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Tuesday, September 28, 2010

If I Were King of All Track

The first in an occasional series of what-ifs...

I would radically change the NCAA track seasons, their championships’ formats, and the nationals qualifying system. I would make team orientation emphasized over individual orientation.

I’ve noted before that fan interest for high school and collegiate track is greatest when team elements are emphasized. I’ve also written that collegiate track is boring in comparison to collegiate cross country, because of the lack of team orientation and the lack of meaningful regular-season competition. If we’re not currently facing a crisis in terms of public interest in collegiate track—and I don’t know how anyone could deny that we are—we will be very soon. Radical change is necessary.

What we need is scored meets which choose a winning team. We need lots of them. We need them to matter. What we need less of is qualifying times, split squads sent to multiple meets at the same time, and teams that specialize in a few events areas to the exclusion of others.

I'd eliminate regionals and move the NCAA Championships to Memorial Day weekend.  There's surprisingly little major sports action that weekend.

I would make the NCAA outdoor championships into a combined team and individual competition. Only eight teams would be able to compete for that coveted team title (individual champions could still come from any team). Five of the eight teams would automatically qualify, the champions of the ACC, Big Ten, Big XII, Pac-10 and SEC. Another three teams would be chosen by committee for at-large berths based on their results of regular-season scored meets. And their entire teams would qualify to the championships, not just select individuals.

Think about how this would change the emphasis of the regular season. Teams would no longer seek the best facilities and weather to get qualifying marks, as they once didwhen nationals qualifying was purely marks-based (and likely will resume again). Instead, they would seek the best competition, regardless of the site, and team wins would be paramount. Texas versus Arkansas versus UCLA wouldn’t just be a fun meet; it would really matter who won. The Jesse Owens Classic would be scored, and it would rock.

Here’s how it would work. In each event at the nationals, there would be 32 athletes. Sixteen would come from these eight teams, and another sixteen would qualify as individuals and not count in the team scoring. For example, if three finalists in the 400 meters came from the team qualifiers, they would be fighting for 10, 8 and 6 points, while a B-final comprised completely of team qualifiers would duke it out for the remaining 5-4-3-2-1.

I would not use this team championship format for the indoor season, though. I’d keep that the way it is. This way, we’d crown two different kinds of champion teams in the two track seasons. Outdoor would be for teams with broad-based excellence, and indoor would be for teams with a smaller collection of higher-caliber athletes.

The only major change I’d make to the indoor season would be to shorten it. I’d bump the championships back a week or two. This would accomplish several things. It would de-emphasize indoor competition, which right now is taken almost as an equal to the outdoor season. It would allow top individuals to compete at the USATF indoor championships. It would keep the NCAA meet from competing for attention with conference hoops tournaments. And it would give some time between the end of indoor and spring break, so that teams from the north and east could travel south and west for meaningful team-scored meets on their spring trips.

The other thing I’d do would be to remove all barriers to collegians competing at indoor VISA Championship Series meets. A lack of top collegiate talent at those meets has been bad for the domestic circuit, and reduced interest in track in general is bad for college track in particular.

Next task: world peace.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Patrick Makau likes Berlin.  Or at least he should.  He's raced in the German capital five times in his career and won all five.  Today he won the Berlin Marathon in 2:05:08.  First noted for his half-marathon performances (his PR is 58:52, #2 on the all-time list), his marathon record stands at two wins in three attempts (again, all in Germanic-language countries).  His slowest was his first, 2:06:14.

Geoffrey Mutai doesn't like Patrick Makau.  Or at least he shouldn't.  In his last two marathons, he finished second to Makau in both...by a total of nine seconds.  This summer Mutai twice ran 27:30something in the high altitude of Nairobi, indicating he'd be able to run around 27:00 near sea level.  But in neither of these races could he out-kick Makau, whose best times at shorter races are relatively slow.  Which goes to show that in the longest races, late-race "speed" is a relative thing.

The NYRR knows how to allocate talent.  Even in broadcasting.  They don't get to say who does what on the NBC broadcast of the NYC Marathon, but they sure knew what they were doing on today's webcast of the Fifth Avenue Mile.  They had Toni Reavis doing play-by-play, and he just might be the best at that in the whole country.  They had Larry Rawson working too, but put him in a Hippocratic ("do no harm") position of pre-race interviews where he cold use his significant skills but stay away from the "Rawsonisms".  Those interviews themselves were a welcomed departure from the norm.  Rather than the typical breathless and incoherent post-race interviews, the athletes were asked deeper and more meaningful questions.  Oh, and the races were really good too.  Shoulda been on TV.  I mean, the Lions were on TV this afternoon for cryin' out loud.

The track 10k is officially dead.  Aside from championship running, that is.  Single-day invitationals simply no longer hold it.  Back in May when Chris Solinsky broke the American Record and put up the world's leading time, it was at a meet mostly directed towards collegians.  In late August that world leader was beaten by Josephat Menjo, running alone at a tiny meet in Finland where he lapped second place four times.  The only other "elite" track 10k invitational this year was the Hyogo Relays in Kobe, Japan.  The only women's invitational track 10k of note was the Golden Spike in Ostrava.

Today, Kenyan star Leonard Komon broke the road world record for 10k, running 26:44 in Utrecht.  This means that, for the first time ever, the world leader in a traditional track distance will come from the roads.

College cross country is more interesting than college track.  This is totally f***ed-up.  Cross country is supposed to be boring.  Track, given the right structure such as a relay carnival or team-scored high school meet, is a huge spectator event in this country.  But college track as a whole is sorely lacking something that college cross country has in abundance.

I'm speaking of a regular season that actually means something.  The Roy Griak Invitational was held this weekend, and as one of the two or three biggest invitationals of the year there was a lot on the line.  Teams that ran well gave themselves a huge leg up on qualifying to the national championships.  The headlines were about the upset that Duke pulled off in the men's race.  On the big meet over at Stanford, we likewise got headlines about how Arkansas took the runner-up spot and pushed #4 Northern Arizona into third.

In track, when was the last time you saw a headline about an the team that pulled off an upset in an April meet?  That's right, you haven't.  This is for two reasons: 1) team scoring at invitationals is rare, and 2) it still doesn't matter.  Whether a team wins or loses any meet has literally no effect on its national title aspirations.  Even for individuals, the only thing that matters is getting a qualifying time and sharpening for the championship.  There is nothing at stake.  Not. A. Thing.  And who the hell wants to go freeze his ass off in April watching a bunch of time trials where no one keeps track of who wins because it doesn't matter?

There's an ongoing (and seemingly endless) fight about how best to qualify athletes to the NCAA track championships.  Should it be by time alone?  By a qualifying meet?  A hybrid?  But neither get to the heart of the problem.  That problem is that no one is watching, unless it's a relay carnival chock full of events that aren't even contested at the NCAA Championships. Which should tell people something, but they don't get it (apparently most colleges have a dearth of actual thinking).

In cross country, though, there is no way to create a qualifying mark.  Competitive results are the only way of deciding who is good enough and who isn't.  The at-large qualifying system makes it so that these regular-season meets are important.  And team comes first.  Ben Wietschmarchen, who was once half of the hilarious Less Than Our Best duo, did a fantastic weekly rundown of college XC action for TrackShark.com back when it was still alive, filled with analysis and humor and insight.  The track-season equivalent was just a list of the week's top marks.  Even an accountant would find that boring.

