‘This is a huge shot to prove you don’t have to be East African to be a great distance runner’
For the second time in two weeks Rockford native Dathan Ritzenhein made world news. The runner, who normally shines in marathons or 10Ks, set a new American record in the Weltklasse meet in Zurich, Switzerland on Friday, August 28.
Ritzenhein finished the race with a time of 12:56.27, beating the old American record of Bob Kennedy. The feat follows his sixth-place finish in Berlin with a personal record time.
Of the Berlin race Ritzenhein told the Squire, “I was very happy with how the race went in Berlin. I have been focusing on the marathon for the past few years and I began to feel that I was losing some of my form. The benefits you get from racing short distances can really help with the longer events too, so I needed to get back to that.”
He got back to that in a big way with the Switzerland run, which USA Today called “a stunning US record.”
For much of the race Ritzenhein was in last place. With 800 meters to go he began passing other runners to take third behind world champion Keninisa Bekele of Ethiopia.
“What Dathan did today validates what everyone in this country has been trying to do—to show Americans can run with the best East Africans,” Ritzenhein’s coach Alberto Salazar said.
Dathan spoke about his coach and what he had done for the runner.
“I switched coaches this spring after four-plus years. I am now coached by the former world record holder in the marathon and NYC and Boston Marathon Champion Alberto Salazar. We are in the process of moving up to the NIKE headquarters in Portland Oregon, from Eugene Oregon where we lived for the last two and half years.
Ironically, Ritzenhein predicted an American record last week in an interview with the Squire.
He said of his Berlin race, “I knew going into the race I was in the best shape I had ever been in. The race was a modest pace at first but just before half way it really picked up and I just hung on and picked people off as the race went. I ran much faster the second half of the race and so I think in a much better paced non-championship race I can make a good shot at the American record in the next couple years. That time put me number four American all-time and the best finish by an American at the World Championships or Olympics since 1976, so I was very happy that I made a huge step and I was within sight of winning a medal.
The Squire asked Ritzenhein about his prospects for the next Olympics and he had this to say, “The 2012 Olympics will be in London and even though it is three years away it will be here before I know it. I will be 29 years old then and I will be a my physical peak at that time. I hope to have improved my 5 and 10k time by then, but my real goal will be the marathon. The real marquee events in track and field are the 100m and the marathon. I think this past world championship took me to a new level and it has helped me to realize that I have the ability to win a medal at the Olympics. I will hopefully have one or two more Olympics in me after London, but I know that will be when I am at my best.”
“I loved my time as an athlete at Rockford,” Ritzenhein said of his old home town. “I was fortunate to have such great support that helped me reach the level I did. I had great coaching, and the school was always behind me. There has been a great tradition in distance running there but I was really able to break the mold in the sport because of the support I get from home. That still keeps me motivated and gives me a sense of pride that everyone back home still is rooting for me.”
He had this to say to other possible future champions. “I would tell young athletes to not be discouraged and to stick to what you love to do. I was actually not a greta runner when I began running. It was just average for the first few years, but once I reached eighth grade I broke through. Sometimes you don’t know when you will break through or if you may ever, but if you truly enjoy whatever you are doing you will have success.
Finally, the “Ritz” talked about balancing family and his athletic career. “Being a father has been the most meaningful thing in my life. My wife Kalin and I have been truly blessed to have Addison and to be able to travel the world,” he said.
“She [Addison] has just totally adapted to our lifestyle and she just goes with the flow. She has brought a perspective to my life which I did not have before. No matter how I run i know my girls still love me and that gives me encouragement and I reason to do my best. I want to be able to tell them I did my best and gave it everything I had.”
How much do you have to travel? Do you still have a normal family life?
-I travel so much that I feel like a nomad. Right now I have been away from our home in Eugene Oregon for eight weeks! We have been just living out of bags. That is how the life or a track athlete is though. The big competitions are in Europe and so I usually come over three to four times a year and stay for a while. Also being on the West Coast, we make a lot of trips back east so we try to come back to Rockford as much as possible, usually three times a year. Sometimes we are gone so much that Rockford is really the only place we call home. It is home in our hearts and we will move back when my running career is over.