The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Six at Eleven

The IAAF has (finally) stripped Jerome Young of more medals.


Kenya accuses Bahrain of leaving switched-nationalities athletes in legal limbo.


Former IOC prez Juan Antonio Samaranch says Obama helps the Chicago Olympic bid. 


RW Racing News: Kara Goucher believes she can be the best in the world.


The IAAF previews the World's Best 10k, the USATF Indoor Championships, and the early outdoor meets.


The Christian Science Monitor looks at Kenyan post-election violence one year later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Six at Elevem

One better and an hour earlier than Sports Illustrated!


The Eugene Register-Guard interviews Jesse Williams about the dearth of domestic high jump exposure.


The RAK Half-Marathon may also be the world's fastest 10k.


ESPN's Soccernet gives us the mean and nasty history of adidas.


Fresno State is facing a lawsuit from former Olympic shot putter Ramona Pagel.


RW Daily has previews of the weekend's action.


Threadspotting: Does Jonathan Riley prove that Nike athletes get special treatment?

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Shrove Tuesday Race

Over in Olney, UK, Jane Hughes won the Olney Pancake Race in a record time of 62 seconds for the 415-yard distance, but still lost the transatlantic contest with Liberal, KS, whose race was won by Wichita State student Tasha Gallegos in 57.9 seconds.

The Olney race supposedly began in 1445, and they've been competing with Liberal since 1950. The rules:

For the short race, those competing must be women of 18 or over and have lived in the town of Olney for at least three months immediately prior to the event. For the race they must wear the traditional costume of the housewife, including a skirt and apron and head covering, though they need not be married. The Starter orders competitors, 'Toss your pancakes, Are you ready?' and gives the start signal. At the finish the winner is required to toss her pancake before being declared winner and being greeted with the kiss of Peace with the words, 'The Peace of the Lord be always with you' spoken by the Vicar, and the traditional prize of a kiss from the Verger.

This from the blog of Geoff Colmer, who was today's guest preacher at the Shriving Service in the local parish church in Olney.

Your Morning Link Dump

The World Cross Country Championships are a big deal in Kenya.  They're suspicious of Ethiopia, and they're worried about lack of teamwork.
Jordan Hasay will run the Nike Indoor Nationals 2-mile, her first-ever indoor race, and will shot for the national record.
Scott Bush asks if we'll ever have true road race star power.
PreRace Jitters interviews one of my all-time favorites, Allen Johnson.
The IAAF previews tomorrow's Athens meet, the last indoor permit event of the season.
RW Daily News looks at Deena Kastor's desire to increase athlete professionalism.
Threadspotting: 1965 Arthur Lydiard interview video!

Monday, February 23, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

Lolo Jones and Mo Farah put on a show at the Aviva Grand Prix in Birmingham, UK.
PreRace Jitters' internet radio show interviews the notorious Dwain Chambers.
Scott Bush asks if $171 (plus hidden fees) for a marathon is excessive.
The EAA has a roundup of the weekend's European national championships.
Trackshark has a roundup of the weekend's collegiate action.
Runner's World Daily interviews Elva Dryer.
Chicago promises the greenest Olympic bid.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Tommie Smith & John Carlos Revisited

ESPN has done quite a bit of programming related to Black History Month, but their showcase piece this year is a 1-hour film titled "Return to Mexico City", about Tommie Smith and John Carlos and their famous protest in 1968, and the intervening 40 years.

I finally got around to watching it, and it's pretty good. It's less than perfect, but they do have only one hour to work with (and ESPN is hardly PBS). For example, they highlighted the description "black-skinned stormtroopers" that was used to describe Smith and Carlos, but neglect to mention the columnist who wrote it: Brent Musberger.

For those who want to learn more about what really happened, the best source I've come across yet is Frank Murphy's "The Last Protest: Lee Evans in Mexico City". If anyone deserved to still be mentioned with Tommie Smith and the Olympic Project for Human Rights some 40 years later, it's not Carlos but Evans. They were good friends and the heart of the organization, while Carlos was seen as a bit of an interloper and opportunist.

If you're like me, and "academic writing" doesn't necessarily mean "boring", there's a treasure trove of sports history at, the website of the Olympic Library in Los Angeles. Below I've culled out some of the best scholarly works related to track & field and Black history.

American Ideas about Race and Olympic Races from the 1890s to the 1950s: Shattering Myths or Reinforcing Scientific Racism?

Publshed in the Summer 2001 volume of the Journal of Sport History, Penn State prof Mark Dyreson put together the definitive history of racism and track & field.

Revisiting The Revolt of the Black Athlete: Harry Edwards and the Making of the New African-American Sport Studies
While the OPHR soon tired of Edwards' self-promotion, he's still an important figure in the history of Black track & field. This is a revisitation of Edwards' book referred named in the article's title, which is one (but not the only) insider's story of the OPHR.

It’s Never Black and White: Differences in Newspaper Coverage of Tommie Smith-John Carlos’ 1968 Olympic Black Power Salute
For a good portion of the last century, most cities had two newspapers, one written for whites and one for blacks, and this paper examines their coverage of the event.

Book Review: Race, Culture, and the Revolt of the Black Athlete: The 1968 Olympic
Protests and Their Aftermath

The Olympika journal reviewed the 2003 book written by Douglas Hartmann, which examines the before, during and after of the protest.

Fanning the Flames: Avery Brundage, the USOC, and the 1968 Black Power Revolt
This article looks at the actions by the old white men which escalated tension and virtually guaranteed a protest would take place.

Avery Brundage and Racism
He was a racist, anti-Semite, and pro-Nazi.

There's plenty more at the website.

Friday, February 20, 2009

German Fernandez Going Big

A report from Track & Field News states that the wunderkind from Oklahoma State may skip the NCAA Indoor Championships in favor of the World Cross Country Championships.
The chattering class discusses the idea, some thinking it's good and others thinking it's bad, weighing the toll either would take on his body.  But their take is not looking at it from the wrong perspective.
NCAA competition is "small ball".  Mixing it up overseas with the Ethiopians and Kenyans is "thinking big".  In the world of politics, "small ball" is the day-to-day contests of power and publicity in Washington.  One of the things that impressed political observers most about Barack Obama during the presidential campaign is that he didn't care about stuff like that; he had a larger plan to follow, and did so very well.  He "thought big", and one presumes he still does.
Similarly, German Fernandez and his coach are thinking well beyond the present.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

Meseret Defar broke the world indoor 5k record at yesterday's GE Galan in Stockholm.  There was plenty of other good action as well; Steve Hooker remained undefeated in the pole vault.
2000 Olympic hammer throw champ Kamila Skolimowska died suddenly yesterday while training.  She was only 26.
After an appeal, Galen Rupp's AR in Fayetteville will count for NCAA championship qualifying.
Scott Bush tells us his likes and dislikes about said Tyson Invitational in Fayetteville.
Week 4 of the NCAA indoor rankings still have Oregon and Texas A&M as the top men's & women's teams.
Beijing Olympic distance races have been analyzed at 100-meter intervals.
SPIKES mag takes a look at the English National, the oldest cross-country event in the world.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Early Rankings

Some preliminary "computer rankings" for the young season in men's field events...


