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Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Preseason Men's Dual Meet Rankings

This year I will again be doing dual meet rankings for college track and field.  The rules...
  • Only teams who have scheduled one or more scored meets of four or fewer teams are eligible for ranking.
  • A team may not be ranked ahead of another team that defeated them unless a) there was a split-squad issue or b) the teams met multiple times and splti their meetings
  • While the rankings are for a combined indoor/outdoor season, outdoor results are given greater weight.

These rankings are very preliminary and based only on marks made during last season.

1. BYU
2. Oregon
3. Texas
4. Ohio State
5. Michigan State
6. Texas A&M
7. Iowa
8. Indiana
10. Nebraska
11. Stanford
12. Arkansas
13. Washington St.
14. Wisconsin
15. Washington
16. Georgia
17. USC
18. Akron
19. California
20. UC Davis
21. Kent State
22. Princeton
23. Cal Poly
24. Texas Tech
25. Liberty

#3 Texas goes to #12 Arkansas on January 14.

Honorable mention goes to Oklahoma, the best dual-meet team in the country without a dual meet on their schedule (and, under current calculations, flat-out the best dual-meet team period).

Preseason Women's Dual Meet Rankings

See yesterday's men's rankings for the criteria by which teams are ranked.

Again, these are preliminary and based only on last year's indoor marks made by returning athletes.

1. BYU
2. Oregon
3. Clemson
4. Ohio State
5. Texas A&M
6. Georgia
7. Nebraska
8. Princeton
9. LSU
10. Stanford
11. Michigan
12. Washington St.
13. Texas Tech
14. Kansas
15. Michigan State
16. Arizona
17. Miami (Ohio)
18. Arizona State
19. Illinois
20. Columbia

Honorable mention goes to Penn State, the best dual-meet team in the country without a dual meet on their schedule.

#4 Ohio State goes to #11 Michigan on January 15.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Joseph Ebuya is back. Last year's World Cross Country champion had a disappointing summer, running only 13:11 and well beaten in big races. In his first race of the new cross country season he was second behind Eritrea's Teklemariam Medhin. Today in France's Cross de l'Acier, Ebuya beat the initial Diamond League champion Imane Merga. As of Sunday evening (EST) a detailed race report has yet to come online.

Valerie (Vili) Adams has changed coaches again. In March the Kiwi Olympic shot champion split with the only coach she'd ever known as an adult, Kirsten Hellier. This came after her first championship loss in years as well as a divorce. Adams went with New Zealand-based French coach Didier Poppe, but that came to an end this week after disagreements ran through the 2010 season. Adams had already done some work with Switzerland's Jean-Pierre Egger, and will likely formalize the relationship this week.

Egger will be assisted by his own former athlete Werner Gunthor, the three-time World Champion. Gunthor's titles are only barely more notable than the fact that he was essentially the only world-class shot putter whose marks were unchanged both before and after random out-of-competition dope testing was instituted in the early 90s, which suggests he was the era's only top thrower who never used anything illicit.  Egger says he can get Adams consistently over 21 meters, which would mean she'd have a chance against a resurgent Nadzeya Ostapchuk.

The USA has created a new tradition. I've always thought that Thanksgiving is the most American of all holidays. It was invented here, it is openly but non-specifically religious, and its traditional foods (turkey, cranberries, potatoes, pumpkins) are all new-world natives. In addition, its sporting tradition is our peculiarly American kind of football. There appears to be a new one, though: turkey trots on Thanksgiving morning.

The races are generally only nominally competitive. Out in San Jose there was a big matchup between Alan Webb and Galen Rupp, but even that didn't seem to be a terribly serious affair. (Webb won. But no one is taking it as a hugely meaningful result.) Here in Toledo we had two races, and the bigger one was won by a local Kenyan transplant who half-assed in it at 15:30 or so.

The Race Results Weekly summary of the nation's 20 biggest Thanksgiving Day races showed participation numbers to be flat as compared to last year, but the numbers invite deeper scrutiny. Large portions of the country had pretty nasty weather that day, and big declines there wiped out good increases elsewhere.  And I don't think looking at big races is most meaningful for this particular new tradition; USATF counted nearly 600 races across the country, most of them small and local affairs. Here in Toledo we had bad weather, two races, 2500 entrants and 2000 participants, all in a metro area of 500,000 people. With good weather we likely would have had more than 3,000 participants, a number we've never had on any day save the annual Race for the Cure madhouse. By contrast, this week's races were little-publicized. I did not race but ran later that morning instead, and encountered more runners and walkers on the paths than cars on the road.  The new Thanksgiving tradition appears to be "get out and move your feet in the morning".

Garry Hill thinks we should have the Worlds in every non-Olympic year. When I read this I thought it was a non-starter. You can't have the Worlds in the even-numbered year opposite the Olympics. Then I thought a little more. Why not?

The years opposite the Olympics have traditionally been set aside for regional competition, things like the European Championships and the Commonwealth Games. But those regional events are nearly all shells of their former selves. The Commonwealth Games haven't been an important fixture in the track season for at least twenty years. Ditto for the Asian Games and the African Games. Only the European Championships are still popular and well-attended by both the fans and the stars. I'm certain that a truncated version could be found which would fit into a Worlds year--after all, the Euros will be held in the next Olympic year. Either the Euros will adapt for that, or the meet will shoot itself in the foot.

Hill is right.  Without a championship, the sport goes to sleep for a year.  We can't afford that.

Track on American TV will be much better in 2011. This came to us last week, not this week, but I couldn't jam it into my all-NCAA writeup. And if any week-old topic merits mentioning, this one does.

