Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Wednesday Weekly Worldview With Wjake Wkrong: Costa Rica

We are very very pleased to announce, as part of our re-design, a new addition to LTOB. In case you haven't noticed, if it isn't American male distance running, it probably isn't going to get written up by ben or Jeremy. (Excepting, of course, easy-on-the-eyes female runners of any discipline... RRRRarrr... "discipline"....) So in an effort to broaden our coverage, we are pleased to bring aboard a new correspondent: urbane traveler-of-the-world, Jake Krong, of who will be writing "WEDNESDAY WEEKLY WORLDVIEW WITH WJAKE WKRONG." His second dispatch is after the jump.

Costa Rica Track & Field - Where Nobody Knows It Exists!

In my introductory post last week I mentioned how LTOB was sending me overseas on assignment. What I did not realize at the time was that I would not be reimbursed for any of my travels. I always thought that when you are a field reporter that kind of stuff was covered. Jeremy, however, assured me that even writers for magazines such as Sports Illustrated and Track Fancy pay their own way. You learn something new every day, I suppose.

I should briefly explain what its like to be a guest columnist at Less Than Our Best. You would think that there would be limitless freedom to write whatever you want, but that is not the case. There is a lot more structure involved. Ben sends you an envelope in the mail with an index card. The card simply states the destination, topic, and deadline. Here's the card I received on March 26th:

I really thought they were sending me to the World XC Championships!

So on the 29th of March I made it through Philadelphia Airport alive (no small feat) and was on my way to Costa Rica in search of Nery Brenes. You may be thinking, who is Nery Brenes? I was too. It turns out that Brenes is greatest medal threat Costa Rican Track and Field has ever possessed. And that is not saying much.

Bear with me while I recap all of CR's Olympic track history in a few sentences (that's all it will take), just so we're all on the same page. In 1972, Angel Perez Rafael was the first Tica athlete to participate in the summer Olympics. He didn't actually run, though, because he was intimidated Steve Prefontaine's mustache and blinding self-confidence. Then Jose Luis Molina came along, and rocked the country's distance running scene for over a decade, dropping a 14:09 5K in Barcelona, 2:17 marathon in Atlanta (24th place overall), and a 2:20 marathon in Sydney. Many Central American track experts (3 of the 4) have labeled him the "Bob Kennedy of Costa Rica," a world-class runner lacking the domestic competition to push him to the next level.

Back to Nery Brenes - at last year's World Champs in Osaka, he shaved a full second off his PR, running 45.01 for 400m. At the Indoor World Champs last month, he finished in 4th place (I assume he must have beat out guys like Jeremy Wariner in the preliminary rounds, since I didn't see many of the big names in the finals).

For the past few days I've been traveling around the country getting the local opinion on Brenes' chances at the Beijing Olympics. No one I've encountered yet has even heard of him. Costa Ricans, it turns out, are a lot more passionate about soccer (or football, as they call it, which has been very confusing for me) and surfing. I've heard some stories about this really cool long distance stage race down here, but haven't figured out the location of Nery's training camp.

I still have a few more days to locate Brenes, but I'm thinking of changing the plan and looking for Jose Luis Molina instead. Bob Kennedy, after all, is my favorite runner, so I wouldn't want to pass up the opportunity to meet the Costa Rican version. Plus, I've always wanted to know what it feels like to finish 39th at the Sydney Olympics. So my next stop is Cerro Chirripo, because I have to assume Jose still lives at altitude.

Sorry for going way over my 500 word limit. Check back next week for the thrilling conclusion of my Costa Rican Odyssey (with more pictures).

Jake Krong is a LTOB columnist and the creator of

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