High Jump

1. Ivan Ukhov, RUS

2. Jesse Williams, USA

3. Linus Thornblad, SWE

4. Yaroslav Rybakov, RUS

5. Tora Harris, USA

5. Andrey Tereshin, RUS

7. Aleksandr Shustov, RUS

8. Viktor Shapoval, UKR

8. Andra Manson, USA

10. Raul Spank, GER


Pole Vault

1. Steve Hooker, AUS

2. Derek Miles, USA

3. Renaud Lavillenie, FRA

4. Pavel Gerasimov, RUS

5. Tobias Scherbarth, GER

6. Alexander Straub, GER

7. Evgeniy Lukyanenko, RUS

8. Romain Mesnil, FRA

9. Alhaji Jeng, SWE

10. Steven Lewis, GBR


Triple Jump

1. Teddy Tamgho, FRA

2. Arnie David Girat, CUB

3. Jadel Gregorio, BRA

4. Momchil Karailev, BUL

5. Alexis Copello, CUB


Shot Put

1. Christian Cantwell, USA

2. Adam Nelson, USA

3. Reese Hoffa, USA

4. Tomas Majewski, POL

5. Pavel Sofyin, RUS


Pole vault and high jump rankings go deeper because there's been a lot of competition.  The long jump has seen so little that the rankings are essentially meaningless.

Your Morning Link Dump

Runner's World Daily notes crime-fighting runners in the news.
The best unknown rivalry in track is getting better.  Belarus' shot putter Nadzeya Ostapchuk, who just put up a world-leading mark, will travel to Waitakere, New Zealand, to take on her archnemesis Valerie Vili.
Top European shot putter Joachim Olsen had his own dance show on Danish TV after winning their version of "Dancing With the Stars".
Flat Hills Road asks if it's all about the medals.
Galen Rupp may have set a collegiate record last Friday, but it won't qualify him to the NCAA Championships.
The Rice Owls get their footballers onto the track.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Notes from Historical Track & Field Studies

My latest windmill to tilt at is some historic collegiate statistics. Specifically, a progression of the all-time lists. We know the all-time collegiate lists as of right now; for example, here is the men's 100 meters:
Ato Boldon’ (UCLA)

Walter Dix (FlSt)

Richard Thompson’ (LSU)
Travis Padgett (Clem)
Raymond Stewart’ (TCU)

Olapade Adeniken’ (UTEP)
Leonard Myles-Mills’ (BYU)

Coby Miller (Aub)
Bernard Williams (Fl)
Carl Lewis (Hous)
(source: Track & Field News)

What I'm doing is putting together a progression of these lists--the list at was the end of each year since 1900. In the process, I've discovered a few trends.

1. Be suspicious of world-class sprinters who weren't particularly good in college.
Exhibit A: Tim Montgomery. While great sprinters almost always improve after college, if they went from nothing to something then they had to be on something, if you catch my drift. The list above doesn't have anyone subsequently busted for steroid use, and neither did any of the lists I created. This observation raises my already-high opinion of Ato Boldon.

2. The 1960s and 70s upswing in US distance running could have been predicted.
The progression of times in college miling was slow for several decades, and then it went quick. There was a veritable explosion of college performances at the mile distance beginning in the late 1950s and kept strong for about six to eight years or so. Exactly why this occurred is anyone's guess, but domestic distance running was obviously improving rapidly and it was only a matter of time before this would show itself at longer races.

By the way, the combined top ten collegiate 1500/mile list hasn't had a new member since 1998, when Kevin Sullivan joined the club. Brian Hyde and Joe Falcon are the only Americans on that list from the last thirty years. I don't doubt that Alan Webb would have made it had he stayed at Michigan for a full four years, but that does put our distance-running woes in clear focus.

Was the Team USA performance in Beijing a disappointment?

Was the Team USA performance in Beijing a disappointment?  There's a lot of argument about this.  The Project 30 Task Force was assembled on the presumption that it was.

Medal counts were thrown around, but the fact of the matter is that the 23 medals the USA won in Beijing were well within historical norms.  The percentage of athletes who posted seasonal bests in Beijing was noted, but this is meaningless unless compared to the same analysis of other countries' athletes.

The always-clear-thinking Tim Layden of Sport Illustrated wrote "It is clearly stretching the truth to call Beijing a disaster for USA Track and Field. It is also stretching the truth to call it a success."  Writing on his blog at the time, Doug Logan wrote "I have received e-mails from people across the country, particularly about the relays. They all say more or less the same thing: The dropped batons were reflective of a lack of preparation, lack of professionalism, and of leadership."

Relay flubs aside, the reason the US performance in Beijing was viewed as a failure was not due to a low medal count, but a failure to live up to high expectations.  Exiting the Trials, there were seasoned observers who considered this year's Olympic team to be the best since 1968 (often called our greatest ever).  It turned out not to be.

But can we quantify expectations?  The experts do.  Track & Field News makes medal predictions for every Olympics, and they don't let nationalist passions affect their judgment.  (Not all of their writers are American, either.)  In 2004, they predicted 10 golds and 25 medals overall for the USA; we won 8 and 25.  T&FN knows what they're talking about.

Their immediate pre-Olympic formcharts for Beijing predicted 13 USA gold medals.  We won seven.  They predicted 33 medals, which would have been our highest (non-boycott) total in seventy-six years. We won 23, which isn't our worst-ever, but considering the expansion of women's events over the years, in terms of medals-to-events ratio it's probably our second-worst.

Part of what seemed so disappointing was how often the USA was completely absent from the picture.  T&FN predicted 68 top-ten finishes; we had 50.  They predicted the USA would have a top-ten finish in 36 different events, but it turned out to be just 26—barely more than half of the 47 events contested (and in the men's events it was a minority 11 out of 24).

If we take a closer look at the performance of specifically the men's team in Beijing, it is not pretty.  A strong case can be made that it was the worst ever.  The gold medal total of four is an all-time low; previous low total was 6 (in '72, '76, '00 and '04).  While we didn't break the low end for total medals (13 in '00), we only beat it by one.

