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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

The best rivalry in track & field keeps getting better. It's Kenya v. Ethiopia, and the World Cross Country championships is where it's at its best. Just when you think one side has the upper hand, it goes the other way as Kenya swept all the titles today.

American distance running continues to rise. Lisa Koll broke the collegiate 10k record on Friday at Stanford with 31:18.07. Fantastic--now let's hope she's smart enough to realize that if she can't outkick Angela Bizzari (who herself can't outkick Bridget Franek), her post-collegiate fortunes lies in the half-marathon and marathon. Like Paula Radcliffe and Zersenesay Tadesse, she's a bull-strong runner who doesn't have much hope of big international titles on the track, but should scare the bejesus out of roadies.

The intersection of business and politics often lends itself to hyperbole. And just as often, we don't know which side of an argument is overblown. Earlier this week, the IAAF's treasurer, Jean Poczobut, told the IAAF's council that bankruptcy looms large on the horizon. The culprits are reduced TV-contract income and increased expenses.

But, of course, the IAAF is at least as much a political organization as sporting one. IAAF deputy Secretary-General Nick Davies disputed the numbers. And a columnist for Athletics Africa pointed out that the IAAF is having an election soon, and the author of that original article has publicly backed Sebastian Coe in that election, who was conveniently quoted as being shocked and outraged. Yet there's political reasons for an IAAF bigwig to deny problems when he's up for re-election, and for an African writer to defend IAAF president Lamine Diack, an African who has outlayed big money for athletics development in poor countries. So I don't know what to think or who to believe.

It all comes out in the end. The two dominant women's 800 runners of about ten years ago were Jolanda Ceplak and Stephanie Graf. The former got busted for EPO in 2007, and now the latter is being called into question for her 2003 involvement with Vienna's notorious Humanplasma lab, which stands at the center of a blood doping scandal. While some of the athletes will get away with all of their doping all of the time, that group is ever smaller.

Friday, March 26, 2010

College Track Coach Job Description

I haven’t been posting lately because I’m working hard on another project, a track website that should be ready for launch within a few weeks. Part of the research I’ve been doing for it includes a visit to the website for every D-I college track team and poking around. And I can see big differences between programs in how they approach the sport—and most of them are very, very bad. I would go so far as to lay a very large part of the blame for track’s downfall as a spectator sport at the feet of college coaches.

It's important to acknowledge that, with the exception of baseball and hockey, colleges are the minor leagues of sports. I don’t mean this in the sense of athlete development (although they do assume this role), but in the sense that it’s the widespread and local means for average fans to see a reasonably high level of competition. For football, basketball, soccer, gymnastics, wrestling, swimming, and of course track & field, colleges are where you get to see good competition live & in-person if the professionals aren’t nearby and affordable. But with a very small number of notable exceptions, college track operates on the assumption that no one goes to meets for entertainment. It’s one thing to make sacrifices that cheapen a sport in search of spectators (think pro wrestling), but it’s another thing to ignore spectators altogether. And if you treat spectators like you don't care if they come, they'll oblige you.

The problem is that almost all college track coaches assume their sole job is to build a winning program. This is not true. Their job has three parts: build a winning program, build a spectator base, and build a donor base. This is the job description for a head coach in any sport. In reality, the first part of the job is only important in terms of helping to accomplish the other two. It’s an extreme minority of coaches who understand this fact. I can think of only one in the Big Ten, and less than a dozen others around the country.

In my research for my new website, I’ve found five basic things college coaches should do in order to develop a fan and donor base.

Use your outdoor track.
I’d estimate that at least 75% of outdoor track facilities are used for three or fewer home dates. That makes them the least-used facilities on campus. Let’s set aside any effect this has on relationships with the athletic director, who must periodically spend well into the six figures to resurface what is little more than a practice facility, and look at the effect on spectators. You can’t build a fan base if they never get to see you.

There several different facets to this issue as well. Vin Lananna knows that to create fans of your track team, it is necessary to create fans of track in general. When he was at Stanford, their Angell Field hosted a stop on the Grand Prix circuit and Stanford submitted a strong (but ultimately unsuccessful) bid to host the IAAF World Championships at Stanford Stadium. Since he left, they’ve gone back to the standard schedule of two or three college meets and that’s it. Now that he’s at Oregon, Hayward Field will be used for competition on twenty-six days this year. The Ducks always used the place, but even more now than what it was.

