The oldest track & field blog on the internet
Wednesday, December 31, 2008
"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.
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
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.
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:
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
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
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
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.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.
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.
Friday, December 26, 2008
Track & Field News Athletes of the Year: Men - Women
Tim Layden's SI Sportsman of the Year
Road & Walks
Sprints: Men - Women
Middle distance: Men - Women
Long distance: Men - Women
Hurdles: Men - Women
Jumps: Men - Women
Throws: Men - Women
Multis: Men - Women
Kenya year in review
Times of London year in review
Trackshark NCAA year in review
Monday, December 22, 2008
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.
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
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
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.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.
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."
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
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.
Wednesday, December 17, 2008
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
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
Thursday, December 11, 2008
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.
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
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.
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.
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.