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October 29, 2008
NEW YORK CITY, NEW YORK
MARY WITTENBERG: I will say, what a joy it is to stand here on behalf of all of us in New York Roadrunners, some 120 strong, we all feel especially proud at today's press conference. We'll take the moment, seize the moment to talk for a minute about the state of our sport of running in the U.S.
Hands down, I believe we are at the highest height of American distance running to date, and we're on our way up. You all know the story. Eight years ago we couldn't stand here and say anything at all like this. It's remarkable that in that short period of time with advances every single year as these athletes and other athletes throughout the U.S. have continued to progress and respond to our challenges, that today Americans are competing at the top of every major distance race in the world.
In New York, we have a special affection for our Americans. We have an enormous commitment to our Americans. We spend a part of every single day at the organization thinking about how we can better support and promote our American stars.
So today we get to celebrate six of them. Today we get to say the sport is at an all-time high. And today, we get to remind everybody that New York is the toughest of all races. And on the day that we have several Americans in the top ten on the men's race and the women's race, and on the day that we have an American on the podium and on the day that we have an American win this race, we'll really say, American distance running is at the highest of heights to this point in history.
I think we have a good shot of saying that this year. Let's take a look at the field.
MARY WITTENBERG: The last American to win the race, Alberto Salazar in 1992. The last person to make the podium Anne Marie Lauck in 1994 on the women's side and then of course Meb Keflezighi in recent years. Will this be the year that our fortunes start down the path? Is this the year our fortunes are going to continue to change and we see the Americans where they belong? They're going to tell us.
Magdalena, I'm going to start with you. At age 35, 2008 Olympian, making her third appearance at the ING New York City Marathon, Magdalena is a rock-solid marathoner who's had a fabulous spring, a breakthrough year in the marathon. In April Magdalena ran the race of her life and sent shivers through Deena Kastor's spine, and everyone in that race knew one spot was out of the running after those first few miles, and it looked pretty good that Magdalena would make the team. And sure enough, she did.
She had a tough break in Beijing after being in the fittest shape of her life. She had a freak accident and bumped her knee on one of the buses while she was in Beijing, and it forced her to hobble really through the early miles and need to drop out of the Olympic Games marathon.
But New York gives you a potential for a grand finale and to add an exclamation point to really what began as a spectacular spring. So we welcome you back.
Have you fully recovered, and how are you feeling going into Sunday's race?
MAGDALENA LEWY BOULET: Thank you, Mary, and again, I just want to say thank you for bringing me back to New York. I love New York, and it's, like you say, the toughest race that I've ever done. Always tough competition and great competition.
I'm fully recovered from Beijing and excited to compete this weekend. It took a while to recover from my knee accident, but I got a late start with my training, but it was probably a blessing in disguise. I'm starting to feel really, really good in the middle of the training and ready to go on Sunday.
MARY WITTENBERG: We're going to let each athlete say a comment, then we'll get through the introductions and give you a few minutes to ask questions.
Next up, Katie McGregor. Two years ago Katie made her debut here in New York in 2006, finished ninth. Katie came in with all the pressure of the American story on her shoulders. This year you get to shoulder the burden a fair amount, so I hope that is an advantage for you.
I know it's been a tough year. Katie spent the last four years, and all of us were sure she'd be on the 10,000 meter Olympic team. She deserved based on the last four years to be here, but in an Olympic year, it's all about how you're doing in that year. It's been a tough beginning. Katie didn't get to fulfill that dream, but we see New York as your opportunity for redemption.
We've always believed in Katie as a marathoner. I'm still not convinced Katie believes in Katie as a marathoner, but we think it's a really bright future for you starting with Sunday. So welcome back.
Are you still a 10,000 meter runner in your head or are you transitioning to a marathoner?
KATIE McGREGOR: Thank you, Mary. I'm so excited to be back at the ING New York City Marathon. I did have a rough year, but I think all the work that I put in last year just gave me an opportunity to refocus and get excited to come to New York City and do the marathon again.