On the House of Run podcast, Boldon let it be known that many changes are in store for VISA Championship Series coverage. He would not be specific, but it sounds like the production company that does the meets is ready to show us the three-ring circus of track and field. Months ago Boldon solicited suggestions for how to make TV coverage better, and I gave him plenty of suggestions. Mostly it came down to two things: better camera angles, and replacing talking heads with field event action. Via Twitter, Boldon vowed we will be happy with the Millrose Games broadcast.

Possibly more important is a new show called Foot Race. Created by Rich Christensen ("Pinks" and its derivatives) and currently seeking a distributor, it's a more serious version of last summer's "Shaq Versus" episode with Tyson Gay. Basically it breaks down to this: two athletes negotiate a handicap and then race. Check out the website. I have no idea if this is the specific "reality TV" series that former USATF CEO Doug Logan spoke about, but it falls into the reality genre. We all presumed such a show would be a festival of shame and humiliation (example: Kardashians), but it certainly doesn't have to be. This kind of "reality" competition is now the backbone of basic cable. A successful track show in the same vein would do wonders for our sport.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Trivia of the week

Of the standard (Olympic) events, what is the oldest meet record at the Drake Relays?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, November 26, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

Cross Country
The Budapest Challenge, an EAA Permit cross country meet, takes place on Saturday in the Hungarian capital’s Népliget Park.
Meet website
EAA preview

The fourth meet in the KCB/Athletics Kenya Cross Country series takes place on Saturday in Kangaru-Embu.

The UK will hold its European Cross Country Trials on Saturday in Liverpool's Sefton Park.
Meet website
Athleticos coverage

The Cross Internacional Valle de Llodio, another EAA Permit cross country meet, will take place on Sunday in the Spanish city of Llodio. Leading entries are Teklemariam Medhin, who is riding a two-race winning streak, along with Samuel Tsegay, Kidane Tadese and Josephat Kiprono Menjo. preview (in Spanish)

The strongest lineup of the weekend is at the Cross de l'Acier, another EAA Permit cross country meet, in the French coastal town of Leffrinckoucke. Imane Merga, the summer's dominant track runner, will take on defending World Cross Country champion Joesph Ebuya. The women's competition is also strong, featuring Linet Masai, the defending World 10k champ, along with Meselech Melkamu and Wude Ayalew.
Meet website
Nord Eclair preview (in French)

The International Warandeloop, an EAA Permit cross country meet, takes place on Sunday in the Dutch city of Tilburg.
Meet website
EAA preview

Road Racing
The Florence Marathon takes place on Sunday in the Italian city.
Race website
FIDAL preview (in Italian)

The Eldoret KASS Marathon takes place on Sunday in the Kenyan town of Eldoret.
Race website
The Standard preview

High Schools
Three Foot Locker Regional cross country championships take place on Saturday: the Northeast on Long Island, the Midwest in Kenosha WI, and the South in Charlotte NC.
Foot Locker website
Flotrack coverage: Northeast / Midwest / West
ESPN Rise coverage: Northeast / Midwest / South

The California High School Championships will take place on Saturday in Fresno.
Meet website

Track on TV
Bud Greenspan Presents: Beijing 2008 - America's Olympic Glory, 10:40 AM Saturday on Showtime Family Zone
Running the Sahara, 9:15 AM Sunday on Showtime Family Zone

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Your Track Vault Pick of the Week

Tomorrow will be the 101st running of Cincinnati's Thanksgiving Day Race, the oldest of the hundreds of similar races held across the country.  In honor of that is a rememberance of Cincinnati's Ted Corbitt, one of the running communities' most important men who was nearly as old as tomorrow's 10k.
St. Stephen’s Methodist Church, the old wooden structure where friends and family came to say goodbye to Ted Corbitt, is a little jewel, more than 100 years old. The small, round sanctuary with the oak pews softened from years of loyal church worshippers formed a crescent with Ted, resting in his treasured New York Pioneer Club sweatshirt, as its centerpiece. Around his neck was a finisher’s medal from the 2007 New York City Marathon that his son, Gary, had run and dedicated to his dad. It was a personal gesture, very fitting to the aura of the occasion, as it was the family side of Ted Corbitt that was remembered at his wake and funeral, attended by friends who went back 40 years and had plenty of Ted stories to tell. Honored guests at the funeral eulogized Ted not as the legendary father of long-distance running but as the family man and friend with the gentle spirit. As is often the case at wakes and funerals, the occasion brought laughter and humor as well as tears and sadness. Gary Corbitt recalled later, “I never saw so many grown men with tears in their eyes.”

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete: Special Tuesday Edition

What did we learn at the NCAA Cross Country Championships?

No surprise winners. All four of my picks for team and individual champions, as posted at Spiked Up Psyched Up, came through for the wins. I thought I was making very safe picks and going with the favorites.

Anyone who thought Oklahoma State was anything but the favorite clearly doesn’t know how to add. Much was made all season about Stanford’s 1-2-3 punch at several big meets. On paper this made them look very tough. But if Stanford’s top three were better than OSU’s top three—and going into the meet that had to be considered a very big if—all six were going to be so close to the front of the race that the point difference was going to be very small. At those levels there just aren’t that many runners to come in between them. It was obvious all season that OSU probably had the better fifth runner, and definitely had a much better fourth runner. And at those speeds, there are so many more athletes from other teams that can add points to the inferior runner’s team.

What did happen? Stanford went 5-6, OSU went 7-8-9. Stanford’s Elliot Heath ran poorly, finishing 36th, but even if he’d stayed up with his teammates the point differential among the front three runners would have been only nine points. The difference between the two teams’ fourth runners was 60 points, and between their fifth runners was 79. Game over.

Cross country is like poker in that you need five good cards. And OSU was holding four of a kind while Stanford held three of a kind.

