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Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

How the top collegiate cross country teams sort out.  This was the weekend of the Pre-Nationals Invitational, and with two races each for men and women things were a little confusing.  Or not.

There were no head-to-head clashes between true title contenders at Terre Haute.  With one or two exceptions, those teams don't show up. They have nothing to gain.  They're more or less assured of getting automatic qualifiers to the NCAA Championships by finishing in the top two in their regional meet.  It's pretty much everyone else who comes.

On the men's side, #1 Stanford looked pretty good as they went 1-2-3 in the Blue Race.  But in Fayetteville at the Chile Pepper Festival, #2 Oklahoma State went 1-2-3-4.  You'd think Chile Pepper didn't offer up as much competition as the Pre-Nats, but there were 50 teams in that race including  #6 Arkansas and #7 Indiana.  Who is better right now?  Probably Oklahoma State, but we all know it really doesn't matter until November 22.

Other men's action at Pre-Nats saw Northern Arizona finish fourth in the Blue Race.  But that's without David McNeill, who just ran at the Commonwealth Games.  With him,  the Lumberjacks were likely second.  And two other of their top seven ran their first race of the season.  So getting a read on them is hard.

In the White Race, #16 Oklahoma pulled a bit of a shocker by winning over #19 BYU, #4 Colorado, and #8 Portland.  Bu the surprise was that Colorado finished third.  They were fourth in the team scoring at 5k and dropped 26 points in the last 3k.  That follows the Mark Wetmore strategy of not overextending early, a strategy that works better in 10k races and bad conditions than in yesterday's 8k under good conditions.  How much difference would another 2k make?  Not enough to catch Oklahoma, that's for sure.  But another part of Wetmore's traditional strategy is to not really be ready to go until the NCAA Championships.  I'd say it doesn't look like Colorado is a title contender...but stranger things have happened.

Over at the Dellinger Invitational in Oregon, the host #3 Ducks beat #11 Wisconsin handily.  The Badgers were holding out their top runner Mo Ahmed, though, and likely would have won with him in the lineup.  Wisconsin has to be considered a strong contender to win the Big Ten on their home course in two weeks, and an outside contender for the NCAA Championships.

On the women's side, things are not so complicated.  #1 Villanova dominated at Penn State, #2 Oregon dominated at home, #3 Florida State won their Pre-Nats race, and #4 Texas Tech dominated at Virginia.  My best guess is that the NCAA Championship will come down to Villanova and Oregon and no one else.

Zersenasay Tadesse can be beaten.  He was the four-time defending World Half Marathon champion but yesterday he was beaten by Kenya's Wilson Kiprop.  Note that Tadesse appeared injured at the end of the race, hobbling across the line and requiring help to the awards podium.  Even so, reigning African 10,000m champ Kiprop didn't pass him for good until the last 100 meters.

Florence Kiplagat is the best off-road runner who doesn't do marathons.  She won yesterday's World Half to go with her World Cross Country title in March.

Fast marathons are becoming mind-numbingly common.  Today saw the eleventh sub-2:06:00 of the year.  Getu Feleke ran 2:05:44 for a course record in Amsterdam.  If an American could run 2:06 it would be a huge breakthrough...and still would be well behind the best in the world. 

USATF is setting up its search for a new CEO.  An announcement was made earlier this week that a search committee has been formed, headed by Steve Miller, CEO of the Andre Agassi Foundation, a man who has been both a track coach and a marketing director for Nike.  Bialla Inc. is being hired as a headhunter, reportedly at between $200,000 and $300,000.  For that kind of coin, they'd better find a darned good CEO.

Subplots?  Well, it appears that any existing USATF Board member will not be part of the interview pool.  This is very good, because it means USATF President Stephanie Hightower from becoming the new CEO.  She is very much like Senator Harry Reid, a person who has gotten into positions of great power without being, you know, actually good at wielding it.  It's also allowed some critics to come right out and say exactly what they think.  Jim Dunaway wrote the following end-page editorial in USATF's own American Track and Field magazine.
To the Board of Directors of USATF:

In the last few months, you have done considerable damage to our sport.

Most recently, your clumsily carried-out dismissal of Doug Logan has given track and field a black eye. For many people in business and the media, track and field has become a laughingstock. Don't expect many new sponsors in the next few years.

What's more, you've done it all in secrecy, while the hundreds of thousands of people in the sport who care about its governance--elite athletes, officials, coaches, meet directors, agents, the shoe industry, journalists, and many, many fans--have been kept in the dark. Over and over in the past three months people have asked, "What the hell is going on?"

It's time to stop. USATF's leadership is fond of talking about "transparency," while practicing the opposite. Now it's time to walk the walk.

Here are two steps you can take immediately to begin to fulfill your obligation of keeping the track and field community fully informed about the governance of the sport.

1. Immediate and continuing publication of the complete minutes, verbatim, of all USATF Board meetings from January 1, 2008 on, to be published online--without passwords or encryption--so that everyone interested in the sport can learn what those who govern the sport have been doing over the past three years and are doing now, and will do in the future. If verbatim transcripts of the meetings aren't available, we need to know why.

2. Full disclosure of all meetings, conversations, correspondence, records, etc., concerned with the hiring of Doug Logan. We need to know, in detail, how USATF hired, for its most important job, an individual who knew absolutely nothing about the sport, had only three years' sports management experience, and whose previous employment for most of his business career was as a rock concert promoter.

That's a start on measuring up to your responsibilities.

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