Wednesday, April 29, 2009

IOC Retest Catches 3 Track and Field Athletes - but did they catch them all?

The buzz today is that three track and field athletes have been identified as having tested positive for the blood boosting drug CERA as a result of the IOC's retest of samples submitted by athletes in Beijing. On the one hand this is good news. WADA was so excited that it gave the following statement,  "WADA commends the IOC, once again, for its approach." "Retesting of samples as science advances is a powerful weapon in the fight against doping in sport, as shown in a number of cases at the 2008 Tour de France."    "We suggest that athletes who may be tempted to cheat keep this reality in mind," said WADA president John Fahey. "We believe that retrospective testing serves as a strong deterrent."

And I strongly agree. Any time we can make inroads into the doping culture and catch drug cheats, its always a good thing. But given the results of the recent past, I've not had a lot of confidence in our drug testing policy, or the results we have gotten - especially given the lack of transparency regarding drug testing in the sport. So I started reading through the various articles and data to find out not only who tested positive, but just how that ranked among other sports and against the number of tests administered.

What did I discover? Well I found out that the three athletes were 1500 meter gold medalist Rashid Ramzi of Bahrain, Greek race walker Athanasia Tsoumeleka and Croatian 800-meter runner Vanja Perisic . Further reading lead me to the numbers: The IOC said it conducted retests of 948 samples for CERA (847) and insulin (101) from the 4,770 drug tests carried out before and during the August 8-24 Games in Beijing.

And that's when I started to go "Hmmm". Because that's only about 20% of the available samples. So my question was, as it has been for some time, how did they decide which samples to test? So I continued searching articles and came across the following information from the Associated Press: The testing began in January and focused mainly on endurance events in cycling, rowing, swimming and track and field.

Now THAT is a narrow grouping, and one that clearly misses the mark. Because anyone that has followed track and field since 2002 has read something about the BALCO investigation. And while THG (the undetectable designer drug used by all the athletes) was common in all the busts of those athletes involved with BALCO, so was EPO and Insulin! All of these athletes were using "cocktails" of drugs that included both these items. Sprinters Dwain Chambers, Tim Montgomery, Kelli White, and Marion Jones, and throwers John McEwen, Kevin Toth and C.J. Hunter. They all used these drugs in tandem. And outside of the "BALCO probe" we've had busts of sprinters such as Alvin Harrison and Antonio Pettigrew who have also used EPO and were banned from the sport as a result.

So knowing that sprinters and throwers also use EPO the immediate question that went through my mind was: why did the retest only target "endurance events"? Because looking at the small percentage of samples retested combined with the limiting factor of "endurance events" I feel like I'm watching a murder investigation where a local DA arrests SOMEBODY to calm the public down and convince them that they are getting the job done! When in reality the real killer is most likely still out there preparing for yet another murder. Or in this case we catch a handful while the likelihood that there are many more out there getting away with using CERA or Insulin is extremely high given that we know we've missed a large population of athletes that would use and gain benefit from these drugs!

The real irony is that reading the message boards after it was first announced that there were some positive tests following the retesting is that fans have been holding their collective breath to see what sprinter(s) were caught- because the fans know that sprinters use EPO and Insulin! So why don't those in charge of drug testing know this?

Of course sprint fans can all breathe a sigh of relief now knowing who was caught, and that the retest most likely wasn't administered on their favorites samples. Which brings me back to the question of why not? On the one hand we have IOC vice-president Thomas Bach saying that no athlete should feel safe as a result of follow up doping controls to expose drug cheats. But then, on the other hand knowing that only 20% of samples were retested tells me that 80% should feel 100% safe - especially if you are not linked to an endurance event!

You see when it comes to drug testing, to paraphrase a friend, until we put tougher rules in place and hold EVERYONE accountable we will never have equity in our sport! Allowing countries to go without testing agencies in place and not testing the samples of athletes for substances that their discipline is known to have used just cries out that the sport is not serious about catching cheats! Just as using antiquated Urinalysis as the basis for testing when Blood and DNA testing are available.

Track and field conducts drug testing like a District Attorney up for reelection and in the middle of a major murder spree - it catches someone to appease the people and give the impression that the job is getting done. The problem, as with the DA and the murder spree, is that it still leaves guilty people committing wrongful acts - in this case running doped.

I'm glad that these three individuals have been caught. That's three less drug cheats lining up to race. But I can't be happy until ALL cheats are off the track AND the field - and the sport shouldn't be happy either. Knowing that the test works, I would implore the IOC to go back and check ALL available samples from Beijing - especially the sprinters, hurdlers and throwers since we KNOW that they too gain from the use of EPO and Insulin. It's the right thing to do, and should be done. After all, wouldn't you like to know the TOTAL number of drug cheats from Beijing, and wouldn't you want them ALL taken off the track? Or are we just interested in stopping a few?

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jeter to Compete in Guadaloupe

Speaking with a friend earlier today, I was informed that current world sprint leader Carmelita Jeter, will be running a sprint double in Guadaloupe this weekend. Jeter currently leads the world in both short sprints with marks of 10.96 and 22.59.

While not a "major" competition, Guadaloupe has often been a site for sprinters to go and get a good start to their seasons. Just last year, Lashawn Merritt ran 44.34 there on his way to a #1 ranking in the 400 meters.

Jeter has looked very good so far this season, including her electrifying anchor this past weekend at the Penn Relays. I expect something fast from her this weekend.

Osaka Grand Prix Start Lists Are Up

Thanks to reader Yvette Graf I have the start list for the Osaka Grand Prix. If you click on the link at the right under "Major Meet Links" you will be taken to the site. It is partly in English, partly in Japanese, but you will be able to see who will be competing and results will be available during the meet.

Top competitors will include Rodney Martin and Marc Burns in the 100 meters (Martin also entered in the 200), Jeremy Wariner, Sean Wroe and John Steffensen in the 400. Jeff Riseley in the 800. David Payne in the 110H. Kerron Clement and Bershawn Jackson in the 400H. Donald Thomas in the HJ, Brad Walker in the PV, and Trevell Quinley and Miguel Pate in the LJ. Women competitors include Sheena Tosta, Tasha Danvers and Tiffany Ross Williams in the 400H and Hyleas Fountain, Grace Upshaw and Brianna Glenn in the LJ.

Shaping up to be a good meet.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Where's the Information?

With the end of the relay carnival portion of the season, excitement turns to what I call the "pre-European" invitationals. That series of meets leading up to National Championships that includes meets like New York, Carson, Eugene, Doha, Osaka, Kingston and others. The meets are always hot, with good to great competition and serve to really get fans hyped leading into the various National Championships.

So, being the avid fan that I am, I went in search of information to find out what type of matchups we can expect. Now I understand that lineups may not be completely ironed out for some meets as they are still weeks away. But I expected to at least get a snippet of information - enough to get me excited about "who else" might line up on the track.

