Thursday, February 26, 2009

Update on Elite Athlete's Perspective on the Sport

I was informed by a friend earlier today that USATF CEO, Doug Logan, has sent out an invitation to athletes attending this weekends Indoor National Championships inviting them to meet with him on Friday to discuss concerns they have about the sport. Follow up calls confirmed that indeed athletes have been receiving invitations.

I'm excited to hear that Mr. Logan is reaching out to athletes in this manner. This will be a good first step in addressing the needs of the athletes, who are truly the life blood of the sport. I look forward to hearing the outcome of this meeting.

A great start to Indoor Nationals!

Monday, February 23, 2009

An Elite Athlete's Perspective on the Status of the Sport in the US

The following text is a letter (reprinted with permission and unedited) to USATF from an elite athlete. It provides an insight into the athlete's view of the sport and why change is needed.


Hello Mr Logan,
As I sit back and look at all the transitions of power in USATF and read the findings of Project 30, I find myself still questioning the real benefit of being an "elite" athlete. First, let me address the title of "elite." What exactly is that label? Beginning with the intangibles, "Elite" athletes sacrifice time, effort, pride, sweat, tears, just to name a few. Tangibly, I can list from the weekly massages, agent and coaching fees, medical bills for injuries and rehab, traveling expenses, the list continues. And good luck if you don't have a shoe contract, which is the only consistent source of sponsorship in our sport. The shoe companies have so much control, athletes find themselves and their career at the beckon call of others when it should be vice versa. 
Now if you were to actually take the numbers of all the athletes who you label "Elite" and complete a traditional ROI formula that any corporation/Individual (that's what we label ourselves on any 1040 form) would use, we would be considered a beyond the doubt statistical business failure. So how should we view things from our perspective? Statistically like any other business? Based on the average ROI of the USATF "Elite" athletes, collectively we are statistically an organized failure, who expenses outweigh the revenue.    
It is time for change. I am still confused on how a non-profit organization runs a for-profit situation.  We run to make money and pay our bills, not to raise money for the common good of the sport. That is no secret.  As I prepare to make my trip to Indoor Nationals, I find it appalling that USATF has come up with a fixed amount of about $500.00 to give to the top 5 athletes in each event. What exactly is that covering? My hotel expenses, which total $500.00 after the $149.00/night rate, takes care of that, so I guess that leaves me to pay for my food, flight, and not to mention I have to pay for my coach who I have to fly in, board, and feed for the 3 days I am there. Again, aren't the top athletes the reason why advertisers pay for their TV ad spots during the broadcast or their name to be posted on the signage at the meet? Yet, we have to basically pay our own way to compete when we are the core reason for viewership, which is the core reason for the sponsorship USATF receives?
To put things in perspective, I am a 2007 World Champion, a 2008 Olympian, and I am currently under contract, and yes I am still far from happy with what I get back from this sport in which I put so much into on a daily basis. Let's not even talk about the athletes who aren't fortunate enough to even name a title or say that they have a shoe company contract. In other American professional sports, if you don't have a Championship Title it doesn't mean you can't pay your bills. Many people question the authenticity of our sport due to all the doping issues that arise. If you have only the people at the top making money and being successful, it forces the others to sink to depths that they shouldn't or usually wouldn't, just to make it. Now by no means do I condone doping or give athletes excuses in any way, but I do believe that USATF should look at its role in the downfall of our sport and see its non-direct contribution of poor structure adding to the pressure for an athlete to be on top.
We are still getting the short end of the stick. I am a professional by definition and I spend hours and hours perfecting what I do, and spend check after check to do it. When USATF gets these major sponsors, it is highly based on the ROI the sponsors get back from the High Performance division, yet athletes see little to nothing from it. We are a major reason why USATF has sponsors, we are the reason why agents and coaches have jobs, we are the reason why people spend money for merchandise and buy tickets to sit in the stands and what are we really getting back? Simply put, we are getting pimped by the system. Let's not mention the 401k and pension plans that do not exist, which means our sport can't even give us any means for our future as any other career would. But then again, if I was to stick to the verbiage provided, track & field would be a mere hobby of mine, where I am considered an amateur as in intramural sports. So please tell me, should I not expect professional business components because technically I am not participating in a professional for-profit business? Maybe I am the one who fails to see that based on the current structure of the sport of USA Track & Field, I am getting what you can give.
Well let me be one of the many "elite" athletes to say it is time for a for-profit division to be separated from a non-profit organization and management structure. It's time for professionalism. It's time for the sport of Professional Track & Field to emerge. You came from a sports league background, so you know the shortcomings of this current structure and you know the opportunities that will come with change. I might not be able to reap the benefits, but I am praying that the athletes that follow our footsteps won't have to face the short comings of our sport that we have to face today.
In closing, how long will the athletes have to continue to suffer? Major changes have to be made, and it can start from you. I am here ready and willing to help in any way as I am sure many other athletes are. I have a Masters degree in Communications, I've worked in corporate america. I want to be a part of making a serious change for our sport and making it a profitable business for all involved. We can create not only more opportunity for athletes to be successful, but our sport as a whole. I have ideas. I have a plan to propose. The WBNA took their chance. So can we. I am asking for your ear and time for me to discuss my thoughts for our sport. I look forward to hearing from you.
Thank you,

