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.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Haile Gebrselassie – The Greatest Ever?

Jan. 20, 2010 - DUBAI, United Arab Emirates - epa01996932 Olympic and world champion athlete Haile Gebrselassie attends the press conference about the 13th edition of Marathon Dubai, in Dubai, United Arab Emirates, 20 January 2010. The 13th edition of the competition will see thousands of runners representing around 100 nations in a three-race card dominated by the classic marathon over 42.2km on 22 January 2010. It will also feature the traditional 10km race and the 3km Fun Run.

The big event this past weekend was the New York City Marathon. An event won by Ethiopia’s Gebre Gebremariam in 2:08.14 – unspectacular when many of the world’s top races are being won in times of 2:04 / 2:05.

The big news coming out of New York, however, was not who won, or even the results of the those that finished. Rather, the real news was the possible end to what may be the greatest career ever in the world of track and field. As Ethoipia’s Haile Gebrselassie – forced out of the race midway due to tendinitis – Gebrselassie said in his post race interview that injuries are bringing an end to his brilliant career.

How brilliant? Well he is the current World Record Holder in the marathon (2:03:59). His personal bests from 1500 meters through the marathon are absolutely world class:

Personal Bests

1500 3:33.73
Mile 3:52.39
2000 4:56.1
3000 7:25.09
Two Miles 8:01.08
5000 12:39.36
10000 26:22.75
Half Marathon 58:55
Marathon 2:03:59

And brilliant enough to set World Records over every major distance.

Major World Records

5000 12:56.96 Hengelo 6/4/94
  12:44.39 Zurich 8/16/95
  12:41.86 Zurich 8/13/97
  12:39.36 Helsinki 6/13/98
10000 26.43.53 Hengelo 6/5/94
  26:31.32 Oslo 7/4/97
  26:22.75 Hengelo 6/1/98
Marathon 2:04:26 Berlin 9/29/07
  2:03:59 Berlin 9/28/08

All told he set 15 World Records indoors and out, including  non standard events. And he was just as prolific on the medal stand. He won an Indoor World title over 1500 and three World Indoor titles over 3000 meters.He garnered World silver over 5000 meters. And over 10000 meters he won four World titles, World silver and bronze and an Olympic gold. Then moved outdoors and won a World Half Marathon title!

The only other athlete I can remember moving up in distance with that kind of success was Said Aouita – 1:43.89, 3:29.46, 3:46.76, 12:58.39 – Olympic bronze over 800, Olympic gold over 5000, World gold over 5000, World bronze over 1500 – WR in the 1500, 2 WR’s over 5000. And even Aouita is lacking when compared to Gebrselassie.

Definitely one of the greatest careers of all time, if not the greatest. I will have to sit down and take a look at those I consider the greatest and compare him with them to see where they all rate. A nice off season project that I will undertake shortly.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Best of 2010 –The Meet of the Year

Jun 12, 2010; Eugene, OR, USA; Keshia Baker of Oregon (right) edges Jessica Beard of Texas A&M on the anchor of the women's 4 x 400m relay, 3:28.54 to 3:28.57, in the 2010 NCAA Track & Field Championships at Hayward Field. Photo via Newscom

As I continue to take a look back at the 2010 season, I’ve looked at some standard “awards” (Athlete of the Year) as well as some not so standard (Top Breakthrough Americans).

This is another of those non standard awards. Though I think there should be some way of  evaluating how well our meets do every year. If for no other reason than to tweak them for the better. Because the better we present our product, the better the sport should become.

So, what meets caught my eye in 2010? Well, Stockholm’s DN Galan meet gave us the match up of the year as Tyson Gay defeated Usain Bolt to lay claim to the title World’s Fastest Human of 2010. While Berlin may have had the year’s most magical moment as Dsvid Rudisha toured two laps of the bright blue oval in 1:41.09 to take down one of the sport’s most revered records – Wilson Kipketer’s 1:41.11 from 1997! But both lacked depth throughout.

The European Championships in Split saw many of Europe’s best post their best marks of the year, but the results on the track were far below par in most cases compared to the best of the rest of the world.

And with no Major Championship berths on the line, most national championships were a cut below what we’ve become accustomed to. Leaving us with a lot of “good” meets but not many great meets.

Zurich and Brussels were the finale meets for the inaugural Diamond League. Which means that they brought together the largest contingent of top athletes on the circuit. And Zurich gave us an outstanding showing of speed with Campbell Brown and Jeter turning in identical 10.89’s with Veronica winning  by a whisker. Wallace Spearmon (19.79) and Jeremy Wariner (44.13) showing nice returns to form. David Oliver (12.93) once again under 13 seconds and the US 4x1 blazing to a 37.45. Throw in a 5000 meters with six men under 13 minutes and a 71’ 9” shot put by Christian Cantwell, and you have my #2 meet of the year. 