Dave Smith knows his stuff. The Oklahoma State coach usually holds his cards close to his vest, but in interviews leading up to the meet he let it be known that he thought Wisconsin was a title threat. The Badgers were second with 2k to go, but #4 runner Elliot Krause cratered in the last half-mile (possibly due to injury) and Wisconsin fell to third. Had he held on the Badgers would have easily been second, and possibly had enough to win if Oklahoma State had experienced an off day.

The Pac-10 shit the bed. Or was ridiculously over-rated. One or the other. Summary:
Stanford poll #1, finished #4
Oregon poll #3, finished #6
Cal poll #18, finished #31 (last)
Washington poll #4, finished #16
Oregon poll #6, finished #12
Stanford poll #7, finished #13
Arizona poll #9, finished #11

It’s not as if Pac-10 teams haven’t done well in recent years. Just not this year.

The wind wasn’t that big of a factor. Maybe I’m a bit biased; I live in a part of the country where 15-20 mph winds only qualifies as “breezy”. But remember, this is a big race with a lot of runners at more or less the same competitive level. Most athletes could hide in a pack.  Only the frontrunners had to worry about the wind.

Or did they? Sam Chelanga led pretty much the entire race, and won going away. But he was a prohibitive favorite, so maybe he’s not the best example. Luke Puskedra is. The Oregon Duck finished third, a big surprise. He was alone in third with no one to break the wind for him for more than half of the race, yet he could not be reeled in. And at 6’ 5”, you’d figure the wind would have made a big difference to such a big man.

My college team didn’t like the wind, but we most certainly didn’t fear it. We faced it every day from October through May. The only major impact the wind may have had on yesterday’s races is to cause fear. And fear makes people do rash, stupid things—such as making major changes to race strategy.

Pre-Nats doesn’t matter much. At least not to the top teams. Fivce of the top ten men’s teams yesterday didn’t even go to Pre-Nats. Runner-up Florida State’s men’s team was third in the Pre-Nats blue race, 111 points behind Stanford, who took fourth yesterday. Iona was also ahead of FSU at Pre-Nats and took eighth yesterday. BYU’s men were second in the White race at Pre-Nats and took 18th yesterday.

On the women’s side it wasn’t much different. Only four of the top ten women’s teams at the NCAA Championships went to Pre-Nats. The top teams who did go didn’t do as poorly—division champs Florida State and Georgetown were 2nd and 4th yesterday—but it’s still true that Pre-Nats is basically for teams trying to qualify to the NCAA Championships, not teams trying to win stuff when they get there.

The NCAA is in for a flaming. The webcast of yesterday’s meet was “craptastic”, to quote one online observer. Not only were those who watched it online cheated, the people there in person were as well. (There’s a big video board showing the camerawork, and at the finish unless you’re in the first row along the fence you can’t see what’s happening.)

Indiana State and produced a great webcast of the Pre-Nationals invite. They made offers to the NCAA to do the championships webcast for free, which were declined. Instead some other company was brought in, one which had no experience producing cross-country meets.

For whatever reason, no camera on the lead truck was used. (At Let’s Run it was said that this was due to contractual obligations, but I can’t understand why.) The plan was to use cameras atop towers set around the course, but high winds nixed that. So we were left with one single camera at the press box, which often got basically no images of runners at all when they were on the far reaches of the course.

And then, at the men’s finish, a camera failed. The picture switched to another camera...which failed. And then when another was used, then they did the obligatory post-finish shot of the winner while the rest of the race was still being fought.

The wrath of the Let’s Run faithful will likely rain down on the appropriate people, if it hasn’t already. When ESPN screwed the USATF coverage last summer, its ombudsman reported an unprecedented response.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

NCAA Championships

The NCAA Division I Cross Country Championships are Monday in Terre Haute, Indiana.
Women at 12:08 PM EST, Men at 12:48

Meet website / Flotrack coverage / Cross Country Town USA page

LIVE webcast begins at Noon on Monday at
LIVE Pre-Shows at
Saturday at 2 PM
Sunday at 12:30 PM
Monday at 11:30 AM

I'll be there this weekend, twittering and covering it for House of Run.

To truly enjoy a race, you've got to know who the favorites are and who the underdogs with a legitimate chance are.

On the men's side, I'm calling it for Oklahoma State over Stanford.  The outside shot goes to Wisconsin.  A under-appreciated contender for one of the four trophies is Colorado. Sam Chelanga of Liberty is the overwhelming favorite to win, with Northern Arizona's David McNeill a nearly equally overwhelming favorite for second.

In the women's race, Villanova is a strong favorite.  If they falter, Florida State is most likely to take the title.  The individual race is considered wide open; my super-secret gambling-based predictor calls it for Sheila Reid.
Previews: Spiked Up Psyched Up (women)SUPU (men)

The third meet in the KCB/Athletics Kenya Cross Country series takes place on Saturday in Kapsokwony.

The Nyeri Half Marathon will be run on Saturday in the Kenyan town of Nyeri.

The Safaricom Siaya 10 kilometer Road Race will be held on Saturday in the Kenyan town of Siaya.

The Airtel Delhi Half Marathon, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race, will be held on Sunday in the Indian city.
Race website
Ten sub-1:00:00 men are running, headlined by Deriba Merga and Geoffrey Mutai.  Twelve sub-1:10:00 women are running, headlined by Aselefech Mergia.
Previews: Times of India / Hindustan Times / Wall Street Journal / IAAF

The ABN AMRO Zevenheuvelenloop 15k, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be held on Sunday in the Dutch city of Nijmegen.
Race website
Two road world record holders are entered: Leonard Komon (10k) and Felix Limo (15k).  This looks like a great battle.
Previews: Mzungo / IAAF

The Lotto CrossCup van West-Vlaanderen, an EAA Cross Country Permit meet, will be run on Sunday in the Belgian city of Roeselare.

