Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Should the USOC be Overseeing USATF?

I ask this question in the aftermath of the Doug Logan firing, as word out of Colorado Springs is that the USOC is “monitoring” the selection process for a new CEO.

This was the second time in the past couple of weeks that I had read about the USOC’s interest in the process. And it came on the heels of learning that the USOC may have had a hand in the selection of Logan back in 2008. All of which made me curious as to why the USOC has such an interest in what is going on with USATF. So I began to do a bit of research, and found that in 1978 Senator Ted Stevens sponsored Senate Bill 2727 which passed and became Public Law 95-606 – better known as the Amateur Sports Act.

The Amateur Sports Act amended the corporate charter of the USOC giving it the power to (among other things):

  • recognize as a national governing body any amateur sports organization (but only one for each sport) which submits an application for recognition and complies with eligibility requirements
  • create eligibility requirements for national governing bodies
  • authorize the national governing body to represent the United States in international sports federations
  • review the actions of the national governing bodies

Quite a bit of power over the national governing bodies (NGB’s) of the United States’ amateur athletics organizations and athletes. As a matter of fact because of the Amateur Sports Act, The Athletics Congress (TAC) was created in 1979 to replace the AAU as the governing body of track and field in the US – because the AAU could no longer govern all sports. Since then there has been much confusion within track and field as the various regional and local bodies (formerly AAU) have had their issues trying to cope under the umbrella of first TAC and now USATF – as the name was changed to in 1992.

More importantly however for this conversation, the sport evolved during the 1980’s and 90’s from being an “amateur” sport to having both an amateur AND professional component. Likewise the IAAF (of which USATF is a member) has moved to a professional base. And the Olympic movement has moved to a combination amateur/professional base. Which brings me to the question – just what jurisdiction does the USOC hold with respect to USATF? Because its charter and reason for existence is to oversee AMATEUR sports in this country related to participation in the Olympics and global events. However, our athletes that now compete in the Olympics and global events are PROFESSIONALS!

Granted USATF oversees a large base of amateur athletes in this country. Which is why I stated previously in discussing the dismissal of Doug Logan that one of the problems with the position of CEO of USATF is that it has diametrically opposed goals – the oversight of both an amateur segment of the sport AND the elite professional side. And why I suggested that the sport take a look at forming two separate divisions or even separate entities. Understanding what I do now about the relationship of the USOC to the sport, I would strongly advocate for the latter. Because:

  • the sport (USATF) needs restructuring if it is ever going to become efficient at what it’s supposed to do
  • the needs of amateur and professional athletes are vastly different and need to be addressed separately so that each can get the proper focus
  • professional track and field needs the same kind of autonomy that exists within the NBA, MLB, and NFL, among other “pro” sports
  • track and field needs to be run by track and field, for track and field, not by an arm of the Olympic movement

An organization dedicated solely to professional track and field would take that segment of the sport from under the umbrella of the USOC, as the original law reads. Giving it the ability to function as it sees fit. Of course that could open up Pandora’s Box too. You know, be careful what you wish for and all. But track and field has been treading water for about 20 years now in it’s pursuit of becoming a professional sport. Not only here in the US but globally as well. It’s time to stop being a quasi professional sport and become a professional sport in the mold of basketball, baseball and football.

Right now we still function like an amateur sport. Of course, understanding that we are still being “overseen” by the amateur sports movement, I understand in part why. The Amateur Sports Act has run its course and is clearly outdated. That aside, the way that track and field is structured, has run its course and is clearly outdated. Both need to be “’brought up to date”. We need to get back to a functional model at the amateur level. Potentially even reverting back to the AAU. And we need to move forward at the professional level. Now is as good a time as any to begin to effect change.

Monday, September 27, 2010

Top Breakthrough Americans of 2010

EUGENE, OR - JULY 03: Kara Patterson of USA throws the javelin during the IAAF Diamond League Prefontaine Classic on July 3, 2010 at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon. (Photo by Jonathan Ferrey/Getty Images)

At the end of every season, the awards start pouring out. Typically everyone identifies their Athletes of the Year, and Performances of the Year. There are also awards for Collegiate Athletes (Bowerman) and lists of the top athletes. Between now and the end of the calendar year I will also be taking a look at the various top athletes of 2010. Some will be conventional (such as Athletes of the Year), but I also want to take a look at some non standard classifications. So I am going to start with the athletes that I considered to be the athletes that I feel had the top breakthrough seasons among American athletes.

By “Breakthrough” I mean those athletes that achieved a new level of performance – in some cases moving up near the top of their event globally. Not just new PR’s but also consistency of performance. And all improved to the point where I think they are in a position to help the US in their medal search over the next couple of seasons.

 

Chris Solinsky – 5000 / 10000

Talk about a breakthrough to the top level. An American Record 26:59.59 over 10,000 in his first race of the season. Then three times under 13:00 in the 5,000 becoming #2 all time American at 12:55.53. More importantly he was 3rd in Zurich, 5th in Stockholm and 6th in Oslo – competing well against the best in the world. Now if he can just develop a kick to go with his strength and power I have no doubt he can give the African’s a race they won’t forget.

 

Kara Patterson - Javelin

An American Record 66.67m (218’ 8”) in the javelin at nationals and Patterson set sail on an outstanding European season. Patterson had 9 throws over 200 feet this summer, and a Diamond League victory over Spotakova in Eugene. She was also second in Monaco, London, Gateshead and third in Berlin – becoming a serious player in the javelin – perhaps a potential medalist. As I see her heading into Daegu/London/Berlin as one of our best hopes in the field.

 

Andrew Wheating – 800 / 1500

I watched Wheating make the Olympic squad in ‘08, but my gut said that was going to be his best finish of the year. And sure enough, he was out early in the rounds in Beijing. In ‘09 he won an NCAA title over 800 – but that was basically the end off his season. Ah, but this year. An NCAA 800/1500 double. A bit of a break from a long NCAA season. Then in limited international action we get a 3:51.74 mile at Pre, a 3:30.90 in Monaco, a 1:44.62 in Paris, and a 1:44.56 in London! And suddenly he’s starting to look like a young Jim Ryun. I use that name on purpose because as much as I’m fairly sure he has 1:43.xx in his immediate future, I think he can run 3:29 or maybe even 3:28 as well – and he can kick!

 

Morgan Uceny – 800 / 1500

I have to admit that when she won the US indoor 1500 title this past winter I had no clue who she was – sorry Morgan. I know who she is now though! She’s the gutsy young lady that’s always near the front somewhere, biding her time, and going with the big guns until she can’t go any more. And with that philosophy she’s gone from previous bests of 2:00.01 / 4:06.93 to 1:58.67 / 4:02.40 and a serious competitor in every race she’s in. Which is why I like her so much. She’s not afraid to get in their and fight. She’s tough, she goes after it. And she’s someone that I can see having a strong shot at being at least a finalist in one of the upcoming majors.

 

Ryan Bailey – 100 / 200

As odd as it sounds we need another top flight sprinter in our stable. Tyson is consistent, Spearmon is back from injuries, and Dix is right there when we can get him on the track. But we’re used to being at least two or three deep in sprinters with a shot to at least make a final if not capable of getting on the podium. And we’ve been lacking there since the days of Greene/Williams/Gatlin/Crawford. Now it looks like we may have another top notch man in Ryan Bailey. 2009’s Jr College 100 champ and record setter (10.05) and 200 runner up, Bailey showed flashes of potential brilliance in 2010 getting his PR’s down to 9.88 / 20.10. Bailey is that big, tall, strong sprint I’ve been waiting to come along to supplement all of the “smurfs” we have in camp. The discouraging and encouraging thing about Ryan’s season is that his improvement came amidst a season of various injuries that kept sending him back to recover. If we can keep him healthy, at worst he could be a fourth man for the 4x1 and at the best perhaps a double finalist in a major – paring well with Gay Spearamon and Dix.

 

Chaunte Howard Lowe – High Jump

Another American Record setter in 2010, Lowe jumped a sensational 6’ 8.75”. Interestingly enough the same height one Blank Vlasic jumped late in the year to set her own PR – placing Howard Lowe squaraely in the mix of the high jump! Something she proved many times over this year as she and Vlasic met on multiple occasions. The Croatian winning, but typically on fewer misses. Along with Kara Patterson, Howard Lowe became one of those rare top level field event performers that we desperately need in order to dramatically improve our medal count from recent global majors. She was over 6’ 6” eleven times this year. Now she just has to make Vlasic blink, as she’s definitely become a gold medal contender.

