Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Penn Relay Pools are Out – No Bolt or Gay


One of the highlights of the Penn Relays is the “USA vs. The World” segment of relays – 4x1, 4x4, Sprint Medley, Distance Medley. While all the relay teams have yet to be identified, the pools for the US and Jamaica have been released.

While the names of those that are in the pools represent some of the world’s best athletes, I am a bit disappointed that the sport’s two marquee sprinters – Usain Bolt (JAM) and Tyson Gay (USA) are not among them. In addition to the fact that we are still awaiting the seasonal debuts of both athletes, it takes a bit of the luster off the USA v JAM matchup in the men’s 4x1. It also means that unless some meet promoter pulls off a huge coup, we probably won’t see the two athletes compete against each other in any capacity until Daegu. That really needs to change.

Having said that, let’s look at what some of the possibilities are based on the athletes that will be available in Philly. I know that those who assemble the U.S. squads for this meet like to try and put together “balanced” squads, but I would really like to start seeing us make every attempt to put our best feet forward. Especially given that we have so few opportunities to run our people together.

To that end I think on the women’s side I would like to see a squad of Lauryn Williams to Allyson Felix to Marshavet Myers to Carmelita Jeter in the 4x1. Whereas the men’s squad will be incomplete without Tyson, I think this could be our best squad for Daegu. I would then run a squad of Miki Barber to Alex Anderson to Lisa Barber to Bianca Knight as my “B” team.

On the men’s side it’s a bit harder with Tyson out as he should be the third leg – and smack dab in the middle of the mix. Without Tyson I think I go Walter Dix to Wallace Spearmon to Darvis Patton to Justin Gatlin for the “A” squad against Trell Kimmons to Ivory Williams to Shawn Crawford to Mike Rodgers for the “B” squad. Given that we aren’t running close to our best squad with Tyson “on the bench” let’s let a couple of people have some good “auditions”.

I’d like to see Kimmons against Dix on leadoff. I like the idea of Dix leading off in Daegu, but if we can’t find a suitable anchor perhaps Kimmons on leadoff and Dix anchoring could work – and what better way to audition Kimmons than to run him head to head against Dix. Kimmons looked pretty good in Zurich, let’s see what he does here. Same story on the second leg. I like what Wallace has done there time and time again over the years. I’d like to see what Williams can do against him head to head, because Williams will have a better 100 time (Spearmon being a 200 man) and should be in the final at Nationals. There will be an argument for placing him on the squad for Daegu. I want to see how he does against the man I feel should hold the spot.

Then there is the all important anchor leg. Rodgers anchored last year’s 37.45 squad in Zurich. Let’s see how he and Gatlin do against each other and what will probably be Asafa Powell anchoring for Jamaica. Ironically if we get this matchup it will be the first time Powell and Gatlin (once the world’s two best) have faced each other since the 2005 Prefontaine Classic. While their status in the sport has changed for both, they could still end up facing off at anchor in Daegu – depending on health and just how well Gatlin shows come Nationals. Similarly for Jamaica, without Bolt and Blake, this relay could be audition time for a couple of individuals.

The other relays are not as critical in terms of the personnel that will be involved as having the right foursome together and developing rhythm and handoffs is not as critical because everyone outside of the 4x1’s will be using “visual” and not “blind” handoffs. That said, I am happy to see that both Richards Ross and Allyson Felix will be on the 4x4 – as they should be the heart and soul of that squad. I’m a bit disappointed that neither Jeremy Wariner nor Lashawn Merritt (still suspended) will be on the men’s squad, but am happy to see that Xavier Carter is in the pool.  My gut tells me that he could end up playing an important role here – and I still think he would be an awesome quartermiler.

I’m also excited to see Leo Manzano, Phoebe Wright and Morgan Uceny listed in the medley relays, because I think all three are going to be factors at Nationals and possibly in Daegu. The growth of our middle distance corps over the past couple of seasons is very exciting, and these three are right in the mix and I think ready for the big time.

