Was today a good day to be born if you're an aspiring runner?
An apparent glut of December 17 birthdays in world-class distance running may or not be an anomaly.
Like anyone alive with a history of having been born at a known time, I’ve used the Internet to see what celebrities, athletes and other luminaries had the tenacity to be emerge from the womb on the same day of the year I did, not adjusting for time-zone differences. I’ve collected a pretty solid list of distance runners (and we* long-distance types need to stand up and claim the 800 meters as a distance event) with whom I share a birthday:
Sir Peter George Snell (1938-2019): Three Olympic gold medals, five world records, a 1:44.3 800 meters on a grass track. Snell enjoyed a career as an exercise physiologist after he retired from running. If anything has ever said or even thought anything bad about this man, it was all redacted. Peter Snell passed away on December 12, 2019.
Tatyana Kazankina (1951): Three Olympic gold medals, the first woman under four minutes for 1,500 meters. Her career ended in a doping scandal, but she still ran 3:52.47 in 1980, a record which stood until one of a contingent of Chinese following a strict turtle-soup diet took it down in the mid-1990s.
Paula Radcliffe (1973): Holder of a forever unbreakable marathon world record for 16 long years. She might have run 2:13 with a carbon-plate shoe, 2:11 behind amid carefully assembled army of human wind shield, pacing lights, and the as-yet-unknown sound of Justin Bieber yelling in public. Now imagine her on something banned. She’s the only one on this list I watched compete in person, though I was distracted during her race by a snowball fight, not involving her.
David Rudisha (1988): Two Olympic gold medals, current holder of the world record in the 800 meters. The next significant mark in track and field is the 100-second barrier in this event. It will be broken — and you can bet on this — by someone born on a different day, on a meet not held on December 17.
A fifth runner, Marc Davis, may be added to this list to establish an American presence, though as a mere Olympian in the steeplechase, he’s not at the level of the others. I also find it strange that the Internet claims he was born on the very same day I was, even though he graduated from high school in 1987, a year earlier than I did (and, unlike me, won the Kinney National Cross-Country Championships as a senior). He must have started school young, because he never struck me as the sort of guy who had packed in extra classes starting freshman year so he could finish high school early.
At a glance, this looks like an unlikely concentration of talent. We’re talking about four runners who were absolutely at the top of the running world in their discipline(s) for more than a minute or two, plus a fifth who took an intentional . On the other hand, there are only 365.25 days in a year. When you add up the number of Olympic medals that have been won in events from the 800 meters to the 10,000 meters and including the marathon, and the number of runners who have held world records in those events for long enough to have a lasting impact, it just might reveal my survey to have turned up more or less what statistical models would predict. If you try your own birthday, you probably have a 50/50 chance of finding at least four similarly accomplished runners.
In fact, this whole thing was a waste of time and I apologize for bothering. This is navel-gazing disguised as information. Piss on it.
Let me eat cake.