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Monday, August 28, 2006

All-Time Top Tens -- Men's 800 meters

Eighth in a continuing series.

#10. Joaquim Cruz, Brazil
#9. Mel Sheppard, USA
#8. Alberto Juantorena, Cuba
#7. Ted Meredith, USA
#6. John Woodruff, USA
#5. Douglas Lowe, UK
#4. Sebastian Coe, UK

#3. Mal Whitfield, United States
Born October 24, 1924, Bay City, Texas

Whitfield's accomplishments are polar opposites of Seb Coe's. While Coe set amazing records but almost never won when it was truly important, Whitfield almost never lost but never even came within a second of the then-current World Record (1:46.0 by Germany's Rudolph Harbig in 1939). Whitfield won two Olympic gold medals, with five #1 rankings over a six-year period and 85 wins in 88 finals in his best streak.

Whitfield's off-track accomplishments are little-known but highly important. Kip Keino has called him the "father of African athletics". Almost immediately after his running days were over, he accepted short-term jobs developing athletics in Liberia and then Nigeria, and then spent the remainder of his career in the United States Information Agency where he worked to develop sports in 132 countries, mostly in Africa.

His daughter Fredricka is a CNN anchor. He was the first black athlete to win the Sullivan Award, some seven years after Jackie Robinson broke baseball's color barrier.

Year Rank Mark Meets, Etc
1947 7 1:50.9 2)AAU
1948 1 1:49.2 1)NCAA, 1)Oly Trials, 1)Oly Gms; undefeated
1949 1 1:49.8 1)NCAA, 1)AAU; undefeated
1950 1 1:48.5* 1)AAU; only one loss
1951 6 1:51.2* 1)Pan-Am, 1)AAU
1952 1 1:48.0 1)Oly Trials, 1)Oly Gms; undefeated
1953 1 1:47.9+ 1)AAU; undefeated
1954 7 1:49.1* 1)AAU
1:48.3 4)Pan-Am
1:48.2 3)AAU
* = 880y time less 0.7 seconds
+ = 800m time en route to 880y

Links: Wikipedia -- USATF Hall of Fame -- The Whitfield Foundation
Books: Learning to Run -- Beyond the Finish Line

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Why Am I A Superfan? Part 2

I read a lot of political stuff online. I'm a progressive, liberal, leftist, whatever you want to call it. Growing up in the place (inner-city Toledo) and time (70s and 80s) that I did, as a teacher's kid without a lot of money, I'm tremendously aware of the issue of class in this country that most other people totally ignore. So when I stumbled onto this article about UPN's Veronica Mars, it held my interest. I've never seen the show, but I'd like to fix that.

Now I'm a high school teacher in the same area of Toledo where I grew up. Whenever a really good TV show or movie about teenage life comes down the pike, like Freaks and Geeks, I tend to examine its relevance not only to my own teenage years but to the kids I see every day. Veronica Mars is apparently a very class-conscious show. Kids in my school are also class-conscious (as kids tend to be everywhere) but the divide there is relatively small. It's a very middle-class/working-class area, and most kids have enough but no one has big money. Ditto for the schools I went to.

In this context, however, I started thinking about the boys' cross-country team that I coach. How do they fit into the class, racial and other social division inherent in high school life? In the best of situations, sports bring people together for a common purpose and they can, at least for a moment, forget about all that other crap. Football's need for large numbers of athletes and diverse body shapes and skills to all work together gives it the best chance for this kind of thing. It certainly was the case at my high school, a school with about a 50/50 racial split and little cooperation between the two groups; just about the only thing the races came together for was football, and they experienced decent success. Our track team was different--I was one of only two white kids on the whole team (we were even more successful, with a state championship).

But that's other sports. What about distance runners? We generally don't fit into any group. Cross-country teams are usually a bunch of dorks. High school runners tend to relish their outsider status, and I think it's because they can avoid the "choosing sides" mentality that teenagers in the limelight get forced into, and can just be themselves.

Track & Field News, anti-doping

I've never been comfortable with the attitude towards doping held by the self-titled Bible of the Sport. Rarely have I been able to point to any exact words, but the general attitude seems to be one of disdain for those who worry their pretty little heads about drug use.

Their message board has a separate section for discussing the issue, as not to sully the rest of the discussion with things that, you know, actually have a bearing on track and field. Yesterday as the webcast of the Memorial Ivo Van Damme meet was about to begin, managing editor E. Garry Hill put his foot in it.
As noted awhile back on the Current Events forum; this [Dope Talk] page is closed tomorrow anyway, to give the real fans a chance sit back and enjoy the scent of a few roses instead of the sewage plant.
Implying, of course, that anyone who cares about doping isn't a real fan. He was quickly and forcefully criticized for this, and tried to backpedal but ended up pissing people off more. And these are the T&FN fans; over at Let'sRun they'd haul him off and shoot him in the public square...if they hadn't decided long ago he wasn't worth the effort.

I've only had a few encounters with Hill, some positive and some negative. My attitude went sour a few years ago when I posted something on the T&FN board; I suggested Vladimir Kuts' racing style and multiple heart attacks at an unusually young age could have been explained by drug use. Hill torched me for daring to even suggest it, yet in other situations he has defended the members of the 1968 US Olympic team who admitted steroid use (because they were not banned until 1972). We know the Soviet weightlifters were using pure testosterone as early as 1954 and possibly sooner, so I had the data to back up my speculation. It was the two-faced attitude that really got me, though.

Meanwhile, the Toronto Star's Dave Feschuk agrees with me that doping busts are not inherently bad, merely a means to improvement. He quotes Steve Cram as saying "There is enough time to believe that an ambitious British athlete may just find him or herself competing in London six years from now with a reasonable amount of assurance that the opposition is based purely on athletic ability". And isn't this what it's all about?

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

NCAA Championship Decision Soon

To be made tommorrow afternoon. Read up at my Trackshark blog.

Justin Gatlin News

From the AP:
Sprinter Justin Gatlin received an eight-year ban from track and field Tuesday, avoiding a lifetime penalty in exchange for his cooperation with doping authorities and because an earlier positive drug test was deemed an honest mistake.
In a nutshell, Gatlin will not contest the validity of the tests, may not admit he knowingly or purposefully took PEDs, and likely will turn "supergrass" on Trevor Graham and help bust the coach and possibly the remainder of his training group.