 

Leonel Manzano – 800 / 1500

Sometimes when it rains it pours, and this year after waiting years for some middle distance help to come along we got a double dose in 2010 as Leonel Manzano was right there with Andrew Wheating on the improvement meter. Manzano equaled Wheating’s best time of 1:44.56 in Berlin. Which caught me by surprise because I’ve never thought of him as an 800 meter runner – silly. In what I considered his specialty he ran 3:32.37 in Brussels, and 3:50.64, and showed an amazing ability to kick off of strong paces! Imagine that, we develop two middle distance runners that can stay with the pace AND kick in the same season! Manzano was a joy to watch and I eagerly wawait the 2011 season to see what he will do in Daegu – because he’s finished in the top two at nationals two seasons in a row now and I have to believe that he is going to make the team for Worlds.

 

There were some others that improved tremendously, but we didn’t get to see them much if at all in Europe and against top level competition. Like hurdler Johnny Dutch (47.60), sprinter Curtis Mitchell (19.99) and quarter miler Tavaris Tate (44.86). While I believe they will show further improvement, those listed above didn’t just improve on the clock or the tape measure, they also showed they could go the distance against tough competition. Which makes them my Top Breakthroughs for 2010. I enjoyed watching them this year, and look forward to seeing them take their shots at the podium in the upcoming set of majors in Daegu, London and Berlin.

Friday, September 24, 2010

The Tribe Has Spoken – You’ve Been Voted Off the Island

 

One of my favorite TV shows is the reality show Survivor. If you aren’t familiar with it, it’s where 18 to 20 people are put together in a remote location – usually an island. They are there for approximately 40 days and every 3 days someone gets “voted off the island” by the tribe. There are various challenges, some for rewards, some for immunity. But in the end the goal is to be one of the final two people not voted off. Then it is up to the final 7 or 9 people voted off (the Jury) to vote for the person they feel was the best player of the game – the Sole Survivor. That person is the winner of the game and receives $1 Million!

What I love about the game is that it’s not just a game of strength, or skill, but rather involves a combination of skills & traits. Some challenges are physical, some mental. Strength is needed but endurance is just as important. And at the end of the day, perhaps the most important facet of the game involves ones social skills. Because in the end those people that were voted off, need to think enough of you and how you played the game to want to give you a million dollars. And far too often it’s been the lack of a good social game that has cost many players that prize!

I bring up Survivor, because as I have watched the dismissal of former CEO Doug Logan from USA Track and Field, I can’t help but see parallels. As with Survivor, a team of people (Board & Logan) were put together to try to accomplish a singular goal. In this case the operation and improvement of track and field in the US. And, as in Survivor, one of the huge tasks that they faced was that of integrating their varied talents to work cooperatively towards that goal. But as always happens in the game (and typically in the game of life) egos, conflicting personalities, differences in vision, and most importantly the all important “social game” came into play to wreak havoc on what seemingly should have been a “strong tribe”!

In Survivor perhaps the single most destructive force to a person’s chances of making to the end is the social game. Individuals with seemingly indispensible skills – great “providers”, awesome on challenges, terrific leaders – often find themselves voted off the island long before the end because they lack social skills. Too outspoken. Too overtly manipulative. Too many alliances and conflicting members find out about them. Too cocky. These are just a few of the negative “social game” plays that take what should be strong game players to “Tribal Council” only to leave after hearing the words “the tribe has spoken and you are the nth person voted off the island”! And typically it is the people who just knew they were the best and definitely in line for the $1 Million, that can’t believe they were voted off and proceed to state how “weak” his/her tribe mates are; how the tribe will fail without them; and how stupid they were to send him/her home!

Such was USATF with Doug Logan and in the aftermath of his departure. Apparently this was a tribe that was destined not to succeed together. Because from all accounts Logan was determined to run the tribe as he saw fit, without the input or support of his tribe members – an early strike in any season of Survivor. As with the former heads of Enron, he was certain that he was the smartest man in the room when meetings were held, and that he and he alone had the correct recipe to “win the game” – in spite of the fact that he was newer to the “island” than anyone and hadn’t taken the time to get fully acquainted with either his new tribe mates or the island itself. Another deadly recipe in the game of Survivor.

But perhaps the worst part of Logan’s game play was the assumption that he could indeed win the game WITHOUT  the support of his tribe mates. And THAT is anathema in the game of Survivor as well as the game of life. Because NO man can be an island unto himself. So it was that playing a VERY POOR social game, that after the most recent “Tribal Council” Logan found himself hearing the words “Doug the tribe has spoken and you are the 1st person voted off of Survivor USATF”! And in typical Survivor fashion, just KNOWING that he was better than his tribe mates, and how dare they vote him off the island, Logan has gone on an exile’s tirade. He’s referred to the USATF Board of Directors as “15 bodies in funny suits stumbling out of a little car” – AKA clowns. He wants to take credit for the US having “just finished a terrific competitive season” – though if I’m not mistaken it was the athletes, and not Logan, that did the competing. He’s said that the President of USATF, Stephanie Hightower, is “driven by ambition”, and that Brooks Johnson, the former head of USATF’s High Performance Division, has been “intellectually dishonest” in statements he’s made on his blog.

All of which makes me feel like I’m watching the most recent episode of Survivor, as the current exile takes none of the blame for his departure, but instead insists that he was done wrong by everyone else. Most fittingly however, it tends to be those with the worst “social game” that never seem to understand why they’ve been voted off! They never get that no matter how smart they think they are – or might even actually be – that beating others over the head with it may not be the best way to get their point across! Or that constantly berating the other members of the tribe may not have endeared them much to their tribe mates. And that cursing them on the way off the island is not a good idea if you have any hopes of playing the game again – because sometimes in Survivor you get invited back to play the game in a different locale and with different players. But by then your reputation precedes you, and rarely does someone who left the game on BAD terms last very long the second time around. They’re usually a target and get voted off as quickly as possible!

Logan has turned this into a very bad episode of Survivor. A very ugly episode. The sooner we can turn the channel and turn this episode off, the better the sport will be.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Why Are The Commonwealth Games, and Other “Games” Being Held?

NEW DELHI, INDIA - SEPTEMBER 22: An Indian labourers work outside of the main stadium for the approaching 19th Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi at Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium on September 22, 2010 in New Delhi, India. Pieces of a false roof inside of the weightlifting complex collapsed today following yesterday's collapse of a footbridge under construction that injured 27 workers at the main stadium for the upcoming Commonwealth Games. (Photo by Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images)

All year long there have been questions raised about the staging of the upcoming Commonwealth Games. Everything from questions regarding whether or not the facilities would be ready in time, to complaints this week from England, Scotland, Wales, New Zealand, Australia and Canada over the condition of the team accommodations – said to be unsafe and uninhabitable. A majority of the top level athletes have pulled out for various reasons, with Jamaica sending but a shell of what would normally be considered a national team.

All of which makes me question why these Games are being held. At what point do the sport’s ruling bodies step in and say that a competition is in essence being cancelled? But even more to the point, is this and other “secondary” Games necessary? Which to me is really at the heart of the matter.

Most of these competitions have origins that go back to a time when the sport’s major highlight – the Olympic Games – occurred only once every four years. At that time it made sense to have a Commonwealth Games, or a Pan Am Games, or a European Championships. Having other “championship” meets to aim for during the three years between the Olympics helped give purpose to the training and competition of the athletes. It gave them something else to shoot for – something else to attain. But with each passing Commonwealth Games or Pan Am Games, among others, we see fewer and fewer top level athletes participating.

In track and field, for example,with the advent of multiple World Championships to go with the Olympics, competing in “minor” championships has seemingly become a burden for the truly elite athletes who would prefer to rest tired bodies, and mend injuries in preparation of making an attempt at winning a “real” championship medal! And I can’t say that I blame them. After all, would you rather be in possession of a gold medal from the Commonwealth Games or in possession of one from the Olympics or World Championships? I’m sure I already know the answer to that question. Because in the world of trying to market one’s name or brand, it is the attainment of medals in the Majors that earns the pay day.

