Tuesday, March 31, 2009

No Modesto / California Relays This Year!

Just got word a little while ago that there will be no Modesto / California Relays this year. The meet had been held in the Central California town of Modesto for some 67 years, and was scheduled to move to Sacramento and Sac State's Hornet Stadium this year - home of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic Trials.

Apparently, however, the meet director said that they weren't able to nail down all the details in time for the move. I'm extremely disappointed at this turn of events. For those long time California track fans, or just fans of the sport in general, the Modesto Relays has been a mainstay of the late spring. So much so that in its hey day it was a must stop venue for the world's best athletes. Favorable weather (especially winds) and the personality of one time meet director Tom Moore (now deceased) made this one of the best meets on the West Coast.

The list of luminaries that graced Modesto's track is longer than I am old including, Jim Hines, Jim Ryun, Tommie Smith, Don Quarrie, Steve Williams, Mary Decker, Marty Liquori, Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Evelyn Ashford, Maurice Greene, Dwight Stones, Michael Johnson, Rod Milburn, Renaldo Nehemiah, Jeremy Wariner and a host of others. World leading performances have been routinely set in this meet, and its storied history includes a long list of World Record performances.

I was looking forward to the move to Sacramento as it provided a world class venue for the competitors as well as easier access to air flights and better accommodations. The move to Sacramento could help draw the type of athletes and fans that would help this meet get back to its spot as one of the truly elite meets in the world. To hear that it will "sit out" a year is like hearing a favored relative will not be coming for Christmas this year.

I hope that meet organizers get things together so that the meet will be back on the schedule in 2010, because it is one of my personal all time favorite meets.

Track Shorts

Another relatively quiet weekend on the track. I'm still waiting for that "break out" weekend when the competition gets HOT. I thought we were going to get there this past weekend as there were some good programs entered in the Florida State Relays. But horrible weather lead to several stoppages, athletes dropping out of many events, and poor conditions keeping most marks under par.

Better weather out here on the West Coast saw some good early season competition at the Stanford and Arizona State Invitationals. Nothing earth shattering, though we did get a couple of nice sprints in Arizona with Marcus Brunson looking like he is returning to form with a 10.12 (+0/0) and Porsha Lucas dashing 11.24 (-0.1).

The best action seemed to come from California preps as several high schoolers really stepped up their games. Reggie Wyatt (La Sierra HS) ran 46.67 in the 400 then came back 40 minutes later to blaze 36.59 in the 300IH! Wyatt sat out last year after transferring schools and looks ready to show everyone that he is still the man to beat. Another awesome double was turned in by middle distance runner Tony Villalva (El Toro HS) who ran 4:15.03/8:59.45 in the 1600/3200. Pole Vaulter Michael Woepse (Mater Dei HS) soared over 16'4" - and he's only a soph! Of course it helps to come from a pole vaulting family, as Michael's dad Greg was an 18' 5" vaulter back in the 1980's and his brothers and sister also vault. With a little luck Michael may approach the family best before he finishes high school.

Now that the preps have gotten things going, perhaps we'll see the same from the collegiate and open athletes. That could happen as soon as this week, as both the Pepsi Florida Relays and the Clyde Littlefield Texas Relays are on tap. Both meets have been known to "turn the heat up" on the season. Texas is loaded with a slew of top collegiate programs including Arkansas, Baylor, Texas, LSU, Stanford, USC and Florida State among others. Florida will have several of the top SEC schools in attendance including South Carolina, Tennessee, Kentucky, Clemson, Alabama and Mississippi among others. The Florida meet will also have elite sprinters Dwight Thomas, Derrick Atkins, and Xavier Carter in attendance.

With some good weather and a little luck, perhaps this will be the weekend to talk about.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Modern Technology Not Always Better

We've become accustomed to technological advances in our world `making things better. But every once in a while I think that "old school" may have been better. For example, while microwave popcorn does have its place, nothing beats fresh, "real popped" popcorn. That's one reason most everyone loves to order popcorn at the movies - its just better than micro waved.

When I look at all the technological innovations that have come to the world of track and field, every once in a while I reminisce about the Good Old Days when something was just, better. In this case, I think it was better when results - specifically times - weren't so immediate.

Now don't get me wrong, there's no way I would want to go back to the "stone age" of timing when the finish line was crowded with timers trying to figure out who had the "best" time to a tenth of a second. But I wouldn't mind going back to the 1980's version of auto timing - good old Accutrak. Why, you might ask? Because it seemed that the fans focused more on the competition and less on the times. Let me explain.

Back in the early days of automatic timing there was a lag time of fifteen or twenty minutes between the end of a race and the announcement of the time. There was an actual photo that had to be printed out and then read by the timer. Close races required more careful reading of the photo to get it all just right. Therefore it took a while before anyone knew exactly how fast a race was - and it was AWESOME! Because instead of all eyes being on the stadium clock, all eyes were on the athletes in the race. So the "buzz" that you heard as the athletes were crossing the line was the sound of fans all over the stands talking about what happened DURING the race. In other words the focus during the course of the meet was on the competition FIRST.

We fans often spent that 20 minutes or so discussing starts, mid race surges, and finishes in the sprints, and strategy and moves in the mid and long distances. THEN we got the treat of finding out the times for the contestants - and that created a second "buzz" in the stands. And if the race was near WR territory it was an added bonus as we realized how close we were to witnessing history. Every race was exciting. And the time between one race and another was often spent in discussion of the previous race - first what happened, then how fast. The only disappointments occurred when your favorite lost.

Today is a totally different experience. Now, in the age of "instant gratification", and clocks sitting right by the finish line, most eyes are on the clock as everyone wants to know if a record is being set. Because, after all, THAT is how the sport is marketed today as meets are promoted based on who is going to have a record attempt! The gun goes off, fans watch the race for a moment but then the focus heads straight to the clock. Trying to discuss the "race" right after is almost impossible as most folk sitting next to me usually miss the actual race. Instead the discussion is about the record attempt - if such was the pre race build up - or about how disappointing the time was if it was no where close to a record! No one cares any more about how competitive the race might have been. As a matter of fact, I find that most fans don't even see the race itself until they go home and look it up on You Tube! Then the discussion is on message boards and usually focuses on the winner and what he or she could have done to achieve a better TIME! Discussion about the race itself is virtually non existent except in those rare occasions when we have a "match race" taking place - a future post on THAT topic.

