Thursday, October 28, 2010

US Athletes of the Year for 2010

ZURICH, Aug. 20, 2010 David Oliver (C) of the United States celebrates after the men's 110m hurdles final at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting in Zurich, Switzerland, Aug. 19, 2010. Oliver clocked 12.93 seconds to win the title. (Xinhua/Yu Yang.

Having named the World Athletes of the Year, next on the list are the US versions. And as with the global AOY’s the choice for the men is fairly easy while that for the women is a little closer to call.

For the men, it’s as easy as selecting the runner up choice for the Men’s World Athlete of the Year – David Oliver. Oliver was neck and neck in the selection for World Male AOY until a pair of World Records tipped the scales in Rudisha’s favor. Otherwise Oliver may have been the World Male AOY such was Oliver’s season.

David Oliver was as dominating in the 110 hurdles as any athlete has been in any event in quite some time. For starters, he was undefeated. But more importantly, the quality of his performances was outstanding as Oliver was responsible for 12 of the top 20 performances on the season – 5 of them under the magical 13.00 barrier. Oliver set two American Records in 2010 – a tie in Eugene (12.90) and the first sub12.90 by an American in Paris (12.89). Add a margin of victory that was consistently well over .10sec and the only thing that Oliver didn’t do during his campaign is break the WR.


David Oliver’s Top 10 Performances in 2010

Time Location Date

Winning Margin

12.89 Paris Jul 16 .23
12.90 Eugene Jul 3 .26
12.93 Des Moines Jun 27 .24
12.93 Zurich Aug 19 .32
12.99 Shanghai May 23 .30
13.01 Monaco Jul 22 .12
13.01 Rieti Aug 29 .25
13.06 London Aug 14 .16
13.11 Daegu May 15 .15
13.11 Split Sep 5 .37
13.11 Annecy Sep 11 .54

Nearly as dominating was my runner up shot putter Christian Cantwell. Cantwell lead the world at 22.41 / 73’ 6.25”; had 11 meets over 71 feet, and was victorious in 16 of 18 outdoor competitions. Extremely solid credentials. Unfortunately for Christian Oliver simply never faltered or had a down moment.

On the women’s side things were much tighter, as I found three women to be worthy of the title – Allyson Felix, Chaunte Howard Lowe, and Kara Patterson.

Allyson Felix had a single loss on the season while winning Diamond League titles in both the 200 and 400 meters. Chaunte Howard Lowe set a new AR in the high jump while going toe to toe all season with Blanka Vlasic – and gave her fits. While Kara Patterson also set an AR in the javelin and went toe to toe all summer with Barboa Spotakova.

In the final evaluation, Felix dominated the competition, but both her competition and her marks over most of the season were a bit less than stellar. Patterson was a step above as she set new standards for American javelin throwers with 9 meets over 200 feet including her AR of 66.67 / 218’ 8” – the best season ever for an American javelin thrower. But just as Patterson’s season was a step above Felix’, Chaunte Howard Lowe’s season was a nudge above Patterson’s.

In 16 outdoor competitions, Howard Lowe finished no less than 2nd in all but 2 of them. In 9 of them she cleared 2.00 / 6’ 6.75” or better. Four times she took World AOY to a count back on misses before surrendering victory. And twice she claimed victory over the World AOY! Did I mention she set an AR 2.05 / 6’ 8.75”. So in a year were several American women stepped up on the world stage it is my opinion that Chaunte Howard Lowe was indeed the best of them all.


Chaunte Lowe’s Top 10 Performances in 2010

Mark Location Date
2.05 / 6’ 8.75” Des Moines Jun 26
2.04 / 6’ 8.25” Cottbus May 30
2.03 / 6’ 8” Rome Jun 10
2.01 / 6’ 7” Oslo Jun 4
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” Kingston May 1
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” Madrid Jul 2
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” Barcelona Jul 9
2.00 / 6’ 6,75” Paris Jul 16
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” Stockholm Aug 6
1.98 / 6’ 6” Doha May14


Congratulations to all of this year’s top performers. I’m looking forward to much more from all of them in 2011.

Jun 26, 2010; Des Moines, IA, USA; Chaunte Howard celebrates after setting an American record of 6-8 3/4 (2.05m) in the women's high jump in the USA Track & Field Championships at Drake Stadium. Photo by Image of Sport Photo via Newscom

Monday, October 25, 2010

Anti Doping – “But Dad They Stay Out Past Midnight at Billy’s House”

Canadian sprinter Ben Johnson on the winners podium with his gold medal after winning the 100 Metres event at Seoul Olympic Stadium during the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea, 24th September 1988. On the left is bronze medal winner Linford Christie of Great Britain. Johnson won the event in a world record time of 9.79 seconds, but was disqualified for doping, with Carl Lewis of the USA, taking the title. (Photo by Tony Duffy/Getty Images)

As parents attempt to raise their children, they figure out at some point that a key to affecting their behavior is consistency. You have to deliver a clear message that is supported by consistent delivery of the message and consistent punishment that fits the transgression. The rules and punishments must be the same for all your children. And there can be no preferential treatment or you will lose credibility. If you can do these things you have a good shot at creating the type of behavior that you are trying to achieve from your children.

As parents strive to create this environment for their children there is always the issue that as they try to establish rules and consistency for their children, their kids in turn will come across friends with more “lenient” parents. As most children are influenced by their peers, they soon come home and say things like, “Jenny can stay out til 2am , why can’t I?”.  Or even worse, “Billy gets to decide his own punishment, why can’t I?”. Because now your rules are in question and soon you find yourself defending why your rules are “better” for your children. Even worse you find your children doing everything they can to get around the rules and sometimes flat out breaking them.

As some kids are allowed to bend the rules, one or two lenient parents lead to a neighborhood where soon everyone is staying out after midnight! Because lack of enforcement of the rules leads to mass breaking of them.

