America’s Marketing Nightmare – The Foreign Runners Who Dominate the Boston Marathon

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America’s Marketing Nightmare – The Foreign Runners Who Dominate the Boston Marathon

They ran the 112th Boston Marathon on Monday (4-21-08). The triumph was that Robert Cheruiyot (try to say something close to Cherry-ott) of Kenya won his 4th Boston Marathon. The tragedy was that America hardly noticed.

Cheruiyot won the 26.2 kilometer race in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 45 seconds. He walked the last kilometers alone. Cheruiyot won the Boston Marathon in 2003, set the course record while winning in 2006, and won in 2007, making this year’s victory his 3rd in a row and 4th in 6 years.

Excuse me while I inhale deeply out of boredom.

Two boys from Morocco finished 2nd and 3rd and two boys from Ethiopia finished 4th and 5th – all of them have unpronounceable names. Imagine a Nike ad saying, “Run to Victory with Nike. Like Bouramdane, Boumlili, Asfaw and Adillo do!” Notice how American it sounds, and appreciate how difficult it can be to sell foreign runners with foreign names in America.

No one seems to have the clarity to admit it or the guts to say it, so let me be the first: national track meets and famous marathons in America have sunk to a new low in interest because America doesn’t seem to produce American born runners who can currently win signature events.

This is the brief evolution of the oldest continuously running marathon in history:

American Clarence DeMar won his 1st Boston Marathon in 1911 and his 7th in 1930. American Bill Rogers won his 1st in 1975 and his 4th in 1980.

A Kenyan-Ibrahim Hussein won in 1991 and this year Robert Cheruiyot won. Between Hussein and Cheruiyot, Kenyans have won the race 14 times in 16 years and 16 times in 18 years, losing only to a South Korean in 2001 and an Ethiopian in 2005.

This year, when an American finished 10th, it was called a miracle in some running circles. Americans haven’t done squat in recent years.

Among the 32 elite runners who were predicted as possible winners in this year’s competition, not one American was even mentioned as a possible winner in our wildest imaginations. More than 25,000 runners qualified for this year’s run and 98% finished.

In case you’re wondering, an Ethiopian-Dire Tune (I swear I didn’t make up her name) won the women’s Boston Marathon. The first 5 women finishers were from everywhere other than America.

Cheruiyot bagged $150,000 (the most ever) in prize money. Cheruiyot is a super guy and a world class runner. His main concern Monday was running 2 hours, 7 minutes and change, as he wants to represent his country, Kenya, at this fall’s 2008 Olympics.

Just because he won in Boston doesn’t mean he will be part of the 3-man Kenyan team. Four other Kenyans have run UNDER 2:07 in major league this year. Yikes! This just goes to show you how dominant the Kenyans are in the global marathon competition. Interestingly enough, no Kenyan has yet won gold in the Olympics, even though it is their specialty.

Unfortunately for Cheruiyot and track and field and running in America, the foreign dominance in winning here has created a marketing nightmare. It’s downright difficult, if not impossible, to market world-class foreign athletes on American soil, no matter how much they win or how many records they set. No one in America seems to care.

I found the USA Today coverage of the Boston Marathon buried on page 7 in the Sports Section Monday. There were honestly 6 pages of more interesting sports news to read than some foreigner winning the Boston Marathon again.

There are no more major track meets on primetime television, only the Olympics get major coverage. The places that once attracted thousands of fans are now empty in comparison. There is little, if any, coverage. Big time sponsors run the other direction when meeting directors come calling.

It happens because America does not seem to produce runners anymore who are worth a crap. They just aren’t competitive and can’t win events like the Boston Marathon if their lives depended on it.

Don’t blame the foreign runners who were once in poverty and then found a way to win in America and go back home a new found millionaire. The foreign runners were hungry. Making a living in America is easy. We don’t seem to have runners hungry enough to train harder and smarter and beat the foreign runners.

We also don’t seem to have a coach in America who can motivate our runners to get off dead center and do something spectacular. There is no runner in America right now who can handle heavy marketing and promotion because there is no one who can deliver when it counts.

The fact that Americans think they can’t beat the Kenyans is rubbish. They once thought it was impossible to even run a mile under 4 minutes. Kenyans BELIEVE they can win; Americans don’t think they can win. I just want to stand up and knock some sense into our American runners and coaches.

We didn’t become the greatest nation in the world because we had our eye on second place, or because we wanted to make a big deal out of finishing in the Top 10 in Boston.

I really think this is not about raw talent. We must have at least a dozen talented runners among 300 million people. I think our lack of world-class American runners is more about a lack of desire and determination. The marketing problem isn’t going away, and the fans and sponsors won’t come back much until America produces American-born runners who can win against the best the world has to offer.

As a lifelong runner and someone who enjoys running for the sake of running, I am surprised that our runners have become such colossal failures on the world stage.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley

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