Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Running News - Gebrselassie skips Beijing, Shay's cause of death

Gebrselassie will skip Beijing marathon

(CNN) -- World record holder Haile Gebrselassie has again ruled out competing in the marathon at the Beijing Olympics, telling a Spanish newspaper that he would be "committing suicide" by running in unfavorable conditions.

Gebrselassie, who suffers from asthma, told El Pais that he would instead try to qualify for the Ethiopian team in the shorter 10,000 meters track event. He was Olympic champion over the distance in Atlanta and Sydney.

His decision comes a day after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) announced that it would consider postponing events at the Games such as the marathon if they felt conditions were unsafe.

"I have no intention of committing suicide in Beijing," Gebrselassie was quoted.

"I know that several other athletes are starting to have doubts about this.

"It's purely a personal decision that I have taken to protect my health. I do not want to endanger my future. I do not want to kill myself in Beijing.

"The marathon will be impossible because of the pollution, heat and humidity."

Gebrselassie added that he would attempt to finish his career with victory in the marathon at the London Olympics in 2012 when he would be 39.

Concerns about pollution led the IOC medical commission to hire independent experts to conduct a study into air quality.

They concuded that heat and humidity would pose just as big a threat to long distance athletes.

"We find that the competitions, although not necessarily under ideal conditions at every moment ... will be good for athletes to compete during the Beijing Games."

However, the IOC's commission conceded there will be some risk to competitors in endurance events "that include minimum one hour continuous physical efforts at high level - urban road cycling, mountain bike, marathon, marathon swimming, triathlon and road walk."

And the risk is deemed high enough for the IOC to begin working on "procedures which will allow a 'plan B' to be activated for such events if necessary."

The 34-year-old Gebrselassie holds the world marathon record of two hours four minutes and 26 seconds.

Heart Condition Led to Runner’s Death

Published: March 19, 2008

More than four months after Ryan Shay collapsed in Central Park during the United States Olympic marathon trials, the New York City medical examiner determined that his death was caused by an irregular heartbeat that stemmed from an enlarged and scarred heart.

Shay, who was 28 when he died Nov. 3 in pursuit of a berth in the Beijing Olympics, was found to have an enlarged heart at age 14, according to his father, Joe Shay. The medical examiner could not determine the origin of the patchy scars, called fibrosis.

Ellen Borakove, a spokeswoman for the medical examiner, said she could not comment on the specific results of the toxicology tests as a matter of policy, nor could she reveal what chemicals were tested for. Joe Shay said none of the toxicology tests were positive, although he did not know what tests were conducted.

“I believe it was a fair and accurate assessment,” Joe Shay said Tuesday in a telephone interview from the family’s home in Central Lake, Mich. He was informed of the results by telephone and e-mail messages from the medical examiner’s office and was awaiting a copy of the full report.

“Everything that could be done was done,” he said, “and it’s great that they devoted so much time to this.”

Shay arrived in New York last fall with aspirations of making his first Olympic team, but about five and a half miles into the race he collapsed. He was taken to Lenox Hill Hospital and was pronounced dead at 8:46 a.m., while the 26.2-mile race was still under way.

The 2003 United States marathon champion, Shay was seemingly as fit as any elite endurance athlete, leading to speculation after his death that he may have had a condition known as athlete’s heart, an enlarged heart developed from training. Dr. Paul Thompson, a cardiologist in Hartford who specializes in heart disease in athletes, said the scars detected in the autopsy probably ruled that out.

“With athlete’s heart, you shouldn’t have fibrosis,” Dr. Thompson said.

“Patchy fibrosis means something in the past injured the heart. Usually a viral infection leads to the death of some cells, and when heart cells die, they’re replaced by fibrotic tissue, which is tough, stringy stuff. These tough scars can set up abnormal electrical currents. If normal conductivity gets blocked, it can result in fast abnormal rhythms and a person can die.”

Joe Shay said the medical examiner’s office told him the scars suggested “old damage.”

“But I don’t know what old is,” he said. “Could go back to when he was 14 years old, because that’s when he had the pneumonia. I think they’re going to archive some of the samples, because in 10 years they may be able to test. Right now, they don’t.”

As the medical examiner investigated Shay’s death, the Shay family became concerned that a genetic disease called hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, known as HCM, was the cause. HCM is the leading cause of sudden cardiac death in young people in the United States.

“I have a son that runs 80-100 miles a week,” Joe Shay said, referring to Stephan, the youngest of his eight children and an athlete at Brigham Young University. “I wanted to know, ‘Are we going to have the same problems here?’ ”

Signs of HCM include the thickening of the heart’s walls and a disarray of muscle cells that would normally appear aligned as bricks in a wall. But a group of cardiologists determined that Shay’s heart did not reveal that condition, so they chose not to conduct three types of genetic tests.

Shay was found to have an enlarged heart when he was a teenager. Three years after having a chest X-ray when he had pneumonia, Shay was in a minor car accident and had another chest X-ray at the same hospital. “They compared the two X-rays and said his heart was getting bigger,” Joe Shay said.

The condition never seemed to hamper Shay. He won 11 state high school titles, an N.C.A.A. championship at 10,000 meters while at Notre Dame, and the marathon national championship in 2003. He ran a personal best of 2 hours 14 minutes 8 seconds and placed ninth at the 2004 New York City Marathon.

Shay’s younger brother Nathan said he was found to have a heart arrhythmia during his own running career at Notre Dame and quit the sport after a doctor said he might risk a heart attack while competing.

Shay’s wife, Alicia Craig, also a world-class runner, has resumed training in Flagstaff, Ariz.

She said in a telephone interview Tuesday that she planned to compete for an Olympic berth in the 10,000 meters at the United States track and field trials this summer in Eugene, Ore.

Ryan Hall, the winner of the men’s marathon trials, has said he will dedicate his Olympic marathon to Shay.

On Nov. 2, several months after the Beijing Games, Shay’s parents plan to attend the New York City Marathon for a tribute to their son and the running community. They will stand near the Central Park boathouse, where Shay took his final steps.

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