As I have watched the anti doping news roll in over the last several seasons, it’s hit me that suddenly a lot more “kids” (athletes) have been staying out after midnight  (doping) as some parents (anti doping agencies) have caved in to pressure to let “kids be kids”, as sport imitates life!

I make this comparison, because drug use among track and field athletes seems to be taking on the appearance of teen behavior within a neighborhood, as the IAAF and federations ease the rules for some and send a message of potential leniency throughout the neighborhood.

Young people never like to hear the phrase, “when I was a kid”, because in their opinion things were “different” way back then. But I’m going to invoke a similar phrase , “back in the day” to establish my comparisons with raising kids and trying to eradicate the drug problem in this sport. Because “back in the day” this sport had a fairly strong no tolerance policy when doping first emerged it’s ugly head publically.

I remember the first “major” athlete to be suspended when recent WR setter Ben Plucknett was found guilty of a doping offence back in 1981 – just weeks after setting a pair of WR’s in the discus. Ben’s punishment? A lifetime ban by the IAAF. Harsh? Yes. But those of us old enough to remember what a “whoopin” was and vice principals using “paddles” in schools will tell you that children were much better behaved when they knew that severe punishment awaited negative actions!

As a result we went through the 80’s with few suspensions. Until 1988. The Olympics. Seoul South Korea. Ben Johnson. Three days after winning gold in the 100 meters Ben’s face was plastered all over every major publication in the world as a drug cheat. He was given a lifetime ban. Canada held the Dubin Inquiry.  Athlete and coach (Charlie Francis) were banned from Canadian athletics and both became pariahs of the sport – and the sporting world in general – and the face of “Cheating” world wide. (note: Ben was allowed back after four years, was subsequently found doping again and quickly removed and life was reinstituted)

From that point forward for well over a decade the only “doping” that was heard about on a major basis was the systematic doping from the Eastern Bloc that was exposed after the fall of the Berlin Wall and that of “tainted supplements” that became exposed in the 90’s. Evidently the fear of lifetime banishment had its rewards and we seemed to be close to even in the war against drugs.

Then two things happened during the “oughts”. First was BALCO, where we discovered that while we were holding our own against “known” drugs, we had fallen behind with respect to “designer” drugs. But the response was different than in the past. This time the IAAF allowed USADA (the US Anti Doping Agency) to decide the punishment and it handed out two year suspensions. Now for most involved it was akin to “life” as nearly all dropped out of the sport. But it established three bad precedents IMHO.

  1. It began to fracture the decision making process for dispensing punishment
  2. In so doing it began to allow “favoritism” to affect doping sanctions because, let’s face it, when it’s your own you look for all kinds of reasons why what was done was really not that bad
  3. The result of one and two was the minimization of the greatest deterrent to doping that the sport ever had – the life time ban

The sum total of the above actions in mid decade lead to what I consider the decade’s second major occurrence – the relaxing of anti doping rules for some as a means of equalizing past discretions by others – ie we’ve been screwed by others who were doping so now it’s our turn.

Beginning with Ben Johnson during the Dubin Inquiry, one of the prevalent reasons given for doping is “everyone else is doing it” (they’re staying out past midnight at Billy’s house)! The big deterrent to other athletes doping (staying out past midnight) was the punishment for getting caught. Hence the occurrences of major athletes being caught doping had become rather rare. The advent of designer drugs made the chances of getting caught much slimmer. The relaxing of the punishment has made it less of a gamble to attempt to usurp the rules.

Unfortunately for the sport, relaxing the rules/punishment wasn’t just being attempted by the athletes and federations, but was also openly done by the IAAF itself – opening the door for others to attempt to “stay out past curfew”. As the IAAF first started accepting the recommendations of the local Anti Doping Agencies for punishment (as it did with USADA and the BALCO crew), then started allowing countries delay in getting their Anti Doping Agencies up and running all together as it did with Jamaica in 2008. As Jamaica not only didn’t have an Anti Doping Agency in place as per the deadline it had been given by the IAAF, but it was allowed to go without  joining the Regional Anti Doping Agency as well! A series of bad precedents that was set by the sport.

To add to the problem the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) saw fit to defend Jamaica’s lack of adherence to the rules as well as the poorly established Anti Doping Agency once it did get underway – including poor testing procedures, a bad board of directors accused of showing favoritism; and the lack of an adequate testing facility within the country. Even as Shelly Ann Fraser became the eighth Jamaican athlete to run afoul of anti doping rules within a year! Indicating that the lax adherence to the rules, as well as weakened punishment, may be leading to an increase in doping in the sport. As the risk of detection and punishment are both reduced.

For substantiation look no further than the number of drug suspensions the sport has had in the two years since Beijing, as the IAAF’s records show that no less than 120 athletes have been suspended during that time frame – up through the suspension of Lashawn Merritt this past week! Of that number 95 (or 81%) were given bans of 2 years. Only two were given life time bans, with three given four years, and another  three given eight years.

Of the120 the United States (the nation most talked about in doping circles for the past decade due to BALCO) accounted for 6 suspensions. Of those 4 athletes received two years, one received 3 months (for pot), and one twenty one months (Merritt’s two years with three months off for “cooperating”). A relatively small number when on considers that the US seemingly was leading the world in suspensions the last decade.

By comparison, the nation that suddenly seems to be on the fast track to drug suspensions is Nigeria. And of the 120 suspensions in the last two years twelve were Nigerians. Another small country like Jamaica with poor anti doping oversight. And it’s shown, especially in the last year. Nigeria has taken notice, however, and is coming hard with the suspensions as 11 of the 12 were given two year suspensions, with the remaining athlete receiving a three year suspension. They may be staying out late at Billy’s house, but Mother Nigeria seems intent on putting a stop to the shenanigans!

