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Sports Business

Mini Marathon plagued by same problem as IndyCar Series

May 9, 2011
KEYWORDS Sports Business

After watching much of the Indianapolis 500 Festival Mini Marathon on television May 7, it occurred to me what is good for the IndyCar Series might also be good for the Mini Marathon.

Open-wheel racing fans have been screaming for more American drivers in the series since the likes of A.J. Foyt, the Unser brothers, Tom Sneva and Rick Mears retired from driving.

There seems to be an equal dearth of top American runners in the Mini Marathon field of 35,000. This year, a Moroccan won the 13.1-mile event. And for 15 years before that, Kenyans have ruled the race.

Of course, the field is full of Americans, mostly garden variety runners who work full-time at something else for a living, and would consider it a thrill of a lifetime to crack 2 hours.

There are a few exceptions.

Butler University graduate Scott Overall, was the top non-African finisher this year, placing fourth in 1:03:21. But he’s British. The first American was minutes behind. And for those who saw winner Ridouane Harroufi blowing kisses to the crowd coming down the final stretch and finishing in 1:02:46, it shows just how far the Americans really are behind in this event.

It’s not that I have anything against the foreign-born runners winning the race, but just like in the IndyCar Series, it seems obvious that from a business standpoint, a North American-based event might benefit from having some American talent to rally behind. And I mean someone who can really challenge for the victory.

While Mini Marathon organizers have for years touted the international field and done much to lure some of the top foreign-born runners, you have to wonder how much effort has been given to harvesting talent from our own home country.

But who among the American ranks can challenge the Kenyans and other top foreign-born runners? No, Bob Kennedy is not coming out of retirement. He’s busy operating his chain of locally based running stores.

But there are a rare handful of Americans who could be legitimately competitive here, and one came to mind as I watched a recording of the Boston Marathon this weekend.

American Ryan Hall just blistered a 2:04:58 this year to take fourth at Boston. His best half-marathon time; 59:43 in Houston in 2007.

Not only is Hall, a California native, fast, he’s just the kind of athlete Americans love to watch perform. I know watching a distance running event isn’t always the most exciting thing to Americans more in love with stick-and-ball sports. But trust me, Hall would keep many sports fans riveted to the event.

At Boston, Hall insisted on wearing a top emblazoned with USA. He defiantly ran six to 10 steps in front of a pack of seven to 10 Kenyans for much of the race. When they surged hard to lose him, he bided his time, then came from behind the pack to sit again defiantly three steps in front of the world’s fastest marathoners.

Hall wears a look behind a pair of shades that is part Joe Cool, part Dick Butkus. He also occasionally gestured to the crowds in Boston, holding his hand to his ear and flapping his arms up and down as if to tell the crowd, “let me hear it.”

And they did. College co-eds screamed right alongside working folks wearing hard hats and three-piece suits who took a few minutes out of their day to cheer the fleet-footed American.

If Hall was lured to Indianapolis (and that might be a trick given his schedule) it could be the biggest thing to happen to the Mini Marathon since American greats Frank Shorter and Bill Rodgers led the field in the 1980s.

It’s exactly the sort of move I would expect from a race held in a city that considers itself a great sports capital.

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