A local boy done good named Bo Waggoner led Duke's charge at the Griak meet.  He's the hero of the moment in the track community around here.  Come springtime, do you think anyone's going to give a rat's ass what he does at, for example, the Duke Twilight Meet?

Boise State is taking the track out of their football stadium...and it may not be a bad thing.   This was announced a month ago but it only came to my attention this week.  It's part of the standard increase-the-stadium-seating program.  Boise State has twice hosted the NCAA track championships, and while attendance at those meets was unusually good it didn't remotely come close to filling up Bronco Stadium.  Their "Smurf turf", like any artificial surface, precluded having the throws on the infield.  Football stadiums also generally require short-radius turns on the track and Boise State's is no exception.

As the new facility will host high school football in addition to the Broncos' track programs, the seating at the new facility won't be skimpy (more than good enough for anything short of a national championship), and neither will concession stands or restrooms (which typically suffer at all-track stadia).  The field will be grass and the throws will be inside the track.  All in all, I think it may be an improvement for both football and track at Boise State.

USOC-USATF relations are...touchy.  I swore earlier this week I was done writing about a certain firing of a certain executive and I meant it.  That does not, however, disqualify my from discussing the hiring of his replacement.  It's a big issue.

Phil Hersh, the Chicago Tribune's Olympic writer, warned us a week ago that USATF board president Stephanie Hightower might be pursuing the job.  This would be very bad for a number of reasons.  One of them is that Hightower isn't universally well-regarded; check out some interesting information on her school board "leadership" in Columbus.  (Embedded in the story is some stuff about USATF Counsel Larry James, who had to have given legal advice amounting to "yeah, we can fire him for cause" when it appears they could not, and that mistake will cost USATF $1.8 million.)

The other is that a board member becoming CEO could create a massive conflict of interest.  How do we know this?  Because the USOC almost went down this road just over a year ago. 
About 16 months ago, former U.S. Olympic Committee board member Stephanie Streeter helped foment the USOC board's ouster of its CEO, Jim Scherr. Streeter then became acting CEO and seemed ready to apply for the job on a full-time basis when she wisely backed away and left the USOC after a firestorm of criticism over her management style and skills.


Although there were no legal impediments for a USOC board member to take over as its CEO, it left a perception of a massive conflict of interest. It looked even worse when Streeter did not resign immediately from her position on the board.
So, naturally, the USOC is monitoring the situation and may intervene if Hightower gets the job.  The only power they have is that of the purse, but usually that's enough.

The USOC is not welcomed by many within USATF.  In Brooks Johnson's rambling screed from last week against a certain former USATF executive, he spoke disparagingly of the Olympic Committee and its influence.  It is the 800-pound gorilla in the room, but one that can offer a lot of help in the moments when it's a functioning (rather than dysfunctional) body.  Consider one of the short-term goals outlined by CEO Scott Blackmun:
Showing [USOC] engagement internationally by bringing more international events to the United States...It must help some of its national federations host World Cups and World Championships, especially in minor sports, even if they might be money-losers.


``I don't want to actively seek money-losing events but we recognize the importance of investing in some events,'' Blackmun said.
That former USATF executive's most ambitious goal was for the USA to host the IAAF World Championships.  It's a significant undertaking and not likely to be accomplished anytime soon, if ever.  But the USA can and should host other IAAF World Series events, and we've never hosted a "stadium" event such as the Continental Cup or World Juniors or World Youth.  We desperately need major events in the USA.  It would be foolish to resist USOC help in getting such events...unless, of course, you're more interested in USA Track and Field than in track and field in the USA.  If you know what I mean.

"Will Leer" sounds less like a name and more like an intention.  The 70s look doesn't help either.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What's On the Weekend

Professionals
The Berlin Marathon, a World Marathon Major, will be run in the German capitol on Sunday. 
Live webcast: 2:50 AM, German News Channel N-TV

The Vodafone Half Marathon of Portugal, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will be run in Lisbon on Sunday.

The Scotiabank Toronto Waterfront Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be run in the Ontario capitol on Sunday.
Live webcast: 7:30 AM at Flotrack.org

The Continental Airlines Fifth Avenue Mile will be run in New York City on Sunday.  A great field includes Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano, Nick Willis and Alan Webb, and Shannon Rowbury, Molly Huddle and Kalkidan Gezahegn.
Live webcast: 12:50 PM at NYRR.org
Previews: Running USA Wire / Track and Field News / Runner's World: men, women / Universal Sports: men, women / Radio New Zealand / WomenTalkSports.com


Colleges
The 25th annual Roy Griak Invitational will be run at Minnesota’s Les Bolstad Golf Course on Saturday.
Live webcast: 10:00 AM at Flotrack.org
Meet website / Flotrack coverage / Spectator info & directions
Previews: Gophersports.com: men, women / Minnesota Daily

The Stanford Invitational will be held on Saturday on the Stanford Golf Course (aka "where we let Tiger Woods play golf on our cross country course").
Meet info / GoStanford.com preview

The 73rd Brooks Cowboy Jamboree will be held on Saturday at Oklahoma State.
Meet info / Flotrack coverage
OKState.com preview

All the rest

Track on TV
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 10 AM Friday and 3:30 PM Sunday on Universal Sports
2010 Boston Marathon rerun, 1:30 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 5 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Endurance, 1:45 AM Saturday on Showtime Extreme
2009 Berlin Marathon rerun, Noon and 6:30 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Zurich rerun, 3:30 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Big Ten Icons: #19 Suzy Favor Hamilton, 12:30 AM and 11:30 AM Sunday on Big Ten Network

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

College News

A number of recent issues to update...

NCAA Preliminary Round sites have been announced.  I was not surprised that the two-region nationals qualifying format remained in place for the 2011 season, but just about everyone else was.  It took until today for the sites to be finalized.  Oregon bid on it immediately, and was so expected to get it that many western teams already put Eugene as the site on their schedule.  That was mad official today. The Ducks deserve to host as they put on a meet like no one else does.

I'm happy to see that the east site will be the Billy Hayes Track at Indiana.  The Hoosiers spent an awful lot of money on refurbishing their track for last year's Big Ten Championships.  All the field events are in-stadium, and the IU staff did a bang-up job in keeping the results of the Big Ten meet flowing online.  They've demonstrated commitment to doing things well.

Men's track will return to Oregon State.  The Beavers had once been a top program but dropped the teams in 1988.  A very limited women's program was reinstated in 2004.  Last year some footballers competed for kicks (and conditioning) and qualified to the Pac-10 and NCAA championships. 

Enough funds ($3.5 million) have been raised to start construction of a track facility next June.  More funds need to be raised, but the plan is to finish the stadium, build a cross country course, endow a men's team, and fund a more broad-based women's program (if you'll excuse the term).  The target is $8 to $9 million, but Dick Fosbury guarantees it will happen.  The target is 2014.

