The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Saturday, January 31, 2009 the title of a thread at, paying homage to the great Says one poster:
I want my sportscasters to be informative and entertaining. Their pedigree as an athlete - which he speaks of constantly - is irrelevant. If we go by that we choose our sportscasters we're left with the likes of Carol Lewis - enough said.

The Rawdog needs to take lessons from Lewis Johnson. LJ ran on the GP circuit as a rabbit for years and was a solid runner - but he NEVER references himself in his remarks. He's class. Surround him with talent and the telecasts would shine.

Rawdog blows in part because he's always pandering to the audience with his stupid-ass metaphors. Listen, Rawdog, no non-track fan is watching, period, so stop trying to educate people - your average viewer of a telecast on ESPN18 didn't stumble there accidentally.

And hey, I'm not bitter. Just calling it as I see it. Rawdog may be a terrific guy - in fact, I'm sure he is. He'd probably be great to break bread with too. I just think he's a terrible announcer, and on that account I am not a lone bitter dissenter.
Spot on. It's not as if other sports don't have bad announcers--there's a whole blog dedicated to them--but they are regularly ridiculed and often in a far worse manner. If we wish track to be taken seriously as a major professional sport, we can't always be nice.

Two Tracksters to NFL Hall of Fame

The NFL announced the election results for the 2009 Hall of Fame induction class today. Notable among them are Rod Woodson and "Bullet" Bob Hayes.

Woodson world-ranked #9 in the 110m hurdles in 1987. He is one of only two athletes ever to world-rank in the hurdles and be selected to the Pro Bowl (Mel Renfro being the other).

Bob Hayes is considered by many to be the fastest human being who ever lived. He won two Olympic gold medals, set multiple world records, and dominated the event like no other man ever has. For many years he was identified as the only man to win an Olympic gold medal and a Super Bowl ring. Now he will be the only man enshrined in both the USATF and NFL halls of fame. Hayes, who died in 2002, left a letter to be read in the event that he was elected to the HOF.

Separated at Birth

Shot put star Reese Hoffa:and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson, director of the Hayden Planetarium and rumored nominee to head NASA:

Millrose Games recap

Results / Trackshark coverage

My thoughts on the 2009 Millrose Games and its TV coverage...

ESPN's camara crew made a goof right off the bat on Friday night: they thought the finish line for the women's 600 yards was in the middle of the straightaway instead of the end.

Sunday's tape-delay broadcast did some smart things, like cut out the false starts. But why, oh why, can't we get an on-screen leader board for field events?

Also on Friday we got a good interview with new USATF CEO Doug Logan. He appears to be a leader with a clear vision of where he wants the organization to go.

The day after Bernard Lagat won his Waterford crystal trophy, workers have seized and occupied the factory where it was made.

Some of the college relay filler they gave us on Friday was surprisingly competitive. When I saw a two-team women's 4x400 lining up, with South Carolina against Seton Hall, I thought it was going to be a snoozer. Boy, was I wrong -- it went right to the finish. Same for the college men's 4x800.

Speaking of being wrong, I'm sitting in 36th place in USATF's Pick N' Win fantasy game. After publicly making my picks at Trackshark, I did OK. I bombed out only on the men's 600y and women's 60m, but I feel like I made a dumb pick or two on a few others. The current leader, well clear of the field, is identified only as "TLB". Could that be Trackshark founder Tom Borish?

Friday, January 30, 2009

Oregon Track Media Guide

Just over a week ago the University of Oregon released its 2009 Track & Field Media Guide.  Online, it's broken into ten pdfs and in print it comes in at 208 pages.
Recall that in 2005 the NCAA passed regulations limiting the size of media guides to...yep, 208 pages.  The Ducks have maxed it out.  More proof that Vin Lanana takes media relations and self-promotion as seriously as any self-respecting football or basketball coach does.

Weekend Preview


The 102nd edition of the Millrose Games, the initial meet in USATF's Visa Championship Series, will take place in Madison Square Garden tonight. A live ESPN2 broadcast will go from 7 to 8:30 p.m., and NBC will broadcast a tape-delay package of the premier events tomorrow from 1-2:30 p.m.

Website / Trackshark coverage / IAAF preview

The SEC-Big XII Showdown will take place tomorrow at Texas A&M's sparkling new indoor facility. Six teams will compete and it will be scored as a conference-versus-conference dual meet.

Website / live webcast link


The European IAAF Indoor Permit season will kick off Sunday in Moscow with the Russian Winter meeting. The men's high jump will be the deepest event of the meet, featuring Ivan "I ain't drunk" Ukhov, Andrei Tereshin, Linus Thornblad and Kiriakos Ioannu.

Website / IAAF preview

Also on Sunday, Kenyans Peter Kiprotich and John Kemboi will take on the best of Japan in the Beppu-Oita Mainichi Marathon in an IAAF Silver Label race.

Website / IAAF preview / live webcast link

Sunday will also see steeplechase world record holder Saif Saeed Shaheen take on eight-time European champ Sergey Lebid in the Cinque Mulini, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meet, near Milan. This is one of Europe's great cross country traditions.

Website / IAAF preview / SPIKES story

On Saturday, the USA will take on teams from the UK, Germany Sweden and the Commonwealth in the Aviva International Match in Glasgow.

Website / IAAF preview

YourMid-Day Link Dump

3-time Olympic champ Glenn Davis passed away yesterday at the age of 74.
Haile Gebrselassie and Sammy Wanjiru will face off in September's Berlin Marathon.  This should be one of the greatest races in history.
Ivan Ukhov and Victorya Klyugina won high jump competitions in Russia.
Hurdler David Oliver ran a world leader 7.56 in Gothenburg.
Proposed Chicago Olympic venues were given a thumbs-up by all 26 internationa federations.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

Need USATF Fantasy League Help?

