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May 04, 1998
The Kenyan Controversy Leveling the Course
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May 04, 1998


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The Kenyan Controversy
Leveling the Course

Overshadowed in the recent storm over Kenyan runners being excluded from some U.S. road races is this question: Should American race directors institute policies, such as performance bonuses for Americans, that might help U.S. runners close the growing gap between themselves and foreign runners?

Reports of discriminatory policies against Kenyan athletes—Boston Globe columnist Derrick Jackson wrote in an op-ed piece that "many white officials of American distance road races have grown sick of seeing Kenyans sweep the top prizes [and] have essentially created the National Caucasian Runners League"—largely miss the mark. True, when the Bolder Boulder (Colo.) 10K, in which Kenyan men took six of the top eight spots last year, introduced a team format for this year's race on May 25, Kenya was restricted to three runners. But so were all other countries except the U.S. After the format was attacked as protectionist and racist, organizers limited the U.S. to one three-man team. "We came up with the team idea as a way to stir up media attention," says Boulder's shell-shocked race director, Bill Reef. "This has never been a 'Kenyan issue.' "

In a sport in which 12 of the top 14 men on the Professional Road Racing Circuit are Kenyan, there's an undeniable Kenyan issue—but it has to do with speed, not color. A Page One article in The New York Times on April 16 pointed to a different series, the USA Running Circuit, which pays prize money only to Americans, as another effort to "limit the presence of the Kenyans." It's not that, at least not exactly. As Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field, the sport's national governing body, points out, the USA circuit, which includes this Sunday's Pittsburgh Marathon, is in its fourth year and essentially constitutes a national championship series. "Few if any countries let foreign athletes compete in their national championships," says Masback. "USA Track & Field sanctions some 3,200 other races that are open to runners from any country." The hope, explains Masback, is that U.S. athletes, supported and nurtured by their earnings on the USA circuit, will develop to the point that they're competitive against the best in the world, including the Kenyans.

There should be room for talented foreign runners to shine—and earn a living—in the U.S. The Boston Marathon, which has been won by Kenyan men for the past eight years and has even served as the Kenyan Olympic-trials, has shown, as has the New York City Marathon, that foreign runners can be embraced and promoted by an American race. Cash bonuses for U.S. runners and Americans-only races, which some observers think build the confidence of U.S. competitors, may well be necessary, however, if distance running is to get back on its feet in the U.S. Whether American athletes use the extra money to close the gap or to merely settle for a better-paid mediocrity remains to be seen.

Derby Pick
Good Times For Charlie

At a gap in the fence leading from the stable area to the Churchill Downs racetrack, the 3-year-old colt named Indian Charlie stopped and raised his head as though posing for the cameras that were clicking all around him. Holding the end of a lead shank clipped to the horse's bridle, trainer Bob Baffert stepped back and looked admiringly at his tall, striking bay colt. "He's the man, and he knows it," said Baffert, a few days before this Saturday's Kentucky Derby. "He's brilliant. And he loves this track. Believe me, this horse is the man."

That's saying a lot for a horse with only four career starts. But in his last race, the nine-furlong Santa Anita Derby, on April 4, Charlie easily defeated his talented stablemate, Real Quiet, by 2¼ lengths in 1:47, equaling the record for the race. Charlie has the pedigree to go the mile and a quarter, the tactical speed to stay close to the pace and the maneuverability of a polo pony in heavy traffic. And he has connections: Baffert and Charlie's rider, Gary Stevens, teamed up last year to win the Kentucky Derby with Silver Charm.

Still, the 124th renewal must be considered a wide-open race, rendered slightly weaker by injuries to Event of the Year and Lil's Lad. Nick Zito has trained two Derby winners this decade, Strike the Gold (1991) and Go For Gin ('94), and this year he could win his third with Halory Hunter, a stretch-running chestnut owned by Boston Celtics coach Rick Pitino. Another chestnut, a well-bred colt named Old Trieste, scorched through a six-furlong workout in 1:09 flat last Sunday, one of the fastest training runs ever by a Derby contender at the Downs. Hanuman Highway, an Irishbred bay, has his chance as a long shot. Last year's Horse of the Year, Favorite Trick, probably lacks the bloodlines to sustain him through 10 furlongs.

It says here that Baffert is right. Indian Charlie is the man.
William Nack

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