As usual Penn is shaping up as a very exciting meet. And while there have been lots of meets on the relay circuit already, Penn is the one where the season seems to turn the corner and the stars truly begin to come out!

Monday, April 25, 2011

An African Sprinter Emerges as Florida St Rolls


It was a windy holiday weekend across much of the U.S. as report after report on most of this weekend’s meets referenced the wind and weather as a factor – keeping most performances to average at best. I watched the ACC Championships online, and certainly the weather played havoc for much of the meet as rain poured and the wind blew and the results were less than stellar the first couple of days. But on the final day the sprinters caught some favorable winds and the speedy Florida State Seminoles sent notice to Florida, Texas A&M, LSU and others that they would have something to say about who takes home the medals and team title in Des Moines.

The Seminoles already had one of the NCAA’s top times in the 4x1 at 38.87. Saturday they cruised to a 39.61 that crushed a weak ACC field – a preview of what was to come. Riding a maximum +2.0 wind, they went 1,2,3 in the 100 meters behind Ngonidzashe Makusha’s sizzling 9.97 – 10.03 for Maurice Mitchell and 10.27 for Kemar Hyman. Makusha & Mitchell taking over the top two spots on the NCAA list and Makusha becoming #2 in the world on the season. Then, as if 1,2,3 in the 100 weren’t enough, they came back to go 1 thru 4 in the 200 with Maurice Mitchell (20.19, +1.1) taking the world lead well ahead of teammates Brandon Byram (20.57), Charles Clark (20.78), and Brandon O’Connor (20.91).

Their performances were the latest salvo in the men’s NCAA title hunt as four of the top five teams in the country – Florida (#1), Texas A&M (#2), Florida St (#4), and LSU (#5) – are all very strong in the sprints. Clearly the battles in the relays, sprints and hurdles are going to have a profound effect on the final team title outcome in Des Moines. Also certain to have an effect on the podium at the NCAA championships will be long jumper, now sprinter Makusha.

Ngonidzashe Makusha is no stranger to the podium, having won the NCAA outdoor title as a freshman in ‘08 with his PR 27’ 2.75”. He just missed the podium in Beijing the same year with a 4th place finish. He came back to repeat as NCAA champion in ‘09 at 26’ 7.25”w, but competed only once in 2010. He won the ACC title in 25’ 4.75” but it was the 100 where he turned heads this time around. He entered the race with a PR of 10.52 set back in ‘07 and only placed 6th in his semifinal of the World Jr. Championships in ‘06 in 10.84. None of which gave any indication of what was to come – the second legal sub10 run this season at 9.97!

Perhaps we’ll see more of him in the 100. If so, the Zimbabwean could become the latest in what was once a strong line of African sprinters. Everyone is familiar with African names at distances of 800 meters and above. David Rudisha (KEN), Abubaker Kaki (SUD), Asbel Kiprop (KEN), Eliud Kipchoge (KEN), Tariku Bekele (ETH), and Samuel Chalenga (ETH) are just a handful of dozens of African middle and long distance runners that currently dominate the sport.

But one has to go back to the early “oughts” and Frankie Fredericks (NAM) to find an African that was a major factor in the sprints. Ironically, while the Caribbean has risen up over the last decade to challenge American sprint dominance (Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, et al) it was the continent of Africa in the 90’s that was forcing the issue. With athletes like Francis Obikwelu (NGR), Olapade Adeniken (NGR), Davidson Ezinwa (NGR), Frankie Fredericks (NAM), Daniel Effiong (NGR), Abdul Zakari (GHA), Chidi Imoh (NGR), Desi Aliu (NGR), Seun Ogunkoya (NGR)and Oluyemi Kayode(NGR) at the top of sprint lists, making the finals in majors, and winning medals. And it was Nigeria in 1992 running 37.98 in the 4x1 getting under the 38.00 barrier – 15 years before the Caribbean nations.

