees and 55-degree weather during the Olympics, than in Sopot. But Sopot, a cute little beach town that boasts the longest wooden pier in Europe, jutting out into the Baltic Sea, was not so bad Thursday at 37 degrees Fahrenheit or, if you prefer, almost 3 Celsius.

Great cross-country weather.

It was warmer most days in Vancouver in 2010 than it was in Sopot. And Torino in 2006 often saw  weather comparable to Thursday in Sopot.

To be clear, these are the indoor championships at Sopot's Ergo Arena; cross-country is not on the competition schedule. The weather reports here, or in Vancouver or Torino, are winter talking points.

The weather report for Friday for Pyeongchang, South Korea, site of the 2018 Winter Games? High of 44. (7 Celsius.)

Cross-country running is not supposed to be like Fourth of July at the Santa Monica beach.

As the respected British track outlet Athletics Weekly has pointed out, cross-country often takes place on “muddy fields, thick turf or dusty trails,” but it has “also regularly been seen on snow.”

The 2012 European championships, just outside Budapest? Snow, icy ground, “vicious sub-zero temperatures,” and a “huge success.” The 2013 worlds, in Bydogoszcz, Poland — on an icy course.

Going all the way back to the 1992 cross-country world championships? On a snowy course in Boston.

Now, another positive for cross-country on the Winter Games program:

There are, in all, 204 national Olympic committee. Of those, 88 were in Sochi; of those 88, only three were African — Morocco, Togo and Zimbabwe. Putting cross-country on the program would do wonders for what the IOC calls “universality,” or the notion that the Games truly belong to the entire globe, especially the Winter Olympics.

There’s room on the running calendar for cross-country. It’s a fall and winter sport (in the northern hemisphere). The IAAF world championships are now held in odd-numbered years — 2013, 2015 and so on, meaning the Winter Games fall perfectly. The Olympics could offer spots for men, women and relays.

For those who simply want to argue that cross-country flatly can’t belong on the Winter program: explain basketball, a sport that stretches across the winter months if there ever was one, on the Summer Games program. You have 10 seconds.

Finally, there’s history — beautiful history and fantastic tradition — to consider:

Cross-country was part of the Summer Games in 1912, 1920 and 1924.

On race day in Paris in 1924, temperatures reached 103 degrees, or 40 celsius. Adding to the racers’ woes, as the story goes, were fumes from a nearby industrial chimney.

Only 15 of the 38 racers finished.

The alarm was such that cross-country was yanked from the program — and, of course, has never returned.

The first-place finisher in that 1924 team race was none other than one of the greatest long-distance Olympic runners of all time, Finland’s Paavo Nurmi.

Between 1920 and 1928 Nurmi won a record nine Olympic gold and three individual silver medals; in his career, he would set 22 official and 13 unofficial world records; there is a copy of a Waino Aaltonen statue of him in, among other places, the garden of the Olympic Museum in Lausanne, Switzerland, just a couple kilometers down the road from where the IOC is based.

Six years ago, the long-distance running aficionado Seppo Luhtala of Finland, too, had an idea — what about cross-country at the Olympics? Luhtala is the author of ‘Top Distance Runners of the Century’ and the producer of many films, including ‘Running is Your Life,” which followed Lasse Viren’s life and training prior to the 1980 Moscow Summer Games.

The line of Finnish distance running goes from Nurmi to Viren — Viren winning double gold in the 5 and 10k in both the 1972 and 1976 Games; he would finish fifth in the 10k in 1980.

Through his book, Luhtala got to know many of the world’s great distance runners. In 2008, three of them wrote a letter to the then-IOC president, Jacques Rogge, urging him to add cross-country to the Games as either a Summer or Winter sport, saying the problems of 1924 were “certainly unique” and it would be “wonderful” to give the world’s best cross-country runners the “chance to compete” at the Games.

The three signers: Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, Paul Tergat.

It is difficult, given their many achievements, to know quite what to highlight:

Gebrselassie, from Ethiopia, is the 1996 and 2000 10k gold medalist; Bekele, also Ethiopian, the 2004 and 2008 10k gold medalist and 2008 5k gold medalist; Tergat, from Kenya, is the 1996 and 2000 silver medalist, the 2000 Sydney 10k considered one of the best races ever.

Tergat is now an IOC member.

Diack is, above all, a realist. He recognizes fully that the Winter Games sports federations are unlikely to welcome the addition of the IAAF to their show with, shall we say, champagne.

If cross-country can get on the Summer Games program — he allowed as that would work, too.

The Summer Games, though, are already so big.

There’s way more room for growth on the Winter side. And if ever it might be cross-country’s best chance to get into the Winter show, it’s now.

“Now,” Diack said, “we have to push.”


Mo Farah's double double-double

Distance running is a hard, lonely affair. The tell is the last kilometer. The crucible is the last lap. In our time, one man has emerged -- from among the Kenyans, the Ethiopians, the Eritreans -- to dominate, truly dominate, track's two distance events, the 5,000 and the 10,000 meters. He is Mo Farah, a global citizen who was born in Somalia, trains in Oregon, runs for Great Britain.

