Friday, February 26, 2010

US Indoor Championships Watch List

2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships Day 4

The biggest US indoor competition of the year takes place this weekend as the US Indoor Championships run Saturday and Sunday in Albuquerque New Mexico. On the line will be berths to this year's World Indoor Championships in Doha Qatar next month. So for many we will be seeing the culmination of their indoor preparation.

For me I'll be taking a look at a few athletes in particular, less in anticipation of Doha, but more to see how they look heading into the outdoor season. Below is my "Watch List" for this weekend's competition.

Ivory Williams - Men's 60

The last couple of seasons Williams has been one of our more solid performers during the summer. His 9.93 last summer was a nice follow up to clocking 9.94 in '08 and has him on the cusp of being competitive with the big guns. This year he's shown an improved early race. This race could be a break through of sorts for him.

Ryan Bailey - Men's 60

Another up and coming sprinter, Bailey is that tall (6' 4") Usain Bolt like sprinter. He had huge breakthroughs last year in the sprints becoming the Junior College Record holder over 100 meters at 10.05 sec. If that seems a long way from the current WR of 9.58, consider that Bolt (6'5") ran 10.03 in his first few real attempts over 100! This kid is just learning how to sprint and it will be exciting to see how his start - a big weakness - is coming along in this meet.

Nick Symmonds - Men's 800

Until we can get a quarter miler or two to try this event, Symmonds is clearly our best hope internationally. He finally got under 1:44 last year outdoors (1:43.83) and it will be interesting to see how he is developing so far this year. If he can somehow manage to trim another second off his race he can become a serious international contender.

David Oliver - Men's 60 hurdles

Oliver was the second fastest hurdler in the world last year - off a time he ran in MAY! He missed a large portion of the season last year due to injury, something that seems to plague him. He's run 12.95 and seemingly has the potential to run with the likes of Dayron Robles and Liu Xiang. Health will be the key. So looking to see how healthy he is this year.

Carmelita Jeter - Women's 60

Jeter ran 10.64 in the 100 last year making her the second fastest all time in the event! She entered the indoor season with the stated goal of taking down Irina Privalova's 60 WR of 6.92. Instead she has watched Laverne Jones-Ferrette go 6.97 ahead of her in Stuttgart - 7.05 PR for Jeter. With the season winding down I'm less concerned with Jeter getting the record as I am in seeing improvement in her start. Something she will need if she is to get into that 10.5x zone outdoors.

Allyson Felix - Women's 400

I'm excited to see Felix taking on the open 400 because personally I think could be her best event. That's saying a lot considering that she is a three time World Championships gold medalist over 200 meters! But whenever Felix takes on the 400 she does well with seemingly little effort. Running the event infrequently she's run a PR 49.70 in the open event and routinely splits around 49 flat or just under in the 4x4 relay. She's so smooth when she runs the quarter that it's almost scary. This could signal that Felix may spend more time in this event outdoors. If so look for some serious clashes with last year's #1 Sanya Richards.

Anna Pierce - Women's 800/1500

Anna (formerly Willard) is one of our fast rising women's middle distance runners. I love her grit and tenacity and am excited to see her listed in both events for nationals. After breaking through with 1:58.80/3:59.38 marks last year, I'm dying to see just how well she will do as she seems to have a very high competitive IQ. I'm looking for her to step into the spotlight this weekend.

I wish all the athletes good luck and good fortune. And look forward to sending a very strong contingent to compete in Doha.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

What Happened to the Fast Starters ?

Track and Field: USA Track & Field Indoor Championships

With the championship portion of the indoor season at hand, we will finally get to see the best of the best going head to head. At least the best of those that have decided to participate during this indoor season.

This is the point in the season where we look forward to sizzling times. With the spotlight typically falling squarely on two headline events - the short sprint (60) and the mile/1500. Unfortunately, neither has been too stellar this year - though I fully expect both to pick up considerably when we get outdoors.

The mile seems to be lacking that someone with "oomph" this year. That Ryun, Keino, Coghlan, ElGuerrouj type. The races have been good races - they've just lacked that special someone. The short sprint, however, should be exciting in spite of the lack of big name stars competing under cover.

That's because the 60 is typically such an explosive event. Six seconds of pure speed. But this year something has been missing from the 60 this year aside from last year's outdoor World's medalists - that explosive starter that electrifies the crowd!

You know the guy I'm talking about. He's the one that as soon as the gun goes off seems to be in full flight! He sets the tone, the pace, of the sprint. The "catch me if you can" guy that either just blows the field away and gives you chills, or gets reeled in by that imposing sprinter with the serious finish that leaves everyone breathless. Either way it's that super starter that makes the race feel fast - and that's been missing this year. Which is why I think we have yet to see anyone under the 6.50 mark this year.

This year's indoor leader at 6.50 is Dwain Chambers. A solid sprinter, but no match as a starter when compared to Asafa Powell, who is clearly the world's current best starter. Powell, the best of the New Millennium, is the latest in what has been a rich history of fast starters in the sport. A few that are ingrained in my memory are:

Mel Pender - 1968 Olympic team member. Great reaction to the gun and great turnover.

