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Friday, July 30, 2010

The Weekend Ahead

The European Championships run through Sunday in Barcelona.
Meet website
Live updates
Live video
Live chat

The African Championships run through Sunday in Nairobi.
Live results

The Central American and Caribbean Games finish up today in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico. 
Live results
Live video via

The Canadian Championships run through Sunday at Toronto's Varsity Centre.  Live TV coverage will be tomorrow (Saturday) at 4 PM on CBC.
Meet website
Start lists and results
Spotlight on the women's hurdles

The Gill Factory Vault competition will take place at the Gill factory in Champaign, Illinois on Friday and Saturday.  The men's elite competition will include top athletes such as Derek Miles, Jeremy Scott and Mark Hollis.

The Bogota International Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will take place in the Colombian capital on Sunday.
Race website (in Spanish)
IAAF preview

Other track on TV
Diamond League Eugene rerun, 5 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Monaco rerun, 9:30 PM Friday and 10 AM Sunday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Paris rerun, 10 AM Saturday on Universal Sports
Great City Games rerun, 1:30 PM Sunday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Gateshead rerun, 12:30 AM Monday on Universal Sports
Bud Greenspan Presents: Beijing 2008 - America's Olympic Glory, 7 PM Friday on Showtime Extreme
Sydney 2000 Olympics: Bud Greenspan's Gold From Down Under, 6 PM Sunday on Showtime Family Zone

For more reading
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines, such as Alan Webb's much-anticipated return to racing and the women's 5k at the African Championships

Javlein American Recod holder Breaux Greer is reportedly throwing well in practice, on the rehab from shoulder surgery.  His last competitive outing was the q-round at the 2008 Olympics.

British sportswriters, if not the British public, are beginning to warm to the BALCO-tainted Dwain Chambers.

Britain's Daily Mail gives UK national coach Charles Van Commenee high marks for team performance.

WADA says Russia must step up its doping fight.  Ha ha!  That's funny.  It's like telling talk radio to step up its fight against obnoxious loudmouths.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Track Needs a Fan Club

One of the more interesting Twitterers to follow is the British Athletic Supporters Club (@BASCSupporters).  They're the track fan club in the UK and no, I don't think they have any idea what their name might mean in the USA.  Right now they have a group in Barcelona cheering on their national team at the European Championships.

I remember when I was a young geek and I joined Weird Al Yankovic's fan club, "The Close Personal Friends of Al".  These days official fan clubs seem a bit dated; the club above is fifty years old.  Still, we have nothing even remotely resembling a fan club in the USA.  In this day and age we have Twitter and Facebook and blogs and all that.  But we in the USA have no organizational structure specifically for fans, and when our needs are met it seems a secondary effort at best from the national office.

When you join USATF, you are asked to identify yourself as an athlete, a coach, an official or an administrator.  "Fan" is not an option.  And why not?  There are plenty of membership perks for the fan: discounts on Track and Field News, tickets to USATF events, hotels, rental cars, and the USATF store.  The recent USATF Championships had a VIP tent for members. And, most importantly, the very existence of modern post-collegiate track and field requires a fan base.

If there was a "fan" membership option, then there would have to be representation within USATF for the fan constituency.  Imagine how things might be different such a thing came to pass.

In the absence of such support, though, you can look here for all your armchair decathlete needs.

What's on today
The European Championships continue in Barcelona.  Key finals today are the first day of the decathlon, the women's discus, long jump and 10k, and the men's hammer and 100 meters.
Championships homepage
Live results
Live updates
Live webcast
Special Track and Field News discussion forum

Today the African Championships begin in Nairobi.  The key final is the men's 10,000 meters, which should be a great race.
Previews from the IAAF and SuperSport
Facebook page

The Canadian Championships get started today at Toronto's Varsity Centre with qualifying rounds and the multis.  The championships are run in an interesting fashion in that athletes who have met a qualifying standard will bypass the early rounds and go straight to the semis (in the sprints) or finals (in the distance and field events).
Championships home page

Track on TV
Diamond League Paris rerun, 5 PM on Universal Sports
Big Ten Outdoor Championships rerun, 2 PM and 5 AM on Big Ten Network
Bud Greenspan Presents: Beijing 2008 - America's Olympic Glory, 1 and 8 PM on Showtime Extreme

Other links
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines
Let's Run's weekly recap
The buzz in the English-speaking countries is yesterday's UK 1-2 finish in the Euro 10k -- reactions from Britain's Athletics Weekly magazine and the BBC
AW rounds up today's morning action at the European Championships
The Jamaica Gleaner says their country's future is in good hands
A feature on the Finley family of top throwers
An interesting article on the Canadian Athletes Now fund, which distributes money to Canadian Olympians and is opposed by the Canadian Olympic Committee
Sammy Wanjiru not doing so well?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Championship Week Begins

The European Championships got started in Barcelona this morning with the men's 20k walk.  Other finals today are the women's shot put and the men's 10k. 
Championships homepage
IAAF preview
Colin Jackson's five to watch
Options for internet viewing
Special Track and Field News discussion forum

Tomorrow the African Championships begin in Nairobi.
Previews from the IAAF and SuperSport
Facebook page
Prediction contest

Today the Central American and Caribbean Games continue in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.  Important finals today include the 200 meters and 400 hurdles for both men and women.
Video on
Flotrack coverage page

Track on TV
Diamond League Lausanne rerun, 5 PM on Universal Sports
Diamond League Paris rerun, 10 PM on Universal Sports
Big Ten Women's Indoor Championships rerun, 2 PM on Big Ten Network
Big Ten Outdoor Championships rerun, midnight on Big Ten Network

Other links
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines
Flotrack's Tasty Race of the Week and Kick of the Week
We're two years from the opening of the 2012 Olympics, as noted by Sports Illustrated and Mr. Universal
The BBC discovers the source of the lightning Bolt
My hometown and home course will host the 2011 NCAA XC Regionals
Justin Gatlin will return to racing in Estonia in August
Bolt - Gay - Powell showdown to happen in Stockholm?

Monday, July 26, 2010

World Juniors: USA Performance Review

A few days ago on Twitter, I was asked about Team USA's performance.  I thought I'd wait until the meet was over to make an analysis.

The big picture: medal count.  There are a lot of ways to analyze a national team's performance at a championship meet, but first and foremost is the medals.  Team USA won six gold medals and fifteen overall, placing second (barely) to Kenya in the standings.

How does this compare with previous years?  Ignoring 2000, when we hardly sent anyone to the meet, Team USA has averaged 7.5 golds and 15.5 medals from 1996 to 2008.  So it's a bit below the average, but not by much.  But our medal output has been highly correlated to the timing of the meet, in that we win more when the meet is held in midsummer and fewer when it's held in late summer.  This makes sense, given the structure of the US high school and collegiate seasons.  For the other three recent WJC meets held entirely in July, we have averaged eleven golds and nineteen medals-- five and four more, respectively, than this year.  So 2010 wasn't so good for us.

What was expected?  Expectations are hard to define.  Mostly all we have to go on are qualifying marks, but those aren't always the best predictors of what will actually happen.  On the other hand, a bad predictor is better than no predictor at all.  Here's how I figure what we expected and what we got...
100-200-400: expected three silvers, won gold, two silver and bronze
Hurdles: expected just one bronze, won a bronze
800 and up: expected silver and bronze, and got them
Relays: expected four golds, and got them
Jumps: expected nothing, won a silver and a bronze
Throws: expected two silvers and a bronze, won one gold and one silver
Overall expectations: four gold, thirteen medalsOverall achievement: six gold, fifteen medals
The analysis shows a relatively weak team that competed beyond expectations.

Individuals.  Track teams are pretty much the sum of their parts and no more.  So how did the parts do?