In large swaths of the country, being outdoors for several hours in March or April is not entertainment but punishment. Combine this with the mid-May end of the regular season and you’re looking at an awfully short window of opportunity to host a college meet. So don’t think so narrowly, and go outside the college season. The coach at an ordinary mid-major school simply can’t host a GP-style meet, but there are other opportunities: high school meets, all-comers meets, masters, Junior Olympics, and so forth. Anything to regularly get members of the community into stands at your track. Maine hosts some summer masters meets; Ohio State and Texas host massive state high school championships; Appalachian State’s track is the starting line of the famous Grandfather Mountain marathon.

It should be noted that many places which don’t use their outdoor tracks much do host a lot of indoor meets. That leads me to my next point.

Emphasize outdoor track over indoor track.
In college track, we’ve gotten to the point where indoor and outdoor are essentially treated equally. This is not as it should be. Track & field as a sport is centered around major international championships such as the Olympics along with the professional circuit. The sport’s two biggest stars, Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay, don’t run indoors. Sports fans know these things. So for your program to be taken seriously, it must be oriented towards outdoor stadium competition. Anything else is ultimately not in the long-term best interests of your program.

Make your event interesting to see.
Massive crowds at all-day meets aren’t unheard of, but they only happen at the Penn, Drake, Kansas and Texas Relays, where it’s often a social event as much as an athletic one. Even Kansas was having trouble getting people into the stands, and in response they developed the “Gold Zone”, a two-hour window of the highlighted top-level competition.

There are other ways to set up meets. Duals are great, because they don’t take all day and the emphasis on team competition. They also can be used to develop a rivalry, something sorely lacking in track & field. Pat Henry set up an interesting indoor schedule at Texas A&M this year; a dual meet, an 8-team scored invitational, and a 9-team meet that pitted three conferences scoring a tri-meet against each other. He always had something different for people to see.

Robert Gary at Ohio State has done great things this way. Both of his home meets are on the Big Ten network, and one of them, The Dual against Michigan, usually gets Brutus Buckeye and the Ohio State cheerleaders out to the stadium.

Develop community ties.
The genius of Bill Bowerman was not in his coaching. Make no mistake, he was very good, but so were others. Bud Winter was a great coach too, but San Jose has nothing to see for it today. Bowerman’s genius was in the way he drew the entire community into his track program. He managed to cross the gap between the campus and the lumber mills; he got people to enjoy working at and attending meets; he continually drew in the next generation with his summer age-group competition; he created the first adult fitness-running community in the country. As a result of these things, he guaranteed that Oregon track will forever be a strong program for the same reasons that Ohio State football and North Carolina basketball will be: the community demands nothing less.

Fortunately, the modern track coach need not start from scratch like Bowerman did. Every town of any size has a chapter of the Road Runners Club of America. Reach out to them and you’ve got a ready-made club of people who understand what your sport is all about. It’s puzzling to me that so few track programs do this. A small portion of the scoreboard at Michigan’s indoor track polebarn says “Ann Arbor Track Club supports Michigan Track” (despite its name, the AATC is a road-runners group). You’re not going to find that kind of relationship many places. High school teams and youth track clubs are other places a coach can mine for community relationships.

Give donors something in return.
Actively recruiting donors is something most track programs don’t do at all. Anyone who does it even halfway decently, though, has greatly increased his job security. And just having a button on your website that says “donate here” isn’t going to get it done.

Track fans such as myself hear tales of football boosters gone wild and they assume they don’t have the kind of money a college sport wants. This needs to be disproven. Ohio State’s Olympian Club, a donor program specifically for its men’s track & cross country teams, makes clear that even two-digit donations are appreciated. Furthermore, coach Robert Gary understands something that NPR and PBS do not: people want more for their membership than a tote bag and a letter of appreciation. They want to feel a part of something. The Olympian Club regularly has members-only functions, such as a pre-meet tailgate party, and members get special seating at the Jesse Owens Classic.

There are other ways besides a formal track booster club. Some track teams put on fund-raiser 5k races, but only Furman understands how to make it truly a part of the program. Theirs is in-season, ties in with a track meet, and includes a banquet (which allows support from those who don’t run the race).

Coaches need to draw in the community (and their dollars) by making them want to see the team and want to be a part of the action. These are taken as an unquestioned part of football and basketball. Track & field should see itself as just as capable, albeit on a smaller scale.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Weekly Awards

Ashton Eaton's heptathlon world record was the Performance of the Week. The indoor version of the multi-event favors him; he's strongest in the running and jumping events and weakest in the throws. He's still got some improvement to do if he's going to challenge Trey Hardee and Bryan Clay, but it will be a very interesting USATF championships this summer.

