The oldest track & field blog on the internet

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

Track's greatest spokesman has died.  The Olympic Games, and track and field by proxy, lost Bud Greenspan yesterday.  The filmmaker was possibly more important to the Olympics than Juan Antonio Samaranch (also deceased this year).  His films created our mental image of the games every bit as much as those of Ed Sabol and John "Voice of God" Facenda did for the NFL--the latter gritty and dead-serious, the former joyful and equally dead-serious.

Want proof? Go rent the 2007 comedy Run, Fatboy, Run, and you'll see several homages to Greenspan embedded in the film. Most notable is near the end, where main character Dennis is dead last in the London Marathon and limping along in auto headlights--an exact recreation of Greenspan's famous clip of John Stephen Akwari doing the same at the 1968 Olympics.

Greenspan was a product of a different time, when (unlike today) earnest optimism was common and admired. His films reflected this attitude, and were open to a bit of criticism for it. But they didn't profile only successes, or even admirable failure like that above. For example, one little-known profile he did was of England's Donald Finlay and his sixteen-year pursuit of an Olympic gold medal, one that ended unsuccessfully. His films were there to tell about the triumph of the human spirit. My all-time favorite is from "The Persistent Ones", about young World War II survivor Etienne Gailly. His marathon debut was at the 1948 Olympics, and before the race he said "if I am standing at the finish I will win a medal." In the race's final 500 meters he went from first to third, holding off fourth by mere feet, and fell flat on his face at the line. He kept his promise, but oh so barely on both accounts.  As he was taken away on a stretcher, his hands went up in the air in victory. Greenspan's magic was to be able to find the great story and then get out of the way and let it tell itself.

Alan Abrahamson wrote an excellent obituary today. Everyone, it seems, has stories about Bud. This is Olympic historian Bill Mallon's favorite:
1984 Olympic Trials in the LA Coliseum. I am working for Pete Cava there in the old TAC pressbox crew. It is late one nite, and the decathlon is ending. It is dark, and there are less than 3,000 people left in the stands to watch the decathletes run the 1,500. One competitor, whose named I no longer remember, badly injured his leg in the pole vault, but threw the jav and elects to run the 1,500 despite this. He starts and his limping and hobbling and will eventually finish in over 9 minutes for 0 points, but he wanted to finish. The crowd starts cheering him madly, his fellow runners pat his back as they lap him. It is emotional and somewhat inspiring.

I remember an old quote from a Greenspan Olympiad film and run down to the announcer's booth where Zarnowski is announcing the race. I tell him the quote, and he loves it. He quickly proclaims over the Coliseum PA ' [so-and-so] exemplifies the Ancient Greek saying - if you endure the struggle, you bring honor to yourself, but more importantly, you bring honor to us all." The crowd cheers, the guys finishes. The next day, the LA Times tells the story, and uses the Greenspan quote in it.

Two days later, Zeke and I bump into Bud in the press box and tell him the story and he laughs. I then ask him, curiously, because I did not know, "Do you know the name of the Ancient Greek that actually said that?"

Bud - "Oh that? I made it up."

USATF celebrates Festivus. They must. On December 23, the traditional date of the holiday "for the rest of us", they participated in the Airing of Grievances and told us how fired CEO Doug Logan disappointed them over the last year.

The organization did this by way of filing a counterclaim against Logan's suit for the remaining $1.6 million on his contract (which he is owed if he was fired without cause). Let's Run has all the details, as well as an unusually productive message board thread on the topic. USATF is seeking to get Logan's suit tossed out of court.

Recall that Logan's contract was very specific about what constituted getting fired "with cause". For the most part, that meant "willful and continued failure in the performance of his material duties as CEO". How did they claim he did this? USATF's counterclaim said he failed to serve at the Board of Director's direction (as USATF bylaws state he must), and treated the Board indignantly and with subordination. These are literally the only items known to the Board at the time they decided to get rid of him.

The counterclaim has plenty of other stuff thrown in, but things only discovered after Logan was removed from his position, which makes their argument fairly weak. They allege expense abuse and tax issues, but these were not known until after they fired Logan. If the suit actually goes to trial (which is highly unusual in these kinds of cases), both of those could bite USATF board members in the ass. Were Logan's improper use of USATF monies unusual? In other words, how do they compare to what the members of the board do? That could be very embarrassing and cost people their seats on the board.

The tax issues are potentially more explosive, and not for Logan. USATF's countersuit alleges that Logan directed USATF staffers to not withhold Indiana and local taxes, as he maintained his legal residency in Florida. It maintains that this put USATF in legal jeopardy. I don't know the law, but that sounds fishy to me. Furthermore, this type of knowledge may be privileged information, and USATF's legal team may have violated the law by getting it and making it public.

If this is the best USATF has, they're going to pay Logan and a lot. Whatever birdbrains thought they could fire him and do it on the cheap should get voted out of office when the next elections come around. Seemingly intractable problems, such as this "bunch of clowns" (as Logan called them) in USATF leadership, can sometimes be solved only by a truly spectacular failure that changes the entire landscape. If that happens here, it would be a Festivus miracle!

Next comes the legal wrangling, or as I like to call it, the Feats of Strength.

Imane Merga can win on any surface. The initial 5000 meter Diamond League champion obviously is great on the track. Earlier this year, he took to cross country and beat defending World Champ Joseph Ebuya (who has since avenged his loss). Today he beat the World Record holder in the road 10k, Micah Kogo, at the Corrida de Houilles 10k in France.

Larry Scott looks smarter this week. The commissioner of the Pacific-10 Conference was looking to expand his conference by leaps and bounds this year, but only managed to add two schools (Colorado and Utah), and bit players at that. It seems the conference's "footprint" is not significant enough to make its planned cable TV channel a juggernaut like the Big Ten Network.

But it is poised to be an ever-more significant footprint, due to shifting population. You can see this in the House of Representatives reapportionment announced this week, where the Pac-10 area was a winner. Arizona, Utah and Washington each gained a seat in the next congress, and no west coast states lost any (although California failed to gain a seat for the first time since the Civil War). The Big Ten's footprint lost a total of six seats. The big winner in reapportionment was Texas with a gain of four, which is a nice little reminder of why every conference was kissing the Longhorns' ass.

The University of Maine is strict. Riley Masters, the Black Bears' star miler, and two teammates got busted for having a party in their own apartment and playing a drinking game. They broke the university's student-athlete code of conduct and will be required to do community service. On my college team, I think we penalized the minority of athletes who didn't do these things.

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