Friday, July 30, 2010

Verena Sailer wins Euro 100 – It’s Been a Long Time Coming for Germany

July 30, 2010 - 06244895 date 29 07 2010 Copyright imago Kolvenbach 29 7 2010 Athletics European Championships in Barcelona Spain Verena Sailer ger 100m cheering 29 7 2010 European Athletics Championships in Barcelona Spain Verena Sailer ger 100m Kolvenbach Athletics euro Barcelona women Single Vdig 2010 vertical Highlight premiumd Athletics European Championship.

Yesterday Germany's Verena Sailer won the women’s 100 meter title in a PR 11.10. Not big headline news when you consider that seven women have run under 11.00 so far this season, and four of them have run under 10.90! Makes Sailer’s win seem rather pedestrian in comparison.

But when you take a look at the history of Global sprinting, European sprinting in particular, the win was rather huge. Because once upon a time Germany defined women’s sprinting. Starting with Renate Stecher (GDR) in the ‘70’s, the two Germany’s (there was an East and a West at that time) dominated just about every European and Olympic Sprint final heading into the 90’s. What was begun with Olympic wins in Munich and Montreal by Stecher and Annegret Richter (FRG) in the 70’s, became full on domination in the 80’s as East Germany exploded with stars including Marita Koch (10.83. 21.71, 47.60), Marlies Gohr (10.81, 21.74) , Barbel Wockel (10.95, 21.85, 49.56), and Silke Moller (10.86, 21.74).

The East Germans broke all the barriers and set all the records and became the talk of the sprinting world. They were unbeatable and their performances seemed other worldly. Koch’s WR of 47.60 in the 400 has yet to be approached, and their WR of 41.37 in the 4x1 is still the standard that the world is chasing a quarter of a century later. German dominance was set to continue into the 90’s with Katrin Krabbe winning the sprint double at the World Championships in Tokyo in ‘91 and teammate Grit Breuer taking silver in the 400. But then the walls came down – literally.

In October of 1990 the Berlin Wall came down, marking the end of two separate Germany’s as East and West became a unified nation. So Krabbe and Breuer were competing for a Unified German team in Tokyo. A team that did not embrace the old ways of the sport practiced by East Germany – ways that included systematic doping of it’s athletes. Krabbe and Breuer had received most of their training through this old system and ended up testing positive for Clenbuterol and receiving two year bans from the sport in 1992. With the Berlin Wall down and Germany Unified, we soon got information on just how the East German sports machine had operated. And the new Germany vowed to to do better.

Better in this case meant being clean, and a disappearance of the otherworldly performances of their predecessors. So the team that had won every European gold medal in the 100 from 1978 through 1990, could muster only a bronze in Helsinki in 1994 (Melanie Paske). That was the last medal won by a German in the flagship 100 meters at the European Championships until Sailer’s win yesterday. A win that ended a twenty year drought from the top of the podium in this event. So a significant win in my book because it marks the end of a drought of perseverance – twenty years of a country saying that they were going to compete the right way. Twenty years of enduring defeat, for a nation once known only for victory.

While many dismiss Sailer’s victory as just another stat from yesterday, I applaud her gold medal as a victory in the drug war. With all the negative headlines we’ve had in this sport regarding drugs in the past decade – BALCO, major names being banned from the sport, suspicion surrounding athletes and performances – we have an athlete from a nation once buried in the drug graveyard, emerge with a win. Clean. A gritty 11.10 that was gutsy and exciting. It wasn’t about the time, it was about the competition – the core of the sport. It wasn’t about records, or chasing the ultimate performances. It was about getting the win – and it was a beautiful thing to watch.  At the end of the day, there was no head shaking, no wondering,  no innuendo, no questions. Just several young ladies excited over their placings and for some new personal bests. And an athlete demonstrating that an entire nation can turn it around and do it right.

A victory in the war, and an example that says it can be done.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Borzov, Mennea, Wells, LEMAITRE !!

July 29, 2010 - 06239235 date 28 07 2010 Copyright imago Chai v D Laage Athletics European Championships European Athletics Championships Barcelona 2010 27 07 01 08 2010 Estadi Olimpic de Montjuic Lluis Barcelona 100m Final Christophe Lemaitre men Athletics euro Barcelona Action shot Vdig xsk 2010 horizontal Highlight premiumd.

Much has been made of the fact that Christophe Lemaitre became the first white sprinter to crack the sub 10 barrier when he blitzed to a 9.98 clocking at the French championships earlier this month. More impressive to me however, was yesterday’s 100 meter victory at the European Championships. Because as I watched him through the rounds and into the final, what I saw was a young man that is more than fast – he is a competitor!

The field that he took on was a veteran field that contained some of the best that Europe has had to offer, not just currently but over the past decade. There was defending champion Francis Obikwelu (POR) who is also a former World silver medalist over 200 meters (1999) and former Olympic silver medalist over 100 (2004) and boasts life time bests of 9.86 & 19.84. There was one time wunderkind Mark Lewis Francis, who at the turn of the decade was considered to be the next great thing in sprinting. There was countryman Ronald Pognon whose national record Lemaitre eclipsed in Valence with experience in two Olympics and two World Championships. Lemaitre, who just turned 20 in June, was a boy among men in this field. But he prevailed.

He won each race through the rounds in spite of rumors of injury. In the final his start was not the best, but he was patient and held form, then blew past the field on his way to victory. His race was not that of the gangly youngster that he is – it was reminiscent of Valarie Borzov, Pietro Mennea, and Alan Wells. White European sprint champions from another era who all became Olympic champions during their careers. Sprinters who all exhibited a strong competitive nature and nerves of steel. Men who stepped on the track not as white sprinters, but sprinters determined to give their best and beat whomever they had to to win. And THAT is what I saw in Lemaitre yesterday.

He seemed to look forward to the challenge of facing Dwain Chambers – the only other Euro sprinter under 10 seconds this season at 9.99. Chambers left the sport amid a drug ban in 2002 as the fastest man in Europe, and upon his return in 2006 has continued to be the fastest man in Europe. None of this seemed to bother Lemaitre. His goal, watching him through the rounds, was clearly the European title – a title he won going away.

Is he ready to challenge the big three – Bolt, Gay & Powell? No, not yet. He’s still raw – which is one of the reasons I’m high on this kid. Like I said his win yesterday was less than perfect in execution. It was simply high on competitiveness. His start is average. His drive phase is nothing like the big three. His body position in full flight is not always the best. Once up and running he just finds a way to eat up ground. But then at age 20 neither Bolt (nm), Gay (10.27) or Powell (10.12) were as fast over 100 as Lemaitre! He’s ahead of the game and should make the competition in London interesting. And by 2016 who knows what the sprinting landscape will look like.

Borzov, Mennea, Wells. Lemaitre?

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Does USA Track & Field Need a New CEO?

Jun 26, 2010; Des Moines, IA, USA; USA Track & Field chief executive officer Doug Logan at the USA Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

That seems to be the question on the table amid reports that two years into the position, USATF CEO Doug Logan is being evaluated and is possibly facing dismissal pending improvement by mid August.

The word that he is being evaluated doesn’t come as a surprise as most employees within organizations are given annual performance reviews – and Logan is an employee of the organization. I raise the question of whether or not USATF needs a new CEO more so to take a look at Logan’s performance over the past two years to determine if we do need a new CEO, and more importantly if we do what should we be looking for in a CEO.

To be fair to Logan, his transition to the position came in the middle of the biggest year in track and field – an Olympic year. So he came to the job with US forces under the biggest spotlight the world has to offer every four years. With that said, however, he went to Beijing as just another person in the stands. Sitting and watching all that went on, as opposed to being on the track and field and working with the coaches and athletes and others involved in the process. As someone new to the job with NO experience at all in track and field, it would seem that he would have begun his indoctrination into the sport that he was to govern post haste.  Because the importance of what was taking place at the Games was not merely the wins and losses, but the machinations that take place “off the track” and behind the scenes.

Yet Logan chose to be removed from the athletes, coaches, and others responsible for seeing that performances happen and acted as spectator. The separation from the athletes and coaches is how he came to the sport, and it is that separation from the athletes and coaches that has continued from Beijing forward and has really marked his tenure as CEO.

For example. As a result of what was deemed “poor performance” by the US team in Beijing, Logan put together a task force to examine the state of the US team. This task force, however, contained no input from anyone currently involved with US track and field, and no current coaches or athletes. While the task force had some distinguished members (Mel Rosen, former Olympic Head Coach, Carl Lewis, nine time Olympic gold medalist, and Steve Roush Chief of Sports Performance for the USOC to name a few) those with prior experience in track and field trace their involvement back well over a decade or more. More importantly there was no input from those currently administering programs, coaching or competing – those currently on the front lines and with intimate knowledge of the goings on within US track and field.