First search was for the Jamaica Invitational , or the Kingston meet as many call it. And I find - nothing. No web site, no start lists, and no articles highlighting the upcoming meet - and it is only FIVE DAYS AWAY! I've emailed some coaches to see if they have athletes that are going, and while I've found out about a couple of athletes that will be attending, no one I have talked to has any additional information.

I did similar searches for the Doha and Osaka meets, and got the same results - nothing. Again no web sites, no start lists, and no articles highlighting the meets, which means that no press releases have been sent out. And these are all major international competitions, approximately 10 days away, with results that will be on par with any of the Visa Series, Golden League, or European Circuit meets. Yet the best source of information will be second hand through the results section of the IAAF web site.

While these meets are all well attended at home, they are international in nature and thus serve a larger audience. Fans all over the world will want up to the minute information in what has become the Information Age. A web site that contains current news, history, photos, videos, athlete profiles, and other media/multi media data is a must. And no site is complete without "LIVE" RESULTS, because we die hard fans will be sitting in front of our computers thousands of miles away "watching" each event through the immediate results that are provided. Then there are those meets sophisticated enough to provide us with live video streaming of the event!

This is what makes up the elite meet experience for the fan at home when attending in person, or watching on television is just not a viable alternative. Personally, I don't think any meet should be granted "Permit" status by the IAAF without having at least a rudimentary web site in place. "Grand Prix" and "Super Grand Prix" status should require everything up to LIVE video streaming. And all National and Global Championships should be working on providing LIVE streaming of their events.

This is how we can build our audience in the New Millennium - by harnessing and utilizing the capabilities of the Internet. Today track and field can reach far beyond the boundaries of any individual stadium. If we want to attract today's sporting consumer, utilizing the Internet is how to do it. Not by cutting back on the product in the stadium, but by bringing it to the consumer in the manner to which he/she is becoming accustomed to receiving it.

And at the very least, keep us die hard fans - the sports' base - happy and engaged by giving us the information that we need to stay connected. It's hard to follow the game without a program. And some of these meets aren't giving us a program. So those of you out there that are in charge of meets get on the ball and get your sites/programs together!

Weekend Wrap Up

The BIG noise was made at Penn in the USA vs the World races as they sat center stage and had the attention of the world. But there were other top level marks turned in at Penn in some of the collegiate races as well. Texas AM won both men's and women's 4x1 AND 4x2 events to serve notice that their relay teams

On the men's side their 38.79 in the 4x1 was the #2 time collegiately this year behind Florida State's list leading 38.75. Florida State was second at Penn in 38.82. In the 4x2 Texas AM's 1:20.32 was not only the fastest time in the world this year, but the 7th fastest time in collegiate history and made them the 2nd fastest school ever!

On the women's side, their 1:30.28 win in the 4x2 was a collegiate leader on the season, and their 43.10 win in the 4x1 is only behind two marks they themselves had run prior to Penn, marking them as a very strong favorite at this year's national championships.

In the longer 4x4 Florida State took over the yearly lead from Baylor with a sizzling 3:01.54 just ahead of St Augustine's 3:02.10 which was also faster than Baylor's previous yearly lead. Florida State was lead by the Borlee twins Kevin (45.1) and Jonathon (44.4), while St Augustine's anchor Josh Scott (44.5) was flying as well. I'm looking forward to these two squads joining Baylor (3:02.68) and Florida (3:02.84) for what should be one hot close to this year's National Collegiate Championships.

Elsewhere, this weekend's other major meet was in Des Moines Iowa at the Drake Relays. Unfortunately the weather played a typical roll in things in Iowa as rain and cold temperatures kept things down for the most part. The big downer being an injury to home town favorite Lolo Jones in the 100H. Not sure how serious the injury (hamstring?) is at this point, but at the very least it will slow down her training and racing schedule.

In spite of the weather a couple of sterling efforts were turned in on the track as Jeremy Wariner (400, 45.06) and Ryan Wilson (110H, 13.21) both ran the 2nd fastest times in the world in spite of the poor conditions. Wilson started cautiously in the outside lane of the track in his event, but closed with a rush to record his time. Wariner took off in the 3rd 100 of his race, as he typically does, and simply ran away from the field.

Watching this Wariner's race in Drake and Lashawn Merritt's anchor leg at Penn I'll go out on a very short limb and say that the 400 is going to be one of the highlight races this year. Both athlete's seem very fit and intent on improving on last year's performances. Which can only be a treat for us!

Speaking of fitness, was nice to see Wallace Spearmon in the 4x4 at Penn (45.50) and Tyson Gay in the open 400 in Arizona (46.34). Carmelita Jeter ran a few 400's before opening up in the 200 (22.59) and then the 100 (10.96). Hopefully this kind of strength work will pay the same dividends for the men.

And before I forget, Penn recorded a "first" (at least to my knowledge) in the announcing booth this weekend, as they had an all black announcing crew (Ato Boldon, Carol Lewis, and Lewis Johnson) for the first time. Props to CBS for this unique first.

Now that the Relay Carnivals are done it's on to Doha, Osaka, Kingston, New York and Carson. Let's get this party started!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Tyson Gay Opens Season In Arizona

While most of our top sprinters were running relays at Penn, Tyson Gay got his 2009 campaign going at the low key Sun Devil Invitational in Tempe Arizona. Last month the Adidas Running camp revealed that Tyson Gay's fall and winter training were delayed due to a knee injury. Judging from yesterday's result Tyson has gotten back on track as he won the 400 meters in 46.34 to set a new personal best in the event. Tyson's previous best was a 47.08 run indoors in Fayetteville AR in 2007 - the same season that Gay won both the 100 and 200 at the World Championships in Osaka. It would appear that Tyson's training is progressing and that he will be a major factor in the sprints this year.

Sun Devil Invitational Results link.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Penn Relays - US vs The World

It's April. Teams for this year's World Championships won't be chosen until June. The World championships themselves won't be held until the end of August in Berlin Germany. But this year's Penn Relays was billed as a series of rematches between the US and Jamaica!

There has been much hype about Jamaica taking over as the world's sprint power since they won the Men's 100, 200 and 4x1 and the Women's 100 and 200 in Beijing. So much so that USATF CEO Doug Logan has had talks with Jamaica's federation about having a dual meet between the US and Jamaica. But if today's Penn Relays was any indication, talk of the demise of US sprint supremacy may be just a bit premature as US squads dominated the "US vs The World" section of the Penn Relays and sent word that Beijing was merely that occasional hiccup that occurs occasionally on the world stage.

