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Friday, December 31, 2010

Fearless Predictions for 2011

Rather than look back this week, I will look forward to the coming year of track and field and road running. Few realize I combine the powers of Nostradomus and Ed Glosser,Trivial Psychic. So on with the fearless predictions for 2011...

A previously undistinguished athlete will win a medal at an international championship, and then be surrounded by quite credible accusations of doping and/or questionable gender identity. S/he may or may not be found to be in violation of the rules. You can bank on this.

The London 2012 Organizing Committee will release a glaringly obvious promotional toy: the Paula Radcliffe bobblehead doll. Shockingly, it will be an even bigger bomb than the Brussels Sprouts Whopper.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

While Thanksgiving Day races are the thing in the USA, New Year’s Eve races are traditional in much of the rest of the world. Most are named after St. Sylvester, whose feast day is December 31.

The top domestic race is the Emerald Nuts Midnight Run, a four-miler in New York's Central Park. The top entries are Bobby Curtis and Desiree Davila. Davila should be considered a "throwback" runner, as she races often and at a wide range of distances but still cranks out great marathon performances.
Race website

In Madrid, the distance is 10 km and it is an IAAF Silver Label Road Race.  World half marathon record holder Zersenay Tadese is entered and will face local stars such as Ayad Lamdassem (World XC silver medalist) and Sergio Sánchez (World Indoor 3k silver medalist). The women's race looks to be a very good one, as Euro XC champ Jessica Augusto takes on Liliya Shobukhova, the world's top marathoner.
Race website
IAAF preview

In Bolzano, Italy, the distances are 10 km for men and 5 km for women. It's an elite-only race, but spectators are estimated around 10,000. This is probably the best race of the weekend, as European 5k/10k champ Mo Farah goes up against Diamond League champ Imane Merga, Olympic bronze medalist Edwin Soi, and nine-time European XC champ Sergey Lebid. The women's race is not quite as deep, but still boasts World 5k champion Vivian Cheruyiot and World XC bronze medalist Priscah Jepleting Cherono.
Race website
Live webcast begins at 8:50 AM (EST) at RAI Sport
IAAF preview

In Luanda, Angola, the distance is 10 km. This race has the biggest name in Haile Gebrselassie. He is going to have his hands full with Josephat Menjo, the fastest 10k runner of 2010, as well as 15k world record holder Deriba Merga. The women's race features Grace Momanyi.
All-Africa preview

In São Paulo, the distance is 15 km. Top entries are Brazil's Marilson Gomes, two-time defending champion James Kwambai of Kenya, and Abderrahim Bouramdane of Morocco. Defending women's champion Alice Timbilili of Kenya is also entered.
Race website

In Soest, Holland, it's a cross country race; the women run 6 km and the men run 10.4 km. European 800m silver-medalist Yvonne Hak is entered, and will face off against the top Dutch cross-country specialist Adrienne Herzog.
Race website

In Trier, Germany, the distance is 8 km for men and 5 km for women.  Micah Kogo is entered.
Race website

In Peuerbach, Austria, the distance is 6.8 km and will feature world steeplechase champion Ezekiel Kemboi against Austria’s Gunther Weidlinger and defending champion Abere Chane of Ethiopia. In the women’s race the top entries are Austria’s Andrea Mayr and defending champion Asmera Work Bekele of Ethiopia.

In Japan, it's Ekiden season. The New Year Ekiden will be run on (you guessed it) New Year's Day.

That, however, is only the warmup to the biggest of them all, the Hakone Ekiden on Sunday and Monday. To learn what the heck it is and how much attention the Japanese pay to it, check out Japan Running News.

You can watch both of these online. The New Year's Ekiden coverage will begin 6:15 PM Friday (EST) and run for more than six hours. The Hakone Ekiden will be on from 5 PM to midnight (EST) on Saturday and Sunday. (Japan Time is fourteen hours ahead of Eastern Time, so it's more or less it's always already tomorrow there.)

Track on TV
There's not much, but what there is is pretty good.

On 8:30 PM Thursday and 7 PM Friday, TV Land will show "The Olympics", an episode of Sanford and Son in which Fred tries to impress his lady friend by doing the decathlon in the Senior Olympics. Besides having the single greatest theme music in all of TV history, the thing I like about S&S is that it's a double-anachronism. Not only is it a 35-year-old show in reruns, it was made to be out of step with its time back when it was new.

To memorialize Bud Greenspan, Universal Sports will show one of his films each night for nine days in a row. It begins on New Year's Day at 9 PM with 16 Days of Glory, his first official Olympic film which covered the 1984 Los Angeles games. The next two nights cover winter games, then back to the summer with Atlanta's Olympic Glory on Tuesday, Sydney 2000: Stories of Olympic Glory on Thursday, and Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory next Saturday.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lessons of my team's 2010 season

I coach high school cross country.  Or rather, I did.  Facing a $39 million budget shortfall, last spring our school district cut four sports, cross country among them.  I offered to work for free, but in a large 60-school bureaucracy such things don't fly.