If you like sports, you probably like fantasy leagues.  And if you're reading this, you like track & field.  So you've probably entered USATF's Pick N' Win fantasy game.  But you might be lost on who to pick.
Never fear, I've got some help for you over at Trackshark.  You can thank me with half that $2,000 gift card you'll win.

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

The Trackshark Dual Meet Rankings have Texas A&M as the #1 men's team and Michigan as the #1 women's team.

The IAAF interviews shot putter Adam Nelson.

Texas A&M's sparkling new indoor track facility has the U of Oregon thinking of building their own.

Spikes Mag talks to Ashia Hansen and Stefan Holm about retirement.

Japan Running News reports on Yasushi Sakaguchi's plan to rebuild Japanese men's marathoning.

Former Dallas Cowboys talk about "Bullet" Bob Hayes and whether he'll get into the NFL Hall of Fame. looks at overspeed training.

And from Britain, two highly serious stories: long jumper Jonathan Moore, "jumped naked, from a height of about seven metres, off the roof of a house in Potchefstroom" and injured himself in the process; and a new world record has been established for running a marathon while dressed as a clown.

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

More on German Fernandez

Could German Fernandez win a medal at the World XC Championships in Amman this March?

The last US runner to medal in the men's junior race was Dathan Ritzenhein in 2001. He took bronze behind Ethiopia's Kenenisa Bekele (wow!) and Kenya's Duncan Lebo (who?). How does Fernandez' development compare to Ritz's at the same age?

Ritz was already a stud by his junior year of high school. He won the Foot Locker national XC championships and then went on to run 4:05.9 for 1600m and 8:41.10 for 3200m. As a senior, he successfully defended his Foot Locker title, stomping Alan Webb and Ryan Hall in the process, and pursued but did not break two venerable national high school records, running 8:44.43 (2 miles) and 13:44.70 (5k) in the process.

As a college freshman, Ritz was second in the Big XII cross country championships (behind teammate Jorge Torres), and took fourth at the NCAA championships (behind Boaz Cheboiywo, Torres, and Alistair Cragg). He redshirted his freshman season of indoor track, took second at the USATF Junior XC (behind Matt Tegenkamp) and then went on to Belgium and won his bronze medal.

In contrast, Fernandez was not well known as a high school junior. He didn't qualify for the Foot Locker championships and his track times didn't make the national lists. As a senior, he was only third at the Foot Locker championships, but in February he won the USATF junior XC championship and then took 25th at the World XC Championships. His track season was one of the greatest ever, as he pulled off that amazing state championships double and then broke a national record that Ritz couldn't.

As a college freshman, he won the Big XII cross country championships on a kick, and likely would have been third at the NCAA had he not fallen out with an injury.

In terms of levels of achievements, they're basically at the same level. What sticks out in this comparison is that Fernandez's rate of improvement is vastly superior to that of Ritz at the same age. Whether or not that will continue is uncertain, but last Saturday's race indicates he's made yet another step up (especially considering the reports that his recent training hasn't been geared specifically for the mile).

Next question: could Fernandez win the gold medal? Doubtful, but as my high school coach used to say, if we already knew who was going to win we wouldn't bother to run the races.

Saturday, January 24, 2009

German Fernandez Sets Record

Last spring, German Fernandez did some amazing things. He doubled at the California state championships in 4:00.69 and 8:34.23 for the metric distances, and two weeks later broke the 29-year-old national high school 2-mile record with 8:34.40.

This fall he won the Big XII championships while still 17 years old, but was carried off the NCAA championship course with what appeared to be a devastating achilles injury.

Apparently not. At the Arkansas Invitational today, he won the mile in 3:56.50. How fast is that? It's the current world leader (and was bettered only once last indoor season). It's the World Junior Indoor Record. It makes him the fifth-fastest US collegian of all time (for indoor track).

Now, this should be taken with a grain of salt. First off, the mile is rarely run indoors except in the USA. Second, the Arkansas track is one of the fastest in the world, maybe the fastest. And third, his time is worth about 3:39.0 for 1500, well short of the junior indoor record of 3:36.28.

Still, this is fantastic. Fernandez has legit mile chops but appears to be interested in the longer distances, which is exactly the setup that has made the East Africans essentially unbeatable in the 5k, 10k and cross country. In a few years the USA could have a legit contender at the men's longer races, something that has happened only about three or four times in the last century.

Fernandez has entered the USATF Junior Cross Country Championships, to be held on February 7th, along with college freshmen Chris Derrick and Colby Lowe. The sense is that these guys want to go to the World Championships and compete for hardware, both individual and team. A lot can happen between now and then; injuries, backing out of the team, whatever. But if they're all on the start line in Amman, Jordan, on March 28, I will be glued to whatever screen can bring me the action.

UPDATE: Here's the all-time US Junior list for the mile (indoor / outdoor combined)
Jim Ryun (Kansas)
Alan Webb (VaHS)
3:56.50 id
German Fernandez (Ok St)


Dub Myers (Oregon)


Steve Prefontaine (Oregon)


and the mile/1500 (* = mile X 99.42%, + = en route to mile)
Jim Ryun (Kansas)
Tom Byers (Ohio St)
Alan Webb (VaHS)
3:39.0* id
German Fernandez (Ok St)

Dub Myers (Oregon)

Remember Dub Myers? Me neither. So this one race by itself shouldn't be taken to mean too much. But in the context, it's hard to keep from having high expectations for this kid.

Your Mid-Day Link Dump

Tommorrow's Osaka International Ladies' Marathon can be seen online. The race begins at 10 pm tonight in the Eastern time zone. Language barrier? Rotsa ruck.

German jumpers Raul Spank and Anna Battke (2.30m and 4.60m) won at a high jump / pole vault meet in Dresden.

South Africa's long jumper Godfrey Mokoena won his season opener in Pochefstroom yesterday.