How do you know it's guaranteed?  When the athletic department ponies up $15,000 of its own discretionary fund and makes the football coach the headliner at your fundraiser, you know they're behind you.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

What to make of all of it

Just a few hours ago on Twitter, Martin Bingisser wondered why the track community wasn't talking about Brooks Johnson's blog about Doug Logan.  In it, Johnson discussed the man with agent Mark Block and talked about arrogance, mistreatment of athletes, and the same Project 30 Task Force that still remains part of the discussion two years later. I said my response couldn't fit in the allotted 140 characters.

Before I get into this, I want to say two things. First off, I don't want to go into endless post-mortem on the Logan issue. If I ever bring it up again, it will be in regards to future occurrences. Secondly, I'm a track fan. I like watching track, analyzing it, and suggesting ideas for its improvement. I don't like looking behind the scenes with the agents and the meet promoters and the officials doing their work. It's seeing how the sausage is made and I like to keep that to a minimum.

The mistake most people make when reading this stuff (or pretty much anything news-oriented) is to only consider the words on the page. They don't see things in a broader context. You must always look at the perspective of a writer and his intended audience. Even if there is no overt agenda and the author is attempting to be unbiased, some will still creep in because all writers have different experiences. I alluded to this in my latest Sunday night post. Phil Hersh is an Olympic writer and he's used to seeing all kinds of ineffective national and international governing bodies, and USATF sticks out to him as being especially so. On the other hand, Larry Eder is a track insider and is always talking to agents and managers and meet directors and others, so it should be hardly surprising that his writing about Logan's firing was oriented towards their concerns.

More important is to recognize that USATF is primarily a political organization. People are not selected to positions of power by merit but by election. The previous name of USATF was The Athletics Congress for that very reason. And, by the way USATF is set up, it's not direct democracy either. Any elected official's words should be looked at critically in terms of how it targets a particular constituency.

On to Brooks Johnson. I cannot speak for the sprint, hurdle, jumps, or throws community, but in the distance running community Johnson is seen as mostly a joke. Ohio State head coach Robert Gary, while speaking at a 2005 USATF coaching seminar in Las Vegas, called him "crazy ass" to his face.  Joetta Clark Diggs, the 4-time Olympian, 2000 team captain, and daughter of tolerate-no-fools "Crazy" Joe Clark of Lean on Me fame, was willing to come out publicly against him.   There are no shortage of examples of Johnson behaving badly, treating athletes poorly, and screwing up relays.  Read here and here.  To many, anything he says simply lacks credibility in any form.

Thus I take what he says about Logan with a double grain of salt.  One of the first things Logan did once selected for leadership was to get rid of Johnson.  Brooks' baby, the National Relay Program, was a huge expenditure with literally nothing to show for it--dropped batons plagued the US team at both the 2008 and 2009 Worlds.  So Logan convinced people to get rid of it.  Johnson resigned.

The US team's overall performance at the 2008 Olympics was widely panned by sources as mainstream as USA Today and Sports Illustrated, yet Johnson now wonders if such criticism from Logan was warranted.  And he digs up various other political issues of the time and talks about those as well.  I see that there may be particular gripes, and I also see someone who just might to be trying to get himself elected or appointed back into USATF.  Remember, Johnson (or anyone else) has been a politician more than a coach once he entered into the organization's leadership, and as such his statements should be interpreted in the context of influencing people who may elect or appoint him.  And his talk of needing an insider...well, Phil Hersh worried that Stephanie Hightower may be aiming for the CEO job, and he knows his stuff.

So here's the thing...is it possible that both Logan is egocentric and incompetent (as Johnson, et al, claim) and that USATF's board of directors is little more than a collection of 15 clowns (as Logan claims)?  Yes.  What a fine kettle of fish.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Opinions are like...well, everyone has them. No one really knows why USA Track and Field CEO Doug Logan got canned except the people who fired him (and there’s no guarantee they had a reason anyway). What’s more interesting to me is to see how different the explanations are. All the main sportswriters talking about it are likely working from the same sources and information, but the tones vary widely. For example, compare Phil Hersh to Let’s Run and RunBlogRun.

There were big conflicts. On Friday, the following tweet was posted by @DougLoganUSATF, then quickly deleted along with the entire account:

Instead of Trump in Boardroom got Willie Banks sitting on a bed while Fantasia and Opie were telling my staff


What does it mean? Unlike on The Apprentice, Logan was told he was fired by Banks in a Vegas hotel room. At the same time his staff in Indianapolis was being informed personally by USATF President Stephanie Hightower (“Fantasia”) and Jack Wickens (“Opie”). That Logan broadcast this sentiment was highly unprofessional and an indication of how combative he was. On the other hand, Hightower could only get a nickname like “Fantasia” by abandoning the reality-based community.

What we need in a new USATF CEO. I was discussing the whole situation with my wife, who knows little to nothing about high-level track. She does, however, have a Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration and over a decade of experience working on college campuses. She said the skill set necessary for being USATF CEO is not that of a sports league commissioner or a private-sector CEO, but that of a university president.

Think about the similarities. Each answers to a board. The main job of each is to be a fund-raiser and public face for the organization, almost a cheerleader. Each must unite various competing factions into a whole. Each of those factions are all clamoring for more attention and more dollars so they can attend to their various projects. Some of those constituencies need to be expanded, some contracted, and maybe some eliminated altogether, but convincing the various leaders of their relative importances is a difficult job indeed.

So if we can find a retired university president who had once been an Olympian, and that person is up for an extreme challenge, I think they’d be our man. Or woman, as the case may be. Or maybe we need a peacemaker on the order of George Mitchell.

By the way, my wife also said that if you want to destroy any chance of meaningful action on an issue, commission a blue-ribbon panel to investigate it and create a report.  She'd never even heard of Project 30 when she said that. 

Usain Bolt is the world's pre-eminent sports showman.  He one-ups P.T. Barnum be being the circus himself.  Season's over, Bolt hasn't competed for six weeks.  What does he do?  He goes to Australia and shows up at a special football players sprint competition, and does his thing.
He was driven into the middle of the home straight in a Rolls-Royce and, on cue, emerged from the back seat to perform his signature pose, as if holding a bow-and-arrow, tilted at 45 degrees. He then stood to the side of the track before a troupe of break-dancers unleashed all manner of moves.
All he did was run on the celebrity relay and the attention was huge. The main event was a special 100-meter showdown between footballers from the National Rugby League, the Australian Football League, the A-League and rugby union. Naturally, it was titled the "Gatorade Bolt". Note: tickets cost as much as $70 AUS ($65 US) and the winner pocketed $20,000, nearly half as much as Tyson Gay took home for winning the Diamond League's season title.

