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Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #3

My #3 fan experience of the decade was my trip to the 2008 Olympic Trials.

A sports columnist whose name (and column) escapes me at the moment said that in 2008, track & field in the USA was down on its luck and experiencing hard times of its own making. So like many who have seen the same kind of trouble, it did the only right thing: it went to church. Hayward Field is the cathedral of the sport in America.

Maybe a more apt comparison is Portiuncula Chapel. For those (like me) without deep knowledge of Catholic history, that's the name of the tiny chapel erected near Assisi by St. Francis. Cathedrals are big, overdone wastes of money, the medieval equivalents of today's megachurches. My wife and her sisters were disgusted by the accumulation of wealth in the Vatican; now she teaches at a small Catholic college that regularly uses a recreation of that chapel.

Hayward Field is hardly a giant stadium; to seat more than 20,000 they have to bring in so much extra seating that it spills over onto adjoining roads. To meet management's credit, they decided to make this "bug" into a "feature", and close down the area around the stadium and make it a festival. It was a great idea, allowed beer and food to be served right near your seats, and made for great arial shots on TV.

The stadium itself is old and beautiful. When you walk in, it sounds and looks like waiting in line for an old wooden roller coaster. Its signature roofs brung up memories of the old Tiger Stadium. It is filled with people who are thrilled to be there.

The meet? Great. It's an Olympic Trials, which Garry Hill thinks is the greatest meet in the world. (He's wrong, but not by much.) The thing that stood out most was that it seemed like a gathering of the sport for the entire country. I worked a Running Film Festival where everyone showed up, and I mean everyone. I hung out with people who worked on press row. I ate pizza in the booth next to John Godina; I introduced myself to Rob Myers and had coffee with him.

The most thrilling moment was such a little thing. I'm a teacher and have seen Lean On Me more times than I care to count. During Hazel Clark's victory lap, I stood at the fence next to the track. I looked over my shoulder at one point and saw a very fit but clearly middle-aged woman, who I vaguely recognized. A moment later I figured out she was Hazel's older sister, umpteen-time national champ Joetta Clark. There was an old man with her who exuded a quiet badass attitude. The next time I looked, they were gone. Only then did I realize he was Joe Clark.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #4

Coming in at #4 is Universal Sports and its predecessor, WCSN.

Back in 2005, there were no US takers on broadcasting the World Championships. WCSN, which I think was an offshoot of, popped up to offer hardcore fans a chance to see the meet. I passed, as my cable provider carries CBC, but some friends said it was fantastic as they used the BBC feed--no commercials and announcers that had multiple brain cells.

Originally this was supposed to be a one-off deal, but they kept the website going for the rest of the season and covered a bunch of late-season invites and the World Athletics Final. It came back the next year with an expanded slate of European indoor and outdoor meets. In 2007 they added other Olympic sports, and in 2008 they started up their own cable channel. By the end of that year, NBC gobbled it up and called in Universal Sports.

Unfortunately, NBC at times uses its own announcers instead of the Beeb's, but mostly they leave well enough alone. They've completely dropped the indoor season, but have done some wonderful coverage of domestic marathons. All in all, it's the best thing to happen to US track fans in a very long time.

ABC/ESPN has announced they're going after the next round of Olympic coverage. If they manage to wrest it away from NBC, I wonder what will happen to Universal Sports. I can't imagine they'd keep pumping money into an Olympic vehicle.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #5

National championships don't come to the Rust Belt very often. When they do, I go. The 2006 and 2007 USATF Championships in Indianapolis come in as my #5 of the decade.

The meets were good, as nationals always are, and not quite memorable, as they never are in non-Olympic years. But that was only part of it. Three or four days of all-day track is great all by itself.

The weird thing about a major multi-day track meet is that the area is crawling with people who are celebrities to you and pretty much no one else. In 2007 I was sitting in Starbucks killing time on Saturday morning and Shalane Flanagan came walking by with her dog. Note: she's even better looking in normal clothes.

Done right, an event like this can really show off a city. In 2006 we didn't get rooms until the week before the meet, so we had to stay in a run-down area, but managed to find a wonderful little neighborhood restaurant. If you're ever visiting Indy, Datsa Pizza is the kind of all-walks-of-life place that I love. And in 2007 we stayed right on Monument Circle. I never knew downtown Indy was such a happening place--highly unusual for a mid-sized Rust Belt city.

The stadium was the same one that hosted the famous 1988 Olympic Trials, where FloJo put on a show and Carl Lewis and Larry Myricks staged one of the greatest long jump battles in history. Unfortunately, the stadium is being torn down.

My fellow travelers liked the experience so much that we may go all the way to Des Moines if they get the USATF meet.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #6

Life in the Rust Belt has a lot of disadvantages. Coming in at #6 is one of the perks, the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation and its Olympic coverage.