US sprinters, still in the early stages of their preparation for the meets that really matter later in the season, showed up and through their performances said "don't make the mistake of counting us out". It started with the opening gun of the men's 4x1 as Walter Dix gave notice that his negative wind 10.00 a couple of weeks ago was no fluke as he blazed the turn on the leadoff leg to give the US a lead it would never relinquish. After Shawn Crawford's third leg proved that age is just a number, Doc Patton had clear sailing to the finish line. Jamaican anchor, Asafa Powell, attempted to give chase, but that lasted only a few strides then quickly slowed succumbing to the ankle injury that was reported earlier. Patton, meanwhile, crossed the line in 37.92 taking over the world lead from Jamaica who had run 38.10 in an earlier meet. A second US squad of Terrance Trammell, Mark Jelks, Ivory Williams and Mike Rogers took second in 38.36 just edging out the Olympic silver medal team from Trinidad (38.37 here) anchored by Olympic 100 silver medalist Richard Thompson.

The women continued the theme of "redemption" as leadoff Lauryn Williams repeated Dix's performance by blazing the turn and giving the women a lead they would never relinquish. Allyson Felix held form before Jamaican Kerron Stewart tried to bring her team back on the third leg. Games gold medalist Shelly Ann Fraser attempted to do the same on anchor, but current world leader, Carmelita Jeter, turned on the jets and ran away from Fraser on her way to leading the US squad to a 42.40 victory and world lead over Jamaica's 42.77.

Jamaica notched a win of their own, however, as their women set a world best in the Sprint Medley Relay (3:34.56 ) as Kenia Sinclair (1:57.43) outran Hazel Clark (1:58.03) on the anchor leg. But hopes of any further victories were put to rest with two convincing victories by US 4x4 squads. The women started off with Monica Hargrove (51.9) handing a lead over to Natasha Hastings (51.0) who held it in spite of running with only one shoe for the majority of the race. That effectively ended the race as Allyson Felix (49.64) and Sanya Richards (50.52) finished the race without challenge. The winning time of 3:23.08 being another world leading performance.

The men finished the day off with another world leading victory (2:59.78) as Kerron Clement (45.7), Angelo Taylor (44.6), David Neville (45.27) and Lashawn Merritt (44.26) stayed ahead of a tenacious Behamian squad of Andrea Williams (46.4), Michael Mathieu (45.3), Nathaniel McKinney (44.24), and Chris Brown (44.35) who were second in 3:00.29 gamely holding off the USA Blue team of Torrence (46.0), Everhart (44.8), Spearmon (45.50) and Williamson (44.25). Their 3:00.58 showing just how deep the US is in the quarter mile.

As I said at the start of this post, it is only April and there is much track and field left to be run. But today did prove two things. 1) That having one great meet does not make for domination. 2) As I said in a previous post, there's no need to panic over US sprinting!

More on Penn and Drake coming up.

Early Weekend News

Relay running takes center stage at Drake and Penn, but distance runners made some noise on Friday at a couple of meets here on the West Coast.

In Oregon, Colorado steeplechaser Jenny Barringer opened up her season in the 1500 meters and won in a world leading time of 4:08.38. The 1500 seemed to be a good race to run in Oregon as half miler Andrew Weating moved up in distance and won in 3:40.92.

In Berkeley, miler Shannon Rowbury moved up in distance to the 5000 meters and set a stadium record and world leading time of 15:12.95! At twice the distance, Sam Chelanga of little Liberty College set a Collegiate Record and world leader with his 27:28.48 victory! An outstanding early season mark. Anthony Famiglietti ran a nice 27:39.68 in 4th. Nice to see our middle and long distance runners running some off distance races early and doing well!

Today should be highlighted by action at Drake and Penn. The highlight at Drake should be the open 400 where Jeremy Wariner takes to the track. He could get a push from former World Championships medalist Andrew Rock who will also be competing in the race.

Penn will be highlighted by USA vs the World Relays, though one of the featured events, the men's 4x1, lost some luster when Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell pulled out of the event due to injury. Though reports say he may run in the open 100. Apparently ankle pain keeps him off the relay turn but allows him to run the 100 meters!

Several top Americans will be at Penn and will be taking part in relay duty, including Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards, Lauryn Williams, Wallace Spearmon, Lashawn Merritt, and Walter Dix among others. Meanwhile 2007 double World Champion Tyson Gay looks to be opening his season today at the Sun Devil Invitational in Arizona taking a turn at the 400 meters.

Should be a hot day of track and field. Penn Relays will be televised today on ESPN2 starting at 1pm PST. Drake will be televised tomorrow on ESPN2 starting at 11am PST. Gonna be a good weekend.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Fat Cats and Revolutions

As I've scanned the news on the sport this week a couple of "economy" related discussions have caught my eye. The first was USATF CEO Doug Logan's most recent entry to his blog, he stated that he believes that the current economic downturn will benefit the sport of track and field. How? Well apparently he feels that sports have gotten to be too excessive and catering to the "Fat Cats", and that the fall of these "Fat Cats" opens the door for sports fans to start moving towards track and field - because we are better suited to the "hard hat", "lunch bucket" crowd. As a matter of fact he cites the fact that he's never seen sushi served at a track meet, as proof that we are better suited to the common man.

While Mr. Logan seems focused on the presentation of our product, with respect to his assessment of the current economy and its potential affect on the sport, he is missing the most critical connection between the economy and track and field. That the well being of "Fat Cats" and corporations are critical to the survival and needed expansion of the sport!

It's been tough enough for the sport to gain corporate funding in a strong economic climate such as we had for the first half of this decade. Even with businesses coming out of the 1990's riding the wave of the "Internet Bubble" and coffers filled with money, track and field was the recipient of only a small amount of that money. Sure, we began to see some nice contracts from the shoe companies to individuals like Allyson Felix, Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Alan Webb and a handful of others, but it was still only a small portion of our athletes that were benefiting. The sport as a whole, especially here in the US, did not garner near the corporate support necessary to grow the sport to where it should be by now into our third decade of "professionalism".

Now, with many of our large companies needing Federal bail outs, facing bankruptcy, or just plain downsizing that really doesn't bode well for the sport. Just how much discretionary spending do we expect from Visa in the near future? When was the last time you saw a GMC Envoy commercial for one of our athletes? Can you remember the last major contract from a shoe company outside of Walter Dix last year? And speaking of Mr. Dix, isn't he in a dispute with his current agent in part because she has not been able to deliver the level of endorsements that were supposed to be coming his way? I've also read that Lashawn Merritt, the dethroner of multi gold medalist Jeremy Wariner, hasn't cashed in on his Olympic fame to the amount that he had anticipated either.

I'm sorry Mr. Logan, but there is nothing good about the economic downturn for track and field. As a matter of fact, being the low man on the totem pole so to speak, that "trickle" down would be expected to become more like a "drip" unless USATF gets off the ball and becomes more creative and innovative with their fundraising and marketing.

Which takes me to a question that was asked recently: Does Track and Field Need a Revolution? An interesting question that was recently asked by in a two part article - part 1, part 2 - that they ran recently. In their short series they had interviews from several individuals close to the sport including some athlete's managers and meet promoters.

While I found their responses quite interesting I can't help but feel that most of those that are in positions to help the sport grow apparently can't see the forest for the trees! I say this because too often I hear influential people talking about "overhauling" track and field and suggesting major changes in an effort to appeal to the "new generation"! You know, the video game crowd with the attention span of a gnat.