Because for #1 I’m choosing a meet that had everything that I think a track meet should have. Stirring competition throughout. Several personal best performances. Upsets. Relays. A full schedule that included ALL of the events for both men and women. And a team competition that came down the the final event of the meet! For those who haven’t figured it out yet, I’m referring to this year’s NCAA Championships – the only meet of the year that had EVERYTHING that makes for an outstanding meet!

The NCAA Championships kept me engaged for the better part of a week. It offered online streaming and TV. There were story lines galore to follow including the back and forth team battle on the men’s side; the ongoing battle between the Oregon and Texas A&M women; Wheating and the double; upsets in both men’s hurdles; a double in the women’s hurdles; and so many more.

For my money the Meet of the Year. I’m sure there will be some that agree, and those that have their own ideas. So I’ve put up a poll at the top of the page where you can register your votes for the meet you feel was the best of 2010. And feel free to leave comments as I’m curious as to how you viewed this year’s meets. Especially with the Diamond League in it’s first season.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The New “Medal” Watch List

Allyson Felix of the U.S. celebrates after winning the women's 400m race during the London Grand Prix Diamond League athletics tournament at Crystal Palace in London August 14, 2010. REUTERS/Paul Hackett (UNITED KINGDOM - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

At the beginning of his short reign as CEO of USATF, Doug Logan set 30 medals as a goal for the US squad at the 2012 London Olympics. That bit of goal setting was the impetus for the creation of my “Thirty Watch List” – to  monitor our progress towards that goal.

With Logan’s departure as CEO, I’ve asked myself if I should continue with this list. And after much consideration I’ve decided that keeping track of our progress towards earning medals is indeed a worthwhile endeavor. As part of any good plan involves some sort of monitoring progress towards the stated goals. With Logan gone, however, I’m not sure if USATF as a body, or whomever becomes his replacement, will continue with the number “30” as the goal.

To make the list relevant regardless of the goal, this current incarnation has been renamed the “Medal Watch List”. Since in essence that is what is being monitored – our progress towards earning medals in Majors.

So with the 2010 season now closed and athletes beginning preparations for 2011, here is how I see our medal hopes for Daegu:


The Medal Watch List

  Athlete Event
1. Tyson Gay 100 Meters
2. Carmelita Jeter 100 Meters
3. Tyson Gay 200 Meters
4. Wallace Spearmon 200 Meters
5. Allyson Felix 200 Meters
6. Jeremy Wariner 400 Meters
7. Lashawn Merritt 400 Meters
8. Sanya Richards 400 Meters
9. Allyson Felix 400 Meters
10. Anna Pierce 800 Meters
11. Andrew Wheating 1500 Meters
12. Rowbury / Barringer 1500 Meters
13. Bernard Lagat 5000 Meters
14. David Oliver 110 Hurdles
15. Terrence Trammell 110 Hurdles
16. Bershawn Jackson 400 Hurdles
17. Lashinda Demus 400 Hurdles
18. Lolo Jones 100 Hurdles
19. 4x1 Men Relay
20. 4x1 Women Relay
21. 4x4 Men Relay
22. 4x4 Women Relay
23. Dwight Phillips Long Jump
24. Brittney Reese Long Jump
25. Chaunte Howard Lowe High Jump
26. Jennifer Suhr Pole Vault
27. Derek Miles Pole Vault
28. Kara Patterson Javelin
29. Christian Cantwell Shot Put
30. Hoffa / Whiting Shot Put
31. Bryan Clay Decathlon
32. Ashton Eaton Decathlon
33. Hyleas Fountain Heptathlon

Yes I know, I'm a tad past that magical 30 medal mark. I figured that since we're in between seasons and no one is actually competing I would take a few liberties.

For example, in the middle distances Anna Pierce, Andrew Wheating, Shannon Rowbury and Jenny Barringer have what it takes to medal. And with a touch improvement "could" score in those events. So I'm going out on a limb with this foursome.

Similarly in the field events I'm thinking that Reese Hoffa, Ryan Whiting and Derek Miles have the goods if they just get it right on the right day. So I'm stepping out there on that limb with them as well.

Allyson Felix has proven that she can double effectively over the season. So I'm betting that she attempts the double in Daegu and medals in both. I'm also betting that Sanya Richards and Terrence Trammell come back healthy and that both Bernard Lagat and Dwight Phillips keep defying age.

So basically this version of the list is an "if everything goes perfectly" list of medal possibilities. It's also my way of saying that 30 medals IS possible. Things have to go just right. Injuries have to be avoided. Athletes have to be motivated and focused. And everyone from coaches, trainers, and physios, to the athletes and management of the sport have to come to the table in 2011 with their game faces on.

We have the athletes and the potential to do something extraordinary. Let's see if we can do it.