But the “oughts” have seen a virtual drought in African sprinting. While the continent’s distance runners have gone through the roof – controlling every event from the 800 through the marathon – the sprinters nearly became extinct. Until Saturday. I’m hoping we see more of Makusha in the sprints. After all, jumping and sprinting tend to compliment each other. Carl Lewis (9.86/ 29’ 1.25”) is certainly the most famous in this regard. But several others also did well at both including: Larry Myricks (28’ 8.25”/20.03), Kareem Streete Thomspson (28’ 3.75”/ 9.96), and Mike Conley (27’ 9.25”/58’ 7.5”/20.21). Last year’s top jumper, Dwight Phillips has gone 28’ 8.25/10.06). And people forget that former 100 WR holder Leroy Burrell (9.85) also jumper 27’ 5.5”. So perhaps Makusha can be both a renaissance man and sprint and jump while starting a renaissance in African sprinting. Definitely one to watch as the season moves forward.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Boston Record Certification Request Too Late


The results of the Boston Marathon are in, and tremendous results they were with Geoffrey Mutai (2:03:02, KEN) and Moses Mosop (2:03:06, KEN) running the two fastest times ever! Two others ran under 2:05:00, with Ryan Hall’s 2:04:58 the fastest ever run by an American. Of course the other news coming out of Boston is that the winning mark does not qualify as a world record due to the configuration of the course – point to point course with a primarily downhill slope (in spite of the dreaded “hills”). This is in contrast to more flattened courses that are “loops”.

Now, in a race that covers a bit over 26 miles do these things matter? Well the IAAF believes they do, and I do too. The first reason is fairly obvious – running “downhill” is more of an advantage than running on a flat track. Especially as one begins to tire. The other may not be as obvious – the potential of wind assistance. To compare to the smaller 400 meter oval track, races on the straight have wind limits while those that circle the track do not. Why? Because as you go around the track any assistance you get on the “windy” side is negated when you have to run into that same wind on the opposite side. On the straight it’s just all assistance!

The same applies to the much longer marathon. When running a “loop” course, any steady winds that aid on one side of the loop are negated when running into them on the opposite side of the loop. On a “point to point” course one can take advantage of favoring winds for miles – as was the case in Monday’s race.

The conditions for qualifying for records has been well known to those conducting the Boston race. The Boston Marathon has been run for over 100 years, and they have been well aware of the rules. IF they ever had any intention of having a World Record set, they have had more than ample time to do one of two things: a) change the course to a loop, or b) have the IAAF reconsider the stipulations for record consideration for marathons.

They have done neither! Which tell me two things. One is that they obviously like their course the way it is – and a beautiful course it is. And two, they obviously felt that they would never be in the position of having a record set. After all, since 2000 the average winner at Boston ran in the 2:10:00 range and until 2010 the course record was only 2:07:14.

That, however, is NOT a reason not to ensure that your course (or facility in the case of a track) is ready for record ratification. If you are consistently inviting and having the best athletes in the world compete at your facility, one must assume that on any given day a record could be coming. Because, after all, records are the best performances ever, and typically they come when the best are competing against each other, and they typically come when least expected. After all Robert Cheruiyot did set a course record of 2:05:52 when he won last year – indicating that fast times could be run!

Being the oldest and one of the most revered road races in the world, Boston should have expected to be the site of a record at some point. And knowing the conditions required for record consideration, the officials in Boston should either have made some course adjustments and/or filed for a change in the standards for record consideration LONG ago. Just as any meet director hosting world class competitions on a regular basis should check the measurements of the facility and the instruments used to measure time, wind etc. to ensure that if a record is set at their facility it will meet the standards for ratification.

