Ten highly influential events in competitive running spanning ten Olympic Games
Persistent talk of "running booms" ignores the boomlets and microbursts that keep us* captive to a sport that epitomizes optional madness and frustration
I started running in the middle of August one year because someone in the habit of throwing ideas at me, day and night, opined that I might like a recondite sport called cross-country running. This adviser had just read in the paper that the local high-school team’s first practice of the imminent season would take place in a few days; I was about start the ninth grade at Rundlett Junior High School, but that technically meant I’d be a high-school student, earning credits toward a diploma and thus eligible for the various clubs, identities, and cackling stupidities (mostly breakdancing) that this once-in-a-lifetime experience promised to offer.
If computers had been able to talk to other computers outside of their own physical networks in those days, I might never have received a diploma at all (mostly, detentions and suspensions instead). And had that human source of continual suggestions—my mom—not prodded me into allowing myself to be dropped off at that humbly advertised first practice of the 1984 Concord (N.H.) High School cross-country season, I may never have started running. Oh, what could have not been!
Including the contests that had then just concluded in Los Angeles, ten Summer Olympics have come and gone since I took my first officially sanctioned training and racing steps. I therefore have an excuse to write a post that should be titled “Ten significant things that have happened in my own 37-year-long running lifetime,” then retrofit it with a title that imparts a veneer of symmetry and broad interest, removing my own ego entirely (unless I choose to ruin the whole thing by blasting through Wall Four in a conspicuously superfluous aside).
“Influential” in this and most contexts is in the main subjective, although the many of you who have been running since at least the 1970s are certain to remember the whole slate of events I chose and likely to agree that each created a ripple that affected a substantial number of other runners in a significant way, either by changing the sport materially from above or by thrilling individual athletes spiritually from within. And since I’ve been competitively dormant for most the last fifteen or so of those 37 years I’ve been running, this list is biased toward the first twenty or so of those years.
My initial intent was to create a ten-item list and summarize each one in a couple of paragraphs. But even someone without incurable logorrhea would have difficulty limiting himself to so few words given such a wealth of (mostly) delightful memories—not so much of the events, which anyone can investigate on Wikipedia, but of the lasting feelings they created. I therefore decided to write a separate post about each item I chose—only two of which I was physically present for, although in some instances that concept doesn’t apply.
This approach has a couple of practical advantages besides keeping individual posts leaner: It gives me a lot of pre-packaged, interesting and (mostly) fun-to-consider historical topics to write about, and it will keep me from embarking on streaks of pure disdain bordering on keyboard-thrashing hate. (I do enjoy looking back on the archive and seeing a schizotypal-looking irregular alternation between—and I don’t think I’m being unfair to myself here— “How can anyone not love running like they love their mother?” with “Look at these fucking clowns! How is this sport still even alive?” And I love and appreciate my readers, even the uncircumcised ones, who can kiss my ass if they think they have the faintest clue what might coming next.)
Having firmed up my stance on that vital issue, I confronted another one and decided that trying to gin up drama with a blind “countdown”—which makes little sense in a chronologically ordered list anyway—I would release the whole list of captivating races, developments, and so on up front. And as you guessed, it’s not about drama, as no one gives a shit; no, this is so that, one, I don’t change my mind about anything on this list, and two, I’m saddled with an ongoing blogging mandate until the last item on the list gets its review. I like having goals, even ones a child could concoct.
So, here’s what you’ll see, miss, or purposefully ignore Beck of thr Pack pieces about in the weeks to come:
August 5, 1984: Los Angeles, USA — Joan Benoit wins the first Olympic Women’s Marathon
July 22, 1987: Rome, Italy — Said Aouita becomes the first man under 13:00 for 5,000 meters
1989: Washington, USA — Amgen Pharmaceuticals receives FDA approval to produce recombinant human erythropoietin (rHuEPO)
March 21, 1992: Boston, USA — John Ngugi wins his fifth and final IAAF World Cross-Country Championship
April 15, 1996: Massachusetts, USA — The 100th Boston Marathon and the first major roll-out of “chip timing”
September 25, 2000: Sydney, Australia — Haile Gebrselassie vs. Paul Tergat in the Olympic men’s 10,000 meters
April 13, 2003: London, UK — Paula Radcliffe runs the London Marathon in 2:15:23
August 24-28, 2004: Athens, Greece — Hicham El Guerrouj gets his Olympic redemption and then some
October 12, 2019: Vienna, Austria — Eliud Kipchoge runs the marathon distance in under two hours
c. 2019: Everywhere, but especially in the USA — The running media collapses into a cesspool of lies and hysterical self-interest
I hate to end anything with the last item on a bulleted list, so I am putting random text here. There’s no need to read it, or, in fact, any of what’s above it. Also, feel free to dispute the importance of any or all of these items in advance, so I can get twisted into a pretzel shape over that static, too.