Most disappointing: qualifying.  Not at the WJC, but qualifying for the US team.  Two medal favorites didn't finish in the top two at the USATF Juniors and didn't make the team.  High jumper Erik Kynard had just finished his freshman season at Kansas State, one that begin in December, and was well past his peak when late June came around.  Gatorade High School Athlete of the Year Sam Crouser finished third at the USATF Juniors in his specialty, the javelin, and also didn't make the team.  These two are prime examples of the biggest reason why the USA doesn't do all that well at World Junior Championships: it's not a priority.  And I don't think it should be for our athletes.  Kynard was much more focused on Big 12 and NCAA championship meets; Crouser was doing three events every week to carry his team.  Neither started their season with the WJC as a big priority, if a priority at all.

To a lesser extent, Ashton Purvis and Nick Vena were underachievers at the WJC. 

Most relief at doing as well as we hoped: middle distance.  Cas Loxom and Robbie Andrews had the two fastest qualifying marks, but the Kenyans lurked and the freshmen had just finished the longest and hardest seasons of their lives.  They still won silver and bronze.  Jordan Hasay had a similar season and took fourth in the 1500.  These bode well for the future.

Biggest successes: technical field events.  We knew Conor McCullough was a medal favorite in the hammer, but he won with striking ease and set a new meet record.  Northwest Ohio native Emily Pendleton was a bit of a surprise to win silver in the women's discus, as was Omar Craddock in the triple jump.  Technical field events are probably the USA's weakest link on the senior level, so these unexpected successes are doubly encouraging.

Overal assessment: On its own merits, disappointing.  In a larger context, encouraging.

Other summaries and reflections are available at The View From The Finish Line and the Block Head Blog.

What's on today
The Giro Podistico Internazionale di Castelbuono road race takes place in Sicily.  It's an elites-only affair that does ten laps of a difficult twisting 1130 meter loop with the challenges you might expect in an old European town, such as narrow alleyways and cobblestones. Theoretically, it shouls be a great race as it pits marathon star Sammy Wanjiru against half-marathon star Zersenesay Tadesse.

Other links
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines.
PreRace Jitters asks Jeneba Tarmoh 13 questions...and gets 13 answers
The USOC and BMW just inked a sponsorship deal that sends a lot of cash to USATF
Morocco may bid for the 2017 World Championships
The 1948 Olympic Archive of video, photos and other tidbits is now online
Brianna Glenn's funny travelogue chronicling the uneasiness of a Cologne spa
Track and Field News examines the Diamond League event races
Samyr Laine examines the shell game
If you're going to be in England, you can win tickets to the upcoming London Diamond League meet

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

There are new mile stars on the horizon.  Or maybe closer.  On Thursday in Monte Carlo, the world got introduced to Andrew Wheating.  He ran a brilliant race for fourth in 3:30.90, which also happens to be fourth on the yearly list.  The style in which he ran, laying back early and closing hard, indicates there's likely even more improvement available.  After all, he's only run about twenty or so 1500/mile races in his whole life.  Four years ago, when he'd just started running track back in high school in Vermont, if you had told him that he'd be a highly sought-after budding pro running the equivalent of a 3:48 mile on the French Riviera, he'd have told you to go back to Burlington with your wacky weed.  But there he is.

Of course, there are also new Kenyans.  There are always new Kenyans.  Silas Kiplagat won the race in a world-leading 3:29.27.  He's younger than Wheating's 22 years, although just how much younger is hard to determine (more on that below).  And he's run only seven 1500/mile races in his life; the last one before this was taking runner-up to Asbel Kiprop at the Kenyan Championships.  He is an even bigger new star than Wheating or Ryan Gregson, a 20-year-old Aussie who ran 3:31.06 for a new national record and is the youngest 3:31 runner ever from a nation in which detailed birth records are the norm.

Lopez Lomong's great run should also be noted.  He ran a new PR of 3:32.20, which puts him at #9 on the all-time US list.  Bernard Lagat ran 3:32.52, making this by far the best single race in history for American 1500 runners.  Back in 1982 in Lausanne, the USA had two men under 3:33 (Steve Scott 3:32.33, Sydney Maree 3:32.76) and a third at 3:35.28 (Craig Masback), a time Manzano likely would also have run if he hadn't bagged the race in the last lap.  In a 4x1500 relay, the USA would beat everyone in the world save Kenya, and we'd make them work hard at it.

The World Juniors has age issues.  I'm not one to get terribly hyped about the World Junior Championships, as age-group competition often celebrates who has matured the earliest rather than who is destined to become the world's best.  But there have always been mutterings about Kenyans who might be overage, and now there's a bit more to go on. 

Dennis Masai won the 10k, and a year ago he was noted as being 20 years old.  If true, he's at least two years older than the cutoff for junior competition.  Bronze medalist Paul Lonyangata ran the open race at the Nike Team Nationals in 2006, and claimed he was 16 years old at the time which also makes him overage.  But his date of birth listed with the IAAF would have made him 13.

The IAAF should do one of two things: either enforce age limits and vigorously investigate discrepancies, or abandon age-group competition.  It will, of course, do neither.

But it doesn't really matter.  Just over a week ago, Galen Rupp ran a 13:10 PR and got the sound of chirping crickets in response.  Bryan Green at The Runner's Tribe wrote that US distance running fans should be excited about it, but I wrote that if that race was any kind of success for Rupp then it proves he has no chance of running with the big dogs on the track and must soon transition into a marathoner.  More support for my position:  Masai won that World Junior 10k while running his last 5k in 13:10.  Age issues aside, that's what the rest of the world is up against.  If 13:10 is a good 5k for you, you're not beating any of the top Kenyans or Ethiopians.  And a true competitor is more interested in winning that the ego trip of staying in "his event".

Why athletes dope.  We didn't learn that directly a much as by inference.  You can rule out fame and fortune as moitvators.  Why?  Because Norwegian racewalker Erik Tysse got a two-year suspension after testing positive for the blood booster CERA.  Racewalkers aren't ever going to get rich and/or famous.  It's also unlikely that Tysse doped to get all the groupies on the IAAF Race Walking Challenge tour, so that leaves us with "the desire to win at all costs", and specifically for the intrinsic reward of winning itself rather than anything it brings with it.

Speaking of race walkers, American Trevor Barron broke his own American junior record in the 10k at the World Juniors.  What high school does he compete for?  None.  He's home schooled.  Hmm...home schooled...race walker...nope, no one in the sports press will make fun of him.  Ever.

The USOC's problems are of their own making.  It's not just bad management; it runs deeper than that.  It's a disconnect with much of the public.  New USOC chief Scott Blackmun recognized the dysfunction of the organization, and notes that fund-raising is the biggest issue on the horizon.  He noted that basic charitable giving from the public is an area that has a lot of room to grow.

But one little thing this week showed me that the USOC has a lot to learn if they want to get people to donate money.  A tweet on Friday: "Congrats to Andrew Wheating who ran the 1500m in 3:30.90 in Monaco, the 2nd fastest time ever by an American-born athlete."  Read that again.  American-born athlete.

Wheating also ran the 4th-fastest by an American; two of those faster than him are naturalized citizens.  I'm very used to factions at making distinction between kinds of Americans, and even outright rejection of immigrants as Americans alltogether.  They're the Tea Party of the running community, so I expect it.  But when officialdom says the same thing, it's a whole different ball of wax.

This "American-born" versus "American" distinction sends a subtle (or not-so-subtle) signal that immigrants are not part of the "real America".  Even my wife, who has to go back to her maternal grandparents to find immigrant relatives, is highly sensitive to this kind of thing.  If you're trying to court either a) people with money or b) people who are excited about being American or c) both, don't piss off immigrants or their children or their grandchildren.  The wealthy,the successful, and the enthusiastically American have more than their share of such people.  Rule number 1 of fund-raising: do nothing controversial.  If no one in the USOC evens see the possibly controversy, they've got bigger problems than they realize.

The Euro Meetings directors are hypocritical.  Or ignorant.  Or both.  The consortium of directors of the biggest European track meets does not invite athletes who have served major doping bans.  They don't have this as a specific policy, as they are for some reason not allowed to, but the organization's leader, Rajne Soderberg, says "The recommendation (of Euro Meetings Track and Field) is not to invite athletes who bring disrepute to the sport or negative publicity to the meeting. Doping could be one of those reasons."  They don't invite Dwain Chambers and they're not going to invite the just-off-suspension Justin Gatlin.