ESPN's Eric Adelson notes the problems with trying to stamp out doping with our current system of penalization:
Cheaters have no incentive to talk. Not one. If they admit they took steroids, they lose everything they ever worked for. If they don't, maybe there's a chance of getting away with something.
I came up with a simple and workable system which would not add extra penalties for being honest, as the current system does. I do think it would work.

Monday, August 21, 2006

All-Time Top Tens -- Men's 800 meters

Seventh in a continuing series.

#10. Joaquim Cruz, Brazil
#9. Mel Sheppard, USA
#8. Alberto Juantorena, Cuba
#7. Ted Meredith, USA
#6. John Woodruff, USA
#5. Douglas Lowe, UK

#4. Sebastian Coe (United Kingdom)
Born September 29, 1956, Chiswick, London

You may wonder why Seb Coe, considered one of the all-time greats, is ranked as low as fourth. There's a very simple reason; winning major international championships is considered very important, and Coe rarely did that. In two Olympic attempts he took silver both times. In three European Championships he took a bronze, a silver, and a gold. He won the European Cup twice and the World Cup once, but those competitions are of lesser importance.

He did put together an impressive streak in the late '70s and early '80s, winning 32 of 35 finals over a four-year span. Two of those three losses came at the worst possible time--the Olympics and European Championships.

He also put on some spectacular displays of record-setting. Much has been said about the two world records he set in this event, one in 1979 and the other in 1981. I'll try to add something new to the discussion; he held the world record longer than any other athlete, and was responsible for a greater improvement on existing world records than anyone else.

Amongst the various other things to know about Coe is that he was elected to Parliament as a Tory in 1992, that he was made a life peer as Baron Coe in 2000, that he heads the organizing committee for the 2012 London Olympics and is considered a strong candidate to someday become IOC president, that he owns a chain of health clubs, that "Lord Seb Coe" is an anagram for "So, cold beer?", and he joined Lord Burghley as the only men to have ever succeeded in the Great Court Run.

Year Rank Mark Meets, Etc
1977 -- 1:44.95 1)Euro Indoor
1978 3 1:43.97 3)Euro Ch
1979 1 1:42.33 WB 1)Euro Cup; undefeated (10 meets)
1980 2 1:44.7 2)Oly Gms; 7 wins in 9 meets
1981 1 1:41.73 WB 1)Euro Cup, 1)W Cup; undefeated (11 meets)
1982 1 1:44.48 2)Euro Ch; only loss (5 meets)
1983 10 1:43.80
1984 2 1:43.64 2)Oly Gms; only loss
1985 3 1:43.07
1986 1 1:44.10 1)Euro Ch; 6 wins in 7 meets
1987 -- 1:46.18
1988 -- 1:43.93
1989 8 1:43.38
1990 -- 1:47.24 6)Comm Gms

Links: Wikipedia -- Sporting Heroes

Boston Marathon breaks with tradition

It had been rumored that the BAA would move the traditional noontime start up a few hours. Now it's official -- 10 AM start (second wave 10:30, elite women 9:30).

Unlike such sports as college football, road racing is not a sport steeped in tradition. Boston is one of the few exceptions. I've heard all kinds of reasons put forth as to why this was a good idea, and if you go to your popular running message boards you'll see a lot of people complaining about the change. From race management and promotion standpoints, I see the plusses. From a personal standpoint, a big minus is I can no longer watch the whole thing from my neighborhood sports bar (and even for a guy like me, knockin' 'em back in my own living room at 9:30 AM seems a bit extreme). No one has mentioned how this will change the traditional Red Sox game.

What I have seen precious little of is sober, reasoned discussion of the time change from the viewpoint of either a fan or a runner. I did Boston once, and a 10:00 start might have helped me keep a more normal pre-race ritual, but overall I was there to be part of one of our sport's greatest spectacles more than anything else.

Anyone care to chime in with a cheer or a jeer?

A new event?

From Expatica:
BERLIN - Rapidly clicking her high-heeled shoes, Nadine Sonnabend, 24, ran along 80 metres of a Berlin street Saturday to claim a 10,000-euro shopping voucher offered by a fashion magazine.
Race organizers timed her at 12.0 seconds. Competitors all had to wear heels of seven centimetres or higher.
What, no automatic timing?

Sunday, August 20, 2006

Marion Jones reactions

Posted on the Track & Field News message board. They range from "shocked" (what planet does that person live on?) to "she's been doing it her whole career".

Saturday, August 19, 2006

An adjusted World Record progression

With the Jones affair finally coming out the way we figured it would, it's time to revisit an interesting statistical situation.

Since about 1990, when random out-of-competition testing was finally introduced in the wake of the Ben Johnson scandal, most women's world records have not been seriously threatened. Within the next two years the eastern European totalitarian Communist regimes fell and their state-sponsored doping programs went with them. Prior to 1990, "doping control" was in name only; in practical terms drug use was basically not prohibited.

So a stat-head such as myself finds it useful to begin a new world record progression in 1992. To further make sense of what we have, I only use marks by athletes who have never been caught doping (and also ignore strange one-off results by Chinese athletes in 1993 and 1997). In the sprints, it's a very interesting change. Here's what I've got; if I accidentally include someone who has taken a "doping vacation", please let me know and I'll fix it.

10.94 Carlette Guidry USA New York 6/14/1991
10.82 Irina Privalova RUS Moscow 6/22/1992
10.82 Gail Devers USA Lausanne 7/7/1993
10.82 Gail Devers USA Stuttgart 8/16/1993
10.82 Gwen Torrance USA Paris 9/3/1994
10.82 Gwen Torrance USA Atlanta 6/15/1996
10.73 Christine Arron FRA Budapest 8/19/1998

That last time by Arron sticks out like a sore thumb. Her career second-best time, 10.81, was in the semis at the same meet (the 1998 European Championships). After that, her best is 10.85.

In short, be suspicious of anyone who can consistently run sub-10.8. Sherone Simpson has put up 10.87 and 10.82 this year; no red flags here.

Movie Review - The Jericho Mile

The Jericho Mile was on ESPN Classic yesterday. I taped in and watched it this morning; it was on during the Zurich Weltklasse webcast and then I was busy at a road race after that. I'd never seen it until today; it's considered one of the classic running movies. Apparently a remake is in the works.