I definitely still feel like I have a lot of things to accomplish in some shorter races, but after this last training period and training for the marathon this time around, I definitely feel like my strength is leaning toward the marathon and longer distances. I'm excited to have such other great American women here to run with, and I think that we're all going to do really well on Sunday, and I hope we all walk away close to the podium or on the podium.
You're right, it is nice to have these ladies here, because I think that not only are we all dedicated, and it was inspiring to watch our American distance runners at the Olympics and to see Magdalena still go out there and struggle. I know she's going to be ready to compete well. So I'm excited to race well with them.
MARY WITTENBERG: Next up, also 31, as is Katie, Jason Lehmkuhle. Jason I think had his breakthrough race here in the Olympic Trials last year. Jason was fifth and took the scalps of some of America's best in the marathon and was just strides away from making that Olympic team.
Jason, I think that was the beginning for you. I know you've been at it a long time, but we believe there's a lot really positive ahead of you in your marathon career. I got to see Jason in Rio just a few weeks ago at the World Half Marathon where he ran strong. How are you feeling? How have the last few weeks been? How does it feel to come back to New York and run the marathon?
JASON LEHMKUHLE: I guess, first of all, I want to thank Mary and the Roadrunners for having me back out to New York. I actually haven't run the marathon since the trials last year but I'm excited to run the marathon.
Training has gone well. I had a difficult spring. I struggled with some injuries, but I really feel like I've turned it around, had some great training, and the race in Rio, I think, went well. So hopefully that bodes well for Sunday.
MARY WITTENBERG: Katie and Jason are both part of Team Minnesota, one of our great training groups here in the United States.
Next up, James Carney. James has shown us some real glimpses of greatness this year in 2008. He comes in as the USA 20K champion, he comes in as USA half marathon champion, he comes in as an athlete that I know believes in himself, and also had an, I thought, quite solid run here in the Olympic Trials last year where he debuted in the marathon in those trials.
He also had a super run. Adam Goucher back there was right with him at the track trials when he finished tenth place in the 10,000 meter. So another strong talent in our deep pool of Americans. James, welcome back. It's been a good year. Is Sunday going to be the highlight?
JAMES CARNEY: I hope so, Mary. This year has really been just a year of redemption. Last year falling at the marathon trials, I kind of felt a little bit let down that I didn't make the team, and I feel like I kind of ran very cowardly. This whole year has been turn it around.
I've kind of gotten a lot of advice from guys in Boulder, especially one guy in particular who will be here this weekend, Steve Jones, who won this race in 1988. He's been a real inspiration to me, and I'm just kind of -- use the same mentality he used whenever he was racing and just really going for it, and if you end up having to walk the last mile, so be it. But at least you know at the end of the day that you gave it everything you could and you left your soul on the course.
And that's what's going to happen on Sunday. I'm going to give everything I've got. If I have to walk the last couple miles, so be it.
MARY WITTENBERG: That's the kind of spirit we like in New York. Thank you, James.
Next up, age 30, 2008 Olympian, 2008 USA 5K champion, 2007 IFF world champion 10,000-meter bronze medalist, debut marathon on the biggest stage in marathon running, Kara Goucher.
Kara, Sunday is all about the distance. She's had success in uncharted waters before, especially at the half marathon last year. She beat Paula Radcliffe and ran an incredibly fast time. Kara is a big star already. The question is will Kara be a big star over the marathon distance.
Kara has extra inspiration here in New York City. She's got a hometown connection. She was born here, grew up here until the age of four.
I know this is a sentimental place for Kara because she lost her father here at the age of four, and our hope is that New York gives Kara the chance for a very happy memory here in New York.
We also are excited for Kara because she gets to come in here as the athlete coached by one of our greatest ever and last champion of this race, Alberto Salazar. So Kara, we welcome you. We applaud you.
Katie and Magdalena, you're in the same boat. This is the toughest women's field we've ever had. We're really looking forward to Sunday and your debut. How are you feeling coming into this?
KARA GOUCHER: Thanks, Mary. I'm a little emotional now. But I'm just so excited to be here and so excited to have this opportunity. You know, I really wouldn't be here if it hadn't been for having the chance to come last year and watch the race, and to see such a fantastic women's race last year was just so inspiring for me. It was for me the most inspiring athletic performance I had ever seen.