While I understand and appreciate that 3 to 4 hour track meets may be too long for some people, I'm sorry, but real professional sports - actually real sports in general - aren’t out there trying to reinvent themselves because the general population has changed! Track keeps eliminating events at meets with many having only about half of the available events on their schedules. There has even been talk of having a meet with only sprint events, and there have been meets with only distance events.

I don't recall basketball eliminating any of its quarters, nor has football! Baseball still plays nine innings of indefinite length - and often goes into extra innings! The last time I checked today's young people are avid fans of these sports! As a matter of fact much of the "gear" (clothing) they wear is modeled after the jersey's, hats, and other paraphernalia sold by the NFL, NBA, and MLB!

As for our brother and sister sports on the Olympic agenda, I haven't seen swimming, diving, soccer, gymnastics or any other major sport change its schedule of events in response to today's "new generation" either! Only track and field feels the need to "cannibalize" itself in order to attract fans. I wonder if it is any coincidence that only track and field is struggling with its fan base as it goes through this "identity crisis"?

I agree that we have meets that seem to go on forever. But they "drag" along, not because we run too many events, but because we take SO much time in between them. Many elite meets take enough time in between events to have a coffee break. Now THAT is poor presentation and would turn off the best of fans, let alone those new to the sport.

Take away all the "coffee breaks" and leave the events on the schedule and you eliminate dead time and add excitement - THAT is what the sport is about! When you eliminate events you eliminate excitement and drama. A meet without the 200 meters takes Allyson Felix, Wallace Spearmon, Xavier Carter, Usain Bolt, and perhaps even Lashawn Merritt, OFF the track! That is a travesty. No shot put and we are deprived of Adam Nelson, Christian Cantwell, and Reese Hoffa and the theater that they bring to the field events! A meet without the Intermediate hurdles eliminates Kerron Clement, Bershawn Jackson and Tiffany Williams. And far too often these events are left off of many meet schedules, as are others.

Every event missing from a meet deprives the fans of potential drama, action, excitement, and stars of the sport. It takes away competitive opportunities from the athletes, which in turn makes it harder for them to stay sharp, and more importantly, harder to earn a living!

If the goal is to improve our presentation to the public, then let's look for ways to suck up empty space - not take the product (the athletes) away. For example, instead of 15/20 minutes between events, cut it back to 10 minutes - so that we can keep the action going. If they want to see an exciting meet, promoters should visit the California State High School Championships. No wasted time there, and the crowds are large, excited and have a great time! The meet runs ALL of the events - for both boys AND girls - and it doesn't use any gimmicks! But the competition is always hot and competitive and nearly non-stop - and THAT is what track and field is about! Provide star athletes and they will come - and they will watch as long as the competition remains hot!

Before I close there was one idea that was brought up that I did like, and that was having a REAL World Championships! Not the Olympic imitation that we currently have. You know, every nation is invited, three entries per nation, etc. We have the Olympics for that. A REAL World Championships would simply invite the best the world has to offer regardless of nationality. Say the top 32 athletes in the world in each event based on current marks. Sure some events would be heavy on a few nations. The US and Caribbean may dominate the sprints. The African nations may dominate the distance events. But at the end of the day, each event would be represented by the best athletes the world has to offer and that would be a real world championship! No one deserving left at home because his or her nation is too "strong" in an event. No boring opening rounds to eliminate individuals we knew were going to be eliminated before they boarded the plane. The Olympics were created for Good Will. The World Championships should be held to see the very best go against the very best!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Weekend Wrap Up

This weekend saw some pretty good performances, but the best of the bunch had to be at Mt SAC as Carmelita Jeter took the world lead and set a new PR of 10.96 (+0.9) in the women's 100 meters. Jeter came out of nowhere in '07 to win the bronze medal in the event in Osaka with a then PR of 11.02. Last year she ran 10.97 at the US Olympic Trials but failed to make the team for Beijing. This year she's been running better and better every week. Starting with a few 400 meter runs early outdoors before taking the world lead in the 200 last weekend at 22.59. This weekend's run shows that Jeter should be a serious contender to repeat her medal winning in Berlin - with a possible step up in medal color.

Another who looked like he is trying to improve his position nationally and internationally is quarter miler Lionel Larry who won the 200 meters here in 20.34. What is most impressive is that Larry won the race running the tight turn of Lane 1! Larry made the squad for the Osaka World Championships in '07, but was injured and unable to compete in the open event. If his improvement in speed is any indication, he will be in the hunt for a spot on this year's team for Berlin.

The man he will be chasing will be last year's #1 ranked quarter miler, Olympic gold medalist Lashawn Merritt. Merritt gave notice that he will be hard to catch as he opened up himself over 200 meters by taking the world lead in a swift 20.17 (+0.7) in his "off" event! Merritt's debut was his best opening ever in the event and a clear indication that he won't be relinquishing his title without a fight.

The man that wants that title the most just might be Jeremy Wariner - the man that won the '04 Olympic title, as well as the '04 and '07 World titles, before losing last year to Merritt in Beijing (and the Trials and in Berlin & Stuttgart). Wariner competed in the 200 himself this weekend at the Michael Johnson Classic in Waco Texas. Unfortunately for Wariner, Baylor Jr., Trey Harts took down MJ's longstanding meet record in the 200 with a nice 20.29 (+0.8) win - in the process he also beat World and Olympic 400 standout Jeremy Wariner (20.56). Harts In a separate heat, indoor 60 meter sprinter Michael Rogers ran a 20.77 of his own, indicating he may be working on his strength to improve his 100 meter PR (10.06) later in the season.

If its MJ's meet then we need to talk about the quarter. In 400 meter action, Latoy Williiams of small South Plains college and the Bahamas took over the world lead with his 45.01 victory in the collegiate race. The Bahamas was well represented in the event as Andrae Williams (BAH) won the invitational section in 45.13. And if it’s a Baylor meet and we're talking about the 400 then we have to talk about the 4x4. In the Invitational Division, a team of Reggie Witherspoon, Jeremy Wariner, Wallace Spearmon and Darold Williamson won easily in 3:04.22. First Wallace Spearmon sighting this spring! In the collegiate race it was Baylor with an easy 3:05.47 win.

Interestingly at the Auburn War Eagle Invitational Florida ran 3:05.92. Interesting because just a couple of weeks ago both schools ran 3:02 and change at separate meets. Anyone else starting to get the feeling that when these two schools hook up in this event that something fast is going to happen? Speaking of Florida and the War Eagle Invitational, for those that have been waiting for a Jeff Demps sighting he ran his first 100 this year (and following his football injury) and was 6th overall in 10.41 (+1.4). Trinidad's Marc Burns was the overall winner in a nice 10.05 (+1.4) - #2 mark on the season so far. While another Florida frosh, multi talented Christian Taylor took a break from the 4x4 (they ran the 3:05 without him) and won the long jump in 25'4" (26' 3.75" indoors this winter). After setting an indoor WJR in the Triple Jump during the indoor season and running 45.34 a couple of weeks ago, I'm starting to think this kid can do anything he wants to do.