So how has Jamaica done given the defense of it’s system by the IAAF and WADA? Well, as previously mentioned they have had eight athletes suspended since Beijing – all within a 12 month period. How has the punishment been? Well 2 have received two year bans. One received a six month ban and 5 received 3 month bans – giving Jamaica the only 3 month bans in the sport that were not pot related. As the Jamaican Anti Doping Agency – already well criticized – seems to have the goal of getting athletes back on the track as quickly as possible as opposed to sending a clear message that doping will not be tolerated.

Of course, when your parents allow you to stay out after curfew, why come home early? So it’s hard to blame Jamaica for recommending slight punishment when their recommendations are being accepted. Even when athletes with similar transgressions are being given two year bans.

For example. Last year we had Lansford Spence (JAM), Marvin Anderson (JAM), Yohan Blake (JAM), Allodin Fothergill (JAM), and Sheri Ann Brooks (JAM) all test positive for the banned substance 4-Methyl-2-Hexanamine. The argument given was that the drug did NOT enhance their performance, nor did they attempt to cheat as the substance was found in another item. Hence their 3 month bans.

Yet athletes from Torri Edwards (nikethamide), to Justin Gatlin (Adderall) to Lashawn Merritt (DEHA) tested positive for substances found within other items that provided the athletes with no assistance and it was determined they were not ingested with intent to “cheat” but all received two year bans for their transgressions. The difference being (IMHO) that USADA already facing negative publicity came down hard to show it is taking a harsh stance against doping. An inequity that costs the athletes dearly however. Consider that both Shelly Ann Fraser and Lashawn Merritt ingested substances that did NOT aid their performances, yet six months means that Fraser will be allowed to compete anywhere she wants, but Merritt faces blackballing from promoters as a “cheat” and may not be able to compete in London whether he makes the team or not!

As the head of the track and field “family” the IAAF must a) ensure that ALL athletes are treated fairly and equitably, and b) get back to utilizing the tool of punishment as a deterrent to increased doping.

The solution here is that the sport must take back control of Anti Doping Programs. No single nation, or plurality of countries, should be allowed to skirt the rules – just as a family must administer punishment to siblings equally and fairly. While local and regional Anti Doping Agencies should be in place and function to ensure that anti doping procedures are being carried out – sample taking, out of competition testing, etc. All samples should be sent to centralized testing centers, and tested under the direction of WADA. Correspondingly suspensions should be dispensed solely by WADA – as the inmates should not be running the asylum!

The IAAF has erred in allowing the sports Anti Doping Program to be circumvented, and even more so in it’s complicity and defense of the rules being “bent”. If the sport is serious about stopping drugs it must get back to pre New Millennium administration of its policies. Life time bans must be back in vogue with two years be a minimum ban only in cases of extenuating circumstances. Reality is that Drug Treatment programs last longer than three and six months. And the message that needs to be sent out in track and field is that if you stay out past curfew (dope) you will be severely grounded. Whether you are a star in the sport or someone that no one knows.

The sport has survived the Eastern Bloc, Ben Johnson and Marion Jones. What it will NOT survive is a “jailbreak” on adherence to the rules or the appearance of impropriety/ favoritism in administering them. As much as no one can stand a cheat, the public is unforgiving when cheating appears to come from the top. As negative as any drug news is for track and field, its better to be perceived as doing something about as opposed to aiding and abetting.

It’s time for track and field to clamp back down on it’s “curfew” and get all of it’s children back in before midnight. Too many stragglers could damage credibility.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Female Athlete of the Year – Sustained Excellence

Aug. 02, 2010 - 06261615 date 01 08 2010 Copyright imago GEPA Pictures Athletics EAA euro 2010 Barcelona Spain 01 Aug 10 Divers Athletics EAA European Championships 2010 High jump the women Picture shows the cheering from Blanka Vlasic CRO Keywords Flag PUBLICATIONxNOTxINxAUTxITA euro Single cheering happiness Vdig xub 2010 horizontal premiumd.

Today I pick up my end of the year reviews with my choice for this year’s Female Athlete of the Year.

The competition for the title was a bit different than it was on the men’s side. While the men had two athletes that had record setting, all time list altering, undefeated seasons, there were several women that had outstanding seasons, marked by a hiccup or two. More than that, however, trying to determine an AOY on the women’s side made me examine how we evaluate athletes in track and field.

In general we simply look at wins and losses as the method of evaluation in this sport. But as I began to examine the records of the top women this year I realized that simply not losing races or competitions does not make your season “outstanding”.

For example. Allyson Felix took an opening season loss to Veronica Campbell Brown in the deuce then ran the table in both the 200 and 400. One loss short of an undefeated season. However, upon further review, her performances over 200 meters were sub par – due in large part to a lack of solid competition. Similarly her performances over 400 were good but not great as she never ran faster than 50.00 (50.15) – though she defeated all four women who did. Felix’s best performance of the season came in her losing effort to Veronica Campbell Brown.

Brown in turn lead the world over both 100 (10.78) and 200 (21.98) with outstanding marks, but in minimal competition she suffered two losses to Carmelita Jeter over 100 – by .05 in Daegu and .16 in Monaco. And like Felix her other forays in the 200 were rather pedestrian.

Shot putter Natalya Ostapchuk was the favorite of most throughout the season as she won meet after meet and seemed to be on her way to an undefeated season. Then she too had a stumble as former win everything putter Valerie Adams found her best form to crush Ostapchuk by 2 feet – 20.86/68’ 5.25” to 20.18/66’ 2.5 – putting a damper on an otherwise solid season.

While Ostapchuk had her season’s hiccup in Split, Croatian Blank Vlasic performed her season’s best, winning in front of the home crowd with a 2.05/6’ 8.75” leap that equaled the yearly lead in the event. But Blanka too had her stumbles along the way taking third in Ostrava and second in Barcelona – her loss in Barcelona on misses to Chaunte Howard Lowe at 2.00//6’ 6.75”.

