Friday, January 29, 2010

Putting Fans in the Stands

Track & Field - 65th Modesto Relays

Tonight's Millrose Games has added a unique event to it's schedule - the Super 60. Now before you get too excited the Super 60 does not have Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, or Asafa Powell. Matter of fact it doesn't have Doc Patton, Daniel Bailey or current yearly leader Ivory Williams.

No, the "Super 60" is a competition between Master's sprinter Willie Gault a former Tennessee sprinter and NFL wide receiver, competing against a handful of other 30/40 year old sprinters with no name recognition in the sport. This has sparked a lot of discussion on message boards on the internet as this certainly has little to no appeal to the true fans of the sport who see this "gimmick" as a sell out of the sport.

But what really caught my eye, and compelled me to comment on the issue, was the quoting of USA Track and Field CEO, Doug Logan on the subject. His quote:

""This is the year 2010. This is a sport that to a large degree has been passed by -- by other sports who have had the intelligence of understanding the demographic of what they're trying to sell that to," Logan told The Associated Press on Tuesday after USATF announced the special race.

"It does nothing to destroy authenticity. It does nothing to denigrate the true competition. It is truly trying to inject something that is entertaining and yet congruent with the sport," he said.

David Tyree, Willie Gault and Tim Dwight are scheduled to run the "Super 60" during the storied indoor track meet's 103rd edition Jan. 29. Organizers plan to add other football players to the field.

"This is a real distance. They're real athletes. We're not doing Bill Veeck put a midget in front of a pitcher," Logan said of the St. Louis Browns owner's famous 1951 stunt. "One of these days we might, but this isn't it.""

Now the one thing that I agree with Mr. Logan on is that the sport has been passed by by other sports that have done a much better job of selling themselves to the public. I disagree, however, that this sort of "marketing" is some New Millennium methodology that will bring the sport the attention that it needs.

Everyone keeps looking for some marketing genius to come up with the perfect plan to get track and field on track (especially in this country). When in reality the fundamental flaw of this sport is its inability to get a substantial number of its star athletes on the track at any one venue outside of a national championship or global major! To paraphrase a line from a famous movie, "if you get them on the track they will come"!

Case in point is a meet like the Modesto Relays - to become the California Relays this year. Modesto is a small town in the heart of California. An area of the state dominated by agriculture. Yet Modesto for decades hosted one of the world's biggest and best competitions. No bright lights, no gimmicks, no huge coliseum. But long time meet director and starter Tom Moore had long standing relationships with the athletes, and they loved to come to town and compete for Tom.

Back in the 60's, 70's, 80's and into the early 90's hard working families in rural California would spend their hard earned money going not only to the Modesto Relays, but travelling from Modesto to Fresno to Berkeley to Stanford and even as far as Los Angeles to watch track and field during the heart of the domestic season. Why? Because they got to see the best in world class competition - they got to see the stars of the sport! Jim Ryun, Jim Hines, Bob Hayes, Ralph Boston, Edwin Moses, Carl Lewis, Evelyn Ashford, Tommie Smith, Bob Beamon, Henry Marsh, Valerie Brisco. The list of competitors that passed through these venues would create a Who's Who of the sport.

Ironically the Modesto Relays, and many of the other meets mentioned, thrived during the heart of the recession of the 80's. You see, economics weren't an issue when you got your money's worth. And trust me getting to see Carl Lewis, Edwin Moses, Johnny Gray and the stars that came to Tom's meet up close and personal was worth MORE than the price of admission!

I say it was ironic that the sport thrived during the heart of the recession because it's decline began during a period of economic prosperity - the 90's. Because that is when the stars of the sport stopped competing domestically. That's when Carl Lewis and the Santa Monica track club started boycotting the national championships because they weren't getting paid. That's when US athletes stayed away from US meets because they could make more money competing in Europe. Fewer and fewer stars frequented domestic competitions and so fewer and fewer fans went to meets. And it is THAT - the lack of star quality athletes at our meets - that has lead to the decline of the sport.

Gimmicks are not the answer to getting fans in the seats - getting stars to the stadium is! You see, while everyone touted the "Boulevard 150" last year in Europe, people didn't go see the race simply because it was run down a boulevard. They came because they got to see double WR holder Usain Bolt. Run Bolt against Tyson Gay down MY street and we can get standing room only attendance!

The key to a "revival" of track and field doesn't lie in slick marketing campaigns, gimmick races, or getting ex-professional football players (or even current ones) to run against each other or our stars. They key is getting back to what track and field should really be about on the professional level - the best of the best competing against each other with regularity.

Golf will suffer because its best is not on the links - Tiger Woods. When the Lakers show up but Kobe is injured attendance is less. It's no secret that people want to see the best when they attend professional sporting events. The biggest difference between track and field and most other professional sports is that their stars are ALWAYS on display and ours pick and choose and duck each other and hold out for the biggest offer before stepping on the track!

