The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Train Wreck of the Year Award

ESPN's Page 2 has the Most Absurd Sports Quotes of the Year. Down at #13:
"I truly believe that the reason I made the awful mistake and a few thereafter was because I didn't love myself enough to tell the truth."
Speaker: Disgraced sprinter Marion Jones
Context: Delivered on "Oprah" following Jones' six-month federal prison term for lying about doping.

I have to admit, it's the most absurd thing uttered about track & field not only in all of 2008 but in many a year.

She is a nominee for the 2008 Track & Field Train Wreck of the Year Award. Other finalists include Alan Webb, for the most rapid and complete downward spiral we've seen in at least a decade; Jeremy Wariner, for splitting with longtime coach Clyde Hart and losing important races for the first time in his career; Bruce Jenner, for falling so far as to become a reality TV freakshow; and Ivan Ukhov, for making the Lausanne high jump competition famous.

EDIT: After discussing online, Wariner gets removed from the list and the USA 4x100 fiasco gets added. I remember Wariner walking off the awards stand at the Oly Trials looking absolutely pissed while Michael Johnson tried to talk to him. I'd really like to know what went on there but I suppose we never will.

Once A Runner Available Again

Scott Bush at US Distance Runner reports that the John L. Parker classic will be reprinted and available in April.

I never read it until about three years ago when I got it for Christmas (a few new copies were available on Amazon.com and my sister-in-law paid cover price for it). Being a runner of the late 80s / early 90s, hardly anyone I knew had even heard of it. It was probably more meaningful to read it when I was no longer a serious runner, as it brought back things I had long forgotten. I certainly didn't need it when I was 20 and put in weeks of 100 miles on top of 60+ hours at work.

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

2009 Resolutions

Besides resolving to spend more time following track & field, my other resolutions are all training-centered. I don't do much about my own running here, partly because running at my speeds is commonplace, but also because training blogs are boring. To quote a comedian who made fun of Jim Fixx: "What do you write? Left foot, right foot, left foot, right foot..."

Nevertheless, here they are:
Run every single day (minimum 1 km)
Total 5,000 km or more
Lose 10% of body weight
Break half-marathon "PR"

That last one is in quotes because when I was in college, I regularly ran 13-mile Sunday hangover runs at a faster pace than my current official half-marathon PR.

Olympic Trials, continued

I don't think I made my proposal for qualifying to the Trials particularly clear yesterday, so let me work on that.

Even when looking at only national team selection, USATF serves a widely varying group of athletes. International pros, collegians, high schoolers, and elite amateurs, and a qualifying system has to have some fairness to it yet satisfy all of them. Let's take a look at how this might work for the men's 1500 meters.

First off, we want to expand the field to 48 athletes. There are three rounds at the Trials, and unless you have this many the first round is essentially pointless. So I say let more athletes in!

Our first group to satisfy is the international-level runners, and by that we'll mean athletes who already had the requisite A-standard (3:36.60) for entry into the Olympics. These are the athletes who have the best chance of making the team. Going into the Trials, who was it?
Alan Webb, Bernard Lagat, Matt Tegenkamp, Leonel Manzano, Jon Rankin, Rob Myers, Lopez Lomong
As we're only at seven, we'll go down to the B-standard (3:39.00). That adds in:
Chris Lukezic, Adam Goucher, Chris Solinsky, Russell Brown, Said Ahmed, Steve Sherer, Andrew McClary, Grant Robison, Will Leer, Andrew Wheating

That gets us up to seventeen athletes and we need another 21. Note that many of the above--Tegenkamp, Goucher, Solinsky, Wheating--had no intention of running the 1500 at the Trials. I figure if we're going to try to have definitive you're in / you're not qualifying, waiting for declarations isn't something we're going to do. If the field allows for 48 athletes but only 44 compete, so be it.

Next we take athletes who have proven themselves competitively at recent national championships. Top-eight finishers at the '08 USATF indoors adds:
Jason Jabaut, Sean O'Brien, Jordan Fife
Top-eight finishers at the '07 USATF outdoors adds:
John Jefferson

So we go to a series of qualifying meets. Six of them already exist: the three NCAA championships, NAIA, JuCo, and the Nike Outdor Nationals high school meet. We'd add in maybe four regional qualifiers for post-collegians to be held at roughly the same time as those other six. Line up the athletes in order of their finish at these meets, and select the fastest guy at the top of his list until we've got 17 more runners. Most likely, the first to get in would be runners like Gabe Jennings, David Krummenacker, Bobby Curtis and Sam Burley.

Complicating this whole thing is that Dorian Ulrey, NCAA runner-up and tops in that "qualifying" meet once Manzano is taken out, only had a 3:41.59 to his credit. There were just 12 post-collegians faster than him, so he definitely would have qualified to the Trials along with at least the next four collegians. But that kind of logjam would make these regional races anything but dawdling affairs--let a slow guy beat you and you could be left out in the cold.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Olympic Trials Ideas

In a look back on the year, one issue that jumps out is the Olympic Trials. After the US team laid an egg in Beijing, there were calls for changes to the Trials format. I, along with many others, think that's laying the blame in the wrong place. But there were other issues about the Trials brought up long before the Olympics rolled around.

The first and most obvious question: Does our do-or-die format select the best team? To answer that, I quote Sir Winston Churchill: "Democracy is the worst form of government except all those other forms". By this I mean it's not good, but I challenge anyone to come up with something better. Other nations have selection committees, but the USA's extreme depth give us a complicating factor. Furthermore, it would be hard to imagine any USATF selection committee without at least the appearance of favoritism. Better simply to let competition sort it out. Besides, it makes for the kind of great sports theater sorely lacking in domestic track & field. For that reason alone, more than a few track nuts, E. Garry Hill among them, say the Trials are the best track meet on the planet.

Yet the Trials can be a rough week that takes too much out of athletes. One need look no further than Tyson Gay for an example. Yet the So is it possible to pre-select athletes without a subjective element, and while making them show up and run for real? You betcha. My proposal is straightforward and simple. Any World Record holder or defending World Champion gets an automatic spot on the Olympic team -- but only if they've already won another event at the Trials. This year there would have been two such exemptions, Tyson Gay (200 meters after winning the 100) and Bernard Lagat (1500 meters ater winning the 5k), both of whom would almost certainly done better at the Olympics without running that second event in Eugene. This isn't an easy mark, either; in 2004 there would have been no athletes earning this bye. But back in 2000, both Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson would have earned a bye in the 200, and recall how both of them DNFd.

The other problem is a different. It regards qualifying to the Trials themselves. Do you remember the ruckus that erupted when Adam Goucher was given a spot in the 10k final without a qualifying mark? If not, I'll get to that in a moment after a brush-up for the less-informed.

Qualifying to the Olympic Trials is via marks (times/heights/distances). You get a so-called "A" mark and you're automatically in; past that, athletes are placed in order of best mark and we go down the list until the target number of entrants is achieved. But the sport isn't about getting marks so much as competing, and in light of this there's an appeals process. That's where things get hairy and some changes need to be made.

Goucher made an appeal, and since he's Adam f***ing Goucher he got in. He didn't have the mark because he was on the mend from an injury, but has proven himself as well as any American male long-distance track runner of the last decade. He deserved to be in. But this bumped up the number of competitors past the cap, some athletes with faster times than Goucher got skipped over, and there were complaints. He's got Nike backing and if one more could be fit in why not a few more than that?

Running Times did an article on the Trials appeals process. The big problem is that there's no "transparency" to the system--only insiders know where to go, what to write, and so on--and the man who approves or denies them is John Chaplin, a man much like Mayor Daley but without all the charm. He was once quoted as saying "Those clowns in the bottom half of the 10,000 have no chance on God's green earth of making the Olympic team".

Undiplomatic as it is, I have to agree with him. If the only purpose of the Olympic Trials is to select a team, then there are quite a few athletes in it who don't belong on the track. Although there's always the chance for a Christian Smith to come out of nowhere, guys like him aren't going to do squat once they get to the Olympics.

