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Sunday, October 10, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Sammy Wanjiru is still the world's best marathoner.  But boy-howdy did he have to work for it today.  During this morning's Chicago Marathon, I lost count of how many times over the last few miles Tekeste Kebede dropped Wanjiru, only for the Kenyan to come back on him.  And then in the last half-mile Wanjiru took the lead for the first time in the latter part of the race and pulled away strongly for the win.  2:06:24 on a warm day is no joke.

American TV crews still don't really get how to broadcast a marathon  This was possibly the most exciting marathon race ever in the United States.  But the Chicago coverage (and accompanying webcast) wasn't ready for it.  There were pre-planned human interest stories inserted into the coverage.  I understand, you want to cover the event as much as the race.  And marathon winners are often determined well before the race is actually over, so you have to be ready to do something to hold viewers' interest.  But you also have to have a back-up plan to ignore these planned segments, in case you have a race like this.  One of the announcers compared it to Razier-Ali.  You don't want to miss a rope-a-dope, which is what we had.

Another point (via Let's Run):
One criticism is, again, almost no discussion of top Americans, even though Hartmann and Lewy-Boulet both finished in the top ten with very competitive times. As always, it would be nice to see some discussion and TV time for people coming in around those Olympic Trials qualifying times. It's another interesting angle that has really never been highlighted. It's at least as important as a three minute segment talking about tortillas at the aid station in Pilsen.

But they're getting better at it.  None of the important moves were missed, and the coverage took a golf-tournament approach by allowing those directly at the lead of the men's and women's races to do the play-by-play while the "anchors" did less talking and took a bit of a "traffic cop" role. Now, take it nationwide!

Toni Reavis is the best domestic announcer.  He was covering the men's race from the lead motorcycle.  I'll let Let's Run do the talking:
Toni was awesome. He used analogies from other sports in a way that non-fans of running could not only understand, but could be entertained by. At the same time, runners and educated fans weren't put off by his commentary. He showed once again that he is the best commentator in running by far.

Ed Eyestone was just about in tears with laughter a couple of times over the last 5K.
As anyone who watched Chicago this morning knows, Toni Reavis was on fire during the broadcast.

Before I saw this thread, I wanted to start a thread to see if we could compile Reavis' best quotes because we may never see another performance like this from a road-race announcer. Reavis was offering such classic commentary (occasional cursing, references to Wanjiru's balls) that people on the boards were wondering if he was drunk.

We better record this moment because I think there's a good chance Reavis gets fired by NBC after this performance (ironically also his best performance out of many good performances).

I'll start off with a couple quotes that I actually wrote down as I watched the race and was supposed to be getting splits:

Referring to Kebede with 4 miles to go:
"He's back on the horse, but he ain't whipping the horse yet!"

As Kebede pushes the pace:
"Kebede's just taking a baseball bat to these guys!"

Referring to Merga (who, on cue, stopped about 22 miles in and DNF'd)
"Merga deserves prize money and pace money because he'll drive them to a fast pace but he has the courtesy not to win."
No one studies the sport on all levels like Reavis. He has by far the best perspective and there really is no comparison to other announcers. His time will come.
I've met and talked with Reavis, and he's a very nice and encouraging guy.  He thinks I can and should be an announcer.  This does and does not color my opinion of him; he could have blown me off and been a prick about it.  But I sought him out because I think he's the best.  I certainly have never gone out of my way to interact with Larry Rawson.  Reavis has been doing this type of work for three decades now, and NBC and ESPN really need him (even though they don't know it).

Desiree Davila is making headway.  She ran 2:26:20 today in less than optimal conditions, given the warm weather.  That's the US leader.  Now, our best runners have not yet run a marathon this year, and some will not.  But 2:26:20 is the ninth-fastest marathon ever run by an American woman, bettered only by Deena Kastor (injured an probably past her prime), Kara Goucher (out for maternity), and Joan Samuelson (53 years old).  So it's actually a pretty big deal.  And any time you pick up points at a World Marathon Majors race, you know you've done well.

Davila spent the year concentrating on shorter events, from 3000 meters during the indoor season to track races in the spring and early summer and road races in the late summer.  Her breakthrough underlines the idea that marathoners do best by mixing up the distances and taking breaks from the 26.2 mile distance.

Joan Benoit-Samuelson is unbelievable.  She ran today's Chicago Marathon, hoping to get an Olympic Trials qualifier.  She's 53 years old.  She missed it by less than 90 seconds, and by the time she hit 20 miles the temperature was up to 80 degrees.  She slowed between 10 and 20 miles but picked it back up again in the last three.  Get this: she's one of only 15 people who have run a sub-3:00 marathon in each of five decades.  Not 15 women, but 15 people.