If we want fans in the seats we have to get stars on the track. No one cares if 49 year old Willie Gault is racing anyone. And while there are those that say we can get fans in the seats if we can get NFL player Chris Johnson to race Usain Bolt, you'll get even more if you get Tyson Gay to race Usain Bolt! We simply need to do track and field and do it the best way we can. If we do THAT they will come.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Four Events to Watch this Weekend

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

The indoor season should heat up nicely this weekend with Millrose, Karlsruhe, and the Aviva Challenge all on the schedule. Lots of big name competitors on tap with Dwight Phillips, Terrence Trammell, Veronica Campbell, Bershawn Jackson and Bernard Lagat, among others, scheduled to compete. I do think, however, that there are four events that bear watching as I expect them to produce some outstanding results.

Millrose - Men's Shot Put

The men's shot should be one HOT affair this weekend. Reigning World Champion Christian Cantwell will enter the ring against '05 World Champion Adam Nelson, and '07 World Champion Reese Hoffa. All three men have personal bests in excess of 72 feet, and are very competitive against each other. Expect several throws over the 70 foot mark in this meet.

Millrose - Men's Pole Vault

One of the bright spots that went unnoticed last year was the improvement of French pole vaulter
Renaud Lavillenie. Lavillenie increased his best from 18' 6" to 19' 8.25" - becoming a serious threat to the 20 foot barrier. He brings his considerable skills to New York where he will go up against Tim Mack who has an identical PR set back in 2004. Add 19' 2.50" vaulter Derek Miles to the mix and we should see some very high attempts in New York.

Karlruhe - Women's High Jump

One of the hottest rivalries of 2009 was between female high jumpers Blanka Vlasic and Ariane Freidrich. Vlasic opened her season earlier this week on a very high note with a 6' 7" clearance in Trinec (Czech Republic). As competitive as these two became last year, I expect to see Friedrich reach high heights of her own this weekend - especially since she will be on home soil in Germany.

Glasgow - Women's 60 meters

Last year Carmelita Jeter became the second fastest woman of all time running 10.64 in the 100 meters (as well as 10.67). This year Jeter has stated that she has her sight set on Irina Privalova's "ancient" 60 meter record of 6.92. Her chase will begin in Glasgow. Certainly her PR of 7.11 should fall if her late season form of last year is any indication. I'm thinking around 7.05 in her debut. Of course with a decent start we could see something under 7.00 - an exciting prospect indeed.

Of course these aren't the only individuals that will be competing this weekend. But I do think these are four events that do bear watching. Now it feels like track season.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

W.S.J.D.? (What Should Justin Do?)

AT&T USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships - Day Two

As the clock counts down to the impending return to the track of Justin Gatlin, the talk begins regarding his place among the world's sprinting elite.

After all, this is no ordinary "comeback". This is a man that was among the best high school sprinters/hurdlers in the country (10.36/13.66) when he graduated in 2000 (= #4 in both events). He then went to the University of Tennessee where he won back to back NCAA sprint doubles as a frosh/soph and set a National Collegiate Record for 200 meters (19.86). He then went pro and following injury in his first pro season came back to win the Olympic 100 meter title in Athens (9.85) and then a sprint double in Helsinki (9.88/20.00) in very inclement weather. The follow up was an equaling of the then WR of 9.77 for 100 meters early the next season.

Gatlin was becoming the face of the sport and had the world at his feet. Then came the Kansas Relays. The positive test for testosterone. The ban. The last time we saw Gatlin on the track he was winning a National 100 meter title over then rising Tyson Gay in Eugene circa 2006. Now, four years later, he will return to competition this July.

But four years is an eternity in athletics, and during his exile from the sport sprinting changed. Those who were in his wake during his reign of success (Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, and Usain Bolt) have all improved DRAMATICALLY. Gay has since won his own sprint double at the World Championships and dropped his bests to 9.69/19.58 and is the current AR Holder in the 100 meters. Usain Bolt won double gold in both Beijing and Berlin and is double WR holder at 9.58/19.19. And former WR holder and rival Asafa Powell has dropped his best in the 100 to 9.72.

Even coming back as fast as before Gatlin would be looking at the backs of all three - not a position that he is accustomed to. And while he has stated that he's "beaten them all before" and believes he can do so once again, all are working on getting "faster" and are ready to concede nothing to him.

So, W.S.J.D.? He says he's working on new technique. Trying to prepare himself to compete toe to toe with the sports new speed crew. His belief is that at 28 he is still young enough to come back from four years of non competition to run not only 9.77 as before, but to get into the 9.5/9.6 range necessary to compete with the world's current cream of the crop.

Personally, I think that this is a PERFECT time for Gatlin to return to the track. So much so, that I believe he can once again become Olympic and World Champion - if he were to move up to the 400! Yes, the 400.