A year ago they were allowing Damu Cherry into their meets until it was brought to their attention that she'd served a two-year suspension from 2003 to 2005.  Two weeks the Meeting Areva in Paris invited Hind Dehiba Chayd, who served a two-year suspension when she tested positive for EPO (and got caught bringing vials of it into France).  Vania Stambolova, caught for testosterone in 2007, ran in some Euro meets this year.  I could go on.  The point is this: I suspect the athletes the Euro Meetings don't want to invite aren't the ones who have "brought disrepute into the sport" by doping, but the ones the mainstream sportswriters are going to write bad things about.  If the mainstream sportswriters don't know who they are, the athletes and meet directors can do as they please.

This guy is going to play Goliath in a movie.   Spanish shot putter Manuel Martinez has already done some acting.  A year ago he played the lead role in the Spanish independent film Stigmata (not the '99 Hollywood film of the same name).  His new gig is an adaptation of a Spanish comic book series about superhero Captain Thunder, in which he plays a somewhat minor role as the Biblical Philistine.

Another thrower-turned-actor, Yuriy Dumchev, warns him against being typcast as a mobster hit-man type.  Dumchev, briefly the discus world record holder in 1983, is a member of Russia's Screen Actors Guild, has appeared in seventeen films, and has a profile on IMDB.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Men's Overall Leaders

Let's take a look at how I see the race for the Athlete of the Year...

1 David Oliver USA 346 pts
2 David Lekuta Rudisha KEN 343
2 Christian Cantwell USA 343
4 Ivan Ukhov RUS 320
5 Asafa Powell JAM 303
6 Andreas Thorkildsen NOR 295
7 Dwight Phillips USA 288
8 Bershawn Jackson USA 287
9 Usain Bolt JAM 280
10 Walter Dix USA 267

High hurdler Oliver is undefeated outdoors and has approached the World Record on multiple occasions. 800 runner Rudisha is also undefeated and approached the World Record once. Shot putter Cantwell has totally dominated his event.  Ukhov isn't undefeated, but has won all the biggest competitions.

Bolt is down at #9 for one reason only: he hasn't raced all that much. If he comes back with three or four more races like the ones he's already run, he'll be at the top.

Friday, July 23, 2010

The Weekend Ahead

No thoughts or opinions today, there's too much coming up...

The World Junior Championships run today through Sunday.
The best homepages are from the IAAF and the CBC.
CBC has a live blog and a live stream.
TV coverage will be on CBC from midnight to 1 AM tonight, and live at 1 PM on Saturday and 12:30 PM Sunday. will have a live webcast on both Saturday and Sunday beginning at 12:30 PM.
Flotrack's World Juniors coverage page.
Northwest Ohio's Justin Welch qualifies in the hammer today, and goes for a medal in Sunday's final.

On Saturday, the USA Racing Circuit comes to Davenport IA for the Bix 7-Miler, the USA Championship for the seven mile distance. will have a live webcast at 9 AM.
Read the USATF preview.
Enter the Ultimate Distance Fan prediction contest.
Tres cool gimmick: a local runner gets a 2.4 mile head start and is eligible for the $3,600 first-place prize.

The McCain Birmingham Games will take place tomorrow in the northern English city.

The Central American and Caribbean Games, a quadrennial multisport "Olympic-style" games, runs through Saturday in Mayaguez, Puerto Rico.
Flotrack has a coverage page.

Other track on TV...
Diamond League Monaco (tape-delay package), noon Saturday on CBC
Diamond League Monaco rerun, 11:30 AM Friday, 4:30 PM Saturday, 8 PM Sunday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Paris rerun, 11 AM Saturday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Gateshead rerun, 8 PM Friday and 10 AM Sunday on Universal Sports
Great City Games rerun, 10 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Big Ten Men's Indoor Championships rerun, 4 PM Sunday and 3 AM Monday on Big Ten Network
Bud Greenspan Presents: Beijing 2008 - America's Olympic Glory, 5 AM, 10:30 AM and 5:45 PM Saturday on Showtime Extreme

Other links...
Chasing Bolt, episode one

Runner's World Racing News has the headlines
Let's Run has a Monaco meet recap and analysis of Andrew Wheating's amazing 3:30.90
Merlene Ottey will run in the European Championships at age 50
Yelena Isinbayeva will come back to pole vaulting next winter
Usain Bolt enjoying his brief break
Northwest Ohio native Emily Pendleton won silver in the World Junior discus yesterday -- see the FloTrack interview
Andrew Wheating is getting all the US attention from yesterday's Monaco meet, but Yohan Blake ran 19.78 and almost caught Tyson Gay
New Kenyan 1500 star Silas Kiplagat was supposedly unheard of before yesterday...if you're uneducated.  He was already in my world rankings, at #18.  He's #6 now.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Men's Long Distance

Going over to the long races, let's see who's on top...

Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Brimin Kiprop Kipruto KEN 251
2 Paul Kipsiele Koech KEN 232
3 Richard Kipkemboi Mateelong KEN 209
4 Ezekiel Kemboi KEN 200
5 Benjamin Kiplagat UGA 188
6 Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad FRA 146
7 Patrick Langat KEN 127
8 Bob Tahri FRA 120
9 Roba Gary ETH 116
10 Elijah Chelimo Kipterege KEN 95
11 Brahim Taleb MAR 70
12 Jonathan Ndiku KEN 58
13 Daniel Huling USA 45
14 Abraham Cherono KEN 42
15 Silas Kosgei Kiptum KEN 40
15 Abdelatif Chemlal MAR 40
17 Bernard Mbugua KEN 38
18 Ruben Ramolefi RSA 30
18 Abraham Chirchir KEN 30
20 Hilary Yego KEN 28
Twelve Kenyans in the top 20.

3000 / 5000 meters

Superfan Rankings Explained, plus links

Over the alst week or so I've been updating my Superfan Rankings. What are they and where do they come from?

A few years back the IAAF started up some computer rankings that ranked athletes in each event as well as an overall ranking of all athletes in all events combined. The idea was to come up with something like the rankings in pro golf and pro tennis. Their setup had its problems, and it wasn't terribly descriptive of what really took place in any given season. This was highlighted when one season's final leader in the women's 400 hurdles hadn't won a single race all year. It didn't take long for the IAAF to abandon the project.

Other IAAF projects have attempted to rank athletes and chase prize money using some sort of points standings. This began with the Grand Prix series and final in the 80s and 90s, which morphed into the Golden League in the last decade and now into the Diamond League. The main problem with all of those is what they rewarded: lots of winning. This is by itself not a bad thing, but it tended to reward not the "best" athletes but the ones whose event had the least competition.

What really drives interest is two (or even three) athletes facing off regularly, trading wins, and putting up great marks while doing so. The classic example would be Gunder Hagg and Arne Andersson. A system that rewards winning alone would not put these two at the top. Yet a system that rewards marks alone doesn't make winning important, and doesn't deal well with issues like bad conditions that can negatively affect marks.

So my system rewards both placing high, with an emphasis on actually winning, in the biggest competitions, as well as putting up a series of good marks. Does this sound familiar? It should, as it's most of the basis for Track and Field News' World Rankings.

Those annual World Rankings are the gold standard, but they are a subjective ranking (using objective criteria) and as such are remarkably difficult to reproduce with numbers. So my little project doesn't intend to supplant it, but to be similar with certain key differences.

What my system does not reward is ducking the competition or staying on the sidelines. These things are bad for track. If you want to be at the top, you've got to compete often and against the best.  So if my rankings ever do get accepted as some sort of "real" world rankings, with either money paid out for the results or used as a bargaining chip for appearance fees, it would make the athletes' interests the same as the interests of the sport as a whole.

