The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Friday, March 30, 2007

Anti-Doping News

NPR's "All Things Considered" today interviewed two notable people, Gary Sheffield and Dr. Don Catlin.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

My Bad

Maybe this is what happened to Roman Sebrle?

Bizarre World XC

I wish I had seen it. I planned to watch yesterday's 3:00 WCSN webcast, but saw the results on the WCSN page beforehand (arg!) and then after wading through an hour of opening ceremonies and government-type people blathering on and on and on (double arg!) I just gave up.

It was hot, really hot. 90 degrees, with tropical humidity. Over 30 runners DNF'd in the senior men's race alone, including five Ethiopians--leaving the team favorites out of the scoring alltogether. "That race had bodies strewn across the course." Wejo has a good summary.

The statheads at T&FN say this dropout rate is higher than usual, but not ridiculously so. The conspiracy theorists at Let's Run have all types of wild ideas, but one does seem to make some kind of sense:
Based on history (and present), Ethiopians don't get along with the Eritreans. The reason why Bekele dropped out (and many other Ethiopians) was because they were going to be beaten by someone from Eritrea. In their minds an Ethiopian CANNOT be beaten by an Eritrean. It is very disgraceful. So instead of losing, you are better off dropping out. That is the real reason. If you look back at the Olympics and other races when Bekele raced against someone from Eritrea, he refused to shake their hands afterwards. It is sad, but it is true.
The men's winner was Zersenay Tadese of Eritrea. (If you're not up on the war between Eritrea and Ethiopia, two good synopses can be found here and here.) In the Ethiopian ebsence, Kenya of course easily won.

Over on the women's side, Lornah Kiplagat left Tirunesh Dibaba some 24 seconds in arrears. I have no idea what Kiplagat's racing plans for this year are, but regardless she'll probably do well. Generally the women's world XC champ has gone on to a dominating season, and stomping Dibaba puts a big exclamation point on that victory.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Kenya and Running

The IAAF has an interesting piece up about the history of Kenya and cross country. It's worth a read.

There's one part of it that irks me a bit, but it's hardly unusual. It's titled "Four tribes -- innate endurance" and it seeks to explain Kenya's dominance of running. (It could be argued that they in fact no longer dominate the sport, and have been surpassed by Ethiopia, but that's a separate argument entirely). Why does it irk me? It comes off as a bit racist, as do all the "natural talent" arguments.

Anyone who has even a passing interest in distance running knows that neither natural talent nor hard work by themselves will make an athlete great -- there must be an abundance of both. The authors of Kenyan Running: Movement Culture, Geography, and Global Change make a convincing argument that if in fact the Kalenjin have superior talent, their dominance comes not from the talent itself but by using that talent better than anyone else.

American teenagers by and large find distance running wierd, because American notions of masculinity are centered around doling out pain to others. Our most popular sport of football sums this up very well, but it's reflected in other ways too--without this attitude, we might not have ever been foolish enough to invade Iraq. Kalenjin masculinity, however, is centered around the ability to withstand pain. As a result, Kip Keino' heroics at the 1968 Olympics made him Kenyan masculinity personified, and running became the sport of manliness. Nowadays, you'll find very few Kalenjin boys with undiscovered running talent. When no one slips through the cracks, you tend to have great depth. And what makes Kenyan runners unusual is their sheer force of numbers.

Monday, March 19, 2007

The Most Shocking Sports News EVER

From Sports Illustrated: Pro wrestlers allegedly tied to steroid ring

Well, It's One Idea


I didn't notice this yesterday, so it didn't make it into my post. After a New Year's Eve 5k, I figured out where I was and that I need to be at sub-3:15 on May 20. So I plotted an "improvement curve" with yesterday's race as one of two intermediate points. I figured if I was reasonably close to it I would be OK.

I hadn't looked at it for a month until this morning. My predicted time was 1:33:21, which is exactly what I ran. Amazing.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

Half Marathon

I don't post much about my own running. There are plenty of training blogs out there, somw quite good, but I really don't like writing about myself all the time. Still, I find being a competitor part and parcel of being a superfan, so from time to time I put something up about what I do.

A long struggle with achilles tendonitis took out four months of training last summer, and I've only been myself since about Christmas or so. If I had the time, I'd try to get a qualifier for New York (1:25 half or 2:55 full marathon gets you guaranteed entry) so I could go see the men's Olympic Trials. But that just isn't going to happen by the cutoff date, so instead I'm shooting for Boston and the women's OT. I'm going to make an attempt at sub-3:15 in Cleveland's late-May race.