Many people forget that the current WR holder in the 400 (Michael Johnson) started out as a sprinter at Baylor. And that it was through both repeated injury and Johnson's penchant for turning in superlative relay legs in the 4x4 that the move was made away from the 100/200 double up to the 200/400 double. The rest, as they say, is history.

Gatlin too showed a penchant for fast 4x4 splits when he was at Tennessee. Often turning in low 44 second relay legs. While he hasn't been injured since 2003, time away from the sprints can have the same sort of effect as far as taking away from one's quickness. So potentially we're looking at Gatlin coming back and NOT being a 9.77 sprinter. Perhaps more of a high 9.8x to low 9.9x sprinter.

If so, that would put him far off the pace of the lead group of Bolt/Gay/Powell and potentially battling with the likes of Doc Patton, Richard Thompson, Daniel Bailey and Ivory Williams. But taking that same "drop" in speed to the 400 would give him the fastest speed EVER brought to the event! An event that I think is due for an explosion of its own.

Gatlin would bring the perfect set of credentials/stats to the event. Nice size at 6' 1", 175 lbs. Great speed. He's already shown that he can handle the event. But most importantly he has the competitive make up of a champion. A competitive drive that could put him over the top in an event that seems to be begging for the "Next Great Thing".

The event's two top established stars both seem somewhat stagnant. Jeremy Wariner ('04, '05, '07 champion) has had two very down seasons following his switching of coaches - and eventual switch back - in '08 & '09. Current #1 Lashawn Merritt ('08 & '09 champion) is winning easily with regularity without really pushing the envelope. Both are running times that are well off the current WR. A record that, looking at the rate of improvement of the other sprints, might be slightly soft in comparison.

A move to the 400 could do several things for Gatlin. For starters it would take away any comparisons to "what he did before the ban". Taking away that comparison would make the 'ban" less of an issue, as he would be able to simply be judged on his progression over the 400.

More importantly for Gatlin, a move to the event would give him a better opportunity to do what he has done best for most of his career - excel against his competition! As currently only Merritt seems capable of running regularly under 44.50 - a mark that I believe is easily within Gatlin's reach.

Finally, if he is successful in the transition to the degree that I believe he is capable of, Gatlin could both return to the top of the podium, and set new standards in the event - becoming a WR setter once again! With his speed, stride, and speed endurance, he could become the first sub 43sec quarter miler. An achievement that could once again put him in the headlines - for all the right reasons.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Torrin Lawrence Highlights Weekend Action

Track and Field: NCAA Indoor Championships

Most have been waiting on next weekend, with Millrose and Karlsruhe on tap, for the fireworks of the indoor season to begin. Fireworks started a weekend early, however, as Georgia's Torrin Lawrence sped his way to a collegiate record in the 300 meter dash. A 20.79/48.18 sprinter indoors last year as a freshman, Lawrence set a Collegiate Record of 32.32 in the 300 meters at the Hokie Invitational in Virginia. The mark is also the #5 mark ever indoors:

31.88 - Wallace Spearmon
31.94 - Kerron Clement
31.94 - LaShawn Merritt
32.19 - Robson da Silva
32.32 - Torrin Lawrence

The time puts Lawrence in some lofty company as da Silva, the least known of the 4 ahead of him, was a 10.00/19.96 sprinter back in the 80's/90's and ranked #1 in the world over 200 in 1989. With such an auspicious start Lawrence would appear to be headed for big things this year. He could be one to watch.

At the Texas v Texas AM dual, the Aggies of Texas AM showed that they will once again be a national power on the collegiate scene with some very nice performances in their dual against Texas. Jessica Beard (52.27), Demetrius Pinder (46.03), Curtis Mitchell (20.99) and the Aggies 4x4 squad (3:05.92) all provided performances that indicate they should all be in the hunt for medals this indoor season.

Likewise Texas freshman Marquis Goodwin - 25' 7.5", brings back memories of another former Longhorn - football player/ long jumper Eric Metcalf. Metcalf was NCAA long jump champion for the Longhorns at 27' 2" in 1988 and had a best of 27' 8.25". Let's see if Goodwin can match those marks during his career at Texas.

At LSU's Purple Tiger Invitational we had a couple of interesting competitors. First there was Lolo Jones who ran 8.14 in a preliminary round of the women's 60 meter hurdles. Jones did not run in the final. We also got a Walter Dix sighting as Dix won the men's 60 with a decent 6.62. Nice to see Dix running some 60's this indoor season. He has the turnover and top end speed to potentially run with the likes of Gay, Bolt and Powell, but MUST get involved in the race in its early stages. Working on his 60 should help.

And as usual the oval in Fayetteville yielded some nice marks at the Razorback Invitational. Among the highlights in Arkansas we got Brittany Reese out to 21' .25" in the long jump; April Steiner over 14' 5.25" early season in the pole vault; Walter Davis jumping well with a 55' 9" triple jump; Mike Rodgers winning the consolation heat of the 60 in 6.63 and Alabama Sr Ray Jadusingh winning the open race in 6.62; and Jerome Miller (6.66) over World champion Ryan Brathwaite (6.68) in the 60 hurdles.

