Hell, let’s just crucify Ryan Hall right now!

The American record holder in the half-marathon, the fastest U.S.-born marathoner ever, a member of the 2008 Olympic Team and the American with the best time ever on the Boston Marathon course–feats all accomplished before Hall turned 28–recently parted ways with the Mammoth Track Club in Mammoth Lakes, Calif. and coach Terrence Mahon.

As is to be expected when any superstar athlete makes an abrupt and unexpected change, Hall’s decision was being second-guessed by observers and fellow runners all over the Web, and not just on sites with nothing but user-generated slag posted to message boards (although on the Web such distinctions may be hazy). Joe Battaglia of UniversalSports.com summarily declared Hall’s decision to coach himself a failure before Hall–who pulled out of the Oct. 11 Chicago Marathon weeks in advance citing readiness concerns–could even say where he could next be expected to line up. In a not-unprecedented stab at mind-reading based more on retrospective “wisdom” than anything in the here and now, Battaglia concluded that it was “crystal clear” months ago and all the more so now that Hall races not fundamentally to win or compete but to glorify God. While I am not at the forefront of anyone’s push to credit the Lord with either personal failures or personal triumphs these days, I cannot fathom how these aims–assuming Battaglia is even close to the mark anyway–are mutually exclusive. Anyone who has seen Ryan Hall at the end of a successful race knows just how much winning means to him.

But of course it’s the rabble that accounts for most of the garbage, and the re-eminent running site on the ‘Net, Letsrun.com, boasted this as its “Quote of the Day” today:

The thing that is really sad about Ryan Hall is that he reminds us of our own failures. Ryan is the best we have and if he can’t win a major race how will we? His failures hit a chord with our internal ego, and it is devestating.

Everytime I see him race I have flashbacks to my own races, my own dissapointments. Failures like PRing by 20 seconds in the 5k and still getting blasted in the last lap by some kid from Eldorett or any other time we compete to the max of our ability and still get manhandled. Ryan is far more talented than me and watching him fail is the most devestating thing to ever happen to my running psych. Everytime he loses we wonder why we run. This supertalent, this Highschool and NCAA all star who blows the rest of us away at the trials and has every advantage an American can have is easily put away by some hut dwelling corn eating teen from Iten.

So to you who wonder why we are obsessed with Ryan Hall, maybe you should wonder why you aren’t. He symbolizes the best any of us can do at this point.

On the one hand this person expresses, albeit in a more revealing way that he perhaps understands, why so many people have been so quick to judge Hall’s move and the motivations behind it. He’s great, maybe the best pure distance runner the U.S has ever produced, although only time will tell. An avowed Christian and plainly not a cafeteria-style one, he is so blissfully free of controversy that people are compelled to create it for him so we getting caught boning other people’s wives or staggering drunk in public, can better relate to him.

But on the other this plaintive outburst and and its countless cousins are so laughably off the mark that an emotionally disinterested observer wonders whether this is all part of some arcane plot to abandon adherence to one of the most basic realities in all of creation: chronological time. Reading the Letsrun.com post, someone awakening from a ten-day bender and thus lacking the backstory would assume not that Hall had simply dropped his coach, but had flipped the finger to the sport altogether and declared himself retired. He hasn’t had a chance to screw up yet, and everyone’s so far up his ass they can probably see what he’s having for breakfast these days before it touches his palate. And for the record, the Good Will Hunting-style strategy of “I’d to anything to have what you got!” doesn’t work in real life. Hall is under no obligation to do anything the rabble believes is best for him merely because we all suck compared to him.

Really, I’m taken aback by this. Two years ago a great young American 400-meter runner named Jeremy Wariner dropped his college and early-pro-career coach, the revered Clyde Hart of Baylor University, months before defending his 2004 Olympic title. This was roundly criticized, and Wariner, who would go on to finish second to LaShawn Merritt in both the 2008 Olympics and the 2009 World Championships, later admitted he believed he made a mistake. I am not sure how Wariner feels now that Merritt has been suspended for two years after testing positive for a steroid Merritt says he ingested unknowingly as part of a penis-enlargement regimen, but two things are obvious: Hall is being judged much more loudly and hysterically out of the gate, and God is unlikely to test positive for DHEA anytime soon, meaning that Hall will surely accept any responsibility for whatever shortcomings his future results offer. But for Christ’s sake, let the man race once or twice before throwing him to the lions.

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  1. #1 by jim on October 26, 2010 - 10:22 am

    Sometimes I think a portion of the letsrun rabble should be renamed “white like us”. This whole concept of being dejected because Hall is so much better than them but is still being dropped by “some hut dwelling corn eating teen from Iten” is little more than fetid poo. Instead of giving the teen from Iten his due for racing so well, they see it is a slap against the “nice white all-American kid”, and by proxy, themselves. Aw, poor babies. Their “team” isn’t on top of the pile. I feel so bad for them. Not.

    Running is an individual sport. You put forth what you can and see what develops. It’s simple. And if you don’t cross the line first it doesn’t mean that you’re a bad or inferior human being in other regards. Although I have heard many people declare that running is the most fair of sports in that only those who train well and consistently, and who are willing to test their limits, will be successful, the role of genetics in any sport cannot be denied. If the kid from Iten has better genes for distance running than his rival from California, that’s just the way it is.

    I stopped going to letsrun a few years ago when the signal to noise ratio began to drop into fractional territory.

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