The Corta Mato Cidade De Amora, an EAA Cross Country Permit meet, will be run on Sunday in the Portugese city of Amora.

The Cross Internacional de Soria, an EAA Cross Country Permit meet, will be run on Sunday in the Spanish city of Soria.
Preview of all three EAA meets

The Great Ethiopian Run will be held on Sunday in Addis Ababa.  With 35,000 entrants, it is Africa's largest 10k.

The Tuskys Mattresses Wareng Cross Country meet will be held on Sunday in the Kenyan town of Eldoret.  World champion Joseph Ebuya is entered.

The Kobe Women's Half Marathon will be held on Sunday in the Japanese city.

Track on TV
Running the Sahara, 11:10 AM and 9:40 PM Saturday on Showtime Family Zone
NCAA Cross Country Championships Pre-Show, 2 PM Saturday at
Big Ten Cross Country Championships (tape-delay), noon Sunday on the Big Ten Network
NCAA Cross Country Championships Pre-Show, 12:30 PM Sunday at
New York City Marathon rerun, 1 AM Monday on Universal Sports
NCAA Cross Country Championships Pre-Show, 11:30 AM Monday at
NCAA Cross Country Championships Live Webcast, Noon Monday at

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Your Track Vault Pick of the Week

It's been a little while since I've done one of these.  Today's pick is in honor of cross country season, a 1979 profile of the oldest annual cross country race in the USA.
The Northfield Mount Hermon School is situated on the banks of the Connecticut River in western Massachusetts, deep in the heart of New England prep country. Its athletic rivalry with Deerfield Academy, a few miles to the south, is well known, at least in preppie circles, and Deerfield Weekend is the high, or low, point of Mount Hermon's football season, depending on its outcome.

For the last 88 years Mount Hermon has also been running, but its premier event, the annual Bemis-Forslund Pie Race, has been a rather well-kept secret. That's a shame, because there is nothing quite like it. For one thing, it is the oldest footrace in the U.S., six years older than the Boston Marathon and, by those who know it, more highly regarded. Students, faculty, staff, alumni and occasionally a guest or two are invited each year to the rural Mount Hermon campus to run a 4.5-mile cross-country course on the Monday of Thanksgiving week. The first three boy students, the first three girl students and the first alumnus and alumna to finish receive medals. Everyone else who beats a specified time—33 minutes for males, 40 minutes for females—gets a pie, a 10-inch, two-crust, all-American apple pie made that morning in the school bakery.
1979 was special for this otherwise mostly unknown race. Mount Hermon's most famous alumni, Frank Shorter, came back to try to break the course record in the twilight of his career.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

How things stack up for the NCAA Cross Country Championships.  Nine regional meets were held yesterday to determine the qualifiers, with the top two teams automatically qualifying with another thirteen teams receiving at-large bids.  The results of those meets told us a little, but not a lot.

Of the top seven men's teams in the national poll, five lost yesterday.  #1 Oklahoma State, #2 Stanford, #4 Iona and #6 Florida State all were second in their respective regions.  To the casual observer, this would be stunning and he would figure upsets are coming next week.  But remember, the top two automatically advance.  In the bigger picture, these were favorites breezing through the qualifying rounds.  Some, like Stanford, consciously held back.  Others, like Oklahoma State, rested some of their top runners.

Who were the exceptions, and why?  #3 Oregon won the West region almost by default.  Stanford handed it to them.  The Ducks, however, couldn't hold back as much; finishing third would have meant relying on an at-large bid.  They almost assuredly would have gotten it, but the #3 team in the country wants a sure thing.

#7 Northern Arizona was fourth in the Mountain region.  This made them, according to Flotrack, the 28th qualifier out of the 31 teams.  (The official NCAA announcement makes no such distinctions.)  While on paper they're an outside contender for the championship, this is not how they wanted to get to the championship meet.  It's not a good sign.

#5 Wisconsin held back and still won the Great Lakes region, whupping #12 Indiana in the process.  This is a very good sign.  If anyone can knock off the two overwhelming favorites, Oklahoma State and Stanford, the Badgers are the team that could do it.  That's a huge "if", but stranger things have happened at the NCAA Championships.  Back in 2006 the Badgers themselves were supposed to be the unbeatable team, but Colorado ended up winning by 48 points on a come-from-behind victory.

One the women's side, things aren't as complicated.  The difference between the top teams and everyone else is so much greater, and the 6k distance so much shorter, that the best teams typically won either because they didn't hold back as much or because they did and still were good enough to win.  The biggest surprise was in the West region, where #11 Washington upset #7 Oregon and #4 Stanford.  It's not that much of a surprise, though, as the Huskies recently returned some of their top runners from injury.  They have to be considered a serious contender for one of the four trophies, if not for the title.

Simon Bairu could have been in one of those Benny Hill sped-up film sequences.  The Canadian 10k record holder ran his rookie marathon in New York last week, and didn't take care of his fluid and energy needs.  He passed out late in the race, an ambulance was called, and he was loaded in.  But the ambulance almost immediately ran into a taxi, the drivers and vehicle couldn't leave the scene of the accident, and another ambulance had to be called.  Cue the Yakety Sax.

The Richmond Spiders are the Hickory High of cross, the Rocky...I dunno.  Going into yesterday's Southeast regional race, the deepest in the country, the Spiders men's cross country team was not considered a contender.  They didn't get a single vote in the national poll and were eighth in the regional poll.  They pulled out a fourth place and punched their ticket to the NCAA championships.

