Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Goodbye 2010 – The Year of David

ROTTERDAM, NETHERLANDS - JANUARY 01:  New Year's Eve fireworks display illuminates the sky over the Erasmus Bridge crossing the Nieuwe Maas river on January 1, 2010 in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  (Photo by Jasper Juinen/Getty Images)

Most track seasons are defined by a championship. Every four years it’s the Olympic Games. For the years directly before and after the Olympics it’s the World Championships. Everyone’s focus is on those meets, and it is typically the performances produced in the Major that create the most lasting impressions – and define a season.

2010 was an “off season” however – a season without a major. And off seasons tend to define themselves differently. 2006 saw the rebirth of the 200 meters. 2002 opened the floodgates on BALCO. 1998 saw the World Cup in Johannesburg’s high altitude produce Mexico City like results.

2010 was a very busy year. We saw the end of the two year tenure of Doug Logan as CEO of USA Track and Field. The IAAF rolled out the Diamond League as its signature set of meets. Allyson Felix gave notice that she may be the best 200/400 woman on the planet; Chris Solinsky became America’s first sub 27 / sub13 distance runner; and the U.S. appeared ready to get back in the game over the middle distances with Andrew Wheating, Leo Manzano, Alicia Johnson, Phoebe Wright, Morgan Uceny, and Christin Wurth Thomas all starting to come of age.

But I will remember 2010 as the Year of David – both literally and figuratively. As three “David’s” made huge noise in 2010.

David Rudisha started the year hot with a PR 45.50 over 400 in late March. He opened at 1:43.15 in his specialty on April 4th, He set his second WR at 1:41.01 on August 29th, and during the course of the year ran under 1:43.00 seven times on his way to an undefeated season – including three times under 1:42.00! His first WR run of 1:41.09 took down Wilson Kipketer’s 12 year old WR – one of the sports’ most hallowed marks. His outstanding set of performances made him the 2010 Athlete of the Year.

But as good as Rudisha was his status as Athlete of the Year was not secure until he crossed the line in 1:41.09. Because another David was also having an AOY type season.

David Oliver also started his season off quickly running 13.24 in April. A 13.11 victory over WR holder Dayron Robles (13.26) in Daegu on May 19th served notice that Oliver was in form and ready to compete – and compete he did. Oliver was also undefeated; had eight marks under 13.10; and five times ran under 13.00 – twice setting American records in the process (12.90 & 12.89). For most of the year it was clear that David was going to be AOY. And though Rudisha’s two WR’s trumped Oliver for World AOY, his two AR’s and undefeated season easily made him the U.S. Athlete of the Year.

The third David was the embodiment of the “biblical” David – he that slew Goliath. As Tyson Gay gave life to singer Gil Scott-Heron’s lyrics “There Ain’t No Such Thing As A Superman”, when he defeated Usain Bolt in Stockholm on August 6th. The highlight of Gay’s season in which he was undefeated over 100 meters – co-leading the world at 9.78. He suffered only 1 loss over 200 and set a WR 19.41 for a straight 200. And ran a PR 44.89 over 400 meters – making him the first sprinter to run sub 10, sub 20 and sub 45 with automatic timing (Steve Williams turned the trick in the ‘70’s with hand timing). In any other season this would have been enough to make this “David” AOY. But in 2010 he simply becomes the third David – The Giant Killer.

So goodbye to 2010. I’m looking forward to seeing how all of our young middle distance performers do in 2011. And I’m certain there is more to come from the David’s. Here is a final look at the Year of David.

Rudisha sets first WR


Oliver dominates


No such thing as a Superman

Monday, December 27, 2010

USATF CEO Search – What Do They Want to Accomplish?

A couple of weeks ago USATF posted the job description for the incoming CEO. At least it’s the job description that they are using in their search to fill the position.

While it’s nice to know that the organization is looking for someone that is:

  • A passionate leader
  • Innovative marketing and sales professional
  • Supporter of athletics and volunteers, and a
  • Skilled team builder

As I read the document I’m more interested in exactly what they want this person to do – as I’m sure whomever is hired is going to want to know as well. And I’m not referring to the generic items referenced in the job description:

  • Strategy
  • Communication
  • Revenue
  • Performance
  • Development
  • Innovation
  • Culture, and
  • Resources

I would like to know what the organization REALLY wants to see happen with track and field in the United States. What is it that USATF wants to accomplish here in the US? After all, that would be a question that I would ask if I were sitting on the other side of the table from the interview panel – in what direction does my prospective employer want to see the sport go?

Everything in the job description sounds just grand. We’re going to “improve” our communication and marketing; interact better with the IAAF and USOC; and “create new ways of creating events and buzz”! But what does all of that mean?

I was hoping that the key to understanding just that would lie in the 2009 Strategic Plan – because the job description states that “The CEO is the spokesperson and will lead all aspects of USATF with integrity and in accordance with the USATF 2009 Strategic Plan, and Board policies while giving appropriate consideration to the rules and policies of the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF - the world governing body), and the United States Olympic Committee (USOC).” So I’m thinking that the Strategic Plan lays out the path that USATF intends to follow – and the path down which the next CEO will lead.

But I discovered that it too is very generic. Now in some ways this is a good thing. It means the CEO will have tremendous latitude in how he/she interprets the Strategic Plan. In turn it means greater flexibility in implementing one’s interpretation of the plan. On the other hand, there’s an old saying: “if you fail to plan you plan to fail”. And I’m wondering if the lack of any specificity within the Strategic Plan, and by association the job description for the CEO, may be indicative of why the sport has been on what seems to be a mission of failure for well over a decade now.

Now I could be completely wrong – there could be a “plan” out there that has been discussed and codified detailing exactly what this organization wants to see accomplished. But without anything remotely resembling “transparency” in anything that USATF seems to do, how would I or anyone else outside of the organization know. Quite honestly, the way some things happen within the organization, I wonder if those inside the organization are privy to such information either.

For example, just what do we expect from our international teams? Do we have goals for number of medalists, finalists, semi finalists? Do we have goals for improvement in the number of individuals that make it through the rounds? How does the organization feel about our current status in the field events? What are our plans for athlete development? Do we want to develop more training centers – even perhaps regional training centers? How about the development of a permanent national coaching staff that would actually be working together year round and not just put together for Worlds or the Olympics. 

How does the organization feel about itself and it’s performance? Does it feel it’s properly structured. Is there balance between the purely “amateur” and the “elite” athletes? Financially do we have what we need to accomplish our “goals” and if not what do we need in order to succeed?

If I were sitting on the other side of the interview table these are some questions that I would have of the organization. Questions I would hope have answers that have previously been researched and thought out. Because while I am excited to see that USATF (and I’m assuming the search firm) have put together a nice looking job description, the real issue on the table is what are we looking to accomplish! Because if there is no real answer to that question aside from the “2009 Strategic Plan”, then I see no improvement in the sport here in the US regardless of who the eventual CEO may be.

So that is the information I would like to see put out there – not just a generic job description. Tell us, and more specifically the candidates whomever they may be, just what it is this sport wants to accomplish in the US. Specific numbers. Target dates. Where and what do we want to be in two years (London), five years , 10 years? Tell them what you really want them to do. Then we will do a better job of filling the position. More importantly that person will know from day one what the REAL expectations are. After all, if you fail to plan you plan to fail. Or to paraphrase another old saying: proper prior planning prevents <lousy> performance.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Final X-mas List Item – A World Champs Bid

Santa and his reindeer stand on display in front of a recreation center four days before Christmas in Wheat Ridge, Colorado on December 20, 2010.        UPI/Gary C. Caskey Photo via Newscom

Christmas is nearing the final countdown, so time for only one more request from Track Santa. After much thought I decided to put in a request for a U.S. bid to host the World Championships.

After all we are LONG LONG overdue. Not a single bid in the 27 years that the event has been in existence. I don’t know what’s worse, that we haven’t seen Bolt & Gay head to head in the deuce since ‘07 or that the U.S. has yet to bid for the World Championships – I think perhaps the bid.

Now this will take a lot of work – we don’t even have a viable site. So this one may not be deliverable this year. I will settle, however, for having the ground work started on a bid in 2011. USATF can put that near the top of the “To Do” list for the incoming CEO – actually it should be near the top of USATF’s “To Do” list.

