By: Patrick Larson
If you’re like me, you watched Hobbs Kessler, arguably a once in a generation talent, scorch the track at the Portland Track festival running a blistering 3:34. His performance quickly put himself into the conversation of US Olympic contenders for the 1500m. However, like anything seemingly good for the sport of running, there were a number of naysayers, headlined by this most recent take from LetsRun founder Robert Johnson:
“For the record, I think Kessler is a SUPREME talent but when everyone runs 3:37, 3:34 isn't all that.”
It amazes me that that we’ve somehow reached a point in our sport that someone, let alone the founder of one of the biggest running websites in the world, could look at an 18 year old running 3:34 and think to themselves, “meh, 3:34 isn’t THAT impressive.”
I understand that in an era of supershoes some people have become severely jaded causing them to immediately discredit any above average performance that occurs. Who knows how fast Alan Webb or Jim Ryun could have run at the age of 18 if they were wearing spikes with a carbon plate and ZoomX foam. There is no doubt that stars from eras past could have been helped by the new shoe technology that exists today. But, continuing to caveat every good performance in today's age becomes tired very quickly and does nothing to push the sport forward in a positive way.
There has been a good amount of data to show the significant improvement in college times this year which is also the first year most college athletes had access to the new shoe technology. You’d be naïve to think the supershoes had nothing to do with it. There is a reason that athletes who run for non-Nike schools are still rocking the dragonflys—they clearly work. But, how long will we let the shoes be the ultimate factor that decides whether a performance is worthy or not? Even if Kessler got an extra 4-5 seconds because of the shoes, he is still running a time that puts him on a short list of high school GOATs.
Given how much talk there is about “pushing the sport forward” or “growing the sport,” we somehow severely struggle with reconciling the growth in technology with our reaction to the subsequent fast times. In a time where we have some incredible young talent making a push for the Olympic team, it’s discouraging to see asterisks put on performances by people watching from the peanut gallery.
Anyone who is less than mildly impressed at an 18 year old running 3:34 and dusting some pros who were wearing the same shoes should re-think how they view the sport in the era of supershoes.