Similarly in other sports, these sorts of Games have become less and less a stage in which the best in sport take part, as most of the amateur based sports – track and field, swimming and diving, gymnastics, etc – have their own World Championships to go along with the Olympic Games. More than enough to serve as the focus for their elite athletes. If the top athletes are not attending, then what kind of “championships” are being funded? Why are we putting nations through the cost and expense to put together championship facilities for competitions that aren’t even “secondary” in the grand scheme of things? Because in track and field, next in importance to the Majors are the Grand Prix, Super Grand Prix and Diamond League level meets. So at best these secondary majors rank third on a scale of perhaps four levels for our athletes. A lot of money being spent on competitions that mean very little when all is said and done.

Would India, and the sport, have been better served by making a bid for the Olympics and planning and utilizing it’s resources to serve as host to the world. Creating a facility that in effect would also be able to host a World Championships in Track and Field. Because, no offense to Europe, but it’s time we did a better job of branching out to other areas of the world. Same for the Pan Am Games. I would much rather see cities like Havana, Caracas, or Santo Domingo hosting a Worlds than a Pan Am Games. It would truly broaden the reach of the sport globally and could begin the process for Olympic bids – because the Olympics could stand to broaden it’s global reach as well.

It just seems to me that we are wasting valuable resources on events that no longer merit the time and money that is being afforded them. That in a world where the global economy has changed dramatically over the years that sport can no longer afford to fund secondary championship meets that require the development of the equivalent of a small town in order to be held.

I can’t speak for other sports, but I think it’s time for track and field to take a look at the fact that the whole “championships” scene was forever changed with a move towards professionalism (because I still don’t think we’ve truly arrived) and the addition of World Championships to the schedule. If anything we need to drop all of the regional and continental meets – Asian Games, Pan Ams, Commonwealth, European Championships, Continental Cup and others – and institute an additional World Championships in what is now the off year. Major sports have championships every year and track and field needs to move in that direction.

Whatever activities we are spending our resources on should be highly visible and part of an overall marketing scheme that is designed to put us in the public eye in a big way. Sports fans today pay little to no attention to anything that does not have the words “World” or “Olympics” associated with them. Spending money on anything less is a waste of resources. Because if we are to be a truly professional sport, then our “championships” must be of the highest quality and bring together our BEST athletes. If it doesn’t attract our best performers then we need to rethink if it needs to be held at all.

Monday, September 20, 2010

The Diamond League – I Was Hoping for Bigger and Better

When the concept of the Diamond League was presented in 2009, I found myself anticipating the 2010 season like an anxious child awaiting Christmas. After all there was much to look forward to based on the “previews”.

Gone was the “winner take all” concept of only undefeated athletes being eligible for the pot of gold at the end of the season – which meant that after the first meet only a handful of individuals were eligible for prize money. A concept that said there was no reason to compete after the first meet unless you wanted to stop the competition from winning the prize!

All events were going to be a part of the Diamond League, meaning that everyone would be eligible to win a Diamond League championship, not just a handful of athletes based on the luck of the draw when it came to determining the events that would be eligible to compete for the pot of gold.

The US was finally going to become part of the “summer circuit” with the inclusion of New York and Prefontaine as Diamond League fixtures. Which should ensure that we would get more international stars competing on our shores.

Then there was the biggest enticement of all – that the Diamond League was going to contract with the sport’s biggest stars to to make sure they would be competing in a large number of Diamond League competitions AND that they would be competing against each other! THAT alone was worth the wait.

Looking forward to 2010 in ‘09, I had “visions of sugar plums” dancing in my head. Giddy from the anticipation of a much improved European/Summer season this off season. But 2010 has come and gone and with it the first season of the Diamond League. Now that it’s over and in the books the question I have to ask is: were we any better off because there was a Diamond League this year? To wit I have to respond: I don’t think so.

Much was promised, but sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men, well they don’t always turn out how we envision. The big winner for the League was the elimination of the “winner take all” concept. This year’s league went down the the final two meets to determine “champions” in many of the events. With d with the caveat that you had to compete in the “finale” to win the prize money, almost all of the athletes in contention showed up to the finale events. And that is where the best laid plans begin to go awry for me – and continue from there.

You see, there wasn’t a single “finale”. Instead there were two finales that encompassed two different cities a week apart. This was due in large part to the fact that there was no single meet that contained all of the events! This was a league of “half” meets – with only half of the standard track and field events being run in any given meet. Now there was one exception, that being the meet in London. But even that in a manner was “two” competitions as the meet was separated into two different days. The half meet concept was carried throughout the season with half of the events being contested one week/meet, then the other half the next. Half the men’s events and half the women’s events, with both genders competing in different disciplines in each meet. For example, If you had the men’s 100 in Stockholm but no women; the women’s 1500 in Stockholm but no men. Very frustrating as a fan, and from what I hear, frustrating for the athletes as well. Because for the athletes only having their event on the docket half the time, cut their earning opportunities in half as well!

Then there was the matter of those two US entries in the league. The first (New York) was scheduled only two days after the Rome meeting! Needless to say the lineups in New York were not the most stellar. And when you factor in that the marketing surrounded a match up that was never really scheduled (Gay v Bolt), there was quite a let down for this meet. Prefontaine was Prefontaine – excellent as always. But having moved the meet to accommodate the “league” I would’ve expected a larger influx of foreign talent. Then again, Prefontaine has always done well with that – which makes me wonder why the need to be in the Diamond League?

Oh did I mention “match ups”? Because that was one of the biggest selling points of all for the Diamond League – we were going to get more top level match ups than ever before! The centerpiece being that nearly every meet was going to have at least one of the world’s top three sprinters contracted, with a majority having at least two of them going head to head and one or more featuring all three. FINALLY we were going to get something more than the 1 meeting a year when they all ran in a major! At least that was the hope. What we ended up with was Gay v Powell, once; Powell v Bolt, once; and Bolt v Gay, once. Powell losing to both his adversaries then dropping out due to “back trouble”. Bolt losing to Gay then dropping out due to “back trouble”. Then Gay left to compete against the up and comers – not what we saw in the previews. Again very frustrating for the fans.

Finally I thought the whole “season” was just way too long. The first meeting in Doha was on May 14th, the final finale was in Brussels on August 27th. By Brussels I had almost forgotten what had happened in Doha! So did the athlete’s bodies. Sprinters that were ailing and getting trying to get it together for Doha, were ready to role by Zurich and Brussels. Those that were looking good in Doha couldn’t even make it to the track by Brussels. Lolo Jones looked ready to rule the world in the first half of the Diamond League and no one knew who Sally Pearson was. By Brussels Pearson was in the hunt, Jones was struggling and Priscilla Lopes Sliep was in charge. Kara Patterson hit her stride in the middle of the season then slowly got tired by the final few meets. And there was a definite advantage for those athletes in the finals that had “peaked” during or late in the season! To be honest, I’m not sure how it will play during the three years where there are major championships, with athletes focusing on the major and looking to all peak late in the year. It could make the first half of the Diamond League fairly irrelevant.

Having said all of that, I do think that some things can be “fixed”. For example, why not simply offer all the events in each meet, but alternate the events that have Diamond designation  – half this meet half the next. And while everyone is trying to hold on to the traditional dates that they held their meets, if this “league” is going to work there may have to be some compromises. The schedule needs to be condensed, with perhaps two meetings per week, and running for two months during July and August – starting after most national championships and ending before the start of a major championship. I also think that having a shorter, more condensed series will aid in getting match ups on the track as it would give the top athletes a condensed set of competitive opportunities as they are preparing for the upcoming major – at a time when they should be most fit. Because it seems asking today’s athletes to stay fit and healthy for four months is more than most can handle – a topic that I intent to expound more upon soon.