The point being that through the use of modern technology we have taken the focus off of what used to make the sport great - the competition itself! And, frankly, the solution is quite simple, turn off the stadium clock for all races under 400 meters, and for the final lap of all races over 400 meters. Then hold the announcement of the final time until the athletes have been cleared from the track and they have been notified personally of their times - like in the good old days when the ATHLETES were the first to know! Say somewhere between 10 to 15 minutes. Take the focus off the times and put it back on the athletes. The clock can still run during the race for the middle and long distances to help with pacing for the athletes, coaches and fans that are into that sort of thing. But having gotten the splits up to the bell lap, it will only be a matter of math to find out the final split once the final times are given. So with the clock off, fans can then focus on the final lap battle for victory and placings in the middle and long distance events as well.

In the case of the sprints, this will put the focus back on the race itself and the nuances of the competition. In the process I think it will help in the development of "personalities" as the average fan will become more familiar with the athletes and their competitive personalities. And in all running events it will place less emphasis on time as the only component by which to gauge a race.

Focusing on times / World Records has been a recipe for disaster for track and field in my opinion. The odds that you'll have a WR in any given meet is relatively low. That means essentially that most meets are doomed to failure before the first event even takes place! If we can get the focus back on the competition itself perhaps we can build a better following in the sport. The fastest sport in the world NEVER talks about records - auto racing. Auto racing is all about the competition and the competitors. With success being gauged solely on winning, losing, and overall placement. And one need look no further for a sport that is thriving and growing right here in the US! Perhaps we can learn something from a sport where speed is king. Not to mention from our own past. Because sometimes I think "old school" was better.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Track Shorts

A very low key weekend with few sterling results. On the track, Texas A&M ran collegiate leaders in both the men's and women's relays with efforts of 39.32 and 43.67 respectively at the Trojan Invitational in Southern California. On the field, defending collegiate champion Rashaud Scott of Kentucky, became the =8th all time collegiate thrower in the discus with his 212' 9" (64.86) win at the Baldy Castillo meet in Arizona. We also got a quiet 20.77 opener from Jeremy Wariner in his 200 meter win at the Dr Pepper Classic in Waco Texas. I expect that we might see a few more 200's from Wariner this year as he attempts to sharpen his race in his bid to unseat Lashawn Merritt from the position as the world's #1 quartermiler!

Web site Gamesbids.com has performed a mathematical analysis that concludes that Chicago ranks last in its bid for the 2016 Olympic Games. Apparently the state of the US economy and the turmoil within the USOC are primary factors in this evaluation. While I would love to see us host another Olympics, I would really like to see us make some attempts to bid on the World Championships.

Since the inception of the World Championships in 1983, the US has yet to host one. As the world's largest track and field power it's unbelievable that a Worlds has not been held on US soil. It shows a lack of commitment to the sport, especially when one considers that most of the countries that have hosted the World Championships are much smaller in both size and economic stature.

Hosting a World Championships would be one way to bring attention to the sport in this country - in much the same way that hosting the Soccer World Cup did. It would ensure that American fans would get up close and personal viewing of athletes the caliber of Haile Gebrsellassie, Dayron Robles, Gerd Kantor, Yelena Soboleva, and Blanka Vlasic - athletes they would otherwise only read about in results sheets. Americans need to see the sport in its full glory. Not simply as a few "match races" here and there. And certainly not in the abbreviated meet format so common of today's invitational meets. The sport needs to be showcased outside of the Olympic Games so that fans here learn to understand that track and field is NOT just an Olympic sport held every four years!

Jamaican sprinter Asafa Powell is once again talking about his intentions to make the current year better than before. This has become a common mantra since Powell's explosion onto the international scene during the 2003 and 2004 seasons. Though Powell has run 7 of the 12 fastest 100 meter times in history (4 of them WR's at the time), his performances in major finals (World and Olympics) have been quite another story with a DQ in '03, a 5th in '04, injury in '05, 3rd in '07, and 5th in '08.

Powell states that he is working on everything - weaknesses and non weaknesses. While his coach Stephen Francis states that, "I expect Asafa to be able to run well enough this year to break the world record". Personally I would think that with 4 WRs in his past that both Powell and his coach would realize that running fast is not his problem - learning how to run when the heat is on is. Perhaps they might be better off working on learning how to win in traffic and let the times take care of themselves.

Athletes in many sports, including track and field, are upset with WADA's new rule requiring athletes to provide schedules of their daily availability (hour and place) THREE MONTHS IN ADVANCE so drug testers know where they are if they want to drop in and test them! While I am a huge advocate of catching drug cheats, I think WADA might be better off 1.) implementing better testing procedures, and 2.) ensuring that Anti Doping Associations are up and running and performing regular out of competition testing - especially on top tier athletes.

Ensuring that athletes do not miss tests is only a critical issue because urinalysis is so ineffective against fast clearing drugs - and is useless against non detectables. In order for the battle to be won that is the area that needs to be addressed. And simply knowing where athletes are is not the answer to that question.

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Track Shorts

In a Track and Field News report from the Adidas Running camp it was revealed that Tyson Gay's fall and winter training were delayed due to a knee injury. While athletes need a good fall program to prepare them for the season, Tyson as the defending World Champion in both sprints will get byes in both to this years World Championships in Berlin. Therefore he will not have to peak for this years National Championships. Tyson, therefore, can focus his energies on preparing for the World Championships. I wish him good luck.

I must say however, that when I went to his website to check on his status, his site has not been updated since last August. A quick check of many athletes websites showed that most have not been updated since last summer. Athletes please have your webmasters update your sites regularly. The Internet is a great marketing tool, and I would assume that is the reason that most of you now have your own personal sites. Your fans would really like to know how your training is going, what your competition schedule is, and other basic information. Help market the sport by keeping your sites updated with this kind of information. Its great that you list your past accomplishments, but we'd really like to know what you are up to now. It only enhances your image.