This isn't terribly unusual; this kind of thing happens nearly every year.  How they did it is more unusual.  In the Kolas calculator for selecting at-large bids, the Spiders had zero points.  This means that all year they didn't beat a single team that had already been selected to the big dance.  They got in by dint of beating three nationally-ranked teams who did have the necessary points, known as a "push".

This is commendable, but hardly unprecedented.  The circumstances may be, though.  Richmond's scholarship budget for their men's team is zero.  Nada. Zilch.  And they're going to the national championships.  They're not even like Princeton and other Ivies, which nominally give no scholarships but have a big name and barrels of money.  To Coach Steve Taylor and his band of walk-ons, we give you a big Superfan saa-lute!

We track fans are not alone. The following e-mail led off a Sports Illustrated writer's column this week:
It seems like there's been a lot of devoted to the question of how we can get [sport] to be more mainstream and popular. My response is, what exactly do I have to gain by the attainment of this goal? I no longer feel alone as a [sport] obsessive, thanks to the blogosphere, and that tends to leave me a little, shall we say, confused about my fellow fans. I kind of like thinking that [sport] is beloved by a narrow set of particularly thoughtful, quirky, creative types -- the kind of people who like to travel and read David Foster Wallace and [SI writer]. ...I guess if [sport] were more popular, there would be more [television coverage]. That would be nice, but it seems like the growth of Internet video is rapidly taking care of that problem. In the meantime, I'm content to inhabit the margins of the sports world, suspecting that the middle is not all it's cracked up to be.
The writer is Jon Wertheim, and the sport is tennis. You can easily put "track" or "road running" in the blanks and the paragraph would describe the situation our sports are in.  I can be plugged in nearly 24-7 (and sometimes I'm accused of it).

Wertheim agreed on  several levels, comparing his sport to a favorite indie band whose modest popularity doesn't inhibit his access.  He also offered a counterargument about the problems caused by diminished popularity:
It's tough to see good tournaments run by good people struggle or go out of business. It's no fun to suffer abuse at the hands of networks, who treat tennis so shabbily but then demand to see higher ratings before, say, broadcast the U.S. Open final on one channel. It stinks to see friends lose jobs or entrepreneurs fail to make a living or, in my case, the media room consistently downsized. Small is OK, but here's a worst case scenario: tennis becomes so niche that the economic incentives disappear and tennis can no longer lure the top athletes. Then we've really got problems. (See: boxing.)
Again, you can easily replace "tennis" with "track" or "road running". And I fear the professional level of track really is disappearing from the USA at the invitational level, and from Europe at the championship level. Then we've really got problems.

Kenyans and Ethiopians are not invincible.  In every one of the more than 40 major open marathons this year, the men's winner was either Kenyan or Ethiopian.  Until today, when Italy’s Ruggero Pertile won the Turin Marathon, defeating eight east Africans in the process.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

It’s Regionals weekend for college cross country.

USTFCCCA Regionals Page
Flotrack Regionals page

Nine regions, two automatic qualifiers each, plus thirteen at-large bids available. Weird stuff can and does happen at these.

Flotrack will be tweeting live updates throughout the day, and will do a live at-large bid prediction show at the conclusion on Saturday's action.

Look for my preview of the men’s races tomorrow.

Other action...
The Rock N Roll San Antonio Marathon and Half Marathon will be run on Sunday in the Texas city.
Race website

The FINIBANCO Cross Internacional de Oeiras, an IAAF Cross Country Permit meet, will be held on Saturday in the Portuguese city of Oeiras.
Meet website
IAAF preview
Leading entry: Teklemariam Medhin, who was an upset winner at last week's season opener in Albufeira.

The second meet in the KCB/Athletics Kenya Cross Country Series will be held in Kipkelion on Saturday.

Also in Kenya on Saturday is the Tegla Loroupe 10 km Peace Road Race, in Kapenguria.
Peace Foundation website

The Turin Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be run on Sunday in the Italian city.
Race website

An international-level cross country invitational, the Cross Internacional Castellano-Manchego, will be held on Sunday in the Spanish city of Toledo.
Meet website

Track on TV
Running the Sahara, 9:35 AM Friday on Showtime Family Zone
Prefontaine, 6:00 AM and 4:05 PM Saturday on SHO Next

A Great Idea

A recent topic of discussion at Let's Run and on Twitter is the lack of US depth in the (men's) marathon.  Back in 1983, 267 American men ran under 2:20:00 for the distance, but by 2000 there were only 27.  The numbers have rebounded a bit, with 42 last year.  But it remains obvious that depth is sorely lacking.

This has big knock-on effects.  Take last Sunday's New York City marathon.  The east African entries which garnered the most attention--Haile Gebrselassie, James Kwambai and Abel Kirui--didn't do so well.  But the race was still dominated by east Africans because of their superior depth.  It's like the "next man up" mentality of the NFL in that no one has to be the #1 guy in order to get a chance.  They just have to be ready when the opening comes.

In contrast, the USA really only had two contenders, Meb Keflezighi and Dathan Ritzenhein.  The odds of neither of two athletes having one of the best days of their career is very high, and that's exactly what happened.  Last year we had two contenders and one (Meb) did have a career-defining day.  It's simply not going to happen very often, and we should not count on it.

It's clear to me that developing great depth in distance running, both at the marathon distance and shorter, is one part of the path back to the top.  We in America tend to take care of the elites very well and throw the rest to the dogs (and not just in sports, either).  We need a large "minor league" system of road running.

In this month's Running Times, Jonathan Beverly described one way to achieve this while simultaneously building a broad-bassed fan following.  "A League of Their Own: A Modest Proposal for a Meaningful Road Circuit" expounded on one of noted announcer Toni Reavis' ideas.  He suggests a summertime league of actual road running teams, barnstorming the US road circuit from Memorial Day to Labor Day.  It would be a series of eight or so established races, with team standings leading to a championship.