My world rankings mean something.  Going into this race, my system had Kebede and Shobukhova as the #1 ranked marathoners.  Shobukhova won and Kebede led through 25.6 miles.  It remains to be seen whether Wanjiru will pass Kebede, but one good race by Wanjiru will likely be trumped by three good races by Kebede (wins in Fukuoka and London plus a second today).

The Commonwealth Games are a royal clusterf***.  There is the poor organization and poor facilities.  There is the timing, well after the summer season is over to guarantee that the stars will skip it and so that the only part of the Commonwealth not preoccupied with the new football season is instead preoccupied with the new hockey season.  And then there's poor officiating, which I think is the worst of it.

Australia's Sally Pearson had apparently won the women's 100 meters, but was stripped three hours later after a protest got her DQd.  Seems she came out of the blocks after another athlete false-started, and got charged with a false start as well, but only after the Brits bitched about it. The other athlete was allowed to run under protest, but Pearson was only DQd later.  Then there was the women's 200 meters:
On the official schedule, [New Zealand's Monique Williams] was then due to run with seven other athletes in the final scarcely two hours later.

Instead, the men's 200m final was pushed forward and an announcement was made over the loudspeaker at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium that the women's race would take place on Monday instead.

The delay came after an official protest was made against Cyprus' Eleni Artymata who was accused of touching a line during qualifying.

But adding to the mayhem was the fact officials had decided to implement a series of last-minute bizarre lane changes for competitors, Williams included, which they could not explain when asked.

"Originally, there was a lane draw and I was assigned to lane eight," a baffled Williams told

"I turned up to the final call room and they had switched lanes and I was assigned lane nine. I was sitting there going 'why would you suddenly switch lanes?'

"That wasn't even the main part of the story. Once we arrived at the call room we were informed there had been a protest against the girl from Cyprus (Eleni Artymata) who apparently stood on the line in a semi-final.

"Normally you get disqualified straight after a race. I don't really know why it didn't go through in time.

"Obviously the Cyprus team is going to put in a protest in response and because it's going to take so long they've decided we will run tomorrow."
What makes all of this so particularly bizarre is that, for all its exploitation of indigenous peoples, the British Empire generally left behind a legacy of the ideal of fair play and high degrees of organization.  All of that is missing in Delhi.  Earlier in the week, Paula Simons of the Ottawa Citizen was prodded to ask some fundamental questions
What is the Commonwealth for? In this 21st century, does it still serve a political and social function? Or is it a colonial leftover?

Not the kind of questions that are usually prompted by a sporting event, I suppose. But then, the Commonwealth Games, now underway in Delhi, are a competition with a unique legacy.

But for me, the [1978 Edmonton] Commonwealth Games also provided a sense of being connected to a larger world, a sense of Canada's place in a larger global community.

When the closing ceremonies were over, my friends and I, overflowing with Commonwealth camaraderie, vowed that we'd be at the next Games in Brisbane and all the Games after that. We weren't, I fear. But my Commonwealth afterglow was strong enough to send me to Ottawa as a high school student to take part in a model Commonwealth Conference. (My teammates and I represented St. Lucia-- the highlight of our trip was dinner at the home of that nation's high commissioner, who plied us with enough of the national liquor to get me tiddly.) But even sobered up, I remained convinced that the Commonwealth served a moral purpose -- not to maintain imperial ties, but to connect Canada with the developing world, in a venue free of the high politics of the Cold War and the United Nations, a way for diverse and far-flung countries to find fellowship and common cause.

It may sound naive now. But back then, the Commonwealth did seem to have a noble purpose beyond track and field. It was a forum that could lobby for human rights, pressure rogue ex-members such as apartheid-era South Africa, campaign for Third World development, help build communication links between Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, the South Pacific and North America.

These days, it's hard, even for a Commonwealth romantic like me, to divine the association's larger purpose. Back in the era of Margaret Thatcher and Brian Mulroney, the Commonwealth seemed to get things accomplished. But as Britain has allied itself more intimately with its EU partners, as Canada has linked itself to the United States and Mexico via NAFTA, as Australia has oriented itself toward the Asia-Pacific basin, the old imperial ties seem to have frayed. Do Canadians today feel any closer toward Commonwealth partners like Malaysia and Kenya than they do toward non-Commonwealth countries like South Korea and Sudan?

Today, affection and respect for Queen Elizabeth II still holds the Commonwealth together. Will that sense of connection outlast her reign? Will her successor have what it takes to hold the fragments of empire together? I doubt it.
This week's competition has shown that some other traditional Commonwealth values seem to have disappeared into the ether.

The apocalypse is coming.  The Detroit Lions won 44-6 today.

1 comment:

pjm said...

I like Toni because when you feed him a line, not only does he use it on national television, he says he got it from you. He did that with me during last year's NYCM. You're right, he's been in the sport forever (got his start covering the GBTC in the Rodgers/Squires heyday) he knows it all, and he has educated opinions about it all, which you don't often see. (The educated part, not the opinions. Those are everywhere.)