It never occurred to myself, the athletes or their parents that we wouldn't have a team.  We trained, formed a club, got new uniforms, and found racing opportunities where we could.  A few high school meet directors took risks by allowing us in their meets; we ran some open meets and some road races as well.  It is charitable to say that our team is made up of unremarkable runners, but the point was that we still got to run.

As we were not a school team, our end-of-the-season awards banquet was not part of the school-wide one for all fall sports.  We are doing it all on our own tonight.  I have never before made a speech, but I think I need to.  Below is the text of that speech, to be delivered in a few hours.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Superfan's Best of the Year

Time for some end-of-the-year assessments.  Here are my opinions on the best of 2010.  Feel free to disagree and say so in the comments.

Athlete of the year, men's track: David Rudisha. This is pretty obvious. Rudisha completely rewrote the record books in the men's 800 meters, took on all comers, and beat them all without fail. I can't write much that hasn't already been written.  Runner-up and US winner is David Oliver, who put together an undefeated outdoor season in the high hurdles (after an indoor campaign that gave no hint of what was to come).

Track book of the year: Unbroken. While a minority of the tale is about track, it is so good that it overcomes that obstacle.  Beware: it can give you a day or so of post-traumatic symptoms.  Runner-up goes to Track Town, USA, a photo-heavy book profiling the history of track in Eugene which was ineligible for the win due to not being widely available.

Athlete of the year, women's track: Allyson Felix.  No one runner stood out head-and-shoulders above the rest, and so Felix won by her versatility.  She was USATF champ in the 100 (albeit against an inferior field), and the world's best at 200 and 400.  Runner-up goes to Kenya's Nancy Jebet Langat, who won all but two of her 1500 races this year.  Veronica Campbell-Brown could have laid claim to the AOY, but did not race enough to earn it.

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.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

America's Track Towns

Last week I hijacked a thread at the Track and Field News discussion boards in order to get people's thoughts on what locality in their state could best hold the title of "track town".

The criteria was fairly simple: "The city/town where track (or maybe XC or road running) actually matters. The sports press pays some attention to it and attendance is halfway decent." Where the state championships are held, where there are college track programs of some competitiveness, and where the best high school athletes tend to come from are of little to no importance.

Based on that, here are the track towns named so far...

Ohio: Dayton
Texas: Austin
New York: New York City
Pennsylvania: Philadelphia
Michigan: Grand Rapids
Tennessee: Knoxville
Colorado: Boulder
Massachusetts: Boston
Louisiana: Baton Rouge

(Other cities discussed really didn't follow the criteria set out, and will be ignored for the purposes of this discussion.)

One state where the "track town" is obvious yet was totally ignored is Indiana. Terre Haute rightfully calls itself "Cross Country Town USA", as it hosts multiple big-ticket meets every year. As a result, the local press treats cross country as a sport worth their time and effort. That it does not take place on a quarter-mile loop of Mondo isn't important.

I can only guess for some other states. Maybe Orono for Maine, maybe Albuquerque for New Mexico. Definitely Des Moines for Iowa. But while thinking about this, I also stumbled on a troubling trend (although hardly a surprising one).

First off, California's "track town" is hard to pin down. From the dawn of track in the Golden State until maybe 20 years ago, the answer was always Los Angeles. Think about the meets it hosted: two Olympic Games, the Compton Invitational, the Coliseum Relays, the Pepsi Invitational, USC versus UCLA. There was even a major indoor meet in Los Angeles--a place where it doesn't make any sense to run indoors. People came out in droves to watch track meets, and sportswriters wrote reams about it. But the Los Angeles area hasn't had more than 10,000 people come to a track meet since 2005, and that almost certainly involved a lot of "papering the house". I would guess there have not been 10,000+ ticket sales for an LA-area meet since about 1990. And in 1991, LA set an ignominious record: worst attendance ever for the US Olympic Festival's track and field competition.

LA's chief rival for the Cali "track town" status used to be the Bay Area. Stanford Stadium and Edwards Stadium used to be sold out to see the USA take on the Soviets in track meets. Edwards Stadium was a perennial host of the NCAA track championships. The Modesto Relays were a huge hit, and when they began to wane the Burce Jenner Classic took over and was an equally big hit. The Jenner meet is now gone, and Modesto's meet has moved to Sacramento (and may have had less than 1,000 attendees this year). Attendance at last spring's Pac-10 Championships, held at Berkeley, barely passed 2,000 on each day. The state hasn't hosted an NCAA Championship since a few weeks after RFK was assassinated.  It now hosts no major annual competition save the Mt. SAC Relays, which is still based mostly on high schools and colleges.

Besides the fact that California's "track town" title has more or less been abdicated, look at the states where there is a strong "track town" candidate and the ones where there isn't. Most of the former lost enough population in the last decade that they will lose a seat in Congress, and most of the latter will gain. Texas is the lone exception to this trend.  The parts of the country where track matters are fading away, and the places that are growing are oblivious to our sport.

