Stonehill cross country/track & field Hall of Famer Mario Fraioli, '04, (right) will coach Costa Rican marathoner Cesar Lizano at the London Olympics.
Auburn's Fraioli editor, Olympic coach
By John Conceison
TELEGRAM & GAZETTE STAFF
When Mario Fraioli left Central Mass. for sunny San Diego two years ago, he really didn't have a spotlight in London on his radar.
Sure, he enjoyed success as a runner, yet he was a long way from an Olympian. He has also succeeded in coaching aspiring athletes, but none had been of international-competition caliber.
Yet the former Auburn High and Stonehill College standout will be marching into Olympic Stadium Friday for opening ceremonies. He'll be with the Costa Rican delegation, as coach of the nation's lone men's marathoner, Cesar Lizano.
Costa Rica is sending 11 athletes, including women's marathoner Gabriela Trana, who will carry her nation's flag on Friday.
Fraioli's unexpected road to Olympus began in January with an email out of the blue from Lizano's friend and agent, Mario Reyes. "I had never heard of (Lizano)," Fraioli said. "At first, I thought one of my buddies was messing with me."
Apparently, Reyes had been following Fraioli's training articles for the Competitor Group's website and magazine while helping recruit a coach for Lizano, who finished 11th in last fall's Chicago Marathon in 2 hours, 17 minutes, 50 seconds to secure the Olympic "B" qualifying standard.
Fraioli, who is a senior producer/editor for Competitor, entered discussions with Lizano and Reyes, as did a coach from Oregon and one from Mexico. In late January, Team Lizano welcomed Fraioli, 26 weeks before the Olympic marathon.
With that, Fraioli, though not fluent in Spanish, began communicating with Lizano via Skype, explaining how the next six months would play out. Fraioli had taken six years of Spanish, in high school and college, "but I hadn't used it in the last 10 years," he said. "I had to focus to sharpen my skills. It's funny how quickly a lot of it came back."
Fraioli (right) watches Lizano during training. The Olympic marathon will be run on August 12.
"(Fraioli) has been a key player in this final process to London 2012," Lizano said by email. "I've learned a lot of athletic training, sports vision and most importantly (he has) helped me to believe in me, my strengths and to give the best every minute on the road."
For the most part, Fraioli has been coaching by iPhone, sending workouts and back-and-forth text communications daily in Spanish. Lizano, who speaks some English, has visited San Diego twice, once for four days in early March and again for two weeks of hard training in May. Fraioli visited Lizano in Costa Rica for three days at the end of April.
"We really clicked right away," said Fraioli, who like Lizano is 30 years old. "It was almost as if we were friends for a long time. It was great to have him here — it made things a little more real."
"The connection was immediate … it was only a matter of time, and we were on the same page," Lizano said. "This despite the language difference, but the technology has helped us greatly in this regard because we speak every day about my training process and other matters."
During the visit to Costa Rica, Lizano and Fraioli took the podium for a news conference, on a holiday with the nation's seven major media outlets attending. They also attracted a considerable crowd at a track workout.
"That's a really, welcoming, fast-growing running community," said Fraioli, who was an All-American at Stonehill and has run a 2:28 marathon. "It was great to be in Cesar's backyard. He's quite a role model for a lot of people."
Lizano also spent two weeks in April at a training camp in London, accustoming himself to the environment while being prepared to run the London Marathon in an emergency in case a Costa Rica countryman ran a faster Olympic qualifier. Neither rival did, so Lizano ran a half marathon there in a personal-best 1:06:42.
He trained along the course where he will be running in a couple of weeks.
"It's a criterion-type course, with a ton of turns, more than 90 of them," Fraioli said. "There are no straightaways more than a half mile, and there's also an area where there are cobblestones on the street. Familiarity is huge — I'm glad he was able to get there in advance."
Fraioli has had Lizano in races of all distances to prepare, from 5K to half marathons. During his later trip to San Diego, he placed third in the Rock 'n' Roll Half Marathon, to U.S. Olympians Meb Keflezighi and Ryan Hall.
Team Lizano is reasonable with expectations since Keflezighi, Hall and other favorites have run the 26.2 miles in around 2:04. The Olympic "A" qualifying standard is 2:15, the Costa Rican record is 2:13:23 (Jose Luis Molina, 1996, Los Angeles), a range that may be more realistic.
"Medaling is not something we're thinking about," said Fraioli, who leaves for England on Wednesday, two days after Lizano. "The main goal is to be as competitive as possible and be as fit as possible. We want to put him in a position to run his personal best."
Fraioli, who has been working with runners eight years and presently coaches 15 athletes, is intent on helping Lizano reach another level. "We're planning to keep this relationship going," Fraioli said. "We want to see how fast he can go."