The result was a conceptual “think tank” with conceptual think tank type responses. It also served to further the divide between Logan and those he should be working with – today’s athletes and coaches. As THEY are the ones whose task it is to perform and garner medals in Daegu, London, Moscow and other championships going forward. Yet they were given no voice. So, as an example, the relay debacle in Beijing (both US 4x1 squads failing to finish the event) was met with a dismantling of the Relay program – a program supported by the coaches and athletes. The “old” program was replaced with, nothing, and the results in Berlin were two more dropped batons and no medals for the US.

Another result of the “Task Force” was the suggestion for a Head of High Performance to oversee the programs and activities that are supposed to assist our athletes achieve their performance goals. The selection of the individual to head this “program” completely bypassed anyone and everyone involved in the sport currently. As a matter of fact, the selection bypassed involvement within the past decade, and the previous decade. Rather the choice was made of someone whose competitive days ended in the 1980’s and who has since NOT been involved with the sport. No offense to Ms Benita Fitzgerald Mosely, but the entire growth of the sport during the “professional” era has occurred “since” her involvement in the sport ended. As a result, she has been put in the position of severe “On the Job Training”. To complicate matters she has had to work without the benefit of a built in network within her own athlete/coaching ranks. Not an ideal situation to create success for her or those over whose performance she is now charged with improving!

Logan has separated himself from his “employees” in other ways. For example, the matter of Lashawn Merritt testing positive for a substance that we have been told was taken unknowingly via a “male enhancement product” was met with castigation from Logan. Logan essentially threw Merritt under the bus saying that he was “disgusted with his actions”. There was no attempt to soften the blow or show any type of support for Merritt’s lack of “intent”. A move that did not endear him to the rest of the athlete community. Similarly the recent directive’s put out from USATF regarding the creation of a Coaches Registry, was done in a manner that caused great consternation within the coaching ranks. Further separating Logan from the coaching community.

We’ve heard more from Logan about how enamored he is with Usain Bolt and how he wishes he had him, than how excited he is about Tyson Gay, David Oliver, Kara Patterson, Andrew Wheating or any of our female middle distance runners who are making serious inroads into being medal contenders! We hear more about how disgusted he is that Trevor Graham ever coached for the US and how much he detests drugs in sport, than we do about how he plans to ensure the cleanliness of our athletes or exactly how we are going to reach that 30 medal count that he has set as a goal for the US in London in roughly 24 months.

But really, I think what we are seeing is the result of having someone at the helm who came to the sport with NO operating knowledge of the sport. Logan came to USATF having had a background in soccer (1995 to 1999) and as the head of Empresario LLC, a sports marketing and entrepreneurial firm. But having served as commissioner of Major League Soccer for four years, among the reasons given for Logan’s dismissal were shrinking attendance numbers, declining TV ratings, and a loss of $100,000,000 during Logan’s four year tenure. Similarly we have seen a reduction in medal count, meet attendance, and number of elite level meets being run here in the US. Not to mention the perception that we are losing our stature within the sport, as we are eclipsed by much smaller nations like Jamaica, Kenya in global headlines.

So, if Logan is dismissed, what should we be looking for?  Well, one thing I hope we’ve learned is that track and field is unique enough that it requires someone with experience in or around the sport to run it at this level. One of the key elements to any successful CEO is the ability to surround him or herself with quality people to help get things done. But it is the CEO who should bring the “vision” of where the organization is to go – and an individual must understand the organization and it’s place within the competitive marketplace in order to lead it in a proper direction.

To that end, I think USATF should give strong consideration to someone formerly with the sport here in the US. Former athletes like Sebastian Coe and Sergei Bubka have done much to help with the athletics programs of Britain and the Ukraine, in large part due to the knowledge gained during their athletic careers. An Edwin Moses, for example, I think would do wonders for the sport here.

I also think that if a new CEO is sought out that that individual should have strong ties with coaches and'/or athletes – or have the requisite skills necessary to develop those ties. The athletes and coaches are our “product” – just as the I Phone and Accord are products of Apple and Honda. At the end of he day they are what determine our success or failure against the rest of the world and they should be nurtured and cultivated. To wage war against them is to wage war against our ultimate ability to succeed.

We also need to have someone capable of interfacing with corporate America. In order to put the programs in place to assist our athletes and coaches, and to assist our communities in putting together world class competitions that can draw big name competitors and fill our stadiums, it will take assistance from corporate America. We will need someone that can sell this sport to other corporate CEOs.

Finally we need someone with a vision for this sport that includes hosting both the World Outdoor and Indoor Championships, as well as an American “Circuit” that can both attract international talent as well as serve as development for domestic athletes. I’m talking about New York and Eugene level meets, held in various venues around the country that provide an alternative to those meets held in Europe post US Nationals. Certainly if there can be meets worth competing in in Karlstad, Salamanca, and Heusden, we can develop meets in any number of the many cities we have here in the US. Los Angeles, Berkeley, Atlanta, Phoenix, Dallas, Boston, New Orleans, and San Jose are just a few of the cities that I know have track and field fan bases that would support a “quality” meet.

It will be interesting to see where the evaluation of Doug Logan leads. If those in charge at USATF are serious about us regaining our swagger and status around the world, then it should lead to changes that point us in that direction. I suppose we will find out within the next 30 days or so.

Monday, July 26, 2010

World Jr. Championships Review

Xinhua Photo: MONCTON: JULY 24, 2010: 13th IAAF World Junior Championships: Team USA men's and women's 4x400 teams pose for photos after the men's gold medal performance at the 13th International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) World Junior Championships at the Stade Moncton 2010 Stadium in Moncton, New Brunswick, Canada, on July 24, during the final day of competition. USA's time for the relay event was 3:04.76. (Xinhua / S   ndor Fizli.

Watching the World Jr Championships this weekend I had very mixed feelings. On the one hand, the next generation of World and Olympic champions seems to be developing quite nicely. So nice in fact, that it will not be easy for us (the US) to hit that magical 30 medal mark in major championship competition as the rest of the world continues to progress.

With the exception of the US and Kenya with 15 medals each, the distribution of medals was pretty even globally. Kenya’s juniors mirroring the efforts of their senior counterparts by dominating the distance events by scoring in every event 800 meters and up. Similarly, most other nations seemed to mirror their senior counterparts as well. Cuban’s scoring well in the jumps, Ethiopians in the distances, Russian’s the race walk and pole vault, etc. The big anomaly being the performance of the European juniors in the sprint and hurdle events where they had large numbers of athletes making the semi finals and finals.

This may be in part because the entry limits are different – only two per country on the junior level as opposed to 3 per country on the senior level – but that doesn’t account for the medals that were being won. A young Brit won the women’s 100. A Hungarian was the silver medalist in the men’s 400. And though Asian, not European, a Japanese sprinter won the men’s 200 followed by a Belarusian. Great news for the sport in general as competition makes for a better sport. But with so many nations performing well in their “traditional” events, if they are making inroads into what have been our “traditional” medal events, where does that leave US hopes for the future?

Well, taking a look at US results there is good news and bad news. The good news – we scored in the field events. We scored a gold medal in the Hammer, as Connor McCullough had the second longest throw in the world by a junior this year at 265’ 0”. We picked up a silver in the women’s discus with Erin Pendleton (180’ 4”0 and a bronze in the triple jump with Omar Craddock (53’ 3”). Huge for us to score in these events on a global stage. We also did what our seniors have failed to do in the last couple of majors – won all four relay events. As our junior squads easily handled their global counterparts in the baton events. Perhaps they should be brought in to give our senior relays some pointers, as their passing was crisp and their athlete placement was dead on.  We also scored silver and bronze in the men’s 800 (Casimir Loxsome and Robby Andrews). An event that we have had a serious drought in at the senior level.

In spite of these positive’s however, there were some negatives. In the events that we are traditionally strong in, we were quite weak. We only picked up one gold medal in the sprint and hurdle events – Stormy Kendrick’s victory in the 200 at 22.99. We had no finalists in the men’s 200 or the men’s 400 hurdles. And we only placed 5th in the men’s 110 hurdles and 6th in the women’s 100 hurdles.

More as I looked through the results, we had very few athletes that seemed to be performing at their best levels. There were few personal or seasons best being set by our young people. And many were well below their performances of earlier in the year. This eerily mirrors what we saw from their senior counterparts in Beijing and Berlin! In fairness to our junior athletes, however, I believe the reasons to be quite different. Historically we see this type of performance routinely from our junior teams. We our not always represented by our best athletes, as many are involved in other activities during the summer – specifically preparing for college and college related activities. And I’m not sure that we have a real comprehensive junior program here in the US.