The Runner's Tribe asks "What makes a major marathon a "Major"?

Doug Logan Rips 'Em A New...

...unnamed bodily orifice.

The USATF CEO went to the Focus on the Future Executive Conference and Retreat in Scottsdale, AZ (described as featuring "high-level sessions examining quality issues, regulatory issues, media coverage, scientific progress, market trends and other areas affecting the future of the dietary supplement and functional food industry") and delivered a speech.

Here's the ice-breaker he started off with:

"Performance-Enhancing Drugs are threatening to choke the life out of the sport that I serve and love. And in many ways, the supplement industry has been assisting in braiding the noose."

He cited the industry's avoidance of federal regulations (thanks to good lobbying and a few well-placed friends). The whole text is available at Logan's blog.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Alan Webb, Steepler?

No, he's not making any noises this way.  But over at Let's Run, a discussion on racing the steeplechase brought out this comment:
Soft Cast wrote:'s a great race for athletic-type runners.

Which is why I still think Alan Webb could be great in the steeple (though even better in triathlon, but that's a different rant): He's just a solid, strong athlete for whom 8:00 pace (for the flat 3000) is ridiculously comfortable.

I'd love to see him give it a go, but I suppose it would have to wait until 2010--this year, there's too much at stake (income-wise).
Intriguing.  In terms of talent, Webb is right up there with the very best Kenyan steeplers.  And it seems to me that the steeple isn't nearly as dependent on strategy as the 1500, where Webb has been completely outfoxed.

Weekend Preview

The upcoming weekend action...
The biggest happening is the Osaka International Ladies Marathon, taking place in Japan on Sunday.  Yoko Shibui and Lidia Simon highlight a dep field.
The New Balance Games, a hybrid pro/college/prep meet, takes place in Manhattan's Armory tommorrow.  The highlight should be the men's mile, with Adrian Blincoe, Steve Sherer and Rob Myers.
Another hybrid pro/college meet is the Terrier Invitational at Boston University.
Texas A&M opens up its new state-of-the-art indoor facility with dual meets: their men's team takes on Texas, while their women's team takes on Tennessee.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Your Morning Link Dump

Prerace Jitters writes about Obama's presidency and has another podcast up.
Kenya is currently slated to host the 2010 African Championships but may lose it.
The US team has been announced for the annual five-nation team competition in Birmingham, UK.  Why is this meet always on the same weekend as Millrose?
Nintendo has released a new version of its International Track & Field video game.
Runner's World interviews John Dye, the "media guru" of high school track.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Carl Lewis on Track's Profile

Over the weekend, the Houston Chronicle ran an article on Carl Lewis and his attempts to raise the profile of our sport and his sponsorship of a major high school invitational.

It all sounds so selfless, but for most people who remember him in his prime that was the last way anyone was going to describe him. More likely they'd describe him as aloof, patronizing, and self-centered. In other words, a prima donna.

He still sounds like it, when he took the sports' current stars to task:
Lewis, who never worried about speaking his mind and was outspoken during his career against drug cheats, believes that the track and field athletes are the ones most holding back the sport today.

Instead of running or jumping off to Europe or Asia for big paydays, he says they should be nurturing the sport at the grass-roots level in the United States and vigorously condemning drug cheats.

“Most of the athletes in America are delusional,” Lewis said laughing. “They’re living in a vacuum and pretending that everything is all right. A guy says, ‘I’m the fastest man in the world!’ Well, so what? There’s dozens of guys who are the last man on the bench in the NBA making 10 times your money. Do something to change that.

“Every time an athlete like Marion Jones does what she did, gets caught and sent to jail, more athletes need to be applauding. Don’t say, ‘Oh, I feel so sorry for Marion.’ You stand up and say, 'I'm not going to run on a relay team with anybody who has those allegations around them.' Stand and say, 'I only want to be a teammate of somebody who is tested and clean.'

“When I was in Beijing, I told some of those guys, ‘Look I still have endorsement deals with McDonald’s, Visa, Coca-Cola, worldwide brands, Olympic sponsors. They’re not doing business with most of you because they don’t trust you.’ ”
I'm a bit more forgiving of Lewis than a lot of people, probably because he was the hero of track in my age group. But also, I think I understand where Lewis was coming from.

Lewis was flat-out the greatest the sport has ever seen, and he knew it. He thought that people should kiss his ass the same way they did to Pele, Mickey Mantle, Magic Johnson, and Joe Namath because if track's megastar wasn't treated that way then it wasn't a truly professional sport. Well, at least that was part of it. But this was also why he was short with the small-time operations; to him it was like expecting Steve Jobs to cater to Popular Mechanics.

So he's berating the current crop of stars for not acting selfish enough. In the cutthroat capitalist system that is professional sports, to do anything else is to not take yourself seriously.

At the same time, he criticizes them for something he himself did, namely skipping domestic meets in favor of bigger paydays elsewhere. I can understand if Lewis is called a hypocrite for this, but I think there's a difference between what he did and what he's calling people out for. In his day it was assumed that he'd run domestic meets gratis, which he found ridiculous. Due to his efforts (along with those of many others) everything is now pay-to-play. But if the domestic circuit continues to wane, there will be little left for true professionals to compete for.

Besides the superstar attitude, two other things made Lewis less than popular with the press. Those used to dealing with Olympians expected a pliant and inexpensive serf and he led the charge to change all of that. But also, he told people in no uncertain terms that the man who began to beat him regularly was literally doped to the eyeballs. When he was ultimately proven right, of course no one gave him credit for sticking his neck out.

Lewis had a small doping run-in himself: at the 1988 Olympic Trials he tested positive for a stimulant contained in many over-the-counter herbal remedies. He should have been disqualified from that day's event and given a public warning but the USOC swept it under the rug. The stimulant is no longer on the banned list. There are people who say he's just as guilty of doping for that one incident (which may or may not have been inadvertent) as Ben Johnson was for his seven years of willfully injecting anabolic steroids. There are two words for these people: ignoramus and jackass.

