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Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

People are lawyering up.  Exhibit A: On Wednesday, former USATF CEO Doug Logan filed a lawsuit for the severance he believes he is due.  They say he was fired for cause, he says no.  If he's right, he's due the remainder of his base salary through the end of his contract, a cool $1.6 million.

You can just about tell the moment Logan hired a lawyer: the moment he stopped talking to the press.  He was never short of anything to say for a long time, but lately he's said nothing.

The details of the suit are public record.  I'm no lawyer, but I am a member of a public employee union, and so I have (barely) a little more knowledge of this kind of stuff than the average person.  Cause for being fired is not a nebulous thing, rather it is usually spelled out in the contract, and this case was no different.  The best guess from the small number of people objectively following this is that Logan has the upper hand. 

What I'd really like to know is what USATF's legal counsel advised, and whether the Board of Directors listened.  A competent lawyer would have told them they needed to cross all their t's and dot all their i's in terms of showing cause for dismissal.  Renegotiating a contract n such a way that Logan's severance pay would be increased, just weeks before giving him notice, is unlikely to be in line with such advice.

Exhibit B: LaShawn Merritt.  On Monday, it was announced that the defending Olympic 400 meter champion would serve a 21-month suspension for his positive DHEA tests.  The situation is a bit complex even above and beyond the circumstances.

Issue #1:  He will be eligible to compete by the 2011 World Championships, to which he has an automatic qualifying spot as the defending champion.  But the IAAF allows member federations to make requirements of such automatic qualifiers, and USATF rules state that all of them must compete at the national championships.  Merritt will still be suspended at the time of those championships.  This situation by itself could be a significant point of conflict.

Issue #2: He will not be eligible to compete at the 2012 Olympics, according to a relatively new IOC rule which bars all athletes serving a suspension of more than 6 months from the next Olympiad.  This is known as "Rule 45".

The rule is likely in violation of the World Anti-Doping Code, to which the IOC is a signatory, because it is a penalty above and beyond the suspension.  If challenged, it would almost certainly be struck down by the Court for the Arbitration of Sport.  But it has not yet been challenged, and probably can't be until an athlete submitted by a national Olympic committee is rejected by the IOC.  So this whole situation is up in the air.

Ryan Hall is making people suspect he is a flake.  On Thursday it became known that Hall, the 2nd fastest U.S. marathoner of all time, was leaving the Mammoth Track Club and coach Terrence Mahon.  It seemed obvious as to why, since his last few marathons hadn't quite been up to expectations and then this fall was a bit of a disaster.  The speculation centered on who he would choose as his next coach and/or training group.

There's an old saying that a lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.  The universality of top-level runners retaining coaches makes it appear to cross over to running as well.  Who will Hall's next coach be?  Himself.  Does this make Hall a fool?  It remains to be seen, but I think so.

Joe Battaglia certainly thinks so as well.
When you live to win, [determination is] how you react to disappointment.

But I can't shake memories of Hall's post-race press conference following the Boston Marathon this April. Yes, his time of 2:08:41 was the fastest ever by an American in the race. But beforehand he talked about winning a major, just like he always does before these races, and then finished fourth.

As he slouched into his chair on the dais, Hall was comfortably at ease with having lost to three guys, one of whom (Ethiopia's Deriba Merga) he may have caught had he given chase in the final meters instead of gliding into the finish with his arms extended like a child mimicking an airplane.

Hall was not upset because in his estimation he "ran free."

It became obvious at that moment, and is crystal clear now, that Hall's primary focus is no longer on winning, but coming away from his performances with some feeling of spiritual euphoria. As long as that happens, all is well in his world.

When Hall contends, as he did in his most recent blog, that he has decided to walk away from a proven coach and a highly successful training group, "with full faith that it will allow me to take my running performances to the next level," that next level he speaks of is not on the awards podium. He is speaking in existential terms.

In making this decision, Hall wrote that, "It takes faith and the courage to risk failure in order to realize one's destiny."

From this vantage point, it is looking more like Hall's destiny will not include becoming a major marathon champion, at least until he finds a steady coach that can help him regain that competitive drive.

In rationalizing this split, Hall said that he "has learned to trust his intuition."

I have come to trust my intuition as well.
Maybe Hall doesn't deserve this kind of criticism (although it's de rigueur for observers of any self-respecting major professional sport). But he must understand why--as someone who wears his Christianity on his sleeve, certainly he is familiar with Luke 12:48 ("to whom much is given, from him much will be required").

Let's Run is beating the big boys.  In all three of the above stories, Let's Run led the media pack. They got out front on the details of Logan's suit; they got a sports lawyer to explain the Merritt situation in detail;  and Hall leaving MTC was a rumor on the message board before being confirmed by Scott Douglas at Running Times.  Runner's World, Running Times, Track and Field News, and even web-based Universal Sports was left behind.

Oregon knows how to recruit. Or Vin Lananna does.  Somebody, at least.  On Thursday night, Oregon's #1-ranked football team handed UCLA a beatdown at Autzen Stadium.  Doug Binder tweeted this during the game:
Ryan Crouser is watching the track team presented with awards in the end zone with 60,000 cheering. "Come. To. Oregon."
Crouser is probably the single most sought-after track recruit in the nation right now. Think the Ducks will get him?

President Obama secretly loves track.  Maybe not so secretly.  In 2008 he stopped at the Oregon Twilight meet* while on the campaign trail.  This week he got a Washington Cross Country t-shirt while on the track at Husky Stadium (see left) and held a rally at Minnesota's indoor track.  It makes sense...all the news outlets I read say he's Kenyan.

*Only at Oregon would Andrew Wheating get top headline billing over the future POTUS.  Seriously--read the 2008 article.

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