But if you think that's the only purpose to the Olympic Trials, you've got the shortsightedness that has made track not even a second-class sport in the USA. The Trials are a nationwide once-every-four-years celebration of the sport, and you need to take advantage of that by giving athletes far and wide the opportunity to compete and get their local media involved in covering them. Better yet, get the stinking committee out of the picture and, yes, let the athletes fight it out on the track.

Up through 1968, they were called the Final Olympic Try-Outs because qualifying to them was via a series of meets rather than by marks. Now, I don't think we need to go back to that completely, but for the athletes Chaplin refers to as "clowns" it might not be a bad idea. I have yet another proposal.

Athletes who have the Olympic "A" standard are in the Trials. If that fills the field, we're done. Example: men's 100 meters, which had 47 A-standard athletes. Good enough.

If that doesn't fill it, go to Olympic "B" standards. Example: men's 1500 meters, which had 7 "A"-standard athletes and 10 "B"-standard athletes. This is not enough, so now we fill in from competitive results; athletes who finished in the top 8 at the '08 USATF indoor or '07 USATF outdoor. That gets us up to 22 runners, and we'd like another 14 for a total of 36. So we create a series of regional qualifiers--maybe four of them--and post-collegiate atheletes qualify this way, while collegians qualify via the NCAA championships. The point is that the athletes for whom merely getting to the trials is a big deal have a buildup to a specific competitive moment that both eliminates our appeals system and gets some attention in the sports media.

Besides that, fields need to be expanded in some events. There were first rounds of some running events where only three or four runners overall didn't qualify to the next round. That's just plain pointless.

Sunday, December 28, 2008

Carroll Stadium Records

Assuming you know that Indianapolis' Michael A. Carroll Stadium may get the wrecking ball, you might be curious about the stadium records. I've compiled them in a Google doc.

Note that this was the site of the two biggest World Record screw-ups in the last 30 years: FloJo's 10.49 100 meters and Carl Lewis' 30' 2" (9.19m) long jump. The former should never have been approved, as the wind reading was somehow in error. The latter was called a hairline foul but wasn't (T&FN spent 18 column inches explaining why), and the pit was raked before any protest could be made. We're saddled with one unbreakable WR and lost out on another.

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Street Cred

...sprinting earns some.
David Alexander Smith, the Jamaican entertainment figure who created the dance performed by Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt to celebrate his victories, was shot to death at a Kingston bar, local media reported.

Radio Jamaica said Smith, popularly known as Ice, was shot and killed Friday morning at a bar after a brawl with the attackers. Police told the station that robbery was a possible motive, as the attackers reportedly drove off with the dancer’s rental car after the murder.
I don't mean to make light of someone's death; this is a reminder how life can be nasty, brutish and short in too many places. That some take pride in it is perverse, I grew up in one and do not.

Friday, December 26, 2008

New Podcast

Prerace Jitters has a new "radio" show. I haven't had a chance to listen yet. It's downloadable but does not appear to be available on iTunes.

End-of-Year Reviews

Just a little organizational tool for the multitude of end-of-year writeups...

Track & Field News Athletes of the Year: Men - Women
Tim Layden's SI Sportsman of the Year

IAAF
Sprints
Hurdles
Middle distance
Long distance
Road & Walks
Jumps
Throws
Multis

Europe
Sprints: Men - Women
Middle distance: Men - Women
Long distance: Men - Women
Hurdles: Men - Women
Jumps: Men - Women
Throws: Men - Women
Multis: Men - Women

Caribbean
Sprints
Distance
Hurdles
Jumps
Throws

Kenya year in review

Times of London year in review

Trackshark NCAA year in review

Monday, December 22, 2008

Merry Christmas

Enjoy the photo of Boston's Santa Speedo Run. I'm outta here until Friday.

Top Sports Movies?

Entertainment Weekly has released The Sports 25: The Best Thrill-of-Victory, Agony-of-Defeat Films Since 1983.

Number 16: Without Limits
EW fails to mention the fantastic but uncredited portrayal of Sid Sink, unfortunately the only one in a feature-length film. Yet.

Martina, Crawford, and that medal

Tim Layden has a write-up on the story that you've no doubt heard: Shawn Crawford gave Churandy Martina his Olympic 200 meters silver medal shortly after the games. Crawford, originally fourth in the final, moved up to bronze after Wallace Spearmon got a lane DQ, and then silver when USATF protested and got Martina DQd for the same thing.

Layden takes it an extra step by looking into the ownership issues of Olympic medals. If you won it, does that mean it's yours? Not quite.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

New Running Movie Out

The film I saw yesterday barely qualifies for Mark Hale-Browns site, runningmovies.com, but I guess technicalities count. A couple of scenes in the new Jim Carrey flick, Yes Man, show his love interest leading a running/photography group (they put in about five miles every morning while shooting pics on the run).

As for the film itself, it's far better than I expected and not the usual Jim Carrey shtick (although they don't go light on the physical humor). One way to judge a film is how well it accomplishes its goals. This one sets out to get laughs, entertain, make you feel good, and even think a tiny little bit, and does all of them well. It's based on a highly acclaimed book by Danny Wallace that reportedly is deeper in its 340 pages than the film is in its 104 minutes (go figure).

I am a Type B personality in most things, but when it comes to running I am a competitive cuss who finds it very difficult to make an easy day easy enough. That's not too bad when you're 20, but I definitely am not 20 anymore. I may try this running/photography thing once a week in order to slow down and take in the scenery.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Alan Webb, Jim Ryun, and Tysonicism

I have just become aware of a relatively new term: Tysonic.
Bill Simmons, a sportswriter for ESPN, coined the term "Tysonic". It refers to Mike Tyson, and applies to anyone who has entered a sphere of existence so bizarre, you will believe any news you hear about them, no matter how absurd. Aside from Mike Tyson, Britney Spears is Tysonic. After the turkey interview, I classify Sarah Palin as Tysonic.

As a native Chicagoan, I say Blogo is definitely Tysonic. If someone told me, "Hear about Blogo? He dressed himself up as Elvis, highjacked an Air Yugo flight from O'Hare to Belgrade, and is now living under the protection of Serbia... And he's formed an exploratory committee for 2016."

I'd pause for a moment and say, "Yeah, that sounds right."

In the world of track and field, few people become so full of themselves as to enter this "Tyson Zone", as the early usage of the term was. However, there are a small number of true head cases, athletes who appear doomed to Bill Buckner-hood.

A story so old that it barely seems like it happened this year is the implosion of Alan Webb. The beginning of his tailspin was the '07 Worlds, but Webb '08 was one of the great bombs in all of American sports history. It made me recall something I'd read way back when I was a junior in high school—the opening to Richard Elliot's unknown classic, The Competitive Edge: Mental Preparation For Distance Racing.

People who were at the '67 Drake Relays will tell you. When Ryun got the baton for the last leg of the four-mile relay, he was sixty yards behind Conrad Nightingale, one of the top milers in the nation. An impossible distance—but by the final turn, Ryun was there with him. He blew by Nightingale, hit the tape still driving, and ran 3:59 on a windy day [the WR was 3:51.1]. The next day he anchored his distance medley team to a world record.

For over three years Jim Ryun never lost a mile race. He set world records at 1500 meters, the mile, and the 880. When he ran 3:33.1 in June of 1967, he cut two and a half seconds off the metric mile record and beat the best in the world by thirty yards. Never has an American distance runner so dominated the sport.

In the spring of 1968 Ryun was shooting for a 3:50 mile when he got sick. Out six weeks with mono, he still won the Trials 1500 that summer and made the Olympic team. The Olympics that year were held in Mexico City and 7,349 feet altitude; the rarified air would limit performances in the races over 800 meters. The experts all figured if anyone could run 3:39 in the 1500, he would win—it wasn't possible at that altitude to run any faster. Ryun ran 3:37.8 but finished second.

With that defeat, quite abruptly, he would no longer be the unbeatable and unshakable Jim Ryun. Over the next four years, a drama of frustration would play out to a bewildered cast and audience.