But the part that the worst about the men's performance was the lack of depth.  There were a total of 22 top-ten finishes, another all-time low (previous low: 25, in 2000).  Thirteen events saw no American men in the top ten, which is 30% more than the previous-worst performance (10, in 2000).

Field events were the culprit, where had a grand total of three men who made the top ten in those eight events.  No single event sums it up better than the long jump.  Until 2008, the USA had won a long jump medal in every Olympics in which they took part, but this year we didn't even have a finalist.

Why was the performance so much under what was expected?  That's a much deeper issue, and maybe not answerable.  But the general sense among the sporting public--that the USA's track & field program disappointed in Beijing--is more or less on the money.

Track on TV

Here's my latest compilation of what's coming up on the tube...

Thu, Feb 19 3:30-4:30 AM , HDNet Art Mann Presents: The Red Dress Beer Run
A look at the annual Hash House Harriers event. Not for the easily offended.
Thu, Feb 19 5-6 AM , ESPN Classic E:60
This rerun includes a segment on Ryan Shay's death at the Olympic Trials Marathon.
Thu, Feb 19 9:30-11:30 AM , Showtime Showcase Running the Sahara
Three men attempt the seemingly impossible - traversing the vast Sahara Desert by jogging - in order to promote a charity that strives to provide clean drinking water to impoverished areas of Africa in this inspiring documentary.
Thu, Feb 19 10:30AM-noon , Showtime Extreme Bud Greenspan's Favorite Stories of Olympic Glory
Thu, Feb 19 5-6:30 PM , Showtime Extreme Bud Greenspan's Favorite Stories of Olympic Glory
Thu, Feb 19 8-9 PM , ESPN Classic ESPN Films: Return to Mexico City
Their raised fists in Mexico City set off a national debate in 1968. John Carlos and Tommie Smith look back with no regrets.
Thu, Feb 19 8-10 PM , Showtime Showcase Running the Sahara
Sat, Feb 21 12-1 AM , ESPNU Return to Mexico City
Sat, Feb 21 1-3 AM , ESPNU Tyson Invitational replay
Sat, Feb 21 6-8 AM , Showtime Next Running the Sahara
Sat, Feb 21 7:30-8 AM , ESPN Classic SportsCentury: Florence Griffith-Joyner
Sat, Feb 21 12-1 PM , ESPN Classic Return to Mexico City
Sat, Feb 21 8-9 PM , ESPN Classic Return to Mexico City
Mon, Feb 23 7-8 AM , Sports Time Ohio Jesse Owens Returns to Berlin
The first-ever film in Bud Greenspan's Olympiad series
Tue, Feb 24 11 AM–12:30PM , Showtime Extreme Bud Greenspan's Favorite Stories of Olympic Glory
Tue, Feb 24 5:15-6:45 PM , Showtime Extreme Bud Greenspan's Favorite Stories of Olympic Glory
Wed, Feb 25 3:30-5:30 PM , Showtime Too Running the Sahara
Thu, Feb 26 6:30-9 AM , Showtime Extreme 1972 Munich Olympic Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers
Thu, Feb 26 3-4:30 PM , Showtime Extreme 1972 Munich Olympic Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers
Sun, Mar 1 7-7:30 AM , ESPN Classic Sunday Morning Classics: Wilma Rudolph, Flojo, Evelyn Ashford
Sun, Mar 1 5-7 PM , ESPN2 USATF Indoor Championships
Mon, Mar 2 8-10 AM , ESPNU USATF Indoor Championships replay
Mon, Mar 2 4-5 AM , National Geographic Man-Made: Beijing Olympic Stadium
Fri, Mar 5 11 AM–12:30PM , Showtime Family Zone 1972 Munich Olympic Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers
Fri, Mar 5 6:30-8 PM , Showtime Family Zone 1972 Munich Olympic Games: Bud Greenspan Remembers
Sun, Mar 8 4-6 PM , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships
Mon, Mar 9 Noon-2 PM , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships replay
Tue, Mar 24 Noon-2 PM , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships replay
Thu, Mar 26 10 AM – noon , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships replay
Fri, Mar 27 Midnight-2 AM , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships replay
Mon, Mar 30 3:30-5:30 AM , Fox College Sports Atlantic SEC Indoor Championships replay
Sun, Apr 5 4:00 AM , Universal Sports Rotterdam Marathon
Mon, Apr 20 9:00 AM , Universal Sports Boston Marathon
Sat, Apr 25 3-5 PM , ESPN2 Penn Relays
Sun, Apr 26 4:00 AM , Universal Sports London Marathon
Sun, Apr 26 4-5:30 PM , ESPN2 Drake Relays
Sat, May 30 4:30-6 PM , NBC Reebok Grand Prix
Sun, June 7 2-4 PM , NBC Prefontaine Classic
Fri, June 26 8-10 PM , ESPN2 USATF Outdoor Championships
Sat, June 27 6-8 PM , ESPN2 USATF Outdoor Championships
Sun, June 28 4-6 PM , NBC USATF Outdoor Championships

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Your Mid-Day Link Dump

Last night's pro action at the Tyson Invitational saw two American Records. (Spoiler alert: the meet will be on TV on Sunday!)

Yesterday's PSD Bank Meeting in Düsseldorf saw three world-leading times.

The first day of the Russian Championships produced world-leading times in the women's 400 and 800, from a pair of unknowns. Are you suspicious?

Steve Hooker again threatened Bubka's pole vault world record at the "Meeting SEAT" in Paris. Looks like this guy is the real deal.

The IAAF previews tomorrow's Chiba (Japan) Cross Country meet and BW-Bank-Meeting indoor meet.

The recommendation to shit-can the National Relays Program could hurt the Texas Relays, or so says the Austin American-Statesman.

The Eugene Register-Guard interviews Vin Lanana on the Project 30 task force report and the general state of the sport. Ever the optimist, he thinks things are going well.

Scott Bush ruminates on new media and why track & road racing aren't using it.

Olympic high hurdle champ Dayron Robles will sit out the indoor season with a gimpy hamstring.

New Blog

A new track & field blog: The View From the Finish Line, written by fan Conway Hill.