If you have a nominee for your state's track town, leave a comment. I'd love to hear your take. Remember, it's not necessarily where the athletes are good or where the meets are held, but where people care about track (or road running or cross country).

Monday, December 20, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete: Special Monday Edition

The weekly round of track-centric Monday morning quarterbacking comes a day late, as I was on vacation in Toronto for the weekend.

What did we learn this week?

USATF announced its CEO job description. This is actually an important part of the search for a new leader. You can read it in a USATF release. What you think of it tells a lot about what you think of USATF's board of directors.

It was written by the search firm hired by USATF, Bialla & Associates. Their services come at no small cost. If you are of the opinion that their well-into-six-figure price tag is merely "ripping off a hopelessly clueless 'amateur' sports organization", as one TFN message board observer put it, then you come down squarely on the side of pessimism. You believe that either this particular board of directors is a bunch of self-serving fools in over their head, or you believe the government-mandated structure of the organization itself makes it essentially incapable of doing much well, if anything.

There is another voice, though, one of cautious optimism. Track writer Larry Eder, for RunBlogRun:
The search firm, Bialla & Company, ( is one of the heaviest hitters in the world of sports, technology and softwear search firms. They have recently done searches as diverse as Electronic Arts, True North (ad agency), (footwear company) and Avenue A Razorfish, one of Nike's ad agencies (digital). That USATF has hired a firm with such stature should also give you, kind reader, an understanding of the increased level of scrutiny that the search for the USATF CEO position has been under.

It is obvious that the current USATF board has increased their level of focus in this current search. That is to applauded. The current head hunter firm has already spoken to many in the industry, first to get an appreciation for the nature of the business, and secondly to get an appreciation for the concern that many in the industry have on who will lead USA Track & Field. They have heard several earfuls, I suspect. (Bialla & Company, as is their practice, would not comment on current searches or their culture.) Those are all good things, and give comfort to those who are concerned about who will lead our sport's federation.

However well meaning, in my humble opinion, the most recent search for the recently deposed CEO had undercurrents of pressure. It has to be said that the USOC had considerable interest in the most recent CEO of USATF. That does not mean that the USOC has explicit influence on the most recent candidate, but the USOC needs were known and considered in the process. General requirements were; someone entrepreneurial, but someone who was not of the track & field ilk, and someone who looked the part seem have been part of the zeitgeist.

Looking for someone who spoke his mind should not be translated as someone who is incapable of taking advice or estranging every group within the sport. Those are not qualities of a CEO who will last in this sport.
Eder has been around for a while and is no Pollyanna. If he feels that even some signs are positive, we should have reason for hope.

In general terms, the new CEO should really split the difference between the USOC preference of three years ago and the presumed Board of Directors preference of that moment: outsider (no ties to USATF) but insider (within the track & field world). Note that USATF, and its predecessor track division within the AAU, have had just three leaders in the last 40 years. Only one, Craig Masback, left things better at his departure than at his arrival--and he fits that description.

Meets searching for an audience are turning to team competition. Earlier in the week, Athletics Weekly editor Jason Henderson wrote that cross country is in crisis in the UK and most of northern Europe. At almost the same time, northern Europe's only truly relevant cross country meet, the Bupa Great Edinburgh Cross, announced a fantastic idea. They relegated the African runners, who most of the British public sees as nameless and interchangable, to a 4k race. The featured 8k race is now a team competition between the UK, the USA, and the European continent. The UK will have the services of its two best runners, Mo Farah and Chris Thompson. The USA will send two of its best in Dathan Ritzenhein and Galen Rupp. Europe will have nine-time Euro XC champ Sergey Lebid. It should be a bang-up race and will likely gain a great deal of attention in England and Scotland.

Just a few hours ago, the Millrose Games announced that it will have a USA versus Jamaica component in both the men's and women's 60 meter races. The only star yet announced is Veronica Campbell-Brown, but her presence alone will likely excite New York's large Jamaican-American community. If they come out in significant numbers, Millrose will have its biggest attendance in a generation.

The Laverne Jones-Ferrette situation became both more and less clear. The journeywoman sprinter raised some eyebrows during the 2010 indoor season. Never a Worlds or Olympics finalist, she lept to the top of the sprinting world. She recorded the fastest 60m time in eleven years, traded wins with Carmelita Jeter, and took silver at the World Indoor Championships behind Veronica Campbell-Brown. Such a huge and sudden improvement for a 28-year-old is unusual to say the least. Then, she inexplicably missed the entire outdoor season.

A month ago it was announced that she is pregnant, and that was why she missed the summer season. But this didn't seem to wash, unless she quit very early in her pregnancy. She was announced as an entry into multiple April relay meets, and then pulled out.