Speaking of the National Championships, the Oregonian recently asked why USATF CEO Doug Logan wants to shorten the Olympic Trials. I too ask the same question. While the Oregonian looks at it from the point of view of Eugene as host of the Trials, I look at it from the point of view of the athletes and their preparation for the Games.

Yes, we were not as successful in Beijing as we had hoped, and many athletes performed at less than their best. But in my humble opinion it had less to do with the length of the Trials themselves than the length of time between the Trials and the Games.

I can see perhaps cutting out the first round of events at the Trials, as the first round is really just a matter of sifting the wheat from the chaff and would eliminate unnecessary competition. The remaining three rounds would then be more exciting, and provide better competition for those athletes truly competing for those top three spots on the Olympic squad. But condensing the meet into a few days would only add to the stress of the competition and take away needed rest time. And with athletes competing at the levels we see today, rest becomes a very critical commodity.

So, for me, therein lies the source of our difficulties in Beijing - lack of rest time. Because six weeks between a grueling Trials and a pressure packed Olympics, was just not enough time for athletes to rest, heal, and get ready for the toughest competition of their lives. So rather than compact the Trials, I think we need to make sure our athletes have enough time between Trials and Games to prepare properly for the Olympics! Two months (eight weeks) would much more sufficient.

I understand that there may be scheduling conflicts with the NCAA, NJCAA, or other groups. But it seems to me that it is on them to adjusts for the Olympic Trials and not for the Olympic Trials to adjust for them. After all the job of the Trials is to select the best team possible, but it is the job of USATF and the USOC to have them ready to perform at their best at the Games.

For those that follow the stock market, Nike shares have dropped amid sales outlook concerns. As Nike is currently a major source of revenue for track and field athletes both here in the US and worldwide, I hope the current economic decline globally does not end up having a negative effect on the sport. I would also encourage fund raisers at USATF to aggressively seek out new funding sources for the sport. They are needed if the sport is to expand, but even more so if old funding sources have to "cut back". I hope this is a priority at USATF.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Exclusive Interview with Trevor Graham

The name Trevor Graham strikes a cord with most fans of the sport of track and field. Earlier in the decade it was synonymous with championship winning sprinters like Marion Jones, Justin Gatlin, Shawn Crawford.

Then it became synonymous with "The Syringe", as he became the man that started the BALCO whirlwind by turning in the syringe that contained THG - providing USADA with the blueprint to the undetectable designer drug that lead to the suspensions of several elite athletes, including Dwain Chambers, Kelli White, Regina Jacobs, and some of his own athletes, including Tim Montgomery and Marion Jones.

Most recently, however, Graham has been forced to serve his own banishment from the sport as he was convicted of one count of lying to federal investigators during the BALCO investigation. This resulted in various problems with the USOC, USATF, and USADA. All based on athletes he has coached having failed drug tests.

So imagine my excitement as a fan of the sport, when Graham contacted me to discuss an issue he saw mentioned on my blog! Publically quiet for the past few years, I found Graham open and candid regarding various areas of the sport when I talked to him via telephone from his home in North Carolina. He agreed to the interview with the caveat that our conversation be based on how he feels the sport can be improved. So to that end we spent most of the conversation discussing his ideas for a professional track and field league in the United States.


Cway - Mr. Graham thank you for letting me interview you. I know there are lots of people that are interested in what's going on with you since you have been very quiet since BALCO and the trial. So what's been going on with you.

Graham - I haven't been doing much. As everyone knows I have a year of house confinement so there's not a whole lot I can do. Spend time with my family and try to keep up with what's going on with the sport. Looking for ways that I can contribute.

Cway - Looking for ways that you can contribute?

Graham - Yes. Even when I was coaching, I was looking for new goals. I had athletes that set records, and won medals at the Olympic Games and World Championships. But the way the sport is structured there wasn't anywhere else to go. So I was looking at ways the sport could be expanded or made better. How to get more athletes involved, more coaches involved, create new goals. I came to the conclusion that as a coach the one thing I couldn't do was take my team and win a National Championship like Phil Jackson, or Tony Dungy or Mike Krzyzewski. So I've been working on plans for the last six or seven years on how to do a track league in the United States.

Cway - Which is why you agreed to talk to me, to talk about your ideas for a track and field league in the United States. But you're no longer coaching, and your old group, SprintCap, doesn't exist any more. And, pardon me for saying this, but many people have a very negative opinion of you at the moment. So do you think that people will be willing to listen to your ideas on how to improve the sport?

Graham - There has been a lot of negativity out there about me - I know that. But in spite of what people may think or think they know about me, I still love the sport and want to see it grow. I've always been a fan of the sport and I still read about what's going on with the sport all the time. A couple weeks ago I was reading your blog and I saw the letter from an athlete talking about the difficulties he is having and decided it was time for me to speak up and present my ideas.

The sport has turned its back on me, but that doesn't mean that I have to do the same. I was once one the top coaches in the world and I still feel like I can contribute. My son competed and was one of the top sprinters in the country in high school. I have a daughter still competing. I still have a lot of people in the sport that are my friends. I'm outside looking in but if I have an idea that I think can help the sport then I want to get that out there. Now whether the sport will accept it or not is a different story. People have to get over what they’ve seen and heard the last couple of years and if it is a good idea then they should not prosecute the message because of the messenger.

Cway - Then tell me about your league plans. That's been a topic on the table lately. USATF CEO Doug Logan recently mentioned the idea of a league on his blog. UK Athletics has talked about trying something along those lines later this year. It's something I've even given some thought to.

Graham - I have a full plan that I intend to send to Track and Field News and also Mr. Logan. But the general idea is to create an eight team National Track and Field League (NTFL) to start with, that could be expanded to sixteen teams. There would be a Western Region and an Eastern Region with teams in Florida, North Carolina, Texas, Georgia, Oregon, New York, and two teams in California. There would be a regular season, regional championships and an annual National championship. It's set up to run during the Spring before USATF's Nationals and before the European season, so it would be a supplement to what currently exists.