The structure of the league would more or less preclude any stars joining up.  Athletes would have to commit to running all of the races and to putting the team first over their own ambitions.  For a top-level runner, this is a non-starter.  Their years are based around the Diamond League and/or World Marathon Majors, and try to peak for the USATF Championships (to try to make the national team) or Worlds/Olympics (to try to win a medal).  But in any given year, there are maybe two dozen American men and women who fit this description.  And we need a whole lot more than that.

This road-running league would be for the sub-elite, the kind of runner who is just trying to make enough money to stay in the sport long enough to see if he can make the jump (or, knowing that he can't, just wanting to keep running at a high level for as long as he can).  In Kenya, there are literally a thousand runners doing this.  Here we might have fifty men and even fewer women.  By giving a significant number of US runners a guaranteed salary (even if it's tiny) and a lot of racing experience, our depth would explode. 

The teams in this league could be based around existing training groups, like the Bay Area Track Club or Hanson's ODP or the various Team USA squads.  But it wouldn't have to.  If some enterprising group started up and found sufficient sponsorship to survive the season, they could join the league.  Here in Toledo (which is a great place for running), we're already exploring creating a Hansons-type group through our local running shop.

Beverly notes that the road-running circuit goes to second-tier "minor league" markets.  Boulder.  Utica.  Flint.  These are the kinds of places where minor league sports flourish, because there's not a lot of local competition for sport fans' attention.  Benefits could also accrue from basing the teams in minor-league-type cities.  It might even make finding sponsors easier.  For example, a mid-Michigan based team could be sponsored by Michigan Tourism, which would then get its message out to its target market, as runners are generally active outdoorsy-types with disposable income.

So what about the off-season?  We here in Toledo already have an idea.  There are three Kenyan runners who live in our city, all sub-14:00 types, and two of them work at the running shop.  The plans for our racing team, as I currently understand them, would be part Kenyan and part American, training together and learning from each other.  During our harsh winter, the whole group would pack up and go to Kenya for a few months.  There, the Americans would really get their eyes opened.  There's no reason a whole league of American runners couldn't do the same; expenses in Kenya are very low, and the learning and training would be incredible.  You want to be the best?  Don't try to beat the Kenyans--join them!

I've not yet addressed my original topic of marathon depth.  If the road-racing season ended on Labor Day, the runners on these teams could also commit to running a fall marathon.  I don't think going to Chicago or New York would be a good idea.  These "minor league" runners would get lost in the shuffle, and they'd have little to offer the organizers anyway.  Instead, each team might commit to a local regional-level marathon.  Our theoretical mid-Michigan team would run the Detroit International Marathon.  Both the team and the race would benefit from the localized publicity.  Another significant benefit for everyone would be that  locally-known runners would challenge what the press sees as a nameless, faceless parade of Kenyan winners.

Is a summer of road-racing the ideal way to  prepare for a fall marathon?  The conventional wisdom is no.  But that's exactly what both NYC champions did this year, and it's what most Americans did back in the early 80s.

Tuesday, November 09, 2010

NPR and Marathoning

Serious competitive marathoning was on NPR at length today. The second half of On Point with Tom Ashbrook was titled "US Runners and Marathon Challenges".

The guests were Jennifer Kahn, who authored the recent New Yorker piece on Alberto Salazar's new fanaticism with running form; Scott Douglas, senior editor at Running Times; Jeremy Rasmussen, Illinois women's cross country coach; and Bill Rodgers.

The program is interesting and worth listening to. I would argue with lots of little points made by Kahn (who was more or less speaking for Salazar); for one, the idea that American distance runners have never looked carefully after running form, as it makes up the bulk of training manuals published prior to 1960 or so.

Between the two guests knowledgable about running (Rasmussen and Douglas), they as gently as possible pooh-poohed the idea that technique is a significant factor in distance racing.  Douglas referred to Salazar as "your weird uncle". A stronger attitude was expressed as an online comment:
Expecting that changing a runner’s form would cause a great improvement in racing is wishful thinking like hoping to find an island of flightless birds just waiting for a coach to teach them how to fly.
This comes from Tom Derderian, head coach of the Greater Boston Track Club and the man who literally wrote the book on the Boston Marathon. His opinion should not be taken lightly.

But here's the basic point I take away from the New Yorker piece.  Salazar points to Kenenisa Bekele and says he runs fast because he has a high back-kick.  Is it not equally possible that Bekele has a high back kick because he runs fast?  This is not a rhetorical question.  Which side you take tells a lot about how you approach the issue of running technique.

Another Salazar story, an interview with Sports Illustrated's David Epstein published just before the NYC Marathon, gave me pause.  Salazar here is speaking about why he should rework the form of an experienced and accomplished runner.
There are certain ways to swing a baseball bat. If you take a guy out of college, he could be the best hitter in the NCAA World Series in Omaha and have a .450 average, and he may have a particular swing. Does anybody think that when a major league team drafts him, if he doesn't have a swing the way they want it that they're going to say, 'well, we're not going to change it because he was already hitting .450?' No, they know that with that swing he's not going to be able to get around fast enough on a fastball, or to get to a curveball, and they change it ...
Anyone with much knowledge of baseball knows this is bullshit.

Getting back to the radio show, a caller asked about whether genetics and race are such a large factor that Americans and other (white) people are destined to lag behind the Africans.  This is a typically American attitude, that people are pre-sorted into groups and this groups is blessed and that group is damned.  It's how we do things in this country.  It's also been applied to running before, back when the Finns dominated running and genetic explanations abounded.  No one believes Finns are genetically superior now, because Finnish are decidedly average these days, and 100 years from now the same might be true for east African runners.  It's a mistake of basic logic to assume that the way things are now is the natural and unchangable order of things.