Honorable mention goes to Lolo Jones for her 7.72 Worlds win in the 60 hurdles, Teddy Tamgho's 17.90 world indoor triple jump record, Nadzeya Ostapchuk's 20.85 shot put win at the Worlds, and Olga Rypakova's 15.14 triple jump win at the Worlds.

The competition of the week was the women's shot put at the World Indoor Championships. Pretty much everyone of any importance was there, and the top three of Ostapchuk, Valerie Vili, and Natallie Mikhnevich are all having a great year.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Why The Success?

As I mentioned yesterday, the USA's medal haul at the World Indoor Championships was unusually good. 17 medals is the fifth-best showing in the history of the championships, bettered only by Russia/USSR (three times) and the USA (once). More impressive is the fact that many of our best athletes either skipped the indoor season (Gay, Richards, Merritt, Phillips) or were competing at the NCAA (Eaton, McCorory).

This comes just a year and a half after an embarrassing showing at the Beijing Olympics. Why the difference? An offhand quote by Bernard Lagat sheds some light on the matter:
There was amazing organization from Albuquerque to Doha. This is the best team I have ever been in. Everybody is together. The sprinters, the jumpers, the pentathletes were all cheering for us.
Whether they called themselves the AAU, TAC, or USA Track & Field, its name and the phrase "effective management" have only been used in a sentence together in the manner of USA Track & Field is not an example of effective management. This has been true for at least eight decades.

But in the wake of the Beijing PR nightmare, USATF did some reorganization of national team coaching and managing duties. Maybe, just maybe, the effectiveness Lagat credits will not be a one-off accident, but rather is a new way of doing things. The reorganization gave national teams fewer "coaches" and more managers, seeing as how the former is largely a ceremonial title and the latter does real actual work. However, there are other explanations; it's also possible that wearing "USA" all over your body in an Islamic middle eastern country tends to make Americans a tighter group than they would be in other circumstances.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn during NCAA/World Indoor Championship week?

Lolo Jones in the most entertainingly inconsistent athlete in the world today. Two years ago, she had Olympic gold in the bag and then famously tripped. Yesterday she barely made the final, and then came out and won with the best performance of the whole meet, a stunning 7.72 meet record and #3 on the all-time list (#2 if you discount the notorious Ludmila Enquist).

The USA is loaded in the decathlon. One-two at the World indoor heptathlon by the defending Olympic and World champions. Then, on the same day, a World Record by Ashton Eaton, a score that would have run circles around the Worlds medalists. No pushing in line to sign with Wheaties, please.

IAAF Radio is worth a try. For no particularly good reason, on Saturday morning I decided not to watch's webcast and tried IAAF Radio instead. I was pleasantly surprised. I got a three-person British team doing live coverage and it was much better than I expected. I also figured out why modern sports TV announcers are so bad, track and otherwise: few if any of them cut their teeth on radio or even grew up listening to radio broadcasts. The ambient sounds of the Aspire Dome came through, and gave me the same sense of "being there" that WJR's broadcasts from Tiger Stadium did way back when. To stretch a metaphor, we in track need to fire Joe Morgan and replace him with Vin Scully.

Who is Ruddy Zang Milama? She was fourth at the Worlds in the women's 60 meters. She is a 23-year-old Gabonese who took 0.19 seconds off her 60m PR this year. Until this weekend, I'd never heard of her and I know pretty much every decent sprinter in the world. She's a big-time rising star.

Yelena Isinbayeva has lost her invincibility. Last year she no-heighted at the World Championships. OK, maybe that's a one-off occurrence. Today she passed through to 4.60m, which she made on her first try, and then passed again through to 4.75m. Three straight misses, finished fourth and out of the medals, and now everyone looks at her as if she's an ordinary human being like the rest of us.

The men's high hurdles is the best race on the planet. I don't mean just now, I mean at any given moment in time. Today's final was a fantastic race, a highly anticipated showdown between Dayron Robles and Terrence Trammell that lived up to its hype, but only one of many great races we'll get this year.

American women are making big progress in the 400. Collegian Francina McCorory broke the American Record at the NCAA with 50.54, which would have easily won the World Indoors. That race was won by American Debbie Dunn. And then the Worlds ended with the USA holding off Russia in the women's 4x400, the first time ever Russia/USSR didn't win the gold in that event. All that while Athlete of the Year Sanya Richards is still on her honeymoon.

Phil Knight is a happy, happy man. Oregon, aka Nike U, took two trophies at the NCAA Championships: a first (women) and a second (men). Not only that, but they did it with some big-time recognizable stars: Eaton, Wheating, Hasay, Purvis, etc. And great white hope Galen Rupp took 6th at the Worlds 3k, a distance and racing style for which his talents are not best suited. Nike will continue to have the biggest US stars wearing their kit for all of the foreseeable future.