The distance events were fairly quiet this weekend, which is why I'm talking about the sprints - but in today's Boston Marathon Kara Goucher (2:32:25) and Ryan Hall (2:09:40) both took 3rd place in the Boston Marathon, giving the US someone on the podium in both the men's and women's races for the first time in nearly a quarter century! Third place usually isn't the spot I get excited about, but when it comes to US distance running it’s a reason to shout! I'll give my ideas on our distance situation in another post soon, but right now I'm excited about these youngsters because both display the kind of heart we need out of our distance runners. And this kind of strenghth should do wonders for Kara in her 5000 and 10000 races on the track.

Not a bad weekend over all. And next up we have Drake and Penn. Penn is always a good meet, but more importantly seems to be the point in the spring where we turn the corner from the Relay meets to the Invitationals (New York Reebok, Carson Adidas, Nike Prefontaine) and we step on the gas on the way to Nationals. So it only gets better from here!

Friday, April 17, 2009

Mt SAC Should Kick the Season Up a Notch

As the season begins to hit it's stride we now see larger gatherings of elite level athletes than we have in previous meets this spring. Where earlier meets had one or two elites in attendance, Mt SAC will give us that first real "Invitational" feel!

Mt SAC will host a plethora of talent, especially in the relays, sprints and hurdles. In the women's 4x1 we get to see Allyson Felix as she will pair with Ginnie Powell, Michelle Perry and Natasha Hastings. The men's event will see a team of Shawn Crawford, Kerron Clement, Rodney Martin and Craig Everhart going against a team with Leroy Dixon, and European's Tyrone Edgar and Martial Mbandjock.

The open sprints will include Leroy Dixon in the men's 100 and Dwain Chambers in his outdoor 200 meter debut. The women's sprints will see Carmelita Jeter, Torri Edwards, Carol Rodriguez, and Natasha Hastings compete - all former World and Olympic competitors.

Olympic silver and bronze medalists Sheena Tosta and Tasha Danvers will compete against each other in the 400IH, while American Record Holder Dominique Arnold will return to the 110HH wars against young studs Jeshua Anderson and Ryan Wilson after a couple of down seasons due to injuries.

In the 800 meters 2008 NCAA champion Geena Bell will take on 2007 champion Alysia Johnson in both the 800 and 1500 meter events. And Amy Acuff and Stacy Dragila will begin their farewell tours as both will be retiring at the end of the season.

There should be much to talk about by the end of this weekend.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Poll Results

The Polls have closed. I would like to thank those of you that participated. Given the level of participation I will continue to run polls on the sport. The results of the first polls were:

Should USATF pursue the development of a track and field "league" in the US?

Yes - 40 - 76%
No - 10 - 19%
Undecided - 2 - 3%

Which collegiate men's squad will win this year's NCAA 4x1 title?

Florida - 14 - 40%
LSU - 10 - 28%
TxAM - 5 - 14%
FlSt - 3 - 8%
Clemson - 2 -5%
Other - 1 - 2%

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

What Happened to the Dual Meet?

As the sport continues to try and find ways to market itself and improve its popularity, I continue to wonder why it simply doesn't look at what has worked in the past! After all, track and field is not some new sport trying to find its way. We're as old as the Olympics themselves and have a rich and storied history.

And a big part of that history, a part that seems to be forgotten, is that of the Dual Meet - one team going head to head against another. Now, high schools still run dual meets - it's an integral part of their season. As a matter of fact, some of my early memories of track and field were watching rival high schools go toe to toe - knowing that one day I would take my place in one of those rivalries. As a matter of fact, I remember running in Jr High School against our biggest rival in a meet that had standing room only attendance! Now that was great track and field!

And as big as high school dual meets were, nothing could compare to collegiate dual meets! Back in the 60's, 70's and 80's the only thing bigger than UCLA vs USC were the Trials and Games themselves! Start the day off with a blistering 4x1 to set the stage. Then spend a couple of hours waiting for results to filter in from all over the track and the field as points added up in event after event. Athletes checking in to see what the current tally was to figure out what they had to do to try and put their team back in contention or to lengthen the lead. Pole vaulters, triple jumpers, milers, quartermilers, hurdlers, and high jumpers, all working together towards one goal - victory. And if you were lucky, as a spectator, it would all come down to the final event - the 4x4! Nothing beat the excitement of a couple of "mile" relay squads going toe to toe for today's team championship! THAT was entertainment!

I remember dual meets where Willie Smith ran 44.73; Clancy Edwards 20.03, 38.8 4x1's and 3:05 4x4s! Here in California, UCLA, USC, Stanford and Cal used to get together for the Double Dual with four teams competing and two pairs of schools scoring against each other - i.e. UCLA v Stanford and USC v Cal! Track and field in the spring was exciting EVERY weekend, and the Relay/Invitational meets were just icing on the cake.

And if THAT wasn't enough, the cold war era brought us USA v Soviet Union, and USA v East Germany. Olympic quality competition and excitement wrapped up in a bow in two days time! I remember watching Valeri Borzov v Steve Williams at Edwards Stadium in Berkeley and Evelyn Ashford v Marita Koch at the Coliseum in Los Angeles. Now those were real showdowns!

So what happened? Well, Title IX seemed to take the wind out of the sails of collegiate duals. At least that is the time frame in which college duals went the way of the dinosaur. Now colleges send their athletes to invitational meets to get them ready for conference, regionals, and nationals. Though I must say that dual meet competition seemed to keep the athletes much sharper during the season.

Dual meets with elite/national teams seemed to end with the fall of the Iron Curtain/Berlin Wall! Dual meets were a way to maintain bragging rights between Olympics and track and field was a big "weapon" during the "Cold War".

But Title IX and the Cold War aside, what seems to have been missed is just how much theater dual meets brought to the sport of track and field! It was the one element that brought the "team" concept to the table. Duals helped with the development of rivalries within the sport, and it brought a healthy dose of nationalism to the table. It also provided a stage for many of our young athletes prior to their stepping up to Olympic competition. And there was no better training ground for learning how to compete under pressure than competing in a high level dual meet!

The college season could really use the return of the dual meet. Right now, the only difference between running in college and running as an elite athlete is that college athletes have to run at conference, regionals, and nationals in May. Otherwise they all run at Mt SAC, Texas Relays, Florida Relays, Penn Relays, Kansas Relays, and any of a number of other "Relay Carnivals" held throughout the spring. Can't tell the collegiates from the pros until Conference time! Of course the relay meets have adapted by having University/College sections and "Invitational" sections to separate the talent. Personally I'd much rather see UCLA v USC, or Alabama v Auburn, or Georgia v Georgia Tech, among others. Would make running in college seem more like, well, running in college! I think it would also help fans develop more of a following for the athletes - more of a local/team feel!