Your Mid-Day Link Dump

Meb Keflezighi and Magdalena Lewy-Boulet won the US Half Marathon Championships in Houston yesterday.

New IAAF anti-doping rules come into effect today.

Josh Cox broke the 50-kilometer American Record yesterday.

The Science of Sport examines Geb's splits from his WR attempt on Friday.

Moses Kipsoro outkicked Tariku Bekele in the biggest XC meet yet this year on Saturday.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Rob Myers Update

While at the Ohio State-Michigan meet, I chatted with Rob Myers for a few minutes. The former OSU miler recently moved from Columbus to Ann Arbor, the first time he's lived outside the Central Ohio area.

He said it was hard to leave, but he felt it was time. It was no knock against his coach Robert Gary, rather he had a chance to train with the best milers in North America and took it. Those milers are Olympic bronze medalist Nick Willis and new roommate Nate Brannen.

Myers' indoor schedule is the New Balance Invitational in New York next week, the Reebok Boston Indoor Games, the Tyson Invitational, and the USATF Championships (providing he qualifies).

Ohio State - Michigan Dual Meet

I just got back from a cold and snowy Ann Arbor, where the Buckeyes reversed their defeat at last year's dual and beat #17 Michigan by a score of 85-77. Results are here.

Thirteen of the seventeen event winners from a year ago returned, making this essentially a rematch. What was the difference between last year and this year? There were several factors.

1. Adam Harris
Michigan's great sprinter/long jumper won three events last year and dominated the meet. This year he was nowhere near as good, running 0.21 seconds slower in the 60, jumping nearly a foot and a half less in the long jump, and was beaten in the 200.

2. Lex Williams
Last year, Michigan's distance star pushed Jeff See to a meet record in the mile and then helped teammate Sean McNamara lead the Wolverines to a sweep of the 3000 meters. Then he got mono and has never been the same since. He didn't run today.

3. Jeff See
The two-time defending Big Ten indoor mile champ won his specialty with relative ease, as expected. Where he's markedly better is in his endurance. A year ago he was never a factor in the 3k, finishing a well-beaten fifth in 8:36.13, obviously wiped out from his effort in the mile. Today he was near the back of the eight-man field for the first 1000 meters, then moved up to just behind the leaders with 800 to go. His last lap was a scorching 26.5, taking him to the finish in a meet-record 8:11, with 1500 splits of approximately 4:11 and 4:00.

4. Stephen Robinson
The junior long sprinter from Trotwood-Madison had his breakout meet. He tied Aaron Payne's 200 meet record of 21.68, nosing out Adam Harris by 0.01, then split 47.7 to anchor the 4x400 relay.

Rating the meet:
Information: 40 meters (out of 100)
You got a free meet program (a single 17x11 sheet doubled over) with meet records and rosters. Results were posted on the scoreboard, as was the team score. An announcer introduced each field and kept us updated, but without him the fan woulds have been totally lost. Heat sheets were nowhere to be found, and those are so easy to make and distribute. Michigan can and must do better.

Facility & amenities: 50 meters (out of 100)
The University of Michigan's athletic department is one steeped in tradition and excellence, a place where a glee club and a letter sweater still aren't out of place. The athletic facilities are old and beautiful...with the notable exception of the Indoor Track Building, a nondescript metal barn. They've done what they can with it; there is enough seating and the scoreboard includes video capabilities. But the concessions were a single bake sale, and the prospective U-M track fan could only buy a shirt or other gear with a well-placed offer to an athlete running by.

Presentation: 130 meters (out of 150)
The U-M track program went out of its way to produce a fan-friendly event. An announcer did a full afternoon's work, and kept us updated on changing positions in the field events in between running events. Another announcer killed down time between events by interviewing winning athletes. There was constant action on the small video scoreboard, and free t-shirts and pizza were given out to the loudest sections of fans. But a dual meet should have dedicated place were the score is always listed, and once again a lack of heats sheets kept this from being a truly first-class affair. On the whole, though, these people showed they care and they understand.

Extras: 40 points (out of 50)
The place was packed, and had Michigan done better it would have been rocking--it certainly was for the hurdles, the only running event the Wolverines dominated. It was a close and competitive meet the whole way through. And it was a dual meet, so you had every athlete plugged in to what everyone else was doing--it looked like the sidelines of a football game when See charged past in the homestretch of the 3k, with guys big and small all in scarlet jumping up and down and whooping it up.

Total Score: 260 meters. Easily worth the 45-minute drive.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Will Universal Sports Let Us Down?

If you don't recall the full history of Universal Sports' predecessor, WCSN, it went like this. In 2005 there were no American takers on televising the World Championships, and a website popped up to allow US fans to see it. (I passed, as my cable provider carries a Canadian channel.) It was such a hit they added the remaining Golden League meets and the World Athletics Final. The next year they expanded their coverage to include more meets, and in '07 they brought on more sports. By '08 they had a TV channel and did so well that NBC bought them out.

One of the things you worry about when a bigger company buys up a smaller one is whether they will change the thing you loved. I didn't love everything about WCSN--they often promised more than they delivered--but you knew they wanted to bring you as much track as they possibly could.

I've been keeping an eye on the Universal Sports website so that I won't miss out on any indoor meets they might bring us from Europe. WCSN always loaded up on these.

Today I spied on the T&FN website a link to Universal Sports' preview of the 2009 marathon season. I checked their scheduled coverage for marathons, and they've already put down Rotterdam, Boston, London, Berlin, Chicago, New York, and the World Half Marathon championships. The track & field schedule? Still nothing listed. I fear there may be little to nothing coming to us from across the pond until June or later.

