The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Weekend Preview

This coming weekend is a big one for marathoning, with the USA men's Olympic Trials on Saturday and the almost-an-afterthought New York City race on Sunday.

The start of the trials will be on NBC's Today Show at 7:35 AM and the network will have a half-hour recap show at 2:00 PM. Live online coverage will be at

Sunday's New York City marathon will be live ONLY online; outside the US you can get it for free at WCSN, but in the states you must shell out $5 to MediaZone. NBC will have highlights from 3:00 to 4:00 PM that afternoon. Too bad; some of my earliest memories of track & field were from watching the NYC marathon--to this day, when I'm running in a city park in rainy weather, I still imagine I'm Rod Dixon.

Previews? There are tons. Among the best is, surprisingly, Runner's World (the print mag is little more than craven Yuppie bootlicking, but their website is decent). Other good previews are at NBC Sports, Let's Run, New York Road Runners, and of course T&FN's headlines section has links to just about every other media source. (Yes, USATF has a trials site, but don't bother.)

In a race like the trials, third is as good as first and fourth is as good as last. Who will those three be? I'm terrible at predicting, but I will say that a dark horse always comes through. I'll be shocked if it comes down to only the four favorites (Abdirahman, Hall, Keflezighi and Sell) going for the three spots.

In the one Trials race I saw live (Columbus '92), favorites Steve Spence and Ed Eyestone came through. The dark horse was Bob Kempainen, who was running just the second marathon of his career. If I were to pick one, I'd go with Josh Rohatinsky, who doesn't have the benefit of any marathon experience at all (and only has a single half-marathon to his credit).

The New York City marathon is so devoid of top US men's talent that a friend of mine with a 2:57 PR is seeded 536th out of nearly 40,000 entrants. But the women's race should be a doozy. You've got World Marathon Majors players Gete Wami, Jelena Prokopcuka, Catherine "The Great" Ndereba, and Lidiya Grigoryeva. The inaugural women's crown will come down to Wami and Prokopcuka, but even more interesting is the return of Paula Radcliffe, who has never been beaten in a marathon.

Sunday, October 28, 2007

Another blogger

Epelle, of the Track & Field News message board fame, has a blog that I've only now been made aware of. Coming up on one year old, it's quite good. Check it out.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Tank McNamara takes on Marion Jones

Sorry if they're a bit small to read easily (this is as big as Blogger makes it). Click on the strip for a larger version.

from In The Bleachers

Anit-Doping opinion piece

Generally I can’t stand opinion articles from college newspapers—they’re almost always horribly written. But this one from the Harvard Crimson is pretty well done, at least on its surface.

If sports are entertainment to you, PEDs are a welcome improvement—heck I wouldn’t mind seeing 600 foot home runs more often, especially given the disputed nature of alleged negative effects of some PED’s. But if sports are something sacred to you, then this potentially widespread impurity must be disconcerting.
This writer clearly understands why sports fans are so deeply troubled by doping. If sports were no more than mere entertainment, then whether the people using steroids were athletes in the Olympics or actors in Hollywood wouldn’t make a dime’s worth of difference to anyone. But it does, because sports have such a a far deeper meaning to sports fans.

Yet I disagree with the central thesis of the column, that we should forgive doping because athletes simply want to win so badly:

When you approach the steroid issue from the standpoint of incentives, the real moral of the story is that athletes are just like us. The same way we all jeopardize our health up by staying up late to study, athletes are willing to do whatever it takes to be successful. And just like many of us work so hard because this what the Goldmans and the McKinseys want, athletes will say this is what their fans, their coaches, and their teammates want. Combine these more abstract incentives with the fact that there are millions of dollars on the line, and it’s reasonable that somewhat excessive measures could come into play.
I do not believe that the majority of athletes who do use performance-enhancing drugs really want to, or that they are doing it to become champions. Rather, they are convinced that everyone else is doing it and they simply cannot be left at a competitive disadvantage (as they say, don’t bring a knife to a gunfight). This is the exact reasoning cited by Charlie Francis when Ben Johnson got busted; he famously said "If anyone is clean, it's going to be the losers".

The biggest source of the problem did not come from the athletes themselves (workers) but from sport leadership (management). For a very long time, there was nothing more than lip-service paid to doping control.
WADA chief Dick Pound has claimed former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch tried to sweep doping under the carpet to protect IOC interests.

"Samaranch wasn't interested in the issue," Pound told Reuters in a telephone interview.
Pound said were it not for the 1998 Festina team cycling scandal at the Tour de France, where officials found a carload of performance-enhancing drugs and police raided team hotels to find more drugs, things would not have changed.
Recall that Ben Johnson's name was leaked by testers who feared the news would never see the light of day. And why not look the other way? Leaders such as Samaranch or MLB owners stood to lose nothing but their honor (and even then only momentarily) and stood to gain everything they’d ever hoped for.