Now we got a bit more information. On February 16 she tested positive for clomiphene. What is that? It's present in some fertility drugs. It also blocks the effects of estrogen and can be used as a recovery drug towards the end of a steroid cycle. In any case, it is classified as a "specified substance" under WADA rules, and the IAAF's rules are flexible in terms of penalties for this kind of drug. Suspension can be anywhere from zero to two years. Jones-Ferrette got a six-month ban from April to October, but also was disqualified from all of her events after the positive test. So she loses her Worlds silver.

Did she pull one over on the IAAF? Maybe. Note that if you're using a drug for a legitimate reason, there are "theraputic use exemptions". At the very least, you should declare the medication when tested. Jones-Ferrette did not. You be the judge.

Track is getting into the big-money advertisments. Haile Gebrselassie just filmed a commercial for Johnnie Walker (picking up a nifty $100,000 for his trouble). You can see it here. Unfortunately, it probably won't be aired in the USA, as it is targeted towards Africa, Latin America and Europe. I've always thought we've lost out massively by not somehow tapping into beer as a sponsor.

High school meets are upping their game. The professional level of track and road running in the USA has had little in the way of new ideas lately. College track's regular season until recently was essentially unwatchable (with the exception of a handful of relay meets) but has done a lot to make itself more interesting. But the most innovative, competitive level of track meet promotion is at the high school level. For proof one need look no further than the cross country war being waged between Foot Locker Cross Country and Nike Cross Nationals.

Yesterday I was contacted by the director of a prominent high school post-season invitational in regards to ideas for taking it up a notch. I appreciate the gesture and hope I can offer up some good ideas. It really appears as though he takes track and field seriously as a spectator sport, which is the approach you absolutely must have to succeed in today's sports marketplace.

Just this week, Brooks announced a new national indoor invitational for the fastest high schoolers in the country. Called the PR Invitational, it will be held in late February at the University of Washington and will be live on Flotrack. And its promotional video is one of the most bizarre things I've seen in a while.

Track is everywhere. Just like Mojo Nixon says about Elvis.

My wife and I went to Toronto for the weekend to celebrate her 40th birthday. We did all the touristy things and had a great time. On Sunday we were searching for one last thing to see, and settled on Casa Loma. All the travel guides said it was a must-see, and it did not disappoint.

Casa Loma
is a giant mansion built between 1911 and 1914 on a high hill overlooking downtown Toronto, and at the time it was the largest private residence in all of Canada. The man who had it built was one Sir Henry Pellatt, a prominent Toronto financier and soldier who, among other things, electrified the city. Owning it eventually left him penniless, and it is now a museum open to the public.

The house should really be called a castle, as that is what it was built to look like. From the inside, it is best described as the Boddy Mansion from the classic Clue board game come to life. It has a billiard room and a conservatory and all the other rooms in the game, a pipe organ, several suits of armor, secret passageways, and everything else you can imagine from prototypical country-house whodunits best ridiculed in Murder By Death. Touring it was thoroughly entertaining and informative, and I can only imagine the fun they have there at Halloween.

The third floor is rather plain in comparison to the rest, as it was the servants' quarters. These days it's set aside as space reservable for private functions, as well as a repository of historical artifacts relating to The Queen's Own Rifles, a still-existing military regiment in which Henry Pellatt played a major role.

Tucked away in display case in a quiet corner of one room are a few items belonging to Pellatt from his early military days. Most, like a saddle and a pommel, are related to horsemanship, so most observers would think this photo and two medals are related to racing of the four-legged kind.
(Forgive the quality; all I had available was my iPhone.)

Both the left and the right say Pellatt won championship mile races, and I immediately knew they could only be footraces. The clothing in which he is pictured was common running garb of the time, which is one clue. The other is the engraving on the 1879 medal: "N.A.A.A.A." That's the National Association of Amateur Athletes of America, the governing body for track and field in the USA from 1879 until being muscled out by the AAU in 1889. Pellatt, a Canadian, was able to win the US championship because virtually all 19th-century meets were open to any amateur. His time, 4:43.4, was fairly competitive for its time. You can see Pellatt listed at Track and Field News' archive of US champions (scroll waaay down). A recent biography of Pellatt says it was a world record, but don't be fooled -- the amateur record at the time stood at 4:24 1/2, the professional at 4:17 1/4.

Keep your eyes peeled. Track is everywhere and it is in everything.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Gone Fishing

Well, maybe ice fishing. I'll be in Toronto through the weekend; no updates until Monday at the earliest.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

What did we learn this week?

The s**t hit the fan in Spain. A summary of the initial happenings:
The world 3000 metres champion and one of Spain’s most famous athletes, Marta Dominguez, was released on bail yesterday following a police operation against a doping network. 'Operation Galgo' carried out by the Spanish Civil Guard has led to five people being arrested including the athletic trainers César Pérez and Manuel Pascua Piqueras, as well as a doctor, Eufemiano Fuentes. It is expected that Dominguez will be called to appear in court in the next few days. The operation covered several provinces.
Athletics Weekly reported on Friday that, in all, fourteen athletes and coaches had been arrested. It appears that the authorities have video evidence of blood doping and that defending European Cross Country Champion Alemayehu Bezabeh has confessed. Others implicated include 2002 European 5000m champion Alberto García. The arrested doctors have worked with such notable athletes as '95 World Marathon Champ Martin Fiz and super-cyclist Miguel Indurain, who was Lance Armstrong before there was a Lance Armstrong.