Monday, February 16, 2009

Jumping High Still Dominates Indoor Season

Lead by Yelena Isinbayeva's(RUS) indoor debut with TWO raisings of her own indoor WR in the Pole Vault, pole vaulters and high jumpers continue to turn in the top performances this indoor season.

Isinbayeva made her debut in Donetsk memorable as she cleared 4.97m (16' 3.5") for her first record before vaulting over 5.00m (16' 4.75") for record number two. With such an auspicious debut it appears this could be quite the season for Yelena.

Speaking of quite a season, Steven Hooker (AUS) continues his domination of the indoor pole vault with his fourth win of the season with a clearance of 5.92m (19' 5.25") in Donetsk - a rather ho hum height for Hooker this year. With the victory in hand he next went straight to 6.16m (20' 2.5") to once again attempt to take the WR (6.15m) from Sergei Bubka. And while he has had closer attempts this year, his familiarity at this height may just pay off before seasons end.

In Karlsruhe Germany, the high jumping continued as Blanca Vlasic and Ariane Friedrich both cleared 2.05m (6' 8.75") with Friedrich beating rival Vlasic on misses. The superb mark was the second raising of Friedrich's PB during the competition and along with Vlasic's equaling her own indoor best made them the equal #4 all time performers in indoor history.

Another setting a year leader in the high jump was Ivan Ukhov (URS). At the Russian Championships in Moscow, Ukhov continued the weekend theme of jumping high s as he improved his own world lead with a 2.37m (7' 9.25") win.

We also saw a few new leaders on the straightaway as Lolo Jones(USA) improved her hurdle lead to 7.82 and David Oliver (USA) and Yevgeniy Borisov (URS) equaled the 7.45 in the hurdles previously run by Terrence Trammell. While Dwain Chambers (GBR) equaled the 60 lead with a 6.51.

Around the track, Torrin Lawrence (USA) and David Gillick (IRL) gave us new 400 leaders as both ran 46.18 in separate meets. On the women's side, Antonina Krivoskapka (URS) improved this year's women's 400 best to 50.55 and Bianca Knight (USA) dropped the women's 200 best to 22.88.

But it continues to be the jumpers and vaulters that are putting up the best marks so far in this indoor season.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The USATF Task Force Report

USATF CEO Doug Logan recently released the Task Force Report on the state of Track and Field in the United States. This report was created by a nine member task force that included former athlete Carl Lewis, current athlete Deena Kastor, and longtime coach Mel Rosen, among others, and had some very harsh criticism of the operation of the sport here in the United States.

After examining the sixty nine page report I have some mixed feelings regarding its findings. While I am in favor of the overall position of the report - that the sport needs serious reworking here in the US - I think there are some fundamental flaws underlying the report that would inhibit overall progress towards attaining the goals of the report.

First, there is far too much criticism leveled at the athletes for their "lack of professionalism". Specifically they are criticized for "poor career decisions" because support teams are in charge of the athletes; they don't choose their seasons in advance; agents choose the athletes instead of vice versa; and shoe companies choose their coaches for them".