The USA's "Project 30" goal might be attainable. The goal is an unheard-of 30 medals at the 2012 Olympics. When the task force was put together a year and a half ago, I thought it was worthwhile. There were, and in many cases still are, endemic problems in USATF's management and coaching. But some of the problems in performance at the Beijing Olympics were simply a cosmic accident of bad luck. This weekend's World and NCAA championships indicate that an unusually large number of unusually good athletes are either hitting their peak or only a few years off it. The USA brought home 17 medals. That was without being able to enter a third athlete in any event; without some traditionally strong events on the slate (200, 400 hurdles, 4x100); without our best 100 or 400 runners and another dozen or so stars who all skipped the indoor season. New sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers and pole vaulters are on the rise in the collegiate ranks. Even the once-unthinkable, winning a medal in the long distances, is looking within the realm of possibility in a year or two.

And check out this nice collection of blogs put together by Martin Bingisser.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

What's On The Weekend


The IAAF World Indoor Championships take place Friday through Sunday in Doha, Qatar.
Universal Sports TV schedule: 6-7 PM Friday, 6-8 PM Saturday, and 6-8 PM Sunday
CBC TV schedule: 5-6 PM Saturday webcast schedule: 7 AM - 1:30 PM Friday, 6:45 - 11:15 AM Saturday, 8:45 AM - 12:15 PM Sunday
Meet website / T&FN discussion / USATF page / Flotrack coverage

The Gate River Run will serve as the USATF 15k Championships this Saturday in Jacksonville, Florida.
Race website / USATF page / Florida Times-Union / USATF preview

The Nagoya International Women’s Marathon, an IAAF silver medal road race, will be held on Sunday in Nagoya, Japan.
Race website / RRW preview


The NCAA Division I Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday in Fayetteville, Arkansas. TV coverage will be Wednesday on ESPN2 from 1:30 to 3:00 PM. live webcasts: 8:55 pm Friday, 9:10 PM Saturday
Meet website / T&FN discussion / Let's Run preview / NCAA preview / Flotrack coverage

The NCAA Division II Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday in Albuquerque, New Mexico.
Meet website

The NCAA Division III Championships will be held on Friday and Saturday in Greencastle, Indiana.
Meet website / NCAA preview / Flotrack coverage

World Indoor Preview: Women's running events

60 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Carmelita Jeter USA
LaVerne Jones-Ferrette ISV
Veronica Campbell-Brown JAM
Chandra Sturrup BAH
Sheri-Ann Brooks JAM

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Jones-Ferrette
Silver: Jeter
Bronze: Campbell-Brown
Jeter and Jones-Ferrette are 1-1 this season. When Jeter won it was close and when Jones-Ferrette won it was not. Campbell-Brown is far and away the next best sprinter competing.

400 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Novlene Williams-Mills JAM
Debbie Dunn USA
Tatyana Firova RUS
Amantle Montsho BOT
Natalya Nazarova RUS

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Firova
Silver: Dunn
Bronze: Nazarova
Only the Russians and the Americans take indoor track seriously in this event. Dunn is on the rise, but is up against two tough competitors.

800 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Mariya Savinova RUS
Jennifer Meadows GBR
Yevgeniya Zinurova RUS
Yuliya Krevsun UKR
Elisa Cusma Piccione ITA

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Savinova
Silver: Anna Pierce
Bornze: Meadows
Pierce tends to compete much better than her times would indicate. The other two have been consistently better than anyone else this year.

1500 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Gelete Burka ETH
Anna Alminova RUS
Maryam Yusuf Jamal BRN
Kalkidan Gezahegne ETH
Sylwia Ejdys POL

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Burka
Silver: Gezahegne
Bronze: Jamal
The medal winners will all come from the top four in the rankings. Ethiopians tend to peak very well for championships, so I’m picking them to take the top spots.

3000 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Meseret Defar ETH
Sentayehu Ejigu ETH
Vivian Cheruiyot KEN
Sylvia Kibet KEN
Barbara Parker GBR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Defar
Silver: Cheruiyot
Bronze: Ejigu
Defar is all but unbeatable here. It will be a Kenya-Ethiopia war for the remaining medals.