In case you didn't know, the real owner of Universal is NBC, who has shelled out big bucks for Olympic coverage. They don't give a rat's ass about track (you know this if you've ever seen them do a meet) and I'm sure they see the next two years of the website/cable channel as nothing more than a vehicle to drum up interest in the 2010 winter games. They, of course, could go out and spend some time and money bringing us a few European indoor meets--but I bet they wouldn't see that as a plus, rather they'd probably see it as a minus.

Your Late-Day Link Dump

This morning Haile Gebrselassie won the Standard Chartered Dubai Marathon in 2:05:29.

More stars have been added to the lineups for the Millrose Games and the Boston Indoor Games.

Kenyan 800 superstar Pamela Jelimo will join the Kenyan delegation to the Obama inauguration.

The IAAF previews Sunday's Cross Internacional de Itálica cross country meet in Seville, possibly the deepest race yet of the XC season.

Usain Bolt will open his 2009 season on February 14th in Kingston with a 400 meter race.

Trackshark has a prediction contest for this Sunday's USA Half Marathon championships.

Tommorrow I'll be attending the Ohio State - Michigan dual meet in Ann Arbor. I had a friend ask "They run in this weather?" and I replied that it will be indoors. Temperatures around here today barely made it past 0 while the wind chills hovered in the -20 to -30 range.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

You Don't See This Too Often

Yep, a beer distributor promotional plugging the VISA Championship Series.

My sister-in-law recently bought a bar. She mentioned that I could come in to watch any track meet that might be on the tube. I figured I'd bring two or three dozen other track nuts with me and make this the place for track in NW Ohio. So I gave her the schedule for the indoor circuit, she gave it to her distributor, and here we go.

It's no Eugene City Brewery, but every town needs a track-centric place. I bet most towns don't have one. I'll post updates when the parties take place.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Your Late-Day Link Dump

Jay Hicks at PreRace Jitters comments on growing track & field in the US through the Pole Vault Summit.

The Millrose Games has lined up the Big Three shotputters and a great pole vault lineup.

The IAAF gives us a roundup of the early Russian indoor action.

Organizers of the upcoming 100th Drake Relays promise a big bash, and have named four Athletes of the Century (of an eventual twenty).

Yours truly released his first NCAA dual meet rankings. Sort of.

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Profit Motives Are Overrated

No really, this is track & field related.

One of the things the country finally seems to have figured out is that publicly-financed single-payer health care is the only sustainable option over the long term. Since the Reagan Revolution some 38 years ago, there has been an almost religious belief among policy-makers that private enterprise and free markets will always do things better than the government. This is not always the case; Nobel laureate Paul Krugman lays out the reasons why it isn't for health care. But any amateur distance runner should already know this.

Professional companies who put on road races on a for-profit basis almost never do as good a job as "amateurs", and never as cheaply. For extremely large and complex operations such as the Boston Marathon this might not hold true, but for run-of-the-mill weekend-warrior races this is rule is nearly absolute.

Example A: the 10-miler I did this afternoon. Certified course, accurate markers every mile, traffic controlled, shoes and gift certificates to all age-group award winners, showers and hot food afterwards. Cost: $10. Profit to organizers: none, so far as I know.

In fact, this is more or less the rule in Toledo. We have a highly organized road runners club that is involved in the operation of nearly every race in the area. $20 is considered expensive for a race, and there are probably only two that significantly exceed that level (our annual marathon, whose logistics make it costly, and the Race For the Cure, explicitly a fund-raising affair). One of the flagship races of the season was put on by a "professional" company one year and the dissatisfaction was such that they were asked not to return. By contrast, you have at least a dozen well-run events to choose from each year that cost $5 or less.

But you'd expect this from Toledo. This is a family-oriented heavily Catholic city, where it's understood that without volunteers small communities cannot function. It doesn't matter whether that community is an extended family helping each other out, a neighborhood blockwatch keeping things safe, the CYO keeping kids busy, or a community of athletes doing things the right way because there is no other way to do them. It's the working-class attitude that makes every Rust Belt city a great place to live despite what the headlines say.

Your Late-Day Link Dump

Winners at the 66th Cross Internacional Juan Muguerza in Elgoibar, Spain were Ethiopia’s Ayele Abshero (over Moses Mosop and Leonard Komon) and Kenya's Florence Kiplagat (over Grace Momanyi and Zemzem Ahmed).

RW Daily interviews Kara Goucher.
(Note: so far as I know, she is the only person to have ever run the Millrose Mile and NYC Marathon in the same calendar year.)

In the first true dual meet of the season between major-conference teams, Iowa's men beat Illinois 92-77.

Yuliya Golubchikova's 4.70 (15' 5") PV clearance headlined the weekend indoor action in Russia.

Obituaries: hammer throw coach Pal Nemeth and German middle-distance runner René Herms.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Your Mid-Day Link Dump

USA Track & Field announced its 2009 USA Running Circuit schedule.

Michigan's #3-ranked women's team won the first major "dual" meet of the year last night (actually a quad).

Ethiopia's Abebe Dinkesa won the big Edinburgh cross country race while Abraham Chebii won a tough race in Eldoret.

Friday, January 09, 2009

Detroit, Sports, and Other Ramblings

In this week's Sports Illustrated, Mitch Albom writes about sports and Detroit and Detroiters. Actually, it's thin on sports and thick on what it's like to live in Detroit. It's Albom's love story with his adopted hometown.

I'm not from Detroit and haven't visited it a whole lot, but I know the place. I've spent my whole life in cities just an hour's drive away and Albom's descriptions could be Cleveland, or Buffalo, or my Toledo. From the front porch of my parent's house, you can see the three smokestacks that read "Willys Overland", the original name of the Jeep plant. Or rather could, as the old plant was replaced a few years back by a new one (paid for by the city when Chrysler threatened to pull out) which now appears on the verge of total shutdown. My wife's cousins have 18 years in at Jeep and are next on the layoff list. We never had the same boom that Detroit did, so we never had the same spectacular bust, but that doesn't mean we're doing particularly well here.