Ashbrook at one point pressed Rodgers about whether high-tech gadgets like Alter-G treadmills and cryosaunas are the answer.  This is the real problem with the American outlook.  We think wealth is an advantage.  If wealth were an advantage, Kenya and Ethiopia would not be at the top.  There are a thousand ways in which our wealth makes us worse at running, from pavement (which is at the heart of the difference in running styles) to obesity to pollution to cost of living (which makes us look at most road race prize money as modest month's income rather than a good year's wages).  It may be easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to take the tape in a marathon.

I have my own theories about why Kenya and Ethiopia dominate running.  Mostly it comes down to that a few prominent national heroes, namely Keino and Bikila, made them the only nations on earth where distance running is the second most-popular sport; that their high elevation combined with equitorial location makes for year-round temperate weather well suited for running; and that they have (usually) escaped the all-too-common African malnourishment that precludes high-level training.  Note that during its Communist/famine period, Ethiopian running basically produced no new runners of note.

Bill Rodgers, to his great credit, said the solutions are simple.  We need a ton of people running seriously, we need talented ones, and we need people training in groups like the Kenyans and Ethiopians do now and (not coincidentally) like Americans did in the 70s and early 80s.  And we need time.  The Africans have been doing this for 40 years, and we've been doing (again) it for maybe five.  Nothing happens quickly in distance running.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Haile Gebrselassie is bigger than the entire New York City Marathon.

Not physically bigger--in that respect most people are bigger than he--but more famous and more important. The above video was the shocking announcement that today's DNF at 16 miles was the end of his competitive career. The decision was apparently made in the few hours between his dropping out and the post-race press conference.

The news overshadowed the entire race. Even in the decidedly non-track-friendly American sports press, it was big. Geb's retirement was the headline at over the race winners.

Geb is track's Say Hey Willie, our Magic Johnson. Not just one of the greatest of all time, he is (by all media appearances at least) one of the friendliest and most outgoing of all time as well, and truly happy in competition. It says all you need to know about him that he waited at JFK airport for an hour to greet Chilean miner/runner Edison Pena at his arrival. (More on Pena later).

Good runners win races. Martin Bingisser is impressed at my ability to call races. On Thursday's House of Run podcast, I said Gebre Gebremariam was my upset pick to win. And, of course, Gebremariam did win. Honestly, the running media made it easy for me to look smart because everyone ignored him. But in terms of recent accomplishments, he was probably the best runner in the race. Anyone who wins a World Cross Country Championship, as Gebremariam did 20 months ago, automatically must be considered one of the world's best runners.  Only Abel Kirui's recent accomplishments were on the same level, and today wasn't his day.  With Gebrselassie's DNF, that left Gebremariam alone among the runners I saw as threats to win.  So win he did.

Surprises always happen.  Edna Kiplagat was on no one's short list of threats to win the women's race, but in Central Park she pulled away from Shalane Flanagan and Mary Keitany for a solid victory.  Credit is due to, who mentioned her eighth in their preview:
Edna Kiplagat made her name on the roads at shorter distances and this spring won the LA Marathon in 2:25:38 in her second marathon. This summer she has been running well on the roads (Boilermaker winner, 3rd at Peachtree and Falmouth). If LA means she now knows how to run the marathon, she could be one to watch.
As for my prediction, I said that Shalane Flanagan would only fail to break the US rookie record (2:25:53) if the pace was slow and the winning time was slower than that, in which case she would be fighting for the win. I was right about that, although I am very surprised and impressed that Flan outfought Mary Keitany for the runner-up spot.  Given the slow-then-fast nature of today's race, I thought it played right into their hands but they were both defeated by someone else.  I'd like to have seen some betting odds; I'd have to guess Kiplagat paid off 50-to-1 or more.

Universal Sports sucks.  Well, I guess we already knew that.  In the last year, I can barely remember a webcast that didn't have technical problems.  Today had a lot in the first hour or so.  The NYC coverage boasted three camera feeds all for one price, but it was basically impossible to either have all three open or to switch between them.  We also had to sit and look at a black screen for two minutes during TV commercial breaks (unlike past major marathon webcasts, where the video kept going with no announcer audio).  In the early coverage, the fade-to-black happened in the middle of announcers actually talking.  Sheesh.  Universal Sports is not winning any fans with their webcasts, I can tell you.

The USA continues to get better.  The old joke at major marathons is that after the pros go by, there's a noticable gap and then everyone says "Here come the white guys!"  This was slightly untrue today, and would be more untrue if the top US marathoners weren't a diverse bunch.  Meb was sixth, Ritz was eighth, Jorge Torres eleventh, Tim Nelson thirteenth and Matt Downin seventeenth.

On the women's side, Shalane Flanagan represented the first US runner-up in 20 years.  While no other Americans were near the front at the finish, Katie McGregor took eleventh (and beat the defending champ and the last two Boston champs in the process) and three more were in the top 20.  Americans accounted for 25% of the top 20 runners in each race.  I would guess the last time this happened was during the Reagan administration.

Nobby Hashizume is not impressed with Alberto Salazar.  While even dedicated track fans are unaware of who Nobby is, they shouldn't be.  For many years he was the right-hand man to Arthur Lydiard, doubtless the greatest distance-running coach of all time.  He created the Lydiard Foundation, which is dedicated to continuing the coaching education that Lydiard did.  If you'll forgive the possible sacrilege, Nobby is to Lydiard as St. Peter is to Jesus.  When he speaks, you should listen.

