Sunday, April 22, 2007

Hall of fame

Today’s London Marathon featured another stellar field that was arguably the deepest race outside of the Olympics. According to press notes, the London Marathon was televised in 160 countries to well over a million viewers, none of which were in the United States.

To watch the race live in the U.S. fans had to get up at 4 a.m. and get on the Internets to check it out. Or, watch the tape delay here where *SPOILER ALERT* Kenyan Martin Lel outlasted American Khalid Khannouchi, world-record holder Paul Tergat, all-time great Haile Gebrselassie, Olympic gold medalist Stefano Baldini, two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib, and NYC champs Hendrick Ramaala and Marilson Gomes dos Santos. Lel won in 2:07:41 over Abderrahim Goumri of Morocco in his marathon debut in 2:07:44, and last year's champion, Felix Limo of Kenya, was third in 2:07:47. Lel lost to Limo in a sprint finish last year.

Afterwards, Lel said the marathon was one of the most tactical he had ever raced.

But for fans of American marathoning, the 2007 London Marathon could be a watershed moment. Why? Two words:

Ryan Hall.

Hall, just 24, ran the fastest debut marathon for an American ever by clocking a 2:08:24 for seventh place. He was 18 seconds behind Tergat and 30 seconds behind two-time world champion Jaouad Gharib.

It was the fastest marathon ever run by a someone born in the United States.

Most impressively, Hall (a 2006 Stanford grad who trains in Big Bear, Calif. with Deena Kastor and Meb Keflezighi as well as former local elite runner Terrance Mahon) not only ran in the lead pack until the final mile and a half of the race, but he also actually took the lead at the 35-kilometer mark. To do that against those runners takes more than guts – that takes brass ones. Big and brassy.

“I dreamed about being with those guys for 23 miles and I did that today and I took my swing,” Hall said after the race. “Hopefully I’ll be a bit stronger next time and run a bit smarter.”

In the end, though, the more experienced runners surged away from Hall though he said he thought he had a chance to catch up until he started tightening up. Nevertheless, for Hall, who smashed the American half-marathon record (59:43) in Houston last January, the next big race is on Nov. 3 at the Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City. If he finishes in the top three in that race, it’s off to the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.

For Hall, who threw down with the all-time greats in the sport, that seems like a foregone conclusion.

“With the Olympics coming up so quick, I really want to take a swing at a medal,” Hall said today. “If I’m going to do that, my best shot is going to be in the marathon.”

***
Speaking of young kids mixing it up with the elites of their field, check out Cole Hamels. Like Hall mixing it up with Tergat, Gebrselassie, Khannouchi, et al, Hamels may have set the fickle pendulum of momentum swinging back the Phillies’ way after a 15-strikeout, complete game on Friday night in Cincinnati.

Hamels’ latest outing was certainly a work of art, but at the same time it made me look smart, too. When asked about Hamels by friends and followers of the sport my opinion is always the same.

“The kid is a killer. On the mound he’s nasty and smart. Of the field he’s smarter and has it all together. He trains smart and is definitely ahead of everyone else.

“We could be looking at a second Steve Carlton here, only without a case of the crazies.”

That’s right. Hamels is that good. I bet he could run with Ryan Hall, too. Of course he’s listed at 6-foot-3 and 175-pounds – to be a good runner at that size he’d have to lose a good 20 pounds.

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