A nice lead up weekend to next week's double tilt of Millrose and Karlsruhe.

Friday, January 22, 2010

Track vs Football

Track and Field: NCAA Championships

Recent news out of Washington State University is that Jeshua Anderson, former national high school record holder in the 300H, will be giving up playing both football and track in favor of just focusing on track.

I would imagine that most track fans are considering this a coup of sorts for the sport as Anderson is a young rising star in the sport. The Washington State junior, has already won a World Jr championship over the 400 meter hurdles (2008), as well as NCAA championships as a frosh and soph (2008, 2009) over the barriers. He has personal bests of 48.47 over the barriers and 46.08 over the flat 400 meters. At 20 years of age (he turns 21 in June) Mr. Anderson has a very bright future in the sport and I too am happy at the news for the sport of track and field.

However, the fact that he felt that he had to make a decision brings forth an issue that has puzzled me for some time - why can't an athlete do both? After all, there have been some stellar two sport stars that have participated in both track &field and football. Cliff Branch (Colorado/Raiders), Wesley Walker (Cal/Jets ), Isaac Curtis (Cal/Bengals), Darrell Green (Texas A&I/Redskins), Curtis Dickey (Texas A&M/Colts), Herschel Walker (Georgia/Cowboys), Eric Dickerson (SMU/Rams), and of course Bob Hayes (Florida A&M/ Cowboys) are just a handful of all star professional football players that excelled at both track and field and football in college before turning their interests to professional football.

As a matter of fact, "back in the day" two sport stars were a common occurrence on both the high school and collegiate levels. We still see standout performers in both sports in high school with such recent track and field standouts as Jeff Demps, Xavier Carter, Bryshon Nellum and Marquis Goodwin excelling on both the track and the gridiron.

So with a rich history of successful two sport stars, why suddenly do we see talented athletes feeling forced to "decide" between one or the other? Well, talking with collegiate track coaches it seems that the onus may lie with football.

Track coaches seem to have no problem with their athletes competing in both sports. Football helps keep the athletes in shape and competitive. Football also is able to funnel talented athletes their way via football scholarships, freeing up track dollars and increasing the flow of talent into the program. The seasons don't overlap, so after a brief period of getting over the bumps and bruises of the football season, the athletes are ready to roll early in the indoor season.

Football, on the other hand, seems to have more problems with the situation. College football has begun to see itself as a year round endeavor. While football is a 10/11 week sport in the fall - plus a month break and additional game if you qualify for a bowl game - it makes the attempt to keep its athletes engaged throughout the year. This starts right at the beginning of the outdoor track season with "Spring" practice during the months of March and April.

Collegiate football coaches view this as valuable time to help their athletes prepare for the upcoming season. That season is some four months away from the end of Spring practice however. So that whatever "conditioning" that took place is long gone unless the athlete continues some sort of regimen on his own. In the past that regimen has been track and field for many star athletes!

No, the athletes aren't on the field running patterns and plays. But they do get in incredible shape! Running backs, wide receivers, and defensive backs that sprint, hurdle, long or triple jump sharpen their speed and quickness - invaluable in the sport of football. Even linemen that throw the shot, discus or hammer are able to work on their explosion and footwork - ask Olympic shot put silver medalist Michael Carter, a three time pro bowl nose tackle for the 49ers!

Personally I think that it would behoove college football coaches to rethink the concept that only football practice can prepare an athlete for football. Nike, a huge sponsor of collegiate sports, pioneered the idea of "Cross Training" - and athletes competing in both football and track are doing some of the best cross training available.

So, while I too am excited to hear that Jeshua Anderson has chosen my favorite sport to place his focus, I feel for him and all those other young athletes out there that seem pressured to choose! College should be a time of exploration and fun for these young people. And until they have to choose on their profession as adults (and not all will be professional athletes) they should have the ability to test themselves in a variety of activities - sports included. Because where an athlete is at the age of 19 in either sport, can change significantly over the course of four years - they deserve the opportunity to see just how much!

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Mark McGwire and Performance Enhancing Drugs

Mark McGwire admits to using steroids

Within the past 48 hours Mark McGwire has confessed to what we've all suspected for years - that he indeed was using steroids during the best part of his career - the home run smashing, record breaking years of his career. This continues the pattern of high profile, "superior" athletes confessing after years of denial that they indeed used performance enhancers during their reign of superiority.

Clearly at this point there is some sort of correlation between the performance of many of the world's most elite or superior athletes and the use of drugs in enhancing their performance. And while I in no way intend to paint all "super" athletes with the broad brush of drug use, as the role call of these athletes grows larger, so does the percentage of those that have used.

