The 2013-2016 IAAF Strategic Plan has six Core Values: universality, leadership, unity, excellence, integrity and solidarity, and a Vision Statement: “To lead, govern and develop the sport of athletics in all its forms worldwide, uniting the Athletics Family in a spirit of excellence, integrity and solidarity.”
With the Spring Marathon season drawing to a close, the 27th running of the Haspa Marathon Hamburg on Sunday morning (29) looks like giving further impetus to the wholesale revision of winning times that has taken place over the last couple of years. Where 2:06 was once, even recently, worthy of a whistle of surprise, it barely elicits a shrug of the shoulders nowadays. Seven men have already gone under 2:05 this year. They are all inevitably Kenyan and Ethiopian, underlining that a virtual prerequisite for success at long distance running is dependent on being born and raised at altitude.
They are also largely unknown; as one veteran of social network sites howled at the start of the year, 'there is a guy done 2:04 in Dubai I never heard of’. Indeed! And that underlines the hunger for success among the younger (and some not so young) generation of East African runners.
And so it is with the Hamburg field. This morning’s press conference featured Dadi Yami of Ethiopia, who went from a 2:11 debut in the Netherlands last year to 2:05:41 in Dubai three months ago. Paul Biwott of Kenya, on the other hand has run a dozen marathons, but at age 33, ran 2:06:54 in Amsterdam last year. The women’s favourite, Robe Guta already ran 2:24:35 on this course as a 19 year old, in 2006.
But the most important person here may yet prove to be the athletes’ manager, Jos Hermens, whose help (and company) has been enlisted to restore Hamburg to the world top ten status it enjoyed a decade ago. The organisers could not have consulted a better man.
Hermens on new crop of marathoners: 'These guys respect the distance, but they’ve got no fear'
The former Dutch international knows pretty much all there is to know about distance running; he was a World record holder himself, setting a 'one-hour’ record in the 1970s that lasted for 15 years; and when injuries cut short his career, he graduated to management, and now runs one of the most successful agencies in athletics, guiding among others luminaries like multi-World record holders Haile Gebrseleassie and Kenenisa Bekele.
Hermens has put together what he calls a 'balanced field, of youth and experience, with 13 or 14 guys capable of staying together, and working towards a new record. And there are plenty of dark horses, like (Abebe) Dinkessa. I wasn’t surprised when Dadi went from 2:11 to 2:05 inside a year. These guys train together, and they’ll suddenly go out and run a fantastic time. Dinkessa’s the same. He only did 2:14 in Dubai, but he could easily do 2:05. And (Fikadu) Lemma as well. He could do 2:06, 2:05. It’s a new world out there in the Marathon. These guys respect the distance, but they’ve got no fear."
Dadi was born in a rural community just north of the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa, and a combination of poor records and the Ethiopian calendar (it’s currently 2004) means he doesn’t know when he was born. His coach reckons he is around 24 or 25. But Dadi does know he’s in similar shape to Dubai, and thinks he can do a similar time. Men’s course record is 2:06:52, by Spaniard Julio Rey, in 2006.
Biwott is just two seconds shy of that, and is the favourite of race chief, Frank Thaleiser, who also said this morning, "Everything is working perfectly so far. I’ve known Jos for 20 years, I know how he works, he knows how we work. It’s perfect harmony. I’d like to think we could have three new records on Sunday, including the hand-bikers. The only thing I’m afraid of is the wind, but the forecast is no wind."