Herb Washington - An indoor master in the early 70's. So quick that the Oakland A's signed him just to serve as a pinch runner.

Houston McTear - Perhaps the greatest high school short sprinter ever. The gun went off and he was instantly a couple of meters up on the field! Ran a WR 9.0 for 100 yards in high school as well as 10.16 in the 100 meters.

Ivory Crockett - Crockett was the adult version of McTear during the 70's. He was the first to 9.0 for 100 yards. Great early turnover and acceleration.

Steve Riddick - Was the indoor master during the late 70's. One of the few tall sprinters that seemed able to master starting and accelerating early in the race.

Ben Johnson - Yes I know he was banned for drug use, and therefore some never want to include him in any conversation. But there is no denying that Ben's unorthodox "hop out of the blocks and run" style was perhaps the most explosive start the world has ever seen.

Andre Cason - Cason's career was riddled with injury, but when healthy his acceleration was among the best.

Jon Drummond - Drummond was another, like McTear, that seemed to instantly create separation as soon as the gun went off. He was undoubtedly the best lead off leg the world has ever seen combining his infallible start with a very smooth turn.

This is the type of sprinter that has been missing this indoor season - the burner who creates excitement right from the gun. For an example of true early race explosion, watch the following video of the current indoor record of 6.39 as Maurice Greene burst clear of the field from the gun on his way to that sizzling mark.

Friday, February 19, 2010

The 1980 Olympic Boycott

1980 Summer Olympic Games

I read a series of comments from former athletes regarding the 1980 Olympic boycott and their opinions of then President Jimmy Carter and his decision not to send an American team to the Moscow Olympics.

While I can respect these individuals for trying to give politically correct answers, it's clear that they were all unwilling pawns who were asked to give up their life long dreams as sacrifices in a political move that was of no consequence politically! They were effectively lead to slaughter as casualties of a war they never signed up to fight in. So how does anyone think they "really" felt about the situation?

Yes, we can ask if politics and sports should mix / intersect. And unfortunately the reality of life is that they often do. Primarily because sport on the big stage is visible to the world - with the Olympics being the largest stage and therefore the most frequent victim of political "intervention".

We can choose from among several Olympic Games for examples of politics intervening. From the Berlin Olympics of Nazi Germany in 1936. To the Mexico City Games of 1968 and the ongoing protests of the Mexican citizens and the near boycott and visual protests of black athletes. There were the Israeli deaths in Munich in 1972 and African nation boycotts in Montreal in 1976.

But for American athletes, as well as the Olympic movement itself, nothing overshadows the boycott of Moscow in 1980 - especially for the sport of track and field. Why?

For the Olympic movement it began what became a twelve year drought between "full" participation in the Games. With the US boycott in 1980 taking us and our "allies" out of the Games. The Soviet Union reciprocated in kind by boycotting the 1984 Los Angeles Games, taking them and their "allies" out of the Games. Leaving the 1976 Montreal Games as the last "full" Games until the 1988 Games in Seoul! When taken into context that the Games were developed to further "Good Will", that was a huge blow to the Olympic movement as the world's major powers from the "East" and the "West" went over a decade without head to head competition in the Games!

For American athletes the 1980 boycott was a huge set back! Consider that at that time Olympic sports were still amateur in nature. So there were no "sponsors", or "contracts" that could sustain an athlete between Games. In track and field there were not yet the huge paydays on the European Circuit that we see today.

So an athlete that either just missed out in 1976, and/or began to emerge sometime between '76 and '80, suddenly found him/herself facing another four year wait to try and prove him/herself on the World's biggest stage. Meaning that for many athletes they were looking at somewhere in the neighborhood of a six to eight year waiting period for the Games!

Consider a four year doping ban for an athlete and the uphill climb they have trying to maintain being among the best and you are beginning to understand what these athletes had to face. Yet THEY did nothing wrong, but had to serve their Olympic "ban" anyway. And in track and field there was no alternative because the World Championships weren't a reality until 1983 - right before the next Games!

For the best of the best it created an eight year "black hole". For example, Edwin Moses who had a break through season in '76 when he won Olympic gold was unable to defend in 1980! He had to wait until '84 when once again he dominated the field - 1980 depriving him of a chance at three Olympic golds in a row.

Or how about Evelyn Ashford. Like Moses she began to climb towards stardom when she made the '76 Olympic team. At the World Cup in '79 she faced and defeated the best the East had to offer in Marlies Gohr (100) and Marita Koch (200). Evelyn never received her opportunity at validation before a global audience because she wasn't able to attend the Games in '80, and her counterparts didn't attend the Los Angeles Games in '84. By 1988 all had aged and the sprint scene had been taken over by one FloJo!