The last three summer games have been so far off US time zones that NBC has seen fit to time-shift coverage of most events. And, of course, it's the typical brain-dead jingoistic crap they've been feeding us for decades.

Our northern neighbors, however, show things live. For Sydney, I got up at 3 AM to see the track finals. Athens and Beijing required morning viewing, too, but for them the sun was already up. I saw the fantastic 2000 Tergat-Gebrselassie 10k duel right before I left for school, and had to keep my mouth shut about it for those who planned to watch it later that day.

CBC is just as centered on their own athletes as NBC is on ours, but there are two fundamental differences. Whereas NBC makes no apology for this, CBC is a tad embarrassed. But also, there just aren't enough top-end Canadians in the Summer Olympics to fill the 20 or so hours a day they broadcast. The combination of these two can lead to some great stuff. For example, in Sydney the Canadians had two finalists in the men's high jump, and they ended up showing every single attempt in the competition, even after Boateng and Boswell were out.

Also, the level of expectations for success are so vastly different. CBC cut into other coverage to go live to the men's shot put in Beijing, because Dylan Armstrong was almost in the bronze-medal position. Almost winning a bronze medal makes you a headline in Canada.

Unfortunately, privately-run CTV will be showing the 2010 and 2012 games, and there is no affiliate in the Detroit/Windsor area. Canada has a Conservative government right now, with too many American-style conservative kooks, and 20% of CBC's operating budget has been cut. You know how that argument goes: government is incapable of doing anything right, except for when they do, in which case we'll screw it up so they can't.

Friday, December 25, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #7

On Christmas day, I celebrate the single greatest gift I've been given as a track fan.

Six years ago I was asked to be the announcer at our high school's league championship. I can't believe they pay me to do this job. It is not only the best job to have at a track meet, it is the best way to experience a track meet. You know everything, and I mean everything, that is happening. Schedule, start lists, results, team scores, all the moment it is official. I heavily supplement the stuff meet management gives me with my own research. I have profiles of all the top athletes in each event. I have league history dating to 1926.

I use a wireless microphone so I can move around and update field events. Last year I got to cover Erik Kynard's outdoor state record high jump. That was great, but I get just as much a thrill out of announcing a new PR for a run-of-the-mill pole vaulter or other such things. Tracksters so often toil in obscurity just for the reward of success alone, and they deserve recognition for it.

I've noticed that stadium announcers usually do a better job than their TV counterparts. The recent NCAA cross-country championships would have been much better if they'd shut off the talking heads' mikes and just used the PA announcer. Ditto at US championships and Olympic Trials. I don't know why this is, except maybe that meet management won't accept mediocrity while TV does.

Thursday, December 24, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade #8

The explosion of the Internet during the last ten years comes in at number eight.

Al Gore invented the Internet long before 2000 (while he was developing the global warming hoax). I had my first Internet account in 1994. But it's usefulness, breadth, and immediacy took off this decade. All the better for track fans.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade: #9

Coming in at #9 is a personal experience, competing in the Boston Marathon.

In the fall of 2002 I ran my second serious marathon, dropped 20 minutes off my PR and got a Boston qualifier. I sent in my application and booked a room the next day.

I didn't have a particularly good experience from a racing perspective. I overtrained, came in with a nasty cold, and my quads felt beat down by the 10-mile mark. It was not good. I ran 34 minutes slower than my qualifying time. I was so ill afterwards I was running a fever and couldn't eat.

Otherwise, it was tremendous. Boston is an experience like no other. For one, most people in Boston treat you like a celebrity just because you're running. "Oh, you're a marathoner." On the other hand, during the race they treat you just like a pro athlete, which means verbal abuse from literally a million people if you're having a bad day.

One simple thing that was cool was the school bus ride out to the start. As adults, we rarely get the experience of riding a bus to an athletic event. (I do it all the time as a coach, but that makes it different somehow.) I never thought I'd miss it until I had to do it again. I was stuck with a bunch of people I didn't know, but everyone else was too, so we were all pretty friendly.

Upon arrival in Hopkinton, I was part of 20,000 people waiting around and killing time. 150 yards of port-a-johns was not enough. It was weird to see cops telling you where to urinate in public instead of giving you a ticket for it. And in that mass of people, without a cell phone, I managed to meet up with a former college teammate. I remarked to him that it was the whitest group of people I've ever seen in my life. Helaughed and told me to go down to the church where they house the pros where I'd see the blackest.

Boston is the only mega-marathon I've run, but I've done others with upwards of 3,000 entrants. After about 4 or 5 miles the crowds thinned out and I had no trouble at water stations. In Boston, I was still struggling for elbow room in the last mile. Every other race I've done has broad swaths of emptiness where there are no spectators at all. Boston has people lining the course for all of the last 20 miles, and they get thicker and thicker the closer you get to the finish.