To wait until a record is actually set, then say “we realize we don’t meet the standards, but the mark is so good can you allow it anyway” is just inexcusable – and just another example of how unprofessional this sport can be at times. And for the organizers to essentially say that the course has not yielded such fast times before, therefore it does not aid the runners is a ludicrous argument. For example, the Johannesburg track never yielded a sub 10.00 before Linford Christie ran 9.97 in ‘95 and then Obadele Thompson blazed 9.87 in ‘98. Yet the altitude was always there. Point being that conditions do not always yield exceptional results even though they exist. Exceptional results are a result of exceptional conditions being taken advantage of by exceptional athletes in the course of exceptional competition. One of the reasons why records are simply not an every day occurrence.

I sympathize with the competitors who ran great times on Monday. But I’ve also watched some 40 plus years worth of sprint and hurdle races where records were lost to minute puffs of wind. I’ve watched athletes have entire performances taken away because they stepped on a line one time too many. And records nullified because a track was measured centimeters too short or wind gauges prove to be faulty, or jump or vault standards moved slightly after the jump. Performances don’t always fall within the scope of the rules – that’s part of the sport. The sad thing is that these performances were outside the scope of the rules before the gun went off, and everyone knew it. So to now cry “change the rules”, or simply “allow these performances” is a cry too little too late.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Additional Weekend Results

There were lots of meets this past weekend. And as I scan through more of them, there were some performances that really need to be pointed out, because I think they are going to have an impact on the season going forward.

Most impressive of the marks was a 9.90 (+2.0)/20.17w (+2.2) sprint double by Steve Mullings (JAM) at the Lacoste Invitational in Starkville MS. The 100 meter time is a world leader by a huge margin, as well as a major improvement over his previous PR of 10.01. Mullings was 5th in the 200 in Berlin (19.98) and the leadoff on the gold medal relay, and now has to be considered a threat to make the Jamaican team in the 100 in what is becoming a rapidly crowded field – Usain Bolt, Asafa Powell, Nesta Carter, Yohan Blake, Mario Forsythe, Michael Frater, et al.

Another athlete who seems to be moving into a competitive position is Mookie Salaam (USA). Salaam ran a world leading 20.27 (+0.3) in the 200 in Norman Oklahoma. The Oklahoma junior has been on a roll this year dropping his 60 best to 6.54, and winning the NCAA indoor 200 title at 20.41. He’s very competitive and could be interesting to watch late spring at both the NCAA’s and US Nationals.

Also showing much improvement this year has been young Grenadian Kirani James. James sizzled to a 44.80 400 indoors before falling at the NCAA Championships. While the fall slowed him briefly, he’s right back at it outdoors running 20.41 for 200 in El Paso this weekend – taking a large chunk off his previous outdoor PR of 20.76! I have to believe that the 18 year old sophomore is going to play a major role in Daegu. Not since Steve Lewis in 1988 have I felt a teen was a real medal threat in this event! But his increasing speed has to have a positive effect given that he was just short of the 45 second barrier (45.01) with a 200 best of 20.76.

I talked a lot about what was going on in Southern California earlier, but failed to mention a huge leap that took place in the Southern Hemisphere. At the Australian Championships Mitchell Watt (AUS) had a world leading long jump of 27’ 8.25” (8.44m). His second best jump was 27’ 0” (8.23m) which was also better than anyone else has jumped so far this year. Watt currently has the four best jumps in the world and is looks like he’s looking for another medal to go with the bronze he won in Berlin.

The women were busy this weekend too. Lauryn Williams (USA) ran a world leader in the 200 going 22.65 (+1.7) at the Hurricane Invitational in Miami. After taking a year off from the sport last year, she is rounding into shape nicely and should play a significant role at Nationals in June.

So should South Carolina senior Kya Brookins, who is following up quite well on her successful indoor season – NCAA 60 champ at 7.09. Brookins blitzed a PR 11.10 at the War Eagle Invite in Auburn AL. Making her a threat to win the outdoor title as well as make an impact US Nationals.