I've got a new favorite track name.  It used to be Korean pole vaulter Yoo Suk Kim.  Now it's Kiwi decathlete Brent Newdick.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

What's On The Weekend

The Decastar decathlon and heptathlon, an IAAF Combined Events Challenge competition, takes place on Saturday and Sunday in the Bordeaux suburb of Talence. Leading names are European decathlon champion Romain Barras (France) and a faceoff between World Indoor medalists Tatyana Chernova (Russia) and Natalia Dobrynska (Ukraine).
Meet website
Previews: IAAF / L'Equipe

The IAAF Race Walking Challenge Final will take place on Saturday in Beijing. Who ya got in your racewalking fantasy league?
Race website / IAAF preview

The Great North City Games takes place on Saturday in the streets of Gateshead, England. It’s one of those city-center competitions, set up as a dual meet between the UK and Australia. Most of each nation’s A-squad will be there, including Steve Hooker.
Meet website
Athletics Weekly / ESPN UK / BBC Sport / The Mirror / Bettor.com

The next day (Sunday) is the Great North Run half marathon in the same city. Martin Lel has dropped out, leaving the marquis matchup between Haile Gebrselassie and Dathan Ritzenhein. Yeah, I think I know how this one is going to come out.  This is the "more celebrity, less competition" run in Britain--Coronation Street's stars are among the 54,000 entrants.
Race website
Athletics Weekly / BBC Sport / AA of Ireland

The final track invitational of the season, the Super Meet, takes place on Sunday in Kawasaki's Todoroki Stadium.  The headliner is French sprint phenom Christophe Lemaitre.
Meet website / Daily Yomiuri

The Rock N’ Roll Philadelphia Half Marathon will be run on Sunday. Some good matchups here: Ryan Hall v. Gebre Gebremariam v. Abderrahim Goumri for the men, Shalane Flanagan v. Meseret Defar in the Ethiopian’s first-ever half-marathon
Race website
Live webcast: competitor.com beginning at 7:55 AM.

The CVS Downtown 5k, the USATF road championship at that distance, will be run on Sunday in Providence RI. The top entry is Molly Huddle, who broke the American Record at this distance last month.
Race website / USA Running Circuit page
Live webcast: Runnerspace.com beginning at 11:05 AM
Another weekend of college XC is on tap.
USTFCCCA collegiate meet listing

Track on TV
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 1 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Zurich rerun, 6 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 5 PM Sunday on Universal Sports
Endurance, 6:45 PM Sunday on Showtime Extreme

Who for USATF CEO?

There's been plenty written about why Doug Logan got dumped as USATF CEO.  SI's Brian Cazanueve identified a lot of shortcomings, but they sound like the kind of thing that results in non-renewal rather then outright firing.  I still say that the powerful people either assuage or inflame these types of grumblings about the person at the top.  In short, Hightower wanted him gone so he was.

In an interview with the Long and Strong Throwers Journal, former top-level javelinist and current top-level businessman Bill Schmidt said the following:
In most sports governing bodies, they are administered by former athletes with little or no business acumen. In the case of track & field, everyone has their own agenda and do what benefits their own interests.
Is this because of the specific people who run USATF, or is this always going to happen regardless of who is in charge? I think you can make a case that the latter will be the case unless strong actions are taken against it.

People who are very good at track have been great athletes their whole lives, and (for Americans) in most cases track was probably not the first sport they did.  Our school-based system is unlike the rest of the world, where youth track is club-based.  Nearly all track people in the USA are like David Oliver, to pick an extreme example: they knew they could be successful at a team sport, and instead chose to be in an individual one.  I think track people simply are not "team players", given to thinking more about themselves than others, and it is probably much more true in the USA than elsewhere since our early-youth programs in football and baseball are so much stronger than they are in track.

So who could do it?  Right now it appears it would require a glutton for punishment.  Phil Hersh warns us that Stephanie Hightower herself might take the job, and that would be a very bad thing.  I could see a situation where, if she became the new CEO, there would be a horrible short-term implosion which would eventuially lead to the ouster of a lot of destructive people at USATF.  The next five years might be very bead, and the next ten very good.  But I'd really like to skip over the bad five years and get ten good ones right away.

Curtis Anderson at the Eugene Register-Guard suggested Vin Lananna, who is too smart to take the job.  Former USATF head (1970-1997) Ollan Cassell said it doesn't really matter, which is true in some ways but overall I disagree strongly.  Probably the best single candidate out there is the above-mentioned Bill Schmidt, but I think he's been on record saying "no f-ing way".

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

A Separate Pro Track Organization?

In the wake of Doug Logan's firing, a discussion sprung up among Martin Bingisser, Ann Gaffigan, Chris Nickinson and Paul Merca about splitting off a separate professional organization from USATF.  I chimed in with some rather useless blather.  Since then I've done some reading and thinking.

The vast majority of top-level American sports have separate organizations for professionals and rank-and-file amateurs.  Most widely known are the PGA and USGA, which work hand-in-hand to produce the US Open.  Similarly, the ATP and WTA work with the USTA on the "other" US Open.  There are others; the NBA is separate from but works with USA Basketball for national team competition, as does the NHL with USA Hockey, MSL with USSF, and so on.

In fact, this kind of pros separate from amateurs is the rule, with a few notable exceptions: "traditional" Olympic sports which did not have (openly) professional competition before the breakup of the AAU, which controlled them all with an iron fist until 1978.  Believe it or not, track and field is almost assuredly the biggest of those sports, even at the elite professional level.  We're certainly bigger and more popular than swimming or wrestling or anything else I can think of.

The purpose of a domestic professional track and field organization would be to promote domestic professional competitions, to get pro-level track (and road racing) into the media, and so forth. I wouldn't see athlete development as part of its mission. It would be charged with creating a higher profile for the sport which would then allow for greater earnings among said athletes, which would give them more resources for their own development if they wished to do so.

Saying who is an NBA professional is easy enough: you're on an NBA roster.  Deciding who is a golf pro is also pretty simple because one of the main functions of the PGA Tour is to make that decision via its card system.  But how in the heck do you do that with track?  There are so many athletes, the sport is so diffuse, and new stars can come from almost nowhere.  Fortunately, we have a model to work from.

When you join USA Triathlon (as you must for all domestic triathlon competitions), you get a choice of "amateur" or "pro/elite" for your lisence.  Actually, you can only choose the second if you qualify.  Only those with pro/elite lisences can get into the elite wave at races with a purse of at least $5,000.  Also, by having such a lisence you qualify for national championship events.  Due to the nature of triathlons, marks are not used for pro/elite qualification but rather finishing within a certain time of the winner or in a certain place at various top-level races. 

In track, we could choose the qualifications for pro status in any number of ways, but I think a competitive-based system would be preferable to a marks-based system.  What would a USATF pro membership offer to an athlete?  I think, at a minimum, eligibility for the VISA Championship Series prize money and automatic qualifying to national championships.  Remember the big brouhaha over Adam Goucher getting into the last Olympic Trials over some other guys?  If this kind of pro membership status were cut and dried and subject to an annual renewal, that kind of drama wouldn't happen.  This means we'd be looking at about 15 to 20 athletes qualifying as pros in each event.  (I'd suggest a separate but equally cut-and-dried qualifying process to national championships for collegians and high schoolers, but that's another topic alltogether.)  Those athletes qualifying as USATF pros could also be put at the head of the line for getting into domestic professional events, such as the Millrose Games or Prefontaine Classic.

If this got off the ground, it would make sense for the professional arm of USATF to create a domestic pro circuit as well.  American meets will never supplant the European summer season, but the domestic indoor and early-outdoor seasons really need beefing up and could do well with good leadership.  As for the roads, we already have a pretty good domestic circuit, but a professional spinoff of USATF could offer them coordination into a cohesive whole rather than just a bunch of independent races that do nothing to help each other raise their collective profile.