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Week Ahead

The big meet is the Tyson Invitational on the campus of the University of Arkansas, taking place today and tomorrow.  It's the third leg of the VISA Championship Series but also has quite a bit of collegiate-only competition.  A tape-delay broadcast will be on ESPN from 5 to 7 p.m. on Sunday.
Website / Trackshark coverage / IAAF preview
On Sunday, the USATF Championships for the 50k walk will be held in Santee, CA.
Other top-level collegiate action includes the Iowa State Classic in Ames IA, the Texas A&M Invitational in College Station TX, and the Husky Classic in Seattle WA.
The biggest overseas meet of the coming week is the Reunión Internacional Atletismo "Ciudad de Valencia" in Spain on Saturday, one of the IAAF Indoor Permit meets.  The men's 3000 meters promises to be a deep affair.
The Eurocross, an IAAF Cross Country Permit event, will be held in Diekirch, Luxembourg.
On Sunday, the IAAF Indoor Permit series goes to Karlsruhe, Germany for the BW-Bank-Meeting 2009, and on Wednesday stops at Stockholm, Sweden for the GE Galan.
The Russian Indoor Championships will take place from today through Sunday in Moscow's Vladimir Kutz Arena.  Top talent includes Ian "I ain't drunk" Ukhov.
Other top overseas action includes the UK Indoor Championships on Saturday and Sunday in Sheffield, and the Zepter Pole Vault Stars competition on Sunday in Donetsk, Ukraine.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Sign of the Apocalypse

San Francisco Examiner headline: Beer, nudity banned in Bay to Breakers race
Like banishing beads and masks from Mardi Gras or removing the red carpet and gold statues from the Academy Awards, the banning of floats, beer and nudity at this year's Bay to Breakers will take all the fun out of it, many longtime revelers say.
HDNet did a show on this a while back, titled "The Sickest Traveling Party in the World".  On May 17th, I'll be wearing a black armband in mourning.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

My Response to the Task Force Report

I've taken some time to decide what I think about the Project 30 Task Force Report, after reading the reactions of others.

One of the most basic things people say is whether or not the whole thing was even justified. Was our Olympic performance actually disappointing? If so, were the factors that led to it influenced by USATF managerial policy?

A good number of those responses in the press, both print an electronic, answer "no" to either the first or the second. Alberto Salazar called the task force "an overreaction to a couple of dropped batons". Let's Run co-founder Weldon Johnson said "the fact of the matter is USATF had as much to do with Walter Dix's two medals in Beijing as it did with Richard Thompson's two sprint medals. Which is to say, 'Nothing.'"

It's entirely possible that the Olympic team, as a whole, had unusually poor luck. Shit happens, and coaches know there are times that everything just goes wrong. I think many of the high hopes for Beijing were due to this Olympics coming on the heels of an unusually successful World Championships, which may also have been just plain dumb luck.

But I don't think this task force was assembled just because of to two botched relays, or even a (supposed) Olympic debacle. I think those were merely the pretext for a thorough and honest self-examination. It's pretty apparent that track & field in this country is in need of a reworking, and USATF especially. With a new CEO coming in—one with little prior connection to T&F, and no favors to repay—it was the time to examine vested interests. So take things that come from domestic observers of the sport with a grain of salt, because hardly any of them are impartial. When your sport gets a minimum of press coverage, those who give it are generally highly invested (examples: Eugene Register-Guard, Track & Field News).

As for the criticisms of the recommendations, they are many and varied. The whole report has been criticized for being overly concerned with the Olympics to the exclusion of all else, and for being solely concerned with the medal count. But the name of the task force—Project 30—is in reference to a medal count for the next Olympics. Furthermore, USATF's congressional mandate under the 1978 Amateur Sports Act, the law that created it as a separate entity from the AAU, is to maximize medal counts at international championships, the Olympics in particular. So its focus comes by the nature of the beast.

The #1 outcry in response to recommendations has been over the call to shorten the Olympic Trials. The report cited undue stress on athletes (physical, emotional, financial) as the compelling reason, whereas the critics deny such stress exists and finds significant reason to keep things as they are. Those are basically financial; the host site recouping costs from ticket sales, and USATF/USOC revenue from TV coverage, both of which would be significantly reduced in a shorter Trials. Others simply want more domestic track & field instead of less.

As I see it, the important question is Why do we do things this way? The task force asked it, and the only reason they came up with was "money". We pick Worlds teams at four-day national championship meets and suffer no drop in performance for it. Remember, USATF's congressional mandate is to maximize Olympic medals, not maximize revenue, and so the task force didn't see money as a good reason to keep an extended Trials schedule.

From an athlete's perspective, the single biggest difference between the Olympic Trials and the USATF Championships in a non-Olympic year is not the number of days, but the number of rounds athletes have to run. At the Trials, a sprinter must run four rounds (heats, quarters, semis, finals), as opposed to three at the USATF. A miler must run three rounds at the Trials versus two at USATF; for the 5k it's two at the Trials instead of finals-only at USATF. Tyson Gay and Bernard Lagat were subjected to considerably more stress at the 2008 Trials (when they both subsequently bombed at the Olympics) than they did at the 2007 USATF Championships (when they both went on to win World Championships doubles). The extra stress may not have been why they bombed, but it sure didn't help. The task force was interested in removing obstacles to success, and they saw this as one.

A split-the-baby approach? Keep an 8-day Trials format with far greater entrants in each event than at the USATF Championships, but give the best running-event athletes a bye to the second round. The top eight in each event (as determined by qualifying time) would get seeded directly into the second round. The athletes most likely to compete for medals at the Olympics are given less stress, while the long-shots still have a chance at the team and the fans and media still have their big Olympic Trials. I can see a criticism that it's not a "fair" system as the byes amount to a head start, but these guys did earn them, just not at the Trials proper.

Tomorrow I'll tackle more of the report and what the critics are saying.

Your Morning Link Dump

Since the Project 30 Task Force Report came out, USATF CEO Doug Logan is talking to everyone, many times at great length.  He spoke with Trackshark (broken into nine parts) and Flotrack (eight parts; three posted so far).
More Task Force Report reactions from The Eugene Register-Guard, Oregon Live, and Alberto Salazar.  All concentrate on the recommendation of shortening the Olympic Trials, all are opposed, and all have a dog in that fight.
Last night's big Meeting du du Pas-de-Calais in Liévin, France, saw Bernard Lagat set a new world-leading mile time of 3:3:51.34, a meet record and the ninth-fastest indoor mile in history.  Olympic hurdle champ Dayron Robles pulled up in his heat with a gimpy hamstring.
Let's Run's "The Week That Was" report is up.  Robert Johnson didn't like the task force, by the way, and neither did his brother.
Pole vault superstar Yelena Isinabyeva signed a $1.5 million sportswear contract with Chinese retail giant Li Ning.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Smith and Carlos Together Again

On ESPN's First Take yesterday, they actually managed to get Tommie Smith and John Carlos in the same room. Video is here.

For a rundown on where the bad blood came from, check out this LA Times article from last summer.

