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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.

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