Today was a major checkpoint on progress. One of the annual rites of spring for the decently serious road racers in northwest Ohio is Churchill's half marathon. Sponsored by a local grocery store chain, this was its 40th annual running. The location has changed quite a bit over the years, and now it's held on rural roads and a rail-trail literally just outside the encroachment of suburbia. Considering its date and location, this race has a reputation of being a tremendously windy affair. But today we had only 15 mph winds with temperatures in the high 30s and some actual sunshine (a rarity in these parts for half the year).

I figured if I couldn't run under 1:35 today, I wasn't far enough along to have any real chance at a 3:15 in Cleveland, but if I could do sub-1:32 I'd be set. So my goal was trying for 7:00 miles and then see what happened. My training has been based around trying to rebuild some endurance, shooting for a total of 10 hours of running per week, and the fastest running I've done is a weekly 45 minute high-end aerobic run, what Arthur Lydiard would have called "3/4 effort". In December this was barely 8:30 mile pace; last Monday it was down to 7:30 pace. So this was tricky; I really had no idea what 7-minute miles felt like, and I was fairly apprehensive about being able to pull it off.

I made my usual mistake. I went out much too fast. I hit the first mile in 6:26, and knew I had to back off. The next mile, partly into the wind, was 6:50. I started talking to another runner, and we worked together for a while. The next miles were 6:51, 6:52, 6:47 and 6:41. Even though I was running pretty well, I could feel that I was pushing it just a bit beyond what I'd be able to keep up. So I let off, and dropped back to 7:25.

That was way too slow. I tried to pick it up, but things just weren't working too well. And then someone tried to pass me. I responded in a way I've almost never done before--I got mad and tried to physically punish the guy. I wanted to make him hurt for having the audacity to even try. I worked the next two miles pretty hard, dropped him, and punched it back up to 7:05 and 7:06.

At this point we turned a corner and most of the remaining 4.1 miles were directly into the wind. Since I live and train in an area so windy it's sometimes called "Blowing Green", the wind is my time to make hay. Its effect on me is slight compared to most other runners. When another runner tried to pull into my slipstream, I surged hard for a hundred yards in order to drop him, and the tenth mile went by in 7:04.

Shortly after that, reality set in, and I paid dearly for the early fast miles. It seemed like half of Brooklyn went streaming past me (actually only about 8 runners) and the final 5k took 24:12, or just over 7:45 per mile. I picked another fight with another passing runner a half-mile from the finish with the exact same result as all the others--defeat. After the finish I was sure I had a blister the size of a silver dollar on my left foot, but it turned out to be smaller than a dime.

Final result: 1:33:21. The Portugese tables say this is worth 3:17:11. And I know I could have run faster than this, I just ran stupid. So I think I'm going to be able to pull it off in May.

Furthermore, I know what I need to do. The race showed me I still need more endurance, and I need to work on pacing and sustained fast running. This fits in nicely with a basic idea put forth by the oft-discussed internet coach Tinman: marathon-specific training should be based around two "big workouts" per week. Mine will be a) long repeats, totaling 8 to 12 miles, at marathon pace or a bit faster; and b) long runs of about 3 hours at a pace that becomes fairly challenging over the last few miles. I've got about 6 weeks left where I can push the training before I have to back off and rest up.

Friday, March 16, 2007

Tempest in a Teapot

Over at the T&FN message boards, "TrackCEO" started a thread thusly:
Bubba Thornton's selection as U.S. men's coach for Beijing appears to confirm a bizarre story I heard several years ago that goes back to the fallout from the missed 100s debacle at Munich.

The story goes like this:

U.S. sprints coach Stan Wright took the fall for head coach Bill Bowerman letting two of our medal hopes -- Eddie Hart and Rey Robinson -- miss their 100-meter heats.

The incident is recounted here:

According to my source -- a former world-class sprinter, who is black -- an understanding was reached after Munich that every other U.S. men's Olympic track coach would be black. This would be the payoff for Wright's willingness to be the scapegoat in the incident -- and subject to Howard Cosell's legendary grilling on TV.
The problem with TrackCEO's story is the back-to-back white Olympic coaches in 1988 and 1992. Other than that, it in fact has alternated since 1972.

The rest of the readership at T&FN got very negative towards even discussing race as a factor in selection of Olympic coaches, calling it racist and insulting. My observation is that nobody really cares who the Olympic coach is anyway (well, these people do, but they might literally be the only ones in the world who care aside from the coaches up for selection), and so getting upset about this pointless. But also, I don't see much to get outraged about. Could the story be true? Yes, but it almost certainly isn't. Is it racist to merely wonder whether it could true or not? Not from where I stand.

