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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 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 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.

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