It would function like other leagues with full teams that have owners, general managers, coaches, and athletes. Each team would have its own name, mascot, colors, logo and uniforms. There would be an NTFL Commissioner to oversee the league just like David Stern (NBA) or Roger Goodell (NFL). My plan includes a Conduct Policy as well as a Doping Policy.

Cway - Why do you think that a "league" is necessary? We have track meets going on all the time from March to September without a league and track has functioned that way for well over a hundred years. Why the change?

Graham - The NTFL is necessary because the sport has grown so large that is beyond what it was even 10 years ago. The sport has been in a soup bowl but has expanded beyond that. Ten years ago you couldn't find athletes making the kind of money that they are making today. The athletes are getting bigger, the sport is getting bigger but the current structure is keeping it small. The league is to try and help the expansion of the sport - to try to take it somewhere new. The sport has been the same way for decades without any expansion out of the framework you mentioned. It's time now to take the sport to a real professional level.

The athletes consider themselves professionals but are running in the same old amateur mold. The league would be set up to actually treat them as professional athletes. There have been so many groups - Santa Monica, HSI, Sprint Capitol -that called themselves a team and tried to function as a team, but the sport is set up for individuals and not teams. Now if you take these elite coaches and surround them with a general manager, athletes, give them a name, an owner, assistants, etc now the coach can call himself a coach and feel like a part of a team.

Cway - So why do you think your plan will work? Why will coaches coaching teams and athletes running for teams make the sport better?

Graham - Because the concept is to make the sport more fan friendly. Give people the sport the way they are used to watching sports - give them teams. Right now track and field fans have to be fans of individuals, but most people have grown up following teams. Hard to ask people to change their habits, especially when it involves how they spend their money.

People get crazy when it comes to their teams. Celtics fans bleed green. A whole arena will dress in Carolina Blue when the Tar Heels play. The Cowboys were even called America's Team! So we can give the people what they want - teams. But instead of Kobe and Lebron, or Peyton Manning and Tom Brady, we can give them X-Man and Tyson Gay, Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt. It would make the sport more fan friendly and more marketable. I can see Nike and Adidas selling athletes' jerseys, team jackets, and other NTFL items. That brings more money into their pockets and to the sport - and that will help the sport grow.

Cway - Do you think the sport is ready for something like this? Like you said, track has been doing things a certain way for a very long time. The last time I remember something like this being attempted was in the '70's and it didn't last very long.

Graham - I'm not going to say it will be easy. There will be a lot of challenges. We have to go out and find owners, and a commissioner that understands our sport that can come in and be a voice from the standpoint of all the different aspects of the sport - athletes, coaches, agents, etc. Once that person has been selected we'll be headed in the right direction.

Then the NTFL will have to go out and find sponsors so we can get the sport televised more regularly and create more publicity. But the league will be fan friendly and a format that sponsors are used to which should make it easier than it is now. If we can get someone like Phil Knight, who is a fan of the sport, to own a team in his region and put together the kind of team that he would like to see that would make attracting sponsorship even easier. An owner like Knight, who is savvy about our sport would be able to hire a coach and surround him with the resources needed to build a championship squad. The kind of team that would get the league going off in the right direction with a bang.

Cway - You mentioned Phil Knight of Nike and how you might be able to get his buy in on something like this. How about the coaches and athletes, how do you it benefiting them?

Graham - Right now most coaches are affiliated with a university. When I started Sprint Capitol I was the only coach at the time that had no university affiliation. The NTFL would free up coaches from having to have that affiliation to survive. With a league all of the coaches will be on salary just like any other professional sport. And they would have and owner and a general manager that would be responsible for their training needs - so the coach can focus on coaching. The league would also take our elite coaches and surround them with more athletes as well as assistant coaches. It would give a lot of young coaches an opportunity to be tutored by some of the great coaches out there like John Smith, Bobby Kersee, Clyde Hart, Brooks Johnson and others. And it will help us better prepare our athletes for the Olympics and World Championships and other international competitions, because more athletes will get exposed to the best coaches we have to offer. We wouldn't be asking Allyson Felix to leave Bobby Kersee, but rather take a Bobby Kersee and surround him with more athletes that can gain from his knowledge.

And it would be a big win for the athletes. The NTFL would get more athletes paid from top to bottom - just like football or basketball - because athletes would be signed to contracts. Shoe contracts wouldn't be the only stable revenue stream. They would also have their own association where their voice can be heard. Right now there really is no voice for the athletes. So this would be the first opportunity for the athletes to actually have a voice in the sport. Eventually the league would be able to create retirement packages and insurance so that it becomes more of a real job instead of a hobby that pays the athlete money.

It would also create ways for retired athletes to stay involved in the sport. Other professional sports bring guys back as coaches, general managers, and other positions. The NTFL could do the same. I can see former athletes like Carl Lewis, Mo Greene, Evelyn Ashford, Jackie Joyner Kersee and Michael Johnson being brought in as General Managers to help run these teams. It would provide more work for announcers like Dwight Stones and Ato Boldon and possibly open up new opportunities for others that might be interested in getting into new areas of the sport.

Cway - So you've given thought to this being more than just putting together some teams to compete against each other?

Graham - Like I said, I've been thinking about this for at least six years, and I've looked at how everyone in the sport can capitalize. If we have teams that's more jobs for the athletes. More athletes with contracts means more work for the agents. The expansion to teams creates more selling opportunities for the shoe companies. And a more fan friendly sport means more TV and more money - and that gets passed along to everybody.

And if we have our best coaches, athletes, and former athletes working together through the league there will be a guaranteed benefit to our National/International teams! If the goal is to improve our results in the Olympics and World Championships can you imagine a crew of our best sprinters, for example, working together with our best coaches? Not to mention the up and coming athletes that get to work with these athletes AND coaches! It would create an ongoing development program.

That would then free up USATF to put other resources into the grass roots programs with the kids and their families. So yeah, I want everyone possible to benefit.

Cway - Well, I'm looking forward to seeing your plan and getting a chance to see how it compares to some of the ideas that have already been bandied about. And while I know you didn't want to spend a lot of time talking about your situation with the sport, I would like to talk to you about that if we get to chat again.