Farah won the 5,000 meters Friday night at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium by the narrowest of margins, crossing in 13:26.98. In so doing, he won not just a double-double but has now performed an amazing double double-double.

That is -- he won both the 5 and 10k here in Moscow. At last year's London Olympics, he won both the 5 and 10k as well. At the 2011 worlds in Daegu, South Korea, Farah won the 5k; he lost the 10k by 26-hundredths of a second to Ibrahim Jeilan of Ethiopia, whom he beat in this year's 10k by two steps.

Only Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia has done the worlds double, in 2009. Bekele also doubled up at the 2008 Beijing Games. And the word "legendary" is typically attached to Bekele now as if it were his first name instead of Kenenisa.

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Seven

"It was a lot harder work than last year." Farah said afterward. "I never thought in my career that I'd achieve something like this."

The finish of Friday's 5k was so fantastic that it was, genuinely, an instant classic.

Hagos Gebrhiwet of Ethiopia finished second, Isiah Kiplangat Koech of Kenya third. Both were timed in 13:27.26. They had to go to the thousandths to separate them: Gebrhiwet crossed, the clock said, in 13:27.259, Koech in 13:27.260.

It couldn't get any closer.

Of course, for track freaks it made for a sort of holy grail. But for anyone who appreciates will and effort, it shows why track can still claim such a powerful hold on the imagination -- and why, despite the malevolent ill of doping that has corrupted so much in the sport over the past several years, a race like Friday's 5k and its finish offers such tangible evidence of what it can still be all about.

It's three guys pushing themselves, to their limits, to get to the finish line first. Who wants it most?

Of course, this all assumes -- and there is no, repeat no, evidence to date -- that Farah is guilty of anything other than being very, very good.

With that caveat:

With three laps to go in the race, Farah went to the front. The others in the race lined up behind, among them his training partner, the American Galen Rupp, the silver medalist in the 10k in London.

A little math, for those unfamiliar with the 5k on the track.

A track is of course 400 meters. The 5000 -- this is fourth-grade math, but just to make it easy -- is 12 and one-half laps.

The races tend to start slow but then pick up toward the end. That, too, is only sensible.

A little more math, for reference:

The best 400-meter runners, like the American LaShawn Merritt, run championship races in about 44 seconds. A truly exceptional 400 winner goes 43-something.

What happens in the 5 and 10k is that after lap after numbing lap, the body starts screaming, "Stop - this hurts, and bad." That, though, is precisely when the best distance guys have to turn on the jets and run a last kilometer of about 2:20-something and a last lap of roughly 51 to 53 something. Anything less -- no chance.

In Farah's winning 10k in Moscow, he needed a 2:26.23 final kilometer to hold off Jeilan.

In Friday's 5k, he ran a 2:22.29 last kilometer. That is simply flying.

His last 800: about 1:51.

Last 600: 1:21.93.

Last lap: 53.51.

The difference between first and third in Friday's 5k, 28-hundredths of a second, is the smallest-ever in a world championships. The previous smallest differential: 33-hundredths, at the 2003 worlds in Paris.

Rupp finished eighth, in 13:29.87.

Farah also said this: "Anything is possible, I guess."

In other action Friday, Jamaica's Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce also doubled up, winning the women's 200 meters to go with the 100 she won Monday.

She became the first winner of the women's sprint double since 1991.

Fraser-Pryce made it look like a breeze: 22.17.

Murielle Ahoure of the Ivory Coast, the silver medalist in the 100, took second in the 200, too, in 22.32. They had to go to the thousandths in the women's 100 as well; Ahoure was timed in  22.313.

Blessing Okagbare of Nigeria, who is also having a fantastic meet, took third, also in 22.32; precisely, 22.319. Okagbare won silver in the long jump on Sunday behind American Brittney Reese, with a jump of 6.99 meters, or 22 feet, 11-1/4 inches. On Monday, she ran sixth in the 100, finishing in 11.04.

American Allyson Felix, going for a record fourth world title in the 200, didn't make it out of the curve, crumpling to the track, holding the back of her leg. She was carried off by her brother, Wes, who is also her manager; an ultrasound revealed a tear of her right medial hamstring, USA Track & Field announced.

She said later she was "extremely devastated" but in classic Allyson Felix form took the time and effort to nonetheless wish "all of my teammates the best for the rest of the meet."

The U.S. men's 4x400 relay won -- and the only drama was whether there would be a dropped baton.

There was not.

David Verburg ran a 44.37 to open things up. Tony McQuay, the 400 silver medalist, split a 44.68. Arman Hall ran 44.92. Merritt, the 400 gold medalist, ran 44.74 to close things down, and the Americans won by more than a second, finishing in 2:58.71, 2013's best time.

Jamaica took second, 2:59.88, Russia third, 2:59.9.

For Hall, it was his fifth world championship medal in three years -- 2011 world youth 400 and sprint medley relay champion, 2012 world junior 400 champ and 4x400 relay and, now, his first senior title.

The United States, minus Merritt, took silver in London last year.

Germany's David Storl defended his shot-put title with a throw of 21.73 meters, or 71-3 1/2, the first back-to-back winner since American John Godina in the mid-1990s. To celebrate, he put on a silly hat.