At the end of the day, however, my choice for the Female Athlete of the Year hinged on the same standard as that for the Male Athlete of the Year – Sustained Excellence. And the individual that performed with the highest level of excellence throughout 2010 was – Blanka Vlasic.

Vlasic competed against all of her top competition and lost only twice – once on count back and once with a sub par (for her) performance. But, if we are asking elite athletes to compete against each other regularly, then the occasional let down or defeat is inevitable. And to downgrade them for the occasional loss is asking them not to compete unless the conditions are perfect – the current scenario in the men’s sprints that we all find disappointing.

More important than the losses, was her extraordinary high level of competitiveness. In fourteen outdoor competitions she cleared the bar at 2 meters (6’ 6.75”) or higher – in a season where her event was held only ever other major meet. She was equal world leader at 2.05/6’ 8.75” and held a 5 to 2  edge in head to head competitions against co-world leader and top 2010 rival Chaunte Howard Lowe – who herself had nine meets over 2 meters.

So even though Vlasic had two losses on the season, one more than Felix or Ostapchuk, and equal to Veronica Campbell Brown, her competitive level of excellence was simply much better than everyone else. Blanka’s 2010 Record.






2.05 / 6’ 8.75” 1 Split Sep 5
2.03 / 6’ 8” 1 Rome Jun 10
2.03 / 6’ 8” 1 Barcelona Aug 1
2.02 / 6’ 7.5” 1 Paris Jul 16
2.02 / 6’ 7.5” 1 Stockholm Aug 6
2.02 / 6’ 7.5” 1 Zagreb Sep 1
2.01 / 6’ 7” 1 Oslo Jun 4
2.01 / 6’ 7” 1 London Aug 13
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” 2 Barcelona Jul 9
2.00 / 6’ 6.75” 1 Brussels Aug 27
1.98 / 6’ 6” 1 Doha May 4
1.97 / 6’ 5.5” 1 Kawasaki Sep 19
1.94 / 6’ 4.25 1 Beograd Jun 20
1.92 / 6’ 3.5” 3 Ostrava May 27


My runner up goes to Ostapchuk, who also had an outstanding season, losing only in her final competition of the year. Though performance wise she was a step below Vlasic in my opinion. Honorable mention to Allyson Felix who was able to dominate both the 200 and 400 in 2010. Unfortunately for her, it did not take a series of stellar marks to do so. So though her 400 wins did come against very solid competition, her 200 wins did not. And in determining the most outstanding athlete of the year that cost her a bit.

Congratulations to Vlasic who continues to be one of the most dominant athletes of the New Millennium.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Male Athlete of the Year – David Rudisha

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)

With the 2010 season now officially over in my book with the closing of the Commonwealth Games, I think it’s safe to dole out major accolades for the season. I started earlier with a look at the Top Breakthrough Americans this year and hope to continue with other segments of the sport. But of course the biggie each year, and one that has already started lots of conversation, is the annual selection of Male and Female Athletes of the Year.

So, I think it’s safe to pick up my year end review with my selection of the Male Athlete of the Year.

In an average season it’s fairly easy to pick out an AOY as someone usually steps up early and separates from the pack. This year however, there were several athletes stepping up early, with the name “David” reaching the top of most lists by the start of the summer. That being David Oliver (US) and David Rudisha (KEN).

Both athletes had superb seasons. Each made significant impacts on the all time lists. Both established new national records – no mean feat given the history of both American hurdlers and of Kenyan half milers – and both went undefeated.

For me it was a neck and neck race throughout the summer until August 22nd, because on that day Rudisha ran 1:41.09 to take down Wilson Kipketer’s twelve year old WR (1:41.11) to stake his claim as the best half miler in history. One week later, Rudisha did it again going 1:41.01 for his second WR in the event and with it taking the title of the year’s most outstanding male as two WR’s trump two AR’s in my book.

I’ve seen many conversations on the net asking whether or not Rudisha did enough to warrant being the Athlete of the Year on many message boards. “Did he compete enough?” being the prime question. To that I say – absolutely. Rudisha started the season back on February 27th with a PR 45.00 – making him #48 on the world list this year. Not bad for a half miler who ran the event only once. A nice foreshadowing of what was to come.

He then opened in the 800 a few days later (Mar 4th) with a sizzling 1:43.15, and it was clear that his season was going to be something special. How special? Take a look at his 2010 performance list.





1:41.01 Rieti Aug 29
1:41.09 Berlin Aug 22
1:41.51 Heusden-Zolder Jul 10
1:42.04 Oslo Jun 4
1:42.84 Nairobi Jul 30
1:43.00 Doha May 14
1:43.15 Melbourne Mar 4
1:43.25 Lausanne Jul 8
1:43.37 Split Sep 5
1:43.50 Brussels Aug 27
1:44.03 Ostrava May 27
1:44.23 Nairobi Jun 26

Outstanding running with the top two performances in history, the #5 performance, and the #11 performance. His 1:41.51 was good enough to lead any season in history other than Kipketer’s WR season. His 1:42.04 would have lead all but 5 seasons in history. And only twice did he fail to run below 1:44. In my book Rudisha more than competed enough to go with unquestioned quality.

My Runner Up is just as clear with David Oliver also having a season for the ages. Undefeated. American Records of 12.90 and 12.89 (making him #3 all time), only .02 off the WR, and five meets under 13.00.