While I have found these things to be true of our athletes, it is due to the global structure and culture of the sport, not the general lack of professionalism, that our athletes find themselves in this position of the sport controlling them instead of them controlling their own careers! Though track and field is considered to be a "professional sport" due to the fact that athletes are now paid to compete, the sport globally is still operated in the same "amateur" mode that existed in the 1970's and prior where athletes are invited to participate in meets by meet promoters; arrangements are handled through managers/agents; and shoe companies pay the bulk of the "salaries" of the athletes.

Until the overall sport gets restructured, the basic complaint that USATF and its international teams - including World and Olympic squads - are not the priority of the athletes will continue to hold true. Because in its current structure loyalty to one's country takes a back seat to making an income in track and field. So it is my recommendation that concurrently with trying to clean up the sport here in the United States USATF try to work with the IAAF on creating a more Federation and Athlete friendly environment for the athletes to participate in. That ultimately will require a restructuring of how meets are conducted/operated and how payments are made to athletes. The end goal being a "salary structure" that will have to incorporate the IAAF/Meet Promoters/Shoe Companies/Federations on one side as "Ownership/Management" and the Athletes/Agents/Managers/Proposed Union on the other side as "Employees".

A restructuring of the sport and redistribution of payments will make it inherently easier for the athletes to focus on the needs of the federation, because a restructured system would allow a now "salaried" athlete to attend to the needs of the group as opposed to selectively "running for dollars" meet after meet.

The other major flaw that I see in the basic structure/comments of the report is the singular focus on the Olympics. The priority seems to be Olympic Qualification, Olympic Teams, Olympic Staff, Olympic Medals, etc. While there is no doubt that the Olympics are, and have been, the ultimate competition on the planet, track and field has THREE global championships every quadrennial period with the sport having two World Championships during that time frame to go with each Olympics. And during the "down year" there is a World Cup in which we have served as a regular participant.

My point is that we need to be looking at ANNUAL goals and not just towards the next Olympic Games in 2012. We need to be looking at creating a "structure" that will work year after year and incorporate consistency with a sense of urgency on the part of all elements of our programs. Especially in the areas of team selection, coaching placement, and athlete development.

To look at the Olympics as a "separate" piece of the puzzle retains the "amateur" view of the Olympics as the end goal, instead of a more "professional" game plan that says we have annual championships and goals to shoot for, and that our athletes must be properly paid for their participation - just like all the other Major professional sports.

With some adjustments in those areas, I believe the sport is then in a better position to try to attain the goals set forth in the Task Force Report. Following are the opening statements of the Key Findings of the Task Force followed by my own comments:

• Overall there is a lack of accountability, professionalism, and cohesion in the areas the Task Force studied.

There is no doubt that when I look at the structure of USATF that it gives the appearance of several different organizations trying to function as one. The sport needs a more business like organizational chart with clear lines of responsibility and reporting - which should result in better overall communication. Like wise it should employ a coaching staff consisting of the best coaches available here in the US. Unfortunately these individuals are paid by the shoe companies and the athletes and only come to USATF on a volunteer basis - and with competing interests. So until global structure is addressed/rectified I see this as an ongoing difficulty.

• The International Team Staff selection system lacks transparency and accountability, creating a culture of mistrust for athletes and coaches alike.

This too has a direct link to the overall structure of the sport. As long as the coaches are paid by someone other than the federation they will serve in a volunteer capacity. With everyone essentially "eligible" to serve, and many "wanting" to serve, there will always be questions as to "why" selections were made and positions given.

Transparency could be achieved through the creation of selection criteria that would be based on coaching achievements - i.e. Olympic , World, NCAA, Pan Am, and "other" medalists - with a point system being developed to give greater weight to "Major" competitions and "averaged" over the number of years one has coached so as not to too heavily skew against younger coaching talent.

• International staffs need more managers and fewer coaches.

Given the current structure where the majority of athletes have their own personal coaches, this is quite true. The question I have is will "coaches" want to serve in the capacity of "managers", or will we then see more veteran coaches opting out?

• The criteria for selecting track and field's Olympic Team should not change but the Olympic Trials themselves should.

As stated earlier the focus here should be on National Teams and not just the Olympic Team. Having said that, compressing the meet and reducing recovery time for those athletes that compete in multiple events could be detrimental to their health. The US Trials system is tough not because of its length but because of the level of competition that individuals must contend with.

