Running Man: African Favorite to Americans: "They have to believe"

For two decades, American men have run largely in the shadow of international elites at the United States' most prestigious marathons. The last 20 years of highlight reels at the Boston, Chicago, and New York City marathons shows a parade of foreign runners breaking the tape in the men's races—20 Kenyans, four Brazilians, four Ethiopians, four Mexicans, four Brits, two Italians, two South Africans, a South Korean, and a Tanzanian. (The one exception is Khalid Khannouchi, who won Chicago twice as a Moroccan before becoming a U.S. citizen in 2000 and then winning twice more.)

On Sunday, Ryan Hall and America's fastest marathoners will have their chance to prove themselves against many of the best international in the world. At the press conference introducing the elite international runners—several of whom are favorites to win the race—I asked what they thought of their American competitors.

"On agood day they should be able to win the race. It's all in the mind. Idon't know if they believe it. They have to believe it," answered the soft spoken South African Hendrick Ramaala, 37, who won the NYC Marathon in 2004.

"They have allthese things—they have camps. They have all this support, they have thetalents...They have all the bestcoaching out there. Actually, they have more advantages than us. They don'teven travel to come. I traveled 18 hours to come. They don't need to dothat. It's all in their mind. If they want to win the race, they cantake it. But it's going to be very hard. They are not going to get iteasy. We are not going to give it to them, that's the thing."

Four time Boston and one time Chicago winner Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot said this:

"The American runners are now like runners all over the world. Theyare very strong as you see," Cheruiyot said. "Ryan Hall, his performance iswonderful. They are like us. We are all the same. There is no one whocan say the Americans are slow."

The American field includes Hall, the second fastest American marathoner ever behind Khannouchi, as well as his friend and training partner in Mammoth Lakes, California, Olympic silver medalist Meb Keflezighi—who finished second and third at New York in '04 and '05, and who has been a U.S. citizen since 1998. It also includes U.S. Olympian Brian Sell and Abdi Abdirahman—who led most of the race last year but faded to sixth.

That said, none of the experts polled by the New York Road Runners put Hall as the favorite to win the race. Most placed him third, behind rising Kenyan star James Kwambai and Olympic silver medalist Jaouad Gharib of Morocco. 

Here is the press conference: Cheruiyot and Ramaala answer my question at minute 32.

 


Here are their full quotes:

"The American runners are now like runners all over the world. Theyare very strong as you see, in Berlin...Ryan Hall, his performance iswonderful. They are like us. We are all the same. There is no one whocan say the Americans are slow. We are all together. We know that whenwe are running, Ryan hall is here, who [else] is here, and happy he'shere." — Robert Kipkoech Cheruiyot

"I agree with Robert. TheAmerican athletes have improved a lot since 2000. I remember in 2000they had just one representative at the Olympics. And now a lot of themstruggle to make the team in long distance events. We are very pleasedfor them. And then this is their championship. This race on sunday istheir championship. You have guys in the field -- Meb, Ryan, Abdi. On agood day they should be able to win the race. It's all in the mind. Idon't know if they believe it. They have to believe it. They have allthese things—they have camps. they have all this support, they have thetalents. They have all this this support. They have all the bestcoaching out there. Actually, they have more advantages than us. They don'teven travel to come. I traveled 18 hours to come.They dont need to dothat. It's all in their mind. If they want to win the race, they cantake it. But it's going to be very hard. They are not going to get iteasy. We are not going to give it to them, that's the thing." —Hendrick Ramaala

—JUSTIN NYBERG

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