Yes, we have club teams that take part in track and field activities during the summer. But I’m talking about a comprehensive development program where we are bringing together our best young people into some sort of system to help them prepare for international competition. To my knowledge there is little contact with these young people once they earn their spots on the World team. It may not be a bad idea to bring them together for a “Summer Camp” if you will. Two to three weeks of work with a staff of perhaps collegiate coaches, to help enhance the talent that they are already exhibiting.  Yes, I know that a handful are already in college and have had a season under the guidance of a college coach. But many of these young people are high schoolers getting their feet wet on the big stage for the first time. And I think that USATF should look upon this as an opportunity to lay the groundwork for our teams for the future.

We also have to look at the fact that as high school athletes, many of these kids have been attempting to compete at a high level since May. Most have State Meets that fall somewhere between the May and June – including qualifying meets that lead up to them. There are also the various post season invitationals that most of these kids get invited to – Golden South, Golden West, Nike Nationals to name but a few. Then there is the USATF Championships meet where the team is selected at the end of June. All of which can explain why a youngster like Josh Mance could run 45.90 over 400 at the beginning of June yet is only able to muster a 46.84 at the finals of Worlds. Or even a college freshman like Robby Andrews who had to go through the NCAA championships system, then our USATF championships system, then Worlds. Andrews looked good running 1:45.54 at the NCAA Championships in the beginning of June but was having a hard time holding on in Moncton finishing in 1:47.00.

Looking at it from this perspective, we ask a lot of these young people, many of whom are getting their very first taste of international competition. We’ve seen how hard it is on the elite athletes to ask their bodies to perform at a high level over and over. It’s got to be harder for young people who are still developing – not just physically but also emotionally. Because we don’t just ask them to compete, but to leave home, go to a foreign place, and to pull it all together and give us their best performance. Still, at the end of the day, these kids were atop the medal count with Kenya and that says a lot about the youngsters that we sent to Canada. I applaud their efforts and look forward to seeing many of them repeat their performances in the future. And as much as we count medals at these events, here in the US our “developmental program” continues to be the collegiate system. We see glimpses of our future stars at these events, but it is still the college system and college coaches that really prepare our athletes to move on to the next level. And events like World Juniors serve as a great springboard to their collegiate destinations and their future growth.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Middle Distance Runners Continue to Shine in Monaco

Jun 27, 2010; Des Moines, IA, USA; Alysia Johnson won the women's 800m in 1:59.87 in the USA Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

With no major championship on the docket this season, I keep looking at results as to what they may mean for our chances in Daegu, London and Moscow. From that perspective Monaco was one awesome meet, because everywhere I looked US performers were turning in outstanding performances. And nowhere more so than watching our middle distance runners.

I’m going to start with a middle distance runner that moved up a bit in distance – Shannon Rowbury. Rowbury was one of our breakthrough 1500 runners in ‘08 running a PR 4:00.33 in Paris. She stepped her game up another notch getting bronze in the 1500 at Worlds in Berlin. She’s run a little bit of everything this year, running an 800 PR of 2:00.47 at Pre and a season best 4:01.30 1500 in Paris. In Monaco she really turned it up, however in the 3000. Running a gutsy race she was up front the entire race and lead for a great deal before finally being overtaken by eventual winner Sentayehu Ejigu (ETH). Ejigu’s winning 8:28.41 was a big world leader and the fastest time since 2007. Behind her, Rowbury finished strongly for third and was rewarded with a big PR of 8:31.38 – moving her into the #3 spot all time among Americans! Only Mary Slaney (8:25.83) and Regina Jacobs (8:31.08) have run faster – and they had some pretty good careers. A great run by Shannon.

Another big move up the all time list was made by Alysia Johnson in the 800. Fresh off of a PR run in Italy less than a week ago, she did it again in Monaco in a big way. I wondered if she could run so fast again back to back because consistency hasn’t been her trademark in previous seasons. But after a PR 1:58.84 at Pre, then the 1:57.85 last week in Italy, she shadowed the rabbit in Monaco then kept right on going as she ran away from the field. Phoebe Wright gave game chase down the second backstretch, but Johnson was too much as she finished going away in 1:57.34! It was a new world leader and moved Johnson into the #5 all time American behind Jearl Miles Clark(1:56.40), Mary Slaney (1:56.90), Kim Gallagher (1:56.91), and Meredith Valmon (1:57.01). Johnson’s front running charge reminded me of the gold medal runs of the Olympic and World champions of ‘07, ‘08 & ‘09. And at her current pace Johnson could become one of them. Behind her Anna Pierce (3rd, 1:58.89) and Phoebe Wright (6th, 1:59.21) continued their own level of consistency and show that we won’t be first round casualties come the next set of majors.

Nor will Andrew Wheating be a first round ouster in which ever event he decides to compete in. Wheating has been nothing short of phenomenal since his 800/1500 double at the NCAA Championships. Since then he’s PR’d in the mile (3:51.74) at Pre and 800 (1:44.62) and took on the 1500 in Monaco against the world’s best. As he typically does he tucked in well behind the leaders early. And the leaders set this race off on a hot pace as Choge scorched through the early laps until first Lalou coming off the final turn and then Kiplagat down the straight overtook him. Kiplagat’s strong stretch carried him past the line in 3:29.27 – the fastest time in the world since 2006 – moving Kiplagat into the #10 position all time! Behind him Wheating was finishing like a house a fire himself. So well in fact that he ended up 4th in 3:30.90 – moving Wheating to #4 all time American behind Bernard Lagat (3:29.30), Sydney Maree (3:29.77), and Alan Webb (3:30.54). Wheating is now ahead of the likes of Jim Spivey (3:31.01), Steve Holman (3:31.52) and Steve Scott (3:31.76) – and he’s still in his infancy internationally! And I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention Lopez Lamong’s big PR 3:32.20 which solidified his position as the #9 all time American.

The meet wasn’t all middle distance, but it’s nice to be able to get excited about our middle distance crew – and Monaco was a big meet for our middle distance runners. Truth is Monaco was hot all over the track and the field. On the track Tyson Gay got his first 200 win of the Diamond League. Burning the turn like only he and Bolt can he laid waste to the field early. A good thing because his missed training time showed as he slowed perceptibly in the stretch. He finished in 19.72, but needed it all as young Yohan Blake (JAM) and Wallace Spearmon (US) closed very strong. Typical for Spearmon who finished in a season’s best 19.93. Not so typical for Blake who took a PR 20.60 into the race but outran Spearmon down the stretch and closed on the fading Gay – nearly catching him at the line as he ran a monumental PR of 19.78. The sprint wars between the US and Jamaica may have found a new entrant.

Same for the 400, where minus Jeremy Wariner, Jamaican’s Jermaine Gonzales (44.40 WL) and Ricardo Chambers (44.54) both ran to big PR’s as they took 1st and 2nd. Both went out extremely fast in the first 200 of the race and ran away from the field. It will be interesting to see how Wariner handles this challenge when they next meet. Speaking of challenges, Monaco marked a rematch between Carmelita Jeter (US) and Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) over 100 meters. The race was decided at the start as Jeter got her best start of the season and pulled steadily away from the field to win in 10.82. Campbell Brown easily outdistanced the rest of the field but her 10.98 was well off Jeter’s pace on this day. The other big match up on the day was that between intermediate hurdlers Bershawn Jackson (US) and Angelo Taylor (US) – and it was everything it was billed to be and then some. Both men ran well early, ran a strong turn, and came into the final straight side by side. And side by side they ran down the final straight, both leaning strongly at the line before waiting for the photo to give us a winner. This time is was Jackson (47.78) edging Taylor (47.79) in perhaps the best 400 hurdle race of the year.

And while we’re talking about hurdles, David Oliver once again demolished the high hurdle field. The starter had a very quick gun on this race. So quick was the start that Oliver appeared not ready as he had what may have been his worst start of the year. He pressed early, clobbered a few hurdles, and still won the race in 13.01 – only Robles has run as fast all year! Still waiting for that perfect race, but what’s clear is that when it happens it WILL be something special.

Meanwhile, two of our best field event performers – Dwight Phillips and Kara Patterson – both had good days. Phillips took control of the long jump on his first effort, booming out to a world leading 27’ 9.25” leap that held up for the win. Patterson continued her consistency, throwing the javelin out to 210’ 8”. Good enough on this day for second against World & Olympic champ Barboa Spotakova’s 215’ 9”.

Monaco was another outstanding competition. And it was good to watch US forces continue to show well.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Money is Killing Track & Field


I never thought I would utter those words about any sport, let alone track and field. Not after growing up wishing that athletes could run track just like they played football or basketball – full time and making a living at it. Yet, here we are in the New Millennium and I now understand the meaning of the phrase: “be careful what you wish for, you just might get it”! Because what I’m getting now are fewer opportunities to see the best athletes perform. Fewer top level match ups. And recent situations such as Usain Bolt refusing to run in Britain because of “tax” issues and Walter Dix pulling out of Monaco because he’s reportedly dissatisfied over the amount of money he’s being paid.