One solution could be to hold the meet over the course of a week (7 days) as a mid range compromise and reduce fields to eliminate the "opening round". Thus creating what would amount to three rounds of "quarterfinal", "semifinal", and "final" rounds.

More important, in my opinion, is the length of time between our Trials and the Major competition. One of the big problems that I believe created such poor performances in Beijing was the short rest period between the Trials and the Games themselves - approximately six weeks. A very short period to attempt to gain rest from a meet the level of the Trials themselves. Nearly impossible to allow athletes that have suffered injuries or niggles, time to recover, rehab, and gain enough competition to get sharp before having to compete again at that level.

We should be looking at somewhere between eight to ten weeks between Trials and Major. This would allow for a more complete "rest" period and give injured athletes more time to both rehab AND get sharp through competition.

On the subject of trying to create some sort of "bye" for "special" athletes, while difficult I do believe it is manageable. An athlete deemed too "injured" to compete in an event by medical staff could get a "bye" into the Major if the average of his/her top three times from the previous season is at least .5% faster than the third place mark at the trials. In the event that more than one person fits that criteria, then the athlete with the greatest percentage average better than third at the Trials meet will be awarded the position. This would create the possibility that a clearly outstanding athlete would still have the ability to be named to the team but NOT replace an athlete that competed superbly at the Trials.

• Excessive travel and poor long-term planning on the part of athletes, their coaches and agents appear to be the greatest controllable factors negatively affecting TEAM USA performance in Beijing.

As stated previously in discussing the Olympic Trials, I feel that the greatest negative factor affecting our performances in Beijing was the proximity of our Trials meet to the Games themselves. Our athletes had to compete in the equivalent of two back to back Games within a six week timeframe. Not nearly enough time to recover and compete again at that level - certainly not enough time for the injured to rehab and prepare.

More importantly to the point of the Task Force's finding, there is an unrealistic expectation of USA Track and Field regarding athletes working their schedules to fit the needs of USATF. As stated at the beginning of this post, the current structure of the sport dictates that the athletes' first responsibility is to compete to earn a living - and those competitions are dictated by meet promoters, and agents outside of the control of USATF, or any other federation.

In truth, the Olympics and World Championships are in direct competition with the needs of the athlete to earn a living. Yes, no other meets are run during the roughly two week period of the Olympics or World Championships, but there are meets just before and right after. In the weeks between the Trials meet and the Games or Worlds, a large portion of the highest paying meets of the year are held . This year Lausanne, Rome, Athens, Paris, Monaco, Stockholm, and Berlin will all be held after the Trials meet and before the World Championships - with Zurich and Gateshead coming shortly after. To ask athletes to forgo meets with this type of earning ability in the name of loyalty to their federation is a bit arrogant and very unfair.

This is how these athletes earn their living - running in meets of this caliber. They compete to earn a living and their best living is earned by competing in these meets. As such, the current financial structure of the sport places an emphasis on competing in the most lucrative meets - and unfortunately the sport's championship meets do NOT fall in this category. And to use the phrase, "they must keep their eye on the prize - an Olympic medal" smacks very much of an old world amateur view of the sport.

Therefore, as stated previously, USATF needs to work with the IAAF to try and create a better payment system for the athletes. One that would hopefully incorporate them as partners in an Employer/Employee relationship. Until that occurs, USATF is reliant upon the athletes' sense of loyalty to country without acknowledging that they are in the sport to earn a living. And as Logan and others are finding those two needs are often at odds with one another.

• Spending more than $1 million in the last six years, and with as many as 173 athletes taking part in it each year, the National Relay Program has failed to justify the costs of the program.

No argument here. But the second point should be included here before discussing the US Relay system. That point being.

• Lack of communication between coaches and athletes, poor management of the relay pools and questions over which coaches were responsible for relays resulted in the 4x100 relay failures in Beijing.

Here we have an opportunity to talk about what is REALLY wrong with the whole relay process here in the US - and again it comes back to the structure of the sport. Our "national" team is the equivalent of a "pick up team" at any local park. Its various "parts" are individuals that separately must go out and try to earn a living in between the Trials meet and the Championship meet. Since most meets only have room for eight athletes in any given competition; and since most meets do not run a full complement of events; and since most meets only offer top dollar to a handful of athletes at any given competition; it is not easy to find all relay pool members at the same meets at the same time. Athletes have to schedule themselves at the competitions that suit their earning ability, not necessarily that gives them the opportunity to work with "teammates".