There’s much to do. For starters we don’t even have a viable stadium to host the event. We also have funding to secure and partnerships to develop.  But as the world’s premier track power, putting together a bid and hosting the World Championships is something that must be done.

Given all that we need to do to host a Worlds, I will forgive Track Santa if this one isn’t delivered for a while. But I would hope that we can see a bid by 2012. So until then you will see this item on my annual Christmas list until Track Santa finally delivers!

So, those are my requests this Christmas:

  1. Hot Rivalries
  2. Free Live Streaming
  3. New Uniforms
  4. Transparency & Fairness in Doping
  5. A World Championships Bid

I hope that I can see at least half of my list filled this year. Rivalries and Free Streaming should be deliverable – the easiest of the list to fill. New Uniforms, while not a given, should be on the docket anyway – it’s time. The transparency and the bid may take a bit more work to accomplish, but I think they are worthy goals that are attainable.

So that’s my list and I’m sticking to it. I hope that you all get what you have requested this Christmas, and that you have an enjoyable holiday season.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

X-mas List Item #4 – Transparency & Fairness in Doping

Mar 14, 2010; Doha, QATAR; LaVerne Jones-Ferrette (IVN) was second in the women's 60m in 7.03 in the IAAF World Indoor Championships at the Aspire Dome.

There are some crucial areas of this sport that are in need of repair if we are to move forward and become all that we can be. One of the most critical being the perception of this sport when it comes to doping.

Just this past week came news that Laverne Jones Ferrette – World Indoor 60 silver medalist and the first woman to run under 7.00 in over a decade – didn’t compete outdoors this year because she was suspended for a failed drug test! And I have to scratch my head and ask: why weren’t we told back in February  when it all occurred? It adds to, and exacerbates the perception that the drug situation in this sport seems to be a constant cover up to allow the sport to simply do what it feels like instead of seriously trying to “win the war” against doping!

The answer, of course is simple though disturbing – we treat doping in this sport like the old “batty” relative kept in the attic. We know it’s there. But any “noises” that are heard are explained away as “squirrels in the roof” – extraordinary human beings. We just don’t want to admit that there may be a problem. So the sport keeps all information on doping locked away from sight and inaccessible – and we just don’t talk about it and discourage others from doing the same.

That’s why so many people got mad at former hurdler James Carter earlier this year when he expressed his feelings about being “cheated out of placings and medals” by athletes he felt or says he knew were using drugs. Why Victor Conte is called bitter, a liar, and a man with an agenda whenever he brazenly states that he knows who, what, when, where and how to stop the drug flow in the sport. And why people have gotten mad at me in the past for bringing up anything that has to do with the drug issue.

No one wants to talk about why when Americans get busted for inadvertent drug use for substances that they clearly weren’t taking to enhance performance the penalty is two years, but when Jamaicans get busted for inadvertent drug use the penalty is three months. Or that WADA says that Russia must step up it's anti doping efforts, while defending Jamaica’s lack of a testing facility, conflict of interest within the program, lack of an anti doping agency through the Olympics and Worlds and failure to participate in the regional Anti Doping Agency until JADCO becomes adequately functional.

Then again, before there was a James Carter, a WADA or anti doping agencies there was Gwen Torrence proclaiming that she was competing against, and losing to, athletes that were not as clean as the driven snow – and she too was vilified for entertaining such thoughts. The small country of East Germany did nothing but turn out women running sprint and hurdle records as if they owned the clock – most with voices deeper than my own. Of course later on we found out why. And the Chinese went from having almost no world class athletes to destroying the record books in everything 1500 meters and up. But you couldn’t discuss the verboten topic of <drugs> because it’s not allowed in track and field – even though everyone knew what they were looking at.

You see the sport of track and field has a storied history of simply wanting to tout the “Hero” or country of the moment and looking the other way – while everyone whispers in the background about what they think is in the attic. One minute it’s East Germany, the next the United States. The Greeks and Canadians have had their turn, and the Jamaican’s are experiencing theirs as we speak. Unfortunately in the process the baby gets tossed out with the bath water – the innocent get branded with the guilty – because we have no forum for exploring and coming up with the truth. Discussion is not allowed and there is no transparency within our testing systems. Instead we have a sport where innuendo runs rampant as everyone wonders what is causing the noise in the attic! – it’s not like anyone thought Laverne not competing this year was actually normal. Leaving suspicion, barbershop discussions, and message board chatter as the substitute for what should be IAAF press releases and a web site dedicated to the transparent dispersal of information on doping within the sport.

Because the reality is that these things must be talked about if we have any hope of cleaning up this sport. Though at times I wonder if that’s truly the goal of the IAAF. After all, the overall marketing plan of track and field seems to be predicated not on the competition itself, but the pursuit of the ultimate in performance – the setting of world records. A dichotomy that seems to support the very behavior that the sport says it abhors. Which causes some very erratic behavior from track and field. That’s why it’s ok to trash anyone that’s been convicted and banned for two years or more, but not ok to trash those convicted but only banned for a few months. It’s why we can say that those that were out for two years or more were only good because they used drugs, but we create silly excuses for the miraculous performances of those not banned – even though their performances far outpace those of banned athletes. Dietary excuses (special tubers grown on mountain sides), alien life forms in spikes that have exponentially bypassed human evolution, and small populations that are just better than anyone else on the planet because they are, well  “special”. Schizophrenic behavior that causes the sport to decry drug use out of one side of it’s mouth while embracing otherworldly performance out of the other side – because, as with the relative, they may be crazy/outlandish but we get paid for taking care of them – it’s money in the pocket!

You see, this sport lives on the back of the hero of the moment no matter how much suspicion swirls. Just as Marion Jones was touted as the next FloJo until the noises in the attic became almost unbearable – and then finally the truth came out. FloJo herself was wrapped in questions that the sport never ever wanted to discuss. Because there is nothing questionable about coming from average to otherworldly unless you get caught. If you don’t believe me ask Kostas Kenteris, who was Borzov come anew until missing a couple of drug tests, hopping a motorcycle and landing in the hospital prior to the 2004 Athens Games. Then of course there had to be something behind those titles he had been winning recently! And there was absolutely nothing wrong with Justin Gatlin’s performances until a single test in Kansas in 2006 saw him taking a 4 year vacation from the sport.

It’s like the uncle in the attic – we love the extra money, if only he would be quiet when there’s company! But like that relative in the attic, help is needed. We need to get him out of the attic and get him some real help. Just like we need to stop pretending this sport doesn’t have a problem and get about the process of eradicating drugs in this sport – wherever they exist, regardless who is using them.

Of course the first step to recovery is to admit you have a problem. For track and field that means getting drugs out of the attic and into the conversation. Identifying where the problem exists and going about the business of getting it eliminated. It means to stop vilifying those that would talk about it and join in the conversation. It means using the best methods at your disposal. Which means getting rid of urinalysis and going to a “real” blood testing program replete with properly conducted blood passports. It means treating all nations, federations and athletes equally under the law and a stop to holding grudges against those with previous transgressions, and no more turned heads to those felt in need of help in leveling the playing field. It means an end to performance based marketing and to the cash cow as king. It means this sport has to make a decision about its integrity! Just as families have to make decisions about how it deals with those members that truly need help. These are the hard decisions. The ones that no one wants to make, but have to make in order to move forward SUCESSFULLY.

We can start by making doping more transparent. It would be quite simple to create a site that hosts a database providing information on drug tests administered by the sport – by athlete, number of tests, type of tests conducted, and results of said tests. The site could also have a ”suspension calculator” that would objectively determine the suggested suspension period for an athlete convicted of doping based on hard data – substance, quantities found, etc. – eliminating subjective suspensions handed out by individual federations.

No more being told only of those athletes that receive suspensions. No more “bargains” being struck behind closed doors. No more preferential treatment. But rather the message that if you dope and are caught EVERYONE will know and you will be punished accordingly. That’s the message that MUST be sent if we have any hope of cleaning up this sport.