For me, however, McGwire's confession is less important as his explanation. Because as he asked us to forgive him, he stated that his drug use did NOT help him with his achievements. It is THAT that I would like to discuss today.

McGwire says that he was born to hit home runs. That he has hit home runs his whole life. And that his steroid use was done to keep him healthy - or more specifically to keep him from being constantly injured. He did not do so, he explained, to get larger muscles.

Before I get to McGwire's explanation let's address the term Performance Enhancing Drugs. I used that term in the title and not the word "steroids" or "drugs" for a reason - to define just why these drugs/substances are banned. They are banned, ostensibly, because they provide unnatural assistance to the user! Hence we call them performance ENHANCERS.

In the case of McGwire, his body kept breaking down on him. It was not strong enough on its own to sustain the workload that his sport demanded! He needed "something else" to enable his body to be strong enough to keep from breaking down and staying injured. His body was incapable of doing so on its own - that is clear both by his history of injuries and his own confession. Keeping his body from breaking down, is what enabled him to train harder, get stronger, and perform as he did. Therefore his steroid use "enhanced" his performance!

And that is where I really want to start this conversation. Because I've heard so many people say that "drugs" didn't run down the track, or throw the baseball, or jump over the bar, or any number of physical actions. It's always pointed out how the athlete in question had always been good at what he or she did/does. That they were always a "star". Always stronger, faster, quicker, etc. And I will not dispute that in any case that we have seen.

It only stands to reason that these athletes would have "always" been good at what they do/did - that's how they got to be "professionals" in the first place. The use of statements decrying how good an athlete has always been, as proof that they didn't need "drugs" is a Red Herring that draws away from the real issue.

The real issue isn't that the drugs are used to bring them to a professional level. The issue is that drugs are used to take them to the NEXT level. To make them Elite. To take an athlete to the "superior", "untouchable" level in his or her craft. To take someone that was already among the best of the best and make them better - to create that final level of separation!

So to paraphrase an old commercial, PED use isn't designed to make you fast, strong, quick or big, PED use is designed to make you your fast, faster; your strong, stronger! Something that we never talk about in this, or any other sport. Which is why I am such a proponent of out of season testing. Sure there are drugs that can be used to aide on the day of a competition - to enhance your senses or make breathing easier. But where PEDs are most effective is in PREPARATION. Which is why there are so few drug busts during competition - the main use was done weeks, even months, before!

McGwire was absolutely correct - steroids didn't swing his bat, nor were they a part of his hand eye coordination. But they did keep his body from breaking down. They made him strong enough to complete all the work he needed to put in TO swing his bat better and work on that hand eye coordination! Without the drugs he couldn't have put in the workload necessary to perfect those things - and THAT is why they enhanced his performance!

It's no different for track athletes. Improving strength; increasing the ability to carry more oxygen within the system; enhancing the senses, these things can aid both during competition AND training. The more oxygen you can carry the longer you can work out. The longer you work out you can increase your strength, endurance, and sharpen your skills. If you can get stronger you can apply more force to the track if you're sprinting or jumping, or to an implement if you are a thrower.

After all that is why athletes train- to get better. And anything that can be done to make training a more productive endeavor will aid one's performance! Too often, both for fans and those conducting tests, the focus is on the actual competition itself - and that was McGwire's focus in his confession. But there is much that must be done BEFORE you compete. You don't get good, or great on the day of competition. You become great during preparation. Competition is the test of how good or great you have become - the time when the training pays off.

And that is where the proof lies - in the competition. Because so far, every athlete that has had to come "clean" has had that "spike" in production in their given sport. From McGwire's spike in home runs, to Kelli White's World Championship runs to Tim Montgomery and Ben Johnson's WR setting. All, and others, went from being world class to top of the class during their period of PED usage. Looking at their performances prior to and their performances during, its hard to deny that the PED's enhanced their performances.

So in the process of training to become a great athlete, if you must use something to "assist" you to achieve your desired results outside of what you came to this earth with, THAT is an enhancement. That is cheating based on the rules of sport - because it provides an unfair advantage over those athletes that train and compete without unnatural, chemically enhanced assistance. So McGwire using drugs to keep from being injured WAS cheating. He was dirty, based on the rules of sport. Next I will be talking about clean vs dirty.

Monday, January 11, 2010

What I Would Like to See This Indoor Season

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

Typically the indoor season sort of fills the time until the "real" track season starts around April. Over time its gone from being a "season" to being "filler". For many, however, I think it could be a vital part of training. Aiding in such things as improving one's start and early acceleration in the sprints; working on race tactics in the distances; sharpening technique in the field events.

From that standpoint, there are several athletes that I feel could benefit from a strong indoor season this year - especially since there is no major championship this year. Without a Major on the schedule, athletes can afford to start their seasons a bit earlier on the track without fear of interfering with preparation for a championship. So, before things hit high gear, here are some things I would like to see happen this indoor season.