More Project 30 Task Force News

Amy Shipley wrote an article for the WaPo:
The 69-page report...recommended an overhaul of USA Track and Field's high-performance program, improvements to its anti-doping policies and the termination of its million-dollar relay developmental program, which the report described as "a waste of money and a failure."
The report caps what has been a difficult decade for USATF, which has struggled to maintain its standing as the world's most decorated track program while being battered by doping revelations and seemingly declining interest...
"The problem now is not that everyone's catching up, but we're going backwards," Lewis said on a conference call with reporters.
"Change never comes out of a climate of comfort," [CEO Doug Logan] said. "This report has and will produce a significant amount of discomfort. . . . At the end of the day, this is the only way this institution will be able to . . . realize its potential."
The USATF's five-year-old National Relay Program, which has involved various relay-team training camps and been led by Coach Brooks Johnson, received the heaviest criticism...The report also chided USATF for allowing shoe companies and agents to effectively take over the management of track and field.
"American athletes as a group do not conduct themselves as true professionals, and USATF does not hold them to professional standards," the report said. "USATF, rather than external forces with interests often times at odds with those of the athletes, must educate them and set professional standards."
George Vecsey has also written an analysis for the NY Times, and reveals that the task force essentially began with Carl Lewis:
Lewis thinks the United States should do better — and be clean. Now 47, he thought he was the angriest man in the Bird's Nest stadium in Beijing on Aug. 21. Then he had lunch the next day with Douglas Logan, the new chief executive of USA Track & Field, the national federation. Turns out, Lewis was the moderate at that table.
"I was angry, but Carl was very analytical," Logan said the other day. "I fundamentally shut up and ate my lunch while Carl talked for two hours."
The report is sure to upset television networks by calling for trimming the trials from 10 days to no more than 5. The report will annoy shoe company sponsors and agents, saying they had too much control over athletes.
The vast majority of recommendations make perfect sense. The report criticizes the revolving-door policy of coaches and staff members: "People thinking they had a free vacation to Beijing," Lewis said with scorn.
Also, Ross Tucker of the Science of Sport blog gives us a South African perspective, noting that their government issued a similar report a decade ago and it went nowhere.  
Trackshark has the complete audio of the teleconference about this report.

Monday, February 09, 2009

Project 30 breakdown

I've been reading the 69-page Project 30 Task Force report whenever I've had a free moment today. Note that I'm just a fan, and not an insider.

Going straight to the "Recommendations" section, my reactions...

1. Hire a professional General Manager of High Performance
They want someone who knows how to lead, manage, and build consensus, rather than someone who specifically knows track. They see advantages if someone from outside of USATF is chosen, "[n]ot the least of [which] is having no prior alliances or debts of gratitude that must be repaid." They also want a person who can be fired if their Performance isn't High enough.

2. Create a transparent, criteria-based Team Staff selection system
I think it's weird that the #2 recommendation is about picking people to coaching positions for US teams, as they are largely symbolic positions with almost no real coaching duties, but this is a bureaucracy I guess.

"USATF should develop an impartial, point-based system for evaluating coaches who wish to be on national team staffs. Such a system would de-politicize selection and create an incentive-based criteria that could serve as a source of inspiration and aspiration for coaches of all levels." And cut out the ass-kissing that gets people into these positions, which then means they no longer owe something to the people who put them there. "The staff will report directly to the GM, who will be responsible for ensuring team staffs are fulfilling their job requirements for international teams." So screw-ups won't be picked again.

3. Restructure the composition of Team USA Staffs
The recommendation is to let coaches be coaches and let managers pick up some of their busywork. A good idea: a "friends and family" manager.
A minimum of one manager should be dedicated exclusively to assisting athletes with issues pertaining to their families and other support mechanisms at international events. Concerns over family ticketing, housing, travel and other matters are significant stressors to athletes that can negatively impact their performance. Having a staff member in charge of handling these stressors should improve performance.
There would be two of these at the Worlds and Olympics, one at other national-team events.

4. Shorten the Olympic Trials to five days
This is the one that gets the big headlines. My initial reaction was disapproval. But I read on, and got convinced.

Let's remember where our current Olympic Trials format came from. Up through 1968, it was always a two-day meet. In 1972, the first time it was in Eugene, the trials were expanded to a full week in order to expose neophyte athletes to mutliple-round competition before they went off to the Olympics. Back in the pre-professional days, hardly anyone went to the Olympics more than once, and it was the only big championship meet of its kind, so the idea was to get people prepared.

But these days, everyone knows what multi-round championship meets are like and there's no need for the Trials to mimic them. Not only do athletes stay in the sport longer, but the Worlds make a big international championship meet nearly an annual affair.

The downsides to a week-long meet are many.
The 2008 Olympic Trials were considered among the most successful Trials ever, yet the success and intensity of the meet led to athletes being perhaps even more physically and emotionally tired than normal after an Olympic Trials.

In addition to being physically draining, the 10-day length of the Trials can be emotionally and financially cumbersome for athletes. Athletes are given a small stipend for travel, and if they must be on-site at the Olympic Trials for in some cases more than a week, they must pay for many costs themselves. Several cited the high costs incurred by their families, as well. A handful of athletes favored having multiple days between qualifying and final rounds in field events at the Olympic Trials, as is the case at the Olympic Games, but many also cited the boredom and
financial cost of such a lengthy schedule.
I'd add that the first round of many events at this year's Trials hardly eliminated anyone and were essentially pointless.

It was also noted that our Worlds team is picked at a four-day national championship, and typically brings home more medals than our Olympic team.

5. Terminate the National Relay Program
"The United States has made relay running a 400-meter enigma, wrapped in a conundrum and shrouded in mystery." For the uninformed, the National Relay Program is described:

Following initial meetings in 2001 and 2002, The National Relay Program was launched in 2003 after a “meeting of the minds” in Las Vegas the previous November. At that meeting, nearly 60 athletes, coaches, and administrators developed the template for the National Relay Program. The program was created in order to streamline methodologies for running relays in international team competition, and to provide American sprinters with several opportunities each year to practice and compete with each other in relay competition.
The National Relay Program brings together American sprinters six to ten times per year, often in early-season meets, for relay training and competition. USATF flies athletes into locations to take part in the program and leverages local athletes as well. In 2008, 98 men and 75 women, for a total of 173 athletes, participated in the program in at least one location.
Basically, this program has been a waste of money and has produced no results. Our relay performance at the Worlds and Olympics has been worse after this program started than before it began. While not stated in the report, I've read accusations that the program had been used as a slush fund by its director in order to consolidate his political power within USATF. Good riddance.

6. Establish a comprehensive 2012 team preparation program
There's a lot of blah-blah-blah about specifics of planning and credentials and Olympic training camps. Boring.