So really a year ago I set my heart on running here, and I just feel really lucky to be a part of this group, to be a part of this American group, to be racing here, to have the coach I have. I can't believe it's here. I'm so excited.
MARY WITTENBERG: Next up, age 31. We're pulling no punches here. This is his chance to win. Abdi Abdirahman comes here. I think he's got the chance to run the race that will silence any doubters, the race that will prove what it takes, that he can slam the door in those final miles on some of the world's best.
What we do know and love about Abdi, it doesn't matter how slow or how fast the face, Abdi will be in the game. We welcome you back, Abdi. We always thank you because you always take time to inspire all of our kids in New York City and beyond. You've got an added advantage because all those schools you've been visiting over all those years, they're all cheering for Abdi. How are you feeling going into Sunday?
ABDI ABDIRAHMAN: First of all, I would like to thank New York Roadrunners, Mary Wittenberg and her team. They do such a great job because I know it's not easy putting this race together. I know it takes a lot of hard work.
Also I want to thank to all the volunteers from Staten Island to Central Park, because it's not an easy job, either. I just want to thank everyone that's in New York, to the media, for you guys coming here and showing us the love.
And about the race, just my training has been going well leading into this race, and I know Mary said this is my race to win, and just that's the way I look at it, too, myself. If I didn't have a chance of winning this race or didn't believe I can win the race, I wouldn't come to the race. I probably would have just stayed home and just watched on TV.
I think every athlete, we all here, all of us, it doesn't matter what number you wear, everyone is a winner when they step to the starting lineup, and that's the mentality I'm going with this race before the gun goes off. Everyone is a winner, and they will decide the winner -- the winner will be the person that crosses the finish line. And from today, there's no winner, so I consider myself a winner (laughter). I want to win the race, and I'm here to win it.
I've been working real hard in Flagstaff and Tucson, Arizona, on just my training group in Flagstaff, Arizona. They've been helping me a lot, and my coach Dave Murray, James Lee, and all my workouts and the things I've been doing the past few months indicated that I'm capable of running a real fast time. And I'm ready.
RICHARD FINN: We're going to take a couple questions from the floor, and then after a group photo, we will take all the athletes, put them back at tables in the back so that the writers, journalists, can move around. We also have Rod in the back available. Sean McManus will also be here in the room. I know there's hopefully a lot of stories for you. Everybody will be in the back, or look for one of us or my staff, Sara, Julia, any of the other people, to help you find who you're looking for.
Q. Magdalena, I'm just wondering, when you got over your knee injury -- obviously you had shown up in Beijing in shape and had all that behind you. Did you find were you able to get back to that level in your training very quickly and when you started running again?
MAGDALENA LEWY BOULET: I have to say that it was definitely a very different approach. Going into the Olympics, you know, you're starting to taper, you're in the best shape of your life, starting to taper, and then I was forced to take a little bit of downtime and not actually being able to finish the marathon in Beijing, it's unlike any other training where I didn't really have much to recover from. I was already tapered.
So it was a different approach. It was kind of a debate, where to take off from there. You know, the fitness was still there, so that was the good thing, and since I didn't put in the effort, didn't leave it on that street of Beijing, I was able to pick it up pretty quickly in September.
Yeah, it went pretty well.
Q. Question for Kara: You had big track meets obviously the last two summers, but last year your season ended a month earlier than this year. What did you have to do after Beijing to drop down and then perhaps build up and extend your season until now?
KARA GOUCHER: When I got back from Beijing, physically I was fine, but emotionally I was a little bit tired, just because it was the Olympics and you think about it for so long. So I took a week completely off, did nothing. I house cleaned with my husband and slept in, stuff like that.
And then I just started running a lot. A lot. That's what I did (laughter).
Q. How much is a lot?
KARA GOUCHER: About 110 miles per week.
Q. James, I know that we spoke and you were feeling a little down in the dumps after the track trials in Eugene, as well, and going through sort of an existential crisis as a runner as it were. Were you pretty sure that that was something that time was going to heal, or can you tell us a little bit about how you got out of that and obviously did quite well because you had a major road victory since then?
