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


They ran the 112th Boston Marathon 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-mile race in 2 hours, 7 minutes and 45 seconds. He ran alone for the last several miles. 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 straight and 4th in 6 years.

Excuse me while I inhale deeply due to boredom.

Two guys from Morocco finished 2nd and 3rd and two guys 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 market foreign runners with foreign names in America.

No one seems to have the clarity to recognize it or the nerve 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 cannot seem to produce American-born runners who can currently win signature events.

This is the short 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 1991and this year Robert Cheruiyot won. In 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 have not done squat in recent years.

Among 32 elite runners previewed as possible winners in this year’s competition, not a single American was even mentioned as a possible winner in our wildest imagination. More than 25,000 runners qualified for this year’s run and 98% finished.

If you are wondering, an Ethiopian-Dire Tune (I swear I did not make her name up)-won the women’s Boston Marathon. The first 5 women finishers were from anywhere but America.

Cheruiyot picked up $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 because he wants to represent his country-Kenya-in this fall’s 2008 Olympic Games.

Just because he won in Boston does not mean he will be part of the 3-man Kenyan team. Four other Kenyans have run UNDER 2:07 this year in major competition. Yikes! This just shows you how dominate the Kenyans are in worldwide marathon competition. Interestingly enough, no Kenyan has yet won gold in the Olympic games 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 is flat out difficult, nay impossible, to market world-class foreign athletes on American soil, no matter how much they win or how many records they set. Nobody 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 was frankly 6 pages of more interesting sports news to read than some foreigner winning the Boston Marathon again.

There are no major track meets on prime time television anymore, only the Olympics gets major coverage. The venues that used to draw thousands of fans now sit empty by comparison. There is little, if any, coverage. Big time sponsors run the other direction when meet directors come calling.

It happens because America cannot seem to produce runners anymore that are worth a crap. They just are not competitive and cannot win events like the Boston Marathon if their life depended upon it.

Do not blame the foreign runners who once were poverty stricken and then found a way to win in America and go back home like a new-found millionaire. The foreign runners were hungry. Making a living in America is easy. We do not seem to have any would be runners left who are hungry enough to train harder and smarter and beat the foreign runners.

We also do not seem to have a coach in America who can motivate our runners to get up off of dead center and do something spectacular. There is currently not a runner in America that can handle heavy marketing and promotion because there is no one out there that can deliver when it counts.

The fact that Americans think they cannot beat Kenyans is rubbish. They once thought that it was impossible to run a mile under 4 minutes too. Kenyans BELIEVE they can win; Americans do not think they can win. I just want to get up and slap some sense into our American runners and coaches.

We did not 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 at 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 is not going away, and the fans and sponsors are not going to come back big time until America produces American-born runners who can win against the best the world has to offer.

As a lifelong runner and one who enjoys running for running’s sake, I am distraught that our runners have become such colossal failures on the world scene.

Copyright © 2008 Ed Bagley


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