The chance of all this happening is somewhat less than the chance of my 75-year-old mother becoming the next star of the WWE, but I think it's worth thinking about anyway.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Doug Logan Fired

About ten minutes ago I went to usatf.org to look into membership for some kids I coach who are going to run Junior Olympic cross country this fall.  I saw on twitter that memberships are discounted to $10 (down from $39) from now until the end of the year.

And then I saw this.
USATF Board to hire new CEO


INDIANAPOLIS - The USA Track and Field Board of Directors has voted to pursue new leadership in its CEO position, bringing to a close the tenure of Doug Logan, who had been CEO of the federation since July 2008.


After a meeting over the weekend in Las Vegas, the Board voted to pursue leadership change.
Yep, they fired him.

Phil Hersh, one of the few full-time Olympic writers still around, had an immediate comment:
You can bet the U.S. Olympic Committee isn't happy with this move, even if it unlikely to intervene.


As I wrote in a Blog last week, it is foolhardy to dismiss Logan after just two years on the job. And, unless he was fired for cause, USATF will have owe him a severance in the vicinity of $1 million. That would be ironic, since sources have told me a reason the USATF board was unhappy with Logan owed to what it felt was his inability to bring in new sponsors.


Further irony: Last week, the international track federation named Logan to one of its committees.
My initial attempts to reach Logan and Hightower were unsuccessful. Stay tuned.
There are the official reasons for his dismissal, and then there are the real reasons.  I'd have to guess his fate was sealed when he convened the Project 30 Committee and it issued its report.  The nine committee members were, by design, all outside the USATF power structure.  One of those was Carl Lewis, a man probably more unwelcome by USATF leadership than any man on the planet given his long-running pointed (and accurate) criticisms of said leadership.  The report itself advocated an athlete's union, the kind of thing guaranteed to piss off management wherever you are.

The union idea never got off the ground, but Logan's biggest transgression was probably ending the National Relay Program.  It was a boondoggle and a failure, but it was a cash cow for Brooks Johnson, the closest ally of USATF President Stephanie Hightower.  She's a career politician, and they don't get to positions of power by forgetting when someone crosses them.  It just took a while before the time was right to rile up the board of directors.  Make no mistake, if she didn't want him gone he'd still be in the job.  Ironically, fixing the relay situation is likely to be Logan's biggest (and probably only) lasting legacy.

I'm not an insider.  I'm just a fan who reads a lot.  But I do work for a large urban school district and I've seen this kind of BS before.  Does it surprise you to know that Hightower was president of the board of the Columbus Public Schools?  Me neither.  As Mark Twain said over a century ago, "In the first place God made idiots.  Then He made school boards."  And the USATF board.

Executive Directors / CEOs of track and field in the USA...
2008-2010 Doug Logan
1997-2008 Craig Masback
1970-1997 Ollan Cassell
Let's see of the next one lasts over a year.

LATE EDIT:  Joe Battaglia at Universal Sports has his own speculation.  He said "looking back on the brief Logan era, you would have to give him a grade of incomplete", but also notably cited the 2012 Olympic Trials marathons being awarded to Houston over Boston or New York as a possible factor as well. Again, good for USATF (it was a significantly better bid overall) but ticked off power brokers like the NYRRC's Mary Wittenberg.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Apparently newspapers think “shot putting” ahead of “professional wrestling”. Jim Neidhart was arrested on drug charges this week and his hometown paper identified him first as a former local shot putter. A onetime California high school recordholder, he continued on for a year at UCLA and then on his own, making the TFN US Rankings in 1975 at #10. Only later in the story did they identify him as I first knew him, Jim “The Anvil” Neidhart, half of the former WWE tag-team champion “Hart Foundation” with Brett “Hitman” Hart. Pro wrestling is interesting kabuki theater which has always told you a lot about the American culture, but it sounds like a horrible way to make a living. Niedhart was arrested for painkillers.

No one likes domestic TV track coverage once they’ve seen the BBC’s. Last Tuesday on Twitter, former steeplechaser Ann Gaffigan berated Universal Sports for failing to show the women’s steeple on their Continental Cup coverage. She’d watched the Universal Sports webcasts and then compared it to the Universal Sports TV coverage and found the latter severely lacking. Surprisingly, they actually responded to her concerns.

I’ve never seen it, as my cable provider doesn’t carry Universal Sports, but I can hazard a guess as to the difference: talking heads, metric-phobia, interviews and commercials. The webcasts, which are direct rebroadcasts of BBC TV, have none of these. Commercials eat up 16 minutes of every hour, of course, but I have no idea why the others are found necessary for American TV. No matter how good Ato Boldon is, he’s not why I watch a track meet because he’s not competing.

So unless Universal Sports breaks the mold in terms of broadcasting a track meet, Gaffigan and I will always be disappointed. No-metric field event coverage means crappy-graphics field event coverage. Famous-person face time is non-track and field time—and time is at a premium when your broadcast is only 75% as long as the foreign counterpart.

Kibwe Johnson is moving up. In late July, the hammerer threw in some little-known meets at Ohio’s Ashland College and put up a personal record (77.07m). Then on Saturday he threw at the DecaNation meet in France and topped a decent field which included #7 Nicola Vizzoni and #8 Markus Esser. If he continues to improve, and the rest of the world remains stagnant at its current 80-meters-is-very-rare level, he could have a shot at an Olympic medal in two years. (Hat tip to Martin Bingisser)

The “wierdest road race prize ever” title has changed hands. Yesterday at the Daniel Defense 5k in Pooling GA, the winner took home a semi-automatic rifle. Yes, the race was on September 11.

Tracksters have a fundamentally different level of freedom than athletes in professional team sports. Australian quartermiler John Steffenson has had a bit of a row with his governing body, Athletics Australia. He has badmouthed AA, and apparently not without good reason. This is not terribly unusual in track, as NGBs are often self-righteous and foolish if not outright corrupt. What is unusual here is that AA fought back; Steffenson may be charged with “bringing the sport into disrepute”, whatever that means, and I’m not even sure if there’s any other penalty that comes with it.

Compare this to those in the NFL, NBA or MLB who openly criticize the league. They’re fined and often heavily. Outspoken critics of leadership like Butch Reynolds during his whole false-positive dustup or Carl Lewis always was get nothing except maybe a bit of trouble when relays are being selected.

Friday, September 10, 2010

You Never Forget Your First Time

Last night I chatted with the parents of Erik Kynard, Kansas State’s standout high jumper, as their other son is in my Algebra 1 class. They related an interesting story from the last Olympic Trials.

Erik was a high school junior and it was his first truly big meet. Right around the time of the high jump qualifying round, the awards were being handed out for the men’s 400 meters. A certain quarter-miler had just been beaten for the first time in years and was not happy about it, and so when a little girl standing at the fence asked for his autograph he blew her off. She then looked at Erik, decided he was a good enough replacement, and asked for his autograph. It was the first such request he’d ever had.

Yesterday's results
Notturna di Milan in Italy (IAAF writeup)
Takaways from this meet: Caster Semenya won in 1:58, but we still don't know if there's any real physical difference between her in 2010 and 2009...Combacking milers: Alan Webb ran 3:36, but was still bested by another guy on the mend, former Michigan teammate Nick Willis (video here and Webb interview here)...Apparently there are always new Ethiopians, too: a never-heard-of-him Almirew Yenew ran the year's second-fastest time in the 3000 meters (7:28.70).