What's on today
The Diamond League comes to Monte Carlo.  Late dropouts are Walter Dix, Asbel Kiprop and Anna Alminova, but a Carmelita Jeter / Veronica Campbell-Brown matchup is still on.
Live webcasts begin at 2 PM at for US viewers, for Canadian viewers
TV coverage is at 9 PM on Universal Sports, and at noon Saturday on CBC
Previews from the IAAF, Universal Sports, Conway Hill
Flotrack will have coverage of the meet

Today is World Junior Championships day #4.  Finals on tap are the men's pole vault, 400 meters and 1500 meters, and the women's steeplechase, discus, 800 meters, 400 meters and100 hurdles, and the first day of the heptathlon.
The best homepages are from the IAAF and the CBC.
CBC has a live blog and a live stream.
TV coverage will be on CBC from midnight to 1 AM.
Flotrack's World Juniors coverage page.

Other track on TV:
Great Manchester 10k rerun, 7 PM, Universal Sports
Great City Games rerun, 1 AM, Universal Sports

Other links...
Chasing Bolt 2010 trailer:

Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines
David Oliver is the USATF Athlete of the Week
USATF is running an "Ultimate Distance Fan" prediction contest for this Saturday's Bix 7-miler
Conway Hill thinks money is killing track, but I think the problem is the difference between a big payday and a small one
Q and A with Mike Powell and Bruny Surin
Shot putter Milan Haborak failed a dope test and may get a lifetime ban
TrackFocus catches up on odds n' ends from American athletes in Europe
New track blog: The Bell Lap

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Women's Jumps

Looking at leaps both vertical and horizontal...

High Jump
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Blanka Vlašic CRO 309
2 Chaunté Howard USA 274
3 Ruth Beitia ESP 166.5
4 Ariane Friedrich GER 157
5 Svetlana Shkolina RUS 147.5
6 Levern Spencer LCA 137
7 Antonietta Di Martino ITA 94
8 Irina Gordeeva RUS 88.5
9 Emma Green SWE 81.5
10 Vita Styopina UKR 47.5
11 Meike Kröger GER 41
12 Tia Hellebaut BEL 34
13 Viktoriya Klyugina RUS 31
14 Nadiya Dusanova UZB 26.5
15 Anna Iljustsenko EST 21
16 Deirdre Mullen USA 20
17 Nicole Forrester CAN 18
17 Kamila Stepaniuk POL 18
19 Venelina Veneva BUL 17
20 Marina Aitova KAZ 14
Vlašic has lost a few times, but she is still the top jumper. Howard, however, is within striking distance.

Pole Vault

Doug Logan's Future Uncertain, plus links

USATF CEO Doug Logan is on warning from the organization's Board of Directors that if his performance doesn't improve by August he could lose his job.  Curiously enough, he was called to Columbus for this dressing-down rather than USATF Pres Stephanie Hightower traveling to Indy to do it.

This was reported yesterday and only one follow-up article has been written since.  Neither specifically addresses what he has done and left undone to warrant such harsh treatment -- it took years for USATF to finally dump Olan Cassell -- and so we're left with less public means of figuring out why.

My only two connections have dried up.  Tom Borish ( gave up on covering track when his website got killed off, and Adam Jacobs ( passed away.  The only person who seems to really know anything is Track and Field News editor Garry Hill.  He said there were major rumblings of dissatisfaction coming from the board at the USATF Championships in Des Moines, and that this announcement came as no surprise, but either could not or would not say what the specific complaints were.  He did say, though, that Nike (USATF's main sponsor) wasn't the source but that they're not happy either.

Everything else, then, is mere speculation.  Everyone has their own particular gripe, which would be true even if USATF were a vibrant and successful organization, which is most certainly is not.  So when you hear someone say "This is why he's on the hot seat" they're probably just saying what they hope is true.  It's not that USATF is such a tight-lipped organization, it's just that track and field barely warrants any attention from the type of writers capable of getting leaks.

I don't believe for a second that there's anything he can do to save his job.  So for the second time in two years, USATF will be searching for a new CEO.  Struggling organizations looking for leadership are usually in the same boat as someone who is fat, 50, and divorced:  the ones you want you can't get, and the ones you can get you don't want.  As Paul Merca tweeted, "regardless of one's feelings towards the USATF national office or staff, this is not good".

What's on today
Today is World Junior Championships day #3.  Finals on tap are the men's shot put, long jump and 100 meters, and the women's javelin, 5k and 100.
The best homepages are from the IAAF and the CBC.
CBC has a live blog and a live stream.
TV coverage will be on CBC from midnight to 1 AM.
Flotrack's World Juniors coverage page.
Meet the 100 meter favorites: Jamaica's Dexter Lee and Britain's Jodie Williams.  The latter has won all 146 races she's ever run.

Other track on TV:
Prefontaine Classic rerun, 6:00 PM, Universal Sports
Diamond League Paris rerun, 9:00 PM and 2:00 AM, Universal Sports

Looking ahead to tomorrow, the Diamond League comes to Monte Carlo.  The big deal is a Gay v. Dix rematch at 200 meters.
Live webcasts begin at 2 PM at for US viewers, for Canadian viewers
TV coverage is at 9 PM on Universal Sports, and at noon Saturday on CBC
Previews from the IAAF and from Universal Sports
Flotrack will have coverage of the meet

Other links...
Runner's World has the daily headlines
Track and Field News interviews US 400m champ Greg Nixon
Brian Cazanueve's weekly roundup of Olympic news
Dathan Ritzenhein will run this fall's New York City Marathon
Jenny Meadows says Caster Semenya will never be considered an equal
Justin Gatlin talks about the end of his suspension
Brianna Glenn blogs about foreign cultures and personal space
The Utah Utes track will soon be completed
David Oliver wants to beat Robles and his world record

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Men's Middle Distance

Let's see how the they stack up in the events where endurance meets speed.

800 meters
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 David Lekuta Rudisha KEN 358
2 Abubaker Kaki SUD 209
3 Mbulaeni Mulaudzi RSA 168
4 Amine Laalou MAR 102
5 Alfred Kirwa Yego KEN 90
6 Marcin Lewandowski POL 75
7 Jackson Mumbwa Kivuva KEN 69
8 Asbel Kiprop KEN 63
9 Yuriy Borzakovskiy RUS 54
10 Richard Kiplagat KEN 51
11 Boaz Kiplagat Lalang KEN 49
12 Kleberson Davide BRA 40
13 Michael Rimmer GBR 38
14 Nick Symmonds USA 37
15 Bram Som NED 29
15 Bilal Mansour Ali BRN 29
17 Augustine Kiprono Choge KEN 25
18 Abraham Kiplagat KEN 24
18 Adam Kszczot POL 24
20 Yeimer López CUB 23
Rudisha is making a pretty good run at Athlete of the Year; he leads all events in points scored (by 15 points over Christian Cantwell). Scheduled to run in Monte Carlo on Thursday are #2 Kaki, #2 Mulaudzi, #7 Kivuva, #10 Kiplagat, #11 Lalang, #14 Symmonds and #15 Ali. The next two Americans after Symmonds are Andrew Wheating at #22 and Leo Manzano at #25.

1500 meters / One Mile
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Asbel Kiprop KEN 199
2 Augustine Kiprono Choge KEN 175
3 Deresse Mekonnen ETH 111
4 Amine Laalou MAR 107
5 Nicholas Kemboi KEN 104
6 Mekonnen Gebremedhin ETH 98
7 Gideon Gathimba KEN 66
8 Daniel Kipchirchir Komen KEN 60
9 Bernard Lagat USA 56
10 William Biwott Tanui KEN 51
11 Abdalaati Iguider MAR 50
12 Bob Tahri FRA 44
13 Eliud Kipchoge KEN 42
14 Geoffrey Kipkoech Rono KEN 40
15 Sergio Sanchez Martinez ESP 39
16 Leonel Manzano USA 38
17 Nixon Chepseba KEN 35
18 Silas Kiplagat KEN 34
19 Mahiedine Mehhissi-Benabbab FRA 30
20 Haron Keitany KEN 28
Entries for Thursday's meet in Monte Carlo include #1 Kiprop, #2 Choge, #4 Laalou, #5 Kemboi, #8 Komen, #9 Lagat, #11 Iguider, #16 Manzano and #18 Kiplagat. The next American is Lopez Lomong at #27.