Or how about the biggest travesty of all - Renaldo Nehemiah never attending an Olympic Games. Nehemiah was a rising force in the high hurdles taking the hurdle record from 13.21 to 13.00 before the Moscow Games. Unfortunately Nehemiah never reached the starting blocks in Moscow due to the boycott. Still in his prime, however, Nehemiah dropped the record further to 12.93 in 1981 before deciding that waiting until 1984 was just too long, and deciding to try his hand at professional football because at the time there were no contracts or sponsors in track and field! That would be akin to Usain Bolt going on his record breaking tear the past couple of seasons but NEVER being able to take his act to the Olympics!

This is just a handful of names. The world never got to know athletes like Dedy Cooper, James Sanford, Bill Green, Billy Mullins, Willie Smith, Clancy Edwards, James Mallard, Don Paige, Todd Harbour, James Butler, Stanley Floyd, David Mack, and Matt Centrowitz just to throw a handful of names out there. Olympic caliber athletes who never got to display their wares on the world's biggest stage because at their peak we didn't attend!

These athletes were robbed of one of the greatest opportunities the sporting world has to offer. So great is the allure of the Games that when "pros" were allowed in in 1992 Michael Jordan, David Robinson, Magic Johnson and the rest of the "Dream Team" considered it one of the biggest honors of their athletic careers - and they won NBA championships!

Nations have armies, navies, air forces, and soldiers to fight their wars. Denying athletes the fruit of their labor over the course of years and years of dedication, work that they put in without the assistance of a country that then in turn decided to utilize them as pawns in a global game of chess was just wrong. There were, and are, other forms of diplomacy outside of warfare than can and should have been used to make a global statement. So for all those athletes that, with a microphone in front of them, feel the need to be politically correct, I will say that they suffered a tremendous injustice. One for which they can never be compensated for. And if that left a bad taste in their mouth, or even left them bitter or angry, it is understandable - and they have that right.

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

The Stars are Missing

12th IAAF World Athletics Championships - Day Nine

With US Indoor Nationals looming and World Indoors just a few weeks away, I find myself once again asking if the indoor season is worth the time and money that is put into it?

Not that I haven't enjoyed watching the couple of meets that have been televised - because I am a track junkie at heart. But when I look at the results of the season so far I'm split down the middle on this season.

Only a handful of events have given us truly exciting results. Meseret Defar (3000), Blanka Vlasic (HJ), and Christian Cantwell (SP) have given us the typical sterling performances. And we've seen nice breakouts from Torrin Lawrence (400) and Laverne Jones-Ferrette (60).

But for the most part, the season has played like a slow warm up to the outdoor season and not as a stand alone season unto itself. In part because of the performances, in large part because it's lacked star power.

The sport has focused a lot on making Usain Bolt it's main draw. With back to back double sprint championships and both sprint WRs under his belt, it's an understandable move. However. Once you've made him your draw, you've got to get him on the track, and he's been MIA during the indoor season. That takes a huge bite out of your drawing power for the indoor season.

A big reason why the sport needs to expand it's marketing efforts to include as many of it's top level athletes as possible. As I've said before, this sport has as many potential stars as football and basketball. Unlike those sports, however, we seem to only focus on one or two at a time.

Not sure that would have mattered this indoor season though. Because virtually all of the sports top talent seems to be avoiding the indoor season as if it were a major carrier of the H1N1 virus! Not only are we missing Usain Bolt, but we don't have Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sanya Richards, Allyson Felix, Lashawn Merritt, Jeremy Wariner, Shelly Ann Fraser, or Kerron Stewart. All of whom are among the biggest names in the sprints outdoors.

In the middle and long distances we see outdoor leaders such as Abubaker Kaki, Ismail Ismail, Asbel Kiprop, Augustine Choge, Haron Keitany, Gelete Burka, Anna Alminova, and Anna Pierce (nee Willard) but they are clearly works in progress at this point of the season. As well they should be with the "real" season still at least a couple of months away.

When you take into account that the sport's real "earning" season won't begin until May; outdoor national championships aren't until June; and the sport's premier events - Diamond League, et al - won't hit their stride until after the national championship meets; why would the sport's "big guns" make any attempt to be ready to run their best on a 200 meter track in the middle of winter?

This sport has clearly become a "play for pay" endeavor and the money trail doesn't seem to take a path thru the winter snow! We no longer have any indoor meets out here in the West Coast. The Jack in the Box Invitational, Examiner Games, and what few others used to exist have gone the way of the dinosaur. Even on the East Coast we've dwindled down to what seems to be two major indoor meets - Millrose and Boston Reebok - with the Tyson Invitational taking a big back seat this year.

Europe is doing better in this regard (doesn't it always?) with a decent "circuit" of indoor meets. But what is a World Championships with only a handful of the sports real stars in attendance?

Don't get me wrong. I'm not saying that there is no place for indoor track. It's still a strong sport at the collegiate level. Which makes sense on a couple of fronts. The NCAA Indoor Championship is something very much still coveted by most major colleges so they prepare their athletes accordingly. This is why we have seen such a high level of competition from an athlete like Torrin Lawrence. The other reason is that the collegiate outdoor season will start a scant few weeks after the end of the indoor season and will end in June - just when the elite outdoor season will be hitting it's stride! So there is a lot more urgency from the collegiate prospective to be ready for outdoors - and the indoor season works in harmony with that.