If Track Santa will bring me that, I think it would be a very good start.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

X-mas List Item #3 – New Uniforms

A staple under most Christmas trees are good old clothes. Sweaters, pajamas, socks, and scarves will be opened up on Christmas morning in homes around the world.

On my list this year, I’m asking Track Santa to put some clothing underneath the USATF Christmas tree, because I think it’s time that our national squad got some new uniforms. Since the Barcelona Olympics back in 1992, blue has been the primary color of our national uniforms. While we have had our share of success in “blue” uniforms, the past couple of Majors we seem to have been a bit “snake bit” with dropped batons, injured athletes and the like. The blue has gotten boring, predictable, and at this point is sort of a mark of some not so great times.

We’ve recently changed the look of the USATF logo, and we’re in the midst of a change at the CEO position. I think it’s time to go back to red as a primary color in our uniforms. It’s visible, identifiable, hot – a racing color. Think red Corvette, Porsche, and Ferrari. Think “The Flash”!

We’ve had some interesting variations on the red theme. There was the all red uniforms of the Los Angles Olympics.


Another all red theme in Seoul.


The red on top of blue of the Montreal Games.


And my personal favorite with the use of red, the Tokyo ‘91 uniforms.

Of course, my all time favorite uniforms are the black and white we wore in Munich.

And I think what I would like to see Track Santa deliver is a red bottom, white top, blue letter trim version of that. Something similar to what the Canadians wore in Montreal – updated of course.

Simple, clean, and a move in a new direction for our troops. A nice way to move into the second decade of this New Millennium. Besides what other color do you wear when defeating Superman?

Thursday, December 16, 2010

X-mas List Item #2 – Free Live Streaming

BERLIN - AUGUST 23: South Korean athletes carry a banner for the 2011 games in Daegu, South Korea during day nine of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 23, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

If Track Santa is kind enough to give me some exciting matchups this coming season, I’d love to be able to actually watch them as they occur. Don’t get me wrong, I love YouTube – because everything ends up on YouTube sooner or later. But there is something to be said for watching something happen when it happens, as opposed to reading about it first and then watching it. Some things are just more exciting LIVE – especially track and field.

Besides most track meets are televised now. We don’t get to see them here in the US, but most meets are televised “locally” in Europe, Asia and elsewhere. Since broadcasters have already been paid for broadcasting events locally, nationally, and in some cases across continents, wouldn’t it be grand if they added a stream as sort of a “bonus” to those out of range. I think it would be a great marketing tool for the broadcast companies – I know I’ve written my cable provider a couple of times now to advocate them adding Universal Sports. It would also be a great marketing tool for the sport. Adding interest via the internet can only help to add viewers to the big screen.

In a perfect world all meets would be streamed online – it would just be part of putting on a track meet. But knowing that the world isn’t as perfect as I would like, here is my list of ten “Must See” meets that I hope get streamed live in 2011.

1. The World Championships

Part of the fun of a meet with multiple rounds is watching the drama unfold during the rounds! TV gives you the finals – occasionally some semi finals that it deems to be important. But I want to see how Bolt and Gay look in the rounds before they finally go head to head; the athlete that should make the finals get upset by the upstart; the stories that develop before the gun goes off in the finals.

2. U.S. Nationals

Yes we get some television coverage, but we miss all the good stuff during the rounds. So as with the World Championships, I’d love to see all the stories that typically develop during this meet – as they happen.

3. Russian Nationals

The Russians have always been a mystery. Some of that was born of the Cold War when the only time we would see them would be at the Olympics. But even now, though we see more of them outside of majors, there is still something mystical about their national championships as world leading times usually abound.

4. NCAA Championships

The one meet every year where team competition is as important as individual achievements. We get a “glimpse” of the drama that unfolds through the annual telecast by CBS, but as with Worlds and US Nationals there is something special about watching the individual blocks fall into place round by round, event by event, as opposed to seeing it in a packaged presentation. Not to mention that the NCAA’s gives us a sneak preview of many nations young stars before they get to Worlds.

5. Jamaican Nationals

With the World Championships on the line in 2011 I don’t expect to see many head to head match ups prior to Daegu (see Xmas Wish #1). Given that US teams in majors tend to be heavy in sprint, hurdle and relay power, it would be nice to see our primary competition as they select their squad for Worlds. Seeing what you have to face is much more fun that looking at some results on a web site. Besides, having both the US and Jamaican Nationals streamed to the World would only add to the anticipation of the impending matchups in Daegu.

6. Lausanne – Diamond League

Lausanne will be the first Diamond League event to take place after most National Championships are in the books. With the fields set for Daegu, I expect there will be many athletes that did not make the cut, that will be looking for redemption. Lausanne presents the first real opportunity to do so – and I’m expecting it to be a barn burner!

7. London – Diamond League

London presents the final “tune up” opportunity before Daegu. The last chance to test fitness and/or to see if changes made during the summer are working – race tactics, block settings, etc. The meet that is held prior to a Major championship usually gets its share of top level talent to attend for that last tune up race. London being a two day meet (thus the only DL event to have all of the events) should see its share of top athletes and more.

8. Zurich – Diamond League

The first meet after the World Championships will be the ultimate redemption meet! Not that the lure of competing in Zurich isn’t enough to draw talent, but those athletes that do not pick up gold will be looking to prove that they were indeed worthy – especially if their conqueror also shows up in Zurich. This meet is one of the best in the world every year and the entire world deserves to get to watch.

9. Daegu Pre Championships Meeting

This meet is scheduled to be run on May 12th – giving athletes and early opportunity to come to Daegu to check out the facility. It’s early enough in the year that it will not interfere with National Championships or money making opportunities in Europe after tickets to Worlds are punched. And it presents a chance to feel the track, check out the stadium, get a feel for the area, and generally get a sneak peak at the World Championships venue. My guess is that there will be a fair amount of athletes that will want to do just that. And if not, I wouldn’t mind getting a sneak peak at the next World Championships location!

10. The California State High School Championships

I know it’s just “kids”, but this is one of the most exciting meets of any year. Head to head matchups abound. The best the state has to offer will be on stage. and many future stars of the sport will be on display. Most importantly it’s what track and field is all about and what a track meet should be – and I think its something the whole world should be able to witness.

If Track Santa will put this in my stocking I’ll be one happy camper in 2011 – and I think you would be too.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Best Ever – My Favorite Heated Rivalries

24 Sep 1988:  Left to Right: Ben Johnson of Canada, Calvin Smith of the USA,  Linford Christie of Great Britain and Carl Lewis of the USA sprint away from the starting blocks during the 100 Metres final at the 1988 Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. \ Mandatory Credit: Allsport UK /Allsport

As I stated previously, one of the things that has been missing from the sport are high level rivalries. We have some of the best athletes the sport has ever seen, but getting them to compete against each other with anything remotely resembling regularity seems to be nearly impossible as issues such as contract disputes, injuries, and simply not enough money to go around, leaves us with many meets where the field consists of a star vs. supporting cast.

That’s unfortunate because rivalries have been a very important part of the history of track and field. Typically, high level rivalries have brought a lot of attention to the sport. Even today without many head to head matchups, most people talk about the rivalry of Bolt vs. Gay – even though they’ve only met once a year over the past three years. A sign of just how much fans and the general public relish a good rivalry!

Most rivalries consist of two very good athletes, that are fairly evenly matched. What elevates a rivalry to the next level is when the athletes have extraordinary talent and both seem quite intent on taking the other one down. I’ve been fortunate to see many such rivalries over the years, Ovett v Coe, Ashford v the East Germans and Williams v Quarrie among my favorites. But in some cases the protagonists develop either a near hatred for each other and/or a serious case of “whatever you can do I can do better”! When the rivalry moves to the point that even when they are not competing against each other it is clear that they are on each other’s minds the competition reaches a whole new level.

It is with this in mind that there have been a few rivalries that have taken on epic proportions. So following is my listing of what I consider to be the three most heated rivalries of the modern era.