The degree of “perfection” was high this year performance wise. You couldn’t falter at all and be in the hunt for Athlete of the Year. Following are a handful of athletes that dominated the competition and had only a hiccup or so along the way, yet were left out of the conversation among the top two. So Honorable Mentions to:

Tyson Gay 100/200/400
Christian Cantwell Shot Put
Koji Murofushi Discus
Andreas Thorkildsen Javelin
Bershawn Jackson 400 Hurdles


As all had outstanding seasons. David Rudisha, however, had a magnificent, all conquering, historical kind of season. Making him my Male Athlete of the Year for 2010.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Track & Field Needs To Establish Technology Standards

As we get settled firmly into the twenty first century, technology has completely redefined how information and media content is distributed across the globe. Delivering, information via audio & visual media to the masses is both easy and instantaneous. And THAT is a good thing for track and field. As it is now possible to deliver track and field to the world with a few simple button clicks – once the proper infrastructure has been set up.

At a time when the sport could use a shot in the arm with respect to marketing, everything needed to do so is right at its fingertips. Websites for individual meets, websites for its stars, streaming video, all this and more is available to market the sport. The key will be how the sport utilizes and manages it. Because, like so much of track and field, everyone is on their own as to what and how they utilize the various tools at their disposal. Some do a good job, others not so good. And there are some facets that the sport is already losing control of – which is why it’s time for track and field to establish Technology Standards.

There are standards for how the sport expects it’s tracks to be constructed. Standards for the equipment that the athletes use to compete, and standard rules for competition. Similarly I think the sport should also develop a set of rules/standards to ensure that technology is utilized in a way that is going to produce favorable marketing for the sport – and that the sport itself is leading the way in developing track and field’s global image.

To that end the IAAF should establish global standards that should be followed throughout the various federations. The federations in turn (USATF for example) should ensure that these standards are utilized by athletes, clubs, meet promoters, agents and anyone else involved in promoting the various aspects of the sport.

What do I have in mind when I talk about Technology Standards? Well, for example:


Web Site Standards

Almost everyone involved in the sport has a web site. The most important of these, in my opinion, are those for our meets. Everything from relay competitions (Mt SAC, Penn) to domestic meets (Carson, Rieti, Ostrava) to National Championships, Diamond League competitions (Zurich, Oslo) and global Majors (Olympics, Worlds). A great web site can be the face of the event and present it to the world. Likewise a poorly set up web site can be difficult to navigate; slow to provide adequate information; and produce almost no information flow for the user. The same can be said for federation web sites where many are difficult to navigate and information is either non existent or hard to find.

The IAAF should put together a Technology Committee to develop standards for setting up web sites as well as a Technology Crew to provide technical assistance to help get proper sites established. Among the key elements should be historical and biographical information on key athletes. Historical information on major competitions and a results section for all meet sites that should produce instant and coherent results including photo finish photos. 


Video Streaming Standards

Perhaps the most important aspect of modern technology and sport is the ability to video stream content around the globe. Now you can get your “product” in front of a market that includes everyone on every continent on earth within reach of a computer and the internet! The single greatest marketing opportunity ever available and its being utilized by most major sports – but is an opportunity that is currently being wasted by track and field.

Any elite level competition that provides televised coverage of any kind should also be streamed to the global track and field community (and by default anyone else that cares to tune in)! Television is what helped create the mass appeal of professional sports like the NFL, NBA and MLB, and it will be video streaming that will do the same for track and field. And just as television was “free” in its early stages, so should video streaming be free in the early stages of attempting to build up track and field’s audience.

Track and field can make its money off of television rights, secure a sponsor or sponsors to underwrite the streaming, and provide the streaming for free. In this manner track and field can control the quality and delivery of the product. Face it, if you’re ingenious enough you can watch most meets for free on the internet anyway (sorry Universal Sports). And to wage war against those providing “free” content (via “sharing” etc) only presents a negative aspect to the sport that is not needed. Look no further than NBC waging war against video streams of the Beijing Olympics – prohibiting streaming of events then not even providing a fraction of the missing content in return via television!

What the sport should do is control the streaming of meets to ensure quality of delivery as well as ensure that content isn’t being withheld. Streaming should become a part of television contracts, and advertising can be used with the online streams – as with “free” TV”. Because as the sport grows, streaming revenue will become a greater commodity – and the sport should be at the head of the line getting paid first.


Online Archives

Part of controlling the video streams is that it would also enable track and field to be in control of archiving the sport. When you take a look at You Tube and the track and field videos that are there, it’s nothing more than a means of archiving the sport. Archives that are obviously in demand! But archives that are often not of the best quality. I would think that the IAAF, USATF, other federations and many of the major meets would want to be in control of archiving their own content. Video streaming would create instant archival data, and the internet a method for sharing/distributing this content.


These are just some of the immediate things that come to mind. Obviously they need to be flushed out in greater detail. A Technology Committee could develop detailed standards which in turn could be used to develop “templates” for those within the sport to use to create web sites, results sites, video streaming and archives, etc. By the same token, there will be new aspects of the web and other developing media sources that the sport should be on top of and an ongoing technology committee would be able to address changes and new media sources on an regular basis to keep the sport current.

Currently the sport is not where it should be in utilizing twenty first century media to market itself. We need a Technology Plan that is designed to take full advantage of the resources that are at the sports disposal. It’s time that the sport become both cohesive and proactive in building and promoting itself. 

Friday, October 8, 2010

Status Check – US Sprints

Michael Rodgers, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Trell Kimmons (L-R) of the U.S. celebrate after winning the men's 4 x 400 metres relay at the IAAF Diamond League athletics meeting at the Letzigrund stadium in Zurich August 19, 2010.    REUTERS/Michael Buholzer (SWITZERLAND - Tags: SPORT ATHLETICS)

As US middle and long distance hopes strengthened in 2010, our bread and butter sprints seemed a bit fuzzy. Not that we didn’t have some outstanding performances, but looking ahead to the upcoming cycle of major championships, you need “depth” as well as outstanding individuals to carry the day. One or two injuries can change the entire fortunes of a sprint squad. In 2006 Tyson Gay (9.84/19.63) and Xavier Carter (19.62) looked ready to lead us through the next decade. Tyson won the sprint double in ‘07 but by ‘08 neither was available for duty with injury knocking them both out of the picture. Meanwhile we watched foreign newcomers Derrick Atkins, Richard Thompson, Alonso Edward, and Usain Bolt pick up major hardware! Demonstrating both that nothing is ever guaranteed, and there is a need for constant development of our young athletes. 