Me, I'm a little more plugged in to the black person's view of race than most white people (ours was the only white family in the neighborhood when I was in high school). In my experience it's a purely white phenomenon to reject outright the possibility that race plays a factor in decision making, as others know from personal experience that it occassionally does enter into people's minds even in the best of circumstances (and USATF is hardly run by the nation's best and brightest).

And then there's this, from "guru":
But as far as [TrackCEO's] ridiculous assertion(which can't even be supported by FACTS), it insults both the sport and its black coaches. (emphasis added)
Why does it insult the black coaches specifically? If it does, it would be necessary to assume they got their positions merely because of a quota system. This would also necessitate an assumption that black coaches deserved less than half the head coaching jobs, whereas it's entirely possible that white coaches are the ones who deserved less than half the jobs and therefore got special treatment. Remember, the source of the story is black, so calling it an outright racist idea might be a bit over the top.

One of my favorite schticks on The Colbert Report is the host's insistence that he doesn't see race and can't tell if people are black or white. It exposes the ridiculousness of misguided attempts to ignore something that is clearly still of tremendous importance in the USA. It's not that we shouldn't pretend that race doesn't exist or even that it doesn't matter to people. It's there, and it's not going away. The question we must face is what are we going to do about it?

Thursday, March 15, 2007

Book Review

I finally got my hands on Silent Gesture, Tommie Smith's autobiography. I passed along the media plugs when it first came out.

It's not what you'd call a snappy read. There's a lot of repetition, and it's more a collection of topical chapters than an ever-advancing narrative. It assumes the reader knows quite a bit about the events in question, and spends remarkably little time covering Smith's sprinting exploits.

Final judgement: A good book, but not an entertaining one. Only for the hard-core fan or the college student looking to get sports into his ethnic studies paper. Better to borrow than buy.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Anti-Doping Roundup

No fewer than four stories in today's headlines alone...

The Albany DA behind a national PED dragnet (see details) says he'll provide names of athletes who received drugs to their leagues. Notable in its absence is any mention of WADA or USADA, lending credence to my theory that no athletes covered by these organizations were stupid enough to get their PEDs through such easily traceable means.

Doug Gillon, writing for Britain's The Herald, commends USADA and the EAA and BOA, gives the UCI middling marks, and chastises the ATP, FIFA and UEFA.

Longtime top discus thrower Lars Riedel got a public warning for missing a dope test. Rumor has it he missed five such tests in 2006.

And top Nigerian sprinter Olusoji Fasiba got the crap beat out of him after trying to work out at Lagos' National Stadium. Seems the place is monopolized by bodybuilders (read: steroid freaks) who didn't appreciate his presence.

Sunday, March 11, 2007

Fantasy League

Last chance to get in on the fantasy league for the new season. E-mail to for entry. A Tuesday deadline is firm.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

A New Take...

...on an old joke.

Terror Alert

NAIROBI, Kenya -- The U.S. Embassy said Tuesday it has been alerted to a possible "terrorist attack" against this month's world cross-country championships in Kenya.

The embassy released a statement saying the threat was coming from "alleged extremist elements" and that the races "may be the target of an unspecified terrorist attack." Last month, the U.S. Embassy issued another strong warning to Americans considering a visit to Kenya, saying violent crime was increasing and that Kenyan authorities have limited capacity to prevent it.

As I read further, it appears more like a 1960's-style public demonstration/disruption announced by Kenya's minority Muslim community, rather than a warning of an Al Qaeda-type violent and deadly attack. Still, the horn of Africa is not a good place for Americans these days. I wonder if that has anything to do with elite US runners avoiding this meet like the plague?

Over at the T&FN message boards, I like Trackstar's response:
Hey, I'm just flattered that cross country is now deemed important enough for terrorists to care!

(I can just hear the planning conversation: Terrorist #1: "Hey, let's attack the World Cross Country Championships!" Terrorist #2: "Uh ... the what?")
Which is more or less my reaction when I first heard it. That, and wondering if the White House was desperate to raise W's approval ratings among distance runners...

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Track & Field News - Timely?

Stunning. I got the new issue in the mail today, and it covered a meet held only seven days ago (USATF XC). Looks like they've taken certain criticism to heart.

Friday, March 02, 2007

Anti-Doping News

On Wednesday, two pharmacies were raided and eight people were arrested in connection to an internet-based PED distribution operation. Athletes apparently involved include Gary Matthews, Evander Holyfield, the Pittsburgh Steelers, and Jason "Typhoid Mary" Grimsley. In an amazing turn of events, not a single track person has been named in connection to this bust.

Or maybe not so amazing. The nature of the system above appears to leave fairly obvious paper trails, and no one in a sport subject to WADA oversight would take such risks. High-profile sports such as baseball and football, however, have yet to truly deal with reality, and their athletes are apparently just that stupid.