This is almost the prototypical 1970s movie. Filmed entirely within California's Folsom State Prison (yes, that Folsom) it portrays the inmates as real human beings instead of animals. Part of the attitude of that more liberal time was the belief that all people have inherent and equal value merely by being alive. Some inmates were portrayed as positive characters, others negative, but in general they were like people in the rest of society. The theme music is taken from the Rolling Stones' "Sympathy for the Devil", suggesting compassion for a man who did something terrible. The film also has the hallmarks of a "working class movie" such as Smokey and the Bandit or Every Which Way But Loose, a genre that has all but died out.

Like a lot of sports films, it suffers from less-than-believable action. The action, however, is almost beside the point. Really, this is far more of a prison movie than a running movie, it just uses running as a means to tell a story--which is that personal redemption is possible even in a world where society at large views certain people as throwaways, to be locked up away from sight and forgotten.

By the way, the look I was going for in my teens and early 20s is a dead ringer for the protagonist Rain Murphy:but it came out more like Benny Andersson:
Is it a good movie? Well, the storyline is a bit predictable, and the dialogue isn't so great. It does succeed at revealing part of the human condition, and that makes it worthwhile. It's certainly better than what followed it on ESPN Classic; Four Minutes, a piece of hackneyed crap.

Have You Heard the News?

This morning I turned on ESPNews to see if the Tigers won last night (they did not). I saw on the ticker that they would be reporting some track news; I figured it would be Asafa Powell's umpteenth 9.77 yesterday in Zurich.

But when it comes around, it says Marion Jones tested positive for EPO. Yesterday, I'd read she left Zurich in a hurry early in the morning, citing "personal reasons", and it doesn't take much of an imagination to come up with a reason. Ato Boldon had recently hinted online that more heads will roll, and maybe this was it. Or maybe not, and there's more to come.

Of course, there's the usual heavy criticism and various worries that this will destroy international-level track. Let's get real folks; this is about as stunning a discovery as when Nathan Lane publicly admitted his homosexuality. It's not as if no one ever suspected her. Back in June, an anonymouse USATF official wished she'd just go away. As they say, be careful what you wish for.

Are there any top-level athletes who aren't on the juice? Well, it's difficult to prove a negative. Certain top-level coaches have good reputations, though. Clyde Hart's training group includes undisputed 400-meter king Jeremy Wariner and queen Sanya Richards. Art Venegas, one of the world's best throws coaches, reportedly threw Brent Noone out of his training camp on the mere suspicion of steroid use (a suspicion which turned out correct). Sweden's champion jumpers look like human beings and I've never heard any whispers about them. I'm not sure any world-class pole vaulters have ever come up positive. And so on.

No, the sport will go on and do fine. It's going to be a painful few years as various long-overdue drug enforcement upgrades come on line, but I predict a better sport in a decade. Maybe I'm wrong to be so optimistic, but there's got to be an increasing level of fear amongst the dopers.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The Other Major International Action

The Zurich Weltklasse meet is about to start over on WCSN, but there's another big meet going on this weekend -- the World Junior Championships.

Ohio's two representatives, state record holders Jessica Beard of Euclid and Emily Pendleton of Elmore, were not quite up to their usual standards. Beard ran fifth in the 400 meters in a time of 52.51, the first defeat she's suffered at the distance this year. Pendleton was ninth in her discus qualifying group with a best mark of 152' 6" and did not advance to the final. Both had extremely long high school seasons made even longer by these championships, so being a bit off their best is almost unavoidable.

Both are high school juniors, so there's more to come!

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Fantasy League / Zurich

There has been little to no action in the World Athletics Tour over the last two weeks, so I have not updated standings. There was significant action, however, as the European Championships and African Championships were both held. These probably ought to factor in the fantasy league scoring, and they do but only indirectly--they are selection meets for the World Cup, which does score in the league and rather heavily.

Tommorrow is the Weltklasse im Zurich, the "Olympics in one night" and the fourth stop on the Golden League. A quick summary of how it's all played out so far...

In contention for the big Golden League jackpot:
Asafa Powell, Jeremy Wariner, Sanya Richards, Turinesh Dibaba

In contention for smaller jackpot:
those above plus Keninese Bekele, Susanna Kallur, Blanka Vlasic

Selected for World Cup:
all the men save Bershawn Jackson, Dwight Phillips, Justin Gatlin, Brad Walker, Ladji Doucoure
all the women save Blanka Vlasic, Michelle Perry, Tirunesh Dibaba, Meseret Defar, Ejagayehu Dibaba, Veronica Campbell, Christine Arron

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

News of the past

From Reuters: "Documents show systematic doping in Czechoslovakia"
Secret documents show Communist Czechoslovakia systematically and officially administered steroids and other illegal substances to athletes, including former world champion discus thrower Imrich Bugar.

The documents, copies of which were obtained by Reuters from the daily Mlada Fronta Dnes, which first uncovered them, show doctors supplied banned substances to athletes through the 1980s, when Czechoslovakia had some of its greatest sporting successes.

Coaches and high-ranking sports and government officials also had knowledge of the programme, part of a Cold War campaign to show supremacy over the West, the documents showed.
This is hardly surprising. It was long suspected that all of the Eastern Bloc totalitarian regimes had systematic doping programs. Detailed documentation on East Germany came out in the early nineties. It was always suspected elsewhere, but now we have proof on athletes such as this one:
Yes, this is a woman. It's Jarmila Kratochvilova, who still holds the 800 meters World Record of 1:53.28.

By the mid-to-late 1960s, the worry of immediate and total nuclear annihilation was muted a bit, and the Cold War turned to sports as a venue for fierce competition. These doping programs were part of it--and while the government stayed out of it in the West, sports officials in the democratic capitalist countries certainly covered up a good deal of drug use as well. Still, they were far behind their Communist adversaries on this front.

It's generally assumed that putting such massive efforts into sports was done to make these totalitarian regimes look better in Western eyes. I think these assumptions are dead wrong. A year ago I read Thrown Free: How the East German Sports Machine Molded, Trained, and Broke an Olympic Hero and How He Won His Fight for Freedom, a book about East German discus thrower Wolfgang Schmidt. It was a tremendously frightening book, as I finally got an understandable idea of what life under totalitarianism would be like. I also recognized some things about life in the United States that I do not like. It also was a sports-related companion to heavier reading like that of George Orwell or Noam Chomsky.