So, from that perspective, as I look at our sprint forces heading into 2011 we have our “foundation” – the individuals that we know we can count on. Athletes that are just breaking through to the elite ranks – the individuals that hopefully will help us build a strong sprint corps through the upcoming three seasons. And a lot of athletes that are still “developing”. Now in some ways that’s a good thing – because we know that we have a large base of potential to draw from. On the other hand we need that potential to be actualized “soon” because the world is no longer just sitting by watching us clean up in these events!

Here’s my breakdown:


Our Foundation

There are a handful of athletes that I think we can pretty much hang our hats on knowing that they are going to come through for us in Daegu – given good health. Headlining this group on the men’s side are Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, Walter Dix and Jeremy Wariner.

Gay should be the #1 ranked 100 man this year, as well as one of the top men in the 200. Tyson beat all comers and showed that he can indeed compete with and beat Usain Bolt. We have no one else in this category in the 100 however, which makes me a bit nervous. In the 200, however, we saw the return to form of Wallace Spearmon with 5 sub 20’s and a seasons best of 19.79. Being on the “comeback” trail, I expect we will see even better from him in 2011. Walter Dix was also a burner in the deuce with a best of 19.72 (his #2 time ever) to go with 4 sub 20’s of his own. Dix also ran a PR 9.88 in the 100, though he competed here sparingly. This trio should form our short sprint nucleus in 2011.

In the 400, there was only one name this year – Jeremy Wariner. Wariner, himself on the comeback trail, once again became the world leader on the clock, beat everyone in sight, and displayed great rhythm is controlling nearly every race he was in. The most exciting thing about this group of men is that every one of them has fought injuries over the last season or two and are just coming back into their own – which means that their best days should lie ahead.

On the female side we had a set of sprinters this year that stood out as individuals that we will be able to go to war with in 2011. In the 100 Carmelita Jeter is clearly our top woman. She’s lead or been near the top on the clock globally for the past couple of seasons, and has few peers in the rest of the world. Marshavet Myers also showed consistency under 11.00 this year, to get back to the promise she began to show in ‘08 – including a win in London and 3rd in Zurich.

Over 200 Allyson Felix has only one true peer  – Veronica Campbell Brown – no one else is even close. And in the 400, Debbie Dunn reached a new level of consistency that found her constantly battling among the world’s best. Felix also showed that she is a solid threat here as well as she beat all of the world’s best and took the Diamond League title in this event to go with her 200 title. Finally we have Sanya Richards who, though off with injury this year, will be a major force in the 400 given she comes back to good health. – and could factor in the 200.


The New Breakthroughs

On a global level there were many breakthrough sprinters this year – Lemaitre, Gonzales, Carter, Blake, Okagbare, Firova, Soumare, to name a few. As the rest of the world continues to improve it is imperative that we do so as well. Because I think ultimately it will be these athletes that make the difference in increasing or decreasing medal counts. Unfortunately while the rest of the world seemed to have massive improvement, we only had a handful of sprinters that had true break throughs in 2010.

Chief among these on the men’s side was Ryan Bailey who had nice seasons in both the 100 (9.88) and 200 (20.10). It was especially nice given that this was his first real season of international competition. He acquitted himself well, competed strongly, and set personal bests in both sprints. The key for Ryan will be his health, as he suffered several little niggles throughout the season that probably slowed his development. Trell Kimmons also had a breakthrough of sorts this summer, improving his 100 (9.95) and running lead leg on one of the fastest relays in history (37.45). Kimmons needs a bit more consistency but we know that he is a competitor. Outside of this pair though I saw no real breakthroughs anywhere else, including the 400 – and that is what has me a tad concerned. Similarly,, on the women’s side the only real breakthrough was in the 100 with Lashauntea Moore beginning to show promise as she twice ran under 11.00 (10.97/10.99) and got an international win in Rome (11.04).

As a nation we have got to get more athletes to this point in their development.


Who’s Next?

The answer to that question could be the difference between gold and silver in the relays, and two or three athletes in individual finals. With the injury rate of today’s sprinters being what it is, depth becomes a necessity. Because we’re always an injury or two away from going from outstanding to mediocre right now. Not an ideal situation to be in.

For starters, we do have some veteran’s that have been there before, but are working their way back. Xavier Carter (19.63/44.53) was a budding star in ‘06 but was done in by injuries in ‘07/’08 and has been trying to get back to form (20.14 in ‘10). If he does he goes immediately to the top of the pack in either long sprint. Justin Gatlin was Olympic Champ (100/’04) and double world champ in ‘05. Since then has served a well publicized suspension, but returned after four years to run 10.09 in limited action. If he gets under 10.00 with regularity he too could be a factor. Both returning to form is possible. Look no further than the two down years of Jeremy Wariner, who this past season began to look like the man that won everything between ‘04 and ‘07.

We also have a cluster of sprinters that, for several years now, have been at the edge of a break through moment. Darvis Patton (9.89/20.03), Travis Padgett, (9.89) Ivory Williams (9.93), Rae Edwards (10.00), and Mike Rodgers (9.94) head this list on the short sprint side. All have had flashes of brilliance, but have come up short once making the team and getting on the big stage. They have the potential to be players at this level, but must show improvement and consistency to get it done. Of the quarter milers, Lajerald Betters went pro this year and had several nice outings – among them 44.70 and 44.71. And there is always the spectre of Angelo Taylor (44.05) getting serious about the event again, as he seems to waver between here and the intermediate hurdles.