He began his final year of college track the next winter in an indoor meet at home in Lawrence, Kansas. Midway through a two-mile race, he dropped out. As the season went on, a pattern developed—brilliant races followed by terrible ones. Ryun won the NCAA indoor mile, beating Marty Liquori in a sensational duel. Outdoors, at the Drake Relays, he dropped out of a much-publicized race. He followed that with a 3:55 win at Compton. He ended the season placing second to Liquori in the NCAA mile final—and a week later in the AAU Championships, he jogged off the track after two laps.

What was wrong? Ryun shook his head in frustration and told reporters of the minor injuries, the staleness from too many races, and the constant pressure. He didn't run again for a year and a half.

When he returned, he was seemingly better than ever. He ran a 3:56 mile indoors, the a 3:55 in the Kansas Relays. In May came the famous "Dream Mile", the Ryun-Liquori rematch. Ryun lost to Liquori by half a step, both of them clocking 3:54.8. A month later in Europe, Ryun ran a 4:17 mile and discontinued his season.

The Olympic year 1972 went much the same—a 4:19 last place finish in Los Angeles, then a 3:57 win at the Kansas Relays, then a 4:14. By now, everyone concerned was in a state of consternation. The media coverage of Ryun had always been intense, and now the press hounded him for answers.

"No, I don't know what is wrong," Ryun would say. "I felt heavy the first lap, and then I began to tighten up…Maybe it's psychological. I don't know whether it is or not. I'm going to think about is…I know I'll figure it out."

Others joined in, giving rise to what one writer has called a "minor industry of Ryun experts, sort of like Kennedy assassination experts, who claimed to have figured out what went wrong."

Many runners understood the problem, if not the solution. A runner could be physically ready to race well, but he also had to be ready psychologically. If he wasn't, there would be repercussions in his racing machine—the delicate balance of relaxed concentration during maximum effort would be upset. Good racing would not only be hampered—it might be out of the question.

"The difference between what I did today and what I can do is such a little thing," Ryun said.

This story, like many in real life, has no neat and tidy resolution. Jim Ryun ran 3:52.8 in Toronto in July of '72, the fastest mile in the world in five years. He qualified for the Olympic team and went to Munich. There, he ran incredible workouts that had everyone talking. He seemed very ready. Of course, we won't know. In a qualifying round he was tripped up, he fell, and did not advance to the finals.

Ryun's American mile record was broken in 1981; it had lasted fourteen years. Jim Ryun was a runner ahead of his time when he was at his best. At other times, in his problems with the inner side of the sport, he struggled like any other runner. His story makes clear—in a more obvious and dramatic way than is ordinarily seen—the importance of controlling the psychological aspects of performance.


The similarities are obvious, and not just because they're both milers. Both were thrust into the national sports consciousness long before they could possibly have been emotionally ready for it. Both remained with their high school coaches, men whose living was dependent on keeping their prodigies happy. And to be honest, both runners might never have been totally ready for it. Webb's immaturity was made obvious when he turned tail and ran from Ann Arbor after one bad track season. Ryun's immaturity is less well known, but a first-hand description of him in Bob Schul's autobiography reveals a boy desperate to prove himself to the Olympic team…and when you have the swagger of a champion, you know you don't have to prove squat until the gun goes off.

Ryun has shown an inability to admit defeat that is highly unusual in track circles. Everyone gets beat sometime, and it's either because you weren't at your best or because your opponent was at his. But that '68 Olympic race? I've never seen or heard of him admitting that Keino was the better man that day. He always blames the altitude, which was a big factor but cannot explain the entirety of Keino's margin of victory—Keino ran faster in Mexico City than all but three of Ryun's best times at sea level. Similarly, he made no customary concession statement after his 2006 Congressional re-election defeat…one made possible by a conflict-of-interest scandal that more worldly (if less honest) politicians would have kept much harder to discover. Josh Marshall's crew was able to dig up that dirt on him because Ryun either didn't think he was doing anything wrong, or didn't think anyone would challenge him on it.

Will Webb come back and be as good as he was? Occasionally, but not when it really matters. He'll race well from time to time and be unbelievably awful at others. Maybe in a decade or so he'll rise from the dead, make a Worlds team and be an also-ran in the final and talk about how he wish he knew then what he knows now. But as far as being a major factor in an August or September race, forget it. Upstairs he's been broken, and is surrounded by so many yes-men that he won't be able to face the music and fix it.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Suitable Worlds Site

Ever since Doug Logan mentioned bidding for and and hosting the 2015 Worlds as a goal, the T&FN message board has been discussing the possibility (or the impossibility, depending on your viewpoint).  As of right now, there is no facility anywhere in the country capable of hosting it.
 
Today, westcoasttiger came up with an intriguing idea:
 
How about Portland instead? Discussions are on-going about retro-fitting the current football/soccer/baseball stadium PGE Park to a world-class soccer/football stadium with expanded seating. Now granted the talk is of a 30,000 seat venue but IF some forward thinking people would step in (Phil Knight is in town) the idea could fly. If the Worlds in 2015 were the carrot I know this could help Merrit Paulson (son of our current Sec of Treasury Henry Paulson) in his efforts to bring a MLS expansion team to town.

The major objective is a fitness club that is located at the south end of the facility currently but with the right efforting this issue could be handled (Nike buy the club or offer it space under the new seating in a state of the art training situation with use of the track when events were not taking place. Some of the seating could be adjustable on rails such as in France so that the track would not hinder sight lines for the soccer/football fans on at least one side of the stadium in which a new seating structure would need to be built anyway as well as in the south end of the facility. If you google map Portland you can easily see the field and track for those that are curious.

Portland lacks a major football stadium so that is another selling point and while the rest of the economy suffers Nike announced it had a 9% improvement in its last quarter just today.

Some of this might be a pipe dream but so are all the other ideas being discussed and putting in this facility could make Oregon even more of a player in international track.

There is a state of the art high school track facility across the street that could serve as a warm-up facility and there is a mass transist line that runs directly beside stadium currently with thousands of hotel rooms within a half-mile walking radius and plenty of restaurants and entertainment.
 
I think we have a winner.  There are significant other issues to work out, but I don't think a better site could be found.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Gifts for Track Fans

There are some amusing gift lists for sport fans online. Here's a list of things you could buy for the track fan in your life.

Finish Line Doormat
Win or lose, when you get home you've finished the race. $32, UnCommon Goods

Track Town Ales
Award-winning ales brewed in Eugene, Oregon. I prefer the Triple Jump; 100 Meter and 200 Meter also available. $5.61 per six-pack (22 oz. bottles) plus shipping, Liquid Solutions.

Christmas Tree Ornament
Personalize it for your athlete. Generic running-event bear also available. $11.50, PersonalizedFree.com.

Rome 1960: The Olympics That Changed the World, by David Maraniss
Pultitzer-winning writer Maraniss turned his attention to the Olympics and produced arguably the best track book of the year. Incomplete (this Olympics was the seed that grew into the mass running movement, an important fact left out), but insightful. $26.95, Amazon.com.

Run For Your Life
Judd Ehrlich's history of the New York City Marathon and its late founder and director, Fred Lebow, was a good enough film to merit entry in the Tribeca Film Festival and easily earns the title as track movie of the year. $24.98, Amazon.com.

Drinking Decathlon Poster
Not quite the classic ten-eventer. Useful for any male between the ages of 18 and 25, measured either chronologically or emotionally. $8, beyondthewall.com.

Monday, December 15, 2008

RW's Most Embarrassing Moment story

Runner's World is trying to put together a "most embarrassing running moment" story--you know, the kind of cheap crap where a writer just trolls people's online responses to get his 1,000 or so words. Anyway, this kind of discussion, running or otherwise, mainly focuses on bodily functions, ill-fitting clothes, and pratfalls. Rarely do you get anything new. This one was good, though:
I was running along Fifth Ave. in NYC, lost in some tune on my Walkman (this was 1998), heading up to Central Park for a long run. I crossed a street and sort of noticed some orange cones in my peripheral vision, but they didn't really register until my next stride landed into a square of freshly poured sidewalk concrete. It was in slo-mo; in midair I remember seeing the faces of the construction workers saying "nooooo!" but it was too late. They were very nice: hosed off my feet and I was on my way.
I have a most-embarassing moment story and I'm not telling it. Suffice to say it's run-of-the-mill, but give the kids on my team a good guffaw.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Separated at Birth

This feature has been ignored for too long. A nice topical one to get restarted.
Czech javelin legend Jan Zelezny:

Illinois Guv (for the moment) Rod Blagojevich:

Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Year In Review

Some songs on my iPod appear to summarize second-tier news items of 2008, the kind you're less likely to see in other year-in-review summaries.