I hate to sound like a curmudgeon, but I was just expecting MORE from the Diamond League. After the season was done I went back through my meet archives and watched earlier versions of the Weltklasse, and Ivo Van Damme and Bislett from the 80’s and 90’s. And all the “missing” components were there. They had the stars like Steve Ovett,Roger Kingdom, Colin Jackson, Carl Lewis, Maurice Greene, Allen Johnson, Stefka Kostadinova, Gail Devers, Evelyn Ashford, and on and on. There were full meets, and plenty of top level match ups. After all, that’s how these meets got to be as big as they are – they put the best in the world on the track. In many ways that’s what the Diamond League is going to have to do, get back to the future to bring the excitement back to the sport.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

ABC’s of the 2010 Season

BERLIN - AUGUST 22: David Lekuta Rudisha of Kenya celebrates the victory and the new world record in the men's 800m during the IAAF World Challenge ISTAF 2010 at the Olympic Stadium on August 22, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. (Photo by Boris Streubel/Bongarts/Getty Images)

A – Ashton Eaton emerged as a major player in the decathlon

B – Bershawn Jackson, back to form and dominant in the 400 hurdles

C – Chris, as in Chris Solinsky and Christian Cantwell both looking good heading into 2011

D – David, as in Rudisha and Oliver, the two most dominating athletes in 2010

E – European Championships, the biggest event of the year

F – Florida Relays site of Tyson Gay’s 44.89 making him the first man ever to run under 10.00, 20.00 and 45.00

G – Gay (Tyson) the world’s #1 sprinter in 2010

H – Howard-Lowe (Chaunte) new AR holder in the high jump

I – Injuries, Kenenisa Bekele, almost every Jamaican sprinter, half of the US sprinters, nearly every top global high hurdler

J – Jeremy Wariner returned to dominating form

K – Kara Patterson set an AR in the javelin and new standards of consistency while becoming a major global player

L – Lemaitre (Christophe) became the first “white” sprinter to break through the 10.00 barrier

M – Middle distance surge in the US on the feet of Andrew Wheating, Leonel Manzano, Morgan Uceny, Phoebe Wright, and Alysia Johnson

N – NCAA Championships, the most exciting event of the year

O – Ostapchuck (Nadzeya), the most dominating, and overlooked, female athlete on the planet this year

P – Penn Relays, once again the biggest event on US soil

Q – Qatar, the first stop on the new Diamond League

R – Rio de Janerio won the bid to host the 2016 Olympic Games – the first to be held in South America

S – Stockholm, the site of the year’s only major sprint showdown and the race heard round the world

T – Teddy Tamgho, took the triple back over 59 feet

U – Usain Bolt, if there were gold medals for partying he says he would have them all, lead the clock over 200 meters

V – Veronica Campbell Brown leads the world in both the 100 & 200

W = Wallace Spearmon returns to form after down years with injury

X – Xiang Liu, still injured, a sign of the times for the elite

Y – Yargelis Savigne, still a force in the triple jump

Z – Zurich once again a highlight of the European Circuit

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Who Should Replace Doug Logan?

Jun. 09, 2010 - Erasmia, South Africa - epa02193735 Joachim Loew (R), head coach of the German national soccer team, and first Chairman of the Laureus World Sports Academy, Edwin Moses (L), attend a press conference of the German team at Velmore Grand Hotel in Erasmia near Pretoria, South Africa, 09 June 2010. The German team prepares for the FIFA World Cup 2010 that starts on 11 June 2010.

I’ve been asked a lot over the past 24 hours who I think should replace Doug Logan as head of USA Track and Field. That’s a very tough question. I feel that it should be someone that has a strong knowledge of track and field. That broad catch all could include former athletes, former agents, or someone formerly or currently in the employ of a shoe company (upper management). Not that being connected to the sport in some way is a guarantee that an individual would have the skill set necessary to run USATF. Of course, neither would going out and looking for an executive from another sport be any sort of guarantee – witness the past two years.

Regardless of where the individual comes from we need someone with solid CEO type skills. Critical would be strong communication skills; the ability to think logically and create a vision for the organization; the ability to develop practical applications for their ideas and theories; and of course the ability to effectively work with and lead others in the realization of that vision.

Given that skill set as a prerequisite, I would ideally like to see the “captain of the ship” come from within the rank and file of the sport. Primarily because I feel that this sport has some uniqueness about it that must be accounted for in attempting to develop and carry forth any sort of true strategic plan that would move track and field forward. I have watched some former elite level athletes perform well in administrative roles in the sport – Alberto Juantorena, Seb Coe, and Sergei Bubka come to mind – and I think that we have some former athletes that could possibly fit the bill. Remember that Craig Masback was himself a former miler and did a solid job as CEO.

Who do I “think” could do the job? Well, I have three in mind that I think could do the job. Of course there is the caveat of whether or not they would want the job AND whether or not the Board of Directors would want them to do the job. But these are the type of individuals that I would choose if I were selecting someone from within the track and field fraternity.

 

Edwin Moses

A former intermediate hurdler who was far ahead of his time in terms of training and development of his race pattern. He’s still #2 all time in the event and dominates the all time list – 4 of the top 10, 9 of the top 20. More importantly he has been an ongoing ambassador of sport. He’s participated in the development of a number of drug policies and helped create the first random out of competition testing program. And in 2000 he became the first Chairman of the Laureus Sports Foundation which works to help disadvantaged youth worldwide. He’s currently serving as the Head Coach of the German National Soccer Team.

 

Frank Shorter

A former 10000 meter runner and marathoner, Shorter was at the forefront of the creation of the “Running Boom” in the US with his gold medal marathon victory in the 1972 Olympic Games. Shorter helped found the US Anti Doping Agency in 2000 and served as Chairman through 2003. He has continued to advocate for a drug free sport and has testified before Congress on the topic.

 

Henry Marsh

A former world class steeplechaser who represented the United States internationally for several years and set an American record in the event back in 1983. As an athlete Marsh was a 10 time national steeplechase champion. Since then he has become a businessman and is co-founder and Executive Vice President of MovaVie – a multilevel marketing company that sells “juice products featuring an exclusive A├žai berry juice blend”.

 

Without going into a full vetting process with these gentlemen I can say that they have both spent a lot of time with this sport and have shown that they have the skill set necessary to perform the job of CEO of USA Track and Field. I think that that is the kind of combination that would ultimately help move us forward and put us back in the position globally that we should be at. So if I were to look within the sport for someone to take the helm these are the individuals that I would look at as potential candidates. At the very least these are the type of individuals that I think should be sought out to try and get the sport back on track (pun intended) here in the US.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Doug Logan Released Following Weekend Meeting

The word out this morning is that Doug Logan has been released as CEO of USA Track and Field. Given that in late July he was given 30 days to make significant improvements in his performance, I don’t think this is much of a surprise. After all, I’m not sure what could have been done in a month’s time to significantly alter his performance or the perception of him by those performing his evaluation.

While there are many opinions regarding his release, from inmates running the asylum to rumors of power grabs, the reality of the situation in my humble opinion is that he simply wasn’t the right hire when Craig Masback was hired away by Nike back in 2008. The one thing that almost everyone seems to agree upon is that he was an outsider who wanted to make radical changes within the sport – though after two years I’m still not sure what those changes were. Everyone keeps pointing to the “Project 30” Report as the cornerstone of his work and vision – and perhaps one of the reasons that he was let go – but frankly aside from being highly critical of the way USATF was being run (rightly so in some areas) there was no “vision” set forth to change things and move in a more positive direction. Unless of course one takes into account the changes in the relay program that were undertaken. Or should I say partially undertaken, because while the old program was criticized and dismantled there was nothing of substance put in it’s place. Which sort of marked Logan’s tenure with USATF – lots of criticism without direction for positive change.

While I believe that he was the wrong fit, his release comes at a time when the sport here in the US clearly needs leadership, and so the board needs to have a sense of urgency in getting the position filled. I say the sport needs leadership because for the better part of a decade we’ve been operating under a cloud of negative news. We’ve had high profile drug busts that those currently competing are still having to live down. We’ve lost stature globally in several events. Our medal count in majors has been declining. Our athletes have been losing ground as the “face of the sport” on a global basis. And domestically we suffer from a reduction in world class competitions, meet attendance, and recognition from the US sporting public, which in turn has a negative effect on fundraising. We could not afford to make the wrong decision in ‘08, and can afford less so now!

So my plea to USATF is that they look diligently for someone within the sporting community that has a strong understanding of the sport of track and field. Not because I think we need someone that will keep things the way they are, but because I think we need someone that understands how to make the changes necessary to move the sport forward. Moving the sport forward means maintaining the integrity of the sport while making it relevant to a new age of sporting/viewing public. Because in my opinion the “base sport” doesn’t need to be altered as there is much that is compelling about who can run fastest, jump highest or throw farthest. It’s how it is packaged and presented that will make it more relevant. And I don’t mean chopping it up and cutting in half or thirds, but better using today’s media resources to advertise, promote and deliver the sport to the public. And in order to do that properly one must truly understand the product that is track and field.