As I discussed above, coaches are tied to the athletes and NOT to USATF. This leads to two inherent problems. One is the availability of coaches to work with ALL of the athletes in the pool. The other is the lack of impartiality in selecting and utilizing pool members on the squads themselves. Coaches, and agents/managers lobbying behind the scenes, are most interested in how they can position their athletes on squads to earn them the most money Post Major. This is in direct conflict with selecting and placing athletes in the positions in which they can BEST serve the squad. It is this conflict that in Beijing and with unnerving frequency in past Majors, has placed less than optimal squads on the track for the US.

I think this can be easily rectified. First off relay coaches should be both impartial AND have a strong working knowledge of relay structure and integration. That would indicate to me that collegiate coaches and not the coaches of elite athletes should be selected to run relay teams. College coaches work on relay squads for a living, and best know the ins and outs of putting a squad together.

Collegiate coaches wishing to work on Major Championships relay squads should submit their resumes and letters of interest to USATF prior to the Trials Selection meet. Within a week of the close of the Trials meet USATF should select a four coach team - two for the 4x1 and two for the 4x4 - to be made up of coaches NOT coaching athletes that made the team in an individual event. These coaches will then be given the autonomy to select their final teams and run their practices. It will be the responsibility of the coaching teams to get with pool members and their management to coordinate a one week period within 30 days of the Major Championship at which time members of the pool will get together for Final relay work. Prior to that, it will be the responsibility of the coaching pool to get together with team members individually or in small groups to work on the details of how the relay will be run and conduct "mini" practices where the opportunity is presented.

This Relay Coaching Team will report directly to the CEO of USA Track and Field and not to the lead coach of the National Team. This will create better autonomy for the relay coaches and hopefully prevent undo influence being exerted on these coaches by other members of the coaching fraternity.

• American coaches and athletes under utilize the facilities and USATF sport science available to them.

From my own personal search on the USATF website, it is impossible to find any information on the USATF Training Centers. That could be a large reason why they are under utilized. I know from past experience that there are centers in Chula Vista, Colorado Springs, and I believe Orlando Florida. As such they are not centrally located to the areas where the primary "camps" of our elite athletes are located.

With most elite athletes utilizing major college campuses for training purposes where available, it might be advantageous for USATF to try and work out deals with some regional major colleges for joint use of facilities to serve as training centers for our athletes. This would ensure that there are facilities nearer the athletes for their use, but could also be used to build alliances with strong collegiate programs that serve as "feeders" into the elite program. It could also create more of a partnership with coaches tied to current and future members of USATF National Teams.

As for the dissemination of information related to research in the sport, a simple email mailing list should be able to facilitate and expedite the distribution of this information to coaches and athletes. Likewise periodic surveys would produce information on what information is being utilized and how it is being implemented. This too could be conducted by email and would provide needed insight into both what information is useful, as well as what areas of research might be under developed.

• Inroads have been made into catching and punishing doping cheats, but more must be done to strengthen the anti-doping culture.

This statement holds true only if USATF, USADA, and its affiliated agencies are taking credit for the weeding out of the sport that has occurred recently by the BALCO investigation. Since this investigation was not run by any of these entities, but was rather an investigative operation conducted by the US Federal Government, it is actually more appropriate to say that very little has been done by the anti-doping arm of the sport to eliminate cheating.

We learned from BALCO that the phrase, "I never failed a drug test", means virtually nothing in this age of designer/non detectable drugs. We also learned that beating the current testing system as implemented by the IAAF and its member federations is easy and routinely done.

While I laud the implementation of "Project Believe" last year as a nice start to implementing a better drug testing plan, until we move away from Urinalysis as our primary method of drug testing to something both more reliable and adaptable, like Blood Testing, the sport will forever be behind the chemists and the cheats in the war against doping.

I have developed a testing plan based on Blood Testing that I will post on this site in a few days. I hope that USATF and others will give it strong consideration as it moves forward in the battle against drug cheats.

• American athletes as a group do not conduct themselves as true professionals and USATF does not hold them to professional standards.