More interesting is the criticism leveled at athletes who competed in a rather haphazard way in Europe after making the US team, cashing in on their newfound Olympian status without regard to whole-season planning. Recognizing that these are professional athletes who need some competition, this suggestion is intriguing:
USATF should work with fellow federations to organize three televised, country-based dual/triangular meets in Europe in the weeks leading up to London 2012. Such meets would be a profit generator in selling European and international television rights, would give American athletes – especially those whose events have fewer existing competitive opportunities – a chance to sharpen for the Games, and would contribute to generating more of a sense of team among U.S. athletes. The Task Force recommends event-specific meets in a dual or triangular meet format. For example, USA vs. GB in selected events; USA vs. Scandinavia in throws; and an all-purpose, all-event meet. Athletes should be paid a stipend to compete in the meets to ensure their quality. The Statement of Conditions, which athletes sign as a requirement to be on national teams, should stipulate that all athletes who attend Training Camp participate in at least one such meet.
Also interesting is changing the lump-sum training stipend for making the Olympic team into a pay-for-performance setup:

The Task Force therefore recommends that USATF develop an incentive structure for the Olympic Games and provide financial rewards to athletes who achieve Seasonal Best (SB) or Personal Best (PB) performances at the Games. The amount of these incentives should be determined by the GM. Ideally the amount would be a few to several thousand dollars for SBs and PBs.
No word on how weather that negatively impacted performance might be taken into account, or allowances for distance runners (whose events are typically much slower in championships than on the GP circuit).

7. Target technical events for medal growth and develop these events
The Task Force thought the easiest place to get more Olympic medals was the field events, where we've got the athletes, equipment, and know-how but haven't been doing well.

One big point in this section was High Performance Training Centers. We've got one in Chula Vista, CA, and it's way under-used. The Task Force thought there should be more, and they should be put together where the athletes already are (think Santa Monica Track Club in the 80s or Florida Track Club in the 7os). In other words, work with the highly-performing groups that already exist instead of trying to make some out of whole cloth.

8. Create a well-defined Professional Athlete designation
You'd have to declare yourself a pro and sign a contract with USATF if you or your coach want funds from USATF.

Obligations might include "participating in a minimum number of press conferences, promotional events and local, grass-roots functions during the course of the year", and a more stringent doping reinstatement program (see the next point).

9. Establish a more stringent anti-doping reinstatement system
The Task Force noted that "the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency has in some cases persuaded athletes to truly “come clean”, but these instances are few and far between". Their recommendations:
Any athlete coming back from suspension should be required by USATF to provide a deposition under oath detailing what went into their decision to cheat, how they obtained and used their drugs, and who contributed to their cheating.
USATF should set up a “rehab” education program designed to teach athletes how to train and compete clean. In many cases, these athletes don’t believe that it is possible to compete clean; even more important is that they have no idea how to do so. The rehab program must include instruction on nutrition and periodization of training and should guide the athletes to train with a “clean” coach.
Any athlete who has been convicted of a doping violation who later pursues a
coaching career will not be eligible for any USATF coaching support or programs,
including but not limited to stipends, credentials, selection to Team USA staffs,
affiliation with HPTCs and access to other USATF coaching programs.
Coaches of banned athletes also should be required to go through this rehab program.
Until and unless the athletes fulfill each of the above two requirements – deposition and rehab – they will not be eligible to receive USATF benefits and support monies or participate in USATF-affiliated events, such as the Visa Championship Series.
These are very good ideas, and would be the trendsetter for the entire sporting world. If only one of these ten recommendations comes to be, this should be it.

10. Promote and foster a self-sustaining professional athletes’ union
Mostly, in order to encourage athletes to act in a professional manner. If the MLBPA is the Teamsters of sports, this would be more like the NEA.

Task Force Report Update

Missed this: the New York Times has a story on it.
The task force's] report was critical of what it considers a poorly structured federation and athletes who have not made winning Olympic medals and developing their sport their top priority.

"Through benign neglect, USATF has allowed shoe companies and agents to take over management of the sport," the report states. "It is long overdue for USATF to take it back."

Other analyses:

The committee took a dim view of athletes who squeezed in too many events between the trials and the Olympics, believing athletes were putting a higher priority on the paychecks from those events than on their chances for an Olympic medal. It called for athletes to sign a professional athlete contract with USA Track & Field agreeing to go along with long-term planning goals set by the organization.


The Olympic trials themselves came under question, but the committee called for retaining the selection process of sending the top three finishers to the Games. Because the strict trials system often keeps top medal contenders off the United States team, the committee considered a bye for top athletes.

Doug Logan's Task Force Report Out

A task force reviewing the U.S. track team's failures at the Beijing Olympics has issued a report calling for changes in the relay system, the Olympic trials and the way the sport handles doping cases.

The nine-person panel, headlined by sprint great Carl Lewis, released its 69-page report Monday. The leader of USA Track called for a full review of the federation after the Americans won only seven Olympic gold medals.

Suggestions included shortening Olympic trials to five days instead of eight and a thorough revamping of the relay system after both American 400-meter teams dropped the baton in Olympic qualifying. The panel also said dopers should enter a 'rehab' program as a condition of their reinstatement into the sport.

Highlights, as noted by an USATF press release:

Based on its findings, the Task Force makes the following 10 Recommendations:

* Hire a professional General Manager of High Performance.

* Create a transparent, criteria-based Team Staff selection system.

* Restructure the composition of Team USA staffs.

* Shorten the U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field to five days.

* Terminate the National Relay Program.

* Establish a comprehensive 2012 team preparation program.

* Target technical events for medal growth and develop those events.

* Create a well-defined Professional Athlete designation.

* Establish a more stringent anti-doping reinstatement system.

* Promote and foster a self-sustaining professional athletes' union.

Doug Logan has blogged about it, and the full text is online.

My initial reaction?  First off, this might be the first time in American history that management actually wanted the workforce to unionize--which, as a card-carrying member of the AFL-CIO, I think is a good thing, just unprecedented.  Besides that, it looks like Logan's task force wants to get rid of a lot of self-serving bullshit, the kind that rewards those who play the good ole boy system to the hilt.  Indy isn't DC, and the new boss have an easier time draining the swamp on the White River than others have with the one on the Potomac, but there will still be quite a bit of institutional pushback.