I would also like to see the National Federations get back to scheduling duals or quads to bring more international level competition to the fans outside of just the Olympics and World Championships. The emergence of Usain Bolt has prompted talk of a US v Jamaica dual meet. But it takes more than a couple of competitive races to make for a true rivalry. Three competitive events out of a full complement of sixteen doesn’t quite count as a rivalry - and a meet with only six or seven events only cheats the fans.

Now a "quad meet" that could really be exciting would be to take the US and Jamaica and add a couple of countries like Kenya and Russia. The US and Russia being solid all around teams, Jamaica with depth in the sprints, and Kenya strong in the middle and long distances! NOW you have a meet with world class potential in every event on the track AND the field and guaranteed excitement from start to finish!

Such a meet held in July (after national championships and before a Worlds or Olympics) and hosted somewhere like Berkeley with great site lines and excellent weather would be a draw for athletes and fans alike - and help build the sport here in the US by providing fans and would be fans with a birds eye view of some of the best athletes and competition on the planet! There's no better way to market the sport than great competition and a natural reason to cheer - nationalism.

You want to "rebuild" the sport in America, put some dual meets on the schedule!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Weekend Wrap Up

A typically low key Easter weekend except for some sprinters and hurdlers that are obviously taking the season quite seriously.

Most notable was Walter Dix who opened up his season at the Seminole Invitational in Tallahassee. Last week I said there was no need to panic over US sprinting and on queue Walter opened up at 10.00 (-1.1) to take over the world lead in the 100 meters. Given that Dix has only a few sub 10's to his credit this is a very noteworthy opening and indicates that we should see great things from Dix this year. No longer in college, and without injury for the first time in several years, it looks like Dix is ready to pair with Tyson Gay to form a very formidable duo in the 100/200! Especially given that, like Tyson, he is a very tenacious competitor.

Across the country at the Jackie Joyner Invitational in Los Angeles, Carmelita Jeter showed that quietly running open 400's this spring is going to pay dividends as she opened up in the 200 with a world leading 22.59 (+0.0). Jeter lead the 60 indoors at 7.11 to show improvement in her start. Now she is showing improved speed endurance. At this rate she will be ready to step up and improve both her PR (10.97) in the 100 as well as her bronze medal from the '07 World Championships. Jeter was an emerging talent in '07. This year could be her real coming out party.

The Miami Elite meet also found a couple of vets sprinting well early as Lauryn Williams 11.11 (+0.9), and Marlon Devonish 10.11 (+0.5) had notable times. Notable because Lauryn doesn't typically run this fast this early and Devonish was only .06 off of his PR! Both seem to be looking to improve on disappointments from '08 .

Also looking good in Miami was Ronnie Ash (Bethune Cookman) who ran 13.58 (+0.1) in the 110HH's and continues to look like the best collegiate hurdler this year as well as a potential emerging talent in the event.

The most anticipated meet this weekend was the Arcadia Invitational, an elite HS Invitational. Cool weather seemed to keep things slower than usual this year, as this meet is usually blazing hot. Still there were some nice marks turned in as Reggie Wyatt (La Sierra) turned in another National Leader with his 36.01 win. Not the HSR that he was hoping for, but he's still easily the class of the event this year and has several opportunities left to try and lower the mark.

There was also a nation leading hurdle double from Kori Carter (Claremont) 13.67/41.09 and a nice 4:08.51 mile from soph Elias Gedyon (Loyola). But the mark of the meet was turned in on the field as Anna Jelmini (Shafter) became #3 all time in the discus at 185' 5".

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Track Shorts - Spotlight on the Preps

Once every Blue Moon high school athletes take the spotlight in this sport. This weekend is one of those Blue Moons here in California as The Arcadia Invitational takes center stage in Southern California.

Once just a small local invitational meet, the Arcadia Invitational has grown to become the mid season "Preview" to the State High School Championships every year, as the top high school athletes from all over the state gather for early season bragging rights. The meet has become so large that it also attracts athletes from other parts of the country, with top athletes from Nevada and Arizona being semi regulars at the meet, and national leaders from many corners of the country often stopping in to take aim at California's best.

This year's meet will feature Reggie Wyatt (La Sierra HS) who ran a same meet 400/300IH double of 46.67/36.59 a couple of weeks ago to lead the nation in both events. He will be focusing on the hurdles at Arcadia and will be taking aim at the National High School Record of 35.28 set by Jeshua Anderson in 2007. How good is that mark? Well Bershawn Jackson (35.39) and Kerron Clement (35.42) last year's bronze and silver medalists in the intermediate hurdles in Beijing both fell short of this mark when they were in high school! It is indeed a stellar record. And Wyatt a stellar athlete that is very much capable of taking this mark down. His attempt to do so is reason enough to take in this meet.

There will be solid fields in every event and event by event previews can be found at Arcadia is one of the top meets in California every year - and that includes collegiate and elite meets. The competition, the atmosphere, the excitement, all make Arcadia a meet that is as good as it gets.

Speaking of high school meets, the past couple of weekends I've spent time at local invitationals watching high school athletes compete. Pleasant weather sitting in the stands watching lots of young people giving their all. If you haven't watched high schoolers or youth athletes compete recently, you should. As a matter of fact, elite athletes and coaches should be required to watch at least two such meets every season. Because these young people are the essence of the sport. They remind me of why I fell in love with this sport. The joy of competition. The community atmosphere of the sport. The thrill of setting a new personal best. The purity of simply doing the very best you can in pursuit of your own sense of excellence. And just plain having FUN! Go watch a high school or youth meet and catch that spirit all over again.

Monday, April 6, 2009

No Need To Panic Over US Sprinting

Now that the season is truly under way, it seems like a good time to look ahead at what the season may hold in store. But to look ahead I am going to take a glance backward, because it seems that a lot of unnecessary panic was generated after Beijing.

Panic because we did not do as well as we thought we would. So much so that a task force was put together to evaluate what is wrong with the sport here in the US! While I think that an evaluation of the sport here is definitely warranted, Beijing shouldn't have been the catalyst. Why? Because Beijing was NOT unusual.

If we are being honest, the reason that Beijing was considered a "failure" rests on the shoulders of the sprints, hurdles, and relays - because those are the events that carry us internationally on the medal stand. I'm not discounting the field events where we tend to do well in areas like the shot put, and the jumps. But it’s the speed events where we routinely have an advantage in international competition. One need look no further than the previous World Championships in '07 where we won all three men's sprints; were second in the short hurdles and won the long hurdles; and won both relays. On the women's side, silver in the 100, gold in the 200, and victories in the short hurdles and both relays augmented the count.