Dwight Phillips take a good shot at a long mark in the long jump. Would be nice to see him out beyond 28 ft, and would give an indication that he is still on form for something longer outdoors. With his speed increasing last year, and his PR moving out to 28' 8", he is tantalizingly close to 29 ft. It also puts him within reach of Cal Lewis' indoor mark of 28' 10" - set back in 1984. Strong attempts at that mark could help in his pursuit of the outdoor record - 29' 4.5".

Carmelita Jeter get under 7.00 in the 60. Believe it or not we have not seen a mark below 7.00 so far in the New Millennium. The best we have seen is 7.01 by three different athletes. Jeter herself has not run better than 7.11 - a mark she ran just last year. With that as he best indoors in '09 and ending the season at 10.64 in the 100, one can only imagine what she can do outdoors if she can significantly improve the first 60 meters of her race! Getting close to, or breaking, 6.92 would be a significant improvement!

An America male quarter miler run under 45.30 - other than Lashawn Merritt or Jeremy Wariner. It's time that we saw someone else step up to the plate in this event. For one, the event needs some new blood at the top. Secondly we need another "stud" for relay duty. Another sprinter capable of running in the mid 43's on a relay leg (44 low in the open) would be nice. Sub 45.30 indoors would be a good start.

An athlete or two get under under 20.00 in the 200. The parameters have changed in the men's sprints - greatly! Anyone looking to challenge Usain Bolt or Tyson Gay in this event MUST come out blazing with a fast first 100 meters. The indoor race is geared towards such a race pattern. Sprinters that do not get out early indoors typically don't win. The sharpness of the turn, the banking of the track, these things make an early fast 100 imperative. Sprinters like Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix, and Xavier Carter that have already run bests of 19.65, 19.69 and 19.63 while employing "come from behind" race patterns, could get in better position to compete with Bolt and Gay by getting engaged in the race earlier. Running indoors would be a good way to force the issue.

American female middle distance runners make some noise. Would be nice to see one or more of our 1500 runners in a serious race or two. The American Record is 3:59.98 by Regina Jacobs back in 2003. I believe that someone like Anna Willard, Jenny Barringer, Christin Wurth Thomas, or Shannon Rowbury is capable of getting near that mark - or at least close to #2 Mary Slaney's 4:00.8. For comparison, two of last year's best, Geleta Burka and Maryam Jamal, have run 3:59.75 & 3:59.79 respectively. A strong indoors by any of the above would further our move up in the middle distance ranks.

An attack on Galen Rupp's year old American Record of 13.18.12 over 5000 meters. Last year we got an outdoor AR of 12:56.27 from Dathan Ritzenhein and sub 13 from Matt Tegenkamp (12;58.56). Tremendous improvement for American distance runners - but just the beginning. if we are to be truly competitive with the African runners who dominate track over 5000/10000. We need another 10 seconds improvement - to the 12:40's - to become solid contenders. So from that standpoint if we can get a couple of athletes down around 13:10 indoors we would be heading in the right direction.

Finally, what I would really like to see is more of the sport's stars running indoors. When out best athletes skip the indoor season, it gives the impression that it really isn't that important. We face having a World Indoor Championships with few "names" competing. That is not good for the sport - and is one of the things that holds the sport back - the frequent absence of athletes of importance at our top events - especially in the high profile events.

I would love to see a Bolt/Gay/Powell showdown over 60 meters. But I know its not going to happen. We will get Liu/Robles/Trammell, but they aren't as well known as their sprint brethren- at least to the America public. And therein lies the problem. In order to get the hurdlers more well known we need the sprinters on the track to draw the audience to watch. The more we can get the athletes with the headlines on the track, the more they all benefit - and the sport grows.

So here's to as many stars as possible indoors this year. Of course stellar marks create stars. So if a few items on my "wish list" can become reality perhaps we will head outdoors with a few new stars in the sport.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

The Unbreakables

Silke Gladisch, Marita Koch, Marlies Gohr and Auerswald of the East Germany

As we close out this decade and move into the next, the most excitement the sport has coming out of the "oughts" has been the record breaking exploits of Usain Bolt, and the altering of the 100 and 200 meter sprint lists by Bolt and Tyson Gay.

During the decade we also had a near record run in the 1500, record runs in the 5000, 10000, 110 hurdles, steeplechase , marathon, and decathlon. We also saw several near record performances in these events - all of which brings attention and excitement to the sport. Especially since our primary marketing plan seems to rest on the setting of records.

The women, unfortunately haven't had the same degree of excitement thrown their way. Because they compete in a world forever altered by the same taint of drugs that we found hovering over the sport as we closed out this decade!