3. Maurice Greene v Tim Montgomery

Greene and Montgomery emerged almost at the same time. The national championships of 1997 saw both sprinters set new PR’s and enter the world of the truly elite nearly side by side. But it was Greene who went on that summer to win World Championships gold and begin his string of World and Olympic titles, as well as gaining the WR. From 1997 thru 2002 they had some of the sports most stirring duels. Most famous being the ‘01 World Championships in Edmonton where Greene literally pulled a muscle in his quest to defeat Montgomery. The following season after several sizzling races – including a look around stare from Greene to Montgomery at US Nationals – Montgomery finally got a measure of revenge when he took Greene’s WR away with a 9.78 run in Paris, as Greene watched from the stands. The depth of Montgomery’s obsession with Greene was finally revealed however, as he was later found to have resorted to doping in order to gain an advantage over his rival – the epitome of obsession in defeating ones rival.


2. Renaldo Nehemiah v Greg Foster

The sport has been blessed with many outstanding hurdlers, the names of Martin Laurer, Lee Calhoun, Willie Davenport, and Rod Milburn having many stirring battles. But at the end of the 70’s two hurdlers emerged simultaneously with the kind of skills that revolutionize an event – and that is exactly what they did. Foster and Nehemiah were both “do it all hurdlers”. Foster leading a then very powerful UCLA squad not only by hurdling but running the relay and zipping 200 meter sprints (a best of 20.20). Nehemiah was doing the same for Maryland blazing legs on both the 4x2 and 4x4 (sub 45). Foster drew first blood taking the 1978 NCAA title 13.22 to 13.27 – when the WR was 13.21! From that point on it was all “Skeets” however, as he ran 2 WR’s in ‘79 (13.16, 13.00) as well as defeating Greg in a hand timed dual 12.8 to 13.0. The boycott of the Games by the US in ‘80 sort of put a damper on things, but in ‘81 Nehemiah and Foster took things to a whole new level as Renaldo ran 12.93 to Greg’s 13.03 to set a standard that lasted for 8 seasons – and still sits as the =15th best time ever! That race marked the lifetime PR’s for both as Nehemiah went on to play professional football the next year and Foster never had the same fire after his “nemesis” left the sport.


1. Carl Lewis v Ben Johnson

The epitome of the sprint rivalry! Carl Lewis came out as the Man Who Would Be King. Lewis was intent on emulating the four gold medal performances of legendary Jesse Owens – which he did at the 1984 LA Games. Behind him in the bronze position was Ben Johnson – who also wanted fame and glory. Improvement in ‘85/’86 saw Johnson reach Lewis’ level, and have undefeated seasons, as the two athletes never met head to head. They met in ‘87 at the World Championships with Johnson annihilating Lewis and smashing the WR – dropping it from 9.93 to 9.83! A fuming Lewis said on national television that the Olympics were his domain and that he would be turning the tables the next year. The next year Lewis beat a recovering from injury Johnson two weeks before Seoul in their first race since Rome. But in Seoul it was Johnson once again blazing to another WR (9.79) with Lewis in his wake. A few days later, however, it was discovered that in his zeal to rest the throne from Lewis, that Johnson had been on a steroid regimen for years and Johnson had to return the gold  medal – which Lewis gladly accepted. As with Montgomery, Johnson’s obsession consumed him.

Following are two Lewis v Johnson matches outside of majors.


Friday, December 10, 2010

Top of My Xmas Wish List–Hot Rivalries

OSAKA, JAPAN - AUGUST 30:  (L-R) Second placed Usain Bolt of Jamaica and race winner Tyson Gay of the United States of America cross the finish line during the Men's 200m Final on day six of the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships on August 30, 2007 at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka, Japan.  (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

This is the time of year when you submit your wish list to Santa Claus in hopes that come Christmas morning you will find something special beneath the tree. While that list has already been sent off, I do have another list that I’m hoping the “Santa” of track and field will fill. And that list is headed by the establishment of some real hot rivalries in the sport.

Every year we are promised some exciting head to head action in track – the kind of competition that once made this sport exciting and great. Something similar to what we had this past year with Chaunte Howard Lowe and Blanka Vlasic – two women at the top of their game who went head to head several times. Their battles often went down to the final count back, with both women giving their best and pushing each other to outstanding seasons.

That type of competition used to be a staple of the sport, but somehow has gotten lost among the hype of record chasing and the politicization of professionalism. So my request from “Track Santa” is the establishment of some hot and heavy rivalries in the 2011 season.

Now when I say “rivalry” I’m not talking about two athletes competing separately all season until the World Championships with a single competition being used to proclaim supremacy. I’m talking about 3 or 4 head to heads where the prospect of a “bad” day isn’t the determining factor in the outcome of the season. With that said, here are my suggestions for some rivalries I would love to see in 2011.


Alison Felix v Veronica Campbell Brown - 200 meters

Can you believe that the single race between these two last year was the only time we’ve seen them compete outside of a major championship? Easily the two best female 200 meter runners on the planet, when they get together there are always fireworks. Turn blazer Campbell Brown v blitz finisher Felix is a must see event – and we need to see it more often.


Rudisha v Kaki – 800 meters

David Rudisha broke the WR in this event last year, but it was Abubaker Kaki who looked like he was on his way to greatness when he set the WJR of 1:42.69 in ‘08. The two 21 year olds (Rudisha turns 22 this month) are clearly the world’s best right now in this event – and young enough to have a long and storied rivalry. Time for Kaki to step up his game so we can see some 1:41 battles!


Robles v Oliver v Liu – 110 hurdles

The only men to run the event in under 12.90 sec (Robles 12.87, Liu 12.88 & Oliver 12.89) are scheduled to take to the track healthy in 2011. Each has had some superb seasons with multiple races under 13.00. It’s time we got the three of them together for should be some titanic battles! Liu just ran 13.09 at the Asian Games to show he is back to health, so all we need is for Robles to show form to go with this year’s leading hurdler Oliver and we could be off to the races.


Bolt v Gay – 200 meters

It’s bad enough that we’ve only had one race a year between these two over 100 meters for the past three years, but it’s a complete travesty that we have not seen them race over 200 meters since 2007. Yet that is the case, their last encounter being the World Championships in Osaka. The world’s two best turn runners. The world’s two fastest human’s ever over 100. So similar in race pattern over this event. We’re looking at the Irresistible Force v the Immovable Object as this event is probably each athlete’s best. Time to get it on. Bolt has twice broken the WR running solo as Gay was in neither race. Gay has run 19.58 & 19.41 (straight) to start his last two seasons with no Bolt in sight. It’s time to run them head to head a few times and see what we can come up with. With Bolt at 19.19 and Gay with 9.69/44.89 credentials, this match up has me drooling even more than running them over 100 meters!


There are lots of other potential rivalries out there as this sport is full of outstanding athletes. It’s time to get them going head to head and really build up this sport. 

Saturday, December 4, 2010

U.S. Could Benefit From a Cold War Mentality


Within the past fourteen months we’ve seen the U.S. defeated in two bids for major global competitions. Last year losing out to Rio in the bid for the 2016 Olympic Games, and this past week losing out to Qatar in the bid for the 2022 FIFA Soccer World Cup. And track and field sits in the stands without even submitting bids for the World Championships.

Sadly for America’s sporting community, these things are announced in the media and seemingly quickly forgotten. As America seems to have lost it’s appetite for “Olympic oriented” sports with the NBA, NFL, and MLB filling their sporting plates – not to mention huge sides of golf and NASCAR.

While many reading this blog weren’t even born, there was a time when “Olympic” sports were a major part of this country. A time when America truly cared about what was going on with Mark Spitz, Dorothy Hamil, Edwin Moses, Evelyn Ashford and Carl Lewis. A time when winning Olympic medals was paramount – when the US v USSR in basketball and the “Miracle on Ice” were as important as the World Series and the Super Bowl.

I’m sure many of you are asking: when was that? Well, it was during the “Cold War”. A period of time when there were two primary “Super Powers” in the world – the United States and the Soviet Union. Two nations on opposite sides of the table ideologically and both with the resources and military might to do serious damage to the other. Which, ironically, kept both from going to war – because neither wanted to be annihilated!

Yet we did wage war. It just wasn’t on the battle field – hence the term “Cold War”. Instead we waged a war to prove which “system” was better – Communism or Capitalism. A war that fueled the race to space; advances in medicine and science; and tremendous technological gains. But the real “soldiers” in this war became the athletes of both countries – as the head to head battles took place on basketball courts, in swimming pools and on tracks – the battle grounds of the Cold War.