JAMES CARNEY: Yeah, sure. Definitely the last time we spoke, I think the week following the Eugene trials, I was pretty down. I had a really tough go of it. I remember calling one of my best friends and saying, I'm having a really tough go of it here. I'm having a hard time just getting out of bed, let alone go trying to run. I'd go run a half mile and then walk back home with my head held low.
But you know, I talked to some friends of mine, and they kind of looked at my spirits, and I just -- like I said, this whole year has been about redemption, and it's been about -- it's getting back out there and just running as hard as you can and actually enjoying it again.
This marathon I've completely embraced my love of running, not just competing, but just the physical act of getting out there every day. Even if it was a 20-mile tempo run, I've actually really enjoyed it, which is maybe weird. But yeah, I think that's maybe -- sometimes whenever I have these poor races or races that don't pan out the way I'd like them to, for some reason that seems to really motivate me, whereas other people it might not.
Q. I wanted to ask Abdi, Mary mentioned that you go to schools to help children. They are now going to start making films about runners who are extending themselves to help children in the United States. I'd like you to tell me what you're doing in the schools and how you got started, and if there are any children that you have helped, maybe handicapped or something like that?
RICHARD FINN: The schools that Abdi has visited here in New York have been part of the New York Roadrunners foundation program, which we have here in the middle schools in New York City. Abdi, just a comment about the fun and what you've done with the kids at some of the schools. I think you went and visited a school a couple weeks ago here in New York.
ABDI ABDIRAHMAN: You know, that's one thing about me. I enjoy working with the kids, and whenever New York Roadrunners calls me and asks me about doing something with the kids, I say, okay, I'm in, just put me on the second flight and I'll be there.
Kids in Tucson, I work with kids in Tucson, Boys and Girls Club in Tucson, Arizona, I go there. And I go back to high school even though I didn't run in high school. I talk to the kids, give them tips about running and how important the running is, not just like to go to college, but just setting like goals in life, because running just like opens the kids' minds.
If you can set goals, if you want to run like a 4:30 mile and then you want to run a 4:15 mile, you've got to set goals. Then you say, okay, I want to run a 4:15 mile so you set a goal. It helps you in the life aspect of that, so you can set your goals if you want to go to college.
I love working with kids and just always am glad to see the kids that I advise go to the next level, run in college.
There's one kid that went to my high school in Tucson. He was like a 4:40 miler and he ran like a 4:15 mile. Now he's at Central Arizona College and going to college. I'm proud of him. I just love working with kids.
MARY WITTENBERG: You'll see in this year's marathon we'll be celebrating children throughout. We now have 50,000 kids running throughout New York City and South Africa and now several states in the U.S. What we're going to be doing, we're going to do five male introductions with the television on the start line and five female, and Abdi and Kara will be among those five, and they will be escorted to the start line by a child from each of the five boroughs of New York that are in our running program.
Just to add to some of the logistical challenges, when we were at a school with Abdi, one of the kids asked him what the victory lap was like, and Abdi said well, if I get to take one, I'll take you with me. So now we're working on our logistics to make sure if Abdi crosses the finish line first, a kid is going to be down there running that victory lap, too.
Q. Katie, when you finished ninth here two years ago, I think your first comment was, "Never again." How long did it take for you and what made you change your mind and come back?
KATIE McGREGOR: Well, I think like so many other people I know, I think a lot of people when you finish for the first time, you're thinking, what the heck. I could barely walk.
But at the same time, you finish something, and I was proud with my race that day, and I thought I did a good job. But like any other race, you say, "I can do better than that." And I knew I would eventually come back here to run the marathon again, just because I know I can do better.
And I think I'm due for a good race, and hopefully Sunday will be that race.
RICHARD FINN: If that's it from the floor, we're going to take a quick photo of everybody. Again, everybody will be available tomorrow, again, same time, 10:00 o'clock here. We have many of our leading overseas women, including Catherine Ndereba, tomorrow. Thank you very much.
End of FastScripts