Graham - Sure. I've been quiet for a while, and listened to people say a lot of things about me - many of them not true. Right now I want to let people know that Trevor Graham is someone that really wants to help the sport, and I think this is a way that I can contribute. Thank you for letting me do that. So I do think we can talk again and I will tell you my thoughts about some other areas of the sport

Cway - Good. I know there are a lot of people that would like to hear what you have to say. Thank you for your time and I hope to talk again real soon.

Bolt to run "Street Race" in Britain

Apparently double Olympic sprint champion Usain Bolt of Jamaica has signed on to run in a 150 meter street race in Manchester England on May 17. While some are excited about Bolt's appearance in the city, I have to say that it harkens back to Jesse Owens racing horses following his quadruple Olympic victories in 1936.

Circumstances were quite different then, as Owens being an African American, had tremendous difficulty "cashing in" on his Olympic success in traditional ways. Then it was still difficult for Owens to get "good work" and so he had to resort to "side show" type competitions to try to earn a living. I would like to think that over 70 years into the future from Owens' exploits, that track and field's modern athletes would no longer have to participate in "side show" type events to earn a living.

More importantly, I would like to think that track and field as a sport would not have to resort to these types of events to market itself to the public. We have a great product. We need to stop slicing and dicing it to sell it. It is still the center piece of the Olympic Games and popular world wide. It can be sold "As Is".

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

What's Going on at UCLA ?

Headline on the Track and Field News website today read: Hurting UCLA Hurdler Craddock to Redshirt This Year.

As a huge sprint and hurdle fan, growing up here in Cali UCLA was one of the iconic institutions of track and field. Their storied past is littered with some of the greats of the sport: Warren Edmonson, Millard Hampton, Mike Marsh, Danny Everett, Steve Lewis, Henry Thomas, John Smith, Benny Brown, Greg Foster, Wayne Collett, just to name a few. Their dual meet battles with cross town rival USC in the 1970's and 80's were legendary! I remember attending dual meets between the two that were standing room only and you couldn't even get a spot to view on the other side of the fence as bodies were 3 and 4 deep!

But something has gone badly wrong in Westwood. Here in the new Millennium the program - at least the sprint and hurdle portion, the foundation in the past - has had a lot of difficulty. Since the departure of Ato Boldon back in the mid 90's the program has struggled to get top performances from its sprinters and hurdlers. They've continued to recruit well. But the line of high school stars that have gone through the program and spent most of their time watching from the stands reads like a Who's Who of the best of the 2000's. Warren Rogers, Kevin Craddock and David Klech among the high school state champions that went to UCLA this decade as bona fide, can't miss products that suffered injury after injury.

Rogers looked like the second coming of Henry Thomas - a sprinter that could run every distance from 100 through 400. But never got untracked. Klech was a can't miss star at both hurdle distances, who after suffering from injuries as a frosh at UCLA decided to take his talent to Oregon and redshirted - we'll see if he takes the track this year. And then there is Craddock, the next Greg Foster. He suffered injuries, came back to win Pac 10 titles and now appears to be injured yet again.

While the SEC has grown in stature in the sprints and hurdles the past couple of decades, former Pac10 powerhouse UCLA has floundered. Head coach Art Venegas has proven his skill with field event performers. Perhaps its time to find a sprint/hurdle person to handle those programs. It seems that the backwards slide started when sprint guru John Smith left the program to focus on his professional squad. With Smith still in the Los Angeles area, perhaps bringing him back into the fold would be something to look at. Or maybe another former sprinter or hurdler might be willing to come back to tutor the youngsters. But right now the sprint and hurdle program is a shell of its glory days. And those of us that remember those days are having a hard time watching what has been taking place this past decade or so. NCAA championships without UCLA in the sprint, hurdle and relay finals just doesn't seem right.

Monday, March 16, 2009

High School News

The preps also closed out their indoor season this past weekend with two championship meets - Nike Indoor Nationals in Boston, and the National Scholastic Championships in New York City.

While the high school kids typically don't get a lot of attention, they are the future of our sport here in the US. Not that long ago this year's collegiate indoor star Galen Rupp was running a National Record 13:37.91, while last year's Olympic 400 gold medalist, LaShawn Merritt was leading the prep ranks at 45.25. Today both are stars in their own rights.

This past weekend, new stars seemed to take their place. In Boston, Wayne Davis of Raleigh NC set a National Indoor record in the 60 meter hurdles. His 7.60 taking none other than multiple Olympic and World Medalist Terrence Trammell from the record book. 60 meter champion Devon Smith of White Plains MD would have held his own in this years Collegiate 60 as evidenced by his 6.63 victory. And Jordan Hasay of Arroyo Grande CA showed that she is still a part of the future of women's distance running with an outstanding 2 mile win in 10:10.89!

In New York, Robby Andrews became the first prep ever under 1:50 in the 800 with his stunning 1:49.21 win. How good is this mark? He's now faster indoors than the last three outdoor record holders Michael Granville (1:46.45), George Kersh (1:46.58) and Pete Richardson (1:47.31) AND prep Mile record holder Alan Webb (1:47.75)! With these four as my guide I'm thinking we will see great things from Mr. Andrews this outdoor season.

Also turning in a National Record performance was Solomon Haile of Sandy Spring MD with his 14:22.88 win in the 5000 meters - part of a 2 mile (9:02.67) double! And speaking of doubles, Ashton Purvis, Oakland CA, won a sizzling 60/200 double in 7.43/23.37. I've been paying attention to Purvis out here in Cali and she is going to be someone to recon with this outdoor season!

I'll be periodically updating on High School action, as every season new stars emerge that in short order make their way to the collegiate and international spot lights. I would bet that at least one of the youngsters named above will do just that.

NCAA Indoor Championships Closes Out Indoor Season

The collegians put a nice close on what has been a rather lackluster indoor season.