Dominguez was supposedly the intermediary between doctors and athletes in the distribution of banned substances (and/or practices). She is also a vice-president of RFEA, Spain's national governing body for track and field. Or was, as she has been suspended from that position. If all of this comes out to be true, it's pretty alarming that a key person in a doping ring was a VP of a NGB.

While Dominguez is a big sports hero in Spain, there are an awful lot of people who are happy to it go down. European 5,000 silver medalist Jesús España called all of this "an open secret" and is happy to see the cheaters in hot water with the law. He is far from alone in the Spanish running community in that opinion.  It's similar to how America would feel if the feds ever get the goods on Armstrong; those who barely know what he does will be disappointed, but anyone who really pays attention will welcome it.

I've said it before, I'll say it again: law enforcement, not drug testing, is the best weapon we have in the fight against doping. That doesn't mean we should abandon drug testing, but that we must understand that it is only one of many ways to get the job done.

The British are coming. As NPR pointed out earlier in the week, Brits are quite satisfied with being unhappy. Correspondent Philip Reeves said that "there's little the English relish more than a large dose of self-pity". While the truly major-league inward criticism is saved for their perpetually underachieving national football team, Britain's distance runners get a Triple-A version of it. So what will they do about today, when (figuratively) the sun came out in perpetually gloomy Britain?

Britain won three of the six team races at today's European Cross Country Championships. Add in another team silver and three more individual medals and they led the medals table. And there could have been so much more; leading U-32 runner James Wilkinson dropped out due to illness, and Britain likely would have won that race had he been up to form. The only other team without a medal were the senior men, who lost UK Trials winner Andy Vernon to illness--and European track gold and silver medalists Mo Farah and Chris Thompson did not even try out for the team.  It was a hugely successful day.

UK Athletics head coach Charles Van Commenee should be more popular than Fabio Capello, Steve McClaren, or really any football manager since Sir Bobby Robson. I'm sure Van Commenee would be grateful for even a fraction of their pay. While it's hard to directly credit a national coach for individual athletes' successes, he's done a lot to change the attitude and remove obstacles. But will the English be happy with someone who...makes them happy? What a paradox.

People sometimes start out in the wrong events. Via Twitter, American javelin record holder Kara Patterson let it be known that she started as a half-miler/miler in junior high before wisely making a shift to the throws. Which is odd, because top American miler/half-miler Erin Donohue was a champion javelin thrower in high school.

The Jamaicans are leaving us behind. I don't mean in sprinting, although they may be. I mean in the business of track and field. Earlier this week it was announced that worldwide TV distributor IEC in Sports had come to agreement with JAAA for rights to the Jamaica International Invitational and the Jamaican Championships. This means the Jamaican federation will make some dough off their two biggest domestic meets.

How about us?  Are we distributing our meets around the world?  Yes and no.  The two Diamond League meets, the Prefontaine Classic and the adidas Grand Prix, are transmitted globally as part of the circuit.  But what else do we have that anyone wants?  The USATF Championships/Olympic Trials would be a draw, and maybe the Boston Indoor Games.  Everything other domestic meet of interest is either of inferior quality (Millrose Games) or of a purely provincial interest (NCAA Championships, Penn Relays, etc.).  Has it even occurred to anyone at USATF to try to sell our meets overseas?  And this is yet another signal that we are in serious need of decent domestic meets.

Chicago Tribune Olympic writer Phil Hersh is fond of citing the adage: "the only amateurs left in the Olympic movement are the people running it".  It may not be coincidental that the same week the JAAA announced this deal, it changed its name from the Jamaica Amateur Athletic Association to the Jamaica Athletic Administrative Association.

The Metrodome is now a source of one-liners.  Among the best...
Just hold a Brett Favre press conference at midfield.  All that hot air will reinflate the dome in no time!

The collapse of the Metrodome is God's way of saying domes are for pussies!

In all seriousness, the NFL has announced that entry to the game, rescheduled for Monday night in Detroit, will be free.  It's a 45-minute drive from my house, and there's literally no chance the Lions will lose.  I may go.

Pat Henry and I agree on a lot.  The head coach of Texas A&M's defending NCAA championship team was interviewed in this month's issue of Track and Field News.  He said that college track is in a crisis situation in terms of lack of attention, funding, fan interest, and all-around respect.  He said that the road we are now going down will not turn us back from this.  And he said that team-oriented competition within a 2-3 hour framework is the key to luring back the interest of the public (and the media).