I wanted to go in 2003 because the race was on the Monday of my spring break. I stayed in town for a few days afterwards to do the tourist thing. I'm planning on going back in 2011 when another such alignment happens, and thinking about trying to find some off-the-beaten-path things to see.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Top Ten of the Decade: #10

This whole blog is about the sport from a fan's experience. So while everyone else counts down the greatest this or that, I'm going to count down my favorite new developments or personal experiences.

Coming in at number ten is the return of the college dual meet. Ten years ago it was down to UCLA v. USC and Stanford v. Cal. Now we've got Oregon-UCLA, Texas-Arkansas, Texas-Texas A&M, Ohio St-Michigan, Iowa-Illinois, and a whole bunch more. Duals are great entertainment and make good press.

Bad Running Movies

I'm a fan of so-bad-they're-good movies, such as Can't Stop The Music. If you do too, you may want to check out this discussion thread.

It sounds as though the one most up my alley is Courage, a sort of Deliverance with ultrarunners in the southwestern desert.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Anti-Doping News

An update on the Anthony Galea situation:
TORONTO — A Canadian doctor known for treating high-profile athletes was charged Friday with conspiring to smuggle human growth hormone and other drugs into the United States, according to documents filed with a Canadian court.

Dr. Anthony Galea, a sports medicine specialist who practices in the Toronto area, is suspected of attempting to bring illegal drugs into the United States between Jan. 1, 2007, and Sept. 14, 2009, according to documents filed at the Ontario Court of Justice.

The drugs listed among the charges are Nutropin, a brand of human growth hormone, and Actovegin, a drug made from calves’ blood that is not approved for sale in Canada or the United States. Human growth hormone is considered a performance-enhancer in sports and is banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.
In the United States, federal investigators are seeking to determine whether Galea has provided performance-enhancing drugs to top athletes. The New York Times reported Friday that [his assistan Mary Anne] Catalano, who is cooperating with investigators, has told authorities in the United States that Galea did provide such drugs to athletes.
No one is going easy on Tiger Woods these days, yet the first NY Times article on the case ran a Dara Torres photo ahead of a Woods photo. Both are among the athletes Galea has worked with, and such is the level of distrust of a 40-year-old woman with the abs of a 20-year-old man.

The only track name that has surfaced so far is Donovan Bailey. It should be noted that unlike Victor Conte and BALCO, Galea is an M.D. and some athletes have gone to him for undeniably legitimate purposes. But when a guy proudly states he takes HGH to keep up with his 22-years-younger wife, you get the idea that his bounds of propriety aren't quite the same as yours and mine. So possibly he's known on the down-low as a guy who will get you what you want.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Sport and Nationalism

In the current issue of Sports Illustrated, Stephen Colbert (the person, not the character) gets it all wrong.
"My character is a patriot, and he believes that the Olympics are war," the comedian says of his TV alter ego, the self-aggrandizing, jingoistic spawn of Bill O'Reilly and Ann Coulter who hosts Comedy Central's The Colbert Report. "It's a way to prove who's got the best country. Only nobody gets hurt."
Oh, how little he understands. His character is not misguided--on this point he's absolutely right.

I just got back from seeing Invictus, which is over two hours of people trying to prove that their pariah nation really is just as good as all the others. Oh yeah, there's all that national unity crap, but nationalism is a prerequisite for the unity. Otherwise South Africans would see no reason to cheer for the South African team over all the others. The real triumph of Nelson Mandela was to get blacks to see themselves as South Africans, and thus the importance of preserving the republic and its form of government rather than tearing it down through civil war.

You think nationalism is overblown? Let me tell you a story. In 1996 the Olympic torch relay came through the small college town I was living in. My wife and I went out to see it with a bunch of grad student friends of hers. As the torch approached, they broke out into cheers of USA! USA! USA! These were creative writing students, the biggest bunch of anti-authoritarion pot-smoking slackers I've ever seen, and even they were spouting nationalism at the very sight of an international act of peace and brotherhood.

Patriotism and nationalism are close, but not the same thing. When patriotism gets ugly it turns into nationalism. Yesterday Fox News brought us a specific example of this. Glenn Beck insulted India's health care system (which strikes me as odd, considering how many MDs are Indian), and then in his "apology" he pissed on Usain Bolt, saying "Not only do I not know who this guy is, I don't even know what flag that is. It's like a vacation country. Is that Jamaica? Does anybody know? Jamaica. Apparently he runs fast."

He should know who Usain Bolt is. In August, The Daily Show's John Oliver said of Glenn Beck "We can't compete with him. He's out on his own now. He is the Usain Bolt of whackjobs."

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Colbert and Olympic Sport

Stephen Colbert appears on the cover of Sports Illustrated this week. Yes. Seriously. I am not making this up--I'm not that good with Photoshop.