Watching the professional evolution of track and field has been like watching the movie, “Click”. You know, the Adam Sandler movie where he’s given a “magic” remote control that he thinks is going to bring  sanity and extra time to his life. Instead, however, his life get’s completely out of control. Sort of like watching the growth of track and field since it’s first steps towards “professionalism” in the early 80’s.

That’s when the “amateur” rules were relaxed and trust funds were allowed to be set up for athletes to hold and manage their “winnings”. Which over time lead to direct payments to athletes. More importantly, however, it was the idea that athletes could opening be paid for competing that lead to Carl Lewis and the Santa Monica Track Club (SMTC) making a move in the late 80’s/early 90’s to compete only in those meets in which they were compensated. This included actually boycotting the national championships in the early 90’s because there was no remuneration involved.

As a result of taking this stance, we first saw the members of the Santa Monica Track Club (SMTC), followed by others, begin to spend more time in Europe competing on the Euro Circuit, than competing in domestic meets. Because the meet promoters on the Euro Circuit had/have better systems in place to provide athletes with compensation. Their American counterparts were behind the curve in this regards – and have remained at a distinct disadvantage when it comes to developing the necessary sponsorships to pay the athletes.

The result was the dismantling over time of the top meets in the United States, as meet promoters have been unable to meet the financial demands of the top level athletes. A landscape that once boasted some of the world’s top competitions – Fresno, Modesto, Drake, Penn, Kinney Invite, Pepsi Invite, Bruce Jenner Classic, Prefontaine, et al – has been whittled down to Penn, Pre, and New York as truly world class events. As all the others just weren’t able to keep up with the escalating payments that athletes have begun to demand over the years.

Early appearance fees of $5,000 to $10,000 in the early 90’s gave way to fees of $25,000 to $50,000 by the close of the decade. With individuals negotiating for “match races” beginning to request six figures to go head to head. The first decade of the New Millennium saw these fees rise into six figures for single appearances, to the point where we now hear that Bolt is paid in the neighborhood of $250,000 per appearance!

Don’t get me wrong. These are professional athletes that are looking to make a living in their chosen sport. Just as those playing basketball, football, baseball, golf and other sports do. And by comparison the majority of athletes in track and field are grossly underpaid when compared to their counterparts in other sports. The issue, IMHO, isn’t that they are getting paid, or how much money those at the top are getting. The issue is how the sport has, or hasn’t dealt with the issue of compensation in general. Because as the sport has evolved, no one has put together an adequate structure, or structure of any type, regarding athlete compensation.

So has it been great and wonderful that athletes have been able to “get paid” to compete in the sport? To be honest, not really. As I stated above, the transition to professionalism has cost the US most of its major competitions – leaving us only a handful of real world class meets. And while the European Circuit was the short term winner at first, track & field’s “inflation” has caught up with these meets as well. When appearance fees were in the $5,000 to $10,000 range European meets could still afford to purchase enough athletes and stack enough races to run a full track and field meet. But as fees began to rise, events that “lacked star power” began to slowly disappear from meet schedules. For example, there was a time during the “oughts” when it was difficult to find the men’s 200 meters at a lot of meets. The idea being that the more glamorous 100 would bring the sprinters to the table and satisfy fans “need for speed”.

But over time this philosophy of dropping events based on perceived popularity and ability to pay athletes has lead us to the point where today we have meets like the Bislett Games with no men’s 200 or 400, no women’s 100, no men’s high jump, and no men’s triple jump – among other “missing” events. A situation now common at most top level meets. When one athlete gets paid a quarter million to be in a meet, it doesn’t leave much to run the rest of the meet!

The result is much like the results of the remote control in that movie “Click”. What should have been a big boon to the sport, has turned out to hurt almost everyone involved. The fans get shortchanged time and time again – paying premium dollar to see what amounts to half a track meet. Worse, of the events that are contested, only half of those may have truly elite competitors. But the increase in appearance fees and contracts hasn’t been a tremendous boon for the athletes either – because only a handful are making the “BIG” money. Many others are running, throwing and jumping “hand to mouth” trying to make a living. Which can be very difficult if your event isn’t offered at every meet!

It’s not like you can load up on competitions any more in an attempt to “nickel and dime” your way to a productive season. For example, while the 100 meters is a popular event and run in many meets, meet promoters seem to be a lot more selective in adding the 200 and 400. In part because the events are lacking the “star power” of the 100 meters. Of course there is a “Catch 22” here – how can stars develop in events if they are not contested often enough for athletes to get good enough to become stars? It’s difficult.

Stars are not developed in track and field, they rather appear by accident – or seemingly out of no where. When a Michael Johnson or a Usain Bolt appears, his (or her) events become popular and attract money. Those events are then seen on a majority of meet programs and the athletes competing in those events do well. Unfortunately, high appearance fees in those events mean that other events suffer – and begin to disappear off meet programs. In short a cycle of money following the events of the most popular athletes creates gaps in other areas. And if things continue at their current rate, we will soon be left with nothing but meets like we had earlier this year in Birmingham – a handful of events run down the middle of the street because that’s all that meet promoters will be able to afford.

How do we reverse this trend and get the sport back on track? I have some ideas that I will share following the conclusion of the Diamond League.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Preview – Monaco Diamond League

July 08, 2010 - Lausanne, WAADT VAUD, SWITZERLAND - epa02241572 Bershawn Jackson from the US wins the men's 400 meters hurdles race during the 35th Athletissima, an international IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting, 08 July 2010, at the Stade Olympique in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Since we reached the half way point of the Diamond League things have really kicked into gear. Performances have begun to pick up and we are seeing more and more solid head to head match ups. Tomorrow we head to Monaco for a meet that promises to be hot from start to finish. My picks for hot match ups.


Men’s 200 WL: 19.56, Usain Bolt – JAM Best Entry: 19.72, Walter Dix – USA

The big headlines have gone to the 100 meter races this year, but this deuce could be the deepest sprint of the season. Three of history’s fastest take to the track with all three having clocked under 19.80 so far on the season – Walter Dix (19.72), Tyson Gay (19.76) and Wallace Spearmon (19.77w). And, as good races often do, this one has a bit of revenge factor to it as Dix ran to an upset victory over Gay in Eugene. At least Gay will want to prove it was an upset – I’m sure Dix would like to paint it as status quo. And Spearmon would like to steal Tomorrow’s headlines. Which is what is going to make this race something special. The key will be the turn. Will Gay or Dix win that battle and will Spearmon be close? Eugene was Gay’s first run since injury, so he’s had time to sharpen since then. Expect him to win the turn war. Dix and Spearmon need to be close – very close or this will be over by the half. Gay having shown consistency in the past and the ability to run in the 19.5 range is the favorite here. But if Dix’ turn is close to Eugene’s it could be another interesting battle down the straight. And if by some chance Spearmon is near even coming off the turn he could steal the race. I’m saying Gay in 19.50, but the stretch run should be memorable.



Women’s 100 WL: 10.78, V. Campbell Brown – JAM Best Entry: 10.78, V. C-Brown – JAM

Another headline stealer in Eugene was Veronica Campbell Brown who stole Carmelita Jeter’s thunder with her PR and world leading 10.78 dash up the track at the Prefontaine Classic. it was an upset from the standpoint that Jeter has become the world’s second fastest ever over the distance and very consistent under 10.90. She was again under 10.90 in Eugene (10.83), but a solid start by Campbell Brown put Brown ahead early. Both women have fierce finishes, but in a race of finishers he (or she) who starts best usually wins. Such was the case in Oregon and such will be the case in Monaco. The first 30 meters should tell the tale of this race. And Campbell Brown has suddenly added a very solid first 30 to her race. We now know that her World Indoor title over 60 meters was no fluke – this woman can now get out of the blocks. And Campbell Brown may be the one woman on the planet that can withstand Jeter’s blazing finish – she has won two Olympic titles and run 21.74 for 200 meters! Jeter has yet to nail a start this year. Campbell Brown has with consistency. Edge goes to Campbell Brown in what should be a race in the 10.75 range.


Men’s 110H WL: 12.89, David Oliver – USA Best Entry: 12.89, David Oliver – USA

Typically I preview what I feel are the best match ups heading into a major meet. Because I prefer to focus on the competitive aspect of the sport – I want to see us sell match ups. I was hoping for just that here in Monaco, in the hurdles but Robles has once again pulled out due to injury. That said Oliver deserves his due, because he is having a season unlike any other. I’ve compared him to Renaldo Nehemiah on several occasions, because I remember when Nehemiah was rewriting the hurdles between 1979 and 1981. Taking the WR from 13.24 to 13.16 in 1979, 13.00 in 1980, and 12.93 in 1981 – a season that saw him run 12.93, 13.04, 13.07, and 13.07 along the way – unheard of at the time. Oliver has shown that kind of consistency and excellence this year as his last three races have been 12.93, 12.90 and 12.89 – the last two AR’s. He says he runs to win and that the times will come – and come they have. And while it’s hard to expect him to keep getting better each and every time out, he has yet to put together that perfect race! Which is what now makes every race he runs intriguing. Because when he DOES  run that perfect race the results could be devastating. And the question in Monaco, as it will be in every race he runs the rest of this season, is will this be the one?