The Soviet Union put tons of human and financial resources into the development of its athletics teams. And while the U.S. was not as heavily financially invested much more support was given to Olympic sports during this period because, after all, these athletes became the face of the country to the world and their success was truly the nations success, or failure.

With the death of the Cold War in the 90’s, and after the huge success of the Atlanta Olympics, it seems to me that we have gotten further and further away from that sense of “national pride” that participating in, and hosting, global events used to bring to this country. While, ironically, it seems that other nations seem to have developed the view that these things are VERY important to their global images.

Small countries like South Korea and Qatar have very little athletic clout, yet view hosting global events important to their countries. On the flip side, burgeoning world power China deems it important that the world come visit them so that they can show the world who and what they are – global public relations!

In the last decade, the U.S. has taken many “hits” on the global stage – our “image” taking a beating in everything from athletics to politics. With the rest of the world looking to “sports” as a national marketing tool, perhaps it is time for the U.S. to get back to that Cold War mentality and look at our “Olympic oriented sports” athletes as our global ambassadors – and our showings in global events as a measure of our relative “strength” as a nation. Not just “physical” strength, but strength of country – as in how well we can develop, and support our athletic “army”.

We have invested hundreds of BILLIONS of dollars into “bailing” out the financial and auto industries. Perhaps a collective of these corporations could be called upon to invest in America. My thought being that between them they could be coaxed into funding (or advancing a long term loan) for the development of a National Sporting Center capable of hosting an Olympics – and by default a World Championships, World Cup, World  Swimming Championships, or World Gymnastics Championships, to name a few events. These corporations could in turn be paid back through the revenues derived from these events – not to mention the potential of lease arrangements with professional sports teams depending on where the facility is located (Los Angeles is looking for an NFL team). After all it was our collective dollars that kept them afloat, and in the words of JFK, “ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country”.

Just a thought. After all what’s a hundred million dollars or so per company, when they’ve been advanced hundreds of billions? Imagine what sort of complex could be put together for say five to ten billion dollars. More importantly, the U.S. needs to get back to having a global presence other than our presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. And Cold War or not, sports STILL plays a huge roll in global perception – and we are still a major player on the planet and could use a shot in the arm in public relations. Just something to think on.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Four Who Just Missed the Cut

12 Aug 2001: Hicham El Guerrouj #760 of Morocco running during the Men's 1500M Event for the IAAF World Championships at the Commonwealth Stadium in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.Mandatory Credit: Adam Pretty/AUS /Allsport

As discussion has shown, selecting the “Greatest Of All Time” is a rather daunting task. This sport has been blessed to have a plethora of outstanding athletes – and sorting out their careers is difficult at best. As I went through the process there were four areas that I deemed as important.

1) Head to head competition against one’s peers. Especially those who were also at the top during their era of competition. 2) Major championships, because in this sport it is the only guaranteed location where one will encounter the absolute “best” athletes in competition. 3) World records - not so much in terms of “how many” but in terms of how you shaped your event, moved it forward, and/or left a lasting legacy. and 4) Longevity – were you dominant for both the majority of your career and over a lengthy period of time. Or was your glory viewed through just a small window of time.

So, using that as my guide, I came up with my Top Ten. Following are another foursome that just missed out. Obviously they had outstanding careers, but were missing a little something.


Victor Sanyev – Triple Jump

Victor was perhaps the most competitive triple jumper of all time. He won three straight Olympic titles and won silver the fourth time. He also set three world records. Two of his records, however, were set in Mexico City where three men set five records in a single competition. He just missed my list because while he won the three titles and a silver his dominance was primarily in the big meet, and he operated in a system (the old USSR) where the focus was championships and the years in between were preparation – some years simply being “rest” periods. With others like Carl Lewis and Al Oerter taking four Games in a row while competing hard in between, I felt that Victor should have won that fourth Games in order to earn a spot in the top 10. He still makes my top 14 though.


Hicham El Guerrouj – 1500 meters

Hicham was dominant over both the mile and 1500 from around 1997 through 2004.  During that time he set a WR in the mile and a WR over 1500 – both of which still stand – and ran a plethora of very fast times – 7 of the top 10 all time in the 1500 (13 of the top 20) and 7 of the top 10 in the mile. He won four consecutive World titles in ‘97, ‘99, ‘01 & ‘03. But on the biggest stage, the Olympics, he had tremendous difficulty. He finished in last place in ‘96 after falling on the final lap in the final. He finished in second in ‘00 after being a heavy favorite. Finally took gold in ‘04. It is the failings in the games that causes him to slip out of my top 10. A dominant athlete, that is uninjured and healthy, must perform in the Games – especially one that was so dominant outside them. With 20 of the top 30 times ever over 1500/mile I just couldn’t put him in the top 10 given his Olympic performances. Not given that he went in with good health when so many others had to overcome adversity and still came out on top under the spotlight.


Javier Sotomayor – High Jump

Mr. Eight Feet! The only man over 8’ in the high jump and he did it twice. Three WR raisings – 7’ 11.5”, 8’ 0”, 8’ .25”. “Soto” set his first mark in 1988, but Cuba boycotted the Games possibly keeping him from gold. He lost to Charles Austin in ‘91, won gold in Barcelona (‘92) & Stuttgart (‘93), and silver in Goteborg (‘95). In ‘96 he suffered from knee problems. The gold again in ‘97. Then ‘99 saw a suspension for cocaine. Suspension was reduced and (on short training) he won silver in Sydney (‘00). More cocaine questions emerged, but he competed in Edmonton taking fourth before retiring. A great talent, who revolutionized his event – as no one else has approached his consistency – he has 17 of the top 24 jumps of all time and still holds the WR, 17 years and counting, and is the only man ever over 8’. But his up and down championships record, and the cocaine suspension, keeps him out of the top 10 – and I hesitate because of the drug use though it was not a PED.


Wilson Kipketer – 800 Meters

Wilson was brought back to the forefront this year when David Rudisha began to approach, then finally broke, his long standing WR. Three time the WR setter in the event – his final mark lasting 2 days short of 13 years! Wilson was as dominant as anyone ever but was felled by two things. One was citizenship. Born Kenyan he changed his citizenship to Denmark. So while he won World Championships in 95’, ‘97, & ‘99, he was prohibited from competing in the Olympics in ‘96 – surely costing him Olympic gold. Then Wilson started battling with bouts of Malaria, which affected his training and reduced his dominance – resulting in silver (in a slow race) in Sydney (‘00). He missed Edmonton (‘01) completely. Then only managed fourth in Paris (‘03) and bronze in Athens (‘04) before retiring. You have to rate individuals based on what actually happened – and a string of 3 World golds plus an Olympic gold is pretty impressive – which is why he lands just outside the top 10. But one can only imagine what the legacy would have been had he been allowed to compete in Atlanta and had good health throughout his career.

I’m going to mention one other athlete that some people have asked me about – Jonathan Edwards. Some have mentioned his name based on his huge record of 60’ in the triple jump. And Edwards did indeed have a “Boltian” season in 1995 – setting his THIRD WR of the year (60’) while winning World Championships gold! During the season he also set WR marks of 58’ 11.75” and 59’ 6.75”. But Edwards chased his own glory thereafter. He was upset for gold in ‘96 by Kenny Harrison’s 59’ 4” leap (Edwards 58’ 7.75). Silver in ‘97, bronze in ‘99, before gold in Sydney – but his winning leap of 58’ 1” was well off the standard he set for himself and was only average for the event. He followed up with gold in Edmonton (58’ 9.5”) to end his major championship performances. A bronze in the European championships the following season was his final appearance. So while Edwards had one of the most outstanding seasons in history to go with one of the most outstanding records the sport has ever seen, his overall career just didn’t warrant a top 10 spot. And I’m not sure just where to put him given his up and down career because he did not dominate outside of majors either. I don’t think top 20, perhaps not top 30 – I’ll have to really sit down and think about Edwards in depth. But most certainly one of the all time great records and one of the greatest seasons ever. – the career just  didn’t match up.