In short, I think the Eastern Bloc used sporting success to subdue their own population. I also believe the West did and does the same, just not as well. In 1996 the Olympic torch relay came through my small college town. As the runner came down Main Street, some of the people I was with spontaneously burst out in cheers of "U-S-A! U-S-A! U-S-A!" I barely even thought it was strange at first, and then I said to myself, This is an international event celebrating the brotherhood of man, not a military parade. Nor were these people jarheads or wingnuts; they were graduate students in creative writing. But they were so thoroughly indoctrinated in the idea of the Olympics as a vehicle for promoting nationalism that they could think no other way. And this was among a group of free-thinkers in an open and democratic society. Imagine how a government which tightly controls the news might spin the Olympics to tell their people Yes, our country is superior, and you don't want to change the system or you'll lose your place at the top. Or, as a Slavic Bill O'Reilly might put it, "Why do you hate Russia?"

Of course, the Communists were neither the first nor the best when it came to using sport as propaganda. As with many things, they learned from the best:
"German sport has only one task: to strengthen the character of the German people, imbuing it with the fighting spirit and steadfast camaraderie necessary in the struggle for its existence."
-- Joseph Goebbels, Minister of Propaganda, April 23, 1933

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Another T&FN goof

Got the September issue today. As usual, the news/results orientation of the magazine leaves little for the informed fan to read. In a sidebar on p. 14, we read "[Henry] Marsh set his first A[merican] R[ecord], 8:12.55, in '77, lost it, then regained it in '80 (8:15.68)".

Yet another oops.

Update on Swedis Doping News

More on yesterday's report, from the AP:

"Swedish media have singled out Russian athletes..."

"[C]leaning staff at the Opal hotel reported finding empty syringes in Russian competitors' rooms...Hotel staff were prevented from cleaning rooms occupied by the Russian team during the championships, and were permitted only to deliver new towels..."

"Russians have won more than 50 percent of the medals at the European championships ... and it's extremely suspicious"

Nothing much new here.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Anti-Doping News

Over the past week the European Championships were held in Goteborg, Sweden. Once one of THE major international meets, it's been knocked down a peg or two in the last couple of decades.

Now we get three drug-related news stories. First, five former Swedish athletes were caught with cocaine by narcotics officers after a post-meet party.

Then, blood-doping paraphernalia along with instructions in both English and Russian were found in a garbage can outside a hotel in with the Russian team was staying.

Then, a reporter following up on that story found more syringes, tubes and so forth in a box across the street.

These last two discoveries appeared to be hastily discarded, and one theory is athletes panicked at the sight of the fuzz involved in the first bust. Sudden improvements by many Russian women's distance runners, especially at these championships, fit the profile of blood-doping. Apparently Swedish law does not allow for collecting DNA samples on non-citizens, so the possibility of making matches might be slim.

I'll keep you up to date on these stories as they develop.

All-Time Top Tens -- Men's 800 meters

Sixth in a continuing series.

#10. Joaquim Cruz, Brazil
#9. Mel Sheppard, USA
#8. Alberto Juantorena, Cuba
#7. Ted Meredith, USA
#6. John Woodruff, USA

#5. Douglas Lowe, United Kingdom
Born August 7, 1902, Manchester, Lancashire
Died March 30, 1981, Cranbrook, Kent

The 800 meters is unusual in Olympic track & field in the number of men who have successfully defended their title--three, as many as in any other track event. Lowe is one of these three men.

His career was perfectly timed for such a feat, reaching his first peak in the summer of 1924 and extending to 1928. His two Olympic victories are often mentioned in connection to who was not there as much as who was.

In 1924, Lowe was not considered a threat to win as Henry Stallard had beaten Lowe in the British AAA Championships. Various sources say Stallard was injured at the Olympics, but British track historian Mel Watman makes no mention of that in his Olympic Track & Field History as he describes poor pace judgement by Stallard and a great race by Lowe.

Four years later it was a much greater foe who was not in attendance. Dr. Otto Peltzer of Germany had defeated Lowe at the 1926 AAA Championships in world record time, but was ill when the 1928 Amsterdam Olympics came around. The British team wrote a letter to Peltzer expressing regret and saying that his misfortune was theirs as well; the letter was written and signed by Lowe. In his absence Lowe won with relative ease. Three weeks later Lowe handily defeated Peltzer in Berlin. Peltzer was actually denied an Olympic opportunity twice; Germany was banned from the 1920 and 1924 Olympics as a result of World War I.

After his retirement from athletics Lowe began a distinguished legal career. While he was part of the 1924 British Olympic team profiled in Chariots of Fire, his character does not appear in the film. He died just 17 days after the film's 1981 release.

Year Rank Mark Meets, Etc
1923 -- 1:55.9 2)AAA
1924 1 1:52.4 2)AAA, 1)Oly Gms
1925 1 1:52.7
1926 2 1:51.4*e 2)AAA
1927 1 1:53.1 1)AAA
1928 1 1:51.2 1)Oly Gms; undefeated (6 meets)

* = 880y time less 0.7 seconds
e = estimated time

Links: Wikipedia

Sunday, August 13, 2006

Europe vs. USA?

Over at Let' someone posed the question "Could the US win in a dual meet against the entire continent of Europe?"

The most obvious way to answer this purely hypotherical question is to make guesses about each event and add it up. Scoring it 5-3-1 (5-0 relays) using the current IAAF World Rankings to determine place...