This brings us full circle to the beginning of this post. As I have stated several times now, what USATF seems to consider a lack of professionalism is the athletes working within the framework of the sport as it currently exists globally. This sport is the athlete's avocation, not merely a form of recreation. As such they have to work within the structure as presented to try and earn a living.

This structure of shoe companies controlling contracts; meet promoters controlling where athletes run and their payments; mangers/agents serving as the intermediaries to facilitate when and where athletes are able to compete; and coaches being paid by a combination of shoes companies and athletes; is at odds with what USATF deems to be its need to have the athletes and their coaches be responsive to it in its pursuit of Olympic medals.

In order for this to change there must be structural changes on a global level within the sport that would put USATF and other federations in more of an employer/partnership role with athletes and coaches. As it currently stands it is unrealistic for USATF to expect the athletes to set aside their best earning opportunities in favor of the nationalistic goal of attaining medals for the United States.

While I think the suggestion of the creation of an Athletes' Union is a good one, I believe it only scratches the surface of the changes necessary in the sport to ensure that the athletes receive adequate payments for their services AND puts them in a better position to work on behalf of USATF. Hopefully the sport can begin to work on these issues.

I applaud the effort of USATF and the development of this report. It is a good first step towards making the sport better. Hopefully Mr. Logan and others can begin to look past the trees and out into the forest to create better second and third steps and move this sport closer towards true professionalism.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Hot Weekend in the Pole Vault, High Jump and Distances

Another solid weekend of track and field saw Aussie Steven Hooker take another shot at 20 feet and Sergei Bubka at the Boston Indoor Games. Hooker took over the #2 spot on the All Time list with his 6.06m (19' 10.5") clearance to win the event in Boston. He then took three solid tries at 6.16m, a centimeter above Bubka's record set back in 1993. Hooker was a full foot above his competition as Derek Miles was second with a 5.72m (18' 9.25") mark.

Boston was clearly the venue for vaulting as Jenn Stuczynski set an American Record of 4.82m (15' 9.75") improving Stacy Dragila's previous record by a centimeter. Stuczynski's mark put her in the #3 position all time behind Russians Yelena Isinbayeva and Svetlana Feofanova.

If Boston was the place to vault, then Arnstadt, Germany was the place to high jump, as Ivan Ukhov improved his world lead with a 2.36m jump in Germany. Jesse Williams (US) set an indoor PB in second with a clearance of 2.34m. On the women's side, German Ariane Friedrich also set an indoor PB with her 2.02m win moving within .02m of world leader Blanka Vlasic who set a WL 2.04 this weekend in Stuttgart.

Female distance runners cranked it up a notch this weekend as well. Boston also served up a hot dual in the women's 5000 as Sentayehu Ejigu of Ethiopia and Shalane Flanagan of the US battled to the wire with both crossing the line in a WL 14:47.62. Ejigu was awarded the victory by .005sec while Flanagan was rewarded with an American Record. Flanagan now holds the Indoor records for 3000 and 5000 and the Outdoor records at 5000 and 10000, and is beginning to sow the competitiveness of Mary Slaney, Regina Jacobs, Suzy Hamilton and Deena Kastor. Shalane, along with Shannon Rowberry and Kara Goucher (who won the 3000 in Boston in 8:46.65) are forming a nice core for US distance hopes.

As hot as the track was in Boston, it was sizzling in Stuttgart as runner extraordinaire Meseret Defar of Ethiopia outdueled Russian Anna Alminova in a blistering 5000 meters. Defar crossed the line in a sizzling 8:26.99 - a world leader and the #3 performance in history. Alminova was spectacular in defeat as she ran 8:28.49 in second - the #6 performance all time indoors. Stuttgart also produced a world leader in the 800 meters as Ismail Ahmed Ismail (1:45.73, SUD) outran Yuri Borzakovski (1:45.96, RUS).

Not to be completely outdone, the sprinters gave us world leaders in the 200 meters as Shalonda Solomon (US) won at Boston in 23.17 and Greg Nixon (US) edged Chris Berrian (US) 20.65 to 20.68 in Eaubonne, France. Nixon now has the world lead in both the 200 and 400 meter events. And 60 meter world leader Michael Rogers (6.51, US) won the 60 in Boston against a solid field in 6.58. The field included Olympians Darvis Patton, Travis Padgett and Shawn Crawford.

All in all an outstanding weekend of competition.

