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Tim Layden
October 30, 2000
Reborn in The U.S.A. In his first marathon as an American, Morocco-born Khalid Khannouchi won Chicago in U.S.-record time
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October 30, 2000

Olympic Sports

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U.S. Marathoners: Going Back in Time

Sunday's resounding Chicago marathon victory by Khalid Khannouchi (page 74), the Moroccan-born world-record holder, serves to underscore the dismaying decline of U.S. men's marathoning from the early 1980s until Khannouchi became an American citizen in April. Here's a look at where the fatest American men stood in relation to the world's fastest runners in recent Olympic years, along with the number of U.S. marathoners who broke 2:15 in that year.

YEAR

WORLD LEADER

U.S. LEADER (PUCE ON WORLD LIST)

U.S. SUB 2:15 RUNNERS

1980

Gerard Nijboer ( Netherlands), 2:09:01

Alberto Salazar, 2:09:41 (2)

24

1984

Steve Jones ( Great Britain), 2:08:05

Ken Martin, 2:11:24 (26)

24

1988

Belaine Densimo ( Ethiopia), 2:06:50

Mark Conover, 2:12:26 (not in top 50)

8

1992

David Tsebe ( South Africa), 2:08:07

Steve Spence, 2:12:43 (not in top 50)

II

1996

Martin Fiz ( Spain), 2:08:25

Jerry Lawson, 2:10:04 (27)

9

2000 (through Sunday)

Antonio Pinto ( Portugal), 2:06:36

Khannouchi, 2:07:01 (2)

4

Reborn in The U.S.A.
In his first marathon as an American, Morocco-born Khalid Khannouchi won Chicago in U.S.-record time

Upon crossing the finish line first in Sunday's Chicago Marathon, Khalid Khannouchi was greeted by his wife, Sandra, who wrapped him in a U.S. flag, symbolic of the American citizenship the Morocco-born Khalid won on May 2. Then Khalid dropped to his knees, gently put the flag aside, turned toward Mecca and kissed the ground as four soundly beaten Kenyans crossed the line behind him. A new era has dawned in U.S. marathoning.

Khannouchi, 28, who has lived in America for seven years, became the first U.S. runner to win a major international marathon since Greg Meyer won Boston in 1983. Khannouchi—who, according to race director Carey Pinkowski, earned an estimated $500,000 in prize and appearance money and performance incentives—dropped Kenyans Josephat Kiprono and Moses Tanui in the final two miles and finished in 2:07:01, the second-fastest time in the world in 2000. (That clocking also becomes the U.S. record, obliterating David Morris's 2:09:32 from last year.) Khannouchi, who set the world mark of 2:05:42 last fall in Chicago, has now run three of history's 18 fastest marathons. No other man has run two. "He's got to be the best of all time," said Morris, who placed seventh on Sunday.

Could he also raise American marathoning from what Rod De-Haven, the only U.S. entrant in the 2000 Olympic marathon, called "the bottom of the barrel" before Sunday's race? On one hand, Khannouchi dedicated Sunday's victory to his new country. On the other hand, he said before the race that his success still owes much to the training methods he learned in Morocco. "The guy trains his butt off," says DeHaven.

It remains to be seen whether, by inspiration or by example, Khannouchi can lift the level of performance in his adopted country. Chicago offered hope with a minirevival of sorts in U.S. marathoning. The 30-year-old Morris (2:12:00) finished in the top 10 for the second straight year (he was fourth in 1999); he was followed by Eric Mack, 26, in eighth place at 2:12:42 and Josh Cox, 25, in 10th at 2:13:55.

More than the Khannouchi factor was at work. Cox, whose Chicago time was a personal best by nearly six minutes, is one of nine U.S. runners training under Italian coach Gabriele Rosa in a $1 million program sponsored by shoe and apparel company Fila. After undergoing physiological testing and interviews with Fila in July, the runners moved to a training camp at 6,000 feet in Mount Laguna, Calif., east of San Diego. Fila plans soon to tab 40 more runners, ages 16 to 20, to join the program, which is called Discovery USA. Working with Rosa, who has trained many top Kenyans, has been "the opportunity of a lifetime," says Cox.

The Fila group isn't alone. Stanford cross-country and track coach Vin Lananna is vastly improving the postgraduate Farm Team program in Palo Alto, Calif. An elite group is training in Boulder, Colo., too. Other U.S. marathoners, such as Mack and Morris, train alone but use far more demanding programs than traditional U.S. methods. "You're going to see improvement," says DeHaven. "It might be closer to 10 years than two or three, but it will happen."

If you count Khannouchi, which you should, it already has.

Former Olympians in the Tent
The Five-Ring Circus

You're a recently retired Olympic athlete who still longs for the roar of the crowd. Your limbs are oak, your spine bends like Silly Putty, and your internal clock still wakes you at dawn so you can stretch. What do you do? Fabrice Becker is the man you should see.

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