Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Is 30 Medals a Realistic Goal ?

As we head to Berlin I am reminded that earlier this year USATF CEO Doug Logan set a goal of 30 medals in London. This after our 24 medal showing in Beijing. Ever since that goal was set I've been asking myself, and others, if that is a realistic goal?

When looking at our teams on average it's clear that, in spite of what were characterized as "down" performances in Beijing, the sprints and hurdles routinely carry the day when it comes to winning medals in major championships. On average we can count on at least one medal in the 100, 200, 400, short hurdles, 400 hurdles, and both relays for both the men and women in any given major. Often multiple medals in several of those events. So, even being conservative, we can pretty much count on 15 medals in the "short" events before our team is even selected - putting us half way to our goal at the start of each season!

So the real question becomes, can we get 15 more? Or more specifically HOW do we get the other 15?

If Team USA were truly a team - working together year round in pursuit of a common goal - I would divide the load among Departments. I would set a goal of 5 medals for the Distance Department, 5 medals for the Weight Department, and 5 medals for the Jumps Department. It would then fall to each Department Head to prepare his/her athletes to achieve this goal.

The good news here, is that historically we've shown the ability to score 5 medals in each of these "Departments". Unfortunately, the current reality is that in recent years/majors we've had difficulty scoring points in these areas with any regularity.

If we've done it in the past, then what's the problem? Clearly we have talented athletes in this country. We have a HUGE pool of talent to draw from. We have a "feeder system" in the colleges. So why can't we get to 30? Especially since it seems so simple when broken up into Departments. But I think the problem is that we really DON'T have Departments.

You see Team USA is not a true "team". It is a collection of athletes and training camps from all over the United States that meet at a training camp for a few days each year prior to going to battle against the rest of the world at major championships. As such they are a group of independent contractors, so to speak. And like any independent contractor each training group is limited by the resources that it has available. So it is not coincidental that we typically see medals being won in bunches by training camps. The Santa Monica Track Club. The New York Running Club. HSI. The Oregon Track Club.

We can do it in small groups, when those groups have the right resources, chief among them coaching. What we have to do as the larger group is pull the "camps" together into Departments. If we are to pick up those other 15 medals we will have to become more of a "National Team" with regional branches as opposed to individual camps trying to come together once a year. We will have to find a way to get our best resources (coaches) out to our best athletes - regardless of what "camp" they belong to. In short we have to figure out as Team USA how to coordinate resources nationally so that we can nurture our best talent, per event, to develop medal winners across the board!

So, can we get to 30 medals? I think the long term answer is, yes we can. But in order to do so, we will have to stop relying on "luck" and develop a coordinated system. Team USA needs to become an ongoing, year round effort, where resources are shared and results monitored. When medals are determined and won via a coordinated system instead of the haphazard model that currently exists, we will reach and surpass 30 medals.

Until then we will continue to see medal counts in the 20's - depending on which training camps are most effective each year.

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