The University of Oregon showed that it is indeed the nations top team (at least indoors) with a convincing victory in College Station Texas this past weekend - lead by distance star Galen Rupp who had wins in the 3000 (7:48.94), 5000 (13.41.45), and a leg on the winning Distance Medley Relay (9.29.59)! An awesome individual performance. The University of Florida, runner up in this meet, was lead by its own star, frosh Christian Taylor, who scored an American Junior Record in the Triple Jump with his 55' 8.50" (16.98m)jump to win the competition.

In other meet highlights, Wake Forest Sr Michael Bingham ran a world leading 45.69 to narrowly defeat Gil Roberts of Texas Tech (45.71). Baylor's Trey Harts also ran a world leader in winning the 200 in 20.63, then ran a leg on the winning 4x4 (3:05.81) that also notched a world leading performance. On the women's side, the Tennessee Lady Vols won as Sarah Bowman lead the way with her victory in the mile (4:29.72). And another world leading performance was turned in my Miami's Murielle Ahoure as she won the 200 in 22.80.

Congrats to all the winners. Now its time to head outdoors!

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Track Shorts

Dwain Chambers (GBR) finished off his fast weekend in Turin with a European Championship over 60 meters with a nice 6.46. Chambers is the only man to run under 6.50 this season, doing so twice in Turin. His run sets him up to potentially run in the 9.8x range for 100 meters outdoors. Making him a potential challenger to the top sprinters including Usain Bolt (JAM), Tyson Gay (US), Asafa Powell (JAM), Richard Thompson(TRI) and Walter Dix (US). Setting up quite a quandary for the sport, as Chambers is the first individual to compete faster after a ban that he was competing before the ban.

Britain's response has been to maintain its position that he will not be allowed to compete in the Olympics. Although they WILL allow him to compete in the World Championships in Berlin. But take note - they will not allow him to run on the 4x1 in Berlin, ostensibly because he won’t be able to be part of the team in London! Now that's what I call cutting off your nose to spite your face! And the real irony here is that Christine Ohuruogu also served a doping suspension. However, SHE came off suspension and competed in the World Championships in 2007 (400 and 4x4) and then was allowed to compete in the Beijing Olympics in 2008! Like I said in a previous post, this sport has a problem with equity when it comes to doping policy.

Who is Sebastian Bayer? The German Long Jumper hit a bomb with his 8.71m (28' 7") win in Turin. How huge was it? He entered the season with an outdoor PB of 8.15m (26' 9") from last season. His improvement to 8.17m (26' 9.75") prior to Turin gave no indication that anything of the sort was on the horizon. Now suddenly he is on par with Carl Lewis! Bayer's mark smashed the previous European Record of 8.56m (28' 1") set by Yago Lamela (ESP)back in 1999! The European Outdoor Record is held by Robert Emmiyan (ARM), one of only four jumpers to eclipse 29' with his PB 8.86m (29' 1"), set in 1987. It will be very interesting to see what Bayer does outdoors. Was this a Beamon one shot bomb, or the beginning of a huge career? Europe hasn't seen a dominant horizontal jumper on the men's side since the retirement of British triple jumper Jonathan Edwards.

One of my favorite track and field sites is facing closure due to the economy - Trackshark. An excellent site that I frequent daily. Tom Borish has done a wonderful job and if the site indeed shuts down it will be sorely missed. I sincerely hope that Tom can somehow find the funding he needs to keep the site at its present stature.

USATF CEO Doug Logan has stated that he believes our athletes should receive bonuses for PB's set at the Olympics, and lesser bonuses for seasons bests. While it’s a nice thought, why are we still only talking about the Olympics? Do we not realize that the sport has WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS? Twice as many in a four year cycle than Olympics. And World Championships competition and performances are every bit as good as those in the Olympics! A nice idea to be sure, but shouldn't we be looking at ways to get these athletes funded on a regular basis so that they can do the work necessary to do their best at the Olympics AND World Championships?

How many more athletes would be able to progress and reach their potential if they had solid funding to train? The key, in my humble opinion, is trying to fund development! Right now, you have to be a star very early in your career to draw the attention of the shoe companies and secure enough funding to continue forward. If you're not world class before you leave college, getting there afterwards is a very tough road! I think our athletes would appreciate some help getting there even more than a payment of appreciation AFTER the job has already been done.

With the goal apparently focused on medal counts, if you want more medals you have to get more athletes in medal contention. Relying on a handful of athletes to always be there is not the recipe for success. It would have been real nice last year, for example, to have another sprinter ready to step up when Tyson Gay went down last year. Three Tyson Gay's instead of just one should be the goal. Not just paying Tyson to do his best in one meet! If we focus on development - which would mean getting athletes paid to train - performances, medals, accolades will be the byproduct. Right now we're looking at putting the cart before the horse.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Championships Update

Dwain Chambers clocks the first sub 6.50 60 meters of the season by blazing to a 6.42 in his Semifinal heat of the European Championships. Chambers run was a European Record and made him the #3 Performer All Time, with the =6th All Time performance. Chambers now trails only Maurice Greene (6.39) and Andre Cason (6.41) All Time. Chambers could be in pursuit of Greene in tomorrow's final.

Also in Turin Johan Wissman of Sweden added the years first and only sub 46 400 to date with his 45.89 Euro Champs win.

And add Ryan Bailey to the list of impressive freshmen this indoor season as the frosh from Bend Lake Junior College in Oregon sped 20.92 to win the NJCAA National Indoor title over 200 meters. Bailey's time was only .03 sec off the National JC Record of 20.89 set by Trell Kimmons in 2006.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Dwain Chambers and What's Wrong with the Drug Program

Snipets of the Dwain Chambers book have been leaking out on the Internet as a result of it being serialized In Sportsmail. .And, of course, as with "Speed Trap" and other books, it appears that he is ready to "tell all" - or at least a bit of what he knows. Already John Regis, his agent, is being investigated because Chambers says that Regis knew he was doping. Once again doping is in the headlines of the sport.

In its quest to become a truly professional sport and command world wide attention, support, and dollars, track and field in my opinion has three crucial areas that are stumbling blocks - Drugs, Structure, and Marketing. Of these, drugs is the most visible, and therefore the most damaging with respect to the general public. Because during this first decade of the New Millennium the sport has become synonymous with doping via high profile court cases such as BALCO and the suspension of high profile athletes.