HJ: Europe 9, USA 0
PV: USA 5, Europe 4
LJ: USA 8, Europe 1
TJ: USA 5, Europe 4
SP: USA 9, Europe 0
DT: Europe 9, USA 0
HT: Europe 9, USA 0
JT: Europe 9, USA 0
After the field events, it's Europe 45, USA 36

Stpl: Europe 9, USA 0 (running score--Europe 54, USA 36)
4x100: USA 5, Europe 0 (Europe 54, USA 41)
1500m: USA 5, Europe 4 (Europe 58, USA 46)
110H: USA 9, Europe 0 (Europe 58, USA 55)
400m: USA 8, Europe 1 (USA 63, Europe 59)
100m: USA 6, Europe 3 (USA 69, Europe 62)
400H: USA 9, Europe 0 (USA 78, Europe 62)
800m: Europe 6, USA 3 (USA 81, Europe 68)
200m: USA 9, Europe 0 (USA 90, Europe 68)
5k: USA 8, Europe 1 (USA 98, Europe 69)
4x400: USA 5, Europe 0 (USA 103, Europe 69)

HJ: Europe 9, USA 0
PV: Europe 9, USA 0
LJ: Europe 9, USA 0
TJ: Europe 9, USA 0
SP: Europe 9, USA 0
DT: Europe 9, USA 0
HT: Europe 9, USA 0
JT: Europe 9, USA 0
Wow. That's ugly. Europe 72, USA 0.

Stpl: Europe 9, USA 0 (running score--Europe 81, USA 0, meet clinched already)
4x100: USA 5, Europe 0 (Europe 81, USA 5)
1500m: Europe 9, USA 0 (Europe 90, USA 5)
100H: USA 5, Europe 4 (Europe 94, USA 10)
400m: USA 5, Europe 4 (Europe 98, USA 15)
100m: USA 6, Europe 3 (Europe 101, USA 21)
400H: USA 8, Europe 1 (Europe 102, USA 29)
800m: Europe 9, USA 0 (Europe 111, USA 29)
200m: USA 6, Europe 3 (Europe 114, USA 32)
5k: Europe 9, USA 0 (Europe 123, USA 32)
4x400: Europe 5, USA 0 (Europe 128, USA 32)

Saturday, August 12, 2006

Upcoming TV broadcasts

I haven't done this for a while. Today there are two broadcasts!

Saturday, August 12
CBC, 3:30 - 6 PM
Canadian Championships (repeats 8/13 at 11:30 PM)

ESPN2, 4:30 - 6 PM
The Road to Eugene

Friday, August 18
ESPN Classic, 2 - 4 PM
The Jericho Mile

ESPN Classic, 4 - 6 PM
Four Minutes

Saturday, August 19
CBC, 4:30 - 6 PM
Zurich Golden League (repeats 8/20 at 11:30 PM)

Sunday, August 20
OLN, 4 - 5 PM
Zurich Golden League (repeats 8/23 at 6PM)

Saturday, August 26
CBC, 2 - 6 PM
Brussells Golden League (repeats 8/27 at 11:30 PM)

OLN, 5 - 6 PM
Brussells Golden League (repeats 8/29 at 7 PM, 8/30 at 1 AM)

Saturday, September 2
ESPN Classic, 2 - 3 AM
1973 Superstars Compeition (includes Bob Seagren)

Saturday, September 9
CBC, 1 - 2:30 PM
Berlin Golden League (repeats 9/10 at 11:30 PM)

Friday, August 11, 2006

Odds n' Ends

USA Today released their high school All-Americans today. Locally, the Ohio selections were Jessica Beard of Euclid (400 meters) and Emily Pendleton of Woodmore (discus throw). Both were no-brainers, as they had the nation's best mark along with undefeated seasons culminating with victories at the Nike Outdoor Nationals and USATF Junior Championships. Pendleton lives less than 20 miles from Superfan Headquarters.

Tragic news receiving national attention in local sports: a junior high student collapsed and died at football practice in Clyde, Ohio. Reports are he had a heart condition missed by the required physical. These kinds of news stories show why American thoughts on risk and danger are often vastly out of touch with reality--a high school athlete dies at practice at least once a year (and with more than 7 million kids in HS sports that number is amazingly small), but I'd bet the number of kids who die while driving to or from practice is much higher.

Wednesday, August 09, 2006

Missing the problem

Let's Run has always been more of a drunk tank than a think tank, but the Johnson brothers' efforts have occaissionally nudged the sport in the US in the right direction. For example, they have emphasized the importance of high milage and aerobic development for distance runners, and I think it's no accident that US runners have gotten marginally better over the last few years.

But even more, they've pushed hard on the drug issue. Recently they attempted to force out Dennis Mitchell as the "head coach" of the U.S. team scheduled to take on Great Britain in an international dual meet, since Mitchell left the sport under a two-year doping ban and they felt USATF should not be rewarding such people. However, the coach in question wasn't that Dennis Mitchell, but the head coach at the University of Akron. Or was it?
...we still believed our original source to be correct (that the banned Mitchell was originally scheduled to be the coach) and after a series of phone calls including talking to Dennis Mitchell, the Akron coach, we talked to Jill Geer, Director of Communications of USATF.

According to Geer, there was some confusion at the USATF Convention as to which Dennis Mitchell delegates were voting for. She said that the original coach selected was Dennis Mitchell, the Akron coach, but somehow along the way, he was mistakenly replaced by Dennis Mitchell, the sprinter.

Last week, with the press attention put on this matter after the link on and subsequent article in the Times of London, USATF looked into the matter and determined there was a lot of confusion as to who the actual coach was and who the delegates had intended to vote for. With the ensuing confusion Dennis Mitchell the athlete agreed to step down as coach, being replaced by Dennis Mitchell, the Akron coach.
Now, the really big problem was totally missed here. It's a good effort to keep those with a doping history out of the sport. But the BIG problem is that many people didn't know who they were voting for! Yikes. Moreover, international teams are made up of individuals who all have their own coaches, and regardless of which Dennis Mitchell tried to do some actual coaching the athletes would tell him to shove it. Why on earth do we spend time and money to give out ceremonial titles? No wonder there was one cared.

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Anti-Doping thoughts

IAAF head Lamine Diack is proposing a return to four-year bans for major doping offenses. This is mostly bluster; the reason for dropping back to two-year bans in the mid-1990s was court conflict in several countries along "restraint of trade" lines. I've got a better idea which I'll explain in a bit.

One of the reasons track fans loathe athletes who dope is the same reason baseball fans should, and probably will in the coming decades. Both sports are so statistics-driven and doping totally screws it up. Just look at what's happened to marks in men's throwing events and practically all women's events -- the world records and all-time lists are ridiculously skewed to the pre-Ben Johnson days of little if any doping control. The official shot WR is 23.12m (75' 10 1/4"), but the real record is probably 22.54m (73' 11 1/2"). We know the official WR was set by Randy Barnes just 2 1/2 months before being caught with methyltestosterone in his system, and Barnes later tested positive again for a lifetime ban. The official WR was almost assuredly drug-assisted. Yet it still stands.