Tell The Truth (Derek & the Dominoes)
Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones, exes and BALCO client, both appeared on talk shows. One was forthcoming, the other not so much.

Shove This Jay-Oh-Bee (Canibus)
USATF CEO Craig Masback suddenly and unexpectedly resigned at the beginning of the Olympic year. Rumor says he was sick and tired of dealing with the three-headed beast.

Five Feet High and Rising (Johnny Cash)
The NCAA Championships returned to Drake, amid massive flooding in Des Moines. Lolo Jones donated her Olympic Trials prize money to a single mother in Des Moines displaced by the flooding.

You Make Me Feel Like Dancing (Leo Sayer)
Mo Greene is now a certified Star, as he was Dancing With them.


What's Going On (Marvin Gaye)
Tyson Gay's name published as "Tyson Homosexual" by right-wing Christian site OneNewsNow.com.

I Ain't Drunk, I'm Just Drinkin' (Albert Collins)
Ivan Ukhov jumped at the Lausanne Super GP meet while shitfaced.

Arthur Lydiard Shoes

Every so often, a discussion on Let's Run shows the place hasn't totally jumped the shark.  A thread about Arthur Lydiard's "mass-market" shoes from the early 70s is doing that right now.  For example:
 
In about 1972 the Lydiard/Brutting shoes were the subject of an extensive and laudatory review in Runner's World. This was a bit of surprise to me, since at the time I was writing shoe reviews for the magazine, and had no advance notice of the article, which normally I would have expected....In the next month's issue it was revealed, in a full-page ad, that Bob Anderson, then the owner and publisher, had the exclusive distribution and sales rights for the shoes in North America. I wrote to Bob, suggesting that the juxtaposition of the article in one issue and the sales pitch in the next might be an ethical lapse; I never heard from Bob again, and was promptly dropped as a Contributing Editor.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Track Fan Passport

In the spirit of ESPN's Sports Passport, I've begun a Track Fan's Passport at The Final Sprint.

New Book on the Market

Juggernauts: The Making of a Runner & a Team in the First American Running Boom
by Steve Adkisson
Outskirts Press, $16.95 ($5 e-book available)

I haven't been able to get my hands on this one yet, but I'll work on it and get up a review when I can. Let's Run indicates it's worth my time. Available via Amazon or its own website.

Blurb:
As the first running boom was sprouting in the early 1970’s, a group of Kentucky teenagers were brought together by a young coach who was ahead of his time. Cross country was regarded as a sport for the slightly odd and unathletic, a means of “getting an easy varsity letter”. Among this group of runners was a particularly odd (though strangely athletic) teenager who was taken in by the joy of running over the grass, hills, and mud of cross country courses. The coach and seasonally growing team rose to dominance of Kentucky cross country in the span of four short years. Along the way, they “learned the lessons every runner has to learn, mostly the hard way, many of them twice.” From humble backgrounds and with guidance from a ground breaking coach, the Lloyd Memorial High School Juggernauts led the way for high schools in Northern Kentucky to win State Championships for over thirty consecutive years. This is that story.

Mile race, NHL game

On January 10th, the Columbus Running Company has worked with the Blue Jackets to set up a mile race on the ice at Nationwide Arena. "We'll have different heats depending on speed - from walking to very, very, fast". Yeah, right--their idea of very very fast is sub-6:00.

For your $30 entry, you also get a game ticket and Tim Horton's. You know, I don't think the NHL should allow a franchise in a city that <i>doesn't</i> have a Tim Horton's.

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Armory

In terms of an actual track & field community, the 168th Street Armory in Manhattan may be as close as it gets in the eastern U.S. The New York Times has a nice article about it, while the Armory is counting down its top 100 moments of all time.

Thursday, November 27, 2008

NCAA Report

It's a bit late to get a real report up; Trackshark has the most complete coverage on the net. What I can report on: why do I keep on going back?

First off, I go with a college buddy or two each year, hang out and drink beer. That alone might make it worth a day off work, a hotel room, and five hours in a car each way. But the meet itself is more than worth all of that. Indiana State has this down to a science. Rating the meet:

Information: 70 meters
The PA announcer always does a great job of keeping us updated on both individual leaders and team scores (calculated every 2k) and a prominent video board does the same. The website is good. The only drawback is the meet program, which is awful for an NCAA championship and not worth the $2.

Facility & Amenities: 100 meters
Flat-out the best cross-country facility in the western hemisphere. All kinds of concessions available, including hot stew--a good idea for a day where wind chills were around 20. Meet T-shirts, sweatshirts, polo shirts and hats available. The lowest-cost NCAA championship there is ($5). Only port-a-johns, but no shortage there. I even hear a farmer across the road opens up his property for camping the night before. A perfect score.

Presentation: 150 meters
They make this a very big deal. From the national anthem, which this year featured fireworks and in the past has included a fighter jet flyover, to the awards presentation complete with a big stage and haybale seats, the fans are treated like they run the show. The live cable coverage is shown on a big videoboard; the course has every kilometer and mile prominently marked; fans are allowed free movement throughout the whole facility save the final straightaway. Literally the only thing we can complain about has nothing to do with ISU's handling of the meet. When the CBS cameras followed the winners for too long while ignoring the rest of the race, the crowd by the videoboard loudly vocalized their displeasure in the direction of the production crews.

Extras: 50 meters
ISU has created tradition over the last five years. That's not easy to do, and you can't set out to do it. Instead, you must make it a place and a time that people look forward to with anticipation and back on with pleasure. I hope the NCAA makes this the permanent home of the championships, as they have done with Lincoln and the College World Series.

Final total: 370 meters (out of a possible 400). And that's something any Superfancan get behind.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Bill Simmon's Favorite YouTube Clip

Bill Simmons, aka "The Sports Guy", writer for ESPN Page 2 and ESPN The Magazine, has a single favorite sports moment. It is a footrace.
My favorite YouTube clip runs 572 magical seconds. It celebrates an impossible-to-fathom era of political incorrectness, egotistical celebs, misguided testosterone and the purest unintentional comedy possible … only it finishes with a Hall of Fame sports moment. That's right—I'm referring to the match race between Robert Conrad and Gabe Kaplan on the 1976 debut of Battle of the Network Stars.
Read more or simply watch below.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

NCAA Trip

Tomorrow I take off for my annual trip to Terre Haute. Note to employer: I have friends on the board, so sod off!

Others are doing a far better job of reporting on the NCAA Championships than I ever could, so I won't try to outdo them. Trackshark, The Meat Grinder, and Running Times are your best bets.

The meet will be live at noon on Monday on CBS College Sports and its website and NCAA.com.

What do I expect?

1. They might as well hand out the women's championships right now.
Both Sally Kipyego and Washington are about as unbeatable as it gets in D-I cross. Unless, of course, something like a norovirus takes them out (last spotted at Madison, WI). Short of that, it would be stunning for either to lose.

2. The men's race is going to be the best XC race I've ever seen.
That prediction could go down the tubes as well, but I hope not.

  • Rupp v. Chelanga (aka Mammon v. God, Part 2)
Last year we had this great duel down the stretch between a runner from Jerry Falwell's university and one from Phil Knight's university. The same is expected this year. Dark horse German Fernandez makes this even more interesting. Only in the Obama year could we have three runners with three different racial backgrounds from three vastly different parts of the country all doing battle.

  • Oregon v. Oklahoma State
They have not met, neither ran in Pre-Nats, and they're head and shoulders above the rest. Oh, and do you remember where OSU coach Martin Smith got unceremoniously dumped from? I think I'll wear orange and sing the title song from a Rodgers & Hammerstein show (and it ain't The Sound of Music).