60m hurdles
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Priscilla Lopes-Schliep CAN
LoLo Jones USA
Ginnie Powell USA
Perdita Felicien CAN
Christina Vukicevic NOR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Lopes-Schliep
Silver: Jones
Bronze: Powell
I’m not as confident about this as I was two weeks ago. Both Lopes-Schliep and Jones ran poorly their last times out.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

World Indoor Preview: Men's Field

High Jump
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Ivan Ukhov RUS
Jesse Williams USA
Yaroslav Rybakov RUS
Jaroslav Bába CZE
Dusty Jonas USA
Samson Oni GBR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Ukhov
Silver: Williams
Bronze: Jonas
These are the most consistent jumpers of the indoor season.

Pole Vault
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Steven Hooker AUS
Renaud Lavillenie FRA
Malte Mohr GER
Alexander Straub GER
Steven Lewis GBR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Hooker
Silver: Laillenie
Bronze: Mohr
The top two are pretty safe bets. Mohr is the most consistent after them, but this is always a tricky event to forecast.

Long Jump
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Irving Saladino PAN
Godfrey Khotso Mokoena SEN
Salim Sdiri FRA
Mitchell Watt AUS
Yahya Berrabah MAR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Sdiri
Silver: Wilfredo Martinez
Bronze: Saladino
Saladino hasn’t competed yet this year; Mokoena has but hasn’t done a whole lot. Sdiri and Martinez have been the stars of the limited indoor campaign.

Triple Jump
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Alexis Copello CUB
Arnie David Girat CUB
Fabrizio Donato ITA
Teddy Tamgho FRA
Christian Olsson SWE

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Copello
Silver: Olsson
Bronze: Donato
Olsson is rapidly improving, but Copello is still capable of beating him. Donato is the world leader.

Shot Put
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Christian Cantwell USA
Andrei Mikhnevich BLR
Tomasz Majewski POL
Ralf Bartels GER
Pavel Lyzhyn BLR

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Cantwell
Silver: Mikhnevich
Bronze: Bartels
Cantwell appears almost unbeatable. Mikhnevich has thrown far but hasn’t faced anyone tough. Majewski has competed well below his usual level so far this year.

Top five competing athletes in the Superfan rankings...
Oleksiy Kasyanov UKR
Leonel Suárez CUB
Aleksey Drozdov RUS
Andrei Krauchanka BLR
Trey Hardee USA

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Hardee
Silver: Kasyanov
Bronze: Drozdov
As in the sprints, indoor competition affects the decathlon rankings only slightly. As such, Suarez isn’t likely to place as high as he is ranked. Hardee is down in fifth mostly because he hasn’t done a full heptathlon this year, but his individual event results have been impressive.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

World Indoor Preview: Men's Running Events

In many events, a lot of the world's top athletes don't compete indoors. I've listed off the top five in each event who are going to be there.

60 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan Rankings...
Dwain Chambers GBR
Ivory Williams USA
Daniel Bailey ANT
Mike Rodgers USA
Nesta Carter JAM

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Chambers
Silver: Williams
Bronze: Rodgers
Rodgers is 2-0 over Bailey this winter.

400 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan Rankings...
Rennie Quow TRI
David Gillick IRL
Christopher Brown BAH
Williams Collazo CUB
Sean Wroe AUS

Who will win the medals...
Pick ‘em among Quow, Gillick, Wroe and Bershawn Jackson

800 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan Rankings...
Abubaker Kaki SUD
Ismail Ahmed Ismail SUD
Nick Symmonds USA
Kleberson Davide BRA
Boaz Kiplagat Lalang KEN

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Kaki
Silver: Ismail
Bronze: Symmonds
The top three are all race-sharp.

1500 meters
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan Rankings...
Deresse Mekonnen ETH
Haron Keitany KEN
Abdalaati Iguider MAR
Tarek Boukensa ALG
Gideon Gathimba KEN

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Mekonnen
Silver: Keitany
Bronze: Iguider
I’m not expecting any surprises here.

3000 meters
Augustine Choge KEN
Tariku Bekele ETH
Sammy Alex Mutahi KEN
Sergio Sanchez ESP
Abreham Cherkos ETH

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Choge
Silver: Bernard Lagat
Bronze: Bekele
Unrabbited indoor races favor Lagat, but not enough to knock off Choge.

60m hurdles
Top five competing athletes in the Superfan Rankings...
Dayron Robles CUB
Terrence Trammell USA
David Oliver USA
Petr Svoboda CZE
Dwight Thomas JAM

Who will win the medals...
Gold: Robles
Silver: Trammell
Bronze: Svoboda
This is the most highly-anticipated men's final, as the top two have been running very well and have yet to meet. Oliver has been uneven this winter while Svoboda has set PR after PR.