American Ryan Whiting came in second at 21.57, or 70-9 1/4.

Canada's Dylan Armstrong, with a throw of 21.34, or 70 1/4, got third. That medal is Canada's fourth, its best-ever total at a worlds.

In the men's long jump, American Dwight Phillips, 35 years old, the 2004 Athens Games gold medalist, four times a world champion -- most recently in 2011 -- had hoped Moscow would produce one final leap for the record books.

It was not to be.

The oldest man ever to jump in the final of a world championships, Phillips jumped 7.88 meters, or 25-10 1/4, on his third attempt. But he did not advance, and finished 11th.

"Today I gave everything I had, and it just wasn't enough," Phillips said. "Obviously I was looking for that storybook ending but I'm so proud of myself."

In the men's 200, Usain Bolt ran a 20.66 in the first round, 20.12 in the semifinals. The finals go down Saturday.

The heats of the women's 100-meter hurdles got underway with American sensation Brianna Rollins qualifying in 12.55.

Australia's Sally Pearson, the 2012 Games gold medalist, served notice that she may be -- finally in 2013 -- ready to rock with a season-best 12.62. Dawn Harper, the London silver medalist and 2008 Beijing gold medalist, got through easily in 12.84.

The 100 hurdles semifinals and finals are also set for Saturday.

Galen Rupp answers his critics

The community that closely follows American distance running is full of zeal, snark and great passion.

Last week, in a race in Belgium, Galen Rupp broke the American record in the 10,000 meters, and by more than 11 seconds, finishing in 26 minutes and 48 seconds. That was his personal-best time, by more than 22 seconds.

Rupp's run was the fourth-fastest in the world in 2011. He is now the 16th-fastest man in history at 10k; his 26:48 is the 29th-fastest of all time.

Chris Solinsky had held the American record, 26:59.60, set in May, 2010. Solinsky's run was the 81st-fastest 10k ever run; Solinsky is now the 39th-fastest man in 10k history.

All those superlatives -- and what did Rupp get from the American track and field community?

Along with the praise -- a healthy dose of angst and criticism.

No American man has won an Olympic medal in the 10k since Billy Mills in 1964. There's a lot of pent-up emotion. Bring on the therapy sessions!

"Dear Galen Rupp: Time to Move Up to the Marathon," said one poster to the message boards at, criticizing Rupp's finishing kick.

As was duly noted, Rupp was blown away in the last lap of the race by eventual winner Kenenisa Bekele and Kenya's Lucas Rotich.

Bekele won in a world-leading 26:43.16. Rotich took second, Rupp third. Bekele, for the unfamiliar, is the world-record holder and arguably the greatest 10k (and 5k) runner of all time.

More than one critic also noted that Rupp was blown away at the close of last month's world championship 10k in Daegu, South Korea, finishing seventh.

Also on the message boards: the assertion that Solinsky's effort, at the beginning of the 2010 outdoor season, was just as good as Rupp's, at the end of the year and on a super-fast track.

The event in Belgium, in Brussels, called the Van Damme meet, is notorious for speed. Dating back to 1996, 12 of the 16 fastest 10k runners of all time have turned in their best at Van Damme, including Bekele's world-record 26:17.53, on August 26, 2005.

Wait -- there's more.

Alberto Salazar, the 1980s distance great who is now coaching both Rupp and Britain's Mo Farah in Oregon -- Farah won silver in Daegu in the 10k and gold in the 5k -- said the following in comments published on the IAAF, or international track and field association, website:

"… When you run World Championships in hot weather you've got to deal with it.

"But even though Galen is not a big guy he's still big compared to a Kenyan or an Ethiopian. It's a disadvantage if you are a Caucasian running in the heat versus an African, you just have more body mass and it's going to be harder."

What's an American record-holder to do?

First things first.

"I mean, I don't -- I don't think it has anything to do with being white," Rupp said Tuesday in a conference call with reporters, asked if it was a disadvantage to be a white runner in a discipline dominated by dark-skinned Africans.

"I think his point in saying that is more that I'm just a bigger guy than a lot of these guys," adding a moment later, "It's easier for them to stay cooler longer. I think that was the point [Salazar] was trying to make with that statement. You know, I agree with it."

As for his finishing kick -- Rupp agrees with his critics. He needs to get stronger.

It's a process, he said.

Farah has urged patience. Salazar has urged patience.

If there is anything the American distance community ought to understand, that's for sure it -- if there is to be greatness in the 10k, it takes patience.

Rupp, for instance, finished 13th in the 10k at the 2008 Olympics. To go from 13th in 2008 to seventh in 2011 -- that's definitely moving up, isn't it?

"Sometimes it takes time," Rupp said. "It takes years of doing a lot of strength workouts and to keep the same approach we have been taking. You have got to be able to finish fast in slow races to be able to close in fast races."

A couple years ago, he said, it was "hang on as long as you can." Now it's the "fun part, where I'm going to be there at the end."

He said, "For me to make that next jump, I have to be sound. I'm close to making that big jump. I think I have the pieces in place to do something well. I have great people around me and full confidence they are doing the right thing."