The athletes were (and still are) the ones taking the big risks, both with their careers and their lives. It is no different than, for example, a mining company owner enticing rank-and-file workers with the opportunity for a few of them to get well-paying jobs if all of them ignored safety rules. Viewed from this perspective, it makes sense that a former senior aide to Pres. Reagan wrote an op-ed piece for the Cato Institute critical of doping control titled "Busybodies on Steroids".

Monday, October 22, 2007

Mind the Gap

My sister-in-law is a bartender. When one of her regulars failed to show up at the bar for three days, the manager sent people to his house to see if he was dead. I figure I'd better post something to keep the same from happening to me.

From The Onion sports section:

This Week In Sports History

1968: U.S. Olympic Committee suspends Tommie Smith and John Carlos for making fists and then raising them above their heads.

As usual, The Onion is funny but also pretty much on the mark.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

End of My Holdout

I have posted rarely recently. The major international action is over for the year, but also I've been very busy. I'm coaching the boys' cross country team at the school where I teach, and I've also been trying to sell my house (a six-pack says I get an offer before the week is out).

My home for almost the entirety of the last eighteen years has been the college town of Bowling Green, Ohio. My wife defends her doctoral dissertation next Monday, and five weeks ago she got a good job in Ann Arbor, a good 90 minute drive from here. Originally the plan called for moving to Ann Arbor, because why wouldn't you live in the greatest city in the Midwest if you had the chance?

For someone with a mathematics degree, it's odd how many of my life's important decisions have been made irrationally, and that I'm OK with it. My wife and I are both from Toledo (where I've been employed for the last 13 years) and a few weeks back we started talking about how Toledoans rarely move away because we're all so family-oriented. Within fifteen minutes we'd reversed ourselves, quit looking for housing in Ann Arbor, started looking in the Toledo area, and had our heart set on a specific house. We'll be closing on it in three weeks, with possession due 15 days later. My wife will be stuck with a 40-minute commute, while mine will go from its current 35 minutes down to a measly ten.

Track & field actually had a hand in this. I picked up coaching a year ago when I was asked but didn't take the long view, figuring I'd be gone in another year. When this season rolled around I thought I'd be gone by January. My team is mostly freshmen with only one senior and to say they're not very good is being charitable. But a funny thing happened; I didn't want to leave these kids behind.

The athletes on my team were slow starters--summer workouts were spotty and they were clueless about what it was going to take to race even decently. Still, their improvement has been huge, and now they're really charged up, asking me about what to do over the winter and thinking big about next year. They're your basic goofy 14- and 15-year-olds and all get along very well, some of them the best of friends.

After teaching for all these years, I thought I was an expert on high schoolers and what being a teenager is all about, and where I missed something I got reminded by shows like Freaks and Geeks or movies like The Breakfast Club. But I forgot a big thing, maybe the biggest. While driving home the other day I heard an old song on the radio that sang about "walking and talking and laughing about, dreaming the things that you want will work out". And I realized that's exactly what these boys are doing. The best possible thing adolescents can have is an idea of the future as wide open and the belief that whatever they want to happen can happen. When they share it with their friends it's even better. Not every teenager gets to feel this way, and those who do are still so mired in all the other crap they have to go through that we adults forget all about it. But we shouldn't. It's the magic of youth.

Saturday, October 06, 2007

Jones fallout

The chatter on the message boards and in the press is full of shock and disappointment. Come on, folks. This is as surprising as if O.J. came out and admitted he killed his wife.

Or, more accurately, if he admitted that he only killed Ronald Goldman. Jones' admission is strangely narrow, covering just a two-year period. There was no spike in her performance that might indicated heavy PED use just then (although in 2001 she occaissionally was beatable). Most likely, her admission was just enough to cover deal with perjury issues and nothing more. It's entirely possible that her whole career has been boosted; she holds world records for 15- and 16-year olds but went out and hired Johnny Cochran to defend her from a missed-test sanction when she was in high school.

In his post 5 questions about Marion, Clay Parker asks "If Marion (with her talent) was using and "only" running 10.8s in '99 and '00, what does that say for everyone else that has run 10.8s or better. Are there any clean times in the top 20 ?" Leaving aside the issue of whether Clay meant 10.80 or 10.89, let's actually examine this.