And Brittney Reese (USA) leaped out to 22’ 5” (6.83m) to show that she is ready to put up a strong defense of the long jump title she won in Berlin. Add all this to what I talked about on Monday, and this was a great weekend of track and field. The performances has seriously begun to heat up. I’m already looking forward to what the coming weekend will bring.

Monday, April 18, 2011

Southern California Meets Lead Weekend


It was a great weekend of track and field around the globe, but it was nice to see some outstanding competition taking place in Southern California. I remember when “So Cal” had as many elite competitions as anywhere in Europe – this past weekend was a reminder for me of those days. And thanks to Runnerspace and FloTrack, I got to watch both the Mt SAC Relays and the UCLA/Oregon dual live. Way to move the sport forward!

Speaking of moving the sport forward, I’m hoping that dual meets like the UCLA/Oregon meet are a move “back to the future”. This is why I fell in love with track and field way back in the day. It proves that you don’t need world records set every week, you just need great competition. Throw in the team aspect with scoring and you have a combination that creates tremendous excitement. And this meet was as good as it gets with the meet coming down to the final event – the 4x4! All meet long both teams played to their strengths with Oregon scoring a points sweep in the 5000 and UCLA a points sweep in the 100. Although UCLA was a favorite on the pre meet points charts, it was Oregon holding out top quarter miler Mike Berry from the open 400 to rest him for the 200 & 4x4 that brought Oregon to the tie. Oregon swept the 400 without him, and Berry broke up the UCLA gang in the 200, then came back with a blazing anchor to lead Oregon to a runaway win the 4x4. This was track the way it is supposed to be, and I hope we get lots more duals and triangulars among the elite college programs.

In another part of the huge SoCal expanse we got a great Mt SAC Relays. Great high school competition, great collegiate competition and great elite competition. And not just one discipline, but distances, sprints, hurdles and the field! During the “Distance Carnival” Saturday night, there were what I thought were two great races. The women’s 5000 turned into a battle between American record holder Molly Huddle and middle distance star Jenny Simpson. Both women ran great, but Huddle’s “strength” won the day over the last lap as she was able to get a bit of daylight between herself and Simpson. And though Simpson finished second, I think her show of strength in this race will bode well when she takes to the track over 1500. Both women should do well this summer.

The other distance race that said much was the men’s 1500 with Oregon Track Club indoor find Russell Brown taking on Chris Solinsky who last year became a global force over both 5000 & 10000. Solinsky and Brown lead the race, with indoor NCAA champ Miles Batty (BYU) joining the fray. In the end it was a blitzing final lap (sub 54 sec range) that took Brown to a 3:35.70 PR just ahead of Solinsky (PR 3:35.89) and Batty (PR, 3:36.25, #5 all time college). Brown proves that his indoor season was no fluke and he will be someone to watch come Nationals. Solinsky showed a nice turn of speed in this race, which he will need internationally in the 5000. And Batty became a favorite for the outdoor NCAA title and a potential dark horse at Nationals.

And that was just during the Distance Carnival! During the regular portion of the meet we got world leaders in the 100 as Carmelita Jeter got the first sub11 of the season (10.99) and Norway’s Jaysuma Ndure ran 10.06 to tie for the world lead (Mike Rodgers 10.07 for the US lead). Hurdler Ginnie Crawford looked healthy as her 12.86 was just .01 off the world lead, and she teamed up with Allyson Felix on a 4x1 for another win. Scott Roth had the #2 vault outdoors with an 18’ 9.25” clearance and Jesse Williams took over the world lead in the high jump with a 7’ 8” leap. Great performances all around.