Steve Cram Doesn't Hold Back, plus links

On Friday's webcast of the Paris Diamond League meet, which is a rebroadcast of the BBC television coverage, announcer Steve Cram didn't hold back.  As Anna Alminova finished the 1500 meters in a time of 3:57.65, he said "You can make your own judgement about that".

Some background information is probably necessary here.  In 2008, a whole slew of Russian women middle-distance runners received two-year bans when they were found to be switching urine samples.  Alminova was one of the few not caught up in it, but she herself just finished a three-month suspension for pseudoephedrine.  Add in the long list of Russian skiers found to be manipulating their blood in any number of ways and a definite pattern appears.

In my mind, 3:57 is not a red flag all by itself.  But the circumstances under which it was run should raise eyebrows.  With no races to sharpen her form, Alminova ran 4:06 and 4:00 on successive days at the Russian Championships.  Then she traveled 1800 miles to Paris, got about three hours of sleep, and trounced the world's best runners with 3:57--just over 24 hours after her unrabbited 4:00!  As this well-written Slate piece on Lance Armstrong hints, great performances on successive days is the thing that doesn't raise suspicion as often as it should.  When Elena Soboleva ran 1:56 and 3:58 indoors (!) on back-to-back days at the 2008 Russian Championships I knew something was up, and she was one of the seven Russians banned later that year.

So yeah, Cram, I'm making my own judgment about that.  Guess what it is.

Today is day 2 of the World Junior Championships.  Finals on tap are the women's shot put and the men's 10k.
The best homepages are from the IAAF and the CBC.
CBC has a live blog and a live stream.
TV coverage will be on CBC from midnight to 1 AM.
Flotrack now has World Juniors coverage.
The IAAF's World Juniors day 1 report.
ESPN Rise covers the
top ten storylines for Team USA at the World Juniors.
Real fans watch field events.

Other links...
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines
Flotrack's Tasty Race of the Week and Kick of the Week 
Let's Run's weekly recap
The just-announced John W. James Endowment is a gift of $200,000 to "be used to fund elite grants for men and women track athletes in the throwing events and to promote and highlight the throwing events at major competitions"
Provisional entry lists for Thursday's Monte Carlo Diamond League meet are up; Dayron Robles is still hurt and will not run
Saucony has a "vintage running T-shirt" contest, and FinishLynx has a photofinish photo contest

Monday, July 19, 2010

World Junior Championships Begin, plus links

The IAAF World Junior Championships begin today in Moncton, New Brunswick.  The biennial event for under-20 athletes runs through Sunday (July 25).

It does not appear that there will be any TV or web coverage of the meet in the United States. For those of you who live in the best part of the country, where hockey rules the winter, the Canadian Broadcasting Corp.  will do a daily taped package between midnight and 1 AM on Monday through Friday (actually Tuesday through Saturday morning), plus live broadcasts from 1 to 4 PM on Saturday and 12:30 to 3 PM on Sunday.  CBC Sports also has a live stream, although I have no idea about the time frame or whether it's available outside Canada.

World Junior champions sometimes fizzle in their later years (Chris Nelloms, Obea Moore) and sometimes sizzle (Usain Bolt, Haile Gebrselassie), so this is a meet worth following.  Some of this year's competitors are already stars on the senior level, most notably Jehue Gordon and Kirani James.

Be aware that Moncton is in the Atlantic time zone, one hour ahead of Eastern time.  Yeah, Canada's a big country (as noted by the 80s Canadian band Big Country, in their song Big Country, on their album Big Country).

Today's lone final is the women's 3000 meters, the first test for Oregon frosh and age-group ace Jordan Hasay.  Universal Sports' Joe Battaglia interviewed her yesterday.

Webpages to note:
IAAF World Juniors home page
CBC Sports home page and live web stream and live blog
There are previews by the IAAF; by CBC Sports; by ESPN Rise for men's track, men's field, women's track and women's field; and by Terry Finisterre for the Caribbean athletes.

Other links...
Runner's World Racing News has the weekend headlines
Two British shot putters got a two-year ban for refusing a dope test
Prerace Jitters poses 14 questions for hurdler Johnny Dutch...and got 14 answers
The IAAF rounds up yesterday's action at the invitational in Tangiers plus national championship meets in the Czech Republic, Germany and Belgium
Flotrack interviews Cincinnati's David Payne
Friend of the blog Martin Bingisser achieved his goals at the Swiss Championships
Track & Field News unveils a new home page

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Usain Bolt is getting the celebrity treatment.  For two years he's gotten the star athlete treatment, but now he's getting the bona fide celebrity treatment.  That means his every move, his every thought is documented by the press as something fascinating.  His thoughts on the World Cup were headlines, even though about a billion other people had opinions too.  Essence just listed him as one of the "hottest males under 30".  Such is the way the press works. 

The biggest news for him this week wasn't he relatively easy win over Asafa Powell but his tax issues in Britain and that they'll keep him out of the London Diamond League meet.  The current law requires athletes who compete in the UK to pay taxes not on how much money was made in the country, but on a pro-rated portion of all income.  So someone like Bolt, who competes little in comparison to a footballer or cricketer, and makes most of his money in endorsements rather than in salary or appearance fees or prize money, would end up paying more in taxes than he'd earn for his day's work in London.  Note that both parties are doing their best.  Britain's government is having major revenue issues, with British Petroleum problems on the horizon to make it worse, and were looking for every tax they could that would not overly impact the middle and lower classes.  For his part, Bolt does not shirk his tax responsibilities; it was recently reported that many Jamaican sports stars don't pay their taxes but Bolt does.

Puma has marketing genius.  Recently Bolt and Puma rolled out a line of apparel, the kind targeted towards young black males and the accompanying hordes of white posers.  OK, smart enough.  But what really was smart was getting it into the news.  In the days leading up to the Paris meet on Friday, Puma advertised that Bolt would unveil a brand-new jersey in the race.  While the IAAF regulates the size of any sponsor name or logo, other than that you can wear pretty much whatever you want.  The jersey, being similar in style to much of the new clothing, was one big advertisement that was played on TV screens all over the world, but didn't exceed any regulations.  Smart.

In retrospect, the whole "tune in to see what he's wearing" shtick shouldn't be brand-new.  Nike, adidas, Reebok, Asics, New Balance and all the rest have never connected stylish clothing and the athletes they sponsor.  They've rarely tried to actively promote their athletes as celebrities--the lone exception being a guy who's been dead for 35 years.  Nike should be making Lopez Lomong into a household name.

Celebrity Shot Putting is real.  No, it's not a new reality TV series.  It's part of the "shot put spectacular" held in downtown Stockholm's Kungsträdgården the day before the main Diamond League meet on August 6.  There are professional competitions for men and women, youth competitions, and the IAAF promo promised a celebrities shot put as well.

George Steinbrenner was important to track and field.  The Yankees owner died this week, leading to retrospectives that told us more than how he liked to hire and fire managers.  The onetime Williams College hurdler served as a USOC vice-president and had a large and positive impact on the organization.  He quietly funded many Olympians; Seilala Sua's story is just one.

ESPN: Good, bad.  ESPN Rise did four World Juniors previews for the US teams this week, one each in men's and women's track and field.  They also did the ESPYs, which more than makes up for any good they do.  I've always wondered what exactly the criteria for best track and field athlete are--for what season?  USA only or the whole world?  This year, it didn't really matter, as Usain Bolt wins under any circumstances and that's who they chose.  But it still reminds me of something John Madden once said when unveiling his All-Madden team: "We don't use big words like 'criteria'.  Or 'mayonnaise'."

Reality TV goes to the track.  Once, at least.  The second season of the ABC series "Shaq Vs."  will show a race between Tyson Gay and a relay team made up of Dwight Howard, Chris Johnson, Desean Jackson and the Big Aristotle himself.  It was rumored that this had been taped at Occidental College in July and now it's confirmed.  Air date will be sometime in early August, and you can bet I'll let you know when it will be on.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Women's Hurdles

Going over to the hurdles, let's see how the women stack up.