  • The remainder of the podium
Ben W's "Meat Grinder" has kept me so well informed on the plotlines that I'm watching for more than just the winners. As with the Tour de France, having a shot at an award at the end of it all is more than enough reward for those who have no real chance at winning. Stanford, Alabama and Portland are the favorites to take the two trophies remaining after Oregon and OK State take theirs. If you're betting for an upset, though, my advice is Wisconsin and Colorado.

Why Wisconsin? They've run well enough to be a legit top ten team even without Eagon and Withrow, who will likely run their best race of the year on Monday. Mick Byrne has proven he knows how peak. But if any of them got hit with that virus sweeping through UW, they'll be lucky to finish.

Why Colorado? Do you have to ask? Never doubt them on the Monday before Thanksgiving. Plus there's an X-factor: the weather. Sloppy conditions make for a longer race, which always plays into their hands. Wetmore will officially be granted genius status if they pull it off this time.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Future of the Golden League

While cleaning house today, I came across some notes I furiously scribbled down a few weeks ago regarding the IAAF's Golden League and World Athletics Tour.

This year, the Golden League was disjointed and hard to follow while the World Tour as a whole was an abject failure. Maybe the TV ratings were decent and so forth, but as far as a coherent structure for track and field it simply did not work.

What led me to this conclusion? I was at my in-laws' house, and NASCAR's Chase for the Cup series was on the TV. A few weeks before that, the PGA's FedEx Cup playoffs were on. Both have been highly successful efforts by their respective professional organizations.

By comparison, track's flagship series this year was disjointed. Two meets in early June, another two a whole month later, then another six weeks before the final two meets. The World Athletics Final was a real downer as the biggest stars, such as Bolt, skipped it. In terms of giving structure to the season, there was none.

By contrast, NASCAR and the PGA have taken the playoff mentality of team sports and successfully applied it to individual sports. Before trying to figure out how the IAAF could do the same, we need to carefully look at what it is that's being done.

NASCAR and the PGA have figured out what game shows have known for decades. Your standard 30-minute game show boils down to three stages: first round, second round, and lightning round. Jeodpardy! is the classic example, but pretty much everything on GSN follows this format. Points are accumulated all the rounds, but the second round counts much more than the first and the lightning round most of all. Why? So that everyone is still in the competition until the very end, because even big leads are not insurmountable. If the leader can't lose, why keep watching?

Likewise, the FedEx Cup Playoffs and the Chase to the Nextel Cup reduce or eliminate any points lead built up during the regular season. The same happens in any team sports playoffs; the teams with the best regular-season records have to start all over again and win the playoffs to get a championship. The Patriots had no built-in advantage over the Giants in last year's Superbowl, even though they clearly had earned one, and the "best" team of 2007 didn't win the championship because they weren't the best on that one day. I'm not complaining; I hated the Patriots, and in fact the possibility of them losing made it that much more interesting to watch. If late-season competition is to be compelling, championship contention must be heavily (or completely) weighted towards that period.

If the IAAF wants a compelling end to the season, then, there must be some type of short-term chase to a championship. Of course, we had a great one this year called the Olympics. But to extend interest beyond those two weeks and into the professional circuit, we need something different than what we've got.

We also need to recall how things used to be. The forerunner of the World Athletics Final was the Grand Prix Final, and the IAAF got its best athletes to show up by giving out a big jackpot to a champion of champions, the single male and female athletes who had the greatest seasons (as determined by a points total). Once that went out the window, it got a lot harder to get universal participation. And in an Olympic year the need to be at peak form for the Games trumps all else.

So here's my idea in a nutshell. Meets before the Olympics or Worlds score points just like they do now, but the series expands to add some other events like the World Indoor, US Championships, the European Team Championships, and so on. Also, maybe bonus points for good marks. The Worlds/Olympics also add in very big points. Immediately after the WC/OG, the top five or six in each event qualify to a short series of meets held over about two weeks, capped by the World Athletics Final. Call it The Home Stretch or some such catchy thing. And not only have event championships, but an overall title as well. (Note: if bonus points for good marks are awarded, it is possible that the overall title could come down to two athletes in the same event. Head-to-head competition is the essence of sports!)

The other thing that must be kept in mind is that different years are, well, different. The schedule should be adjusted to account for the supreme importance of the Olympics, and the rapid downward spiral of public attention afterwards. World Championships years should likewise be treated differently than either Olympic or World Cup years.

This proposal would ash-can the Golden League as we know it. I wouldn't miss it. By the end of the year, the remaining contenders are attempting to not lose, which in sports is generally considered not interesting.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

Obama & Track

Have you heard? There was an election the other day.

Sportswriters are already considering how an Obama presidency might affect their world; Phil Hersh and Lester Munson give the deepest thoughts on the issue. Two points have direct impact on track & field.

First and most obvious is a big boost to Chicago's bid for the 2009 Olympics. As an ardent supporter of his adopted hometown, Obama was involved in the bid long before anyone thought he had a reasonable chance of winning the Presidency. He will almost certainly make the final presentation in Copenhagen next year, and his plans for a national infrastructure rebuilding project won't disappoint the IOC either. Here, he's an obvious plus.

The second point would give me pause if I hadn't studied Obama's style so closely. Munson:
Coaches, athletes and administrators in a number of so-called minor sports, such as wrestling, have long been wary that their sports will be eliminated to meet the equality of gender requirements of Title IX, and they cannot be happy about Obama's election.

With President Bush in the White House and Dennis Hastert, a former wrestling coach, serving as Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, participants in those sports had some hope that Title IX requirements might be diluted.

Bush and his staff looked hard at Title IX and the possibility of enacting changes in the regulations of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that govern Title IX, but they backed away as opposition to any changes grew.

Obama, the father of two daughters, might not be sympathetic to those hoping to lessen the impact of Title IX.
Track coaches and fans could fit into this worried group, but I don't. Obama is not an idealogue, nor does he wish to govern divisively in an "I win, you lose" type of way. So to him, the whole "lessen the impact of Title IX" idea is a classic strawman argument. (Also, Munson might not know what he's talking about; Title IX is enforced by the Department of Education, not HHS, and it's been that way since they split off the DOE from HEW back in 1979.)

The big problem with current Title IX regulations is that institutions are allowed to show gender equity first and foremost by having equal numbers of male and female athletes, which in turn makes liabilities out of large but inexpensive men's sports such as track & field. This number-based approach is predicated on the wrong-headed assumption that all athletes place equal demands on the athletic department; an unrecruited walk-on (such as yours truly was) simply does not have much if any impact on the coach's time or the team's expenditures. This same numbers approach makes equal treatment of women's needs as athletes secondary to merely having them present in sufficient quantities. There has got to be a smarter way, one that benefits both men and women, and for the first time in decades I trust the chief executive to look for those kinds of solutions.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Whither Track & Field News?

A hot discussion on the Track & Field News message board refers to a couple of articles in the latest issue. In a nutshell, two big issues facing the sport--the upcoming USATF presidential election and the NCAA regionals re-"organization"--were reported on in some depth. Ken Stone criticized Garry Hill & the Mountain View gang for going lightly on people who deserved a good roughing up. To which Hill replied "If you don't like our style, don't read us. It's that simple."

Pressed further about the importance of investigative journalism, Hill responded with worries about lawsuits and the like. Bullshit. The law is clearly on the side of the publisher in any kind of libel action (burden of proof is on the plaintiff, who must show intentional publication of falsehood). He notes they're a small company with limited resources, but the heavy lifting on the USATF election was done by thefinalsprint.com, which is an even smaller operation. As for Stone's accusations of protecting access, there might be something to that.

In an arena far more important than track & field*, Joe Klein got banned from the McCain campaign for "the sin of being forthright" over the course of the election. When the New York Times pressed for McCain's medical records, they got a not-so-subtle signal that they'd get the same treatment. The American Prospect's Ezra Klein:
...this is a pretty good example of the perverse consequences of doing good political journalism. In general, political reporting requires access. But access is not a statutory right. It's offered at the discretion of the campaign. And it can be revoked for "bad behavior."...