He suggested a radical change to the NCAA Championships, one that would have teams rather than individuals qualify to the NCAA Championship.  It's basically the same approach I suggested last May.  The specifics of how it happens are different (he likes stats for qualifying, I like competition) but we're in full agreement on the basics.  Look for more on this topic in the coming week.

I have to respect Henry for coming out and saying this, because if it happened it wouldn't benefit him or his program in the short term.  The Aggies' men's team was only third at last year's Big XII outdoor championships, and likely would not have won their NCAA title under the type of competition he suggests.  Their tremendous indoor facility in College Station takes in much less in terms of entry fees from the 8- and 12-team meets it currently hosts than from the kind of 30- and 40-team meets it could.  He appears dedicated to getting track a bigger pie, even if his slice of it is smaller, than from getting a bigger slice of an ever-smaller pie.  It's unusual for a major player in Division I athletics to be dedicated to serving everyone instead of only himself, and I appreciate that.

Japan really loves its ekidens. Brett Larner took us inside the world of the Hakone Ekiden, the most popular of Japan's long-distance road relays.
As the year is winding down Japan's distance runners, all the way from junior high school to the jitsugyodan corporate world, are gearing up for the national championship ekidens. It's a quirk of the system that the biggest of them all, the Jan. 2-3 Hakone Ekiden, is a regional university men's event for the Kanto area around Tokyo. Twenty teams, ten men per school, each man running one of ten stages roughly a half marathon in distance over the course of two days all with a live national broadcast with 30% viewership ratings and millions more lining the course. It's hard to overstate how important and popular it is and how captivating to watch.
He goes on to analyze this year's field and who the various favorites are. It's worth noting that there are 45 sub-29:00 runners entered in this all-collegiate race; by contrast the USA, supposedly experiencing a resurgence of distance running, had only 42 such runners last year regardless of age.

The article is a must-read, if for no other reason than to gain some small understanding of Japan's fascination with distance running. A key quote, speaking of Toya University's team:
Along with a keen sense of strategy, the team's greatest asset is Fifth Stage ace [Ryuji] Kashiwabara, who singlehandedly decided the last two Hakones by smashing the record on his nearly 900 m climb stage. Following last year's race marathon great Toshihiko Seko told Kashiwabara in a televised interview, "Next year you should run the Second Stage. That's where all the best people run." It goes without saying that this would be a major strategic error for the team and probably doesn't need to be mentioned that Seko is [rival] Waseda [University]'s most famous alumnus.

And another epic race. This is known as the Bierathlon.
What I can glean from this video involves costumes, racing, carrying crates of beer, chugging beer and more racing. Also, projective vomiting, though I’ll spare you a link to that video.

Friday, December 10, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

Cross Country
The Foot Locker High School Cross Country Championships will be held on Saturday in San Diego’s Balboa Park.
Meet website / Flotrack coverage
Live webcast begins at 11 AM at
Race times: girls at 12:15, boys at 1:00
Let's Run prediction contest

The European Cross Country Championships will be held on Sunday in the Portugese city of Albufeira.
Meet website / Men's entries / Women's entries
EAA Men's preview / EAA Women's preview

Road Racing
The Honolulu Marathon will be run on Sunday.

The St. Sylvester Race will be run on Sunday in Zurich.

The Corrida de Noel will be run on Sunday in the Paris suburb of Issy-les-Moulineaux.

Indoor Track
The Perche Elite Tour of pole vault meetings comes to the English town of Loughborough on Saturday.

There are a few low-key college meets this weekend.

Outdoor Track
South Africa's Yellow Pages Summer Series will have meets in Coetzenberg on Friday and Oudtshoorn on Monday.

Track on TV
Prefontaine, 11:30 AM Friday on Shotwime Family Zone
Running the Sahara, 2:00 PM Friday on SHO Next
Running, 4:15 AM and 3:15 PM Saturday on Flix
Foot Locker Cross Country live webcast, 11:00 AM Saturday at

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Your Track Vault Pick of the Week

To go with this week's Runner's World retrospective on the 2000 Foot Locker Cross Country, I give you this 2001 article about Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein by Tim Layden.
Two high school runners. One is a pure miler named Alan Webb, a muscular senior from Reston, Va. He's strong and fast, with an insatiable appetite for swift training and a gift for stretching his speed over the four laps of his chosen race. The other is a pale waif named Dathan Ritzenhein, a willowy senior from Rockford, Mich. He has an elfin build and a fearsome ability to run for miles at the edge of collapse. The year is 2001, and these two young runners are linked across generations to Ryun and Lindgren. "They are," says 30-year-old Bob Kennedy, the U.S.-record holder for 5,000 meters, "the best two high school runners to come along together in a long time."

Tuesday, December 07, 2010


Tomorrow morning at 5:30 AM EST.

No webcast, but there will be live twitter updates. Don't do twitter? Just check the "Track News and Blogs" sidebar.

