Born June 18, 1966 in Minneapolis, Mn 6-0.5/1.84m 145lbs./65kg Hopkins-Lindbergh HS, Minnetonka, Mn '84 Dartmouth '88 PRs (outdoor): 3,000 8:00.0 '91 5,000 13:44.05 '93 10,000 28:23.80 '93 PRs (road): 5K 14;02 '91 10K 28:58' '91 10M 48:47 '96 Half-Marathon 1:00:48' '95 Marathon 2:08:47' '94 Major Competitions: 1985 6)USA Junior 5,000 14)NCAA XC 1986 10)NCAA 5,000 4)NCAA XC 1987 6)NCAA 10,000 11)NCAA XC 8)USA XC 1988 3)NCAA 10,000 15)Olympic Trials 10,000 2)USA XC 1989 19)World XC Trials 2)USA 10,000 3)USA XC 1990 59)World XC 6)USA 10,000 1)USA XC 1991 83)World XC 14)USA 10,000 2)Twin Cities Marathon 1992 3)Olympic Trials Marathon 17)Olympic Games Marathon 6)USA XC 1993 dnf)USA 10,0000 2)New York Marathon 1994 7)Boston Marathon 2)New York Marathon 7)USA XC 1995 2)Los Angeles Marathon 1996 1)Olympic Trials Marathon 31)Olympic Games Marathon
America's top marathoner for the last several years, Minnesotan Bob Kempainen is aiming at a very busy 1997. It won't be on the macadam, however. Last fall he began an internship in internal medicine at Hennepin County Medical Center in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The pace of the work, he expects, will keep him from doing any competitive running.
No high school superstar, Kempainen developed under the tutelage of Vin Lananna, who recruited him to Dartmouth (Lananna is now the head coach at Stanford, where his teams won both the men's and women's NCAA cross country titles last fall).
A 30:14 for 10,000m as a frosh showed Kempainen's potential. The next year, he made the NCAA final in the 5,000m. By the time of his senior year in 1988, he ran 28:42.51, placed third in the NCAA's and made it to the Olympic Trials.
After college, a couple of years spent concentrating on the 10,000 gave him a runner-up finish at nationals, but no great times or breakthroughs. He and Lananna decided the time had come to move up.
The results of Kempainen's first marathon, the Twin Cities race, indicated he had made the right choice. He finished second in 2:12:12. The next year, at the Olympic Trials, he ran a solid 2:12:54 for third place, becoming an Olympian at age 25. He followed that up with a 17th in Barcelona in 2:15:53. "I was a novice," he says of that race.
In 1993, Kempainen ran his fastest track race ever, a 28:23 10k, but failed to finish the national championship race. So, in the fall he returned to the roads, finishing second in New York in a PR 2:11:03.
From 1994 on, Kempainen has been ranked as the number one U.S. marathoner. His Boston performance that year captured the imagination of running fans, and his name will probably be best known for that race, even though he only finished seventh. Running with a tailwind on the predominantly downhill Boston course, Kempainen blasted a 2:08:47. That mark is significantly faster than the recognized American record of 2:10:04, but is not accorded full record status because of the slope of the course.
Last February, Kempainen won the 1996 Olympic Trials Marathon, ironically his first win in any major marathon. His 2:12:45 victory earned him a cool $100K, but also what many would consider an embarrassment. In the closing stages of the race, he battled severe stomach cramps and vomited repeatedly, a scene that television journalists delighted in showing.
Nike later crafted an ad campaign around the incident, something Kempainen claimed didn't bother him. "I really don't care," he said. "I've got other things on my mind. It's part of their 'blood and guts' campaign. Given how much help they've given me over the years, if they wanted it, I had no problem with it."
As Kempainen prepped for the Olympics, disaster struck in the form of tendinitis in the iliotibial bands in both legs. He lost nearly two months of running and waited till nearly the last moment before deciding to go through with the Olympic marathon.
He said prior to the race, "Vin asked if I wanted to run. I asked him, 'Do you think I should? Do you think I can be competitive?' He said 'Yes.' If I can be competitive, there's an automatic decision to run, even if my training hasn't been ideal. I'm not going to be walking to the line feeling like I'm in the best shape of my life."
The race must have hurt. Kempainen planned to run an "evenly-paced, efficient race" and avoid the surges at the front of the pack. Hoping to improve on his Barcelona placing, he trudged back to the Olympic stadium in 31st place. "This is the first marathon I really died in," he said of his 2:18:38.
After the medical residency, will Kempainen return to serious running? "The next couple of years, timewise, it's not going to be feasible," he says. "I'll keep my options open. It's hard to know how you're going to feel two years from now."