And then the paper has a choice: Even if you can't do really good reporting with access, you can't really do any reporting without access. And if you can't do any reporting, readers will go elsewhere, to more pliant, less independent, papers. And wouldn't that be worse for them? So isn't it better that you make some concessions in order to retain your plane seat? Or that you pull the reporter they hate off the trail and put her on another beat? Why let the perfect be the enemy of the good?
In track & field, however, we have a problem. There isn't any other publication. Occasionally, Running Times gets into it (as with the Adam Goucher/Oly Trials issue from this summer) and even Runner's World once took a deeper look at the '07 Chicago Marathon debacle (on that one, they had less spine than Wolf Blitzer). If the story gets big enough, Sports Illustrated will cover it and leave no stone unturned. But for run-of-the-mill stuff like the two mentioned above, it's T&FN, less-then-fully-trustworthy internet sources, or nothing. The jackasses running the sport into the ground for their own (short-term) benefit know it.

As for Hill's charge to take a hike if I don't like how they do things, I just might. I'm a 20-year subscriber and joined two tours--I've got a lot of loyalty. When that loyalty is confronted in such a manner my mind begins to look at it like this: what exactly do they offer me that I can't get elsewhere? Aside from the World Rankings and High School All-Americans, the answer is "squat". The weekly e-mail newsletter is nice, but it rarely if ever has exclusives. Their website's archives have a wealth of information but it's all free and open to everyone. Heck, Tom Borish stopped subscribing before he launched Trackshark some six years ago.

*I cannot believe I wrote the phrase "an arena far more important than track & field".

Sunday, November 02, 2008

Big Ten Championships


Men's recap/results

Women's recap/results


Let's Run discussion




I took some of the kids on my team to see the meet as a pump-up to keep then running through the winter. All in all, it was a very good meet for them to go to.

The pre-meet women's national poll put Minnesota, Michigan, Michigan State and Illinois in the 7-10 rankings. Last year Minnesota won over Michigan State by a single point.

About halfway through the race, favorite Nicole Bush was leading Michigan's Nicole Edwards and Penn State's Bridget Franek. This would have been a logical prediction for their finish places.

But after this, Bush gapped the field, Franek dropped back, and Edwards cratered. At the finish, Minnesota appeared to have it over Wisconsin but no one new until it was posted: Minnesota 63, Wisconsin 67. Michigan finished fifth.

The men's race started off slow, with Ohio State's top five leading the way through the first mile. You didn't need a watch to know that meant a slow pace because the Buckeyes were not projected to finish in the top 2/3 of the field. The big question mark all season was about Wisconsin's stars Matt Withrow and Stuart Eagon (first and fifth in last year's meet) who had not raced all year. Would they be sharp and ready to go?

As it turned out, no. About halfway through, Wisconsin's Landon Peacock tried to draw away:but within a quarter mile Minnesota's Hassan Mead closed the gap and ran away. At that point Michigan was winning (or at least their fifth man was well ahead of anyone else's). Over the last half of the race, though, Wisconsin moved up strongly and won relatively easily, 40-57 over Michigan. Based on this race alone, I'd have to rate Wisconsin as a favorite to make the podium at the NCAA, as their stars didn't have a good day and they still won convincingly.

Rating the Meet
From a fan's perspective, how was the meet? I rate meets on certain categories...

Information: 100 meters
The sports fan's currency is information. Without it, you don't know what is going on, which makes for a boring event. Cross country is always a bit short on this because it's difficult to know who is winning during the race. The meet program was excellent: profiles of every team, their full rosters and race-day start lists, meet history, and course maps. Scores were posted in a prominent place as well. There was a PA announcer, but he was difficult to hear. The meet website was a bit lacking for a championship as big as this one.

Facility & amenities: 100 meters
For a cross country course, this was pretty good. Parking was free, easy to get to, and located very close to the course. While it cost to get into the meet, it was only $5 ($3 for students). The course was well laid out, with the start and finish right nect to each other and a loop that came by both multiple times. You could see the runners several times if you didn't want to run around, and more if you did. No concessions, only meet t-shirts and programs for sale.

Presentation: 50 meters
Feh. Better than most cross country meets, but that's not saying much. No introductions. PA hard to hear. A clock only at the finish; mile and kilometer markers not prominent. What they did do well was post the results on a decent-sized golf tournament style scoreboard, both full team scores and top twenty individuals. This was behind a stage on which the awards were presented.

Extras: 30 meters
What this meet did have was star power. Running around on the course were Kevin Sullivan, Brian Diemer, and Alan Webb. I'd bet Craig Virgin was somewhere too, but I didn't see him. Webb was wearing Michigan gear, and while not quite like RichRod going back to West Virginia in Mountaineer colors it did seem a bit out of place considering the conditions under which he left Ann Arbor.

Final total: 280 meters (out of a possible 400).

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Nellum Shot

Southern Cal star Bryshon Nellum was involved in a shooting.
Nellum was shot in the left thigh and right hamstring early Friday morning and underwent surgery at California Hospital Medical Center in Los Angeles, according to the Los Angeles Daily News.

Police said Nellum, 19, was shot near the end of a party early Friday morning at a restaurant near the USC campus. Doctors said surgery was successful and were hopeful that Nellum will be able to resume his track career, according to Ron Allice, his coach at USC.
So what's with former high school Athletes of the Year, the name Nellum, and shootings?
At 2 a.m. on Aug. 2, 1992, Ohio State sprinter Chris Nelloms was sure he was going to die. He had just finished a two-hour training run in a park in his native Dayton when someone—no suspect was ever arrested—sprang from the bushes and shot him in the back. The bullet exited through the left side of his chest, after shattering his collarbone, puncturing a lung and severing an artery. Dizzy and near fainting, Nelloms, just 200 meters from home, needed 20 minutes to crawl to his front porch, where he knocked on the door before flopping onto his back.

Nelloms's mother, Gloria, answered the door and called 911. Had Nelloms received care five minutes later or had the bullet penetrated just a centimeter to the right, he would have died. Still, he lost 10 pints of blood. A vein from his leg was used to replace the damaged artery. A portion of his collarbone was removed.

(from Sports Illustrated, July 26 1993)

Nelloms, the greatest Ohio high school athlete of all time (yes, better than Lebron James) recovered well enough to win the 1994 USATF indoor title at 200 meters. He now resides in Ohio's Warren Correctional Institution and shall stay there for the next 31 years. Let's hope Southern Cal's Nellum has a brighter future.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

What Effect Will The Election Bring?

Election day is one week away. Well, sort of--there's enough early voting going on around the country that next Tuesday is only nominally election day. To stretch a metaphor, it's no longer the Super Bowl but the seventh game of the World Series.

While my political preferences are no secret (I'm a hard-core political leftist) the question to ponder here is how this election could affect track & field. Most have no affect whatsoever, but there's going to be so much upheaval going on next week that its coattails will even extend into the world of sports.

#1. An Obama Presidency Will Give Chicago A Leg Up on 2016
There are several issues here. First of all, Bush's popularity abroad is just somewhat better than that of Idi Amin's, and a clean break with his ilk can only help Chicago's effort. Generally the aristocrats who run the IOC don't give a damn about public opinion, but it sure can't hurt. There's also the fact that Obama is a Chicago resident; I don't know how much help it is.

But in the eyes of the IOC, Obama's biggest plus is that he's not McCain. Saint John got pretty uppity with the IOC in the wake of the '98 Salt Lake City bribery scandal. He chaired the Senate Commerce Committee's hearings on the affair and even summoned then-president Juan Antonio Samaranch (who, of course, didn't show). The IOC may well have deserved such a working-over, but that doesn't mean they liked it. These kinds of people tend to have long memories and hold grudges...otherwise they wouldn't have gotten themselves into positions of such unchecked power.

I still think Rio is damn near a lock to get the '16 Olympics.

#2. Ted Stevens Goes Down The (Series Of) Tubes
In case you missed it, Stevens was found guilty yesterday on seven counts of corruption, which makes his re-election unlikely. What the heck could this possibly have to do with track & field?

