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Sunday, May 02, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Dance Into May. Yesterday was May 1, which is a holiday in many parts of the world. In Germany, there's Walpurgisnacht and maypole dancing, and the Celtic festival of Beltane is still known in the British Isles. But I'm not German and I'm certainly not a neo-pagan. It's also International Worker's Day, and while I'm a proud member of the AFL-CIO and wish our president was the socialist some people describe him as, our Labor Day is in September.

But I do spend an awful lot of time outdoors, and long ago I knew why May Day was a big deal. In the north, it's the point at which the weather becomes pleasant more often than not. And on May 1, the 2010 outdoor track season began in earnest. Four college duals, a half a dozen conference championships, four major collegiate invitationals, and two big-time pro meets in the Carribean. It starts now.

White guys can run. Both Americans and Europeans knew this 25 years ago, but seem to have forgotten it until last year. Now another US distance-running breakthrough. I woke up this morning and immediately checked the results of the Cardinal Invitational 10k to see if Galen Rupp was successful in his attempt to break the 10,000 meter American Record. He did, sort of.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Rupp ran faster than the 27:13.98 target. And he was eleven seconds behind Chris Solinsky's new record of 26:59.60. So between the end of last year and the beginning of this one, the Oregon Track Club has produced two guys under 13:00 and two more different guys under 27:11. And these are not all being trained by the same coach. We have depth, and it's only going to get better.

Americans are still too hard-headed. Solinsky's comments after his record, the first track 10k he's ever run? "I'm still a 5k guy." No, you're not, numbskull. You are a distance runner, and a professional athlete, and that means you do what it takes to rise to the top of your profession. You lack the sense to understand you just did that. The best comparison would be Cal Ripken still insisting in 1982 that he was really still a third baseman. You just ran a time that puts you in the realm of the very best in the world, and more importantly, you ran it off a sit-and-kick style. Your last two laps were in 60.1 and 56.1 seconds, meaning you have what it takes to win an Olympic medal in the 10,000 meters. No one can win a medal in the 5k without finishing speed in the class of Bernard Lagat, which you do not possess. No one runs the 10k to the exclusion of all other distances, and you won't either, but it's where the hardware is available.

Bolt is the man. He just started up his season and really isn't into high gear. He ran the fourth-best 200 of all time and left the third-best half-lapper in the world a nearly half a second behind. Watch here. And the very next day during network pro golf coverage, his smiling mug was heavily promoting Jamaica track and field, on someone else's dime. There has never been someone so good for track, or needed so badly.

Flotrack is still learning. They came to Westwood to cover the USC-UCLA dual meet and worked hard at it. But some of the camera work wasn't the best, and they missed out on the best announcer available. It sure sounded like Scott Davis was working the PA at Ducky Drake Stadium, and was doing his usual fine job of directing the attention of the fans to the various rings of the circus. When someone like Davis is working, you cut out the talking heads and plug in to the PA system. It would be like talking over Vin Scully or Keith Jackson. Your guys only need speak during down time.

Track gets much-needed reassurance. On Tuesday, the Association of Summer Olympic International Federations rejected calls by FINA, swimming's international governing body, to change the formula for distributing the projected $375 million in TV revenues. The IAAF will, as in the past, get nearly twice as much money ($35.77 million) as any other IGB. FINA head Julio Maglione cited strong TV ratings and packed crowds in Beijing

While I can't blame Maglione for trying, as he'd be derelict in his duties if he didn't, swimming just doesn't measure up. Track can get 1 million viewers in more countries than swimming can get athletes to qualify to the Olympics. The men's 100 meters final was the second most-watched sporting event of 2008, beating out soccer championship games in the UEFA and Champions leagues, while swimming didn't get in the top ten. Swimming has only one mass-participation event that even remotely compares to any of at least fifty road races around the world. We are king of the traditional Olympic sports.

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