Unfortunately for the sport, however, it's not just articles about drug busts that command attention when it comes to track and field. The announced busts are always just the beginning of the reporting cycle. In large part, in my opinion, because the way doping is handled in track and field it leaves a trail of bitter athletes, chemists and others that continue the conversation long after the busts themselves are announced. Because due to its lack of a solidly uniform doping policy, there is seldom a bust, a suspension, and a request for and granted reinstatement like you get in other sports.

For example, the most recent example of lack of uniformity can be seen in the Dwain Chambers situation. Chambers was found guilty of taking THG during the early stages of the BALCO investigation. His punishment was supposed to be a two year banishment from the sport, which he served between 2004 and 2006. That ban being handed down by the "Governing Body of the Sport" - the IAAF. Ban served. Fulfilled the requirements to be reinstated to the sport. End of story right? Not hardly - not in track and field.

You see, even though he has done his penance and served his time Great Britain has decided that there are meets they do not want him to participate in. Now the "Governing Body of the Sport" has said that he is ok to compete anywhere, any time, in any competition. But his country says that they will not allow him to participate in any Championships - World or Olympics! That would be like an NFL player being banned, returning, being allowed to play in every regular season game and the playoffs, then having his team say they won't let him suit up for the Super Bowl ! THAT would never happen in a "real" professional sport! Sort of makes you question just how much of a governing body the IAAF really is, and just who is running the sport.

But in track and field you don't have to be banned to receive that kind of treatment. Prior to actually being suspended from the sport, Marion Jones made headlines because meet promoters "suspected" that she might be dirty due to previous associations, so they blackballed her from several high paying competitions! No negative test. No suspension. Simply suspicion. So she was blackballed from meets - and it was publically noted by several meet promoters that she was being blackballed. The response from the sports "Governing Body" - nothing. Apparently track and field is the only sport where collusion is an accepted practice.

And apparently, meet promoters have decided that in spite of the doping rules that currently exist, serving a ban and "paying your dues" just doesn't but it with them. Because with the recent announcement of the upcoming Diamond League it was clearly stated that "Athletes previously involved in Doping are not going to be invited to run in the Diamond League"! So how is Dwain supposed to make a living in the sport that says he's cleared to run if the meet promoters won't give him a lane to run in?

The irony of Dwain's situation (or Marion's for that matter) for me is that I remember other European athletes being banned and welcomed back to the sport! Grit Breuer was banned in 1992 for Clenbuterol, and served the mandatory two years. She returned to the sport, competed on the Circuit; three European Championships; two World Championships and two Olympic Games before retiring from the sport! All with the knowledge that East Germany had been running one of the most sophisticated state sponsored doping programs in history!

Same for distance runner Dieter Baumann. When he was busted for Nandrolone in 1999 he was one of the few competitive non Africans in the distance events. Like Breuer, and Chambers, he served his two year ban and was reinstated to the sport. Baumann competed in Europe as well as a European Championships and World Championships before injuries caused him to leave the sport. Apparently in track and field what is good for the goose is not always good for the gander!

As we see, in select cases the drug policy of the sport is skirted, or augmented by groups and individuals to the detriment of athletes that followed the rules given them. Athletes have been denied their ability to compete in spite of the rules at hand and have been put in a position of ostracism from both fellow athletes and meets controlling their ability to earn a living. And whether or not you agree with what the athletes did, the issue here is that their indiscretions (or perceived indiscretions) do not justify others going outside the rules of the sport to accomplish their own goals - two wrongs never make a right. No wonder we have so many bitter individuals out there!

Of course the Governing Body itself serves as a poor example. In the case of Justin Gatlin the sport initially said that a positive test in 2001 was inadvertent and there was no intent to defraud or gain an advantage. So Gatlin was allowed to continue competing. But when he tested positive in 2006, it was decided to use the first test AGAINST him in order to create a second doping violation - one that created an eight year ban. But wait a minute, the sport was not done. You see, the sport said that although it was now going to count the first test against him they were willing to play "Let's Make a Deal" - tell us what we want to know and we'll let you off easy!

Now IF the goal of the sport is to eradicate its dirty athletes, where does negotiating fit in? If an individual is dirty is he or she any less dirty if they help you catch someone else? If you allow them to remain on the track does their confession make the playing field any more level? Makes me wonder exactly what the goal of the sport IS with respect to doping!

Which brings me to last year's faux paux, that of allowing Jamaica not to have an Anti Doping Agency in place. Jamaica was supposed to have had an agency in place well before the Olympic season, yet had failed to do so. Not to worry, there is a Regional Agency in the Caribbean that can be utilized until the local agency is in place. Well the Regional Agency is there, but Jamaica opted to not participate in that either! Leaving them with NO testing program in the all important Olympic season! With NO consequences from the Governing Body of the Sport! As a matter of fact the IAAF said that it went down to conduct some tests to "check on them" - a clear conflict of interest in a sport that utilizes third party Anti Doping Agencies to separate itself from the process and eliminate any sense of impropriety! Questions of impropriety aside, my question is how could the IAAF even conduct tests in Jamaica when there is no certified testing facility in the country?

Of course we're supposed to just take their word for it because the public information policy on drug testing seems to be "Don’t Ask, Don't Tell" as the only information readily available to the public regarding doping is the list of those that have tested positive and are being suspended! Now THAT is what I call a lack of transparency. No lists of who has been tested, how often, or what the results were. No information on how many samples have been taken and how many have actually been tested. Only when someone is being booted from the sport do we get any information. So we have no idea who is being targeted; who isn't being tested; who may have had borderline results; or who had results swept under the rug. And unfortunately we know from history that all of these things have happened in the past!

Then in the reporting of positive tests there seems to be a problem with discretion. For starters this sport has had a huge problem with "leaks" regarding drug tests. Every season information "leaks" out of positive "A" tests before the "B" sample can be tested and confirmed. This should be virtually impossible given that samples are supposed to be labeled with numbers and not names and only a handful of individuals are supposed to know what numbers correspond to what names! Makes one wonder how the "informants" know whose sample was being tested! And if its known whose samples tests have been tested it would stand to reason that the source of the samples is known BEFORE the tests are conducted - or perhaps not conducted at all!