Drug use among women seems to create much greater changes/increases in female performances, and unfortunately for them there were two periods of time where rampant drug use (and suspected drug use) forever altered their record landscape. First was the 80's where we know that the athletes of the Eastern Bloc used sport (and doping) to exercise athletic superiority over their "Western" counterparts. As a result, nearly all of the running and field event records are dominated by 1980's Eastern Bloc performances. Those that aren't were taken care of by the middle distance assault of the Chinese in the early 90's.

What's left for the women are a handful of distance events and some relatively new events like the pole vault and hammer. Leaving them pretty much out of the spotlight when it comes to the sports record breaking. After all women chasing marks like 10.49 (100), 47.60 (400), 1:53.28 (800), 3:50.46 (1500) these are daunting tasks for the average man, let alone a woman! Same for the field events where marks like 74' 2" (Shot), 251' 11" (Discus) sit after over 20 years.

As a result, we sit here in the 21st century with our women at a severe disadvantage compared to female athletes in other sports. Female swimmers are able to garner headlines, for example, as they challenge and break records in the pool, while stars like Allyson Felix and Sanya Richards have to be content with simply chasing victories. While I personally find the competition to be the heart of the sport, we live in a society where recognition seems to come only in the pursuit of records - something lacking for three quarters of the athletes in our sport.

I say three quarters, because not only are the majority of women's records out of reach, but the majority of field events on the men's side are also of the near unbreakable variety. We can debate until we are blue in the face which records may or may not be tainted, but the basic problem is this: for the better part of the past 30 years the sport has operated in the dark regarding performance enhancing drugs. From Ben Johnson & Charlie Francis, to Tim Montgomery & Victor Conte, those with the intent to dope have stayed a good two steps ahead of those trying to catch them - and our record books are greatly skewed as a result.

Now this isn't a new topic. It was discussed in many circles prior to the start of the New Millennium with proposals for a new set of records to coincide with the turn of the century - New Millennium world records if you will. And there is precedence for this within the sport as back in the 1970's we closed the books on "yard" records (100 yards, 440 yards, 880 yards, et al) in favor of all metric units - with only the mile being retained. This was done as by this period of time only the US still measured in "imperial" units, and the rest of the world had gone "metric".

We've seen it done in the multi events, where changes to the scoring tables created inequities with "old" scores and "new" scores. And we've also seen it done with the javelin, where redesigns in the throwing implement itself created a severe change in the distances thrown with the new implement. So it is not a stretch to consider the possibility of a new set of records and all time lists for the sport - because we've been down this road before.

The thought near the beginning of the New Millennium was that it was time to "cleanse" the record books, knowing that a large majority of marks - records and all time lists - have been tainted over the years. None more so than on the women's side of the ledger, where it seems at least three quarters of the marks are simply untouchable at this point.

While the turn of the century seemed to be a chronologically appropriate time, the change never occurred. And fortuitously so, in my opinion, as now would be an even better time to do so! Why? Well at the turn of the century we still didn't have a handle on the drug issue - as evidenced by the litany of top level individuals that had to leave the sport during the "oughts" on the heels of drug related issues.

Now, however, we have better testing methods available to us. There are now viable tests for HGH and EPO, and we now have the ability to develop Blood Passports for use with blood testing. Blood Passports being the development of base blood profiles for athletes, which are then used at a later date to compare with future blood tests to determine changes within the system. Using eight different "markers" in the blood, they are used in various formulas and models to determine the probability that an athlete is doping. Using this methodology, we can now determine the use of both known and unknown (designer) drugs within an athletes system.

If used properly, this technology could be used to ensure the cleanest set of marks the sport has ever seen. Extensive use during the out of competition/training portion of the season to get accurate base profiles; combined with regular testing of the world's most dominant athletes in the sport should be able to catch the drug cheats - like Tim Montgomery, Kelli White, Dwain Chambers, Kevin Toth and Regina Jacobs - that were able to go undetected with simple urinalysis.

Thus enabling the creation/implementation of a new set of records and all time lists based on a better testing methodology. The records list can be sold as one that now requires more stringent testing for ratification (pre and post). And can be sold to the public - including marketing to potential investors/sponsors of the sport as providing the highest level of competition possible with the cleanest set of athletes the sport has ever seen - based on the best testing available.

More importantly it will ensure a spate of record setting in the sport at a time when it sorely needs the positive exposure - and it will ensure that the women of the sport get their fair share of publicity as well. Not to mention that it will finally give the sport some "positive" exposure on the topic of drugs and testing.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Will the Sprint Assault Continue?

Frankie Fredericks of Namibia celebrates winning the Men's 200 metres Final

We enter 2010 with '09 in the rear view mirror - and the vision in that mirror is one of a massive assault on the short sprints in 2009. Tyson Gay debuting at 19.58; becoming consistent at 9.7 (9.79w, 9.75w, 9.77, 9.71) and setting a new American Record of 9.69. Kerron Stewart (10.75, 10.75) and Shelly Ann Fraser (10.79, 10.73) with multiple 10.7's and Carmelita Jeter (10.67, 10.64) with multiple 10.6's. And of course a new set of WR's (9.58, 19.19) from Usain Bolt.

