Project puts U.S. back in running.
BEAVERTON - In 2001, Rod DeHaven finished sixth in the Boston Marathon.
It was the best finish by an American man that year and the best showing by an American since 1994.
For some within the U.S. marathon community, there was a sense of excitement that an American was able to challenge the foreign contingent of runners - particularly the Africans - so successfully.
For Tom Clarke and Alberto Salazar, it was a call to arms. For Americans to be excited about a sixth-place finish in a race that had been dominated by U.S. runners 20 years earlier meant something had to be done.
Thus was born the Oregon Project. Conceived by Clarke, Nike's president of new ventures, and coached by Salazar, who in 1982 won both the Boston and New York marathons, the Oregon Project was designed to gather a select group of American distance runners to live and train together on a long-term basis, in hopes of reinstating U.S. men among the world's marathon elite.
A year after its conception, the Oregon Project produced the 2002 USA men's marathon champion, West Linn native Dan Browne. In his debut at the distance, Browne ran 2 hours, 11 minutes, 35 seconds to win the national championship at the Twin Cities Marathon last fall.
This year, Browne and his four Oregon Project teammates are focusing on improving their 5,000- and 10,000-meter times, building a training base that will propel them into longer workouts early next year, eventually peaking with the 2004 Olympic marathon in Athens.
It's all part of the plan for Salazar, the former Oregon star who combines an interest in new technology with a belief in an intense, long-term training regimen for his Oregon Project athletes.
"I'm just very confident we can have success," said Salazar, an NCAA cross country champion for the Ducks who won the first of his three straight New York City Marathon titles as a UO senior in 1980. "I can't say we're going to run 2:06. But there's no doubt in my mind, it's not that hard to get guys to run under 2:10, to run in the 2:08s with what we know now."
What Salazar and company know now increasingly involves the use of computer-aided training methods. Oregon Project runners regularly have their blood analyzed for lactic acid and red blood cell count. They live in a house that has four sealed rooms that simulate life at 12,000 feet. And they use a treadmill and a breathing tube to measure their oxygen consumption.
Such training methods aren't universally embraced. But Salazar is a staunch believer and thinks the new technology can help American runners reassert themselves in the marathon.
"If we compete against some of the naturally talented athletes that we're going up against, we felt we had to train athletes smarter than we ever have," Salazar said. "There's no doubt that the African athletes, particularly, are the greatest distance runners in the world, and to compete against them we feel we've got to train as smartly as possible - basically not leave any stone unturned in trying to develop athletes."
Clarke and Salazar created the Oregon Project in late 2001. The original group included former Oregon runner Karl Keska, who has since dropped out of the program but still lives with the group. Along with Browne, the group currently includes Dave Davis of Portland, Mike Donnelly, Chad Johnson and Phillimon Hanneck, an American citizen originally from Zimbabwe.
Browne, who went to West Point before moving to Boulder, Colo., to train, joined the project in early 2002. He immediately moved into the house in northwest Portland that simulates the thin oxygen at altitude.
Within a month, Salazar said, blood tests showed Browne to be using oxygen at a markedly more efficient rate.
And by in effect sleeping at 12,000 feet but training close to sea level, Browne experienced the benefits of altitude while still keeping an intense training regimen that would have been difficult in thinner air.
"The whole beauty of this idea is live high, train low," Salazar said. "You can have your cake and eat it, too."
Living at altitude while running 20 miles a day and employing recovery methods like ice baths and massage, all with Nike footing the bill, has Browne thinking positively about the Oregon Project.
"With this kind of support, I think we can get our foot in the door, and that's as important as anything else," Browne said. "You want to be able to be at least competitive, and it's getting harder and harder."
The Oregon Project, though, is getting a reputation as a program that could make it easier. Tom McArdle, a distance runner about to graduate from Dartmouth, visited the Nike research lab in late May and is considering joining the program.
McArdle says there are multiple benefits to joining the Oregon Project.
"The backing they have, the research, the coach, the training guys," he said. "This is the premier training group in the country. Nobody has better backing.
"It's very well-known among the running community, what they're doing here."
McArdle could be part of what Salazar hopes is a new wave of American distance runners. In the 1980s, the coach said, running failed to market itself as a sport and began losing children to other pursuits, particularly soccer.
Salazar himself has two sons who are athletes. But one, Tony, is a walk-on receiver for the Oregon football team, and the other plays collegiate soccer.
But recently, Salazar said, high school distance running has improved nationally. That is trickling up to colleges, which will eventually translate into an infusion of post-collegiate talent.
And while high school distance runners compete at 3,000 meters on the track, and collegians mostly at 5,000 or 10,000 meters, Salazar and his runners see the marathon as an entry point for a new group of Americans to be competitive post-collegiately.
"In track, in the 5,000 or 10,000, the Africans are so fast and dominant, it's very hard to break in at the medal level," Browne said. "But in the marathon, there's just some neat opportunities, that if you can get yourself to a certain level of fitness, on that given day you can do what Bill Rogers and Frank Shorter and Alberto did."
In listing those three, Browne invoked the names of a four-time Boston and New York marathon champ, a two-time Olympic medalist and his own highly decorated coach, respectively.
It's a sense of history Salazar would appreciate.
It's a level of excellence he hopes to duplicate.
Alberto Salazar, a former Oregon athlete and marathon star, watches equipment monitoring Dan Browne at the Nike research lab in Beaverton.
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|Title Annotation:||Based in Portland, the Oregon Project is geared toward recovering some of the country's former marathon success; Sports|
|Publication:||The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)|
|Date:||Jun 3, 2003|
|Next Article:||Despite success, Ducks leery of regional format.|