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Track and Field could use a League of its own

During the recent Armory Meet in New York, USATF's new CEO, Doug Logan gave an interview on various topics concerning Track and Field. During this interview Logan touched on issues such as "Drugs in the Sport", the performance of the US Team at last year's Beijing Olympic Games, and "The marketing of the sport here in the United States".

While I have an interest in all of the areas he discussed, I found his words on the marketing of the sport most interesting, as he mentioned a topic that I myself have looked at - the idea of creating an actual League for the sport of Track and Field.

Now the idea of a "League" for the sport is not entirely new. "Back in the day" during the 1970's there was an attempt to create a professional track league called the "International Track Association" or "ITA". It was able to pull some of the top "amateurs" of the day - Ben Jipcho, Brian Oldfield, and John Smith among others - and had them competing on a professional "circuit".

Unfortunately this idea never really caught on in spite of having a television contract, and implementing gimmicks such as pacer lights around the track to aid its distance runners. It failed in large part, I believe, because as Logan mentioned in his interview, sports fans here in the US have become accustomed to identifying with "Teams", checking "Standings" and watching "Playoffs and Championships"! In short, the model of sports such as the NBA, NFL, and MLB have jaded the thinking of fans here in the United States as to the format that "professional" sports should follow.

In its current form Track and Field on the professional level is still a fairly individual sport. It's very much man against man (or woman against woman) and based on the individual and his/ her own performances. Only during an Olympics or World Championships does the idea of "team" vaguely raise its head - and then it is really more about Nationalism than Team.

So, how does track and field fit its "Individual" format into something more palatable to the American public? We know, for example, that a team concept in the sport can be very popular by the attention and fan fervor that is generated at the High School and Collegiate levels. In their build up to becoming professionals, track and field athletes spend a lot of time competing for teams. And if you've ever been to a Regional or State competition on either the High School or Collegiate level you know what kind of "team" followings they have.

So with that in mind, I've been talking with a former coach the past couple years about a way to implement the idea of "Teams" into professional track and field as a means of creating more competitive opportunities for athletes, and placing the sport on a stage that would be more palatable to the average American fan - an American Track and Field League (ATFL).

This league would be made up of Regional teams that during the course of the season would compete in a series of quadrangular meets. This would create a "season" with team standings that fans could rally around. The season would conclude with a "Playoff", "Championship", and "All Star" competitions, and is designed NOT to interfere with the current National Championships to determine individual champions and National teams.

So, Mr. Logan if you are reading this, I have a full Concept Paper prepared for the league and would be happy to share it with USA Track and Field.

Logan Interview can be found at:

Monday, February 2, 2009

A nice start to the season.

The 2009 Indoor season has started off in fine fashion. The highlight of this past weekend being the 19'8.5" pole vault of Aussie Steven Hooker at the Millrose Games. Hooker's metric 6.01 vault made him the #4 all time performer indoors and left him only .01cm from #2's Jeff Hartwig and Rodion Gautaulin. More importantly he had some very strong attempts at 6.15m which would have broken the venerable Sergei Bubka's Indoor World Record. Hooker looks ready to challenge that rarified air on a consistent basis this year, if this past weekend was any indication.

Another athlete that appeared quite sharp at Millrose was hurdler Terrance Trammell. After sizzling to 12.95 outdoors in 2007, Trammell had a "down" season for him in 2008 running "only" 13.08. He sizzled indoors in Madison Square Garden blitzing 7.45 over 60 meters - just .03 off his PR. Trammell is one of the events top competitors and seems intent on showing that '08 was simply a blip on his radar!

And as if running close to his PR in the hurdles wasn't enough, Trammell did double duty in the open 60 meter dash taking second (6.54) to Michael Rogers' PR 6.51. Rogers became a very promising young sprinter last year twice running a PR 10.06 during the season. Further improvement this indoor season could see him bolster the US's rising young sprint corp. Tyson Gay and Walter Dix could use a bit of help come this summer and the World Championships in Berlin. An improving Rogers could be just what the doctor ordered.

It's early, and the Indoor season usually serves as a diversion for athletes during their base training. But it gives us fans something to talk about until the real running begins somewhere around April.It will be interesting to watch the performances both indoors and down under during the Australian summer season to see who may be emerging this year to challenge the established stars and last years Beijing medal winners.