Aug 14, 2013; Moscow, RUSSIA; Molly Huddle (right) and Shannon Rowbury (USA) compete in a womens 5,000m heat in the 14th IAAF World Championships in Athletics at Luzhniki Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

He Said, She Said

I posted a tweet yesterday shortly after the conclusion of the World Championship women’s 5000 meters that’s garnered quite a bit of critical reaction. Here’s the tweet:

The feeling of disappointment was my honest reaction. Not disappointment about where they ended up finishing, but disappointment over the fact they didn’t strive for the podium. It was a reaction made on the basis of closely watching the race as well as observing the sport for many years. I’ve never raced at a world class level, nor should that be a requirement to discuss track and field in an intelligent manner. Expressing complete  and coherent opinions 140 characters at a time isn’t ideal so I thought I would use this forum to write out more of my thoughts.

Around the two mile mark of the race, a strung out lead group of 11 women that included race favorite Meseret Defar of Ethiopia and Americans Molly Huddle and Shannon Rowbury had broken away. Soon thereafter, just past 3300 meters into the race, Ethiopian Almaz Ayana, the eventual bronze medalist, put in a surge that only four other women responded to. Huddle and Rowbury did not go with the move.

There was some debate over whether the move was actually a move or just a continuation of the grinding pace Ayana was setting at the front. In my view, a clear move was made. IAAF’s splits breakdown shows the leaders ran relatively moderately paced seventh (71.94 seconds) and eight laps (70.61 seconds) before Ayana ramped the pace down to 68.15 seconds on ninth lap, nearly 2.5 seconds faster than the previous circuit. Huddle and Rowbury fell back with ninth laps of 70.02 and 70.07 seconds, respectively. From that point on, they had demoted themselves to fighting for the crown of top non-African.

The only full race video I’ve been able to find is here, but it unfortunately cuts away to the high jump during the part of the race in question.

The other main point of contention was about whether the two Americans chose not to accelerate or were too tired at that point to respond. When asked about not going with the surge, Huddle said, “I’m realistic to know that if I’m going to break into the medals, it’ll be at someone else’s misfortune. Not that I can’t do it, I think I have hunt and be smart about it.” She later said she was fatigued. High expectations were thrust upon Huddle after a stellar 2010 season that included setting the U.S. 5000 meter record at 14:44.76. Though a medal on Saturday was unlikely, Huddle did have the fifth-fastest 5k personal best in the field and thoughts of breaking that mark post-Worlds. The unpredictable nature of championship races meant she had a prayer at a medal, however minuscule those odds were, but only if she put herself in contention.

Rowbury swung wide to go with the move but quickly balked at that idea and instead was tucked back into the chase group. Talking to reporters after the race, Rowbury admitted, “I hesitated. I thought about going and I didn’t. That’s where I took myself out of a shot for a medal.” The slow early laps essentially turned the race into a 3k, and as the woman with the fastest 1500 and second-fastest 3000 personal best in the field, one would have hoped or expected Rowbury to go with the East Africans.

American distance running has come a long way to the point where just being the top non-African isn’t as desired a goal as it once was. Given the fact we now have so many runners among the best in the world, it was disappointing to see two immense talents not getting after it when the race started moving. A figure like Steve Prefontaine will forever be revered in America because of his fearlessness and commitment to going for gold no matter what, even if that meant falling out of the medals. After all, championship races are about place, so when sixth gets you the same as going for third and fading back to tenth, what’s the difference?

Please e-mail me at [email protected] if you have any thoughts.

Tags: Iaaf World Championships Meseret Defar Molly Huddle Moscow 2013 Shannon Rowbury

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