I also think that USATF needs to take a strong look at acting like a single celled organism and divide in half! Track and field should be TWO sports in this country – Amateur and Professional – instead of continuing to try and be the single sport that it currently is. What do I mean? I mean I don’t think that ONE body can successfully run and administrate over the sport of track and field on both the amateur (age group) and professional (elite) level. No other truly professional sport does this and I don’t think that track and field is being very successful at it – it’s a source of much internal strife not to mention that we are suffering on the professional end. We need an AAU (Amateur Athletics Union) for the youngsters and those just out to have fun and enjoy friendly competition. And we need an AC (Athletics Congress to borrow from the old “TAC”) for our elite forces that are out there attempting to earn a living and medals in global competition. Their needs are different and diverse as are those that support them, and so are their current, and potential, fundraising/income streams. I believe that formally separating them would make life easier on whoever has to try and run the sport – or potentially each separate segment of the sport. Just as “Little League” and MLB are separate entities, and “Pop Warner” and the NFL are separate entities, so should “amateur” and “professional” track and field be.

Logan’s dismissal means that the hard work lies ahead. Thankfully the athletes did their part this year by showing substantial improvement in several areas on the track and field. And my final plea to USATF is to recognize that the athletes are our product and that whomever is brought in must be supportive and have their needs at the core of any vision for the sport. Yes, the sport needs some overhauling, but the needs of the athletes should be central to changes moving forward. Without an athlete’s union or collective bargaining such as exists in other professional sports, it will be incumbent upon the leadership of track and field to advocate from that point of view as a new vision for track and field is put together and implemented. Because without the athletes the sport is nothing – and in the end I think that is the one area where Logan truly failed and we can’t afford to fail again.

Friday, September 10, 2010

US Getting Back in the Game Above 400 Meters

BERLIN - AUGUST 23:  (L-R) Joseph Ebuya of Kenya, Vincent Kiprop Chepkok of Kenya, Chris Solinsky of United States and Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia compete in the men's 800 Metres Final during day nine of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 23, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

The season is winding down quickly, with the Commonwealth Games the biggest competition remaining – and it’s restricted to a select few nations. For all intents and purposes US athletes are done, with a bit of rest on the docket before resuming training for the upcoming World Championships season.

Lots of ups and downs this year, and I will spend some time talking about them as we head into the Fall training / road racing season. But the one area that I want to give a shout out to right away is to the athletes on the track above 400 meters. One of the things that I will have to do fairly soon is update my “Thirty Watch List”. When I first put it together it was dominated by the sprints and hurdles. Watching this season play out, I think that there may be some action above the sprints this next time around!

I have to start with Chris Solinsky. He lead the world over 10000 meters for almost the entire year, as it was only two weeks ago that Kenya’s Josephat Menjo surpassed Solinsky’s AR of 26:59.60! Granted it moved him to “only” #30 all time, but when was the last time an American was in the top spot on a yearly list in the 10000? If I’m not mistaken you’d have to go back to 1986 when Mark Nenow lead the world with his AR 27:20.56 – twenty four years ago! Solinsky also gave us three races under 13:00 in the 5000 meters – with a 12:55.53 PR that would have been an AR if it weren’t for Bernard Lagat.

Ah, Bernard Lagat. I keep worrying about his age, but it doesn’t seem to bother him. At 35 years old he ran an AR 12:54.12 over 5000, a 3:54.36 mile, 3:32.12 over 1500 and won a 3000/5000 double in the Continental Cup. Lagat is STILL a factor, and he and Solinsky should make quite a pair over 5000 next year. And that’s not saying anything about Dathen Ritzenhein or Matt Tegenkamp who had their own breakthroughs under 13:00 last season.

And while Lagat looks like he will have help in the longer distance, we saw some improvement from others in the shorter distance too. Specifically from Andrew Wheating and Leonel Manzano. Wheating had multiple event duty for the University of Oregon as they gave game chase for an NCAA title coming up a bit short in their battle with the University of Florida and eventual champion Texas A&M. But Wheating did his part taking an 800/1500 double before heading to Europe and taking on the big boys. All he did after a lengthy collegiate season was run bests of 1:44.56, 3:30.90 and 3:51.74 – making me wonder whether he is a half miler or a miler! Similar improvement was made by the diminutive Manzano. The gutsy Manzano kept staying with the pace in Europe and was rewarded with PRs of 1:44.56, 3:32.37 and 3:50.64. Lagat is still our best competitor on the international stage, but Wheating and Manzano are the future, and have the potential to make some noise next year with a bit of improvement – especially in the metric mile which is in the 3:30 to 3:32 zone right now.

Our women continue to make great strides in the middle distances as well. Last year it was Christin Wurth Thomas, Anna Pierce, and Jenny Barringer that make big moves. Barringer was quiet this year, but Pierce and Wurth Thomas continued to shine with Wurth Thomas improving her 1500 down to 3:59.59 – her second year in a row under 4:00. This year we can add the names Alysia Johnson, Phoebe Wright, and Morgan Uceny to the mix as they had major improvements of their own this year. Johnson was twice under 1:58 and lead the world at 1:57.34. After winning this year’s NCAA championship Wright went to Europe and ran very well dropping her PR down to 1:58.22. And Morgan Uceny was double trouble running 1:58.57 in the 800 and 4:02.40 in the 1500. All three are hard charging, front runners who are not afraid to try and stay with the pace – any pace. Together with Wurth Thomas, Pierce, Barringer and Shannon Rowbury – who began to blossom in ‘08 and has continued to run well – we look well poised to battle the rest of the world in the women’s middle distances next year!

All in all I have to say that we look to have improved much in the past couple of seasons in the non sprints on the track. I’m looking forward to some success stories in Daegu and beyond. It’s been a while coming, but I think this group is truly capable.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

My Version of the US 4x1

OSAKA, JAPAN - SEPTEMBER 01:  Leroy Dixon celebrates after he runs the anchor lane and takes the United States of America to victory during the Men's 4 x 100m Relay on day eight of the 11th IAAF World Athletics Championships on September 1, 2007 at the Nagai Stadium in Osaka, Japan. The United States of America won in a time of 37.78 seconds.  (Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images)

Yes I know that the 2010 season isn’t quite done yet. But for my money it’s never too early to put a relay team together. Because one of the most important aspects of relay running is continuity and team togetherness – and that’s difficult to achieve when team members are practically making introductions prior to stepping on the track to compete!

That’s why I think it’s time to start thinking about creating “national relay squads” that are selected and run together during the course of a couple of seasons or so – health and injuries permitting – as opposed to our antiquated system of selecting the first few men that cross the finish line at our national championships each year. Because, as I said previously, while speed is important, the 4x1 and the 100 meter dash are two completely different animals. And we need to start treating the 4x1 as the independent entity that it is if we want to get back on the winning track in international competition.

Yes, I know that would be opening up a can of worms, because there would be much politicking to get people on, or off, the squad. Wait a minute. We have that now – so no change on that front! What we would be able to do is get the best people in place (based on someone, or some groups opinion) and give them an opportunity to work together and actually get good at running the relay together. Something the rest of the world is already doing. I understand that it’s a bit easier for other countries, because we still have the deepest pool of available talent – Jamaica notwithstanding. But it really isn’t that difficult to separate out who our top people are without running them down the track in a make or break 100 meter dash. And if we are being honest with ourselves, the rest of the world has caught up to us in this event, so just throwing four guys and a baton out on the track is no longer going to get the job done. Because much to the chagrin of the Allen Iverson’s of the world, this event does take PRACTICE.

So, I’m proposing that we select a squad early and give them the opportunity to practice, and work together so we can get the stick around the track and take our rightful place on the podium instead of watching the medal ceremony from afar. With that said, here are my thoughts on who that squad should be. Note that I am looking at speed – but more specifically what I call “relay speed”. I’m also looking at experience, previous success, and most importantly individual placement because I also think that we should have an advantage in putting together relay teams. For starters, most of our kids have grown up running relays in a high school setting and then in a college setting of some sort. So they shouldn’t be strangers to the baton. I also think we have a very under utilized group of individuals that could be quite helpful – college coaches. These guys (and gals) put together relay teams for a living! They are not only acquainted with the art of moving the baton around the track, but understand the importance of “who goes where” in the chess match that is truly the relay.