But I think the most potential, aside from a vet or two returning to form, may lie in the collegiate ranks. There were several youngsters that looked good early domestically – Tavaris Tate (44.86), Curtis Mitchell (19.99), and Jeff Demps (10.06/9.96w) come to mind . But it’s tough to evaluate them without a bit of international competition under their belts. We also have our typical logjam of young quarter milers hovering around between the 45.00 to 45.40 range – an area prime for a breakthrough into the 44’s.

Similarly for the women, I believe we will see a return to form from veteran Lauryn Williams following a layoff this year (10.88/22.27 PR’s) to go with a handful of athletes that have been around a while – Miki Barber (11.02), Shalonda Solomon (10.90/22.36), Natasha Hastings (49.84). Any of these women could have an impact in 2011. Especially Williams who is a proven winner - ‘05 World 100 champion. And as with the men, there is a lot of young potential out there – Alexandria Anderson (11.02/22.60), Gabby Mayo (11.13), Bianca Knight (11.07/22.43), Porscha Lucas (11.12/22.29), and Francena McCorory (50.52) sitting at the head of the class. All of these women have been making steady improvement and could become serous contenders for our national team next year.


Where Are We?

So, where do we stand heading into 2011? Well, like an ice berg, while the tip of our sprint corps does not look as deep as I would like, there is much potential lying just below the surface. Ideally I would love to see Carter, Gatlin and Williams all return to form. Not only would that give us immediate depth to counter what the rest of the world is bringing, but it would solidify both sprint relays – and Carter could potentially help both the short and long relays. Although Bailey, Kimmons and Moore could step in and do the job nicely given the same level of improvement is shown in 2011 that was made in 2010. As a matter of fact, solid improve from any of them in 2011 makes our sprint team very strong. And if intermediate hurdlers Angelo Taylor (44.05) or Kerron Clement (44.40) decide to give the event a go we immediately become stronger there as well. As ironically some of our best quarter milers (Taylor, Clement & Carter) tend to choose other events.

And our youngsters are very exciting. I think some, like Curtis Mitchell, Alexandria Anderson, Tavaris Tate and Francena McCorory are just beginning to tap into their enormous potential. While others like J-Mee Samuels, Maurice Mitchell, Marcus Rowland, Joey Hughes and Donald Sanford are just starting to figure it out. Which is exciting as that means that there is a lot of potential in the “pipeline”.

While the days of “sweeping events” is behind us, I do expect that we win between ten to fourteen medals in the sprint events in Daegu. Which I think would be a very solid achievement given the current state of world wide sprinting. More importantly, I believe that six to eight gold medals is a realistic possibility. To do either would reestablish our dominance in the sprints globally. And that I believe is an achievable goal.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

My Vision For the World Championships

BERLIN - AUGUST 23:  South Korean dancers perform during the Closing Ceremony during day nine of the 12th IAAF World Athletics Championships at the Olympic Stadium on August 23, 2009 in Berlin, Germany.  (Photo by Martin Rose/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Yes, I know it’s October and we just had the opening ceremonies for the Commonwealth Games.  But with the majority of top line athletes missing from the Commonwealth, my mind can’t help but fast forward to the next gathering of the world’s best athletes – the World Championships in Daegu. Of course it really won’t be a gathering of the world’s best athletes which is why I am writing about my vision now – while there’s still plenty of time to make a short term change or two.

The mother of all “gatherings” is the Olympic Games, and everything that has followed has been put together in it’s image including the Commonwealth Games, Pan American Games, and the World Championships among others. Not that the Olympics aren’t a good role model, but the Modern Olympics were established as a means of using sport to bring the nations of the world together to further world peace. Using this as a guideline the Games were designed to ensure that every nation got the opportunity to participate – because it is the participation that is central to the Games. Every nation was encouraged to enter a team with set numbers of participants invited. In track and field each team was limited to 3 participants per individual event and a relay entry per relay event.

That model has been used in subsequent incarnations of the Olympics – Commonwealth, European Championships – and was carried through to the World Championships. Of course there is only one Olympic Games, which is why I think it’s time to break from that model and redesign the World Championships. After all, Worlds is not about “participation” it is supposed to be the sport’s showcase of it’s BEST athletes in competition for world titles. But with the “3 per nation” limit, many of the world’s top athletes are left home watching the festivities – because there just isn’t “equity among nations” when it comes to sports. This is just one of the problems I see with the World Championships the way they are currently constructed. So following are some criticisms I have of the current World Championships structure and how I would change the event to make it better.


Add a World Championships to the “Off” Season

Major sports have championships every year. For many it’s their defining game each year. When you say NFL you think Super Bowl. It IS the season. Same for Major League Baseball and the World Series. It’s really what everything else is geared towards. Right now with track and field having an “off” season, the athletes, fans, and media really take the year off! For a sport looking for recognition and trying to create a global identity an “off” year every four years just isn’t getting it done. And here in the US it’s just murder. We need to get our best athletes front and center as often as possible. And since in many events we don’t get our top athletes competing against each other until the Olympics / Worlds it means we have a near two year gap between meaningful match ups during the four year cycle. That’s just not acceptable. Yes, there will be injuries, and athletes will get tired, etc, etc – I can hear some crying now that that’s just too hard. No different than other sports where a top level athlete is injured or has a down season, or any number of issues that change the dynamics on teams. In that case everyone else shows up and that athlete (or athletes) sits one out. That’s a part of sport. There are still more opportunities than back in the day when there was one opportunity every four years and if you happened to be hurt at the wrong time it could mean an eight year wait!


