I got an email Tuesday from Weldon Johnson, editor of the invaluable track & field / running website letsrun.com, alerting me to its exclusive story reporting four-Chicago Marathon winner Khalid Khannouchi has retired from competitive running.
The news hardly was a surprise. Khannouchi is 40, and it has been a while since he had made any news as a runner.
There is no doubt the native Moroccan is the greatest U.S. marathoner of all time when judged by times rather than medals, like the two (gold and silver) Frank Shorter won in the Olympics, making Shorter unquestionably the greatest U.S. marathoner ever by any standard.
I covered his Chicago wins, including his spectacular marathon debut in 1997. Before Khannouchi returned to win again in 1998, I wrote a lengthy profile of him, in which I described his leaving Morocco for the United States, how he shared a two-room apartment with six other Moroccans, how he was “a busboy, dishwasher and go-fer by day, a runner in the streets of Brooklyn by night,” how he felt those who helped him in his adopted country “deserve to see me race as an American.”
It was the classic poor-immigrant-making-good-story.
I was in London in April, 2002, covering the London Marathon when he won what then definitely was the greatest men’s marathon ever and seems just as remarkable a decade later. Khannouchi upset distance running legends Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia and Paul Tergat of Kenya in a time, 2 hours, 5 minutes, 38 seconds, that then was the fastest ever and still stands as the U.S. record.
That was two years after he first reneged on his vow to repay the United States on the roads, choosing to take the money and run for himself.
It was a year after he had dropped out of the only marathon in which he would wear a uniform with USA on his chest.
It was two years before Khannouchi would renege on the vow a second time despite having told me he would run the 2004 Olympic trials even if he had a broken leg.
It is why I will forever respect Khannouchi’s accomplishments as a marathoner and forever think much less of him for having not meant what he said.
Before the 2004 Chicago Marathon, I detailed Khannouchi's hypocritical behavior and summed it up by writing:
“All his professions of wanting to do something for his adopted country have proved to be empty words.
“He wrapped himself in the Star-Spangled Banner after winning his first major race as a U.S. citizen, the 2000 Chicago Marathon.
“But Khannouchi has copped out on two chances to try to run for the U.S. at the Olympics, and he gave a half-hearted effort in the only marathon he ran in a U.S. uniform."
Three years later, when he was past his prime, Khannouchi finished a honorable fourth in the U.S. trials for the 2008 Olympic marathon.
But that race and the passing of time have not softened my feelings.
I would not change a word of the story I wrote Oct. 6, 2004, headlined, "In the long run, he puts U.S. second."
Especially not these last ones:
"At the time to put up, Khalid Khannouchi always gave up."
His retirement announcement isn't the first time he had called it quits.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times