But these athletes are why I hesitate on anointing some of our current competitors. We have no idea what will happen before a career ends. New and better competition, illness, injuries, or other issues can and have arisen. The above are all proof.

So that’s how I looked at some of the greats that some felt were left out – at least my rationale for why they didn’t make my cut. The only thing I haven’t discussed are those athletes that,, given a different set of circumstances may have made the list. I think I will talk about a few of those soon as well. 

Monday, November 29, 2010

The Abbreviated Track Meet

ZURICH, SWITZERLAND - AUGUST 28:  Blanka Vlasic of Croatia prepares to jump in the Womens High Jump during the IAAF Golden League Weltklasse Zurich meeting at the Stadion Letzigrund on August 28, 2009 in Zurich, Switzerland.  (Photo by Jamie McDonald/Getty Images)

This week, the Diamond League released it’s schedule of events for 2011. Once again featuring a series of “half” meets. A regular occurrence in the sport of track and field – and one that has become a pet peeve of mine.

A recent Track and Field News editorial on the inaugural season of the Diamond League discusses the editor’s reasoning as to why he feels it is difficult to contest full meets in today’s sport.

While there is merit to the rational that is put forth – a shortage of dollars with which to pay top level athletes in every discipline prohibits loading up every event with stars – I don’t believe that justifies the thought of simply eliminating some events based on “survival of the fittest”. Which in the language of the above editorial means that those events that “put butts in the seats” stay and the others are discarded.

Events put butts in the seats because of star level athletes, and the sport has no control over where those athletes will develop. The intermediate hurdles were a dead event until Edwin Moses came along. The 200 meters was stagnant for a decade until Gay, Spearmon and Carter ran 19.6’s in ‘06 and then Bolt broke the record in ‘08. And the popularity of the 800 has risen and fallen depending on the star quality of the athletes contesting it. High level of interest during the various careers of Seb Coe, Wilson Kipketer and now David Rudisha. Much less when Peter Elliott, Vebjorn Rodal, Andre Bucher and Djabir Said Guerni were on top.

Had those events not been contested during the “down” periods, we would never have had the opportunity to enjoy the rise of the aforementioned athletes. That’s part of the life cycle of this sport – just as every sport goes in cycles. Whether it be baseball, basketball, football, swimming or gymnastics, we see the rise and fall and rise again of various teams, individuals and events. And to say that we will only contest those events that “put butts in the seats” today is shortsighted in that it means that we then put no effort into the development of the other events.

If someone had decided that the high hurdles were more important than the intermediates the sport would have lost the careers of Edwin Moses, Harald Schmid, Andre Phillips and Kevin Young. And 2010 would have been without Bershawn Jackson’s outstanding season. Or if someone had decided that since we have the 100 & 400 there is no need for the 200, the sport would have lost the outstanding careers of Tommie Smith, Pietro Mennea, and minimized the careers of Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson among many other careers, both male and female.

So simply eliminating events would serve more to expedite the death of the sport, in my humble opinion, by systematically reducing the talent base of the sport. And that’s not the way to build your brand.

Even without the belief that the sport should contest those events that “put butts in the seats”, the other common reason that many people want to curt track meets in half is to satisfy television and in some cases what some feel is an audience that has a short attention span. Meets are too long, they say, to hold fan interest. Even though sports fans sit through hours of other sports like baseball, basketball, soccer, and football.

My belief is this, fans of any sport will stay and watch, or watch on television, as long as the competition is compelling and they can watch top level athletes compete. Fans watch hours of golf glued to the TV when someone like Tiger Woods is at the top of his game – and golf has minimal action. The Los Angeles Lakers vs. the Sacramento Kings will sell out an arena as long as Kobe is playing. Just as Michael Jordan vs. whoever was a sellout performance. The key to viewership in track, as with any sport, is simply a matter of getting your best athletes to perform.

So how do we address the abbreviated meet. Simple. As for the attitude of “survival of the fittest”, let’s just pay based on level of performance (which we already do to a degree). In the case of a full track meet, pay the athletes in the events that are “putting butts in the stands” top dollar -  but still offer the other events. It does two things for the athletes. One it gives them an avenue to perform, improve and showcase their skills. Two it provides the incentive that if they can raise their games and performances so that their event increase in demand, they will reap the benefits with increased pay. Creating a “pay scale” based on athletic performance and event popularity would not be that difficult to create. And what meet wouldn’t benefit by having Bolt v Gay in the “showcase” 200 (with perhaps Spearmon, and Edward for good measure), and Carter, Dix, Thompson, Bailey in a “secondary” 100 (guaranteed to go at least mid 9.9x if not high 9.8x)? I’m sure you could find enough “secondary” athletes to fill just about any event on the track or field – because most athletes enjoy competing and need competition to stay sharp.

As for television, why can’t we simply create a “window” for television and the fan that doesn’t want a full meet? Run “not to be televised” events before and after those that are planned for TV. Then in the middle you can run your “prime/showcase” events. TV has it’s events to televise, and the fan with the “short attention span” knows when to show up and can leave once the “hot” events are over. The rest of the the sport’s real fans will be treated to a full day of track and field bliss. A win-win for everyone concerned.

Of course you could improve the experience for everyone by setting up good food services, some live entertainment, and some interactive activities. Which might help entice the casual fan to stay longer and become more acquainted with some of the lesser events and athletes. The important thing as far as today’s topic is concerned , however, is that there is no need to chop the meet in half and bastardize the sport.

The truth is we need as many “full” meets as possible. Ironically the biggest and most exciting meets in the sport are those that feature everything – the Olympics, World Championships, various National Championships, the NCAA’s etc. The problem isn’t that track meets are too long. The problem lies in getting the athletes to compete. Frankly that’s become THE area that needs the most focus in this sport. We fix that and everything else will follow, including increased popularity, attendance and revenue.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

The Greatest Of All Time!

LOS ANGELES, CA - AUG 11 1984: Carl Lewis of the USA waves the flag during a lap of honour after he anchored the USA team to victory in a new world record time of 37.83 seconds in the 4 x 100m relay during the 1984 Olympic Games at the Colliseum Stadium on August 11, 1984 in Los Angeles. (Photo by David Cannon / Getty Images )

The recent retirement, then retractment, by Haile Gebrselassie got me thinking about who the greatest athlete has been in this sport. Primarily because that could be Haile himself – if nothing else, he is probably the greatest distance runner of all time.

Of course, track and field has a very long and storied history, so trying to determine the Greatest Of All Time is really a rather daunting task – especially given the various changes/stages that the sport has gone through. Because while individual PR’s are important, world records and all time lists will always get faster, farther, higher. What becomes important in trying to evaluate “The Best”, whether it be for a season, a decade, or in this case of all time, is how does an athlete compare to his peers. Which means that wins and losses; head to head records against the best of his/her era; and performance in championship settings become extremely important.

The biggest difficulty, at least for me, comes in trying to figure out where athletes of the earliest eras belong. Because prior to around the 1930’s, the Olympics (the largest gathering of the sports best) was rather limited in participation. And then the presence of the African nations wasn’t really felt until the 1960’s. Then of course there was the advent of true professionalism in the 1980’s, along with the introduction of the World Championships, that really opened the sport up to pretty much what we see today.

All of which creates some “differences” that have to be taken into account when trying to evaluate across the years. I mean comparing Paavo Nurmi to Haile Gebrselassie is not just as easy as saying they both ran and were successful at multiple disciplines – though both were dominant during their eras.

Having said all that, I do think that there are athletes that stand out from the crowd. So following is my list of the Top Ten Track and Field Athletes of All Time. In all but one case the athletes on the list are retired – because I wanted to take a look at the entirety of an athlete’s career. There are many athletes who early on or midway through their careers appeared to be headed for greatest of all time status, but then were felled by injury or simply a fall off in performance. Or in some cases saw another athlete eclipse them.

My only exception to the “retired” rule is Gebrselassie himself, as his career has already spanned over 10 years – enough time to get an adequate measure of true greatness in my opinion. Number ten on my list is also an exception in that he never held a WR – and by typical measure we consider that at some point an athlete should set the standard in order to be in the running for best of all time. In this athlete’s case I felt that being .01 off was close enough.

