The oldest track & field blog on the internet

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


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

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, 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.