Just the opposite with the elite season, where the goal is to be at or near one's best between June and September. Making the indoor season either expendable, or a training / preparation tool for most. Which is fine for the athletes, but leaves us fans with something a bit less than exciting for the most part.

Perhaps if the indoor season started a bit later - say late February to early March. Then put together a short series of indoor meets that encompassed only one meet per week, instead of the three, four, or in some cases even five per week that are run now. In this way, with a bit of cooperation, perhaps existing budgets could be combined so that greater amounts could be offered per meet.

With the season being closer to the opening of the outdoor season, AND offering more financial incentives to compete, maybe the cream de la cream could be enticed to come out to the cozier indoor venues to test themselves prior to heading outdoors! Using "off" distances like the 60, 300 and 3000 meters as tests to gauge their readiness and fitness levels.

Perhaps then we might see Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay in a couple of 60's. Or Jeremy Wariner and Lashawn Merritt over 300 or 500 meters. Or even David Rudisha and Abubaker Kaki over 600 or 1000 meters. Would also give the field eventers a chance to test themselves under cover during what would typically be the wettest time of the year in most locales.

At any rate, anything that could get the elite athletes to the track would make the indoor season more meaningful and bring more attention to the sport.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Torrin Lawrence Again

Track and Field: Tyson Invitational

Another busy indoor weekend - with a bit of outdoor action thrown in. The big mark was once again laid down by Torrin Lawrence. Previously Lawrence set a collegiate record in the 300, this time around he ran a sensational 45.03 in the 400. Not quite a record, but the mark makes him the #5 performer all time behind Kerron Clement (44.57), Michael Johnson (44.63), Lashawn Merritt (44.98) and Danny Everett (45.02) - all of whom have run under 44 seconds outdoors!

It definitely puts Lawrence in the spotlight in the 400 meters. Much the same way as Merritt's and Clement's times did when they were in college. BOTH went pro the same year they ran their marks. Merritt never even ran an outdoor race as a collegian, going pro as a freshman before the outdoor season began. Lawrence in now one to keep an eye on.

While on the topic of the 400, Usain Bolt started his season with an outdoor 400. A 45.86. A nice start to the season, especially for a 100/200 sprinter.

Wallace Spearmon, who just recently signed a deal with Saucony, found the going a bit tougher as he apparently pulled up with a bad hammy running a 200 indoors.

Makes me really start to question the whole indoor season. Seems to do well for the distance runners. They tend to be smaller and fit better on the small tracks. But things don't seem to translate as well for sprinters indoors.

For example, Dwain Chambers ran a world leading 6.50 in the 60 meters winning the British championship this past weekend. He was last year's world leader at 6.42, but was no where close to the top sprinters outdoors - Bolt, Gay, Powell among others. He will be among the favorites next month in Doha for the Indoor World Championships, however.

Another favorite for Doha could be Terrence Trammell who ran a world leader in the 60H with his 7.43 this weekend. He will make a worthy opponent for Dayron Robles who has run 7.48 this season and is #2 all time at 7.33. Should be a great race in Doha.

That said, the most news this weekend was in the distance events. A new European 500 record went in the books when Frenchman Bouabdellah Tahri ran a very nice 13:11.13 - making him #8 all time and the fastest non African.

The hot event, however, was the mile. At the Husky Invitational in Seattle FIFTEEN people ran under 4:00!

The indoor season is almost done. US Nationals will be held the weekend of the 27th, with the World Championships on tap starting March 13th. Then we head outdoors, for what should be an interesting non championship season.

Friday, February 12, 2010

British Suit Begs a Question

IAAF World Juniors Championships

Former British Junior Athlete of the Year Richard Davenport has recently brought a lawsuit against his former coach. The reason? Well he says that his former coach, David Farrow, ignored his complaints of back pain, which in turn caused him to have surgery that in effect has put his career in jeopardy.

An interesting situation to be sure. Because with all the handlers and individuals that are involved with track and field athletes at the highest level, it begs the question, in my humble opinion: who is in charge?

Once upon a time there was the athlete and the coach - period. A very simple dynamic. But today in addition to the coach and the athlete, there are several individuals that exercise some semblance of control over the athlete's career.

For starters there is an Agent who for all intents and purposes is his/her booking agent - scheduling meets, appearances, commercial endorsements. Then there is a Shoe Company, if the athlete is fortunate enough to have a contract with a shoe company. Having paid a considerable sum to the athlete the shoe company also exercises some rights in terms of competition schedule and appearances.

This list doesn't stop there as there are also Meet Directors/Promoters that pay athletes healthy sums to compete in their events. Nutritionists and Nutritional Consultants that advise the athletes on the food, vitamins and supplements that they ingest. And Physical Therapists/Masseuses who advise on the physical fitness/physical preparation of the athletes.