What’s On the Weekend
The DecaNation meet takes place on Saturday in Annecy, France. It’s one of the more interesting competitions of the year: national teams have one athlete in each of the decathlon events and it’s scored as a decathlon.
Meet website

The Metro 10k, an IAAF Silver Label road race, takes place on Saturday in Prague.
Race website / IAAF preview

This is the second week of collegiate cross country.
USTFCCCA comprehensive meet listing

Track on TV
Endurance, 8:45 AM Friday on Showtime Extreme
Prefontaine, 10:10 AM Friday on Showtime Extreme
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 12:30 and 10 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Continental Cup Day 1 rerun, 1 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Diamond League London rerun, 5 PM Saturday and Sunday on Universal Sports
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 1 PM Sunday on Universal Sports

Around the Web
Runner's World's Racing News has all the headlines, including elite field announcements for the 5th Avenue Mile and the Philadelphia half marathon

The best analysis of the Doug Logan / USATF situation comes to us from Larry Eder at RunBlogRun

Phil Hersh analyzes the rebuilding of bridges between the USOC and IOC

Universal Sports' best of the summer

Kara Patterson blogs on the Continental Cup

Thursday, September 09, 2010

Sorry About the Jinx

LATE UPDATE:  The plot thickens.  IAAF president Lamine Diack just appointed Logan to the IAAF School/Youth Commission.  Interpretation: Diack wants to keep Logan around, and the job probably comes with perks for the rest of USATF, thus giving the Board of Directors reason to move with caution.

Earlier this week I assumed that silence was meaningful in terms of Doug Logan's job as CEO of USA Track and Field.  You may recall that in late July he was told that his performance needed to improve or he'd be fired.  Having heard nothing for quite some time, I said I thought his job was safe.

I just had to go and say it, didn't I?  Reuters reports just this morning that his fate will be determined this weekend at a meeting in Las Vegas.  The story also extensively quotes Carl Lewis, who doesn't like the meddling.
"He brings credibility, knowledge and expertise," Lewis told Reuters. "He understands the future and has a vision.

"They (USATF) were lucky he fell in their hands," added Lewis.
...
Lewis said for too many years USATF and its predecessors had been dysfunctional and run by "people who don't understand anything outside their own zip code."

"The sport is not even an also-ran in America," said the former sprinter and long jumper. "I can't believe they want to try and get rid of him.
Lewis has thought for at least 30 years that USATF is run by a bunch of jackasses, so nothing new here.  That Reuters specifically sought out Lewis for comment is interesting.  Lewis was one of nine experts hand-picked by Logan for his Project 30 task force.  The AP also has an article, also extensively quoting Lewis.

It sounds like Logan's detractors want improvement but not change, and we all know one is not possible without the other. Recall that Logan's predecessor, Craig Masback, was twice threatened in a similar way and came through unscathed.  But Masback abruptly resigned in early 2008, and speculation was that he saw the coming leadership in that year's elections as even more difficult to work for.

The most immediate change that came out of the Project 30 task force report was the cancelation of the National Relay Program, as it had done nothing for our relay performances and cost a lot of money.  Once that happened, Brooks Johnson retired.  It was his baby and cash cow.  He was very tight with new USATF President Stephanie Hightower and Men's Track & Field Committee chair John Chaplin (a man once described as "a douche for the decades").  Canceling the program was the right thing to do, but these people are nothing if not vindictive.  I suspect nothing would happen to Logan if these two didn't want it to happen.  Giving Carl Lewis a position of power and advocating for an athletes' union are two other things that are necessary for USATF to improve but guaranteed to piss off its power brokers.

What's On Today
The Notturna Di Milano, an EAA Permit Meeting, takes place in Italy.

Track on TV
Diamond League Zurich rerun, 1:30 PM on Universal Sports
Diamond League Stockholm rerun, 10 PM on Universal Sports

Around the Web
Runners' World Racing News has all the headlines, including the announcement of elite fields for the NYC Marathon

Shelly-Ann Fraser avoids a (stupid) 2-year ban, but exactly what will happen is still unknown

Sprinters on the mend: Asafa Powell and Walter Dix

Teddy Tamgho chooses a new coach

Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Athletes of the Year, Women

Yesterday I posted my points-based rankings for men’s Athlete of the Year. Here are the top 20 women.

1. Nadzeya Ostapchuk (BLR/Shot) 383
2. Jessica Ennis (GBR/Heptathlon) 345
3. Allyson Felix (USA/Sprints) 341
4. Blanka VlaĊĦic (CRO/HJ) 336
5. Betty Heidler (GER/Hammer) 325
6. Vivian Cheruyiot (KEN/Distance) 305
7. Valerie Vili (NZL/Shot) 304
8. Milcah Chemos (KEN/Steeple) 301
9. Fabiana Murer (BRA/PV) 298
10. Anita Wlodarczyk (POL/Hammer) 293
11. Carmelita Jeter (USA/Sprints) 291
12. Tatyana Lysenko (RUS/Hammer) 290
13. Yarelis Barrios (CUB/Discus) 289
14. Yuliya Zarudneva (RUS/Steeple) 287
15. Olga Rypakova (KAZ/TJ) 286
16. Kaliese Spencer (JAM/400H) 285
17. Veronica Campbell-Brown (JAM/Sprints) 283
18. Mary Keitany (KEN/Distance) 278
19. Yargeris Savigne (CUB/LJ-TJ) 274
20. Priscilla Lopes-Schliep (CAN/100H) 273

I’ve thought all year long that Ostapchuk was a no-brainer for Athlete of the Year. But as a shot-putter I fear she’ll be overlooked.

First off, the shot gets ignored just because it isn’t one of the “glamour events”. In all the years Track and Field News has done Athlete of the Year awards, shot putters have won it just once each for men and women.

But Ostapchuk is also handcuffed by history. Her marks don't appear all that great, but they are.  She didn’t remotely approach the shot world record and hit just #9 on the all-time list. You’ve got to remember, though, she throws under completely different rules than the top putters did. They competed in the 1970s and 80s, when enforcement of anti-doping rules was markedly different than it is now. I’m not saying that no one uses PEDs anymore, I’m just saying they can’t use the best ones. (The only other post-80s putter in the all-time top ten, Vita Pavlysh, is banned for life.)

Ostapchuk’s best mark of the year, 21.70 meters, is oddly out of line with her other marks, a good 75 cm further than her next-best meet. Done indoors and in Belarus, I’m a bit suspicious of its authenticity. But if you delete that mark, she’s still the top athlete in my accounting.

Ennis will probably drop down to 330 points and 4th place after this week’s Decastar meet in Talence, leaving Allyson Felix at #2. She’s the athlete most likely to be selected as AOY ahead of Ostapchuk. But she suffered losses, and her marks were less than impressive. In the 200 she ran slower than a typical world-leading mark of the last decade, and in the 400 she didn’t even hit a typical top-ten mark. No, anyone who picks Felix is either not paying attention, being an ugly American, or making physical appearance part of their decision.