Men’s 400H WL: 47.32, Bershawn Jackson - USA Best Entry: 47.32, B. Jackson – USA

The 400 hurdles is one of those events where the top combatants get together regularly and compete – and they tend to give the fans their money’s worth every time out. This season has been no exception as we’ve seen the return to the top of Bershawn Jackson, who has gotten healthy AND back to a 15 step hurdling pattern. We’ve also got to watch the rise of Johnny Dutch, who ran his way to the headlines with an NCAA championship win that was considered an “upset” at the time. Since then, however, we watched him battle Bershawn in Des Moines for the national title. A race that saw “Batman” run the current world leader, and Dutch (the new Robin?) turn in a 47.63 that moved him to #19 all time. In Monaco they will get to go up against two time Olympic champion (‘00/’08) Angelo Taylor. Taylor is #9 all time (just ahead of Jackson at #10) and is the fastest hurdler ever over the flat distance at 44.05. When Taylor is on, he can be deadly. Setting up what could be a sizzling race. Dutch and Taylor are strong finishers. Jackson at 15 strides does his real damage on the second turn. And it’s that third 100 where things should get interesting and the race could be decided. Taylor has been very fit this year, running the 200 and 400 in addition to the hurdles. His speed is sharp and if he stays close on the turn the fireworks will be awesome up the stretch. Batman is the man until beaten, so I give him the edge, but this should be a barnburner.


Women’s 800 WL: 1:57.56, Mariya Savinova - RUS Best Entry: 1:57.85, A. Johnson – USA

This race should be another step in the evolution of US women’s middle distance running. Alysia Johnson steps on the Monaco track fresh off of her new PR 1:57.85 set in Italy. With US middle distance hopes rising, she will need to show consistency if she wants to be among the top three heading into the Trials for Daegu next year. Here to challenge her will be two of last year’s top American risers in Maggie Vessey and Anna Pierce, and this year’s in Phoebe Wright. They will have their hands full with Halima Hachlaf (MAR), surprise winner in Rome, and Kenia Sinclair (JAM) who has been solid and consistent all season. Johnson has fought with consistency throughout her career, and Vessey has since her big PR run last year (1:57.84). Pierce is steady, but has been slowly rounding into form this year. Sinclair is also steady but well off her PR (1:57.88) set back in 2006 and could be on the down side of her career. All of which is why I’m pipping the front running Phoebe Wright to win her first Diamond League race and possibly improve upon her PR (1:58.22).


Men’s 1500 WL: 3:31.52, Nicolas Kemboi - KEN Best Entry: 3:31.52, N. Kemboi – KEN

The 1500 has become a race where competition has taken the place of fast times. We no longer have a Hicham El Guerrouj or Noureddine Mourceli running roughshod over the competition and setting multiple records. The current group of “milers” is fairly evenly matched – which gives the US an opportunity to make some in roads here. This field has the world leader in Kemboi (KEN), and the event’s Diamond League leader in Asbel Kiprop (KEN). The US has three entrants who could be our top three heading into Daegu – Andrew Wheating, Leonel Manzano, and Bernard Lagat. Lagat is the old guard miler – he goes back to the days of El Guerrouj – who just keep cranking out solid times and high placings. Manzano and Wheating are two of our top rising middle distance runners. With all three in solid form right now, this race will give us a glimpse at how well they compete among the world’s best. Watch Kemboi, Choge, Kiprop and Lagat closely as they should be the top four here. But also keep and eye on Manzano and Wheating – how well they race and how well they finish. This should be another win for Kiprop, but let’s see how the American’s respond.


Women’s javelin WL: 226’ 0”, Maria Abakumova – RUS Best Entry: 225’ 3”, B. Spotakova – CZE

This should be a match up between the multiple medalist (Spotakova) vs the young upstart in Kara Patterson (US). Spotakova is the defending Olympic Champion and Berlin silver medalist (not to mention gold in Osaka ‘07). Patterson is the new American Record holder (218’ 8”) who has been on a tear of consistency of late over the 200 foot barrier. She’s become one of our strongest competitors in the field winning at Pre (over Spotakova), and taking second at Gateshead (again ahead of Spotakova). Another victory over the Olympic champion would be quite the feather in Patterson’s cap. Given her competitiveness and recent results, I’m looking for three in a row, and win over Sunette Viljoen who defeated both at Gateshead.


Hard to leave anything out, because the start list is loaded. Rogowska, Feofanova, and Murer make for a very competitive women’s pole vault. And the men’s long jump is loaded with Saladino, Phillips and Lapierre. Shannon Rowbury will continue to work on her strength with a run in the 3000. And Lolo Jones leads a tough field in the 100 hurdles. Another great line up that you won’t want to miss!

Monday, July 19, 2010

US 800 Meter Explosion in Italy

This time of year everyone is focused on the big competitions – Rome, Paris, Zurich, Oslo, New York, Lausanne, London, etc. It’s those locations that have the big budgets and the ability to bring in the big names and provide the ticket buyer with the splashy results.

Every once in a while, however, the little out of the way meets attract enough athletes looking for an extra meet, or a tune up prior to a “big” meet, to get some pretty good results. Such was the case yesterday, as the little town of Lignano Sabiaddoro in Italy, as American women did a number in the 800 meters. To be honest I had never even heard of the town until I was scanning through results earlier today. And even then nothing was really striking as I scanned through.

10.10 to win the men’s 100. 45.85 took the 400. 22.71 the women’s 200. But then I got to the women’s 800 and the following results:


1. 1:57.85 Alysia Johnson USA
2. 1:59.00 Maggie Vessey USA
3. 1:59.29 Morgan Uceny USA
4. 1:59.83 Molly Beckwith USA
5. 2:00.79 Anna Pierce USA
6. 2:02.14 Heidi Dahl USA
7. 2:03.29 Treniere Moser USA
8. 2:03.88 Riva Antonella ITA


The times are huge for our women. Personal bests for Johnson, Uceny and Beckwith. Johnson’s mark moves her into the all time top 10 American women at #9. Most importantly it continues the improvement US women have been showing in the middle distances over the past two seasons. It’s a big race for Johnson who has shown talent in the past but just hasn’t been able to break through. Perhaps this will be her race. Uceny has been improving like crazy in both the 800/1500 this season, and looks ready to step up and be a major competitor.

Add in Anna Pierce (5th here, but had a late start to her season), Christin Wurth Thomas (who ran a big 1500 just this past week), Maggie Vessey (2nd here but broke through last year at 1:57.84), Shannon Rowbury, Jenny Barringer, and Phoebe Wright (in the middle of a big breakout season), and suddenly we’re looking very strong in the middle distances for women!

I’m looking forward to great things from this group in the very near future.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Some Overlooked Results

Over the past week or so results have been flying in so fast and deep that there have a few things that I have overlooked mentioning as I’ve tried to comment on various competitions.

One of the biggest was the results of the NACAC Under 23 competition held last weekend – a regional (North and Central America) meet highlighting the areas youngsters. There were lots of sterling marks turned in at this meet, none more so than Curtis Mitchell’s (USA) 19.99 200 meters in his semi final. The mark was no fluke as he returned to run 20.06w in the final as he dominated both his semi and the final – second place 20.46. Mitchell was a key to Texas A&M’s national championship run this year and had already run 20.23 and 20.27 during the collegiate season. He’s one of the bright young American sprint hopes sitting on the horizon and based on his sub 20 could make an impact over the next couple of seasons.

Another superlative individual mark was turned in by Ronnie Ash (USA). Ash was the collegiate leader all season until he hit a blip at nationals finishing second in what was a very sub par race for him. Since then he has run well internationally finishing high among the elite’s and bringing his PR down to 13.19. He showed what could be a glimpse of the near future at this meet with a 12.98w clocking over the hurdles. Although the race was wind aided, it made him only the 13th person in history to run under 13 seconds under any conditions. Like Mitchell, Ash appears to be in position to make an international impact, sooner rather than later.

The other outstanding mark at NACAC was the 4x4 relay mark turned in by the young US team. These “kids” turned in a world leading mark of 2:58.83 on the legs of LaJerald Betters (44.6), O’Neal Wilder (45.5), Joey Hughes (44.53) and Tavaris Tate (44.23). Only seven countries outside of the United States have ever run a faster time! We look to be well set for 4x4 legs for quite some time to come.