He's earned such a distinction by getting his Colbert Nation to cover a $300,000 shortfall in U.S. Speedskating's budget when their main sponsor blinked out of existence.
It could... be a new funding model for the USOC and its individual governing bodies. With the pool of corporate sponsorship getting shallower in the recession, niche sports are searching for new revenue streams. Instead of relying on handouts from mammoth companies, why not appeal directly to small but passionate fan bases? Says Rob Prazmark, the CEO of 21 Marketing and an expert in Olympic sponsorships, "When Colbert did this, all of us in the business went, Why didn't we think of that?"
Would I contribute some coin to help out USATF? I already do, as a member of the organization, and don't get much for my trouble. Of course, the same thing could be said about my "memberships" in public radio and my local museum of art. In those, it's understood that my relationship with the organizations are primarily, if not exclusively, as a source of funds.

If there were a specific fund-raising campaign I'd be more inclined to do something about it. Say, for example, to get lower-level IAAF events to come to the USA. Things like the World Juniors, the Continents Cup, the World Indoor or World Cross Country, or the like. Especially if the plan was to eventually build to a World Championships.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Anti-Doping News

I've said many times that the front line in anti-doping is now law enforcement. More proof:

The F.B.I. investigation of Dr. Anthony Galea, a sports medicine specialist who has treated hundreds of professional athletes across many sports, follows his arrest on Oct. 15 in Toronto by the Canadian police. Human growth hormone and Actovegin, a drug extracted from calf’s blood, were found in his medical bag at the United States-Canada border in late September. Using, selling or importing Actovegin is illegal in the United States.

Dr. Galea is also being investigated by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police for smuggling, advertising and selling unapproved drugs as well as criminal conspiracy. He is tentatively scheduled to appear in a Canadian courtroom on Friday.

Who does he work with? Tiger Woods and Dara Torres are two of the bigger names.

Person of the Year?

This is different. The IAAF reports that Usain Bolt is one of the ten finalists for TIME's Person of the Year. Boy, if he won, that would be a big "F*** You" to Sports Illustrated, wouldn't it?

He's got to be a long shot, though. No athlete has ever won the award, and he's up against much more deserving people: Barack Obama, Ben Bernanke, and Iran Protesters to name just a few.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Santa Speedo Run

ESPN's Page 2 covers The Hub's second-most important annual road race.

Key quotes:

"We were sitting around one Thursday night at the bar, and somebody said, 'We should do something fun and stupid like we used to when we were younger.'"

"There are rare opportunities where you get to be a complete idiot, yet do good and raise money."

Friday, December 11, 2009

Bear with my test

I can post from my iPhone. Not a particularly useful thing most of the time, but great for uploading pics and video while away from my laptop.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Superfan and the iPhone

I finally got my iPhone yesterday – it had been on backorder – and it is the shizz.

The Trackgeek 2010 app was the first one I downloaded. It’s pretty good. The twitter feed, photos, videos, and schedules are great. The schedule section is especially well-made; it’s broken down into simple yet complete subdivisions, and each race or meet listing takes you straight to the competition’s official website.

Its drawback is the news feed, which is significantly short of regular reads. For example, it lacks Runner’s World’s Daily News, the single best online digest. Its sample pages showed Let’s Run among its news sources, but so far there’s nothing taken from there either. Basically: good framework, content could be better.

I find the general lack of track/running/Olympic apps puzzling. AT&T is one of the major sponsors for USATF as well as many other Olympic-sport NGBs and Universal Sports. The only reason to have AT&T wireless service is the iPhone. Developing iPhone apps isn’t terribly difficult—amateurs do it all the time. So why haven’t these entities simultaneously helped themselves and their sponsor in a cheap and easy way?

Even the really well-made websites out there, such as and, don’t have mobile pages. I guarantee you one thing: if Tom Borish was still at the helm of a website, it would have a mobile page and an iPhone app. Essentially no one else with the resources to do something with it is as forward-thinking as he is, and that’s a huge drawback for our sport.

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Your Morning Links

RW Daily News has the main headlines, including the ever-present Marion Jones.

Michael Johnson says Usain Bolt should try the 400, and also says track is on a major decline in the USA. Master of the obvious!

GalxoSmithKline will pay for the London 2012 drug testing lab. The money, 10 million pounds, is astronomical by anti-doping standards but spare change to a pharmaceutical company. Seems odd, but the cooperation of a drugmaker cannot be a bad thing (unless they try to control things, which would result in huge bad press for them). In a related and very important development, WADA is ready to start its blood passport program.

Oregon is already selling NCAA Championships tickets.

Canuck Bruny Surin is going into master's competition with an eye on breaking records.

A long list of proposed USATF bylaws changes...discuss.