Yesterday’s Results
Terra Sarda in Sardinia (AP story)

Track on TV
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 6 PM on Universal Sports
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 1 AM on Universal Sports

Around the Web
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines, including a beatdown of Athletics Sout Africa's Leonard Cheune

Running Times' weekend racing recap


Missed this news yesterday...Florence Kiplagat ran a great half-marathon debut over the weekend in France

Weekly shows are up: RunnerSpace Weekly and Track Focus podcast

Let's Run's weekly review of distance running

Garret Heath on transitioning from college to professional running, Ryan Hall on running or not running, Ian Dobson wishes for a time machine

WR setter David Rudisha will be crowned a Masai elder...notable among Kenyan runners, he is not Kalenjin

Kaliese Spencer is happy with being the top hurdler...why would she be disappointed?

EMU's longtime head coach Bob Parks (now retired) celebrates his 80th birthday

Holland's Dam tot Dam 10-miler announces its elite field

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Athletes of the Year, Men

With the Continental Cup done, the track season is pretty much over (with a few notable exceptions).  There will be a few more meets over the next two weeks, and then there's the Commonwealth Games in October, but for the most part the track season is done.  Tom Fordyce of the BBC already has his year-end awards decided.

Those few notable exceptions are the decathlon/heptathlon, which will have a big competition in France this coming weekend, and various distances of road racing.  But for 20 of the 23 categories I rank, the season is pretty much done.

Here's how my points system came up with overall Athlete of the Year rankings...

1. David Rudisha (KEN/800m) 435
2. David Oliver (USA/110H) 370
3. Christian Cantwell (USA/Shot) 346
4. Bershawn Jackson (USA/400H) 324
5. Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR/Jav) 323
6. Tyson Gay (USA/sprints) 322
7. Teddy Tamgho (FRA/TJ) 314
8. Ivan Ukhov (RUS/HJ) 302.5
9. Renaud Lavillenie (FRA/PV) 301
10. Wallace Spearmon (USA/sprints) 299
11. Dwight Phillips (USA/LJ) 298
12. Usain Bolt (JAM/sprints) 293
13. Tsegaye Kebede (ETH/marathon) 292
14. Walter Dix (USA/sprints) 286
14. Abubaker Kaki (SUD/800m) 286
16. Ezekiel Kemboi (KEN/Steeple) 281
17. Tariku Bekele (ETH/3k-5k) 279
18. Asafa Powell (JAM/sprints) 271
19. Piotr Malachowski (POL/DT) 268
20. Paul Koech (KEN/Steeple) 264

Like I said, these are still in a little bit of flux, but not a lot.  My top two are the consensus picks, but after that it starts to get a bit different.  Why?

My system rewards those who win a lot and post marks that are unusually good.  But how it differs from most is that it rewards consistently facing off against the best competition more than it penalizes losing.  Cantwell showed up to the two biggest meets of the year in his event (USATF and Stockholm), while Tyson Gay avoided both of them in the 100 (USATF and Rieti).  Had Gay been there and won, he would have been an easy #3 (as most other rankings probably will place him).

Weekend Roundup
IAAF Continental Cup: Results / Day 1 recap from Let's Run / Day 2 recaps from IAAF and Let's Run

New Haven 20k (aka USATF 20k Championships): results / Let's Run recap / video coverage

London Women's 5k: recap and results

City of Padua meet: results / recap

College cross country: weekend results

What's On Today?
Pedro's Cup takes place in Szczecin, Poland.

Track on TV
Continental Cup Day 1 rerun, 6 PM on Universal Sports
Continental Cup Day 2 rerun, 1 AM on Universal Sports

Around the Web
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines, including a good piece on unapproachable East German records.

David Oliver blogs on the Continental Cup; Lauren Fleshman blogs on the London women's 5k; Briana Glenn blogs on delays.

The track facility for the upcoming Commonwealth Games is in poor shape, to put it midly.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Check it off the bucket list

Published by Track and Field News? Check.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday Evening Decathlete: Special Monday Edition

It's a holiday weekend  You wouldn't have read this until Tuesday anyway.

What did we learn this week?

USA men's 4x100 relays in the forseeable future will have Wallace Spearmon on the second leg and Tyson Gay on the third.  That's the way it was for the USA team in Zurich, and that's how they ran on the Americas team at the Continental Cup, and both times it worked out well.  That it was done twice in a row cannot be coincidence.  In an excellent piece on how national teams should put together 4x100 relay teams, Conway Hill laid out the skills necessary for each leg and how they differ from the individual 100 meter event.  Second and third legs need not be great starters but must finish well, with second being better on the straight than the turn and vice versa for third.  This describes Spearmon and Gay very well.

As to who will run the other legs, it's anyone's guess.  When he's healthy, no doubt Walter Dix will be on the relay.  Most people would presume anchor, but I can see a strategy where leading him and putting the weakest leg last could pay off.  If that weakest leg is an unflappable icewater-in-the-veins type, then it might be to the USA's advantage to try to get him the baton ahead of Asafa Powell, Jamaica's presumed anchor leg.  Powell runs very well when no one is in his field of vision in the last half of the race and noticeably tightens up when someone is there.  If our runners could put him in that position, then they might be able to win with an inferior crew of sprinters--something the USA has never before done, because only three or four times in history have we had an opponent with superior speed.

Valerie (Vili) Adams may make the Diamond League more interesting next year.  At yesterday's Continental Cup shot put competition, the defending World and Olympic champion beat rival Nadzeya Ostapchuk.  This is notable not only because it was the first defeat of the season for Ostapchuk, but because Adams threw a distance better than all but three of Ostapchuk's 2010 results.  In March, Adams fired her lifelong coach and hired a new one, and it took until now for the new techniques to really make a difference.

In another excellent piece on how to make the Diamond League sparkle, friend of the blog Martin Bingisser summed up the successes and failures of the new circuit.  But basically it comes down to this: it was an attempt to force the best two or three athletes in each event to meet with regularity and excitement.  Sometimes it worked and sometimes it didn't.  In this event it didn't, not because they failed to face off but because it was so one-sided.  I really thought Adams and Ostapchuk would be a barnburner this year...but next year it just might be.

IAAF Radio is really good.  I've said this before but it bears saying again.  I like sports on the radio.  Some of them are made for it (baseball, hockey) and some don't translate as well (football, basketball).  I think track lies somewhere in between.  But what's so good about IAAF Radio is that you feel like you're there.  The sounds of the stadium filter through so much better than on TV or a webcast.  Whenever Blanka Vlasic was jumping yesterday, the Croatian crowd went nuts.  When she was readying for her world record attempts, you could hear a pin drop.  I'll bet it wasn't as obvious on the Universal Sports coverage.  IAAF Radio uses some very good announcers, too, such as Peter Matthews.

Doug Logan may be off the hot seat.  "To the curious incident of the dog in the night-time." "The dog did nothing in the night-time." "That was the curious incident," remarked Sherlock HolmesRecall some six or more weeks ago, when USATF President Stephanie Hightower met with CEO Logan and said his performance must improve or he'd be fired.  What have we heard since then?  Not a thing.  He stopped writing his blog, he's barely twittered, and not been seen in public much either.  But he's still on the job.  I think one of the things the Board of Directors wanted was for him to shut up, and he's obviously done so.  As for whatever else they wanted, who knows.  It probably had to do with lack of signing sponsors, but maybe the BOD finally figured out that we're in a nasty recession and there's not a lot of dollars out there to get.

