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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.

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