Final word before my selections. The relay is truly about TEAM – Together Everyone Achieves More – because it takes all four members to get the stick around the track and across the line. Some would say that team members need to check their egos at the door, but I disagree. I say they need to bring them to the track. Because each team member needs to OWN his leg. While many people put great emphasis on the anchor leg, there are FOUR legs and each one is important. If you don’t believe that think about team members and how they are remembered. Dennis Mitchell, and Calvin Smith are remembered for OWNING that second turn. Bernard Williams and Leroy Burrell are remembered for OWNING the backstretch. If you say Jon Drummond you might as well be saying Lead Off, just as if you say Carl Lewis you’re saying Anchor. These are all men that took their leg on the relay seriously, and all ran some of the fastest splits ever recorded on THEIR legs. If we want to win gold again and return the WR to the US, THAT is the attitude that must be taken. Each man must OWN his leg and get the job done that he needs to get done.

With that, my squad is:

 

Lead Off Walter Dix – 9.88 / 19.69

Dix isn’t an exceptional starter, but he is a tremendous 200 meter runner who runs a stunning curve on the relay. He’s got tremendous pick up and is strong enough to push the outgoing runner completely through the zone if necessary without any loss in speed – i.e. he can move the stick. He also has the ability to catch the outgoing runner should he leave his mark a bit early. Dix is a seasoned veteran who has competed on the sports biggest stage – the Olympics. A multiple NCAA champion and double sprint medalist in Beijing, Dix doesn’t rattle, doesn’t false start, and is a fierce competitor. He will give maximum effort and should give us an immediate lead from the gun.

 

Backstretch Wallace Spearmon – 9.96 / 19.65 / 45.22

If this were just about the 100 meters Wally wouldn’t be in the discussion – which is why I’m sure many of you are scratching your heads. But this isn’t about the 100 it’s about the relay, and all relays do with Spearmon on the backstretch is win. This year’s Continental Cup team won with Spearmon on the backstretch. The 2006 World Cup 4x1 winners had Spearmon on the backstretch. Arkansas won the 2005 NCAA 4x1 title with Spearmon on the backstretch. This year’s Zurich squad ran 37.45 (#5 all time) with Spearmon on the backstretch. And the last gold medal winning effort for the US in the 4x1 had Wallace on the backstretch (against a Jamaican squad lead by Bolt and Powell). Spearmon rarely wins a 100 meter dash at this level – because his start is among the worst in the world – but there are no blocks in the relay! And just as his start is horrible, his top end speed when he is up and running is outstanding. Combine that with the fact that he has great synergy with my selection for the turn leg, and Spearmon is an easy choice for me. Because all he and my next selection do when they run together is win – they haven’t lost a 4x1 they’ve been on together since the 2004 NCAA Championships!

 

Turn Tyson Gay – 9.69 / 19.58 / 44.89

When you have a man that has run 9.69 and is possibly the best turn runner ever you put him right here! Tyson Gay is a game breaker on the turn as he has shown time and time again. Especially when he has been paired with Spearmon as in all the above mentioned races - ‘05 NCAA’s, ‘06 World Cup, ‘07 Worlds, Zurich’s blazer this year as well as this year’s Continental Cup. This duo knows how to move the stick, and whatever lead Tyson can get you on the straight – because everyone wants to anchor him – he can get you 50% MORE on the turn! Not to mention that his closing speed and experience handing off the baton virtually ensures that whomever your anchor is, Tyson will get to him and get him the stick – after he has broken the back of the competition. You win relays by getting in front and with Spearmon on the backstretch and Tyson blitzing the competition on the turn we’ve run 37.59 (leading Kaaron Conwright and anchoring Jason Smoots), 37.78 (leading Davis Patton and anchoring Leroy Dixon) and 37.45 (leading Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers)!

 

Anchor (A) Justin Gatlin – 9.85 / 19.86

What’s a relay without a bit of controversy? I’m sure many are scratching their heads over this selection, but here’s why I make this choice. The questions, accusations, issues dealing with his ban aside, he’s done his time and is back in the sport. In what has amounted to about a month’s worth of competition after a four year layoff Gatlin’s at 10.09. Given his current rate of progression, I’m not going to say that we will see him running 9.7 next year, but he should be somewhere under 10.00. Like Wallace Spearmon he’s never been a great starter, instead his strength has always been his top end speed once he’s gotten up and running. And what I’m looking for in an anchor is someone that can Close the Deal – and Gatlin has the experience to do just that! He’s been twice a double NCAA sprint champion, the 2004 Olympic 100 meter champion, and ‘05 double World Sprint Champion – all done well before the positive test in ‘06. IF Gatlin is anywhere under 10.00, I want him bringing the stick home because we should have a lead and he won’t be caught – stronger and faster on the fly than either Smoots, Dixon or Rodgers on any given day!

 

Anchor (B) Ryan Bailey – 9.88 / 20.10

One should always have a plan “B”, and knowing that Gatlin may not be available – for any number of potential reasons from he doesn’t get any faster to the “political”– we could still be in need an anchor. The requirements would still be the same – I need someone that has great top end speed, and strength. Ryan Bailey fits that bill. Not because of his 100 time – his two best times were set in magical Rieti – but because of his closing speed. He’s dropped his 200 time near 20 seconds and he’s run close to Nesta Carter when they’ve raced this year – closing strongly on him each time. He’s big, strong and competitive. And frankly, should he improve next year the way he has this year, and stay healthy, he could end up being my #1 choice to anchor. Gatlin has him on experience and competitive history at the moment, but Bailey has the most “upside”.

 

So that’s my squad. I think the rest of the world would have to try and match up with us if we ran this team, and I’m not sure they can. Not talking about on the clock, because we can be matched up with on the clock. The competition can put a potentially “faster” team on the track based on individual 100 meter times. But on ability and skill sets, if the members of this team bring their egos to the track and each man OWNS his leg, this team can’t be beaten.

The interior duo of Spearmon and Gay is a proven winner. Together they won a World title against a Jamaican squad that had both Bolt and Powell – with Darvis Patton and Leroy Dixon on lead and anchor, and ran 37.45 with Trell Kimmons and Mike Rodgers! They are the engine that runs the US 4x1, and are as lethal a pairing as Dennis Mitchell to Carl Lewis or Jon Drummond to Andre Cason. Walter Dix is a major upgrade on lead off. He has the ability to match the likes of Jon Drummond and Michael Marsh at this position. If Dix does this, and Spearmon and Gay run to potential, then the job of the anchor man will be to hold the rest of the world at bay, because I don’t see a team out there that can run with this troika for all three legs. And if Gatlin or Bailey are healthy and in form, there is only one man, maybe two, that can run with them on anchor – and none that can catch them.

If this group runs together and gets the stick around the track it’s gold in Daegu. That’s my story and I’m stickin to it!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Continental Cup Review

Croatia's Blanka Vlasic competes in the women's high jump at the IAAF Continental Cup 2010 in Split September 5, 2010. REUTERS/Matko Biljak (CROATIA - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

After watching the Continental Cup this weekend, I am more convinced than ever that it’s time to move on with something else. Watching the meet the stands were very sparsely populated, and the sport had to have lost money on the event if attendance is any indication. Probably because it’s just difficult for paying patrons to get behind what is supposed to be a championship level event that is missing so many championship level athletes. And while I love the idea of bringing more of a team aspect to the sport, continental teams are just too broad for most people to truly feel connected with. Especially when the teams are so heavily limited by how many individuals from a country can participate.

I’m also curious how the IAAF planned on promoting the to the world when they provided an audio feed but no video feed for the event? Audio feeds may have been state of the art in say the 1990’s, but this is the year 2010 and an audio only feed was almost an insult. And given that there are ways to find video feeds on the internet, it would have made more sense to the IAAF to simply provide one and bring the audience in. Just another step in the wrong direction for a sport that continues to do that with far too much regularity.