Monday, March 08, 2010

Doug Logan Gets It

In his latest blog post, he is not satisfied with the state of domestic TV coverage. "The UK and Europe have some of the most entertaining broadcasts you can find in track and field, and there is much we can, and will, learn from them. I am committed to changing this paradigm." Read on.

Sunday, March 07, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week? Not much, as there was little competition in the week leading into the NCAA and World indoor championships. Still, there were some things...

US distance running is still on the rise, and will be for a while. As I've said time and time again, you can't become a a great 10k or marathon runner without being a nearly-great miler. So the unusual depth in college miling this year augurs well for the future. Twenty-two men broke 4:00, but only fourteen qualified to the NCAA championships. This is the first time a 3:59.99 didn't get you there, and there were eight guys suffering this fate! Here's to hoping many of them decide to move up in distance.

Sandra Perkovic is a new star. Even the hard-core track fans are saying "Who?" She's a 19-year-old Croatian discus thrower who began her season yesterday with a 4-meter PR. Her mark, 66.85, is the furthest anyone has thrown in nearly two years. I don't know the details of the competition; the discus is an event where the right kind of wind can have a major effect. But she could be the next great star in an event that doesn't get the exposure it deserves.

The fan experience generally isn't considered important. We know this because 90% of college track meets are time trials, not actual competitions, and few in charge of the sport care about how, in comparison, golf and curling are a thrill a minute. But even my post on great track stadiums got a few people miffed about the poor quality of the competition facilities I called "cathedrals". But I don't go to meets to run, I go to watch. And the places I chose add measurably to the experience. There aren't many in this country which do.

The Zepter Pole Vault Stars competition isn't what it used to be. Yeah, Yelena Isinbayeva competed there, as did most of the top women. But some of the top women skipped it, most notably Anna Rogowska and Svetlana Feofanova. On the men's side the absence of top talent was notable; all of the top five in my rankings didn't compete, some opting for much lower-level home competition instead.

The Diamond League format may just do what I hoped it would, namely tightly concentrating talent into a relatively large number of meets. Earlier this week it was announced that four of the world's great superstars will be competing at the Prefontaine Classic: Kenenisa Bekele, Yelena Isinbayeva, Tyson Gay and Sanya Richards. It will be probably the greatest collection of talent ever in a domestic single-day invitational...unless, of course, it gets eclipsed by New York's adidas Grand Prix.

Friday, March 05, 2010

High Hurdle Rankings

Last rankings on February 16. Changes since then in parens. Confirmed participation at the World Indoor Championships in blue.

The seasonal best times for #1 Robles, #2 Trammell and #4 Svoboda are all about the same. The first two are undefeated; Svoboda has lost once to each of them. #12 Ronnie Ash ran great at the Big XII Championships and stamped himself as the favorite at the NCAA.

1. Dayron Robles
2. Terrence Trammell
3. David Oliver
4. Petr Svoboda (+1)
5. Ryan Brathwaite (-1)
6. Dexter Faulk
7. David Payne
8. Dwight Thomas
9. Eric Mitchum
10. Dániel Kiss
11. Aries Merritt
12. Ronnie Ash (+5)
13. Ryan Wilson (-1)
14. Shamar Sands (-1)
15. Xiang Liu (-1)
16. Joel Brown (-1)
17. Antwon Hicks (-1)
18. Ladji Doucoure (new)
19. Yevgeniy Borisov (new)
20. Garfield Darien (new)

#1 Lopes-Schliep is undefeated, while #2 Jones has more losses than wins. #5 Powell's win at the USATF championships helped her make a big move ups the rankings. The only two Worlds medal threats from Europe, #10 Nytra and #13 O'Rourke, both have withdrawn with injury.

1. Priscilla Lopes-Schliep
2. LoLo Jones
3. Dawn Harper
4. Brigitte Foster-Hylton
5. Ginnie Powell (+5)
6. Damu Cherry (+2)
7. Perdita Felicien (-2)
8. Sally McLellan (-2)
9. Delloreen Ennis-London (-2)
10. Carolin Nytra (+5)
11. Yvette Lewis (-1)
12. Danielle Carruthers (new)
13. Derval O'Rourke
14. Michelle Perry (-3)
15. Tiffany Ofili (-3)
16. Anay Tejeda (+2)
17. Lacena Golding-Clarke (-3)
18. Christina Vukicevic (new)
19. Tatyana Dektyarova (-2)
20. Aleksandra Fedoriva (new)