100m Hurdles
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 LoLo Jones USA 249
2 Priscilla Lopes-Schliep CAN 192
3 Perdita Felicien CAN 153
4 Damu Cherry USA 150
5 Queen Harrison USA 143
6 Carolin Nytra GER 128
7 Ginnie Crawford USA 119
7 Delloreen Ennis-London JAM 119
9 Kellie Wells USA 105
11 Danielle Carruthers USA 74
10 Vonette Dixon JAM 75
12 Tatyana Dektyarova RUS 60
12 Nevin Yanit TUR 60
15 Anay Tejeda CUB 52
14 Christina Vukicevic NOR 58
16 Ti'erra Brown USA 48
17 Tiffany Ofili USA 47
18 Kristi Castlin USA 40
19 Yvette Lewis USA 25
20 Eline Berings BEL 24
Jones does lose now and then, but not in the biggest races.

400m Hurdles

Friday, July 16, 2010

Separated at Birth

Russian long jump star Darya Klishina

Movie star Julia Stiles

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Men's Throws

The last few days I've updated the shortest running events.  Going over to the throwing events, let's see how the big guys measure up.

Shot Put
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Christian Cantwell USA 343
2 Ryan Whiting USA 228
3 Dylan Armstrong CAN 221
4 Andrei Mikhnevich BLR 199
5 Ralf Bartels GER 166
6 Reese Hoffa USA 163
7 Tomasz Majewski POL 157
8 Cory Martin USA 145
9 Adam Nelson USA 101
10 Pavel Lyzhyn BLR 100
11 Russ Winger USA 69
12 David Storl GER 65
13 Maris Urtans LAT 56
14 Dan Taylor USA 46
15 Noah Bryant USA 41
16 Marco Schmidt GER 28
17 Marco Fortes POR 16
18 Dorian Scott JAM 15
19 Jakub Giza POL 14
20 Andriy Semenov UKR 10
Cantwell is the second-highest scoring athlete in the (yet to be posted) all-event Athlete of the Year standings. Mikhnevich is probably the second-best putter in the world, but is penalized a bit as he doesn't test himself against the best often enough.

Discus Throw

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: 400 meters

Over the last two days I've updated the rankings in the sprints.  Now it's time for the quarter.

Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Jeremy Wariner USA 99
2 Angelo Taylor USA 96
3 Calvin Smith USA 79.5
4 LaJerald Betters USA 77
5 Tyson Gay USA 72
6 Jermaine Gonzales JAM 71
7 Kirani James GRN 64
8 Greg Nixon USA 60
8 Tavaris Tate USA 60
10 Torrin Lawrence USA 47
11 Chris Brown BAH 36
12 Jamaal Torrence USA 34
13 Jonathan Borlée BEL 28
14 Donald Sanford USA 27
15 Demetrius Pinder BAH 26
16 Ben Offereins AUS 21
16 Michael Bingham GBR 21
16 Rennie Quow TRI 21
19 David Neville USA 20.5
20 Ricardo Chambers JAM 20
Some event leaders have over 300 points and most have at least 200. No one here has topped 100 points yet, telling you just how weak this event is this year. Wariner leads practically by default. USATF champ Nixon is back at #8; his only two outdoor wins both came in Drake Stadium.

Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Debbie Dunn USA 186
2 Amantle Montsho BOT 172
3 Shericka Williams JAM 151
4 Novlene Williams-Mills JAM 148
5 Allyson Felix USA 114
6 Ana Kapachinskaya RUS 85
7 Tatyana Firova RUS 81.5
8 Natasha Hastings USA 70
9 Francena McCorory USA 68
10 Kseniya Ustalova RUS 63
11 Antonina Krivoshapka RUS 62
12 Vania Stambolova BUL 41
13 Rosemarie Whyte JAM 40
14 Kseniya Zadorina RUS 34
15 Antonina Yefremova UKR 31
16 Natalya Nazarova RUS 29.5
17 Monica Hargrove USA 28
18 Denisa Rosolová CZE 27
19 Christine Ohuruogu GBR 26
20 Shereefa Lloyd JAM 24
Leader Dunn is the only woman to have broken 50 seconds, won two deep races, and dominated the indoor season. Felix has run this event only two times, keeping her from ranking higher. The USA claims five of the top 20, Jamaica four, Russia six, and five for the rest of the world put together.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Women's Sprints

Yesterday I updated the men's sprint rankings.  Here's how the women stack up.  Remember, these are merit rankings based on past performance, not a rating of who is "best" or who would win a future race.

100 meters
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Carmelita Jeter USA 224
2 Veronica Campbell-Brown JAM 197
3 LaShauntea Moore USA 152
4 Kelly-Ann Baptiste TRI 119
5 Shelly-Ann Fraser JAM 104
6 Blessing Okagbare NGR 99
7 Allyson Felix USA 86
8 Sherone Simpson JAM 81
9 Chandra Sturrup BAH 80
10 LaVerne Jones-Ferrette ISV 71
11 Kerron Stewart JAM 66
12 Shalonda Solomon USA 58
13 Sheri-Ann Brooks JAM 48.5
14 Porscha Lucas USA 39
14 Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie BAH 39
16 Tianna Madison USA 36
17 Jeneba Tarmoh USA 35
17 Tahesia Harrigan IVB 35
19 Gloria Asumnu USA 32
20 Bianca Knight USA 29
Jeter and Campbell-Brown have split their two meetings at 100 meters.  As the system does not reward under-racing, Jeter is on top.  #10 Jones-Ferrette is ranked purely on her stellar indoor season and has not raced at all outdoors, leading to speculation as to why. 

200 meters
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Veronica Campbell-Brown JAM 162
2 Allyson Felix USA 88
3 Shalonda Solomon USA 84
4 Carmelita Jeter USA 66
5 Kerron Stewart JAM 56
5 Bianca Knight USA 56
7 Connie Moore USA 53
7 Kelly-Ann Baptiste TRI 53
9 Porscha Lucas USA 52
10 Shelly-Ann Fraser JAM 51
10 LaShauntea Moore USA 51
12 Cydonie Mothersill CAY 46
13 Debbie Dunn USA 45
14 Ana Kapachinskaya RUS 33
15 Sheri Ann Brooks JAM 27
16 Debbie Ferguson-McKenzie BAH 22
17 Amber Purvis USA 21
17 Francena McCorory USA 21
19 Ashlee Kidd USA 20
20 Alexandria Anderson USA 15
Campbell-Brown hasn't run the 200 a whole lot, but neither has anyone else.  She and #2 Felix took the top spots at the Diamond League race in New York.   #3 Solomon hasn't won too many races but is the next-most consistent.  #7 Moore won the USATF Championships but that was her only race of note.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Superfan Rankings Update: Men's Sprints

It's been a while since I've done this.  Let's see how things stack up right now.

100 meters
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Asafa Powell JAM 288
2 Usain Bolt JAM 152
3 Tyson Gay USA 126
4 Walter Dix USA 120
5 Yohan Blake JAM 117
6 Dwain Chambers GBR 102
7 Daniel Bailey ANT 96
8 Nesta Carter JAM 93
9 Ivory Williams USA 90
10 Richard Thompson TRI 88
11 Trell Kimmons USA 82
12 Mike Rodgers USA 67
13 Christophe Lemaitre FRA 65
14 Churandy Martina AHO 54
15 Michael Frater JAM 49
16 Lerone Clarke JAM 37
17 Travis Padgett USA 35
18 Rae Edwards USA 33
19 Jaysuma Saidy Ndure NOR 31
20 Keston Bledman TRI 20
Let's get this straight: Usain Bolt is the best, period.  But this system is more like Track & Field News' world rankings, where under-racing is penalized.  Bolt and Gay haven't run the 100 much yet this year.  Once they run more, they'll move up.  The flavor of the week, Christophe Lemaitre, is at #13.