Stevens has been notoriously defensive about his pet projects, even by Senate standards. So if anyone wants to toy around with the Amateur Sports Act you'd have had to go through him..and he's prickly to say the least. The ASA was authored mostly by Stevens in 1978 and broke up the AAU's power. It was updated in 1998 and Stevens was at the helm of that project as well. It is the law to which USATF owes its very existence. As far as the details of the law and whether it needs changing or not, I have no idea. But I do know USATF is in dire need of fundamental change and appears incapable of doing that by itself. If you're going to attack the root of the problem--the very structures and mandates as handed down by the ASA--your #1 roadblock will soon be out of the way.

#3. Race-Baiting Won't Play In A Presidential Election
There's been plenty of this at certain campaign rallies, along with some other sleazy items that mostly sailed under the media radar. An Obama victory would indicate such strategy is less useful than it once was.

This fall we will have an important election for the new president of USATF. The presumed frontrunner, and a year ago considered a lock, is a Columbus resident named Stephanie Hightower. While not as openly using her race for self-advancement as co-clown Brooks Johnson, she is not shy about taking advantage of literally anything that will advance her own interests. She would not be a good president; the usually-sedate Michael Johnson has called her "a bitch on wheels".

Brooks Johnson has already "resigned" his USATF post after getting the message from new USATF CEO Doug Logan; several decent candidates have been emboldened and decided to run against Hightower (and effectively end their USATF careers should they lose). Let's just hope that if race-baiting can't stop Obama, it can't propel Hightower.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Why no college students at college track meets?

That's the subject line for a Let's Run message board thread. Some people note lack of marketing, but that's not the heart of the problem. Here's my take...
Let me ask you this...would YOU go to a 6-hour sporting event with no system to determine a winner, and nothing on the line? I don't go to any college invitationals, and I'm about as rabid a T&F fan as there is. Dual, conference, regional, or national meets--I'm there. The rest of 'em don't give a damn whether a single spectator shows up and I'm happy to meet their expectations.
College students don't go to college track meets because it's never been a priority of meet organizers, plain and simple.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

We're Not Suffering Alone

Today NBC announced its new cable HD offering, our old friend Universal Sports (formerly WCSN). While celebrating the likely event that my cable provider picks it up, I suddenly had a sobering thought: All Carol Lewis, all the time.

But as Slate reminds us, track isn't alone in being saddled with complete idiots behind the microphone.
Last week, Kruk's SportsCenter segment on the Tampa Bay Rays concluded with the meaningful observation that they are "a special team that can do special things." This would all be more shocking if Kruk wasn't on a baseball broadcast, where such statements are the coin of the realm. While ESPN is the most egregious offender, the pre- and post-game shows on TBS and Fox aren't much better. TBS's cacophonously uninformative production features former pros Dennis Eckersley, Harold Reynolds, and Cal Ripken Jr. yelling excitedly at one another for a half hour, like a better-natured but equally unintelligible version of Crossfire.


And why are we in the same boat as the national pastime?
[W]ith so many fans, football shows can afford to devote screen time to relatively esoteric subjects that will appeal to the die-hards. With baseball's playoff games routinely rated lower than regular-season football, producers have obviously decided to appeal to the dreaded "casual fan."
Which is, of course, self-defeating. Treat a viewer like you don't expect him to come back, and he won't let you down.

Friday, October 03, 2008

I'm Still Alive

Wow--three weeks without a post.

School started, and two weeks into it I was given a schedule of classes totally different than the one I had prepared for, plus I'm coaching a team that I feel deserves a significant share of my attention. In short, I've been barely had time to keep up with the Sarah Palin Debate Flow Chart, let alone post the wacky things that travel through my head. No lonesome 20-milers, no deep thought.

I have come across one new thing online that merits mention. Ben Wietmarschen, of Less Than Our Best fame, is writing about college XC for Trackshark.com in a feature called The Meat Grinder. Not only is it (intentionally) laugh-out-loud hilarious, it's also (maybe unintentionally) a highly informative guide to the sport's regular season, which to me always appeared about as pointless as regular-season basketball.

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Distance Stars Want XC in Olympics

Track & Field News got a copy of a letter from Haile Gebrselassie, Kenenisa Bekele, and Paul Tergat sent to IOC head Jacques Rogge and IAAF head Lamine Diack asking for cross-country to be reinstated into the Summer Olympics. It was once on the program but eliminated after 1924.

While the IOC is in no mood to add to the summer games, this is an intriguing possibility. The facilities and work required to add two XC races (one each for men and women) are about as minimal as you can get in the Olympics. If they were held early in the games, before the rest of the track & field competition began, you could have both track stars and marathoners meet head-to-head (as both would have ample recovery time before the main event). This is what the IAAF has always wanted with its World XC Championships but rarely gets.

I would absolutely love to see Beks and Sihine take on Wanjiru. Let's hope this movement gains traction.

More from Doug Logan

Another blog post from USATF's new CEO: Living Up To Our Charter.

I have come to the conclusion that our [Olympic] performance, as an organization, is seriously deficient if judged by the mandate of our own charter. Additionally, our High Performance Programs to which we contribute the greatest portion of our fiscal resources must be reassessed and examined in the light of this empirical data. Now that we have come to the end of this quadrennial, it seems to me that this is an optimum time to conduct a top-to-bottom operating audit of these expensive programs in order to face the global competition that has emerged in our sport.

I am therefore forming an ad-hoc Operating Audit Panel to examine our High Performance Programs, methods and practices. This panel, reporting directly to me, will be composed of former Olympic athletes and coaches with no ties or affiliation with those charged with the efforts leading to the 2008 Games, several of whom I have already spoken to and who have agreed to serve.
Without saying it directly, this cannot be seen as anything but calling Brooks Johnson, et. al., out on the carpet. It ain't gonna be pretty, but it's waaaaay overdue.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Brooks Johnson, CPA

The old joke is that CPA stands for Certified Public Asshole. For those of you not in the know, Brooks Johnson is USATF's High Performance Division chair, was this year's Olympic relay coach, and has earned a reputation somewhere south of Tom Delay's (both in terms of competence and style).

Every now and then, a truly useful discussion breaks out at Let's Run and shows the place hasn't completely jumped the shark (mostly, but not completely). This thread started off with reference to new USATF CEO Doug Logan's recent blog post, which calls for change in USATF leadership. You don't have to be a genius to figure out he's talking about Johnson (and partners in crime Stephanie Hightower and John Chaplin). It quickly turned into a bitch session about Johnson. Even Joetta Clark delicately said he's a real piece of work. It's a fascinating read.

This is the kind of stuff I'm generally unaware of, even though I do realize USATF is even more dysfunctional than the Democratic party. The absolute best revelation: a public exchange at a coaching clinic between Johnson and Ohio State's hard-nosed forward-thinking coach Robert Gary.
The Rob Gary versus Brooks Johnson exchange in Vegas of 2005 was the most entertaining. No idea how Gary got asked back to speak again, but he did a steeple presentation on Crogan and Diemer that was really cool.

Best line came about the "critical zone" where Brooks started practically yelling at Gary that Americans had to concentrate on the last barrier to the finish line sprint when Rob came back and said "we are usually still playing about in the water when that is happening crazy ass".
I'm telling you, this is very interesting stuff. No wonder the USOC wants these guys' heads.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Beijing Summary

I missed this one in the flurry around the start of school and XC. Tim Layden has his parting shots on track in Beijing.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

This Week's "Separated At Birth"

Hammer Thrower Koji Murofushi:

Pro wrestling manager Mr. Fuji:

Thursday, August 28, 2008

Weltklasse Zurich Preview

I also have preview up at The Final Sprint. The nitty-gritty: ESPN Classic, 4-6 p.m. tommorrow. Here's who the top competitors are. I know there's a lot, but it's the Weltklasse for cryin' out loud. I have no idea why my HTML coding is giving such a gap to the table below.



