I always tell people, with tongue firmly in cheek, that aside from our booming economy, fantastic weather, and visionary civic leadership, Toledo is a great place to live. Those are three big drawbacks but if you can live with them you see why Cpl. Maxwell Klinger was a tireless cheerleader for the place. I love Toledo and couldn't ever leave.

Anyway, Albom makes much of the history of the Lions, Tigers, Red Wings and Pistons, as well as the University of Michigan. Believe it or not, Detroit was once a big track town as well. Cobo Hall, home of the Detroit Auto Show, hosted the NCAA Indoor Championships from their inception in 1965 all the way up to 1981, which then moved to the Pontiac Silverdome for two more years before leaving the area permanently. At its inception, the Detroit Marathon was one of only 12 marathons held in the continental US, and studs like Jerome Drayton and Greg Meyer rank among its past champions. And UM's Ferry Field will never be forgotten as long as people remember Jesse Owens.

This, combined with a mulling-over of the NHL's Winter Classic games, leads me to wonder. Track used to be most accessible not through its traditional outdoor format, but indoors on 160-yard banked board tracks laid on arena floors. Meets were everywhere--New York, Boston, Detroit, Philly, Cleveland, Chicago, San Francisco, LA, DC, Portland, you name it. I've only been to one--the last ever held in Cleveland--and had a blast. You were so close to the athletes that you felt like you could reach out and touch them. There was a reason the ITA held the vast majority of their meets indoors. Do you remember the IAAF's indoor Grand Prix series? The season finals were always in Madison Square Garden.

Was the decline of track & field in the USA inevitable once the banked indoor track all but disappeared? Sure, we've had more than our share of bad management, like Detroit's Big Three, but most observers would have to say Detroit's manufacturing base was going to decline to one degree or another regardless of who was in charge. Likewise, indoor track was the thing we could do so well that the world came to us, and once we threw that away what was there?

Actually, I wouldn't say we threw it away. Rather, the sport got too nerdy. When you base qualifying to championships on times rather than a system of real competition, people don't want to run on slow tracks. I think the mere existence of NCAA Indoor Championships themselves may have been part of the downfall; there was a time when everyone knew indoor track wasn't real track, but an All-American is an All-American. Then you get people taking indoor track seriously all on its own, and they figure out banked board tracks suck for running. And now there are a grand total of three indoor tracks suitable for major meets in this country, two of them in the backwaters of Fayetteville and College Station. Your local paper doesn't send its sportswriter to those like it used to when a meet was just an hour or two down the highway--and newspapers hook the hardest-to-get people, the casual fans.

Your Morning Link Dump

Christian Smith has left the Oregon Track Club to finish his degree at Kansas State.
#1 teams in early college rankings are Oregon's men and Texas A&M's women.
PreRace Jitters' second podcast has been posted.
Tommorrow's BUPA Great Edinburgh International cross country meeting promises to be a good one, with such stars at Zersenay Tadese, Eliud Kipchoge, Sergey Lebid, Augustine Choge, Boniface Kiprop, Mestawat Tufa, and Stephanie Twell.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

More on the Pole Vault Tour

From what I've gleaned from various message boards, here are the specifics on the proposed US pole vault tour.
It would begin in May and continue throughout the summer.  It would be scheduled around major domestic competition.
Most, if not all, US pros are on board as well as a bit of foreign talent.  They would skip the lion's share of the European Grand Prix season.
Stops on the tour will be determined once a major retail sponsor is on board.
Competitions would be held street-vault style in parking lots of said major retailer, with a stage, portable stands, etc.
Teams of six (four men, two women) compete; each athlete gets a fixed number of jumps; multiple best jumps (say best 4 of 6) are totaled for each athlete; team totals are the best four athletes (three men, one woman).  Teams would be seeded for maximum competitive balance.
National TV coverage is also in the works.
All of this is still up in the air, as no major sponsor has been signed.  Doing so is a bit more difficult now than it would have been last January, but it seems a small amount of money for the advertising in the eyes of a Target, Wal-Mart or other such big-box store.

Your Morning Link Dump

Tonight's BCS Championship game may hinge on Florida's speed, anchored by World Junior Record holder Jeff Demps.
Angelo Taylor is headlining a goodwill tour of US military bases in Kuwait and Iraq.
Liu Xiang will probably not be ready to run at this year's outdoor World Championships, while Dayron Robles is targeting the World Indoor Record.
SPIKES online mag interviews Chantal Peticlerc, the Canadian Paralympic star who just won the Lou Marsh trophy, beating out such better-known athletes as Steve Nash, Martin Brodeur, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, Emilie Heymans, Simon Whitfield and Justin Morneau.  Canada probably does more for their handicapped athletes than any other nation on earth.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Domestic Pole-Vault Only Tour

All I can say is "hot damn"!
The concept of a U.S. Pole Vault Tour was proposed during a closed-door meeting with 25 of the nation's elite pole-vaulters and embraced by the likes of 2008 Olympic gold medalist Stacy Dragila, 2004 Olympic silver medalist Toby Stevenson and 2007 World Outdoor champ Brad Walker.

Tour co-founder Tye Harvey, the 2001 World Indoor silver medallist, and Jeff Hartwig, a two-time Olympian and four-time USA Outdoor champ, delivered an in depth 60-minute tour proposal.

"I've been a proponent of this for a while now," Walker said. "We've talked about doing something like this for years. So, the opportunity to hear the whole plan was very cool."

The U.S. Pole Vault Tour – proposed as multi-sponsored, nationally televised two-day events – is scheduled to debut in May or June in Sacramento.

