Team USA Minnesota's Katie McGregor (pictured) is slated to be part of what is probably the strongest USA team ever to compete at the Yokohama International Women's Ekiden in Japan, scheduled for February 25th. Joining the 2005 USA 10,000 meter champion is the great Deena Kastor, Olympians Elva Dryer, Jen Rhines, and Amy Rudolph, and 2006 USA 10,000 runner-up Sara Slattery.
Ekidens, for the uninitiated, are Japan's wildly popular long-distance relays where, in this case anyway, six runners race relay legs of 5K to 10K that total the marathon distance. Russia won last year's Yokohama race clocking 2:13:55 to beat China and hosts Japan. The USA was 13th in 2:24:44. The USA, especially on the women's side, has had difficulty fielding top-flight teams for Ekidens, although recently the USA men have fared well in the events, finishing third at Chiba in 2005 and 2006.
Here in the DtB newsroom, we wondered what kind of machinations took place to put the USA's top women on the same plane to race against the best in the world. We had hazy notions of back-room deals, stacks of Japanese yen, and whispered incentives for strong results. The entire DtB investigative team was activated to get the story.
Apparently, though, our imaginations were wilder than the reality.
"It's not a long glamorous answer so let me know if you want me to make something up," USATF Long Distance Running Program Manager Jim Estes joked when I asked him what it might have taken to put the group together. "Basically, the stars -- both figuratively and literally -- lined-up for this one. [Putting together a strong team] has been an ongoing project within the LDR division and has required numerous conversations with the JAAF, athletes and coaches -- and the occasional agent!"
"I don’t really know how best to describe how it happened but it just fell into place right around the [USATF] Annual Meeting," Estes continued. "Obviously, we knew that we needed to line up several ladies who wanted to go win the event so once we got one to say they would go, it was kind of easy to get the rest to commit."
McGregor, herself, confirmed the description in an e-mail to DtB: "For some reason, the race fit into all of our schedules. When I found out that the other girls committed, I decided I wanted to join them. It is such a great opportunity. I usually run indoor track races at this time, but my base training for 2007 was pushed back a few months since I ran the ING New York City Marathon."
Photo courtesy of Team USA Minnesota.