What's On The Weekend


The Meeting du Pas-de-Calais, an IAAF indoor permit meet, takes place today in Liévin, France.
Meet website / IAAF preview

The NACAC cross country championships take place tomorrow on the island of Tobago.
Meet website / USATF preview

The Zepter Pole Vault Stars, an EAA permit meet, takes place tomorrow in Donetsk, Ukraine.
EAA preview

The USATF indoor championships of combined events takes place on Saturday and Sunday in Bloomington, Indiana.
Meet website

The Lake Biwa Mainichi marathon, an IAAF Gold Label road race, takes place on Sunday in Otsu, Japan.
Race website / IAAF preview / Live webcast

The Almond Blossom Cross Country, an IAAF cross country permit meet, takes place on Sunday in Algarve, Portugal.
IAAF preview


The NJCAA championships take place Friday and Saturday in Charleston, Illinois.
Meet website

The IC4A championships take place Saturday and Sunday in Boston.

The ECAC championships take place Saturday and Sunday in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Wednesday, March 03, 2010

Cathedrals of the Sport

Recently my brother inspired me to write up a rundown on the great track stadiums in America. Here are the results of an afternoon's work.

The Greatest: Franklin Field
Who runs there: Penn Quakers, and every college and high school athlete in the northeast.
Opened: 1895 (permanent strutcure in 1915). Seating: 52,593.
There is no track I want to run on more than this one. It is old and brick and big and gorgeous and loud. Its main attraction, the Penn Relays, might be the greatest track meet in the world. It’s quirky; to fit a modern track into the existing structure, lane five is 400 meters, requiring runners in the inside four lanes to cut out in multi-lap races. For this reason, it will never again host a major non-collegiate event, as it regularly did up through 1980. Still, there is no better place than Franklin Field on the fourth Saturday in April.
See also: Drake (Iowa) Stadium (1925 / 14,557), the host of the other greatest track meet in America

The Behemoth: Husky Stadium
Who runs there: Washington Huskies (and, for 21 games, the Seattle Seahawks).
Opened: 1920. Seating: 70,000.
The host of the 1990 Goodwill Games is the largest stadium in the USA with a track in it. The views aren’t bad, either. It doesn’t get anywhere near the use it should, generally hosting just an annual invitational, a biennial dual meet, and the Pac-10 once each decade.

Best PR Firm: Hayward Field
Who runs there: Oregon Ducks, plus anyone Nike wants.
Opened: 1919. Seating: 21,000.
It’s the epicenter of track & field in the USA these days, and deservedly so. A beautiful old wood stadium—anything but pine would be sacrilege in Oregon—its grandstands look like something you’d see in an English football league. They host so many meets that “seating rights” and “season tickets” are part of the lexicon. It had fallen on hard times by the early 70s, with one side closed down, but Bill Bowerman put together a “Hayward Field Restoration Meet” to raise money for repairs. That meet is now known as the Prefontaine Classic. These days, no one needs to raise money; its patron has more money than God.
See also: Earl Klapstein Stadium (Mt. Hood Community College), the home track of adidas' North America operations.

The Forgotten One: Edwards Stadium
Who runs there: Cal Bears.
Opened: 1932. Seating: 22,000.
When opened, it was the first track-only stadium in the world. It’s hosted eight NCAA championships, two USA-USSR duals, and 14 world records have been set there. One end of the stadium looks out on the Berkeley Hills and Strawberry Canyon; the other looks out on San Francisco Bay and the Golden Gate bridge. Amazingly, it barely hosts anything anymore. Only minor changes would be needed for it to be capable of hosting an IAAF World Championships.
See also: Ducky Drake Stadium (UCLA Bruins, 1969 / 11,700), host of many major championships and invitationals but which has fell mostly silent in the last two decades.

The Pheonix: Icahn Stadium Who runs there: The pros.
Opened: 2005. Seating: 5,000
This relatively new facility was the site of Usain Bolt's first world record. It was built on the site of the old Downing Stadium, which had opened for the 1936 Olympic Trials and hosted the New York Cosmos late in its life. It's the kind of place just right for New York.
See also: Stagg Field (Chicago Maroons, two versions), the first of the two stadiums was best known not for football or the dozens of track championships it hosted but something about "Manhattan".

New Kid on the Block: John McDonnell Field
Who runs there: Arkansas Razorbacks
Renovated: 2006. Seating: 10,000.
The facililty actually dates from much earlier but was completely restructured four years ago, and hosted the 2009 NCAA championships. Fayetteville is trying to wrest the title of "Track Town" away from Eugene, but Tyson money just doesn't compete with Nike money.
See also: Mike Myers Stadium (Texas Longhorns, 1999 / 20,000) hosts the Texas Relays and is gunning for more.

