Theoretically, you have a year to put together a field for a race that will be over in less than 16 minutes.
Then an athletic federation on the other side of the Atlantic Ocean does something seemingly innocuous, like move an event one week earlier, and suddenly, you’ve got the butterfly effect.
The tsunami hit John Tope last week, when he found out that Emily Chebet would not be coming to the Freihofer’s 5k Run for Women today. Athletics Kenya refused to let her leave the country, fly overseas and fly back almost immediately, with the Commonwealth Games trials rescheduled for next weekend.
Chebet isn’t just another face in the crowd, she’s the defending Freihofer’s champion, the course record-holder and a two-time IAAF World Cross Country champion.
Emily has left the building.
It’s a measure of the enduring quality of the Freihofer’s Run, and the expertise and quick reflexes of Tope, in particular, though, that the race has been able to absorb such a body blow and present another stellar field for today’s 36th annual race.
We’re getting a window into the wheeling and dealing of a recruiter, because the easygoing Tope had to do his best work at a point when most of his work had long been done.
“As soon as I knew, I started calling agents that I have good connections with,” Tope said on Friday. “First of all, who’s got a P1 [athlete] visa? We tried to get Esther Chemtai, who was second last year, but her visa had expired.
“Then I talked to one agent, Gianni DeMadonna, and, bless his soul, I’ve got Lucy [Kabuu] and Afera [Godfay]. I was like, ‘Great.’ ”
Kabuu is a two-time Kenyan Olympian, and Godfay is a young Ethiopian with a 15:01 personal record in the 5,000 meters and a 31:08 in the 10,000.
You lose Chebet, but the replacement Kabuu could go ahead and win Freihofer’s, anyway, despite the presence of two-time champion Mamitu Daska.
Time for a little handicapping.
Race director George Regan is picking Kabuu because he believes Daska’s sharp performance at altitude in Boulder, Colo., just five days ago will take a toll today.
Tope, who lives in Denver and also recruits for the Cleveland Marathon, the Bix 7 in Davenport, Iowa, and the Des Moines Marathon, hopes that there’s at least a pack of four through the first mile and at least two together through 3k.
“You never want to lose your defending champion,” he said. “That’s always your top priority when you start putting the field together. And she was in. She was totally in. Her agent was working on her ticket and all that. I appealed, and they wouldn’t budge. They’re very strict like that, them and the Ethiopians.
“You expect to lose 10 percent to injuries, but you hope it’s from the bottom of your field, not the top.”