Performance wise the competition was good, but not great. Mostly, in my opinion, because that four team, one athlete per nation, concept really hindered the depth of the fields. Of course there are some athletes in this sport that just show up and perform no matter the occasion. Which gave us some highlights in spite of the set up of the meet itself. One of those was Blanka Vlasic who got to compete at home and put on a show for her hometown fans. Blanka won the competition (of course) and set a new PR 2.05m (6’ 8.75”) in the process. She gave the crowd a thrill by going for a WR 2.10 (6’ 10.75”), but unfortunately in spite of all the love in the stands she was unable to conquer that height.

Jeremy Wariner continued to show that he is once again the man to beat in the 400 meters as he won the event in 44.22 – his second fastest time of the year. Wariner is positioned nicely heading into 2011 with the world once again chasing after him. Similar to David Oliver who continued his unbeaten streak with a 13.11 (-1.1) that left plenty of daylight between he and the field. Oliver has had no peers this year, running fast and winning with plenty of room to spare. I hope that next season brings good health to Dayron Robles, Liu Xiang and Terrence Trammell so that he can get that push that will put him over the WR hump.

Something that David Rudisha was able to do twice already this season. And the ease with which he handled the field in Split – running 1:43.32 in cruise control – says that given good health there is much more in store from the man that may be the most dominating athlete on the planet right now. Christian Cantwell was back on the winning track with a huge 21.87m (71’ 9”) toss. While not as dominant as Rudisha, Bernard Lagat demonstrated that there might not be anyone as adept at handling a slow pace as he is, as  Lagat twice took “tactical” paces and turned them into a double victory over 3000 and 5000 meters. Wallace Spearmon gave notice that he is healthy and ready to compete over half a lap as he romped to a half second win with another sub 20 second run – 19.95. And Christophe Lemaitre showed that he is indeed a strong competitor with a win here to go with his European title.

But even with a very close women’s 100 meter hurdles race (won by up and coming Sally Pearson) and two very closely contested 4x4 relays to close out the meet, there was a lack of overall excitement. There are four years until the next scheduled meet, and hopefully the sport can figure out what to do to create a more exciting meet in what is currently the “off season” of the sport.

 

 

Friday, September 3, 2010

World Cup, Continental Cup, How About Another Worlds?

This weekend will see the first rendition of the “Continental Cup”, which is simply a reworked version of the “World Cup”. At the time of it’s inception in 1977, the World Cup was a welcome sight on the track and field scene. After all, we only had one real championship of any kind on a global level – that being the quadrennial Olympic Games. And with only one championships every four years, the track and field community was starving for something that could be called a “Championship”. So the World Cup was the first institution to fill that void.

At the time the concept/format made sense. There were basically two super powers in the sport – the United States, the Soviet Union – with East Germany and West Germany dominating everyone else. So taking these as individual teams and combining the rest of the world into continental units made for a fairly well balanced competition. And with the Cold War still at it’s peak, the tensions between “East and West” were brought to sport – which meant that anything that had the word “Championship” attached to it was taken very seriously! As a result the first set of meets were well attended by all of the world’s top athletes and hotly contested.

But then the sport added another “Olympics” type competition – the World Championships. Because it followed a true championships format with more competitors, rounds, etc, the World Championships immediately became “THE” track and field championships not called the Olympic Games – relegating the World Cup to the meet in between. But as the World Championships grew in stature, and another was added every other year – creating the current three championships cycle every four years – the World Cup has almost become an afterthought. By the end of the ‘90s most of the world’s elite athlete’s began to skip the meet altogether or in some cases just run on relay squads.

That has lead to the retooled meet that will take place this weekend – a grouping of four continental squads that will be a combination of primarily second tier athletes mixed with a handful of top shelf athletes. With the meet having to adjust in this fashion, it tells me that the concept has run its course and what the sport really needs is to fill that “off season” with another World Championships so that the sport has yearly champions like every other major sport. Especially when I see that the sport will be spending $3 million in prize money on this meet – money that would be better spent on a real championships that would gain the sport more exposure and notoriety.

At this point in it’s development, what the sport needs is as much exposure as it can get. And right now that’s not happening in the “off seasons”. While I appreciate the attempt made by the Diamond League to do that, it just didn’t come through on several levels (I’ll be discussing my evaluation of the Diamond League next week). This sport can ill afford to throw away an entire season every four years. We need the excitement that a Championship meets brings to the table – because it’s the one and only thing that seems to be able to get all of our top athletes to the track!

The Continental Cup will take place this weekend, and I will be following every event. But for all but us true die hard fans of the sport the competition will be meaningless as the first weekend of College Football will take center stage. Without any champions being crowned, the most that we can hope for is the always iffy setting of a World Record to show for the $3 million plus that will be spent on this weekend’s competition. Not a very strong return on the dollar – and definitely not on the Euro. So rather than restructuring this meet we should be looking at adding that third World’s in the four year cycle. As well at looking at how we can make some changes to make that meet better. Because that’s really what the sport needs if we want more visibility and recognition within the sporting community.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

How Do the Current Sprinters Rank

STOCKHOLM, SWEDEN - AUGUST 06: Tyson Gay (l) of USA wins the men's 100m from Usain Bolt (c) and Richard Thompson (r) of Trinidad during the IAAF Diamond League meeting at the Olympic Stadium on August 6, 2010 in Stockholm, Sweden. (Photo by Michael Steele/Getty Images)

As is typical, there has been a lot of action in the men’s 100 meters this off season. Lots of PR’s and, with the exception of history’s three fastest on the clock, quite a few head to heads. The big race for many being this year’s Rieti meet where nearly everyone set a PR or seasonal best. So heading into the next trifecta of Major championships, just where do the sprinters sit with respect to each other? Well, as with the short relay, talk is already heating up regarding this topic, so I thought I would take my own shot at “ranking” the world’s current crop of sprinters. Plus, it will be somewhat of a precursor for my decisions on who I think should be on the US 4x1 when I post that within the week. So following is my “grouping” of the 100 meter guys, along with my rationale for how they were placed.

I will say before I get started that my groupings have less to do with “times” than with competitive ability. Because at the end of the day, once they step on the track, there will be human beings in the blocks – not a set of times. And far too often, its the competitive nature of the athletes that shines through – which is why the unexpected always happens in a Major. So, first my groupings:

1st Tier U. Bolt, T. Gay
2nd Tier A. Powell, W. Dix, R. Thompson, N. Carter
3rd Tier Y. Blake, R. Bailey, C. Lemaitre, T. Kimmons, M. Frater, J. Gatlin
4th Tier C. Martina, D. Patton, I. Williams, M. Forsythe, R. Edwards, M. Rodgers, D. Bailey. T. Padgett

I’m sure they are not quite what most would have expected so let me explain. My first tier consists of those athletes that I feel – and history says – are competing to become champion. Everything about Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay says this is the case. Both have won championships (Bolt 2, Gay 1). And both have dominated everyone else in the world as Gay’s only conqueror in a major (aside from injury) has been Bolt, Gay taking silver in Berlin. I’ve heard, and read, that Bolt is in a class of his own, but the numbers don’t back that up. Both he and Gay have run sub 9.80 legally six times each, and if you toss out each man’s PR as an outlier they sit at 9.69 and 9.71 – virtually even (and “basic times” are speculative and for conversation purposes only). Toss in their head to head record – 2 to 1 favor of Bolt, with Gay’s victory the most recent – and they are indeed peers. The only other sprinter that might make an argument for being in this tier is Asafa Powell. The argument for Powell is that he has run sub 9.80 seven times – one more than both Bolt and Gay – and under sub 10 on more than 60 occasions. But in the last 3 years he has only 1 victory over each man, and in his last four Majors has only come up with two 3rds and two 5ths. Which in my book, places him in the next tier.

The 2nd tier is where I have placed those athletes that should be battling for the podium and a medal. Powell heads this group as he has been on the podium twice and has the best set of marks in the group. Dix and Thompson have also been on the podium – both finishing ahead of Powell in Beijing. Dix also has a solid set of marks this year and wins over most of the other sprinters in the matrix. Thompson’s times have been lacking of late, but he has wins over the 3rd tier sprinters and a pair of windy sub 10’s to his credit this year. Carter fits here because he has pretty much dominated everyone except Bolt, Gay, and Powell, and is this year’s rising star in the event – similar to where Tyson Gay sat in 2006, the last off season.