The other mark that I was remiss in mentioning happened just a couple of days ago in Paris. While extolling on some of the fine races that occurred in Paris I didn’t comment on the men’s 800. In part because Abubaker Kaki (SUD) really didn’t bring anything to the table remotely looking capable of challenging David Rudisha who is taking the event in another direction. Behind Kaki in 4th, however, was Andrew Wheating, running his first international 800 meter race. Wheating went into the race with a PR of 1:45.03, and a season’s best of 1:45.69. He had, however, recently set a PR in the mile of 3:51.74 and looked ready to improve upon his 800. That he did in fine fashion in Paris running 1:44.62 in his first Diamond League race. More importantly he outran Nick Symmonds (1:44.93) and looks ready to assume the mantle of America’s top middle distance runner – something we desperately need heading into the upcoming championship cycle.

As I said it’s been a busy week in the sport, but I didn’t want to miss these efforts, as all bode well for US fortunes going forward. With the World Jr Championships on tap beginning tomorrow and the Diamond League’s Monaco meet this week, there will be a lot more to discuss.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

David Oliver – 12.89 in Paris

July 17, 2010 - 06183210 date 16 07 2010 Copyright imago Panoramic Athle Meeting Areva Stade de France David Oliver 110m Haies  PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxFRAxITAxBEL Athletics Meeting Areva IAAF Diamond League Paris men Single Vdig 2010 horizontal Highlight premiumd.

David Oliver is beginning to remind me of Sergei Bubka. You know how Bubka would improve a centimeter at a time as he raised the World Record. Now Oliver is taking his PR – which is now the American Record – down a notch at a time. In Eugene he ran 12.93 to get in reach of the AR. In Lausanne he tied it at 12.90. Yesterday in Paris he ran 12.89 to take it down one more inch! And the thing was, it was far from the perfect race. A less than good start was followed by some average hurdling over the first couple of flights before he seemed to get into his rhythm and flow. At that point he began to pull away from the field, and his dip at the line stopped the clock at the new AR. It seems like it’s just a matter of time before everything comes together and he has a shot at the WR – which was only .02 away today!

Oliver’s mark made equal billing with the second of this season’s men’s 100 meter showdowns as Usain Bolt and Asafa Powell squared off. With Powell having lost the first one to Tyson Gay last week in Gateshead, this race would begin to define the 100 meter hierarchy this season. Powell and Bolt were separated on the starting line by France’s new NR holder, Christophe Lematrie, who was getting the opportunity to test himself against two of the best the event has to offer. With Bolt and Powell both off quickly the race became an “A” race and a “B” race rather quickly. Unlike Gateshead, Powell was never able to get any breathing room between he and Bolt and the race was effectively over as Bolt eased away in the second 50 meters. Behind them Yohan Blake closed best to attempt to make it a race for second but Powell had too much as the three Jamaicans ran 9.84, 9.91 and 9.95. Bolt’s win now sets up the race between he and Tyson Gay at the end of the season in Brussels as the race for #1 in 2010. Actually a bit disappointing after all the head to head’s we were promised the Diamond League would bring that at the end of the day we will still only get one matchup among the world’s top two sprinters. Not the best way to determine who was best on the season.

While the 100 and hurdles were the headline events, Paris was not short on outstanding events. One of the most exciting was the women’s 1500 meters. The field was loaded and the women ran like it. With Gelete Burka (ETH) having established the world best in Lausanne, the pace was hot as everyone seemed to look to burn off her kick. Russian Anna Alminova stayed near the front with the pace makers from the start as did American Christin Wurth Thomas. It paid off for both as they stayed ahead of the pack down the final backstretch and into the finish. As a matter of fact Alminova began to run away from the field, dominating the last lap as she demolished the world lead with her 3:57.65 – a new PR taking down her 3:58.38 from last year. Also getting a new PR was Wurth Thomas, second in 3:59.59 – moving her into the #4 position all time among Americans! It also gives her a second consecutive season under four minutes and further solidifies US forces as a threat over 1500. This is the second major race with an American in the top two following Morgan Ucency’s second place finish in Gateshead. And last year four of the top ten women on the clock were Americans. We are making a  lot of progress in this event and Wurth Thomas’ front running mentality has put her right there at the front of the pack.

Another pair of strong US performances were turned in by Allyson Felix and Jeremy Wariner. In the women’s 200, Felix actually ran a very strong turn to emerge in front onto the straight. She looked to be on her way to a sub22 second clocking, but had no pressure in the stretch. She easily ran away from the field winning in 22.14, and it’s clear that her only competition is two time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM). In the men’s 400, we got another strong performance from Jeremy Wariner in what has become somewhat of a comeback of sorts. In Paris he once again began to look like his old self, moving well down the backstretch before putting the race out of reach on the turn. He held form well up the final straight winning in a world leading 44.49. The surprise of the race, and this season, was former 400 hurdler Jermaine Gonzalez who finished strong in the final straight. He actually closed ground on Wariner on his way to second in a new PR of 44.63.

On the field the battle between Chaunte Howard Lowe (US) and Blanka Vlasic (CRO) finally had someone blink as Vlasic won on height this time 6’ 7.5” to 6’ 6.75”. None the less, Howard Lowe showed that she is indeed on Vlasic’s level and her prime competition heading into the upcoming championship cycle. French Vaulter Renaud Lavillenie, however, is beginning to separate himself from the competition.The man who looked like he was going to dominate this event based on his vaulting this spring was Australia's Steven Hooker. Hooker no heighted in Paris, however, after finishing second to Lavillenie in Lausanne. Vaulting at home Lavillenie cleared the bar at 19’ 4.75” – well up on American Derek Miles’ 18’ 8.5”. Similarly javelin thrower Andreas Thorkildsen (NOR) continued to dominate his event winning with a toss of 267’ 1”.

An event where the tide has seemingly turned is the women’s shot put. New Zealand’s Valerie Villi had dominated the event and won everything in sight since 2007 – until this year. This year Nadzeya Ostapchuk (BLR) has emerged and taken Villi’s scalp in their last two Diamond League competitions in Gateshead and yesterday in Paris – 68’ 2.25” to 66’ 0.5”. The Belarusian is beginning to look like the dominant force.

Overall Paris was a very good meet and I expect a high level of competition over the final five Diamond League events. As the athletes are about at their peaks for this year. Next stop, Monaco.



Thursday, July 15, 2010

Preview – Paris Diamond League

The Diamond League seems to be out of it’s doldrums. I mean does anyone really remember Doha, Shanghai, or even Oslo? Yes these meets had their sprinkling of stars, but, as even the Diamond League itself is proving, it’s matchups that truly drive this sport. And now that we are getting some serious head to head confrontations, things are spicing up a bit more and Paris will provide us with some very nice head to heads tomorrow.


Men’s 100 WL: 9.82, Asafa Powell – JAM
       9.82, Usain Bolt - JAM
Best Entry: 9.82, Asafa Powell – JAM
                 9.82, Usain Bolt - JAM

Last week’s 100 in Gateshead, gave us our first match up among the Big 3, with Tyson Gay taking the decision over Powell. Powell gets to take another shot at victory as he goes up against countryman and WR holder Usain Bolt. Bolt, like Gay, is coming off injury. In their early absence, Powell had been running roughshod over the competition. After the loss to Gay he will be looking to get back on track against Bolt, who equaled Powell’s world leader in his return to the 100 in Lausanne last week. The field will be better than most with newcomer to the sub10 club Christophe Lematrie (FRA) looking to battle with Yohan Blake (JAM), Daniel Bailey (ANT), and Richard Thompson (TRI) for the title of “Best of the Rest”. Because make no mistake, this race is about Powell v Bolt as once again the lightning starting Powell takes on a strong finisher in Bolt. With Bolt being a better starter than Gay I don’t expect to see Powell nearly as much at 30 meters. Which means that I don’t expect Bolt to win by as slight a margin as Gay did in Gateshead. The “race within the race” also bears watching with Thompson trying to get back to Olympic form (silver ‘08) and youngsters Lematrie and Blake trying to climb up the food chain.After watching his last two races (9.98 & 20.16) expect another sub10 from Lematrie.


Women’s 1500 WL: 3:59.28, Gelete Burka - ETH Best Entry: 3:59.28, Gelete Burka - ETH

This is a very deep field with world leader Burka, Russian Anna Alminova, Brit Lisa Dobrinski, Kenyan Nancy Lagat, and Americans Shannon Rowbury, Kristin Wurth Thomas, and Anna Pierce. Burka’s my favorite to win, she can run off any pace, and is tough as nails. I’m curious, however,  to see how the American’s handle the pace. Pierce’s training partner Morgan Uceny has been running up front with the leaders in her recent races. It would be nice to see this trio follow suit in what should be a very hot race! Burka’s blistering finish ran down both Dobrinski and Lagat in Lausanne – so everyone should be focused on getting out away from her before the bell lap. Expect Alminova, Dobrinski and Lagat to put the hammer down by 800. Pierce and Wurth Thomas have both been running the 800 lately so hopefully their speed will be sharp and they will keep pace – especially Wurth Thomas who loves to push the pace herself. Burka should win, but the American’s should be competitive. Expect a very competitive and exciting final lap with this field.