Rather than trying to extend doping bans to double their current length, we should take a different approach. Not only would an athlete get a two-year ban, but the results from the two years immediately prior to that ban should also be canceled. No one realistically believes we catch dopers the first time they use illegal help. And as a further disincentive, the athlete would have to pay back all prize money won over those two years before their eligibility would be restored -- in essence, a fine along with jail time. (Currently, athletes in big-money marquee events have more to gain from doping than those in lower-profile events, and this system would even it out.) Of course, an athlete who earns a lifetime ban would have their entire career results wiped out.

This is a tough measure. How would this affect the Justin Gatlin situation? Michael Frater and Wallace Spearmon would be the reigning World Champions in the 100 and 200, and Francis Obikwelu would be the defending Olympic champion. He'd have a boatload of money he owed the IAAF (although far from the entirety of his 2004-2006 income, as track people earn most of their money from sponsorships and appearance fees). And his times of 9.85, 9.88, 9.89, 9.92 and 9.96 (three times) would disappear from the all-time world list.

This also might fix the type of extra punishment currently handed out to those who admit guilt. Athletes such as Kelli White, who cam clean about her past, not only got a two-year ban but had the previous three years wiped out, for a total of five years. In her situation, I'd advocate only a one-year ban to keep her total punishment at four years--but she'd still be responsible for repaying the whole three years of prize money she dishonestly earned.

I think this covers the bases: avoiding government conflict, increasing penalty to include significant financial loss, and working to keep the record books as clean as reasonable.


Monday, August 07, 2006

All-Time Top Tens -- Men's 800 meters

Fifth in a continuing series.

#10. Joaquim Cruz, Brazil
#9. Mel Sheppard, USA
#8. Alberto Juantorena, Cuba
#7. Ted Meredith, USA

#6. "Long" John Woodruff, USA
Born July 5, 1915, Connellsville, Pennsylvania

Woodruff earns the #5 spot with a well-rounded resume. He was clearly the world's best half-miler for the 1936 and '37 seasons, with only a single loss over that time period, an Olympic gold medal, and a world's best time (more on that later). He was one of the world's best half milers for the next three years.

Times were hard for Woodruff. When he arrived as a college freshman at the University of Pittsburgh in the fall of 1935, he bought only 25 cents with him. A meteoric rise in the spring of 1936 led to surprising wins at the Olympic semi-final try-outs, the final try-outs, and then the Olympic Games. In the Olympic finals, he was boxed in coming around the final turn. An observer at the time said "when John was boxed in, there was no way to get out, so he had to stop, then get to the outside. Those were all smart experienced runners, but he won his medal the hard way, on ability and courage against them. Had he not been boxed and forced to go outside, if he could have led all the way, you have to wonder what time would have been."

The 1936 U.S. Olympic track team was the first with a significant number of black athletes. Woodruff is the last living member of that team. Stories have sprung up about Adolph Hitler's attitude towards and treatment of these black men; Jesse Owens is generally described as having disproved the Nazi myth of Aryan racial superiority. Yet all these athletes came home to an unchanged American myth of white racial superiority. Woodruff himself was a victim on the track.

In 1937 the city of Dallas held a world's fair called the "Greater Texas and Pan American Exposition" which included a track meet. In the 880 yards, Woodruff was matched against World Record holder Elroy Robinson. Woodruff trounced him and took 1.6 seconds off of Robinson's record. But there was a problem. This was Dallas, Woodruff was black, and Robinson was white. The track, certified beforehand by Southern Methodist University's head enginer to within 1/1000th of an inch, was found to be six yards short on remeasurement after the race.

In "Tales of Gold", Woodruff is blunt. "You know what happened. Those boys got their heads together and decided they weren't going to give a black man a white man's record." In other words, the good-old-boy system screwed him out of a record which was rightfully his. Pro-rated to the full 800 meter distance, it was still a world record 1:48.0, and the Association of Track and Field Statisticians carries it as such on their lists.

After his university days were over, Woodruff served in both World War II and Korea, finishing his career as a Lieutenant Colonel. He
worked with the New York City Children's Aid Society, taught school in New York City, was a special investigator for the New York Dept. of Welfare, was Recreation Center Director for the New York City Police Athletic League, and served as a parole officer for the state of New York. An annual 5k is held in his honor in Connellsvile, PA.

Year Rank Mark Meets, Etc
1936 1 1:49.9* 2)AAU, 1)Oly Trials, 1)Oly Gms; just one loss
1937 1 1:48.0° WB 1)NCAA, 1)AAU; undefeated
1938 2 1:50.6* 1)NCAA
1939 3 1:50.5* 1)NCAA
1940 2 1:47.0+ib
* = 880y time less 0.7 sec; + = time en route to 880y

Links: Wikipedia

Saturday, August 05, 2006

Late Summer

It's amazing how things can turn on a dime. Four days ago I was helping a friend move from one second-floor apartment to another in 100-degree heat. The next morning my cross-country team had its weekly long run, and it was well over 80 degrees at 8:30 AM.

Tonight I got two large pizzas and a 12-pack of beer and camped out at the in-laws pool. The katydids were humming, it cooled off to a very comfortable temperature by 6 PM, and it no longer seemed inappropriate to listen to A Prarie Home Companion. The leaves on the black walnut tree in my front yard have already begun to fall. These are the ways we know in northern Ohio that summer is almost over and school is ready to start.

Around here, spring is unpredictable, summer is glorious if hot and suffocatingly humid, while autumn is the absolute best time of the year. It's cross country, football, a new school year ripe with opportunity, Homecoming, corn mazes, Halloween, Ohio State v. Michigan, Thanksgiving. It's beautiful colors and the best weather of the year, even if it doesn't last near long enough. With all these wonderful things coming, the last days of summer are a sad time. Hot fun in the summer sun is almost over, and soon Old Man Winter will take his icy grip and give us dark, cold, windy days of endless depression that make running off to Key West and working in a bait shop look like a winning career goal.