"I've always thought, why can't pole vaulting do something like what the pro bull riders did when they broke off on their own from rodeo," said Dragila, a two-time world champion. "This is a great opportunity to get ourselves out there and show people that our sport is cool and fun to watch. I'm all for it."

Dragila, who was heavily involved in rodeo as a youngster growing up in Auburn, Calif., paralleled the proposed USPV Tour to a similar situation in pro rodeo when in 1994 a separate organization was formed for bull riding alone.
Since the inception of Professional Bull Riding, the sport's popularity has grown to a lofty position as the seventh most watched televised sport in the nation.

"I'd love to be a part of the tour. I'm in 100 percent," Stevenson said. "It's about time for something like this for pole vaulting. Either you reinvent yourself for today's audience or you don't exist. And that's what pole vaulting is doing with the tour." 

The proposed USPV seven-city tour will conclude with a Tour Championship.

Your Mid-Day Link Dump

Steve Roush, USOC Chief of Sport Performance, resigned under pressure. Garry Hill asks whether he should also be removed from USATF's High Performance Audit group.

The IAAF's possibly-expanded Golden League could come to the US for the Prefontaine Classic. It seems only logical.

RW Daily is excited by CNN's Dr. Sanjay Gupta being selected as Surgeon General. Nobel Prize winner Paul Krugman is less than thrilled:

...I don't have a problem with Gupta's qualifications. But I do remember his mugging of Michael Moore over Sicko. You don't have to like Moore or his film; but Gupta specifically claimed that Moore "fudged his facts", when the truth was that on every one of the allegedly fudged facts, Moore was actually right and CNN was wrong.

What bothered me about the incident was that it was what Digby would call Village behavior: Moore is an outsider, he's uncouth, so he gets smeared as unreliable even though he actually got it right. It's sort of a minor-league version of the way people who pointed out in real time that Bush was misleading us into war are to this day considered less "serious" than people who waited until it was fashionable to reach that conclusion. And appointing Gupta now, although it's a small thing, is just another example of the lack of accountability that always seems to be the rule when you get things wrong in a socially acceptable way.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Matthew Effect

Previously I had referred to a post in The Science of Sport blog on the Matthew effect. What the heck is it? It's an observation, made by Malcolm Gladwell, that an enormously high percentage of high-level players in most sports have their birthdays between January and April. Why?

Any attempts to explain why a phenomenon occurs takes our on biases into account. For example, we hear that the highest incidence of suicide is right around Christmas, and we blame the stress of the holidays or unfulfilled expectations of familial bliss, whereas it's entirely possible the extreme lack of daylight might be more important. Nevertheless, the explanation of the Matthew effect seems pretty straightforward. In age-group sports, athletes who are the same age in years but significantly older in months (and presumably more physically mature) have a big advantage in making the cut, and for any of a myriad of reasons get ahead.

Now, I'd be interested to see how this lines up in the USA with sports that are broken down not by age but by grade, and whether those with late-summer birthdates have a similar advantage. My birthday comes with only three weeks of school left, and it likely put me well behind as a high school sophomore and junior. I also wonder if such an effect is noticed academically; my household does not bear this out (I was a National Merit Scholar with my late birthday, and my Ph.D./prof wife didn't turn 18 until exam week of her freshman college year).

A part 2 post about the Matthew effect takes on ways to counteract it, theorizing that innate talent is most likely born equally throughout the calendar year and further theorizing that those who do can maximize the available talent pool. I personally don't care about this so much as I wonder: does the Matthew effect exist in track & field?

I doubt it. There is no inherent advantage to being better than others at a very young age. Track is not based around age-group travel squads, and one of our sports peculiarities is that "starters" and "reserves" can both get just about as much competition as they want. There's an advantage to being good as a high school sophomore and/or junior, as most scholarship offers are on the table before the senior season hits the meaningful competitions, but besides that the effects of being less competitive are basically only mental.

Now, scientifically speaking, that's putting the cart before the horse. First you determine whether a pattern exists, and then you explain its existence (or nonexistence). But, as I mentioned before, Malcom Gladwell knows quite a bit about track. That it's not one of the sports he refers to makes me suspect no such pattern exists in it.

Your Morning Link Dump

The morning's top reads...
A new, expanded Golden League is all but approved for 2010.  Discuss.
PreRace Jitters picks their nine topics for 2009, while US Distance Runner picks their top nine hoped-for rivalries in 2009.
The Science of Sport discusses the Matthew Effect and sports.  I'll blog on this one in a bit.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

RadioLab on Race & Races

My favorite podcast in the world is WNYC's RadioLab. It's a regularly broadcast show available on many public radio stations, but it probably works even better as a podcast. If you've never heard it (and you probably haven't), try it. It kicks This American Life's ass. But you absolutely must listen to it carefully and uninterrupted. It's great long-run fodder.

Two weeks ago their program dealt with race and its scientific aspects (or rather lack thereof). We as track fans get more than our share of race crap, what with various Let's Run idiots and Jon Entine's Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We Are Afraid to Talk About It (which, incidentally, is wrong in both parts of the statement) and endless other stuff. It's been done to death and we'd be loathe to discuss it even if it weren't the touchiest of subjects in modern polite American discourse. This is where RadioLab comes in.

After discussing the idea of race as a provable biological falsehood (but geographic area of ancestry, in the broadest terms, as a measurable genetic truth) hosts Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich talk to Malcolm Gladwell. If that name seems familiar, it should. He's the author of such deep-thought books as The Tipping Point, Blink, and Outliers, all of which discuss how relatively mundane things can make huge differences in the lives of individuals and societies.

What you may not know about Gladwell is that he was one of the best age-group milers in Canada in his early teen years, at times beating future two-time national champ Dave Reid. Being of Jamaican origin, he knows a thing or two about race as it applies to athletics. His view? Typically, both mundane and profound. No spoilers here, you'll have to listen yourself.