Looking at Beijing, "failure" must be being defined as "not as many gold medals" because on the men's side we got a bronze in the 100; silver and bronze in the 200; swept the 400 AND the 400 hurdles; and won the 4x4 relay. And once again the women did a nice job of augmenting the medal count with a silver in the 100, bronze in the 400, and gold medals in the short hurdles and 4x4 relay. Not as good as '07 to be sure, but certainly not a reason to hit the panic button. Especially when you take into consideration that Double World Champion Tyson Gay spent the summer injured and didn't race until the opening round of the Olympic Games. Twice World Champion Allyson Felix was clearly hurting, and running with a discernable limp at the Games. And multiple Olympic and World medalist, Terrence Trammell, was felled by a hamstring injury in the first round of the 110 hurdles.

So, given that we went into Beijing rather beat up, our athletes performed admirably and did a respectable job - and do not deserve the "failure" label that so many have ascribed to them including our governing body. Rather than lay blame on them for their "failure" as the Task Force Report has done, our governing body should look to help them. And the best help that could be given is to provide more time between the Trials/National Championships and each year's Major Championship. Because the six weeks they had last year - and will have again this year - is just not enough time for our athletes to rest, recharge, and regroup between the two toughest, week long meets of the year! The fact that our troops had such a drop in performance with such short rest says as much about how clean our program has become as any drug test results could, and our leaders should reward them by giving them more rest in between the Trials and Major competitions.

The other issue when it comes to defining success or failure is that quite often the 100 meters is used as the barometer for determining success. Despite sweeping two events (men's 400 and 400IH) and gaining two medals in the 200, Beijing was still considered an abject failure! Why? Because we lost the 100 meter gold! Well, for those of us that have followed the sport since before the New Millennium, that's not unprecedented. Since automatic timing became the norm at the Games back in 1968, we lost the 100 meter gold at Olympics and World Championships in 1972, 1976, 1980 (boycott), 1987 and 88 (both later forfeited), 1992, 1993, 1995 and 1996 before losing it again in Beijing! So 100 meter gold has not been the "lock" that everyone seems to want to make it seem.

Of course, the reason why everyone seems to think that we "own" the event is that those losses have been followed by wins by champions that have gone on to dominate the event for several years - namely Carl Lewis ('83, '84, '87, '88) and Maurice (Mo) Greene ('97, '99, 00, 01)! Add championships by Justin Gatlin ('04, '05) and Tyson Gay ('07) and its easy to understand why it seems like the 100 meters is the property of the United States.

Having said this, what do I think our prospects are for the sprints this year? In a word - excellent! First off, after his performances in Beijing everyone has assumed that double gold was a foregone conclusion for Jamaica's Usain Bolt. Those with short memories forget, however that Tyson Gay had double doubles of 9.84/19.62 and 9.85/19.76 in 2007 winning the Trials and Worlds while Bolt himself was struggling to run 19.92 in Osaka. People also forget that six weeks before Bolt won in Beijing Gay was running 9.77 and 9.68w in his quarterfinal and final at the Trials before he was felled by injury in the 200. Taking nothing from Bolt, but Tyson Gay was clearly in the same class as Bolt prior to his injury.

Gay is back this year, and has a bye in both the 100 and 200 for Berlin as the defending champion in both sprints. This means that Gay will not have to peak for our National Championships and can focus his attention on Berlin - at least HE will be rested coming into Berlin. His supporting cast for Berlin should be sterling, starting with Walter Dix who took double bronze in Beijing after going through the rigors of the collegiate season and NCAA Championships, the Olympic Trials and the Games themselves. Dix is out of college now and should be more rested this year than last.

Joining them in the 100 could be any of a number of young men that entered new territory last year by running under 10.00 for the first time. Among them should be Darvis (Doc) Patton (9.89), Travis Padgett (9.89) Ivory Williams (9.94), Rodney Martin (9.95) and Mark Jelks (9.99). Making us as deep as we've ever been in the short sprint, and that is before adding long sprinters Wallace Spearmon (9.96) Xavier Carter (10.00) and HS and WJR setter Jeff Demps (10.01) now a freshman in college.

In the 200 we have four of the seven fastest men in history in Gay (19.62), Carter (19.63), Spearmon (19.65) and Dix (19.69). And when you consider that Gay, Carter, and Spearmon all suffered through serious and minor injuries last year, its amazing that we STILL put three men into the Olympic final! All should be healthy this year and joined by Shawn Crawford ('04 gold, '08 silver, 19.79 PR) for easily the best 200 meter line up on the planet.

The 400 is the property of Lashawn Merritt and Jeremy Wariner. Merritt the new king with his gold in Beijing and Wariner the man that won everything from 2004 until last year - and looking to return to the top of the podium! 2007 medalist and Beijing 400IH gold medalist Angelo Taylor (44.05) could round things out here, as could Xavier Carter (44.53), a former collegiate champion who may spend more time in the event this year. Add 400 IH Kerron Clement who has a 44.41 PR in the 400 and is the indoor WR holder (44.57). Whatever the combination, we're as strong as ever in the quarter mile.

On the women's side Beijing was just a bad meet (possibly because of that short rest period) because speed was not the issue! Coming into this season Torrie Edwards (10.78), Muna Lee (10.85), Lauryn Williams (10.88), Allyson Felix (10.93), Marshevet Hooker (10.93), Lisa Barber (10.95), Sanya Richards (10.97), Carmelita Jeter (10.97) and Mechelle Lewis (10.97) all return for the 2009 season - and Felix and Richards run the long sprints! We are deeper than ever in the 100 and just need to keep these women healthy AND rested heading into Berlin.

In the deuce the story is similar with Allyson Felix (21.81), Muna Lee (22.01), Sanya Richards (22.17), Lauryn Williams (22.27), Porsha Lucas (22.29), and Marshavet Hooker (22.34) all back and looking to improve on last year's performances.

The women's 400 could be the most interesting of all the sprints - men or women. That's because we have arguably the two best in the world in Sanya Richards (48.70) and Allyson Felix (49.70). Sanya has dominated the event the second half of this decade. That is except in the Championship meets. Dominant on the circuit, Sanya has had difficulty when the lights have shined brightest. The only person that has shown the ability to take her down outside of a major is Allyson Felix - who has spent the majority of her time in the 100/200. though she has spent her time in the shorter sprints, Felix has raced well in the 400 when she has run it and has lead our 4x4 team in the last couple of Majors. If we could get these two ladies together in a Major I have no doubt that they would do much damage to the rest of the world! Behind these two, Natasha Hasting (49.84) and Mary Wineberg (50.24) have been our best. And together with our 400 hurdlers have put together solid 4x4 squads.

Given all this young talent, I see no reason to believe that US sprinting has fallen off the map or is in any danger. We've seen blips/poor meets before. The good thing is that these "failures" have made us stronger. Sprinters like Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene, Evelyn Ashford, Gail Devers and others have always risen to step into the void and become dominant forces. And there is no reason to believe that we don't possess talented enough athletes to once again resume the top of the podium. After all, its only been a one year lay off!