Via Twitter (much of which is now deleted), Nobby has recently wondered why Alberto Salazar's discovery of the importance of running form was heralded by the media as a big deal, since Arthur Lydiard was doing basically the same things some 65 years ago...and he didn't end up injuring his proteges in the process.  Lydiard called out Salazar on his inefficient form back in the early 80s, and of course the US sports press excoriated him for it.  Referring to Dathan Ritzenhein's hard 20-miler three weeks before the NYC race, he tweeted the following:
After hearing his 20-miler @ 2:07 pace, I thought he's either ready for 2:05 or bomb out in 2:14. Well...

Ritz's time was 2:12. I guess he peaked for 3 weeks earlier and his perfromace of the year was a 4:51 pace 20-miler. Any medal for that?

Edison Pena is a bona fide star.  The Chilean miner who ran daily while trapped underground was asked to come see the NYC race.  He said he wanted to run it instead, and the NYRR obliged.  He was on Letterman's show on Wednesday night, and was alternately funny and serious depending on the subject, but was humble throughout and displayed a winning personality.  Obviously less than fully prepared, and with aching knees hurt by his time underground, he struggled but got through the 26.2 miles with dignity and huge crowd support.  And all the rest of us were so happy he kept the attention off other celebrities: Jared "Subway" Fogle, Al Roker, Robin Quivers, Bobby Flay, and all kinds of other people who make me want to get punched in the face just so I don't have to see them anymore.

Friday, November 05, 2010

House of Run New York City Marathon preview

This week's House of Run podcast is now available. Yours truly makes an appearance and makes his bold picks for the NYC Marathon: Abel Kirui and Mary Keitany will win, Jared will fail to break 5:00.

Jason and Kevin do a great job with their podcast, in a breezy dry humor. Check it out, it's worth your time.

What's On: The Weekend

New York City Marathon
The (arguably) most famous race in the world, an IAAF Gold Label Road Race and the final World Marathon Major of 2011, will be run through the five boroughs on Sunday. 

Pro women at 9:10 AM, pro men and mass start at 9:40.
  • Race website
  • TV Coverage: 2 PM Sunday on NBC (tape-delay)
  • LIVE TV Coverage: 9 AM Sunday on Universal Sports
  • Live Webcast: 9 AM Sunday at ($)
The media has blanket coverage of the race.  Your best sites for race previews and coverage are Runner's World, Flotrack, the NYRR Marathon Channel, and Universal Sports.  You could immerse yourself from now until the gun on Sunday morning with those sites alone.

Also check out Flotrack's The Weekend Ahead video, with the always-hip background music...

Believe it or not, there are other major races going on.

The Joongang Seoul Marathon, an IAAF Bronze Label Road Race, will be run in the South Korean capitol on Sunday.
Race website

The Cross Internacional de Atapuerca, the opening race of the 2010-11 IAAF Cross Country Permit series, will be run on Sunday through the Spanish town on Atapuerca and its archealogical site.  Headliners are both defending World XC champions, Joseph Ebuya and Emily Chebet.
Race website
IAAF Preview

Most NCAA Division II and NAIA conference cross country championships are this weekend, highlighted by the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference meet in Las Vegas on Saturday.
USATFCCCA Championship Central page
NAIA Conference pages: men / women

Track on TV
World Half Marathon Championships rerun, 4:30 PM Friday on Universal Sports
2008 New York Marathon rerun, 8:00 PM Friday on Universal Sports
2009 New York Marathon rerun, Midnight and 8:00 PM Saturday on Universal Sports
Endurance, 8:00 PM Saturday on Showtime Family Zone
New York City Marathon live coverage, 9 AM Sunday on Universal Sports and
New York City Marathon tape-delay package, 2 PM Sunday on NBC
Prefontaine, 5:35 AM and 9:40 AM Sunday on SHO Next
New York City Marathon rerun, 8 PM Sunday on Universal Sports

Thursday, November 04, 2010

Oddly Similar Photos

Or maybe not so odd.

Rod Dixon defeats Geoff Smith, 1983.

Muhammad Ali defeats Sonny Liston, 1965

Chilean Miner Edison "The Runner" Pena on Letterman Tonight

From Deadspin:
How would the average person spend 69 days trapped underground? Edison Peña ran three to six miles daily. Now he's running in the NYC Marathon this weekend. Great. I'll be on a couch, trapped under a pile of wings.
Peña was invited to watch the New York Marathon. He decided he’d rather run, and the NYRR gave him an entry. Read the AP story; it’s good.  Key quote: "he'll probably reject the hero label, insisting that the focus should be on worker safety, faith in God and the restorative power of sports."

He will be the lead guest on tonight’s Late Show with David Letterman. I am definitely recording this one.

Letterman, a runner himself, has been very friendly to distance types. After last year’s NYC win, he had Meb Keflezighi read the Top Ten List. At other times guests have included Alan Webb, Dean Karnazes and Pam Reed.

Letterman hasn’t cornered the market on tracksters. Jay Leno is more partial to throwers, as he was a thrower himself in high school. His Olympic-year guests have included Reese Hoffa and John Godina (against whom Leno competed in a series of silly throws).

Wednesday, November 03, 2010

UCLA Men to set modern-day record competing in three dual meets and a tri, all outdoors against major-conference teams.

The Bruins just announced their men's schedule. It includes going to Texas with Arkansas, a home dual against Tennessee, another home dual against Oregon, and then the big rivalry meet at USC.

Interestingly enough, both of the home meets are on Sunday, which will allow high school athletes and coaches (normally busy on Saturdays) to come out and see the meets.

When was the last time a major-conference team ran in four meets like this? Seriously, does anyone know?

The Bruins aren't a powerhouse right now.  But I have to give them major props for making themselves interesting to watch.