TimeEventKey Competitors
12:40 PMWomen’s Pole Vault#1 Yelena Isinbayeva, #2 Jenn Stuczynski, #3 Svetlana Feofanova, #4 Monica Pyrek, #5 Yulia Golubchikova, #6 Fabiana Murer, #7 Silke Spiegelburg, #10 Carolin Hingst
1:40 PMMen’s Javelin#1 Andreas Thorkildsen, #2 Tero Pitkämäki, #3 Tero Järvenpää, #6 Eriks Rags, #8 Ilya Korotkov, #9 Sergey Makarov, #10 Magnus Arvidsson, #11 Vadim Vasilevskis
1:45 PMWomen’s High Jump#1 Blanka Vlašic, #2 Anna Chicerova, #3 Yelena Slesarenko, #4 Tia Hellebaut, #6 Chaunte Howard, #7 Vita Palamar, #8 Ruth Beitia
1:45 PMMen’s 100m (race “C”)
1:50 PMMen’s 100m (race “B”)
2:00 PMMen’s Long Jump#3 Hussein Taher Al-Sabee, #4 Mohamed Salman Al Khuwalidi
2:05 PMMen’s 1500 meters#2 Daniel Kipchirchir Komen, #4 Shedrack Korir, #5 Asbel Kiprop, #6 Abdalaati Iguider, #9 Rashid Ramzi, #10 Juan Carlos Higuera, #12 Mehdi Baala
2:15 PMWomen’s 400 meters#1 Sanya Richards, #4 Shericka Williams, #7 Novlene Williams, #8 Amantle Montsho, #9 Mary Wineberg, #10 Tayana Firova
2:25 PMMen’s Steeplechase#2 Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong, #3 Michael Kipyego, #4 Paul Kipsiele Koech, #4 Mehiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, #5 Ezekiel Kemboi, #7 Wesley Kiprotich, #9 Tareq Mubarak Taher
2:40 PMMen’s 110m Hurdles#1 Dayron Robles, #2 David Oliver, #5 Joel Brown, #6 Anwar Moore, #8 Aries Merritt
2:45 PMWomen’s 800 meters#1 Pamela Jelimo, #2 Janeth Jepkosgei, #3 Maria Mutola, #4 Kenia Sinclair, #5 Yuliya Krevsun, #11 Elisa Cusma, #12 Marilyn Okoro
2:55 PMMen’s 100 meters#1 Usain Bolt, #3 Walter Dix, #5 Richard Thompson, #7 Marc Burns, #8 Michael Frater, #10 Churandy Martina, #11 Darvis Patton
3:05 PMMen’s 400m Hurdles#1 Kerron Clement, #2 Bershawn Jackson, #3 Danny McFarlane, #4 Angelo Taylor, #5 L.J. van Zyl, #6 Marek Plawgo, #8 Isa Phillips, #11 Markino Buckley
3:15 PMWomen’s 200 meters#3 Allyson Felix, #9 Marshavet Hooker, #12 Debbie Ferguson
3:20 PMMen’s 400 meters#1 Jeremy Wariner, #2 LaShawn Merritt, #3 Chris Brown, #4 David Neville, #9 Johan Wissman
3:30 PMWomen’s 100m Hurdles#1 Lolo Jones, #2 Brigitte Foster, #3 Sally McLellan, #4 Delloreen Ennis-London, #5 Dawn Harper, #6 Joesphine Onyia, #8 Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, #11 Susanna Kallur
3:35 PMMen’s 5000 meters#1 Kenenisa Bekele, #2 Moses Ndiema Masai, #4 Micah Kogo, #6 Joseph Ebuya, #7 Mark Kosgei Kiptoo, #12 Leonard Patrick Komon
3:55 PMMen’s 4x100 metersJamaica, USA, Trinidad

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Stuczynski / Suhr controversy

I was blissfully unaware of a recent controversy surrounding a post-competition interview in Beijing with Jen Stuczysnki and her coach Rick Suhr. I missed it because 1) I mostly didn't watch US coverage and 2) talking heads bore me to death.

Thankfully, ESPN's Luke Cyphers breaks it down for us:
After Stuczynski missed her final attempt at 4.90 meters, the camera followed her to Suhr's spot in the stands. NBC captured the following remarks from a surly sounding Suhr, who was talking to her while text-messaging:

"(It's) the same old same old. You're losing take-off at the big heights. What are you gonna do. You gotta learn to keep take-off. You got9you got caught at that meat grinder. I did not—and I told 10 people—I did not want to be caught in a meat grinder between 65 and 80. You had to, though.

You weren't on, you know, your warm-up didn't go well, you were 55, you got caught up in that meat grinder. What are you gonna do. What are you gonna do. You didn't have the legs. Her legs are fresh. Hey, it's a silver medal.Not bad for someone who's been pole vaulting for four years."

As Stuczynski turned around, she had a hollow, downcast look, as if she'd been upbraided.

Back in America, people watched. People cringed. And then people sent angry, sometimes ugly e-mails to Suhr's web site. Or they chimed in on Internet message boards, urging Stuczynski to fire "that jerk of a coach." A lot of people. But Stuczynski says people got it all wrong. Terribly wrong.

What they didn't see, she said, was what prompted Suhr's monologue. "I went over and I asked, What did I do wrong?" Stuczynski said. "And he said what he said, and it's the truth. And I didn't have a mike, and they didn't hear it and they didn't play it."

Moreover, she says, Suhr was texting his 13-year-old son in the States to inform him of the silver medal.
I haven't heard any nasty stuff about Rick Suhr before this, but on the other hand I don't keep my ear to the ground for that kind of thing as it amounts to little more than gossip. So whether there's any there there is beyond me, and I'm ready to take these people's word at face value. Mostly, though, I just don't care.

But I do find the public's response to this interesting. Stuczynski is a grown woman, a professional athlete who in an instant could have another dozen coaches knocking on her door. Such a person, if mistreated, wouldn't take it for very long. I'm certain the public response would have been different if the athlete in question had been Christian Cantwell, or Wallace Spearmon, or Allen Iverson.

I think this dustup reveals much about a paternalism the mainstream public directs towards women (particularly white women), seeing them all as young girls unable to protect themselves regardless of their age or power. As for black women? Tell me, how often did you see Bobby Kersee be at least as rough on his own wife, with little if any PR fallout?

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Day 9 & 10: What Happened

Results

Women's High Jump: This was a very big surprise. Blanka Vlasic had not been beaten in well over a year and had been regularly jumping as high as anyone else's PR. She did not make her first attempt at 2.05 meters, and when Tia Hellebaut made it on her first attempt (tieing her PR in the process) it was basically over. She's also this week's "Separated at Birth":




Now is the time on Sprockets when we dance!




Men's Javelin Throw: Thorkildsen with a world leader and new Olympic Record, then the three Finns in expected order. For an event with a reputation as unpredictable, this one came out unusually to form.

Men's 800 meters: Wilfred Bungei has been so good for so long and never won a championship that you'd figure he wasn't going to be the one this time either. But he was finally in the right place at the right time and won.

Women's 1500 meters: Everyone assumed this was going to be Maryam Jamal's race. But in the last 200 meters it didn't turn out that way. Nancy Lagat was a surprise winner, Iryna Lischysnka had another great championship race, and Jamal faded to fifth. Rowbury was never a factor.

Men's 5000 meters: At last year's Worlds, the pace went very slow until the end, and Bernard Lagat and Matt Tegenkamp sprinted to the USA's second-best ever international 5k finish. Four years ago, Kenenisa Bekele essentially handed the gold to Hicham El Guerrouj under similar circumstances. That's the way the race normally develops without a pacemaker. Beks instead made it an honest 3k race, which meant no one else had a chance, and the American runners who were primed for a mostly-slow-then-very-fast race were not factors at all.

Women's 4x400 relay: Thank you, Allyson Felix. And if Richards has run as smart in the individual 400 as she did here, she'd have two gold medals. This was the fastest relay time since shortly after the demise of the East European doping machines ('93).

Men's 4x400 relay: As always, the contest was USA versus the clock. The clock won.

Men's Marathon: Apparently, the heat and humidity weren't as bad as was thought, else the pace would have crushed all who attempted it. Since eight tried, and five were still there well past 25k, the athletes themselves must have sensed it was nothing like Athens '04, where only the early-race conservative runners medaled. Ritz and Hall, paying too much attention to data and not enough to their inner clock, gave away sure shots at top-eight finishes by dropping back so far in the middle of the race.