The solution to this aspect of the doping problem in track and field would be to develop a comprehensive drug program for the sport. One that uses a reliable and adaptable form of testing. A program that is uniform throughout the sport so that all federations are abiding by the same rules and all athletes are treated equally. And, most importantly, a program that is transparent so that everyone has access to information/knowledge on what is going on with tests, athletes, and suspensions. Then, MOST IMPORTANTLY, see to it that everyone involved with the sport is following the same rules - not implementing their own selected guidelines.

Until that happens the sport will continue to suffer from unnecessary negative publicity on the doping front.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Track Shorts

Plans to upgrade the "Golden League" to a new "Diamond League" were announce this past week. Beginning in 2010, it will expand the current race series to include meets outside of Europe with stops in China, the United States and perhaps Doha, Qatar. With locations still to be solidified the Diamond League could have anywhere from 12 to 15 meets. Each meet is scheduled to offer over $400,000 in prize money with the stated goal of tieing the sports biggest stars to multi meet contracts to encourage head to head competition.

Nice to see this "Circuit" of meets extend beyond Europe. If the sport is to grow the worlds top athletes must compete in venues outside of Europe. Having two meets here in the US should help marketing of the sport as it will bring unfamiliar names to the fore here. It will be a nice start to making the sport more international here in the US. Perhaps it will encourage our federation to take a look at bidding on the World Championships (hint hint).

I mentioned this past weekend that the SEC is being lead by an awesome group of freshmen this year as evidenced by the SEC Championships . I didn't realize it at the time, but the 6.52 run by Dangelo Cherry was an American Junior Record in the event, smashing the 6.56 previous held by Leonard Scott. Cherry's dash was only .01 off the World Junior Record set by Mark Lewis Francis of Great Britain in 2001. Something special could be in store when Cherry meets up with High School and World Junior 100 Meter Record Holder Jeff Demps (10.01) meet up later this year in NCAA competition. With Demps at the University of Florida and Cherry at Mississippi State, we could see them face off, two or three times on their way to the NCAA Championships final.

The European Championships are up this weekend with the men and women's high jumps leading the way. Blanka Vlasic v. Ariane Friedrich could be THE highlight of the meet. The last time they met both cleared a world leading 2.05m with Friedrich winning on misses. Vlasic is a competitor who will be looking to avenge that loss. Friedrich will be trying to stay undefeated. I'm thinkin Friedrich is on a roll!

Next weekend we get the NCAA Championships and then its time to start looking outdoors.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Weekend Chatter

A championship weekend of sorts, but I have to say it really didn't feel like one.

Several collegiate conferences had their championships, the most notable being the SEC. Competitive as always, I was most taken by the fact that as deep and strong as the SEC is, it is being dominated this year by FRESHMEN! Second (Ryan Fleck, AUB, 7' .50"), third, fourth AND fifth in the men's high jump, all freshmen. Winner of the women's pole vault (Rachel Laurent, LSU, 14' .50"); runner up in the men's heptathlon (Gray Horn, Florida, 5586); double winner in the long jump and triple jump (Christian Taylor, Florida, 25' 3.5" & 52' 10.25"); winner of the men's 400 meters (Robert Simmons, LSU, 46.22); and first (Torrin Lawrence, Georgia, 20.81) and second (Marek Niit, Arkansas, 20.90) in the men's 200 all freshmen! And Mississippi State freshman sprinter Dangelo Cherry was busy running in the USATF National Championships where he blazed a 6.52 in the 60 meters in taking the runner up position there! Oh, and let's not forget that Florida frosh Jeff Demps (HSR 10.01) has passed on the indoor season.

Odd enough to see freshmen doing well in a Junior College setting, but in the SEC - perhaps the strongest collegiate track conference in the nation - this is truly an outstanding group! If the SEC is any indication the future of track and field in this country is still very bright indeed.

Speaking of track in this country, USA Track and Field held its Indoor Championships this weekend and we were treated to the Jenn Stuczynski and the Hurdlers show. As Jennifer, Lolo Jones and Terrence Trammell were the clear stars of what was otherwise an underwhelming weekend.

Fighting to win the "Visa Championship" on the women's side, Stuczynski needed an America Record performance after Amber Campbell unleashed an 80' 2" weight throw to tie Jennifer for the Visa title. Fear not as Stuczynski cleared 15' 10" for a new AR and the Visa lead. A lead that held up until the penultimate event, when Lolo Jones, hot all indoor season, took to the track needing to run 7.86 to tie Stuczynski - a mark she has bettered several times this season. Jones, running with clockwork precision, clipped off a 7.84 to claim victory in the 60 meter hurdles AND a $25,000 check from Visa as the Indoor Visa Champion.

Trammell was already the Visa leader heading into his event, but sealed the deal in fine fashion and he blitzed 7.38 to win the 60 meter hurdles - just missing the AR by .01! Trammell and Jones have both been running with passion this indoor season as if they have been looking to erase their Beijing disappointments. Both have been fast, focused and running very well.

I wish the same could be said for the rest of the meet, which was lacking "oomph" throughout most of the competition. The men's and women's 1500 meter races won in 3:45.73 and 4:17.37 respectively were indicative of the majority of performances this weekend. Not exactly the kind of championship runs one would expect at this level. With the wide spread disappearance of "stars" from the indoor season, and the lower level of performances overall, I wonder if its not time to rethink the need for the indoor season at the elite level.

It's been nice to watch the growth of Shalane Flanagan, Kara Goucher and Anna Willard in the distances. As well as Ivory Williams, Mike Rogers, and Carmelita Jeter in the sprints. But clearly the indoor season is becoming more developmental than the place where the truly elite meet to compete - at least here in the US. It seems most of our top athletes are preparing for the outdoor season - where their money is made. And the few that have been competing this winter have spent most of their time in Europe.

So maybe its time to rethink the indoor season. Is it really necessary? Are there better ways to spend the dollars currently being spent indoors? Just something to think about as we contemplate ways to improve the sport here in the states.