The Book On: Marathon

May 2, 2004
Outside Magazine
Outside magazine, August 1996

The Book On: Marathon

Do look back. Ladies: underdog Jenny Spangler may be gaining
By Gretchen Reynolds

Jenny Spangler, the unsponsored, unheralded, and extremely unlikely winner of the 1996 Women's Olympic Marathon Trials, goes into the Games having already experienced the spoils. Thanks to her storybook ascent to the distance-running big leagues, the 33-year-old American now boasts a six-figure contract from Reebok, a scrapbook of flattering newspaper profiles, and the freedom to indulge in that greatest of professional-athlete luxuries, the afternoon nap. "It's like a dream come true," she says. "I get to run, then sleep, and I still get paid."

Whether she can repeat her inspiring triumph is another matter. Her time in the trials, 2:29:54, is a full five minutes slower than Joan Benoit's Olympic record. But Spangler says her best is yet to come, since her trials victory came just a few months after she began training full-time in the warm climate of California under Santa Monica Track Club coach Joe Douglas.

Indeed, the Atlanta race may well go to the woman who can best handle heat: Temperatures will be in the eighties, with suffocatingly thick humidity. Which could work against the otherwise prohibitive favorite, Germany's Uta Pippig, the three-time Boston Marathon champion who lives and trains in the cool, dry air of Boulder, Colorado. Pippig arrived in Georgia a bit earlier than usual to acclimatize--but then, so did Spangler and the rest of the U.S. women's team. "I think the race will be won with a 2:27 or so," says Douglas. "Jenny can run that." If so, she'll also need less-than-inspired performances not only by Pippig, but by Portuguese world champion Manuela Machado and Britain's inconsistent but recently impressive Liz McColgan.

On the men's side, too, conditions may determine the champion. America's best hope, Bob Kempainen, may have had trouble keeping fluids down in winning the U.S. trials, but his will has often proved stronger than his stomach. He's combined med-school studies with enough training to net him the only U.S. time under 2:10 in seven years. Still, he's unlikely to keep pace with the Kenyan squad, headlined by three-time Boston winner Cosmas Ndeti and 1996 runner-up Ezekiel Bitok.

Of course, the Kenyans are not a lock. Atlanta's humidity will be foreign to them, giving a slight advantage to muggy-country runners such as Mexico's three-time London Marathon winner Dionicio Ceron and 1995 world champion Martin Fiz of Spain. Finally, keep an eye out for Australia's Steve Moneghetti, a strong, fast runner who has one signal advantage: Down Under, summer started last November.

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