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Texas and Florida Relays Finish Up Hot

I was hoping that these two meets would kick off the season, and kick it off they did! If yesterday was hot (and it was) today's action was blazing.

Florida got things going in fine fashion as the host Gators sizzled to a nice early season 39.22 in the 4x1 - sending notice to the other would be contenders for June's national title notice. Notice taken in Texas. Having "warmed up" in the prelims on Friday, we got that final in the men's 4x1 after some impressive preliminaries. They did not disappoint as Florida St (38.75), Texas AM (38.85), LSU (39.10), and Baylor (39.25) gave strong indication that it could take a record run to win in June. Not to let the spotlight fall completely on the collegiates, open athletes from Nike (38.55) and TGE (38.61) showed that there is still plenty of speed to burn here in the US!

The women in Texas decided that they wanted to get in on the fast running too as Gabby Mayo (TxAM) and Tiffany Townsend (Baylor) ran world leading 11.13's in the final of the women's collegiate 100 meter dash. Only to watch Alexandria Anderson (Texas) take over the world lead in the Invitational race with an 11.09, with Porsha Lucas (TxAM) just off the pace at 11.12. Another hot one seems to be shaping up for June's NCAA meet! Texas AM's results in the 100 were not unexpected as earlier Lucas and Mayo teamed up on a 42.91 4x1 effort that just fell short of the 42.62 of the USA Elite Squad featuring Bianca Knight and Marshavet Hooker.

Back in Florida the women hurdlers made their mark as the Mitchell All Stars ran 52.95 in the shuttle hurdle relay. While the time at first notice doesn't seem meaningful, as the event is not run often except in some relay meets, the mark is the 5th fastest in history (World Best 52.00 by Russia).

Both meets capped off swift weekends with excellent 4x4 performances. Florida was up first as once again the host Gators were slightly rude to their guests as they dominated the event with a 3:02.84 effort lead by Calvin Smith (45.19) and super freshman Christian Taylor (44.94). Back in Texas Baylor showed why they are always a contender for the NCAA title as they were a hair better at 3:02.68 with LaJerald Betters (44.78) and Quentin Summers (45.78) leading the way for the Bears. With these two squads running this fast so early in the season we're almost guaranteed that this year's NCAA Championships will close with a BANG!

NOW it feels like the season is underway.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Early Weekend Results

With the Texas and Florida Relays starting mid week we already have results starting to roll in - and it finally seems like the season is getting under way!

In Texas we got some nice runs in the prelims of the men's 4x1 with Florida State (39.51), Texas AM (39.60), LSU (39.67) and Baylor (39.77) turning in quality times. We should see something a bit faster as they push each other in the final. The final of the women's 100 should also be an early season barn burner as Samantha Henry, LSU (11.21.+1.6), Tiffany Townsend, Baylor (11.24, +2.2) and Jessica Young, TCU (11.24, +1.3) showed great early season speed as Henry took over the world lead with her performance.

Meanwhile in Florida the hurdlers looked to be in mid season form as Damu Cherry (12.69, +1.0), and David Oliver (13.19, +1.0) sped to world leaders in the 100 meter and 110 meter hurdle events. In the men's race Eric Mitchum (13.31) was only .02 off the previous world lead, and sprinter Dwight Thomas (13.49) turned in a nice performance in an off event for him.

The men's 400 was also a high quality affair as Jaamal Torrence (45.31), Calvin Smith (45.32) and Christian Taylor (45.34) gave the fans an exciting lap of the track in very good early season times. Smith and Taylor both run for Florida and took over the #1 and #2 positions on the collegiate list in this event. And field event fans may remember that Taylor won the NCAA Indoor title in the triple jump with an American Junior Record with his 55' 8.50" (16.98m)jump to win that competition. This kid is a STUD! Florida made headlines in the recruiting season by landing 10.01 speedster Jeff Demps, but Taylor may end up being the biggest prize landed by the Gators!

Oh, by the way, Smith and Taylor make up half of the Gator's 4x4 squad - Baylor may want to take notice. They teamed up today with Terrill Wilks and Jeremy Hall to win the 4x2 in a nice 1:21.68 (20.42 avg per leg).

Nice start to the weekend. It should only get better from here.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

California Relays Update

As more information has become available it appears that a shortfall of $100,000 sits at the heart of the delay. Now $100K is not a small amount of change to be sure, but there are meets in Europe that have negotiated $100K as a payout to a SINGLE athlete! So to hear that a meet is not being held because of the lack of that amount of money seems almost like a slap in the face as we sit here in the wealthiest state in the wealthiest nation on the planet.

What strikes me even more is that USATF has disbanded its "Relay Project" which cost hundreds of thousands of dollars to run. Surely redistributing that money to a meet with global implications would have been a worth while investment. Word is that USATF will provide some funding next year, but given that the Relay Program is dead why couldn't USATF provide assistance THIS year when the meet really needs it? Because the last thing that track and field needs in this country is one LESS major meet.

But perhaps the most disturbing thing that I have heard with respect to this situation is that there have been negotiations with Adidas to move their funding from the Carson Invitational to the California Relays. Now as a fan that lives in Northern California, the idea of major funding from Adidas for this meet is very exciting. But as a fan of The Sport the idea that two venues are competing for the same dollars to run a meet is absurd!

There seems to be enough money for shoe companies, and others, to fund multiple meets in Europe, Asia and elsewhere! Why do we suddenly have competition for dollars here in the United States? Especially since we are talking about two PROVEN invitationals - one with over half a century of proven excellence.

Where is USATF in all of this? Focusing on preparations for the next Olympiad (which seems to be the primary focus)? I can't image that David Stern or Roger Goodell (Commissioners for the NBA and NFL respectively) wouldn't have stepped in long ago to ensure that this meet take place AND to settle any tug of war that may be taking place between a major sponsor of the sport and two venues! Especially given that we are only talking about $100,000.

Has billionaire Alex Spanos - the benefactor that provided over a million dollars to renovate the Sacramento facility so that it could host the Olympic Trials - been contacted? Or how about some of these major banks that have taken BILLIONS in bailout money and are in desperate need of some feel good publicity right about now?

Better yet, what type of contingencies does USATF, or major meets for that matter, have in place to safeguard against this type of situation? Does USATF have a line of credit that it can tap into? Does the sport's governing body have an Endowment Program that would build funds for this type of situation - or to create future meets or expand those in existence? And how about the organizing bodies of the meets themselves? Again, do we have lines of credit that could be used as interim/emergency funding to keep meets going? Has anyone considered endowment trusts as a means of creating long lasting funding outside of simply taking money from shoe companies?

I'm sorry, but if USATF can't help a major domestic meet raise an additional $100,000 to ensure that it runs on schedule, then the problems facing this sport in the US run deeper than those detailed in the Task Force Report. Because, clearly our fundraising "arm" is broken. That we can't make a phone call or two to keep this meet running THIS year is a travesty and an embarrassment. Apparently fundraising needs to be added to the list of concerns for track and field in this country.