So without further adieu, here is my list of the Greatest Track and Field Athletes of All Time:



Allen Johnson – 110 Hurdles

Johnson never set a WR, but that doesn’t stop him from making my list. With gold in ‘95, ‘96, ‘97, ‘01, and ‘03 (and a very close 4th ‘in 00) Johnson had perhaps the most dominating career of any hurdler ever. And although he never set the WR, he was only .01sec off on two separate occasions with his PR 12.92, as Johnson ran under 13 seconds an astounding 11 times!


Jan Zelezny – Javelin

Zelezny owned his event for a decade winning three Olympics (‘92, ‘96, ‘00) and three World Championships (‘93, ‘95, ‘01). And even in his few “down” seasons won a bronze in ‘99 and fourth in ‘03. He set four WR’s in the process and still has 14 of the top 20 throws ever – including the top 5!



Al Oerter – Discus

Oerter is the one athlete on my list that did not compete during the “professional” era. However, missing out on professionalism didn’t keep Al from having a long and outstanding career. Because 4 Olympic titles, (‘56, ‘60’, ‘64, ‘68) puts him in elite territory. And is extraordinary when you consider that the last two titles came when the competition had supposedly moved past him as athletes like Danek and Silvester were out rewriting the record books. This following the earlier part of Oeter’s career where he set 4 World Records of his own.



Daley Thompson – Decathlon

It stands to reason that a decathlete should be on this list. After all he must become proficient in TEN events in order to win his event. Becoming the best at this event is difficult with the top guy changing routinely from year to year. Staying on top is difficult – which makes the career of Daley Thompson that much more outstanding. Thompson won back to back Olympic titles in ‘80 and ‘84, was fourth in ‘88 and won the first ever World title in ‘83.  He set four WR’s (8622, 8704, 8743, 8847) three times taking it back after having lost it and is still fourth best of all time – only record setters Dan O’Brien, Tomas Dvorak and Roman Sebrle having better scores!



Maurice Greene – 100 meters

Maurice Greene is one of those athletes that redefined an event. Prior to Greene, running sub 10.00 was something that happened in major championships and the occasional big match up. Greene refined his race pattern and showed that running at that level consistently was possible. Then with a combination of consistent race pattern and dogged competitive will, Greene went on to win World Championship titles in ‘97, ‘99, and ‘01; Olympic gold (‘00) and bronze (‘04), throwing in a World title over 200 meters in ‘99 for good measure. He also set the WR outdoors (9.79) and 2 WR’s indoors (6.39, 6.39). From the later part of the 90’s til the middle of the oughts Greene was the man to beat until injury finally took him down.



Edwin Moses – 400 meter hurdles

Another who redefined his event was Edwin Moses. A solid high hurdler with  400 meter ability, Moses took a cerebral approach to the sport. Combining his talents he focused on the intermediate hurdles, and using his engineering mind developed a 13 step pattern that he rode to 400 hurdle dominance. That dominance included Olympic titles in ‘76 & ‘84 (surely a third was in the cards if not for the boycott of the Moscow Games in ‘80) and a bronze in ‘88; World titles in ‘83 & ‘87; 3 World Cups wins; and  4 World Records (47.64, 47.45, 47.13 & 47.02). And of course “The Streak” – 122 straight wins without a loss that covered 9 years 9 months and 9 days! Nearly a decade without a loss against some of history’s best hurdlers including Harald Schmid, Danny Harris, Andre Phillips, Amadou Dia Ba, David  Patrick, Samuel Matete, and Kevin Young. To this day only WR holder Kevin Young has run faster – once – as Moses still has 4 of the 10 fastest times ever.



Sergei  Bubka – Pole Vault

Bubka seemed to always be beset by injury during the Olympic years. But that is about the only flaw that one can find in an otherwise fantastic career. In spite of his injury jinx he still won Olympic gold in ‘88 and put together a string of 6 World Championships titles in a row. As a matter of fact Bubka won the inaugural World Championships in 1983 and was the only vaulter to win gold until 1999! If that’s not impressive enough consider that when he came on the scene the WR was barely over 19 feet (19’ 1.5”). Bubka raised the outdoor record 17 times – becoming the only man to vault over 20 feet (20’ 1.5” outdoors) – a barrier he cleared 5 times in his career. Bubka has held the world record continuously since 1984 (over a quarter century) – his final mark being set in 1994 – and he holds the top 13 marks of all time! The greatest career ever in a single event in my humble opinion.



Michael Johnson – 200 & 400 meters

Separating the top three from the others is excellence in multiple events. And coming in at number three is a man who took what 60’s sprinters Henry Carr and Tommie Smith had hinted at and made it reality as Michael Johnson spent the 90’s dominating the 200 and 400 meters! From 1991 thru 2000 Johnson won 2 Olympic titles over 400 (‘96 & ‘00, the only man to win back to back titles at the distance); 4 World titles over 400 (‘93, ‘95, ‘97, and ‘99); 1 Olympic title over 200 (‘96); and  2 World titles over 200 (‘91 & ‘95) winning 200/400 doubles in ‘95 & ‘96! In the process he set 3 WR’s – 2 over 200 (19.66, 19.32) and 1 over 400 (43.18). He is still the WR holder over 400 (set in 1999) and his 200 record lasted for 12 years.



Haile Gebrselassie – distance runner

I have already discussed the career of Gebrselassie. He lands in the number two spot on my ranking because no other track athlete has been as dominant as he has been over such a range of distances. And should he end his career by taking the marathon anywhere near two hours he will leap frog his way into the number one position.



Carl Lewis – sprinter / jumper

Lewis is #1 because he displayed excellence on both the track AND the field – and he did so from 1980 through the 90’s! First the numbers: 4 Olympic titles in the long jump (‘84, ‘88, ‘92’ ‘96); 2 World titles in the long jump (‘83 & ‘87); 1 World silver in the long jump, (‘91); 1 Olympic title in the 200, (‘84); 1 Olympic silver in the 200 (‘88); 1 World bronze in the 200 (‘93); 2 Olympic titles in the 100 (‘84 & ‘88); 3 World titles in the 100 (‘83, ‘87, ‘91); 1 World bronze in the 100 (‘93); and  3 WR’s in the 100 (9.93, 9.92, 9.86). He duplicated Jesse Owens feat of four gold medals at the Olympics  in 1984 (100/200/LJ & 4x1) having also turned the trick at the World Championships the year before. And like Al Oerter at #8, he won four Olympic titles in a single event – the long jump. Love him or hate him – and there are those on both sides of the fence – Carl got it done when the lights were shining brightest. And he did so as both a sprinter and a jumper for a decade and a half. Easily making him the Greatest of All Time.

Monday, November 22, 2010

The United States Needs a Venue

28 Jun 1996:  General view of a heat of the men's 1500m in the Olympic stadium at the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games at Atlanta, Georgia. Mandatory credit: Gary M. Prior/Allsport.

I’ve talked before about what I feel is the need for the United States to be host to a World Championships. The sport’s biggest event has been around since 1983 and not once has the United States served as host. A travesty IMHO that the world’s greatest power in the sport has yet to host a Worlds.

The next World Championships will be held in Daegu, South Korea in 2011 – a country that, outside of the marathon, has almost no presence in the sport. Berlin will host the 2013 version of the meet, and Beijing was just awarded the 2015 edition this past weekend – after just hosting the Olympics in 2008.

In the meantime we continue to sit on the sidelines watching. In part I believe because we have lacked leadership. A situation that hopefully will be rectified when the USATF Board selects a new CEO. But then we’ve heard virtually nothing on that front – but that’s for another discussion. What I hope proper leadership will do is help rectify an even more important problem – we lack a viable venue.

Almost unconscionable when you think about it. The United States. A global power. Major player globally, economically, militarily and athletically. Host to the Summer Olympic Games in 1932, 1984 and 1996. A country with 14 of the 25 largest stadiums in the world – all seating over 85,000. We have six colleges that play football in stadiums that seat over 100,000 fans (Michigan, Penn State, Tennessee, Ohio State, Alabama and Texas) but we don’t have a facility capable of hosting a World Championships!

