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Friday, 17 February 2017 15:56

Bob Kennedy, 20 Years after Atlanta: He started the American run to the podium Featured

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Bob Kennedy, Pre Classic 2003 Bob Kennedy, Pre Classic 2003 www.PhotoRun.net
Bob Kennedy was, along with Todd Williams, Mark Croghan, among a few American athletes who battled the best in the world. I was in the Atlanta Stadium and watched Bob Kennedy give the 5000 meters all that he had. The fans and viewers who knew with Kennedy, Williams, Croghan and few others battled the best in the world. We were proud of them, but we would never had dreamed of Rio.
I always respected Bob Kennedy. In fact, we gave him the FUJI American Track & Field Athlete of the year in July 1996 for his AR at 3000 meters, just before the Olympics. Bob Kennedy was a racer trying to battle the best when many American athletes settled on being mediocre. It was a time of irony, but a time when Bob Kennedy, his like that of a zen master, trying to be the best he could, not because many understood it, but because he knew he had to run fast and against the best, because he knew he could.
 
The last 800 meters in Atlanta was a battle to the absolute finish. Venuste Niyongabo gave his country, Burunid, its first and only Olympic gold medal at 5000 meters. Bob Kennedy was there to the very end, exhausted, but confident that he had given it his all, and finishing fifth.
 
His coach/agent was the late Kim McDonald, who was a powerful figure in our sport. McDonald intimidated many, because he couldn't tolerate vagaries or fools. His B.S. meter was pretty high. I always found him fascinating. I still have his PR kit for his team and think it's a leading example of how to promote athletics. At a time when I thought I might have to close down my business, Kim provided me with suggestions and supportive comments on how to better manage our business. He understood what we were trying to do, and provided insights into making our magazines and websites better. He also gave me access to his athletes for interviews. McDonald understood, like few others, that our sport was entertainement and that superstar athletes needed fans and followers.
 
McDonald had Kennedy work his butt off. The workouts were amazing. High quality 1500 meter repeats, 1000 meter repeats, fast long runs. Kennedy did them all. He wanted not to be merely the best American, he wanted to be the very best in the world. I hope you enjoy Jeff Benjamin's great piece on Kennedy. Read it, enjoy it, pass it around. Bob Kennedy is one of the great ones. But his fans, friends and admirers always knew that.
 
BY JEFF BENJAMIN — With the recent rise of American distance running, culminating with the great Olympic successes last Summer in Rio, American fans of the sport, whether present in the stadium or watching on tv, without a doubt swelled with pride. But there was one person present in Rio whose pride may have been the most-earned and respected. As Americans (from Matt Centrowitz, Emma Coburn, and Galen Rupp, among others) reached the top 3 spots of the podium, Bob Kennedy had to have seen things from a perspective quite more rewarding than others. After all, Kennedy started it.
 
The 1990's were a down era for American distance running as most of the world's best seemed to be coming from other countries. In 1994, Bob Kennedy made a key decision to try and change that. Kennedy, an outstanding high school and NCAA performer, made the move to England to train with the late agent/coach Kim McDonald's world-class group of mostly Kenyan athletes. "I realized that getting to the next level required me to make some sacrifices," said Kennedy last summer.
 
Kennedy would go on to hold three American records and become the first American to run under 13 minutes for 5K, recording a time of 12:58.21. "Training under Kim's program and with those guys were the key."
 
As Kennedy kept on improving, only one goal remained-an Olympic medal. Knowing that the 1996 Games were held in Atlanta only seemed to motivate Kennedy even more, as he easily dominated his US Olympic trials 5K race held in the same Atlanta Olympic Stadium prior to the Games.
 
Before a packed crowd of 83,000 spectators, Kennedy made a courageous attempt to try and break the world's best in a plan which almost emulated Steve Prefontaine's tactics back in the 1972 Munich Games. "I made my move on the outside with 2 laps to go," said Kennedy, who admitted that he didn't have that short top-end turnover that others possessed. "I had to go."
 
As he surged to the lead, the crowd went ballistic, although ironically most people in the stadium had never seen or heard of Kennedy! Chanting "USA, USA!!", Kennedy could feel it all around him. "It was a proud moment." The moment did not last however, as Burundi's Vénuste Niyongabo, (a world-class miler who moved up to the 5k for the Olympics) surged right at the bell past Kennedy, bringing along with him Kenyans Paul Bitok and Tom Nyariki, Moroccan Khalid Boulami, and defending champion Deiter Baumann of Germany past the fading Kennedy. In the end Kennedy, who ran his last 800 around 1:57 and last lap around 57 seconds would finish 5th (13:12.35), while Niyongabo (13:07.96), Bitok (13:08.16) and Boulami (13:08.81) would net Gold, Silver and Bronze. "I made my move when I had to," said Kennedy in Rio. "I have no regrets."
 
If anything, Kennedy's Olympic race motivated a younger generation of hungry American runners coming into the new millennium, the belief being that if he could try and lead world-class races then why couldn't they?
 
Nowadays Kennedy still has his roots in the Sport. An owner of 4 running stores -"Athletic Annex" (consisting of 2 stores in Indianapolis (www.athleticannex.com) and "Movin' Shoes (consisting of 2 stores in San Diego) - Kennedy also counts marathon Great Meb Keflezighi as one of his partners.
 
As for the American Team's Running performances in Rio? "I loved seeing the success of the Americans in Rio, said Kennedy recently. "I believe that a rising tide floats all boats!"
 
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