All of which leads to the question of who is really in charge here? I've spoken with several coaches who say that they are at the bottom of the food chain. That they have little say in where and when an athlete will compete - nor influence over their diet.

It seems that while, on the one hand, we have this vision of a "coach" that is based on our knowledge of high school and college coaches that handle virtually everything for the athlete, the job of the professional coach is more the role of trainer - to prepare the athlete for competition. The professional track and field athlete having a "team" of other professionals that take care of the other varied needs of the .

Given that scenario, it would seem that the person most in charge of the athlete and his/her professional career would then be the agent who serves as the central clearing house of decision making for the athlete.

If this is the case, it changes many prevailing beliefs. For example, in the law suit of Richard Davenport, one could then question whether the coach "ignored" Davenport's back pain or if perhaps improper treatments were provided during his physical therapy - or even if his "team" saw fit to send him to physical therapy. One could then question the competition schedule of the athlete, and therefore the person responsible for the schedule.

In the case of doping accusations and/or convictions perhaps the coach is NOT the immediate fall guy. Because the question should be raised as to who is actually in charge of the athletes' diet/ medications/ supplements.

My point is that for eons it has been the coach that immediately has had the finger pointed at him/her whenever there is a problem with the athlete and/or the athlete runs afoul of the rules of the sport. Yet, at the professional level, the coach seemingly has the LEAST amount of influence over the athlete and what is going on off the training track - at least when you talk to most coaches.

As a matter of fact, those individuals that foot the bills - primarily shoe companies - often have influence over who the athlete selects as their coach. Or at the least make strong suggestions. Which actually makes the coach the employee of the shoe company and not of the athlete - and in many cases the coaches are on the payroll of the shoe companies. Leaving the shoe company in the lead position over both the coach and the athlete.

Certainly blurs the line when having a discussion on who is instructing / advising the athlete. The coach is looking at performance - but answers to someone other than the athlete in many cases. The agent is looking at earnings and how to achieve them. But he too answers to someone other than the athlete - typically a management group or a shoe company. The shoe company and meet promoters are looking at a combination of performance and appearances, with the goal being to make money off of the appearances and performances of the athlete. Physical therapists, nutritionists, masseuses are looking at how to affect physical fitness and therefore performance - and of course the better the athlete does the better they get paid.

All should be on the same page and operating with the same goals. But it is easy to see how, as in any organization, each "department" is looking at its needs and how best to achieve them, and not always at the "big picture". Which means that at times they could be at slight odds with each other. Or at least not working in concert with each other.

So who ultimately is in charge and has the final word - the lead role so to speak? Perhaps this case will bring that into focus and give us an answer. I think it's a pretty good question.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Spearmon Signs with Saucony

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

Wallace Spearmon, a long time Nike athlete, just announced that he has signed with Saucony. Yes I said Saucony. Known more for making distance shoes, they've made a major leap by going with one of the world's top sprinters.

This is the second shoe company in a week to make a major signing in track and field following on the heels of New Balance signing Jenny Barringer. This is great for track and field as it gets new money flowing into the sport - and the sport can always use more money.

I also think it will be a great move for Spearmon. It puts him front and center and the focus for Saucony. As he says in his Flo Track interview (see below) anything he wants they will provide. He gets to design his own line of shoes and clothing. He will be the face of the company when it comes to track and field. In short it takes Spearmon from being one of many at Nike to being "The Man" at Saucony.

A position that Spearmon has held often in his career, but has lost of late. Spearmon was "The Man" in high school in Arkansas. Then "The Man" in college at the University of Arkansas. It wasn't that long ago (2005) that Spearmon was the NCAA champion over 200 meters in a race that saw Xavier Carter, Tyson Gay, Walter Dix and Rodney Martin all finishing behind him. That same season he was the silver medalist at the World Championships in Helsinki - and his professional career was off and rolling.

Spearmon dropped his PR to 19.65 in '06 and was a regular conqueror of none other than Usain Bolt over 200 meters. He continued his domination of Bolt in '07 though Tyson Gay took a major step forward. Then injuries in '08 & '09 saw Spearmon "struggle" to compete with Gay and Bolt - though struggling for him still lead to times of 19.8x and bronze medal finishes in Beijing and Berlin (he lost the Beijing medal to a dq).

But Spearmon says that he is healthy again in 2010. So perhaps the change in shoe companies and his emergence to the top of the heap with Saucony, could signal a return to form for Spearmon on the track as well. In his Flo Track interview Spearmon says that he is working diligently on his start. A huge Achilles heel in his race as he often gives up 3 to 5 meters early in his 200 meter races while finishing like a house afire on his way to sub 20 second clockings. If he can maintain early with the likes of Bolt and Gay he may be back in the game over 200!

I'm looking forward to seeing the 2010 version of Wallace Spearmon. As with Barringer and her change of coaching, I think the changes that Spearmon is making this year may help lead him to the promised land. The duo of Tyson Gay and Wallace Spearmon was a hot one for several years. It would be nice to see them both once again leading US sprint fortunes.