Prior to the advent of random out-of-competition testing in 1990 and the '91-'92 fall of the eastern European governments that carried out doping, it's fair to simply say that the rules of competition were different. It was pretty easy to get around doping tests and even the positives were sometimes scrubbed. Tossing them all out removes some who were certainly on something (e.g. Marlies Göhr) along with some who were generally thought not to be (e.g. Evelyn Ashford) but it's like the javelin--new rules, new statistical lists.

Among those remaining, the following athletes have had doping issues, and their marks are removed from the lists:
Marion Jones (admission)
Chioma Ajunwa (lifetime ban)
Zhanna Block (implicated in BALCO but not banned; almost certainly recieved their products)
Torri Edwards (ban reduced; only once under 10.90 and wind-aided at that)
Chryste Gaines (BALCO-related ban)
Ekateríni Thánou (famous "motorcycle accident")
Kelli White (admitted)
Merlene Ottey was banned for a short time but her ban was reversed and her name cleared.

Of the remainder, Ivet Lalova is widely considered to have caught a flyer when she ran 10.77, and Liu Xiaomei and Li Xuemei ran strange times under strange conditions in a strange meet. Since these were one-off performances for each athlete, they get stricken from the record as well.

What remains can be looked at in two different ways. By official time:
10.73 Christine Arron 8/19/1998 Budapest
10.74 Merlene Ottey 9/7/1996 Milano
10.77 Irina Privalova 7/6/1994 Lausanne
10.78 Merlene Ottey 9/3/1994 Paris
10.79 Inger Miller 8/22/1999 Sevilla
10.80 Merlene Ottey 7/13/1992 Salamanca
10.81 Inger Miller 8/22/1999 Sevilla
10.81 Christine Arron 8/19/1998 Budapest
10.82 Gail Devers 8/1/1992 Barcelona
10.82 Sherone Simpson 6/24/2006 Kingston
10.82 Gail Devers 8/16/1993 Stuttgart
10.82 Merlene Ottey 8/16/1993 Stuttgart
10.82 Gwen Torrence 9/3/1994 Paris
10.82 Gwen Torrence 6/15/1996 Atlanta
10.82 Gail Devers 7/7/1993 Lausanne
10.82 Gail Devers 6/17/1993 Eugene
10.82 Irina Privalova 6/22/1992 Moskva

and then by wind/altitude adjusted time:
10.75 Gail Devers 8/1/1992 Barcelona
10.76 Juliet Cuthbert 8/1/1992 Barcelona
10.77 Sherone Simpson 6/24/2006 Kingston
10.77 Irina Privalova 8/1/1992 Barcelona
10.78 Inger Miller 8/22/1999 Sevilla
10.79 Gwen Torrence 8/1/1992 Barcelona
10.80 Merlene Ottey 9/3/1994 Paris
10.80 Gail Devers 8/16/1993 Stuttgart
10.80 Merlene Ottey 8/16/1993 Stuttgart
10.80 Merlene Ottey 9/6/1997 Tokyo
10.80 Gail Devers 8/23/1996 Bruxelles
10.81 Inger Miller 8/22/1999 Sevilla
10.82 Merlene Ottey 8/1/1992 Barcelona

In any case, sub-10.80s are exceedingly rare, and only Sherone Simpson has approached it once the BALCO hit the fan.

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Marion Jones, the final chapter?

I heard the news today. Oh, boy.
Marion Jones admitted using steroids before the 2000 Olympics in a recent letter to close family and friends, The Washington Post reported Thursday.

Discuss: Old farts / young punks
Craig Masback statement

It's been a busy time lately; I'm coaching, my house is up for sale, and just a few minutes ago I was helping my wife proofread the final draft of her doctoral dissertation. So I only got the story second-hand as my brother called me this afternoon with the basics. She didn't just up and admit this for no reason; Trevor Graham is going on trial and she was going to have to testify. Obviously she could no longer keep the genie in the bottle.

That Jones used performance-enhancing drugs is a shocker on the level of, say, the US Government explicitly allowing torture. Denying either strained credulity long before we had the official information. And in both instances the real question is, "What now?" What official sanctions will be taken in order to punish the offenders?

Will the IOC strip her of her medals at the 2000 Olympics? What about the IAAF and her achievements at World Championships and the like? How will the various and sundry statisticians of the sport amend their lists? Will Track & Field News amend its World Rankings?

A key to answering all these questions is the IAAF's statute of limitations enacted in the wake of the Dubin Inquiry (aka the Ben Johnson affair). At that time it was set at six years; currently it is at eight years (see Rule 44, pp. 65-66). While no specific date was set in Jones' statement, it states her actions began in 1999, probably just outside the eight-year window, but that it definitely continued on through 2000 and therefore within the time frame for official sanctions. Statisticians and T&FN's Rankings committee, however, are free to act as they wish. Not a peep yet from any of them.