Men’s 800 WL: 1:41.52, David Rudisha - KEN Best Entry: 1:42.23, Abubaker Kaki - SUD

In Oslo Abubaker Kaki ran just off of David Rudisha while setting a new PR and season’s best of 1:42.23 behind the Kenyan’s 1:42.04. This past weekend, Rudisha upped the stakes with his world leading bomb. If Kaki hopes to have a shot at Rudisha in the future, he too will have to get under that 1:42 barrier. Mbulaeni Mulaudzi (RSA) should provide some assistance in Paris. He ran 1:42.86 in last year’s Rieti race (won by Rudisha in 1:42.01) and he likes to drive a hard pace – something that will be needed to get anywhere near 1:42. Also in the field are American’s Khadevis Robinson, Nick Symmonds and Andrew Wheating. This race represents an opportunity for all to get in range and compete with the rest of the world. Robinson (1:43.68) and Symmonds (1:43.83) have PR’s that are close but not quite. While Wheating (1:45.03) still has a ways to go. The plus for Wheating is that he is young and has the most upside of this group. And having just dropped his mile best down to 3:51.74 indicates he may be ready to surpass these two. That will be the race within the race. As Kaki tries to battle Mulaudzi and get close to 1:42, can Wheating outrun his countrymen and get down near 1:43? If I’m betting I say he can. Kaki wins in 1:42 mid, with Wheating getting under 1:44.5.


Women’s HJ WL: 6’ 8.75”, Chaunte Lowe - USA Best Entry: 6’ 8.75”, Chaunte Lowe - USA

One of the sport’s best budding rivalries will be on tap in Paris as world leader Lowe takes on venerable Blanka Vlasic of Croatia. These two have clearly put themselves ahead of the rest of the field and are now battling each other to become queen of the event. So far their confrontations have been decided on fewer misses, even though Lowe has appeared to be the better of the two jumpers. Such is the will of Vlasic that she just refuses to give way. Which is why I expect these two to push each other close to the WR in this event at some point this year. Both have shown on various jumps that they are indeed capable of such a height. Judging from pervious competitions I am going to say that it will take 6’ 9” to win in Paris – as both have been jumping very well.


Men’s TJ WL: 59’ 0”, Teddy Tamgho - FRA Best Entry: 59’ 0”, Teddy Tamgho - FRA

The Triple Jump is perhaps the most loaded event of the meet with six of the year’s top seven jumpers in attendance – headlined by Mr. “Fifty Nine Feet”, Teddy Tamgho of France. Qualifying this event as a true “summit” meeting among the world’s triple jumpers. Only Christian Olsson (SWE), currently 5th on the lists, is missing among the world’s leaders. Tamgho is the headliner however, as he has jumped much better than his competition so far this season. What I’m looking for here is that with a field this deep, at least one or two others should step up into the 58 foot range. And hopefully if that occurs there may be enough pressure on Tamgho early to get him to unleash something beyond his current best. He needs to go beyond 59’ 4” to take the #2 spot all time held by Kenny Harrison of the US. Paris would be a nice place for this Frenchman to do something special.


Paris should be an outstanding meet. In addition to the above match ups, we will get to see Allyson Felix in her first 200 since New York where she opened up in 22.03, just losing to Veronica Campbell Brown’s 21.98. Since then she’s won the national title at 100 and beat world leader Debbie Dunn over 400. We could see her run a sub22 of her own on Friday. I will also be looking for further improvement from Jeremy Wariner in the 400. He took the world lead with his 44.57 in Lausanne and looked like the quarter miler that many remember from the mid to late 2000’s. The man that he replaced as WL, Greg Nixon (44.61), will be in the field seting up a nice little head to head. And also look for another sizzling flight of hurdles from David Oliver. He was scheduled to take on Dayron Robles in Paris, but Robles has since pulled from the meet citing the need to recover from his 13.01 effort in Lausanne. Oliver has been on a roll, however, and could possibly get under 12.90 in Paris. Ironically the meet record is 12.88 run by Robles in 2008. So perhaps we will see a new meet record by Oliver – which would mean a tie or new WR.

The meet should be exciting. One of those that you won’t want to miss!

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Revive the Sports Festival

After watching this year’s version of our national championships, it clearly paled in comparison to the Olympic and World Championship selection versions. As a matter of fact, it paled in comparison to this year’s NCAA championships. With little to gain by attending in an “off season” many chose not to. There were bright spots mind you. David Oliver, Kara Patterson, Wallace Spearmon, and Bershawn Jackson had noteworthy performances.  But for the most part it was a lackluster meet – prompting some to question the fan loyalty of host city Des Moines.

But alas, the real issue, as it oft seems to be with this sport, is how to get your top athletes to the track when in this case there isn’t much on the line. No spots on a World or Olympic team, and as I’ve thought about it there are no competitions that require the brand “Team USA” once the athletes leave the stadium! Not much incentive to participate other than having your name on a piece of paper saying “National Champion”.  That and the pride of having competed against your peers – which doesn’t seem to mean much these days.

In the aftermath of this year’s championships I’ve even seen the suggestion thrown out there that we simply not have a championships in “off years” – just skip the meet altogether. As I’ve entertained that thought it seems rather harsh – sort of like throwing the baby out with the bath water. Yes the meet was somewhat of a downer, but the goal should be to get the athletes to the track not simply get rid of the track. So I went back in my mythical time machine to a time when the sport was a bit more robust to look for ideas. Then it hit me – the Sports Festival!

What’s a Sports Festival you ask? Well once upon a time, before there was a World Championships, we only had the Olympics every four years with nothing at all in between. The old Soviet Union used to hold their own version of the Olympics that they called the Spartakiad. They brought together all the different Republics (now individual nations) as teams to compete among themselves. They used these competitions to prepare their athletes for the Olympic Games.

After our boycott of the 1980 Games we did something similar, as our various athletic teams had a long layoff facing them with the last Games being in 1976 and the next one not taking place until 1984. So, beginning in 1981 the USOC began the “Sports Festival” as a replacement for the Olympic Games. The US was broken up into four regions (North, South, East and West) and we competed against each other in several Olympic sports, like swimming, basketball and of course track & field. These competitions were held throughout the 80’s skipping the Olympic seasons. The track portion of the Festival was held in various places across the country: Syracuse (‘81), Indianapolis (‘82), Colorado Springs (‘83), Baton Rouge (‘85), Houston (‘86), Durham, NC (‘87), and Norman OK (‘89). The most memorable of these being the 1983 edition which saw Evelyn Ashford (10.79) and Calvin Smith (9.93) both set new WR’s in the 100 meter dash in back to back races.

The meet was discontinued heading into the 90’s. I’m guessing because by then the World Championships were firmly in place and scheduled to be run every two years starting with the ‘91/’93 versions. Giving us the three year championships cycle we now have. But during the course of the 80’s the Sports Festival gave us the opportunity to not only have a meet to emulate the Games, but provided an opportunity for a lot of up and coming athletes to compete in a championship environment and begin to hone their competitive skills. It provided a forum for coaches and athletes in different regions to work together and create some camaraderie, and for athletes all over the country to display and work on their relay skills under pressure. In short it brought us together as a national team under the guise of four regional teams. And I think it’s time to bring it back!

Instead of a National Championships in the off seasons we could run a Sports Festival (Regional Championships) meet. Choose head coaches by region (North, South, East and West) and allow them to select their regional staffs as well as team personnel. Team selection would be based on the area that athletes attended high school as their “home” region. Teams would consist of eight athletes per discipline which would allow for quarters, semis and finals – and not lead to the meet becoming just for the elite. Relays would be included (two per region) and team scoring would take place just like the NCAA Championships.

The concept would work on several levels. Getting coaches together from all over the country would serve as a sort of clinic/mentoring environment as they could all share ideas. Same for all the athletes that would have a chance to both learn from each other, as well as being introduced to ideas from coaches other than their own. Athletes working together as “teams” would have an opportunity to begin to develop bonds – especially those working together on relays. Ah those pesky relays. Sports Festival squads could be the beginning of developing some national teams for the majors! And participation in the Sports Festival could be used as a criteria for selection to national teams. Even if a top level athlete did not compete they could be required to attend to serve as a mentor or to perform some community promotion duties. The idea being to have our top athletes all gathered together for the event to provide the fans with a great meet during the off season.

It can work. It’s worked in the past. We can simply update it for the present. It would be a great promotional tool for the sport, a great developmental tool for the athletes, and a great competition for the fans. It’s an idea whose time has come – again.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

10 Reasons to be Excited at the Mid Point of 2010

Jul 09, 2010 - Valence, France - ATHLETICS 2010 - TEDDY TAMGHO (FRA) - 1st in the Triple Jump at the French Championships at Stade Georges Pompidou.