I've never spent more than two weeks at a time of my entire life outside of the Upper Midwest's weather pattern, and my home for most of the last seventeen years has been this little college town. A year from now Mrs. Superfan will have her Ph.D. and we'll be moving on to somewhere else, and at this point we haven't the foggiest idea where that will be. So I'm trying to savor every season of the year around my home as if it were my last, but it's not easy. Because, you see, it's not where you are that's so important as much as where you're headed.

New Blog at Trackshark

Tom Borish of Trackshark fame has asked me to do a blog for his site. Right now the plan is to do a weekly rundown on collegiate action in the Ohio / Michigan / Indiana area. Early on I won't be able to get out to meets, as I recently took a job coaching the boys' cross country team at my school, but once their season is over I'll get out on the road and catch some action.

Here's the tentative Superfan's superschedule:

Fri 6-Oct All-Ohio Intercollegiate Ch. Delaware, OH
Sat 28-Oct Ohio Athletic Conf. Ch. Tiffin, OH
Sun 29-Oct Big Ten Conf. Ch. Bloomington, IN
Sat 4-Nov Ohio HS Ch. Columbus, OH
Sat 11-Nov NCAA D-I Regional Bowling Green, OH
Sat 18-Nov NCAA D-III Ch. West Chester, OH
Mon 20-Nov NCAA D-I Ch. Terre Haute, IN

He said, She said

I'm not sure these news items are worthy of a post, but here you go...

From the AP:
Justin Gatlin insisted on running at the national championships in June even after USA Track & Field officials asked him to withdraw over his positive drug test, a person with knowledge of the meeting told The Associated Press on Friday.

From Reuters:
Justin Gatlin's mother has denied reports her son was asked by U.S. athletics officials to pull out of June's national championships after a positive test for the male sex hormone testosterone.

Friday, August 04, 2006

Swimming Upriver

Mike Agostini, a one-time world class sprinter from Trinidad, wrote an editorial about doping for the Sydney Morning Herald:
BEFORE drugs, money was the major focus of corruption in sport. To be caught even asking for money was once as bad as being caught using performance-enhancing drugs is today. But making money is now accepted - and expected - in elite sport.

The simplest solution to the drug problem may well be to do what was done with money and simply ignore it. Maybe it'll disappear.
Disband the Spanish Inquisition-like World Anti-Doping Agency, which will catch only some of the drug users. Considering the expense of not only testing but trying to find ways to test for new drugs, it can never be cost-effective because the money available to drug makers and marketers will always be greater. Like money, drugs soon will not be an issue as they are now, in the media particularly.
I, as well as most track fans around the world, could not disagree more. First off, comparing WADA to the Spanish Inquisition is more than a bit over the top. Aside from the brutal tactics and self-serving goals of the Inquisition, at least somebody expects WADA sometimes.

But he's flat-out wrong about money and sports. Many sports were professional right from the start, such as baseball, horse racing, and soccer. Within amateur sports, different nations had slightly different rules about amateurism, and there never was a time when sport and money were separate (even if athletes and money were).

Agostini also misrepresents the incidents which led to Was Santee's amateur status being revoked; he either deliberately obscures the point or shows his ignorance of the facts. By the time WWI had passed, the amateur code was used primarily not as a measure to keep sport pure but as a weapon to keep athletes in line and obeying the wishes of officials. The whole point of the anti-doping system reverses this relationship; the long-term needs of athletes (health and honesty) are placed above the short-term needs of unscrupulous officials, coaches and meet promoters (monetary gain from a freakshow or increased power from a successful team). The fact that some athletes lose sight of these long-term goals are why we have the rules which are enforced so vigorously.

Then, of course, there are the needs of the fans. In some countries, doping for sport is covered under laws prohibiting fraud. And to us, that's exactly what it is. We like international-level sport for the simple reason that it amazes us to see humans doing amazing things. When we find they aren't quite human we have been defrauded of a genuine experience.

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Is Asafa Powell Clean?

This is the question that's been bandied about recently after Gatlin's doping positive. It's been noted that 60% of the sub-9.80 sprinters have tested positive for a banned substance; only Powell and Maurice Greene remain untainted.

The real question I have is not about Powell specifically, but whether or not it's physically possible to run that fast without drugs. There are many levels of doubt one can raise, but let's take them individually.

From an analytical point of view, we know the track, the wind, the elevation and the weather can also play a large role in the results of a sprint. The previously-mentioned Prof. Jonas Murieka's online time corrector is now able to factor in temperature and relative humidity as well as wind speed and altitude...yikes. He's got an all-time "adjusted" world list, but I don't think he's go the temp & humidity in there yet. I'll use this one to debate the merits of the athlete rather than the time. Here it is, with discussion on each athlete.

1. 9.80, Maurice Greene (adjusted from 9.79)
Bo Schembechler used to say he cold tell if someone was using steroids just by looking at him. Greene does have the ridiculously overdeveloped shoulder girdle that draws suspicion. However, it's his coach John Smith which truly makes me believe Greene's performances were not legitimate. Charlie Francis, Ben Johnson's coach, has been quoted as saying Smith "taught me all I know about steroids", and Smith was also involved in the Tim Montgomery / BALCO "Project World Record". The fact that none of his athletes have ever tested positive doesn't necessarily mean his charges are clean; more likely it indicates Smith is as wise about avoiding detection as anyone.

2. 9.84, Ato Boldon (adjusted from 9.86)
Also trained with Smith his whole professional career.

3. 9.85, Ben Johnson (adjusted from 9.79)
Serving a lifetime ban.

3. 9.85, Bruny Surin (adjusted from 9.84)
I've never heard anything on him one way or another.

3. 9.85, Asafa Powell (adjusted from 9.77)
The subject of the current speculation.

6. 9.86, Justin Gatlin (adjusted from 9.77)
The subject of much recent attention.

6. 9.86, Tim Montgomery (adjusted from 9.85)
Admitted drug use to the BALCO grand jury

6. 9.86, Frankie Fredericks (adjusted from 9.86)
Never heard anything about him; my gut feeling is "clean as a whistle"

9. 9.89, Donovan Bailey (adjusted from 9.84)
This was run on a ridiculously hard track which probably never should have met IAAF record standards. Bailey never ran remotely close to this in any other race. Should not be on an all-time list.

9. 9.89, Shawn Crawford (adjusted from 9.89)
More overmuscled than Greene, and trained with Trevor Graham. Almost assuredly a doper.

