For those bemoaning the sorry state of U.S. distance running, the future is starting to look a little brighter. Believe it or not, an American may well go to the line as one of the favorites in the men's marathon at the 2000 Olympics. Of course, he's not actually an American yet.
Khalid Khannouchi, an ebullient 26-year-old Moroccan immigrant, burst onto the scene in 1997 with a string of road race victories capped by a win in the Chicago Marathon in his first try at the distance. His time of 2:07:10—a debut record and, at that time, the fourth-fastest ever run—stamped Khannouchi as marathoning's newest star. This year the 5'5", 120-pound Khannouchi has trounced the Kenyans in shorter road races while preparing for his second marathon, this Sunday in Chicago.
At the same time, in another grueling race, he has been working with lawyers, athletic officials and members of Congress in hopes of accelerating the process of becoming a U.S. citizen in time for the Sydney Games. "America has given me so much," says Khannouchi. "I want to help take it to the top."
The image of Khannouchi in a USA uniform in Sydney would seem the only fitting climax to this aerobic Horatio Alger tale. Born into a family of eight children in Meknes, a city of 450,000 in central Morocco, he was a promising junior distance runner when he came to Buffalo to participate in the 1993 World University Games. He won the 5,000 meters and, though he returned to Morocco after the race, gained a glimpse of his future.
"I told my family I loved the States, that it was a great place to fulfill your dreams," says Khannouchi, who three months later dropped out of school and moved to Brooklyn to do just that. For two years Khannouchi struggled to support himself, washing dishes and stuffing envelopes, while training in the streets of New York City. He won some local races but was hardly on the fast track to Olympic glory. That all changed when he met Sandra Inoa in August 1995.
A Dominican-born marathoner and runner's agent, Inoa, then 33, shared a ride back to New York City with Khannouchi after a 5K race in Hartford. Soon she was helping him plan races and shape his training. A year later they were married. With his race winnings and the earnings from a five-year contract with New Balance reportedly worth $250,000, the Khannouchis bought a house in Ossining, N.Y., where Khalid trains while Sandra acts as coach, masseuse, cook and business manager.
While he admits he's nervous as this year's Chicago Marathon approaches, Khannouchi says he's certain he's on the right road. The American flag hanging over the door of his new house makes his goal clear. "Thanks, God," he says. "I feel like I'm home."
Just Don't Overdo It
For much of the past decade the sports landscape has been wall-to-wall swooshes. It seemed that Nike's greatest triumph, beyond locking up Michael Jordan when he was just beginning his tongue-wagging high-wire act, was plastering its logo everywhere—on the shirts and shoes of many of-the world's most prominent athletes, on the walls of stadiums and skyscrapers, and seemingly on every piece of clothing worn by kids in the U.S. and numerous other countries.
Well, the sports world is about to get a little de-swooshed. Not only has the company announced that it plans to cut endorsement spending on pro athletes by about $100 million per year, but it is also said to be planning to curtail the use of the swoosh on many of its retail products. Instead of being displayed prominently on nearly all items, the swoosh would appear in smaller sizes (retailers have started to refer to a "baby swoosh") in lighter shades, in less prominent locations—or not at all. Nike's soon-to-be-released Alpha line of shoes and clothing, for example, will feature a five-dot, ellipsislike symbol.