Modify the 3 Athletes Per Nation Rule

The World Championships is supposed to bring the best of the world together to compete. Currently far too many top level athletes are left home each year from nations all over the world. My suggestion is that the top 20 athletes on the yearly lists at the close of June each year be allowed to participate at Worlds. That will mean that there will be more than 3 athletes from some nations in each event. You could end up with 10 Americans and Jamaicans in the 100; or 12 Kenyans in the steeple; or similar representation in many events by many nations. I think that’s a good thing, because we are getting our best athletes competing head to head. We then allow 3 athletes per nation from remaining nations to fill out a field of 63 in each event to create a series of heats / quarterfinals / semis / finals. I choose the end of June as the cut off because that gives everyone an opportunity to compete at their respective national championships – which often is where the best marks are made. I would also make participation in your national selection meet mandatory in addition to having a top tier time.


Eliminate the “Bye” for Defending Champions

Let’s be honest. The bye was created because Michael Johnson was injured in ‘97 and couldn’t make nationals. So the bye was created to get him in the meet. This sport is supposed to be about competition, and if you want to become champion again you need to go through the fire. By modifying the 3 athletes rule, if you are in the top 20 in your event AND you compete in your national championships, you qualify for Worlds. If you want to prove yourself at Worlds you must start by being among the best in your own country. No bypassing the championship meet. No other championship allows the previous champion to go directly to the championship! And quite frankly this has lead to many many let downs at nationals all over as the best athletes simply skip it because they don’t have to compete. Wrong message to send in a sport where perhaps the biggest problem we have is in getting out top athletes on the track! And as I said when discussing adding another Worlds in the off season, if you’re injured that’s just part of sport – there will be another opportunity next year. It’s not fair that some people get to sit out while others have to work their way in. No other sport let’s a champion sit out and wait for the competition to come to him or her – or to the team. A major part of the excitement leading up to a championship is watching to see how the defending champion is doing and watching them work their way back to the top!


The World Championships Should be Run in the Same Order as the NCAA Championships

I’m not sure exactly how the order of events has evolved for the Olympics and/or World Championships. What I do know is that I’ve watched high school championships and collegiate championships for well over 40 years and there is no more exciting schedule for the sport! You start out with a relay and you end with a relay. Every manner of “doubles” is possible – 100/200, 100/400, 200/400. 400/800, 800/1500, 1500/5000, 5000/10000, 100H/400H, LJ/TJ, SP/Disc, and a few others. If relays are the most exciting part of a meet, doublers create the most exciting stories in a meet! Any time you can get an athlete like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards, Bernard Lagat, Kenenisa Bekele, among others, on the track on multiple occasions you are doing the sport a tremendous favor! And given that there are almost no opportunities for athletes to double during the season I think it would behoove the sport to develop as many opportunities as possible in the championship meet.


World’s Should be the Final Event of the Year

Again, going back to high school and college championships, there is much to be said for the championship meet being the FINALE of the season. Especially given that a large number of athletes already treat it as such! By the close of the Olympics or Worlds many athletes are spent. They’ve given their best efforts of the year and they are ready for a break. Trying to put together quality fields in the aftermath of a “major” can be quite difficult. Besides, everything that follows is anticlimactic at that point. Occasionally there is some interest in  “post season” match ups. But just what does it mean once all the titles have been bestowed? Like other major sports, make the championship meet the goal of the season. Close out the season with THE meet of the year and then look forward to what the next season will bring.


Rotate Continents as Well as Host Cities

Now that I’ve covered the meet itself, my final suggestion is that the World Championships become truly global. And for that to happen it needs to be taken all over the world. So to that end I propose that a schedule be put together by continent for the meet to be held. Then bids can be taken by continent for host cities. For example the next two continents should be Africa and South America since neither has every hosted Worlds. Bids would then be submitted by South American countries for say the 2019 meet and African nations for 2021. A North American city could become the site for 2022, Asia in 2023, Europe in 2023 and Australia/Oceania in 2025. Then the meet takes on a truly international flavor. What better way to promote the sport globally than to rotate your championship around the world.


The World Championships should be the sport’s flagship event. Not a clone of Olympics, but the signature meet for the sport of track and field. I think these changes would start the process of not only setting this meet apart but giving it an identity as a one of sports best championship competitions.

Friday, October 1, 2010

Bill Schmidt for USATF CEO

While it doesn’t always seem like it, the US still boasts the largest and strongest track and field team on the planet. As such I’m sure that many are waiting with anticipation to see who becomes the next CEO of USATF. I’m sure that given what’s taken place over the last two years, that athletes, coaches, agents, other federations, and potential endorsers are all waiting to see who becomes the next head of USA Track and Field.

Which is why the Board of Directors needs to get this right!

After doing my homework on the matter this week, I’d like to give my support to former javelin thrower Bill Schmidt. Schmidt has the kind of diverse background that I think would be well suited to running USA Track and Field.

For starters, as a former elite athlete he has an understanding of the sport from the perspective of the athlete. And from my perspective the athletes are our #1 commodity. Whoever gets the job needs to have an understanding of the sport and the athletes if they have any hope of being able to build the sport in this country. And this sport desperately needs a make over here in the US.

Not only has Schmidt performed as an athlete, but he was Vice President of Sports for the 1984 Olympics and served as the Vice President of World Wide Sports for Gatorade from 1984 to 1999. Currently he’s President of Pegasus Sports Marketing. So he has experience at the top levels of both athletics and Corporate America. A unique skill set for a position that is in desperate need of someone that will need to both understand the inner workings of the sport while he works at selling the sport to the business community.

Outside of the corporate community, Schmidt earned his Master’s Degree in Business Education from the University of Tennessee; once taught at Central High School in Knoxville TN; and coached high school track and cross country. Throw in his own career as a  javelin thrower – which included a Bronze medal at the Munich games and being named the US “Thrower of the Decade” for the ‘70’s by Track and Field News – and Schmidt has experienced this sport at every level.

The Board of Directors will be hard pressed to find many individuals that fit the bill throughout the spectrum of needs that this position requires! Schmidt does.

Which is why after careful consideration, I am suggesting that the Board should hire Bill Schmidt to try to right this ship!