Am I the only person that finds this to be incredibly ridiculous and embarrassing? And no offense to college football, because I love the sport and there’s nothing like watching a game in a stadium that seats a small city. But why doesn’t the US have a single venue where we could invite the world and play host – be it for Worlds or the Olympic Games?

Ironically both previous Olympic venues still exist. The Coliseum, which played host to the Olympics in ‘32 & ‘84 plays host to the USC Trojan football team. But the track that played host to a couple of Olympics games as well as the US vs East Germany dual once upon a time as well as numerous other track and field meets has been removed. Same story for Centennial Stadium which played host to the ‘96 games – track removed and the stadium reconfigured to host the Atlanta Braves baseball team. So we have no viable locations left, as all of the larger stadiums in this country play host to either football or baseball teams – professional and collegiate.

Such is the status of track and field in this sport. Where once football and track and field lived side by side in the same stadium – and it was just standard operating procedure to place a track around the field – football now operates solo. Leaving track and field to fend for itself.

Of course there is an old saying – when life gives you lemons make lemonade. And after giving this some thought I’ve decided that while this is a travesty it does present an opportunity. An opportunity to pick and choose where we would like to locate a national facility where we could host global events on the scale of Worlds or the Olympics.

It would mean strong leadership at the top of USATF, AND it would mean some sort of partnership with the USOC, a local municipality, and perhaps even the federal government – but what city wouldn’t like to advocate to have a little “pork” thrown its way since we’re printing money these days?

As I said earlier, we’re still waiting on USATF to give us a new leader. Until then we have no one to work with any of the other bodies. But I do have an idea for where the facility should be – which would then identify the municipality and give a new CEO a direction to head in.

Contemplating a location my criteria were simple. It should be in a major metro area that can provide suitable housing for global media, travelers, etc; adequate media access; national and international travel access; and adequate public transportation.  The location should also have some sort of sports history – to provide a built in base of potential fan support.

In my book that means starting with our top metro areas – the top 10 being: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston, Phoenix, Philadelphia, San Antonio, San Diego, Dallas, and San Jose. Looking at this list the first thing that popped into my head was – weather. Because there is nothing like being at a major event that may last a few hours at a time and being uncomfortable. Which ruled out several cities right off the bat for me. More importantly, however, it made one stand out immediately – San Diego.

Because one of the first things I think of when I think San Diego is great weather. Unless you were to hold an event in the middle of winter when there might be rain almost any date would be a safe pick! The city is used to visitors coming in and out as it is a great place for conventions. They’re used to large sporting events with professional football and baseball teams in town. Public transportation is solid. It’s a port for cruises if someone wanted a side vacation. World famous zoo, wild animal park, Sea World and other local attractions. Great food. And if you still can’t find what you want being “on vacation” it’s only a couple of hours from Los Angeles and anything else that you couldn’t find locally.

Venue wise you might be able to work something with Qualcomm Stadium in terms of adding a track to the 70,000+ seat stadium as they are currently host to the San Diego Chargers, San Diego State Aztecs and the Holiday and Poinsettia Bowls – which tells me they are amenable to work with already having a variety of “tenants”. But if not, perhaps a deal could be worked with the city to renovate/expand Balboa Stadium – long a track and field fixture in San Diego.

Obviously just some preliminary thoughts off the top of my head and there is much work that would have to be done. But the bottom line is this: this country desperately needs a place where track and field related events of a global nature can be held – and the leadership in this country needs to get moving. I didn’t even know where Daegu was when Wallace Spearmon ran 19.65 there in 2006 – I had to Google it!  But it’s playing host to the 2011 World Championships – and we will just be visitors once again. I think that just about says it all.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Injuries, The New Aging

CARSON, CA - JUNE 25:  (L-R) Justin Gatlin celebrates winning, Maurice Greene pulls up due to an injury, Shawn Crawford and Leonard Scott finish the Men 100 Meter Dash at the 2005 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships on June 25, 2005 at the Home Depot Center in Carson, California.  (Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images)

Once upon a time, when the Olympics were all there was, athletes’ lives revolved around the Olympic cycle. And, in general, athletes had roughly two cycles to accomplish their goals or leave the sport.

That’s because prior to the 1980’s and “professionalism”, when track and field was truly an amateur sport, money was a scarce commodity in track and field. Yes, the best athletes were able to make money by getting paid “under the table”, but for most room and board and some travel expenses were as good as it got.

So, many athletes had to find “real” jobs to supplement their participation in the sport – with training revolving around work schedules. This being a rather difficult way to prolong a career, the majority of athletes had to try and win gold quickly or get out of the sport. As a result, 25 year old athletes were “old” men and women in the world of track and field.

Then in the 80’s the sport became professional. Which meant that one could actually earn money from competing. Payments no longer had to be under the table – though in the very beginning they did have to go into a monitored trust fund. But as things evolved, athletes were able to get paid to compete – some quite handsomely – which enabled athletes to stay in the sport longer.

The early beneficiaries were athletes like Evelyn Ashford, Carl Lewis and Edwin Moses, who came along during the late 70’s, were there in the early 80’s when things began to change and were able to compete into the 90’s. Then athletes like Michael Johnson and Maurice Greene were able to take full advantage of fully professional careers that spanned from the 90’s into the New Millennium. All of these athletes were able to compete well past their mid 20’s, Being highly competitive well into their 30’s.

But even as professionalism began to extend careers, during the 90’s we began to see another threat to longevity – injury. Injury has always been a threat to careers. One pulled hamstring and one can go from gold medalist to out of the sport in a heartbeat. The list of athletes whose careers ended on injury notes reads like a who’s who of the sport: Leroy Burrell, Ato Boldon, Bruny Surin, Donovan Bailey, and Kevin Young just to name a few.

So while some were able to extend their careers well into their 30’s others began to break down from the stresses of high level training and competition. Ironically, as the sport has become more prosperous at the top end, that trend of injury has gotten even greater. Look no further than the injury list from just the past couple of seasons as all of the following have been injured – many to the point of requiring surgery.

Liu Xiang, Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Dayron Robles, Kenenisa Bekele, Sanya Richards, Veronica Campbell Brown, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix, Jeremy Wariner, Terrence Trammell, Darvis Patton, Nesta Carter, Kerron Stewart, Sherone Simpson, and Xavier Carter.

And this is just a partial list!

Where for a short time we got to see out top athletes compete through two, three, four Olympiads, we are now back to hoping that they can make it through two. Where once the question was whether or not an athlete could survive financially until the next Games, the question has shifted to whether or not he/she can stay healthy until the next Games – or even World Championships in many cases!

The cycle seems to be coming full circle, as the life span of the elite athlete is reversing – and once again 25 year old bodies are getting old. Will we see careers in the future like those of Evelyn Ashford, Carl Lewis and Merlene Ottey – that span four and five Olympiads and touch on three different decades? Or are we back to careers that cover a couple of Olympics and perhaps five or six years?

The answer may lie in the ability of the body to handle the stress that today’s high level training/competition is putting on these athletes. Because as they run faster, and jump & throw farther the physical breakdowns seem to become more frequent. Leading me to two conclusions.

One is that I don’t think we are going to see the extraordinarily long careers any more. Brilliant careers, yes. But extraordinary marks will come at a sacrifice to longevity as athletes will be more like comets that blaze across the competitive sky as opposed to stars that shine continually for many competitive nights.

My other conclusion is that we may be a lot closer to man’s (and woman’s) physical limits – i.e. records – than many would like to believe. At least without modifying the body itself. Just as the speed of light poses a limit to ultimate speed – one that cannot be exceeded – it would appear that the body itself may have tolerances to stress on muscles, tendons and other parts that cannot be exceeded. Just a thought. But I’m not sure that a 9.00 hundred meters is in the cards for mere mortals.

Of course time will tell whether we see any of Beijing's athletes competing in 2020, or if anyone is running 9.00 in this Millennium. But one thing is certain. In order to accomplish either someone is going to have to figure out how to eliminate the annual triage list from above – or at least reduce it significantly. Because neither can be accomplished without keeping athletes on the track. And right now injury is the 800 pound gorilla in the room.