The results of the early-season road races on the U.S. circuit are in and once again Americans, whose demise in the world of distance running (particularly in Olympics) has been well chronicled, are rarely reaching the finish line first.
In 10 recent road races - the Boston Milk Run 10K, the Carlsbad (Calif.) 5K, the Nike Cherry Blossom (Wash. D.C.) 10 mile, the Cooper Bridge Run (South Carolina) 10K, the Azalea Trail Run (Ala.) 10K, the New Bedford (Mass.) Half-Marathon, the Red Lobster (Fla.) 10K, the Jacksonville River Run (Fla.) 15K, the L.A. Marathon, the Gasparilla (Fla.) 15K - the U.S. men were winners in three races, the women in two. That means foreign men and women (from Norway, Zimbabwe, Kenya, Canada, South Africa, Ireland, Britain, Russia) claimed 15 victories."It's worse than that," says Utah's Paul Cummings, an Olympic distance runner and road racer. "It's not uncommon to find only two Americans in the top 10. Foreigners are kicking our butts, and it's going to get worse, because more are going to come over here."
And U.S. road racers, Cummings among them, are becoming increasingly disenchanted with the situation. They complain that they are at a disadvantage; that because they have a higher cost of living than foreigners, they must run more races (read: overrace) just to survive.
What's more, according to Bob Wood, a Salt Lake-based agent for several world-class runners, "The foreign races won't invite Americans. It's too expensive. On the other hand, it's worth it for foreigns to come here, because there are so many races and it's lucrative. They come over here and live. I don't even know how some of them do it legally, what with the visa laws."
Utah's Ed Eyestone, the No. 1-ranked U.S. road racer last year, says, "You see different groups of foreigners coming in at different times of the year, so (Americans) always are facing a group of foreigners who are really hot. It's difficult for us to maintain peak form all year. The foreigners can score big and go home and live well. It really hurts some of the (U.S.) runners on the fringe who are trying to break in."
It also hurts Eyestone, who finished as the No. 1 American at Carlsbad, but had little to show for it. "I ran 13:31 at Carlsbad (one second over the world record) and outkicked Steve Scott, and I was fifth," he says. "I got $600."
Cummings, who finished out of the money in the same race, says, "Some of these races actually attract better fields than the Olympic finals."
It's easy to see why U.S. roads have become the promised land for the world's distance running. Prize money in the sport continues to climb in the U.S., even if the running boom is just a memory. According to Running Times magazine, the total prize money on the U.S. road road racing circuit in 1980 was a meager $101,100. By 1984 it had reached $1,253,110 and by 1988 $4,689,336. Last year there were 267 road races offering prize money - up from two in 1980.
"The only support system we have for American runners is the prize money in these races," says Cummings. "Because of this, foreigners are coming over here to compete, and they make much more than a living. Basically, we're competing against the rest of the world here in our own country. It's no wonder we're not competing like we should be in the distance events in the Olympics. Our runners never get a chance to mature in this country. There's no support for them. How can they keep running?"
Eyestone fears that the vast number of foreigner winners - who are largely nameless and faceless to American audiences and have little fan or commercial appeal in the U.S. - will scare away sponsors, who, in his words, "are tired of foreigners winning. There's talk of dropping sponsorship."
He sees another problems, as well: "Now the Soviets are starting to come over here, and all the money they make goes into their system. It's not like they get to keep what they make. It goes to their federation. In essence, we're helping to pay for their system, and taking money away from Americans."
. . . Utahns Doug Padilla, Cummings, Jay Woods and Wes Ashford won the 4 x 1 mile relay and set a meet record at last week's Mt. SAC Relays in California. In order, Woods led off in 4:11, Ashford went 4:09, Cummings 4:17 and Padilla 4:07.
"It was hard to run alone (they had a big lead from the beginning)," said Padilla, explaining the relatively slow split times. "And it's only April."
Eyestone also made a rare track appearance. He won the 10,000-meter race, outkicking fellow Olympian Pat Porter and Jay Marden on the gun lap. He clocked 28:15:05.
. . . Keith Robinson, the American Fork/BYU All-America decathlete, probably won't compete again until 1990. "I've got to work to support my family," says Robinson, the silver medalist in the 1987 Pan American Games.