Friday, January 02, 2009

Exciting Track Meets

If you're like me, you look at the subject line above and say "Yep, they sure are". Scott Bush at US Distance Running asks how they can be made more so. I ask, how can you improve on perfection?

I realize I'm being facetious here, but only to make a point. A close and competitive race is inherently compelling. There is something in us that wants to figure out who will get to the finish line first, and when we cannot tell with certainty the tension builds until being released when one of them breasts the tape. There is no need to toy with this.

What we do need to change is how often such good races are put together, how they are delivered and communicated to the viewers, and how each individual race fits into a larger context. This is how you use individual pieces of competition to create a sport.

In terms of creating good races, it all boils down to one issue: distance races must be between athletes, and not between an athlete and the clock. In James McNeish's Lovelock, a fictionalized biography of the 1930s Kiwi miler, the title character derides what he calls "cuckoo-clock racing" and warns it could destroy amateur sport. On the Grand Prix and road racing circuit, paid rabbits string the field out from the start and artificially limit the number of runners still in contention late in the race, but this is far from the worst offender. Regular-season college track meets are generally unwatchable because the races are nothing more but time-trials geared towards qualifying for championship meets.

In terms of how track meets and other races are delivered and communicated to the viewers, we all know that virtually all of our national TV announcers should be hauled into Monument Circle and beaten to death in front of a cheering Let's Run mob. I jest. Sort of. Not really. But before we get a crew of equally incompetent maroons to take their places, we need to think about what makes a good sports announcer? And the answer is, someone who transmits the experience of being right there, while adding to it by giving us relevant information that we'd like to know but didn't. Radio baseball men, like Vin Scully and Ernie Harwell, were the absolute best at this. And a good meet, like the Olympic Trials, doesn't need anything but the experience of being there.

I have heard some absolutely fantastic announcers, but not in any media. The three best announcers in English-speaking North America do stadium announcing. They are Scott Davis (former Mt SAC Relays director) and Garry Hill (editor of Track & Field News), with Frank Zarnowski (decathlon guru extraordinaire) coming in for multi-events. Their talents are in such demand that TV could never pay them enough. But it's not like there aren't any other people in America that could develop the same skills--namely, playing ringmaster to the three- (or four- or five-) ring circus at a major meet. It is remarkably like the traffic-cop job of a golf tournament's main TV announcer, but done from a single vantage point with one or two people doing all of it. I've done it for high school meets, and it's mentally tiring yet a real thrill. I love it--and I'm sending in a demo tape to my local cable sports channel.

Besides the announcing thing, the other problem of track on TV is that the producers act like the last thing we want to see is a track & field meet. They will cut some races in order to give us more talking heads, and field events get treated like they don't matter at all. The old preview-race-recap-commercial routine just has to go. Fill in the dead time between races with field event updates or in-depth replays of races that took place before airtime began.

Lastly, how do we fit smaller pieces together to make a larger sport? College championship meets, be they conference or national, do this quite well because each race counts towards a team total. Dual meets are even better because they do it within a reasonably watchable time frame. The Olympic Trials are great this way because each race is part of creating an Olympic team and builds towards those Olympics. But what about road races or the Grand Prix circuit? At one time, the GP circuit had event and overall standings that led to a big payday at the season finale. Unfortunately, that system has gone by the wayside and the importance of each individual meet has dropped a bit. The Golden League is a whole-season gig but doesn't quite have the oomph necessary. Road races only have the World Marathon Majors and that hasn't been the excitement they were hoping for. I came up with an idea a while back; whatever is done, it needs to make the season build to a climactic meet or short series of meets.

A saviour of sorts could be found in the strangest of places. NFL fantasy leagues and NCAA tourney pools make fans out of people who normally don't care at all. In fact, you find yourself screaming at the TV screen. USATF's Pick n' Win game is OK but so simplistic as to be almost boring. The IAAF's fantasy game requires real thought and is a lot more fun. But both lack the essential part of the two prototypes I mentioned, namely competing against your friends and/or co-workers. Any money you might win is purely secondary to telling them to kiss your winning ass. Track fantasy games have "buddy leagues" as an option, and to make it enjoyable they should be the norm. It would be fairly cheap to throw some swag to randomly selected "buddy league" champs and go a long way to encouraging fantasy league participation.

Bottom line? It's not complicated. There are no secrets. We just need people in charge who care about making track & field enjoyable to watch.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

Track & Field Channel?

Major League Baseball launched its own cable TV channel today. Ignoring for a moment that most of these single-sport cable channels have been considered failures, what would track & field TV look like?

Unlike, say, the NFL, track & field and its associated sports are close to a 12-month enterprise. Also different is that there's a good amount of stuff being filmed that never makes national TV. Be it local broadcast coverage of road races, high school sports on local/regional cable, or live internet feeds of college meets, there's actually no shortage of material. Cost for TV rights? Cheap, cheap, cheap.

With the internet, it's not difficult to put together the kind of talking-heads shows commonplace on cable TV sports. Just think about college coaches who' want to put on a weekly show like their football and basketball counterparts do. They'd be falling all over each other.

Besides domestic coverage, there's overseas coverage of various meets that never sees the light of day here either. While the announcers are mostly not speaking English, overdubbing isn't hard.

And when it comes time to fill air time with movies...well, the official Olympic films alone could take up a day or two.

Advertising? Shoe companies, health foods/supplements, exercise equipment. No shortage here.

Getting it on cable companies? There's your hitch. Just ask Universal Sports.

Running Movies Update

Mark Hale-Brown's excellent site,, has just been redone in version 3.0. Every film has its own page, and films are organized by genre, topic, and year of release. Ordering information is detailed and well explained for those that must be ordered from overseas. A great, great resource.