200 meters
Rank Athlete NAT Pts
1 Walter Dix USA 251
2 Wallace Spearmon USA 192
3 Usain Bolt JAM 155
4 Tyson Gay USA 121
5 Curtis Mitchell USA 79
5 Xavier Carter USA 79
7 Asafa Powell JAM 78
8 Ryan Bailey USA 53
9 Churandy Martina AHO 45
10 Angelo Taylor USA 40
11 Brandon Byram USA 26
11 Richard Thompson TRI 26
13 Jaysuma Saidy Ndure NOR 25
14 Steve Mullings JAM 24
15 Paul Hession IRL 23
16 Christophe Lemaitre FRA 21
16 Evander Wells USA 21
16 Calvin Smith USA 21
19 Leroy Dixon USA 19
20 Marvin Anderson JAM 18
Again, Bolt is obviously the world's best but hasn't raced enough to top the rankings.   Dix and Spearmon lead as they are regulars on the Diamond League circuit.  #5 Mitchell ran 19.99 over the weekend at the NACAC U-23 championships and is the least-known of the top runners.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

White men can run.  Or at least one can.  Christophe Lemaître ran 9.98 at the French national championships, becoming the first white man to run 100 meters in under 10.00.  Well, except that Italian Pietro Mennea ran 19.72 for 200 meters some 31 years ago, and in so doing ran a 100-meter segment well below 10.00.  And, of course, there's the fact that nearly all sub-10.00 sprinters have had mixed ancestry,  and calling them "black" and Lemaître"white" is an arbitrary either/or decision based on appearance alone with no allowance for gray areas.

But I digress.  Here's the important thing:  Lemaître is the third-fastest ever at age 20, regardless of skin tone.  If he continues to progress--and it's entirely possible he won't--a large European country will have one of their own in every big sprint race.  It will contribute to the long-term health of the sport, and would do so even if his name and appearance were similar to that of Thierry Henry or Zinedine Zidane.

David Rudisha is FAST.  How fast is he?  David Rudisha is so fast, he's already the second-fastest half-miler of all time at just 21 years old.  On Saturday night he ran 1:41.51 at the KBC Nacht meet in Heusden, Belgium.  The converted quarter-miler, whose father won a silver medal in the relay at the '68 Olympics, is two years ahead of WR-holder Wilson Kipketer's improvement curve and one year ahead of Seb Coe's.  As the summer season is just hitting its full stride, there might be more where that came from.

The superstars are healthy...we hope.  On Thursday, Usain Bolt ran 9.82 in the 100 meters at Lausanne's Athletissima meet in his first race back after a short achilles-injury-induced layoff.  He was originally scheduled to run the 200, but wished to switch distances according to medical advice to avoid a turn.  There was no 100 on the schedule, but one was hastily assembled, and it was the usual butt-whuppin by the man who might currently be the most well-known athlete in the world.

Two days later in Gateshead, Tyson Gay ran his first 100 of the season, but with a formidable opponent in Asafa Powell.  Gay got an awful start, then showed amazing late-race power to blaze by Powell.  Afterwards I got a scare when I saw Gay momentarily touch his hamstring, but I've heard no bad reports since then.  Note: How often has Powell run well with a headwind, and how often has Gay run poorly?  Not often at all.  And this race was into a stiff breeze, so we should hardly be surprised that Gay blitzed Powell over the last 30 meters or so.

Another star is in trouble.  Olympic and World 100 champ Shelly-Ann Fraser tested positive.  For a painkiller.  Which is not performance-enhancing.  And was taken after dental work (she wears braces).  Or at least that's what she says, and no one ever gets out ahead of the story in a scandal (sports, politics or otherwise) with this much detail and not tell the truth.  So let's all hope this keeps the streak alive.

US distance fortunes are up...and down.  At Gateshead, Leo Manzano closed very well to get third, just an eyelash behind Augustine Choge (both were given the same time).  He showed the kind of late-race power in a scrum that you have to have in order to have a shot at a major international medal.  Two days earlier in Lausanne, steepler Dan Huling ran an 8:13 PR for fourth, beating the reigning Kenyan champ in the process.  Huling noted some weaknesses in his race, most notably the last two laps, and declined to discuss the possibility of soon breaking the American Record (8:09) in the same way a pitcher working on a no-hitter does.

At that same Gateshead meet, Galen Rupp ran his first 5k of the outdoor season.  The pace wasn't terribly fast, and eleven runners were still in contention at the bell.  Rupp finished ninth, and the winners put at least eight seconds on him in that last lap.  While Rupp's time (13:10) was respectable, and not at his preferred 10k distance, I still think this exposes his essential weakness: no late-race speed.  Chris Solinsky smashed him over the last two laps in the big 10k American Record race in May.  As long as he stays on the track, he'll be somewhere between the 5th and 12th best runner in the world, but he has no chance at a major-championship medal.  Even Geoffrey Mutai and Wilson Kiprop, the top two at10k in the recent Kenyan Championships, have essentially abandoned the track in favor of the roads.  One of our biggest problems in the USA is that our stars wait far too long to do the same.

Ryan Hall, the man who looked like a world-beater in 2007 but has failed to live up to it since, was supposed to run a 5k at the Heusden meet on Saturday but pulled out.  This led to some interesting discussion at Let's Run.  I'm with the camp that thinks this is a bad sign, as Hall has scheduled no other races--and for years has planned to race on the track but pulled out.  As much as he was touted as The One, when you compare his accomplishments with Meb Keflezighi's, you wonder why Hall?  Meb won an Olympic medal, the New York City marathon, and set an American Record on the track.  Killer instinct.  Hall is a free spirit, a modern-day hippie (albeit with a spiritualism atypical of that type).  Meb will tell you, and mean it,  that he's the least-accomplished child in his family, while Hall will tell you how to communicate with God, and mean it with just as much conviction.  Each is getting what they want out of life.

The USA's biggest throwing star is our newest.  Provided, of course, that you accept Christian Cantwell's domination of the shot as a bit boring and that Kara Patterson is the big new thing.  Patterson had a surprise big throw at the USATF Championships, smashing the American Record; a come-from-behind win over a top field at the Pre Classic; and then a second at Saturday's Diamond League meet in Gateshead.  After a bad first-round throw and two fouls, she came through in the clutch in the last of the four rounds to get her runner-up position with an excellent 63.11.  In fact, all of these big results have come on her final throw.  Cantwell may not deserve to get ignored, but could you make it interesting for a round or two and let someone else think they might win?

The Brits might be taking control of their situation.  Bear with me, this needs a lot of explanation.

Jillian Michaels, a trainer on NBC's The Biggest Loser and star of her own Losing It, deals with the minds of people who come to her at least as much as she does their bodies.  Almost all of them have a "woe is me" attitude, convinced that only bad things happen to them,  and they are powerless to change their circumstances.  One of her most-used lines is "You are not a victim!"

The city of Cleveland could use some of her tough love.  The reaction out of northeast Ohio this week was another "we're always crapped on" tirade, the same kind of thing they've been talking for decades.  While Cavs owner Dan Gilbert seemingly spoke for the city, he should have been condemned by the citizenry for failing to build a lineup that would have enticed LeBron James to stay.  It's as simple as that.  While these are not good times for rust-belt cities, Clevelanders have elevated fiddling while their city burns to an art form.

We in track and field often have that same attitude of victimhood.  We assume we can never make a difference and keeps us from seeing what can be done.  It's bad in the USA, but from what I can tell it's worse in the UK.  This is why I was very happy to see a new website, Athleticos, started up this week.  Essentially, Athleticos is for the UK what Flotrack is for the US...Athleticos was born out of a persistent frustration at the limited media coverage of our sport. Therefore we aim to support athletes with the exposure their endeavors merit while providing fellow athletics' enthusiasts with the breadth and detail they deserve. These Brits have taken charge of their situation.