Monday, December 06, 2010

What's On: This Week

The Zatopek:10 sees its 50th annual running on Thursday at Melbourne's Olympic Park.  It's actually an entire track meet, but the highlight is a track 10k, set for 9:30 PM local time (5:30 AM EST).  The big name signed up is the year's fastest 10k runner, Kiprono Menjo.  He is capable of breaking the race record of 27:22.54, and doesn't need a pacemaker; he famously broke 27:00 and 13:00 in solo runs this summer.  Most of the top Australians are also entered, as is the USA's Bobby Curtis.  There's a women's race, too, but it isn't quite as competitive this year.
Event website
IAAF preview / Runner's Tribe preview
Race history

A few low-key college track meets begin during the week. Colorado has an intrasquad on Wednesday, as does Nebraska on Friday.
All the rest

Track on TV
  • New York City Marathon rerun, 3:00 PM Monday on Universal Sports
  • Endurance, 3:00 PM Monday on SHO Extreme
  • Bud Greenspan Remembers: The 1984 L.A. Olympics, 8:00 PM Monday and 12:45 AM and 2:35 PM Thursday on Showtime Family Zone
  • Bud Greenspan's Athens 2004: Stories of Olympic Glory, 12: 45 PM Tuesday on Showtime Family Zone
  • Running the Sahara, 5:30 AM, 7:30 AM and 4:05 PM Thursday on SHO Extreme and 2:00 PM Friday on SHO Next
  • Prefontaine, 11:30 AM Friday on Showtime Family Zone

Sunday, December 05, 2010

Sunday Evening Decathlete

For the uninitiated, the title of this column is a riff on Monday morning quarterbacking.

What did we learn this week?

Joseph Ebuya is really back.  The defending World Cross Country champion started off his cross season with a loss to Teklemariam Medhin, last year's World XC silver medalist.  Today in the Cross de la Constitucion, near Madrid, he handily defeated Medhin to avenge that lone loss.  It's early yet--the cross Worlds are still four months away--but he's a strong favorite right now.

The "funniest bloggers in track" title has changed hands.  Actually, the title was more or less abdicated.  First it went to Ben Wietchmarschen and Jeremy Mosher for their "Lest Than Our Best" blog, which was active mostly in 2007 and 2008.  After they quite that gig, the "Two Angry Runners" took over, but their last post was in May 2009.  The new titleholders are Jason and Kevin, who do the weekly House of Run podcast.

Even if they had competition, though, Jason and Kevin would win.  While running in the local park and listening to this week's podcast, twice I laughed out loud so hard I got thrown off stride and stumbled.  I got a few odd looks for that...well, a few more than usual, that is.

How to pick a used car.  This from Tom and Ray Magliozzi's Car Talk radio show.  When checking out a used car, turn on the radio.  If the station pre-sets all play loud rock n' roll, the brakes and transmission are probably shot.  What does this have to do with track?  Nothing, except that track people are mostly broke as a joke and can't afford new cars.

Two important websites have had redesigns.  They are and  The former was the brainchild of the late Hal Connolly, and was mostly created by friend of the blog Martin Bingisser.  From Martin's website:
Harold’s vision for the site was to create an online resource for information about the hammer throw. My vision for the site was to create a one-stop resource for everything about the hammer throw.
The redesign divides all the information into three main categories: (1) a new section that shows outsides what the event is; (2) resources to learn to throw; and (3) resources for more advanced throwers.
As far as the update goes, they really cleaned up the home page and it looks great.  Beyond that, I'm not sure how much "better" the website really is.  For example, if you click on the VISA Championship Series link it still takes you to the 2010 page.  The 2010 series was finished five months ago, but the new series starts in six weeks.  There is essentially no information available about  the 2011 editions of those meets besides the dates and sites, and you can't even get that for the Boston Indoor Games.  We still have the same basic problem: the people in charge don't take track seriously as a professional spectator sport.  Until that changes, neither will anyone else.

What it takes to get a major international sporting event.  On Friday the sites for the 2018 and 2022 World Cup were announced.  In case you missed it, Russia beat out England (among others) for the 2018 Cup, and Qatar beat out the USA (among others) for the 2022 Cup.

Most sportswriters based in the US or UK complained long and loud about the choices, presuming that many FIFA voters were bought off by the vast petrodollars in both winning countries.  Given FIFA's history, it would be more surprising if there was no corruption involved in the voting process than if there was.

But there are legitimate reasons for FIFA's voters to have made the choices they did.  For detailed descriptions, read columns by Phil Hersch and Alan Abrahamson.  First and foremost is that the World Cup has never been to those two regions of the world.  Recall that back in '88 when FIFA chose the USA to host the 1994 Cup, it was also considered a surprise.  We beat out Brazil.  There were problems, too; we had to put down sod on a lot of turf fields, and even Boston was too hot for some European sides (never mind Orlando or Dallas).  But soccer is now a legitimate part of our sports landscape, which seemed a virtual impossibility back then.  In retrospect, it was a smart decision by FIFA.  If anywhere near the same could happen in eastern Europe and the middle east, this week's choices will also look smart.  Besides, what is there to lose?  Will Brits simply stop watching football because the World Cup is elsewhere?  There's a better chance they'll stop drinking.  Or the world will stop turning.