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Jenny Barringer Changes Coaches

Track and Field: 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics

The last few weeks have been busy ones for Jenny Barringer. On Janurary 22nd it was announced that she signed a multi year endorsement deal with New Balance shoes. No surprise that Jenny turned pro. She ended her collegiate career in awesome style last year setting personal bests over 800 (2:02.56), 1500 (3:59.90), 5000 (15:05.25), and the 3000 steeplechase (9:12.50). Collegiately her 1500 was a college record and she won the NCAA championship in the steeplechase. Internationally she was 5th in the steeplechase at the World Championships in Berlin and set an American Record in the process. She was more than ready for the next stage of her career.

Slightly surprising was that the deal was with New Balance since Nike and Adidas tend to get the bigger fish as they leave the pond and head to the professional level. Landing Barringer was a coup for New Balance who is obviously looking to broaden its appeal and move more aggressively into the shoe wars.

More surprising to me was the news yesterday that Barringer will be joining the professional ranks with a new coach, as she is leaving collegiate coach Mark Wetmore who guided her to the ranks of the elite while she was at Colorado University. Typically I get a little leery about athletes having success and leaving the one that "got em there". But this time I'm actually excited.

Excited because Barringer has chosen to be coached by Juli (Henner) Benson. Benson's pedigree is in the ranks of middle distance. She was a 1500 meter runner at James Madison University. She competed internationally over 1500 meters for the US and has coached 1500 meter runners Treniere Clement, Chris Lukezic, and Kevin Sullivan during coaching stints at Georgetown and as a personal coach.

This excites me because it indicates that Barringer is looking to perhaps focus her considerable talents on the 1500 meters - an event that I've felt for some time could be her best event. Its one of the sports highlight events and one in which we could use more exposure internationally.

So I think this is good news for Jenny and great news for the US track and field team.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Rivalries Drive Sport

Filbert Bayi

Russell vs Chamberlin. Lakers vs Celtics. Ali vs Frasier. Rivalries create excitement, enthusiasm, passion and lasting memories, Boxing enthusiasts still talk about The Thrilla in Manilla. The Super Bowl was born of the rivalry between the AFL and the NFL. Magic vs Bird revived a then struggling NBA.

Track and field has had some very storied rivalries in its' past. Jim Ryun & Kip Kieno, Jim Hines & Charlie Greene, John Walker & Filbert Bayi, Steve Williams & Don Quarrie, Seb Coe & Steve Ovett, and Ben Johnson & Carl Lewis are just a few that immediately come to mind. One of the most hyped events in Olympic Trials history was the "showdown" between Maurice Greene and Michael Johnson over 200 meters at the 2000 Trials - a race in which both men ran each other to injury.

Rivalries bring focus to a sport - hype, tension, excitement, fans, and revenue. With it's individual nature combined with global nationalism, track and field is a sport that is perfectly geared towards rivalries. The hype of Lewis v Johnson in Rome 1987 was only surpassed by the rematch in Seoul in 1988. The 80's was also the decade that brought us Coe v Ovett and the anticipation of their racing each other as they traded mile/1500 WR's in the early part of the decade.

Somehow track and field lost its sense of "rivalry" in the 90's. A trend that continued into the New Millennium. Possibly because there was so much focus on singular individuals - a la Michael Johnson and Marion Jones. But the rise of Maurice Greene in the latter stages of the 90's lead us to the inevitable "showdown" between he and Johnson at the Trials of 2000. And once again the sport felt the power of what a rivalry can do for the sport.

Anyone that was in the stadium that week heard the talk, felt the electricity and anticipation of these two sprinting titans going toe to toe. As both sprinters went to the track in pain, however, so did the essence of rivalry in the sport. Because not until the rise of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay in the past couple of seasons did we see anything truly approaching a true rivalry during the past decade.

But while theirs has become the most easily identifiable rivalry out there, there are several others that the sport should take advantage of as it looks for ways to sell the sport to the public. Following are some rivalries in the making that I feel the sport would do well to capitalize on.

Blanka Vlasic v Arianne Friedrich - Women's High Jump

Vlasic has a flair for showmanship to go along with her high jumping. Friedrich is just a tough competitor. Together they are nearing Stefka Kostadinova's twenty two year old WR of 2.09 (6' 10.25"). The sport could do more to headline its female competitors, and the sport is sorely in need of women in pursuit of its records. Vlasic and Friedrich are capable of headlining any meet.

Lashawn Merritt v Jeremy Wariner - Men's 400

This is a natural as these two men have dominated the event since 2004. Between them they have won every gold medal at the Games and Worlds from '04 to present as well as the last three silvers. They are also the only sub 44 performers since the retirement of Michael Johnson. A really down season by Wariner last year put a damper on this rivalry last year, but if both athletes are running low 44s or into the 43's this is a race that can bring fans to the stands.