A glimmer of hope.  Earlier this week I reported how ESPN now knows track fans care and are more reliable viewers than baseball fans.  On the other side of the Atlantic, Swiss hammer thrower Martin Bingisser sent me the following:
I thought you might like this blurb I saw in a tabloid newspaper here in Zürich yesterday. It lists the top 3 google search terms for the past 24 hours. Taking top honors in Switzerland is Athletissima. In a country of 8 million people, that's pretty big, especially considering no local athletes were contenders in any event. Heck, athletes from neighboring countries barely made headlines. And this isn't even the top meet in the country (Weltklasse is much bigger). It shows with the right marketing (the meet was nationally televised on a top channel and ads for the Weltklasse meet in August started in early spring), right meet format, and right stars a meet can get this sport some big exposure.

Friday, July 09, 2010

It's a Major Award!

Fra-gee-ley. Must be Italian.

Actually, it's my prize pack from the USATF Pick N Win game. T-shirt, backpack, water bottle, and $100 VISA gift card. Using it for a Tilastopaja account right now.

Rethinking the World Cup

Are you excited about the World Cup? No, not that one. This is a track blog. I mean the IAAF World Cup. No? Not all geeked up? Well, that's you and six billion other people.

I guess these days they call it the Continental Cup. It used to be a weird hybrid of three national teams and all-star teams from five continents. Now it's just teams from four continents, and no one seems to care about it. When the press frets over various stars saying they'll skip the Commonwealth Games, it doesn't even merit a mention that they're highly unlikely to compete in the Continents Cup.

The IAAF first came up with this in 1977, and it was decently popular for an iteration or two. But that predated the World Championships, which has effectively made this competition a pointless off-year exercise. The IAAF still wants to put on some kind of global team-oriented competition, but goes about it the wrong way.

FIFA's World Cup, on the other hand, is the single most-popular sporting event on the planet (provided that you accept the Summer Olympics as a collection of many sporting events). This is tightly tied to national pride, but not the kind we know of here in the USA. Only 16% of FIFA's member nations even qualify, of which maybe a quarter have any real hope of winning the thing. For small nations, just seeing their countrymen compete on the biggest stage is a thrill in itself. This is where the IAAF World Cup fails, because there never were any small nations competing (and now there aren't any national teams at all). This is not to say we can't have meaningful team competition in track in which small countries have a fighting chance against bigger ones. It just has to be different, and we need not reinvent the wheel.

Rather than the dismal failure of a meet we've got, let's instead look at a wild success, the single best-attended annual track meet on the planet: the Penn Relays. What if we replaced the Continents Cup with a two-day national team relay carnival? I can tell you right now, I'd be enthralled.

In the usual lineup of American relays (4x100, 4x200, 4x400, 4x800, 4x1500, sprint and distance medleys, shuttle hurdles) a field of eight teams in each could be selected. This would give a wide variety of nations the ability to be represented. Dozens of different countries would have their moment on the track, competing in true team competition.

In the men's sprint medley, for example, I would imagine the invited teams would be Brazil, Cuba, Great Britain, Kenya, Russia, South Africa, Sudan, and the USA (provided all their stars could be brought on board). Great half-milers like David Rudisha, Abubaker Kaki and Mbulaeni Mulaudzi would be spotted huge deficits and have to run near all-out for the medals. The USA would doubtlessly give Nick Symmonds the lead and, for once, he'd play the role of the hunted rather than the hunter. It would be fantastically entertaining. And that's just this one relay. Imagine a Kenya-Ethiopia-USA battle in the women's 4x1500, or seeing Usain Bolt really unwind in the 4x200.

I'd add another dimension by including field events. Team competition in field events is rather common in high schools (around here at least), where each team gets three athletes and marks are totaled. In the men's javelin we could see a spirited competition between the Czechs, Finns, Latvians, Russians, Ukrainians, Greeks and Americans. Split the field into three flights, with one athlete from each nation, and the final-round stars would have to struggle for every last centimeter to put their team onto the medal stand.

Another idea would be to have an ekiden (road race relay) in the morning of each day, which could easily accomodate more than just eight national teams. The local population could be involved by having a 5k or 10k race that same morning, finishing at the stadium, so that the post-race party would have the ekiden on the stadium's video screen and participants could watch the finish on the track. If it were planned well, the early portion of the ekiden could share the road with the late part of the "people's race" for some small distance so that ordinary road runners could get an idea of just how fast the pros are.

Besides being a very interesting competition, it would be a significantly smaller operation than the rest of the IAAF's World Series events.  It could be held in places that might otherwise never be able to host a big international championship.  Like, say, the USA.  It would be a very big deal in New York, and in Eugene it would be bigger than the Pope and the Queen of England and Elvis all rolled into one.

I don't think the question is whether or not you'd pay to see a meet like this, but how much you'd pay and how far you'd travel.  I'm not sure I'm going to watch the Continents Cup even if any coverage is live and free.  Relays are where it's at, the kind of thing that even gets casual fans fired up.

Thursday, July 08, 2010

ESPN Responds

Earlier today, ESPN ombudsman Don Ohlmeyer wrote about many things, vuvuzelas included, but item #3 was a well-reasoned response to last Friday's cutaway during the USATF Championships 5k to show the end of a baseball no-hitter.
Nothing is more galling for a sports fan than being engrossed in a live event only to have it hijacked in midflight. At 9:49 p.m. ET on June 25, ESPN did just that to 837,000 ardent fans watching the USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. With less than two laps to go in the men's 5,000-meter run, the network cut away to live coverage of the final three outs of a no-hitter pitched by Arizona's Edwin Jackson. The track viewers were suddenly transported to the ninth inning of the Diamondbacks' eventual 1-0 victory over Tampa Bay. The excitement was palpable as Jackson induced a strikeout and a fly out, gave up a walk, then got Jason Bartlett to ground out. Pandemonium ensued as Jackson etched his name into baseball history.

ESPN's coup provided a memorable service … to baseball fans. Unfortunately, it was an insulting disservice to the track audience, and the mailbag quickly reflected that with a barrage of comments. Track viewers were livid. Some called it "unprofessional" and "arrogant" and "a slap in the face." Others: "If I wanted to watch baseball I would have watched baseball" … "It shows no respect for track fans" … "I guess the U.S. championships was just filler programming until something better came along."

The offense was compounded when, after a seven-minute baseball cut-in, the network went directly to "Baseball Tonight," forcing the track audience to wait another 39 minutes to see a 60-second recap of the 5,000 and results of the 100-meter dash. You could not choreograph a better way to alienate an audience. The ESPN decision has repercussions, creating ill will and straining loyalty.
To his credit, he eventually gets to the point: ESPN is contractually obligated to show the final outs of any no-hitter, and to do so on the flagship channel rather than ESPN2 or ESPN News.
Such decisions are made in the blink of an eye. Often, they're determined by the strength and passion of the advocates in the control room. Programming's responsibility is the orderly execution and flow of the various elements running on the network -- in contrast, a producer's perspective totally revolves around specific telecasts, whether event or studio productions (such as "Monday Night Football" or "SportsCenter"). These two groups interact smoothly hundreds of times each week, but there can be tension, and the discussions over decisions such as this can get loud and sometimes very heated.

The producers of the track event wanted to continue serving their viewers. The "Baseball Tonight" producers anticipated the excitement and audience the no-hitter could generate if carried over directly into their broadcast. Programming played Solomon, and in this case got steamrolled by the BBTN team.
In other words, the cool kids bullied the track nerds into changing the channel. But here's the kicker:
Was the move worth it? From a ratings perspective, ESPN picked up 160,000 viewers during the cut-in (many of which likely came from the College World Series being shown at the same time on ESPN2). That would only be natural -- they're baseball fans. But for BBTN, the fastest-paced, cleanest show on television, it was a Pyrrhic victory. Many viewers didn't stay. Just 20 minutes into the program, its audience had dropped from 1 million to 750,000.
At the top, he said the track meet was pulling 837,000 viewers. The no-hitter only got it up to 1 million which quickly dropped to 750,000 during Baseball Tonight, which programmers believe to be one of their top shows. And then ESPN got inundated with so much hate mail that their ombudsman had to respond.

Track people basically hit the programming bullies in the nose. We showed management that there are a lot of us, we are very engaged, and we follow through. You know, the kind of thing that advertisers are in love with. Rest assured, this incident has been noticed in Bristol.