Is it a good idea to shorten the Trials to five days?  That I'm less sure of.  However, I'll bet all of these will be talked to death.  On the boards: old farts / young punks

Your Morning Link Dump

On Saturday, Meb Keflezighi and Emily Brown won USATF cross country titles.  German Fernandez won the junior race with relative ease, and some speculate he could have won the senior race.
Olympic hurdles champ Dayron Robles is expected to be the highlight at the IAAF Indoor Permit meet in Lievin, France.
Another Olympic hurdles champ, Melaine Walker, addresses crime in Jamaica.
The Reval Hotels Cup combined events competition might indicate that surprise winner Dutchman Eelco Sintnicolaas is a rising decathlete star.  He beat bigger names, such as Olympic bronze medalist Leonel Suarez.
Saturday's big indoor meet in Gent, Belgium, saw some wins by big names such as Haron Keitany (1500m), Belal Mansoor Ali (800m), Tareq Mubarak Taher (3k), Leevan Sands (triple jump), and Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (hurdles).
The once-popular nation-versus-nation dual meet has all but disappeared, but on Saturday Italy beat Finland in Tampere.
On Saturday Kara Goucher impressively won the 3k at the Boston Indoor Games, and on Sunday she ran the final 20 miles of the Boston Marathon course.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

Other Side of the Breakup Story

Recently, Shalane Flanagan and Erin Donohue dropped their coach John Cook. It was public and not particularly nice. Flanagan said "Overall we didn't see eye to eye on many levels, personally and professionally", and I can only assume the story was in USA Today because she (or her husband) personally called Dick Patrick to get the story written.

Now Cook has talked about it as well. (Of all newspapers to pick up the story, it fell to the Washington Times, a right-wing rag owned by the leader of the Moonies.) Donohue says she took off because Cook told her she'd never break 4:00 (in the 1500m), and he pointedly blamed Flanagan's husband for her departure:"
[Edwards] has always had insidious intent to coach," Cook said. "I was warned by a North Carolina coach to keep an eye on him. Of course, it is hard to hide workouts when you are intimately involved with athletes. [Edwards] has made his job his wife — period. He even films [workouts]. I was too trusting and they had a plan - learn, copy, use all my training system and then take over.
You know, Yuriy Syedikh's coach once told a group of US coaches that "there are no secrets", and he coached behind the Iron Curtain. Cook has to be pretty damn arrogant to think he was the only man Flanagan and her husband could learn from. That's not enough for her to say tey never saw eye-to-eye, though.

Do you remember that 90s band, Extreme? They had an album titled "3 Sides to Every Story", which they said were yours, mine, and the truth. I suspect there's more to this and we'll never really know what it all is.

Boston Indoor Recap

Website / Results / News

My thoughts on the Reebok Boston Indoor Games...

I can't comment on the announcers; I was watching the meet at a noisy bar and couldn't hear anything. I suppose it's just as well...

TV coverage on the whole wasn't bad but still just not good enough. Case in point: field event coverage consisted of two pole vaulters attempting record heights. No actual competition between athletes was portrayed.

Who the hell is Sentayehu Ejigu? She's a B-level Ethiopian who hadn't broken 15 minutes for 5k in four years. She pushed Shalane Flanagan to an American Record (by a good 20 seconds) and beat her down the stretch. I thought Flanagan noticably overstrode in the last 20 meters or so and that's where she lost it, but I couldn be reading too much into the video replay. In any case, Ejigu must be considered a real contender to make the Ethiopian team for the World Championships--and any Ethiopian woman in the 5k is automatically a medal threat, like American men in the 400.

I think we can stick a fork in David Krummenacker. I don't think he's ever again going to make a national team or be a factor in big GP meets. And Alan Webb...he got solidly beat by Chris Lukezic? No disrespect to Lukezic, but Webb is supposed to be head and shoulders above him.

In the Pick N' Win game, I have now moved up to 18th. If I hadn't made two bonehead picks at Millrose, I'd be first. My two bombs this weekend were Bianca Knight in the 60m (bad start, never a factor) and Sarah Jamieson in the mile (inexlipicably poor race for her). Other than that, every one of my picks was first or second. If I win that $2000, I'm walking into the bar decked out like I'm at the Player Haters Ball.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Weekend Preview



Tonight, the Boston Indoor Games, the second leg of the VISA Championship Series, will be held on the campus of Boston University.  A tape-delay will be broadcast on ESPN on Sunday from 4-6 PM.

Meet website / Trackshark coverage / IAAF preview


Today and tomorrow, the New Balance Collegiate Invitational will take place in Manhattan's Armory Track & Field Center.  Many of the nation's top teams will be there, including top-ranked Arkansas (men) and Texas A&M (women).

Meet website / Trackshark coverage / live webcast


The USATF Cross Country Championships will be held tomorrow in Derwood, Maryland.  The deepest race is probably the men's juniors, as the members of the deepest class of domestic collegiate freshmen harriers in recent memory will all be in attendance.

Meet website / Trackshark coverage


Other top collegiate meets include the Meyo Invitational in South Bend IN, the McCravy Memorial in Kexington KY, the Husker Invitational in Lincoln NE, and the Virginia Tech Elite in Blacksburg VA.




The Sparkassen Cup, an IAAF Indoor Permit meet, will be held tomorrow in Stuttgart, Germany.  America's top miler, Bernard Lagat, is making an attempt on the 3000-meter American Record

Meet websiteIAAF preview


The KBC Indoor, another IAAF Indoor Permit, will be held on Sunday in Gent, Belgium.  The men's 1500 meters will line up a bunch of top talent.


The Reval Hotels Cup is an indoor multi-event competition that will take place in Tallinn, Estonia on Saturday and Sunday. 

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

Shocker: Olympic bronze medalist Shalane Flanagan has fired John Cook, her coach of the last few years.  Cook, Flangan, Rowbury and others were featured in Running Times last summer.  The parting did not appear friendly.  Discuss.
Andrey Tereshin won the Pedro's Cup high jump competition yesterady in Lodz, Poland.
The USATF Foundation awarded grants to twelve pros.  How far will $5000 take an athlete these days?

Wednesday, February 04, 2009

US Long Distance Track Woes

Dan Grimes, former USATF long distance chairman, wrote an opinion piece about it at In a nutshell, he says US men are not now, nor have they been, competitive at the 10k because a) our 10k runners have inferior speed and b) "our training programs are focusing too much on distance and not enough on speed, power, and biomechanics".

Where have I heard this before? Oh yeah, Arthur Lydiard. He got an undeserved reputation for megamilage due to his insistence that it is impossible to do more with less, but in fact the basics of his training ideas require athletes to maximize all their abilities--endurance, strength, power, speed and technique.

We hear so much about the ten weeks of high milage runners like Peter Snell did, but forget the six weeks of plyometrics that followed. Many of Lydiard's distance runners did sprint races in club meets. They were complete athletes, and you won't find a world-class 10k runner who isn't.