Carmelita Jeter v Shelly Ann Fraser - Women's 100

This pairing takes one of the sports glamour events - the 100 - and adds the US v Jamaica aspect a la Bolt v Gay. Jeter became the second fastest woman in history last year while Fraser won her second gold in a row in the event in Berlin and became the #5 all time performer. Makes for another female match up worth highlighting. And traditionally the sport has been able to capitalize on its female sprint stars with the American v East German Women carrying through the 70's, 80's and into the early 90's. With both the US and Jamaican men and women at the top of the sprint charts, there are several ways to market this rivalry.

Dayron Robles v Liu Xiang - Men's 110 Hurdles

Talk about a match up with pedigree. Robles is the current WR holder and defending Olympic champion (Beijing). Xiang is the former WR holder (only .01 slower), former Olympic champion (Athens) and a former World champion (Osaka). No other pairing of athletes in the sport brings together the last two WR holders AND Olympic champions! And at only 23 (Robles) and 26 (Xiang) they both still have prime years ahead. Possibly the best match up out there.

Allyson Felix v Veronica Campbell Brown - Women's 200

Another US v Jamaica pairing with four time World champion Felix against two time Olympic champion Campbell-Brown. These are two of the fiercest competitors in any event - male or female. Both step on the track to win and their races against each other tend to be epic events. Campbell Brown is =8 all time and Felix #14 all time. Given their competitive nature getting the two on the track against each other a bit more often that in majors could get them both further up on the all time list.

Dwight Phillips v Irving Saladino - Men's Long Jump

One of the advantages of the field events is that they get multiple attempts. Anyone that saw Carl Lewis v Larry Myricks in San Jose in '87 or Indianapolis in '88, or Carl Lewis v Mike Powell in Tokyo in '91 understands just how electric an elite long jump competition can be. Both men have won Olympic and
World Championship gold. Phillips in '03. '04, '05, and '09. Saladino in '07 and '08. Both have bests over 28 feet with Phillips moving into elite territory last year with a huge 28' 9" bomb that took him to =5th all time. Here is a rivalry definitely worth cultivating.

David Rudisha v Abubaker Kaki - Men's 800

Kaki set a huge World Junior record of 1:42.69 just two seasons ago (=13 all time). Last year David Rudisha moved to #4 all time with his sizzling 1:42.01 in Rieti. They are already among the best ever and are only 21 and 22 years old! Among the records of the sport that have seemed nearly unapproachable Wilson Kipketer's 1997 mark of 1:41.11 has seemed one of the most daunting. Yet we have two young men who clearly have the potential to give chase. Getting these two on the track against each other in pursuit of one of tracks most elusive marks should be a priority for meet promoters around the world.

The excitement of Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay is proof that this sport is starving for high level match ups. The above are just a handful of potential, elite match ups available for the sport to highlight. This sport has star power that is waiting to be unleashed upon the rest of the world. We have more top level elite athletes than ever before. We just need to get them on the track and make the presentation.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

An Identity Crisis, Not a Paradigm Shift

Sports - May 22, 2005

It happens every once in a while. The greatest sprint force on the planet loses its way and forgets who it is. We get complacent. Someone rises up and knocks us down. We get up dazed and shaken - and have to remember who we are. Then we get back to basics and come back better than before.

That's the pattern of US sprinting in the modern era.

Jim Hines, Charlie Greene, Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Lee Evans and crew were the dominant force in the late 60's.

The early 70's saw the rise of Eddie Hart, Rey Robinson, Marshall Dill, Larry Black, Willie Turner, John Smith, Vince Mathews and Wayne Collett among others. Then came our first memory loss with Valerie Borzov and his double sprint victory in Munich.

But after a couple of very strong seasons by Borzov we saw the rise of Steve Williams, Reggie Jones, Fred Newhouse, Maurice Peoples and others in the mid 70's. And we reclaimed dominance. But in spite of the additions of James Sanford, Clancy Edwards, Millard Hampton, Dwayne Evans, Billy Mullins, Maxie Parks, Willie Smith, Harvey Glance, Steve Riddick and Houston McTear in the mid and later stages of the decade, Montreal wins by Hasely Crawford, Don Quarrie and Alberto Juantorena combined with a boycott of the Moscow Games created another memory loss regarding the power of US sprinting.

But, once again we rose up from the ashes, shook off the soot and watched Carl Lewis, Calvin Smith, Stanley Floyd, Mel Lattany, Kirk Baptiste, Mike Roberson, James Butler, Michael Franks, Sunder Nix, Alonzo Babers, Joe Deloach, Butch Reynolds, Danny Everett, and Steve Lewis bring sprint supremacy back to US soil in the 80's.

Yes, we had another hiccup with Ben Johnson as for a two/three year period he grabbed the headlines, the records - and eventually a ban - but we were just fine. Even with the emergence of first Britain's Linford Christie and his gold medal run in '92/'93, then Canada's Donovan Bailey and his gold medal run in '95/'96, our forces were still strong. Yes we lost both the WR in the 100 (to Bailey) and the 4x1 (to France) not to mention the infamous 4x1 gold to Canada in Atlanta. But gold medal runs by Quincy Watts and Mike Marsh early in the decade were followed by the development of two of the sports all time greats during the decade as first Michael Johnson, then Maurice Greene brought sprinting and all the records right back to the US! And we closed the 90's with a flourish and headed into the New Millennium right where we had always been - as the preeminent sprint power on the planet.