Dave Zirin's next book will be a biography of John Carlos.  This came to me via my brother, who saw Zirin plugging his current tome, Bad Sports: How Owners Are Ruining the Games We Love on C-SPAN's Book TV.  Zirin is a proud leftist who has called for boycotts and written things like A People's History of Sports in the United States (with the blessing of Howard Zinn).  My personal politics are in the same zone as Zirin's (if not to his left) but I think a lot of his writing searches for things that aren't there.  Thus I'm a bit leery of him writing a book on John Carlos, the sprinter most famous for being part of the 1968 Olympic Black Power salute.

As you may or may not know, that grew out of a movement that called itself the Olympic Project for Human Rights.  The principle organizers were Tommie Smith and Lee Evans, men whose biographies have already been written.  From what I've read, Carlos was seen as a bit of an interloper and opportunist, someone who took more credit than he deserved.  Since 1968, he and Smith haven't been on good terms because at some point Carlos began claiming he let Smith win the Olympic 200.  While Carlos' life both before and after the '68 Olympics speak a lot about racism and opportunity in the USA, it does reduce his standing as a political figure to address those other issues.  This is because his standing was something overblown by Carlos himself.  It will be interesting to see if Zirin glosses over that or not.

Friday, September 03, 2010

The Weekend Ahead

The IAAF Continental Cup will take place on Saturday and Sunday in Split, Croatia. See my preview and viewer’s guide.
Meet website / timetable and results
Live webcasts will begin at 11 AM on both days at UniversalSports.com
TV coverage will be at 6 PM on Saturday and 7 PM on Sunday on Universal Sports
Live audio will be streamed from IAAF.org on both days beginning at 10:30 AM

The Meeting Citta Di Padova, an EAA Classic meet, will take place today (Friday) in Padua's Euganeo Stadium.
Meet website

The Terra Sarda, an EAA Permit meet, will take place on Saturday at the Italian island of Sardinia.
Meet website

The fall road racing season begins on Sunday with the Tilburg Ten Miles in Holland.
Race website

An even better road race will be the adidas Women's 5k Challenge in London.
Race website
Previews: Athletics Weekly / IAAF

And better yet, the New Haven Road Race, the USATF 20km Championship and part of the USA Running Circuit, will be run on Monday.
Race website / USARC page
Previews: USATF / New Haven Register
Live webcast begins at 8:40 AM at Runnerspace.com

The collegiate cross country season kicks off with mostly very low-key affairs. I will be in Bowling Green to see the Falcons’ traditional season-opener against the Toledo Rockets. I’ll bring my team as well, as their assistant track coach runs for UT.
Weekend collegiate cross country schedule

Track on TV
Diamond League Zurich rerun, 12:30 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Diamond League Brussels rerun, 10 PM Friday on Universal Sports
Prefontaine, 3:15 AM and 8:30 AM Monday on Showtime Extreme
Endurance, 7 AM Monday on Showtime Extreme

Continental Cup Preview

The first-ever Continental Cup takes place this weekend.  Well, not really the first ever; it used to be the World Cup.  But back then it was at least partially a national-team competition, with three nations and five continents represented.  Now it's teams from four continents and the team-scoring portion of the meet seems basically pointless.  Some of the events have very weak fields, most notably the sprints, but some are surprisingly good.

Meet website
Schedule - start lists - results
Scoring and prize money format

Your viewing options are many. 
Live webcasts: at UniversalSports.com beginning at 11 AM on both days
TV coverage: same-day tape at 6 PM on Saturday and 7 PM on Sunday on  Universal Sports TV
IAAF Radio broadcasts: running from 10:30 AM to 3:30 PM on both days (link)
Note: IAAF Radio is really good, especially if you don't want to sit in front of a screen for four to five hours

I've got limited time this weekend, and I probably will have to choose which day to follow.  In that case I'll go with Sunday, as it has four different #1 vs #2 matchups, highlighted by what I think will be a very interesting women's 5k with Vivian Cheruyiot against Tirunesh Dibaba.

There are a lot of previews out there.  But what I really think I'd want would be a viewing guide that helped me know what events are going on, as there are often several at once.  I'd also want to know who was in each event and who were considered the favorites.

No such thing exists.  So I made one.  It's right here.  Use the arrow button on the top left to go full-screen or download the spreadsheet.

Thursday, September 02, 2010

Rankings Still Undecided

I’ve been a bit lax on posting lately, as I’ve been working on a project for Track and Field News which should be on their website sometime in the next few days.

The season is almost over, or at least in terms of truly meaningful competitions. There is the Continental Cup this weekend, which will have very good fields in some events and not so much in others.

This year I’ve been trying out my own points-based rankings system. Most of the #1 rankings are set, but in a few events they’re still up in the air. Which ones, and what’s the scenario?

Men’s Discus. Diamond League champ Piotr Malachowski has a small lead over Robert Harting, and they’ll face off at the Continental Cup this weekend. If Harting wins with 69.83 or better and Malachowski finishes third or below, the German will overtake the Pole. That’s a tall order, though, as it would be a significant PR for Harting.

Men’s Hammer. Dilshod Nazarov leads Libor Charfrietag by a scant 5 points, 199 to 194. Both will be at the Continental Cup and that will decide the top ranking.
Women’s Steeple. #1 Milcah Cheywa and #2 Yuliya Zarudneva face off at this weekend’s Continental Cup. If Zarudneva wins wins a sub-9:15 and Cheywa is at least six seconds in arrears, the Russian will move to first. This scenario is unlikely.

Women’s Triple Jump. Olga Rypakova and Yargeris Savigne are separated by just four points and both will be at the Continental Cup. Whoever places higher will exit the meet ranked #1.

Women’s Discus. Yarelis Barrios and Sandra Perkovic are the leaders and both will be at the Continental Cup. If Perkovic wins with something near 65 meters, she’d overtake the lead.

Women’s Heptathlon. If Hyleas Fountain won in Talence and scored over 7000 points, she could be #1. But I don’t see that happening.

And then, of course, there are the long distances (12k to 25k) and the marathon, whose seasons are only half over. The walks still have a big competition remaining as well in the Walking Challenge Final, but that’s hardly the spectator event of the season.

Yesterday’s results
Zagreb 2010 (IAAF World Challenge)
Achen Street Vault

Track on TV
Diamond League Stockholm rerun, 12:30 PM on Universal Sports
Diamond League Zurich rerun, 10 PM on Universal Sports

Around the Web
Runner's World Racing News has all the headlines.

Summaries of yesterday's meet in Zagreb from the IAAF,  USATF and Let's Run.

Fifty years ago today the world got introduced to "Arthur's boys" as New Zealand won two Olympic golds in one afternoon.  The links:
Snell and Halberg remember / Lydiard's ability to get the best from people / Video #1 / Video #2

Quote of the week and Jerk of the week.

Kara Patterson on a German road trip.

Sandra Perkovic cheated death.