In a talk he gave in Japan in 1990, Lydiard told the Japanese they overdo the marathon-type training, and excoriated their runners, women in particular, for horrible form. This argument sounds very much like Grimes'.

Like Grimes, Lydiard thought the essential limiting factor for any runner was his basic speed. Looking at the same idea in different terms, Dr. Tim Noakes has said that if you can't beat someone in the mile, you're almost certainly not going to beat him in the marathon. This is why I'm so excited about German Fernandez. You don't get many athletes who set age-group records in the mile and then put their indoor track season on the back burner in favor of the World Cross Country championships. It's the kind of thing only Kenyans and Ethiopians do...and they're the ones who dominate long distances on the track.

Different modes of training go in and out of style, and getting the word out about the right balance of endurance, power and technique work is possible. As for getting athletes with speed to run long track distances, that's another problem entirely. Much of it is because of the American system. When I went to a presentation Lydiard did three weeks before he died, I suggested to him that our team orientation is a big barrier to getting top athletes into distance races.

Let me give you a theoretical example. Suppose an average, ordinary high school track team has a 17-year-old who not only can run 48-flat in the 400, but can run that several times in one meet without tiring. He can also do duty on the 4x800 and/or 4x200. Most average, ordinary track coaches see this kid as the centerpiece of their average, ordinary track team, scoring big-time points.

But this theoretical 17-year-old's combination of speed and endurance might be suited to someday being a national-caliber miler, or an international-caliber 5k/10k man, as both Grimes and Lydiard suggest. The team-points system does not reward high school coaches who would have such a boy become a distance runner (since he couldn't run as many races), and teenage jock culture sure doesn't encourage him to think of going that way either. Ditto for a great high school 800/1500 runner becoming a 5k/10k man in college, for similar reasons.

Contrast this with Steve Ovett's career in the British club system. He started off as a great long sprinter in his youth, but moved up to longer races as he got older, eventually became one of the greatest middle-distance runners of all time.

Unless something is changed to encourage our best runners to move up, it won't happen by itself. So we need to do what we can to make the long distances attractive to the real athletes? That's where promotion of professional athletes comes in, and yet another reason why USATF needs to assume a greater leadership role. Another issue is that, according to Tony Reavis, most shoe contracts reward making a US team more than doing well at an international championship. In other words, there are serious financial rewards for thinking "small" (make the national team) instead of thinking "big" (beat the world). Again, USATF could take a leadership role.

Grimes' arguments are not new. But we need some new thinking to fix the problems.

Your Morning Link Dump

The rich get richer: superstar Jordan Hasay will sign with Oregon today.  How big was this decision?  It was announced live online.  Other signing-day info can be found at Trackshark.
Trackshark's collegiate dual-meet rankings for men and women show little change from last week.
USATF Cross Country news: Meb Keflezighi has entered this weekend's championship race, while Dathan Ritzenhein has dropped out of it with the flu.
Wins by high jumper Blanca Vlasic, shot putter Reese Hoffa and pole vaulter Fabiana Murer were the headlines at yesterday's Malmö (Sweden) Indoor Gala track meet.
Olympic sprint champ Veronica Campbell Brown has released a book titled A Better You, Inspirations for Life's Journey.
Aleksey Dmitrik and Ruth Beitia were the winners at yesterday's high-jump only meet in Bern.
A win by Bulgaria's Ivet Lalova highlighted yesterday's Vienna Indoor Classic meet.
Yesterday was the annual Empire State Run-Up.
Oregon decathlete Ashton Eaton was named USATF's Athlete of the Week for his impressive showing in Seattle.

Tuesday, February 03, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

Tomorrow is National Signing Day for college recruits, and Trackshark will have all the coverage.
Universal Sports ruminates on the prospect of a women's 7-foot high jump.
In anti-doping news, France expects to have a new test for HGH this year, and 2004 Olympic walking champ Athanasia Tsoumeleka's b-sample came back positive for an unnamed prohibited substance.
Canada's Tyler Christopher will shoot for records in the rarely-run 300 meters at Karlsruhe next week. 
Ton Kornheiser (of ESPN's Pardon The Interruption fame) weighs in on rising US distance runners.
Everybody is stepping up to take on Haile Gebrselassie these days.  Next month at a half marathon in Lagos, he'll face Luke Kibet (Worlds marathon gold medalist), Tsegay Kebede (Olympic marathon bornze medalist), and long-time top marathoner Hendrick Ramaala.

Monday, February 02, 2009

What I Think About Michael Phelps

I've tried to keep out of the whole Michael Phelps thing, but it's been bouncing around my head and I need to get it out.


There are an awful lot of pundits out there wondering what the big deal is.  They fail to understand how so-called "Olympic" sports are fundamentally different than more mercenary "professional" sports.


Michael Phelps' fame was based on his image of an athlete's single-minded pursuit of success taken to the nth degree, and in a sport where performance and health are closely related if not inseparable.  Whether or not it is accurate is not the point; it's what has driven his ability to make a very good living.  In his sport, the image is everything; he does not fill stadia like Babe Ruth did, nor does he drive TV ratings that directly contribute to his salary like Alex Rodriguez does.  He is paid by advertisers, because they are interested in attaching themselves to a positive image.  And, as they say, those who live by the sword shall die by the sword—so if his image is what made him rich, it will also hold him to an impossibly high standard.  In sports like swimming and gymnastics, you can't take one without the other. 


I think the brouhaha related to just that, an image of Phelps hitting the bong.  Had we merely read about it, things would be different.  There are other minor issues, such as the fact that cannabis is a banned substance under the WADA code, but only a very small minority of people know that.  I wonder if smoking, rather than ingesting in some other manner, is part of the issue, but I doubt it.  And then there's his 2004 DUI arrest (at which time he was underage), which most people had forgotten but have now been reminded, contributing to a sense that this guy is a hypocrite.  He's not, but again, the people who wrote the checks made him out to be some kind of superhero, and that's pretty much all we've seen of him.  And had we seen, say, a video of him failing a field sobriety test in 2004, he likely would have spent a good deal of time in the media doghouse. 


The real issue is that the photo makes him look like one of the pothead losers in Knocked Up.  There is no shortage of these kinds of guys; go around any college town and the place is littered with them.  Thus, we get to the heart of it all; Phelps won 16 Olympic medals by the time he was 22.  He is probably now past his peak, at an age when athletes in almost every other sport are years away from theirs.  They get to mature and become responsible before they're ready for a Hall of Fame, but not Phelps.


Think about what a dumbass you were at 23, and then think about your entire financial future riding on keeping your once-in-a-blue-moon goofups a secret.  Does it make you glad you're an ordinary Joe?  It does for me.