This being the second year in a row that we've seen the sprint lists sizzling, it begs the question: with the sprinters now at such an insane level, will we see a similar assault on the all time lists/records indoors? After all, the records indoor records are nearly as formidable as those that the athletes have been chasing outdoors. The current indoor records are:

Men's 60 - 6.39, Maurice Greene, 1998, 2001
Women's 60 - 6.92, Irina Privalova, 1993

Men's 200 - 19.92 - Frank Fredericks, 1996
Women's 200 - 21.87 - Merlene Ottey, 1993

All of these records were set in the 90's and went unscathed through the "oughts". Only Maurice Greene in 2001 was able to equal his own record in the 60 during the past decade. With the likes of Bolt, Gay, Powell, Jeter, Fraser, Stewart out there running well you would think that these records might be in a bit of jeopardy.

When we look at the all time lists, however, few inroads were made in the last decade. Of the 22 times under 7.00 that have been run in the women's 60, NONE were run in the last decade! Likewise, of the 13 times under 22.35 in the women's 200, NONE were run in the New Millennium! Incredible when you consider that Veronica Campbell Brown, Allyson Felix, Marion Jones, Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards, Stewart, Fraser and Jeter all competed during the decade.

Similarly with the men, of the 23 times at 6.45 or faster in the 60, only 6 were run in the oughts! Of all the short sprints only the men's 200 shows decent numbers as of the 12 marks under 20.30 in the 200 half (6) were run in the previous decade. The men's 60 may be the biggest surprise of all the indoor sprints as the oughts were the decade where sub 9.80 became popular. Yet of the sub 9.80 sprinters we saw during the decade, only Justin Gatlin at 6.45 clocked a "decent" mark.

Now in defense, or perhaps not, of the decade's best sprinters, we haven't seen them indoors in the New Millennium - especially the 60/100 sprinters! In the 90's we saw quite a bit of Maurice Greene, Jon Drummond, Frankie Fredericks, Andre Cason, Tim Harden, Linford Christie, Obadele Thompson, John Capel, Irina Privalova, Merlene Ottey, Gail Devers, and Gwen Torrence indoors. Since the turn of the century, appearances indoors by the likes of Lauryn Williams, Torri Edwards, Kerron Stewart, Allyson Felix, Shelly Fraser, Carmelita Jeter and Sanya Richards have not been nearly as common - and we've not seen Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, or Usain Bolt at all. A shame since the marks that were set by their counterparts in the 90's are actually fairly formidable. All are nearly as impressive as those that sit outdoors.

To her credit Carmelita Jeter, according to agent Mark Block, plans a full indoor season this year with the stated goal of breaking the 60 meter record. I would think that she might have a decent shot at the mark - though her forte lies in her midrace pick up and finish. The sprinter I would like to see take a shot at the mark is the blitzkrieg starting Shelly Ann Fraser. A start like she caught in both the Olympics and World Championships could get her close to 6.92 - certainly near 7.00. Same story in the men's event as Asafa Powell seems to have the perfect race pattern to attack the indoor 60 record - though he was lead through 60 in Berlin by Usain Bolt.

In the longer event, a Veronica Campbell Brown v Allyson Felix matchup, with Kerron Stewart in the fray, might get one or more of them close to Merlene Ottey's only sub22 ever run indoors! Likewise, Tyson Gay v Shawn Crawford might be the ticket towards another sub20, and a shot at Fredericks venerable 19.92. Though it would be interesting to see what Bolt could do indoors around the sharper bends of a 200 meter track.

We clearly have athletes out there that should be capable of challenging these marks. The question, as it always seems to be in this sport, is can we get them on the track? In the New Millennium, that has been one of the sport's bigger challenges - getting its headliners on the track and competing against each other, especially in the sprints. Just as we had Greene, Fredericks, Privalova, Ottey, and Devers indoors in the 90's, we need to get Jeter, Bolt, Gay, Powell, Fraser and Felix on the track in the teens.

With the sprints shining the spotlight on the sport over the past couple of seasons, it would be nice to see that continue as we turn the page into a new decade. Especially given that the World Indoor Championships typically get little attention outside of the sport. But with the bevy of top level sprinters we now have, to get some high level matchups In Doha would be the continuation of a coup for the sport. As would seeing some of these marks challenged during the course of the season. No better way to build the sport than to bring in the decade the same way we left the last - blazing around the track.

Friday, January 1, 2010

Happy New Year

Berlin Welcomes 2010

Happy New Year to all those that have visited my site this past year! I hope that the new year brings joy and happiness to all.

Thank you for visiting in 2009, I hope you enjoyed my site in it's first year. To show my appreciation for your support my goal is to make the site even better in 2010.

May 2010 be a great year for the sport and all of its supporters!