The 3rd tier is the tier where the most movement is taking place – and I would expect to see the most movement from this group next year as well. Most of this group is trying to get into medal contention. That would be Yohan Blake, Ryan Bailey, Christophe Lemaitre and Trell Kimmons. All have made improvements on the clock, but need to become more consistent, and need to take some scalps of the men ahead of them. They are close, but not quite there yet. And Blake, Kimmons and Bailey will have the added pressure of a Trials process that could leave them off the team and out of Worlds altogether. At the other end of the spectrum is Michael Frater. Once in a contending position, he finds himself headed in the other direction and trying to hold on to medal hopes. If next year is like this year, he will find himself in the 4th tier instead of the 2nd tier – 2011 will be a big season for him. And quite fittingly, I’ve included Justin Gatlin in this tier. Why? Because he’s done his time, has come back, and through his handful of competitions so far is down to 10.09 and within the top 10 in the US. Just like the others in this tier he is trying to get into a podium position. And like Blake, Kimmons, Bailey and Frater, will have to get past a brutal Trials system to get there. But like most in this tier, he has shown serious improvement and has taken his share of scalps in limited opportunity.

The 4th tier consists of those individuals that right now are just fighting for a chance to compete at a higher level – and most actually seem to be regressing this season. We’ve not seen Darvis Patton at all, as he announced mid season that he was taking the year off to heal injuries. Ivory Williams started off hot but has been MIA most of the year. Churandy Martina, Travis Padgett and Daniel Bailey looked like world beaters in 2008 but are just getting beaten in 2010. Mike Rodgers looked like he had arrived last year, but has been lost back in the pack this season. Rae Edwards just can’t seem to get past this tier. And Mario Forsythe is a “who is he” outside of Rieti – where everyone became a star for their 15 minutes of fame. This group has potential, but in the quickly evolving world of the men’s 100 meters you go big or you go home – and this group will be staying at home unless they come up big – quick, fast, and in a hurry.

I nearly added a 5th tier for those athletes not quite on the radar, but moving up quickly. That would’ve taken in athletes like Jeff Demps, Marcus Rowland, J-Mee Samuels, Martial Mbandjock, and Rondell Sorrillo. But that’s more of a Chrystal ball type post and I just wanted to deal with the known quantities for right now. Although one of the things about this sport that is most fun is the fact that you KNOW someone unexpected is going to arrive next year. That’s the nature of the sport – once one season closes you have to get ready for the next, because it will be a NEW season. You can’t mail it in, you have to go out and compete – which is why times become such a moot point.

So, that’s how I see the 100 as of today. We’ll see what it looks like in the Spring.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Relay Chat in the Aftermath of the Zurich 37.45

Michael Rodgers of the U.S. celebrates after crossing the finish line to win the men's 4x100m relay event at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich August 19, 2010.      REUTERS/Ruben Sprich (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

Ahh the discussion about relays. Doesn’t matter who is in the race, relays always elicit a lot of conversation. Which is why they should be on meet schedules far more often than they are! Take the recent Weltklasse meet in Zurich. The US team in the race came away with a 37.45 – the 5th fastest time ever and #2 time for an American squad.

Since then message board speculators have gone nuts – because, according to general message board logic, the assumption is that if that squad could run 37.45 then Jamaica has to be able to run much faster! So with each passing race and PR by an athlete the predictions keep getting faster and faster. And of course, according to message board logic, the team with the fastest set of 100 meter PR’s is the automatic winner with a blazing new WR – last I saw somewhere around 36.50 – in the offing.

Of course if it were that easy the US should have won in Beijing given that we sported a 9.7, two 9.8’s and a 9.9. And they should have been chasing a WR around 36.80 set by the US foursome from Athens that sported the same 9.7, two 9.8’s and a 9.9! Alas it isn’t quite that easy, and so the team in Beijing never made it to the starting line in the final because the baton never made it across the finish line in the semi. And while the Athens team did cross the finish line, they did so in 38.08, missing gold by .01 and slower than the first team to run 38.0x – a US WR squad in 1977 with PR’s of 10.23, 10.05, 10.26 & 10.07! None of those numbers make sense!

Well they don’t based on general message board logic, but they do in the real world of 4x1 relay running. That’s why a French team was able to run a WR 37.79 way back in 1990 – without a single sub 10 second sprinter – Nigeria clocked 37.98 in ‘92, Britain 37.77 in ‘93 and Canada ran 37.69 in ‘96. Because, you see, when discussing the 4x1 it’s really NOT about 100 meter PR’s at all. But then again, the only thing that the 100 meters and the 4x1 really have in common is the number one hundred.

Let me explain. You see, the 100 meters is a sprint that starts in the blocks and goes 100 meters down the straightaway. On the other hand the 4x1 has: one block start, two turns, three exchanges, and four sprinters. Oh yeah, the one block start is not run down a straight but is run around one of those turns – so in essence not one single leg in the relay translates directly the 100 meter dash! So simply adding up 100 meter PR’s can be risky business – just as simply running the first four men that cross the finish line in a championships 100 as your team can be risky business.

If you don’t believe me, just ask the hordes of track aficionados that will tell you that the US and not Canada would have won that Atlanta 4x1 if Carl Lewis had been allowed to run on the team – in spite of the fact that he did not finish in the top four at the Trials. Or those that will tell you that the death nell for that 2004 Athens team was the placement of Coby Miller on that squad even though he did finish in the top four at the Trials. That’s because the 4x1 is less about “times” and more about “skill sets” and blending these skill sets into a cohesive unit/team.

Of these skill sets, the ability to move the baton is the most crucial – I know because I’ve watched the US fail to do so far too often. Lead leg must be able to pass the baton, the anchor leg much be able to receive it. The two interior legs must be able to both pass and receive – they should be the most skilled members of the squad. The ability to start well out of the blocks is important only for the lead off runner, as the others will be running from a standing start. For all closing speed is critical, because unlike the 100 meters where you just have to make it to the finish line, in the relay you may find yourself having to chase your partner as he (or she) is just getting going – the fast starter who fades late race in the 100 may fail you here. Your lead and third legs must be excellent on the bend, and your second and anchor legs need great top end speed in the stretch.

Of course you need speed – that goes without saying – but long jumpers, hurdlers, and 200 and 400 meter sprinters make great relay runners, not just the 100 meter men/women. And what one might think would be the “obvious” leg for someone may not be their best spot at all. For example, one might have thought that the best leg for WR holder Calvin Smith would have been the anchor leg – because message board logic says fastest man anchors. But strong closer Carl Lewis was the anchor man long before he got close to the WR. Smith was also an excellent turn runner though. So great speed and turn puts him on lead off right? Wrong. Because Smith was a horrible starter. No, Calvin’s best leg was third where he gave other countries nightmares for years! Similar situation for Dennis Mitchell. Mitchell was an outstanding starter, and a great turn runner, yet he too was better running that third leg!

Who WAS a great lead off runner? Well, the best I’ve ever seen were Larry Black on the WR setting 1972 Olympic squad, Michael Marsh from the WR setting 1992 Olympic squad, and Jon Drummond who led off the 1993 WR unit. Coincidently, or perhaps not so, all three were also outstanding 200 meter men! You need pure speed down the backstretch, and since there are no blocks it doesn’t matter if you’re a great 100 sprinter or not – just that you can close well over the distance. That’s why some of the best have been men like Steve Riddick, Ron Brown, Leroy Burrell, and Bernard Williams. And of course you want a closer at the end – either someone that can bail you out if you’re behind, or a guy that can hold off that closing rush if you’re ahead – Bob Hayes, Steve Williams and Carl Lewis come to mind.

So, with all that said, can the current WR be broken? Absolutely – I’ve felt the record was soft for quite some time. But it won’t be easy, and it won’t happen by adding PR’s. As a matter of fact, if the team is assembled properly PR’s will be irrelevant because the fastest team on paper WON’T win. Yep, that’s my story and I’m stickin to it! I believe the US has the personnel to both win gold in Daegu and set a WR in the process. But it will take some work – there must be practice in order to get the timing of passing the baton right. And we don’t need to wait until the Trials to pick a team – I already have one in mind. I will divulge my squad later this week.