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Shorter's Success Started a Trend

September 10, 2002|Mike Bresnahan

Frank Shorter won a gold medal at the Munich Olympics. The rest of the U.S. took it from there.

In becoming the first American to win the Olympic marathon since 1908, Shorter sparked a fitness craze that spawned a stream of successful U.S. marathon runners.

Shorter's victory in 1972 by nearly 2 1/2 minutes led to people of all professions pounding the pavement at 6 a.m., jogging in small packs or individually on the sides of city streets and rural roads.

Shorter, who won the silver medal four years later in Montreal, also boosted the image of sneakers and jogging outfits as fashionable wear: Wardrobes that had been confined to gyms and health clubs became commonplace, men and women dining in chic Beverly Hills restaurants in trendy athletic gear.

Those who emerged from the U.S. running boom included Bill Rodgers, a four-time winner of both the Boston and New York marathons, and Alberto Salazar, a three-time winner at New York.

U.S. success in distance running didn't last: A U.S.-born man hasn't won a major marathon since Greg Meyer won Boston in 1983.

Shorter, now 54 and living in Boulder, Colo., has openly criticized the dearth of talented U.S. distance runners and has blamed, among other things, the prevalence of shorter road races with big payouts.

"When prize money came into the picture, unfortunately, Americans decided to fund pension plans rather than focus on the gold," he said in 1997.

In recent years, Shorter has been instrumental in the fight against performance-enhancing drugs as chairman of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, an independent agency created in October 2000 to police U.S. Olympic sports.

At a Senate subcommittee hearing in June, Shorter discussed his second-place finish to East Germany's Waldemar Cierpinski at the Montreal Olympics.

"At the time, I knew that it would be absolutely possible to increase my chances of beating the East Germans and others who were using steroids if I cheated by doping," Shorter said. "To me, that is not what sport is about. I didn't cheat and I finished second."

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