9. 9.89, Leroy Burrell (adjusted from 9.97)
Trained with Tom Tellez's Santa Monica Track Club; no allegations have ever been made against this group. However, Burrell was fitted with braces as an adult, and a re-adjusting jawline is one side effect of HGH use.

9. 9.89, Calvin Smith (adjusted from 10.04)
No allegations have ever been made against Smith as far as I'm aware. Like Fredericks, his small size leads me to believe he was a clean athlete.

That's all the sub-9.90-equivalent athletes ever. Is it possible to run that fast? Yes, but it's difficult. You need the right conditions and the right track. It most certainly should not be common.

More YouTube

This time, men's 100 meter finals at the World Championships.

Helsinki, 2005
not available

Paris, 2003
Gold - Kim Collins, St. Kitt's, 10.07
Silver - Darrel Brown, Trinidad, 10.08
Bronze - Darren Campbell, UK, 10.08

Edmonton, 2001
I was there!
Gold - Maurice Greene, USA, 9.82
DQ - Tim Montgomery, USA, 9.85
Silver - Bernard Williams, USA, 9.94
Bronze - Ato Boldon, Trinidad, 9.98

Seville, 1999
Gold - Maurice Greene, USA, 9.80
Silver - Bruny Surin, Canada, 9.84
Bronze - Dwain Chambers, UK, 9.97 (D)

Athens, 1997
not available

Gothenburg, 1995
not available

Stuttgart, 1993
not available

Tokyo, 1991
Gold - Carl Lewis, USA, 9.86 WR
Silver - Leroy Burrell, USA ,9.88
Bronze - Dennis Mitchell, USA, 9.91 (D)

Rome, 1987
DQ - Ben Johnson, Canada, 9.87
Gold - Carl Lewis, USA, 9.93 WR

Helsinki, 1983
not available

USOC "Bans" Graham

Previously the USOC floated an idea of banning coaches. Now they've gone and done it.
The U.S. Olympic Committee banned track coach Trevor Graham from its training centers and training sites Thursday.
What this article doesn't say is where such training centers & sites are, nor does it indicate how this would affect Graham. He won't be accredited as a coach at the 2008 Olympic Trials or Olympic Games, but the lion's share of a track coach's job is done long before the meet comes around anyway. Most likely this is just another PR move which makes it look like the USOC is doing something when in reality all they did was shuffle some paper.


has just about everything under the sun, including Olympic videos. In fact, it has almost every men's 100 meter final.

Athens, 2004
Gold - Justin Gatlin, USA, 9.85 (D)
Silver - Francis Obikewlu, Portugal, 9.86
Bronze - Maurice Greene, USA, 9.87

Sydney, 2000
Gold - Maurice Greene, USA, 9.87
Silver - Ato Boldon, Trinidad, 9.99
Bronze - Obadele Thompson, Barbados, 10.04

Athens, 1996
Gold - Donovan Bailey, Canada, 9.84 WR
Silver - Frankie Fredericks, Namibia, 9.89
Bronze - Ato Boldon, Trinidad, 9.90

Barcelona, 1992
Gold - Linford Christie, UK, 9.96 (D)
Silver - Frankie Fredericks, Namibia, 10.02
Bronze - Dennis Mitchell, USA, 10.04 (D)

Seoul, 1988
Gold - Carl Lewis, USA, 9.92 WR
Silver - Linford Christie, UK, 9.97 (D)
Bronze - Calvins Smith, USA, 9.99

Los Angeles, 1984
not available

Moscow, 1980
Gold - Allan Wells, UK, 10.25
2 Silvio Leonard, Cuba, 10.25
3 Petar Petrov, Bulgaria, 10.39

Montreal, 1976
not available

Munich, 1972
Gold - Valeriy Borzov, USSR, 10.14
Silver - Robert Taylor, USA, 10.24
Bronze - Lennox Miller, Jamaica, 10.33

Mexico City, 1968
Gold - Jim Hines, USA, 9.9 WR
Silver - Lennox Miller, Jamaica, 10.0
Bronze - Charlie Greene, USA, 10.0

Tokyo, 1964
Gold - Robert Hayes, USA, 10.0 WR
Silver - Enrique Figuerola, Cuba, 10.2
Bronze - Harry Jerome, Canada, 10.2

Rome, 1960
Gold - Armin Hary, West Germany, 10.2
Silver - David Sime, USA, 10.2
Bronze - Peter Radford, UK, 10.3

Melbourne, 1956
Gold - Bobby Morrow, USA, 10.5
Silver - Thane Baker, USA, 10.5
Bronze - Hector Hogan, Austalia, 10.6

Helsinki, 1952
not available

London, 1948
not available

Berlin, 1936
Gold - Jesse Owens, USA, 10.3w
Silver - Ralph Metcalfe, USA, 10.4w
Bronze - Martinus Osendarp, Holland, 10.5w

Los Angeles, 1932
not available

Amsterdam, 1928
not available

Paris, 1924
Gold - Harold Abrahams, UK, 10.6
Silver - Jackson Scholz, USA, 10.8
Bronze - Arthur Porritt, New Zealand, 10.9

Antwerp, 1920
Gold - Charles Paddock, USA, 10.8
Silver - Morris Kirksey, USA, 10.8
Bronze - Harry Edwards, UK, 10.9

Stockholm, 1912
Gold - Ralph Craig, USA, 10.8
Silver - Alvah Meyer, USA, 10.9
Bronze - Donald Lippincott, USA, 10.9

London, 1908
not available

St. Louis, 1904
not available

Paris, 1900
not available

Athens, 1896
not available

Wednesday, August 02, 2006

IAAF Considers Banning Coaches

The USOC recently put forth a tepid idea of refusing accreditation to Trevor Graham-like coaches, which would do nothing but bar them from Olympic facilities. Now the IAAF has come up with a much stronger plan. Some details:
"The rule could be ratified at our next congress," said Nick Davies, media spokesman for the International Association of Athletics Federations, yesterday. "It's the only way forward. We'd have to ensure it's legally enforceable, and it would be policed by national federations."

Athletes who train with a banned coach could be suspended themselves. We think this can be done. We already can remove or withhold coach accreditation for events."
The IAAF apparently is not about to let its sport wither on the vine, even if USATF is content to sit on its hands.