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Where are the marathoners?

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America, the country that gave you the running boom, Nike and Frank Shorter, will enter just two marathoners in this summer's Olympics — one man and one woman — for the first time in history. No one else qualified for the other four spots.

Where have you gone, Alberto Salazar, our nation turns its lonely eyes to you, in Sydney.

America won't win a single medal in any race longer than 800 meters in the Summer Games on the men's side. They'll claim one or two on the women's side.

If you wanted to know the state of American distance running in this the year of the 2000 Olympics, you only had to watch Monday morning's Deseret News 10K road race, in which Simon Sawe and the usual pack of Kenyans swept into town, grabbed the prize money and left just as quickly as they came. They took the money and ran, or ran and took the money, whatever. Like migrant farm workers, they follow the work.

Week in, week out, that's the way of American road races. According to Chad Bennion, a former world-class marathoner from Utah who did radio commentary on Monday's race, one study showed that 92 percent of the money in American road races is claimed by foreigners.

With the dearth of shoe sponsorships and the continued ineffectiveness of government programs, prize money was supposed to be one of the few sources of income to keep developing American runners in the sport. Their problems are compounded when you consider that many foreign distance runners also are given athletic scholarships by American universities that otherwise would go to up-and-coming Americans.

"It's almost impossible to make money now," said Mike Dudley, Monday's top American finisher, at sixth — one place out of the money. "There are too many foreigners. The agents get 10 or 12 of them in a group, then split them up and send them to different races around the country so they can all make money."

Dudley was just happy to finish close to one of the Kenyans. "Only six seconds," he said.

It wasn't all bad news for American runners. After foreigners took eight of the top nine spots (and all of the money positions) in the men's 10K, Americans claimed the women's 10K and men's and women's marathoners — which elite foreign runners chose not to enter for the most part.

"It's really hard now for Americans to compete because of the cherry picking by foreigners," said marathon winner Craig Lawson. "We have to have jobs. For the Kenyans, this is their job."

Lawson, a former BYU runner, is an accountant and has a wife and two children. He put in 60-hour weeks during the tax season and tried to train for the Olympic marathon trials in May, where he posted a non-qualifying time of 2:21.

"They had a clinic at the trials and talked about this problem (with foreign runners)," said Lawson. "They're trying to address it."

On Monday, his primary competition came from closer to home — former BYU runners Dave Spence and Lawson's own brother Marc, who finished second and third, respectively. Lawson won by more than six minutes.

Lawson has begun a career, but some runners such as the 30-year-old Dudley are postponing careers to pursue running and are scrambling to make ends meet. Dudley served in the Army, which allowed him to participate in its world-class athlete program ("My job was to train to make the Olympic team," he says). He will live off his Army savings while participating in the Fila-sponsored Discovery USA Program, which will provide him with food, lodging, travel expenses, coaching and equipment (but not a paycheck) to train and race.

"My mom hates my running," he says, "because I'm not moving on with my life and planning for the future. But I'd rather think about now."


E-MAIL: drob@desnews.com