We also learned something else this week that is very telling.  Daegu's organizing committee plans to spend $190 million on this year's IAAF World Championships, more than double what anyone else has ever spent.  This is, of course, government money, and money the government will never recoup.  Korean politicians won't pay much if any price for that.  Compare this to the US and UK financial systems, which operate on the profit motive and where politician endure intense scrutiny. They simply wouldn't have dumped gigantic wads of cash on the upcoming World Cups. Qatar and Russia have money to burn, are authoritarian in nature (and therefore immune to public opinion), and are willing to overspend.  Besides, there will be oil and natural gas in those two countries a decade from now.  Would you bet your biggest showcase on the financial conditions of the US and UK in ten years' time?

Following road racing will inevitably lead to disappointment.  The Montferlan 15k run was supposed to match up super-marathoners Samuel Wanjiru ('08 Olympic, '10 Chicago champ) and Patrick Makau (2:04:48 PR).  As is usual for a second-tier road race, though, one of the two dropped out citing some lame-ass reason.  This time it was Wanjiru.  And then the whole damn thing was called off because of black ice on the roads.  What was supposed to be a really exciting race fizzled out into nothing.  And this happens more often than not.

The US Olympic Committee's TV channel ideas are tabled.  In 2009 the USOC announced plans to launch its own TV network, which went over like a lead balloon with the IOC.  This issue alone may have been enough to torpedo Chicago's Olympic bid.  This week USOC CEO Scott Blackmun told the AP that the idea is so far in the distance that "It's not on the back burner. It's not on the radar screen today."  But the idea is still alive, at least in theory.

Saturday, December 04, 2010

Trivia of the week

Last week's question: Of the standard (Olympic) events, what is the oldest meet record at the Drake Relays?

Answer: 7.96m (26' 1.5") by Ralph Boston way back in 1961.

This week's question: When was the last time a Big Ten team won the NCAA championship in men's outdoor track?

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Friday, December 03, 2010

What's On: The Weekend

Road Racing
The 64th Fukuoka International Open Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be run in the Japanese city on Sunday (Saturday night in the USA). Once the unofficial World Championships, this men-only race is still one of the best in the tier just below the World Marathon Majors.
Race website
Live webcast: 10:00 PM EST on Saturday night at Keyhole TV
Japan Running News viewing guide / IAAF preview

The Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon, an IAAF Silver Label Road Race, will be run in the southeast Asian island nation on Sunday.
Race website
IAAF preview

The Wincanton Montferland Run 15k will be run on Sunday in the Dutch city of Heerenberg. Super-marathoners Samuel Wanjiru and Patrick Makau are slated to run.
Race website

The Safaricom Great Lake National Marathon will be run on Sunday in the Kenyan town of Kisumu.

The Cal International Marathon will be run on Sunday in Sacramento.
Race website
Race preview

The MetroPCS Dallas White Rock Marathon will be run in the Texas city on Sunday. An interesting twist added on is a special high school relay trying to beat the pros.
Race website
Live local TV coverage: 8:00 AM (local time) Sunday on WFAA (Channel 8)
Race preview

The Rock N’ Roll Las Vegas Marathon and Half Marathon will be run in Sin City on Sunday.

Cross Country
The fifth meet in the KCB/Athletics Kenya cross country series takes place on Saturday in Kisii.

The Ethiopian Clubs Cross Country Championships will be held on Saturday in Addis Ababa.

The Cross International de la Constitucion takes place on Sunday in the Spanish town of Alcobendas.

The NCAA Division II Cross Country Championships will be held on Saturday at Tom Sawyer State Park in Louisville KY.
Live webcast: 11:00 AM EST at
Meet website / Flotrack coverage
Previews: NCAA / Courier-Journal
Let's Run prediction contest

College track starts up. list of meets

High Schools
Nike Cross Country Nationals, aka NXN, will be held on Saturday at Portland Meadows Racetrack in Oregon.
Meet website / Flotrack coverage
Live webcast: 1:05 PM (EST) Saturday at
Previews: Flotrack / USA Today Milesplit boys / Milesplit girls

The Foot Locker West regionals will be held on Saturday at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut CA.
Meet website

Track on TV
Running the Sahara, 1:00 PM Friday on SHO Extreme and 7:30 AM Sunday on SHO Next
NCAA Division II XC Championships live webcast, 11:00 Saturday at
Nike Cross Nationals live webcast, 1:05 PM Saturday at
Fukuoka Marthon live webcast, 10:00 PM Saturday at Keyhole TV
Dallas White Rock Marathon live local TV,  8:00 AM (local time) Sunday on WFAA (Dallas Channel 8)
Prefontaine, 8:00 PM Sunday on Showtime Family Zone
Endurance, 5:45 AM Monday on SHO Extreme