Suckers and cynics

August 11, 2006

Avid runners can be sorted into two groups according to their reaction to distance running coverage in the mainstream media (newspapers, TV, radio). The Suckers have been fooled into accepting whatever mediocre coverage is offered, believing that anything is better than no coverage at all. In contrast, the Cynics are quick to malign any report that does not meet their rigid and somewhat arbitrary standards. When they converse, it sounds like this:

SUCKER: Did you watch the Olympics on TV last night? It was cool that they showed the last lap of the steeplechase final even though no Americans were in it.

CYNIC: My God, what a travesty. I mean, the announcers got [steeplechaser] Wilson Boit Kipketer confused with [800m runner] Wilson Kipketer! What morons! Of course, that’s what happens when you send a bunch of freakin’ golf commentators to cover a track race….

SUCKER: Well, I still thought the aerial shots of the water jump were pretty nice.

CYNIC: What — you mean the view from the Blimp? Yeah, that was wonderful. “Here’s what a steeplechase looks like from our vantage point ten miles above the Earth. In the center of your screen, you can almost make out the stadium where the race is being contested. Oops, sorry, that’s the town reservoir….” I wanted to hurl my daughter’s discus at the screen.

I myself probably belong in the Cynic category. That’s what my behavior this past week would suggest, anyway.

On Sunday, Steve Kelley of the Seattle Times wrote a column about how the Seattle Mariners can’t beat the Oakland A’s. An excerpt:

They aren’t the best team in sports, but when they play the Mariners, the 2006 Oakland Athletics look like the 1972 Dolphins, or the ’96 Bulls, or the ’27 Yankees.

Beating Oakland is the milestone the Mariners can’t reach. It is their four-minute mile, their three-hour marathon, their seemingly impossible dream.

My immediate reaction was to think, how can a professsional sportswriter botch a metaphor so badly? While a three-hour marathon is a formidable challenge for some runners, it has virtually no prestige or mystique relative to the 1972 Dolphins, ’96 Bulls, ’27 Yankees, and four-minute mile.

Once I had calmed down a bit, I sent Steve an email message which said the following:

The comparison with the four-minute mile seems apt; the mile world record was stuck at 4:01 from 1944 to 1954, and sub-four times were but a dream until Roger Bannister finally ran his 3:59.4. But the three-hour marathon? That’s never been a particularly elusive goal for top runners of either gender. At the 1908 Olympic marathon in London — the very first marathon to use the now-standard distance of 26 miles, 385 yards — the winner ran 2:55:18, with the next three finishers also breaking three hours. As soon as women started participating somewhat regularly in marathons, they easily obliterated the three-hour mark as well. Although women were not even allowed to enter the Boston Marathon until 1972, their performances at other marathons in 1971 included a world-record 2:46:30 by Adrienne Beames of Australia and a 2:55:22 New York City Marathon victory by 19-year-old Beth Bonner.

Greg Crowther
(whose best mile time is 4:31 and best marathon time is 2:22:32)
Seattle, WA

Steve’s response, in its entirety, was this:

Congratulations of [sic] a great marathon time.

Not exactly the answer I was hoping for, but Steve probably had lots of other Cynics to deal with that day.


  1. Wow, Duncan — that article is much worse than the one I was describing. I count at least four mistakes in five short paragraphs! In my case, I may have been making a mountain out of a molehill (or a marathon out of a mile?), but I think you were right to be appalled.

  2. Wow! That truly is a terrible article! You probably never got a response because the guy was soooo very embarrassed that he screwed up so badly in such a short piece.

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