Just how have we done in the New Millennium? To read most press clippings lately you would think that US sprinting was absent this past decade. I suppose that when a man wins the Olympic sprint double in double WR fashion and then returns to do the trick yet again in the World Championships that the shock might cause some memory loss among those that follow the sport.

There is no denying that Usain Bolt has definitely had a two year run unlike any other we have seen in the modern era of the sport. And coming like it has during the age of the internet, YouTube, streaming video, and tweeting it's easy to understand how some may have forgotten what transpired during the other eight years of the decade. Because the battle that everyone is calling Jamaica vs the US has been quite lopsided - and not in the direction of most advertisements.

For all of Bolt's heroics during the past two seasons, Jamaica won a total of 5 medals in the 100 during the decade. Two gold, one silver, and two bronze. In the 200 the tally was 3 medals - two gold and one silver. In the 400 there were two bronze medals won by Jamaica during the past decade. That's a total of 10 sprint medals during the oughts for Jamaica.

The US had a total of 10 medals during the decade - in the 100 meters. Five gold, two silvers and three bronze. That included a sweep of the medals at the World Championships in Edmonton. In the 200 meters there were 16 medals won. Four gold, five silver, and seven bronze. That includes two medal sweeps - in Athens and Helsinki (the Helsinki sweep being a rare gold, silver, bronze and fourth place sweep). The medal haul in the 400 was 17 total. Seven gold, seven silver, and three bronze. Including medal sweeps in Athens, Osaka and Beijing. The total medal haul in the sprints for the US during the oughts - 38.

So the death of US sprinting during the decade has been sorely exaggerated. Yes, we lost the WR in the 100, 200 and 4x1 during the decade. And Usain Bolt has been beating athletes like a drum. But we've been here before - Ben Johnson, Linford Christie, Donovan Bailey, France AND Canada in the 4x1 - and emerged stronger, better. As General George Patton said: "Success is how high you bounce after you hit bottom". Borzov lead to Steve Williams, James Sanford and Carl Lewis. Ben Johnson lead to a resurgent Carl Lewis, and Michael Johnson. And Christie and Bailey lead up to Maurice Greene!

Competition is what makes this sport so great. It's what gives it excitement. But the US and sprinting is like the Lakers and Celtics in basketball. There are down periods, occasionally the rare losing season. But the base is always there. A little tweaking here and there, and the occasional reload, and a return to the top of the heap.

Besides, one man does not a paradigm create. Ben Johnson. Linford Christie. Donovan Bailey. Usain Bolt. We're never more than one man away from reclaiming the throne. Our sprinters just have to remember who they are - their history. And that success is how high you bounce after you hit bottom. We were the most dominant sprint force in the oughts - and will be in the teens. It's simply time for the next star to step up. Carl Lewis. Michael Johnson. Maurice Greene. Next?

Monday, February 1, 2010

Collegians Shine During Busy Weekend

U.S. Track and Field Olympic Trials - Day Four

Pre weekend hype was focused on international competitions in New York and Germany, but collegians competing in the Texas A&M Challenge laid down some impressive marks of their own.

Oregon's Ashton Eaton started things off nicely with a collegiate record 6256 points in the Heptathlon - making him the #14 performer ever in the event. Eaton was over 700 points ahead of the competition and looks primed for good things later this season. The long sprinters were also impressive with world leading marks by Tabarie Henry (TxAM, 45.81) and Curtis Mitchell (TxAM, 20.69). The men's 4x4 was also a hot affair as TxAM (3:04.86), Baylor (3:05.52) and Florida (3:06.72) gave what should be a preview of three of the best squads in the country.

The pros put on a show this weekend too, however. In Millrose we got world leaders from Terrence Trammell (7.49, 60H) and Christian Cantwell (72' 0.50", shot). Cantwell was quite impressive with a series of marks in excess of 70 feet.

On the other side of the Atlantic there was a lot of hot action in Karlsruhe Germany. Laverne Ferrette lowered her world lead in the 60 with a 7.09 dash down the track. Also performing world leading efforts were Lolo Jones (7.90, 60H), Saif Shaheen (7:43.44, 3000), Silvia Kibet (8:41.24, 3000), Gelete Burka (4.03.92, 1500), Gideon Gathimba (3:37.0a, 1500), and Yuriy Borzakovskiy (1:45.94, 800). And though her 2.00m clearance was not a world lead, Arianne Friedrich's winning jump was only a centimeter off rival Blank Vlasic's yearly leader from last weekend.

This week will be VERY busy with meets in Goteborg (Tuesday), Dusseldorf (Wednesday), Stuttgart & Boston (Saturday), and Moscow (Sunday).