Small College Wonder: Selby Field
Who runs there: Ohio Wesleyan Battling Bishops
Opened: 1929. Seating: 9,100
The photo just doesn't do it justice. This gem has to be seen to be experienced. If it's not the best D-III facility in the nation, it's the best-looking. The OWU website claims it to be the oldest facility in the nation constructed to "Olympic specifications" (whatever that means) and still in its original configuration. Once they ruined Ohio Stadium, this became the best place between the Alleghenies and the Rockies.
See also: Whittier Field (Bowdoin Polar Bears, 1904 / 9,000), a tiny bucolic New England setting so historic that the meets should still be in black and white.

What's On Tomorrow


The Melbourne Track Classic, the initial meet in the IAAF’s World Challenge, takes place in Australia.
Meet website / IAAF preview / IAAF page
The Australian / The Age / New Zealand Herald

The Europa SC High Jump Meeting takes place in Banska Bystrica, Slovakia.
Meet website / IAAF preview
Bleskovky / Bystricoviny (both in Czech)

The Russian Winter Throwing Championships run Thursday through Saturday in the Adler district of Sochi.


The NAIA Championships run Thursday through Sunday on the campus of East Tennessee State University in Johnson City.
Meet website / Preview / Flotrack coverage

Tuesday, March 02, 2010

High Jump Rankings

Change since the last rankings (February 11) in parens. Athletes in blue have been named to their national team for the World Indoor Championships. Some of the others may have as well, but I'm not yet aware of it.

Ukhov remains more or less untouchable. Williams moved to #2 with a good outing in Seattle and a solid win at the USATF meet. Despite a modest seasonal best mark (2.28), Tereshin tied for second at the Russian Championships, but didn't get the nod for Doha.

1. Ivan Ukhov
2. Jesse Williams (+2)
3. Yaroslav Rybakov (-1)
4. Andra Manson (-1)
5. Andrey Tereshin (+3)
6. Aleksey Dmitrik (+4)
7. Aleksandr Shustov
8. Jaroslav Bába (-2)
9. Linus Thörnblad (-4)
10. Dusty Jonas (-1)
11. Dmytro Dem'yanyuk (+3)
12. Raul Spank (-1)
13. Sergey Mudrov (+5)
14. Kyriakos Ioannou (-2)
15. Osku Torro (-2)
16. Viktor Shapoval (-1)
16. Tora Harris (-1)
18. Ivan Ilyichev (new)
19. Sylwester Bednarek (-2)
20. Samson Oni

Vlašic remains well above the rest. Friedrich was on the cusp of defeat at the German Championships before pulling out the victory over a surprising Kröger, 2.02 to 2.00. The top three have not met and are all undefeated; all are expected to compete at the World Indoor Championships.

1. Blanka Vlašic
2. Ariane Friedrich
3. Ruth Beitia
4. Irina Gordeeva
5. Svetlana Shkolina
6. Chaunté Howard Lowe
7. Viktoriya Klyugina (+2)
8. Anna Chicherova (-1)
9. Marina Aitova (-1)
10. Meike Kröger (+3)
11. Antonietta Di Martino (-1)
12. Emma Green (-1)
13. Iva Straková (-1)
14. Levern Spencer
15. Melanie Melfort
16. Nicole Forrester
17. Nadiya Dusanova
18. Ebba Jungmark (new)
18. Elena Slesarenko
20. Vicki Hubbard (new)

Another Cool Photo

I'm very much into the ancient-as-hell photos and seeing what track & field used to be like. Track historian and Penn Relays historian Dennis Johnson dug this one up:

This is John Daly of the Irish-American AC, competing on the I-AAC's home grounds at Celtic Park, New York City, in a two-mile steeple. I'm not certain of the meet, but this is from 1910-12.

Daly was the steeplechase silver medalist in the St. Louis Olympics of 1904.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Weekly Awards

Valerie Vili earns the Performance of the Week award for her 20.57 put at the Sydney Track Classic. It beat her own meet record by nearly half a meter, and approached the Australia all-comers record of 20.69 set by WR holder Natalya Lisovskaya in 1985.

Honorable mention include Tatyana Lysenko's 75.66 hammer throw, Maria Abakumova's 68.31 javelin throw, Steve Hooker's 5.91 pole vault, and Usain Bolt's 43.58 relay leg.

The competition of the week was the men's shot put at the USATF Indoor Championships. Eight of the throwers have a seasonal best of at least 20 meters.