With our National Championships complete and the Diamond League at the mid point it seems like an appropriate time to take a look at what’s happened so far this season. As with any endeavor there have been ups and downs but I want to start off looking at the positive things that have happened in the sport this year – especially for US fortunes going forward.

So here are 10 things I have found exciting about the first half of the 2010 season. The first two focus on the international sport. The third on the future in general. And the rest focus on reasons to be excited about the sport here in the US.


David Rudisha

If there is an athlete out there that should have his name featured on the marquee of any meet he attends it’s David Rudisha. One can debate the relative merits of individual events, but arguably the two toughest events out there are the 400 hurdles and the 800 meters. Both require speed AND endurance in amounts that are just short of world class in other events. To think that a human can run a full lap of the track in 48/49 seconds THEN run another lap before stopping is simply awe inspiring – as is the current WR of 1:41.11 seconds set by Wilson Kipketer (KEN)! I’ve long felt that this is one of the toughest WR’s on the books, and for almost 13 years no one has been remotely close – until now. This young man is only 21 years old, yet his recent 1:41.52 has him on the brink of one of the most venerable marks in history. And should he manage to get under 1:41 it will be one of the greatest achievements ever. He doesn’t get the headlines but he is not only one of today’s greatest athletes, but one of history’s best. He is one of the most under appreciated stars in the sport, but a star none the less.


Teddy Tamgho

Right up there in terms of all time WR’s is the 60 foot blast in the triple jump by Jonathon Edwards (GBR) in 1995! Like the 800 record, this mark has been truly untouchable. Only Kenny Harrison (US) at 59’ 4” has ever gone more than 59 feet – a year later in 1996. So for a decade and a half 59 & 60 feet have simply been marks in the sand. But in 2010 Teddy Tamgho lept 59’ in New York to once again breach that barrier. This was no fluke as Tamgho first emerged indoors with a surprising WR of 58’ 8.75”. Tamgho is for real! And like Rudisha is one of those young underappreciated athletes that truly deserves a lot more attention than he is getting. Go outside and mark off  FIFTY NINE FEET. Then imagine skipping your body across the track three times and landing THAT far away! Tamgho and Rudisha are two athletes this sport needs to figure out how to market quick, fast, and in a hurry.


The Collegiate Championships

If there was a meet that epitomized what track and field is about and what a meet can be, it was this year’s NCAA Championships. It had all the elements of good sports – great head to head match ups, exciting relays and a team competition that came down to the very last event! All accomplished through a group of young people that easily contained some of the future stars of the sport. Lisa Koll, Christian Taylor, Andrew Wheating, Kirani James, Ryan Whiting, Ashton Eaton, Blessing Okagbare, and Johnny Dutch, are all names almost guaranteed to appear on the startlists of upcoming Olympics and World Championships. It was a pleasure watching them prepare for the big stage at this meet.


David Oliver

If USA Track and Field is looking for an athlete to provide a “face” for the sport as we head into the next series of global championships they couldn’t do much better than to start with David Oliver. This young man is personable, articulate and is beginning to dominate is event in the mold of the legendary Renaldo “Skeets” Nehemiah. I know that he has more races ahead with WR holder Dayron Robles. But even should he lose his share, it simply will set up what could become one of the sport’s biggest and best rivalries – something the sport desperately needs more of. Oliver v Robles could well become the second coming of Nehemiah v Foster, and Oliver seems well suited to play the role of Nehemiah. USATF needs to look at developing a marketing program around this AR holder that focuses on his considerable strengths on and off the track.


Kara Patterson

Here is another newly minted AR setter that is articulate and has personality – and she’s in the field, long an area of US weakness! Patterson has emerged this year as one of the world’s most consistent javelin throwers and is on her way to being a serious medal threat in the event. Since her AR series in Des Moines she’s been on a tear, throwing well over 200 feet in each outing while going up against some of the world’s best throwers. Like Oliver she is a tough competitor, a good interview and is a face that the public would welcome into their homes. In my opinion potentially one of the new faces of the sport in the US as we look for ways to sell the sport here in the US – especially looking to highlight the field events that traditionally get a lot less attention than the track.


Chaunte Howard Lowe

In that same vein is Ms Howard Lowe – a field event performer that is in contention with the best globally. Another recent AR setter, Howard Lowe is also a good interview and a crowd pleaser. AND she has a budding rivalry with one of the sport’s higher profile athletes in Croatia’s Blanka Vlasic. The two of them have gone head to head a couple of times already and neither has blinked as the winning margin has been a matter of a single miss here or there. The marketing possibilities just scream! Like Patterson and Oliver she is a tough competitor that has reached that “next level” and appears ready to stay there. Giving us strong medal hopes heading into the next series of majors and an athletes we can most definitely market around. Who could ask for more?


Walter Dix

For a few seasons now I’ve seen waiting for someone to step up along side Tyson Gay as we take on the world in the sprint wars. We’ve gone far too long without a venerable 1-2 punch in the sprints. Dix has been on the cusp of being in that position for some time now. He had an outstanding collegiate career, but since then has been on and off, hot and cold. Between a decision to skip Worlds in ‘07, an outstanding Games in ‘08, and then injury and agent issues last year it’s seemed that Dix may just vanish back into the sprinting landscape. But this year he has come out with a vengeance – sprinting with determination and purpose. This is the sprinter I’ve been waiting to see take the track. He looks every bit the man that is ready to fulfill his destiny. Which means we should have a viable two headed sprint monster heading into Daegu/London/Moscow.


Bershawn Jackson & Johnny Dutch

This pair is exciting because they give us hope today AND tomorrow. If we have an event that I would say seems medal set for a while it is the 400 hurdles. Jackson seems to be rejuvenated. He’s healthy again, is back to his old stride pattern and looks like he is going to be VERY hard to beat in the near future. As a matter of fact, “Batman” seems to be getting his “second wind” in his career at age 27 and the best may yet be ahead of him. If so, the 21 year old Dutch could be primed to be the perfect “Robin” – fighting the hurdle wars side by side with Jackson as he prepares to take over when Batman retires in some far off future. Jackson is clearly the best of the world’s veteran hurdlers right now, and Dutch has emerged this year as arguably the best of the young guns coming up. Together they could provide us with solid medal potential in the long hurdles going well into the 2020’s.


Phoebe Wright & Morgan Uceny

Last year was a very exciting year for American women in the middle distances as Jenny Barringer, Anna Pierce, Kristin Wurth Thomas, and Maggie Vessey moved into the upper reaches of world class – giving us solid medal hopes in the 800 & 1500 meters. This year another young dynamic duo is emerging as Phoebe Wright (800) & Morgan Uceny (1500) are following in their footsteps. Wright barreled through the collegiate season as if she were on a mission heading to the front of the pack and staying there all season long with a front running, catch me if you dare style. A style that won her a national title and has kept her in contention against the best in the world – earning her a 1:58.22 PR at Pre. Ditto for Uceny. I must admit I didn’t pay much attention when she won the US indoor title this winter – chalked it up to a lot of other athletes focusing on getting ready for the outdoor season. But all this young lady has done is drop her PR steadily all season long including big runs in New York (PR 4:04.01 for 6th) and Lausanne (PR 4:02.40 for 2nd). And like Wright (and training mate Anna Pierce) she’s displayed a gritty, hang on to the leaders, running style that is necessary in international competition. My gut says these two young ladies are going to be heard from for some time and I won’t be surprised to see either in an upcoming major.


Andrew Wheating

The search for America’s next great middle distance runner (male version) may finally be over. Watching Andrew Wheating compete at this year’s NCAA Championships I felt he displayed all the skills necessary to grow into the job. He’s competitive, has good endurance, and his long limbs help give him a nice turn of speed. His heroics at the NCAA meet gave indication of a young man who could be part Dave Wottle and part Jim Ryun. I didn’t have to wait long for confirmation as Wheating showed just how competitive he could be when he went back to Eugene for the Pre Classic and ran 3:51.74 in his #2 event as he held his own with the world’s best over the mile. His current PR’s (1:45.03, 3:37.52, 3:51.74) don’t scream medal hope, but his competitive nature and the drive that he shows on the track tells me he just might be our best hope on the big stage. He could very well end up being the best middle distance runner to come out of the University of Oregon, and that alone says it all.


There are lots of others to be excited about as well. Allyson Felix looks primed for a potential 200/400 double attempt. Wallace Spearmon could be ready to challenge at the top.Anna Pierce is rounding back into ‘09 form. Jenn Suhr is getting healthy. Our shot putters have gone from a Big 3 to a Big 5. Jeremy Wariner is getting back to form and there are several young men improving in that event. Tyson Gay is running as well as ever. And I’m sure that by the time the curtain closes on the season this list of 10 could easily be a list of 25. But these are the things that stand out to me on the positive side of the sport as we head into what should be the most exciting part of the season.