Moneghetti and the test of the best

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The Independent Online
An Olympic marathon staged miles, or even a hemisphere, away from where the rest of the Games are being held, is the serious proposal being put up by Steve Moneghetti, the Australian who starts today's London Marathon among the favourites after twice finishing second.

Moneghetti says he and the majority of elite professional road runners would willingly forgo the winner's dramatic entry into the Olympic stadium - and even the whole heroic nature of the marathon, exemplified by Jim Peters' heat- induced failure to complete the 1954 Empire Games race after holding a huge lead - if the Olympic and World Championship events could be held in conditions that "are conducive to the best runner in the world at the time winning the race".

At present the International Olympic Committee and the International Amateur Athletic Federation are only considering saving runners from suffering from heat and pollution problems by running the marathon in the same host countries but at a different time of year. Moneghetti, at 34 the Commonwealth champion and one of the world's most experienced full-time distance runners, says: "OK, I've run into the stadium plenty of times, not always as the winner but I know what the feeling is like. But beating the opposition, knowing that you're the best runner of that period of time is more important than heroics and glory. Somebody said they should hold the marathon at the same time as the Winter Olympics - perhaps that wouldn't be a bad idea."

He rejects any argument that because of its history, involving a host of dramatic battles in cruel climate and on varying terrains, the marathon would be in any way devalued by being held in conditions that, say, London normally expects but Athens certainly does not for this summer's world championships. "Traditionally the nature of the event is that the super- human person wins. I don't want to denigrate the marathon, but I think the people who are winning now in the championships like the Olympics and worlds are not the best runners in the race. In most other events at the Olympics the champion is the best, without qualification, unless of course someone has an injury and can't compete. In the marathon it's not happening - the best runners are often not even filling the medal positions. I would have thought that you want the best runners to win."

He believes that today the city marathons, not least London, are a much better guide to who is the best marathon runner of any period. "It's an anomaly that you have, say, 10 runners who consistently run well in the city races but at the championships it can be 10 totally different people who happen to run well in the conditions and on the day. OK we have to respect the Olympic champion, Josiah Thugwane, who is running here in London yet people say he's not going to win. If he's Olympic champion he ought to be favourite, but he's not." In order to bring about a situation in which the consistently successful marathon runner has a better chance to win championship medals in conditions that reflect those at the majority of races, rather than in excessive heat, Moneghetti, who was seventh in Atlanta last summer, says: "Why not have it on the same day but in a different place, different country or even different hemisphere where it's cooler and more suitable. You could still have it on a big screen, just as they have now. As it is we only run two to three laps on the track, disappear then run back into the stadium. As far as most spectators are concerned they could take us to Mars and we could run around there as long as we were on the TV screen - what's the difference? Why not use it all to the advantage of us and the spectators - it could make the event better."

Only slightly tongue in cheek, Moneghetti's scenario even extends to having the whole of a marathon held indoors. "It would be like those moto-cross events they have round loops at indoor stadiums. It's all done for television now. Yes the marathon will survive in its present form as a people's event but a lot of championships races won't be the same as they are today. Come what may, though, it will still be over 26 miles, and that's a long way. Wherever you hold it, it doesn't get any shorter." He will be remembering that remark today as he tackles the distance without his usual store of training behind him. An ankle injury has reduced his preparation: "But that could make me all the fresher," he warned.

Most of Britain's top runners competing today agree with Moneghetti's proposals. Paul Evans, among the favourites, and Gary Staines have both said they will not be in Athens because of the conditions and Richard Nerurkar, fifth in the Olympics, has yet to make a decision, even though he has been pre-selected. Of course, the ever-valorous London champion Liz McColgan says she will run in Greece. Today her biggest problem will be to overcome a late entry, the world champion Manuela Machado, of Portugal.

However, McColgan points out that her training of late has been designed specifically for the marathon rather than the demands of track and road.