On the other side of the country, Florida and Texas A&M were both in attendance at the Tom Jones Memorial in Gainesville Florida. With both schools expecting to challenge for NCAA supremacy it was a chance to get to see them in action on the same track. While there weren’t a lot of head to head’s during the meet, they did go at it in the men’s 4x1 with defending NCAA champion Florida defeating yearly leader A&M 39.07 to 39.16 and the 4x4 with A&M returning the favor with a 3:04.77 to 3:06.43 victory. I expect to see both in the NCAA finals. I also expect to see Jeff Demps going for a defense of his 100 crown, and if this weekend was any indication he is going to be tough to beat. Demps clocked the world’s first sub 10 with a windy 9.96 (+2.4). Both of Demps races so far have been windy (10.06, +2.2) but both races have shown him to be dominating. Both squads had lots of top level performances, the Gators winning 10 events, the Aggies 9. But with A&M losing Curtis Mitchell and Florida gaining miler Dumisani Hlaselo and jumper Will Claye we could see an outdoor title to go with the indoor title for Florida come June. One things IS certain, both squads appear healthy and are loaded – look for a great NCAA meet!

And as I write this, the Boston Marathon has seriously entered the 21 Century as Geoffrey Mutai (KEN) blazed 2:03:02 for the win. Mutai’s time is faster than Haile Gebrselassie’s WR of 2:03:59, but had lots of tailwind on the downhill course so won’t qualify as the record. Ryan Hall will also not get credit for an American Record, but his 2:04:58 (4th place) was far and away faster than anything previously seen by an American (2:05:38 by Khalid Khannouchi, ‘02) and better than his 2:06:17 from ‘08. Making Hall look like a very serious contender in Daegu!

On the women’s side, Caroline Kiel won in 2:22.36, just ahead of American Desiree Davila (2:22:38). American Kara Goucher also looked good in fifth at 2:24:52 – a  personal best. Boston just underscored the improvement we’ve been seeing in US distance running over the past couple of years. Hopefully it will all translate to Daegu.

A great weekend of competition! Coming up next weekend will be the Kansas Relays, Oregon Relays, Johnson Invitational, McDonnell Invitational and Sun Devil Open, among others. Then we get Drake and Penn in two weeks. Relay season is in full gear!

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Athletes are Better, Why Not the Sport

The level of performance of elite track and field athletes at the top end is better than ever. The all time lists are littered with athletes that are competing right now! Starting with Bolt, Gay, Jeter, Rudisha, Liu, Robles, Bekele, Isinbayeva, Vlasic, Friedrich, Walker, Demus, and so so many others.

Yet, as I have lamented on many occasions, including earlier this week, we see them oh so infrequently. Where even as recently as the turn of the century, any given “world class” meet could boast perhaps 20 or more top level athletes in attendance, today we’re lucky to see a handful show up at any given meet. And head to heads against the best have become a rare commodity indeed.

So what’s the problem? Well, I see it in four parts – two parts athlete, one part sport, one part shared.

The first athlete part has to do with the level of stress that these athletes are putting on their bodies. As the level of performances gets better the stress gets worse, creating more injuries and requiring more rest in between performances. When you take your body to the upper limits of human ability there is bound to be some strain placed on muscles. That is what we see happening with top level athletes as they spend almost as much time nursing injuries and niggles as they do competing. The answer is to compete less and allow their bodies to heal and get strong before the next competition – which means fewer races during the year.

The second athlete part has to do with ego, because it seems that once athletes get to, or near, the top losing becomes less and less of an option. Which in most cases means that I only compete against athletes that may be able to beat me when I feel I’m in my best position to win. Gone seem to be the days when an athlete would compete, lose, and look forward to the next meet to exact revenge. Now, however, each competition is treated as if it is the final of the Olympics or World Championships – instead of the build up towards a Major final. This would be less critical if the athletes competed more.

But in addition to the need to rest/nurse injuries, athletes (agents) deal with trying to make as much money as possible which leads to the shared issue – finances.

Over the years, agents negotiating for top level athletes have continued to negotiate for higher and higher fees. When meets don’t meet the asking price, athletes (at the behest of their agents/coaches) don’t compete – and the fans & the sport miss another opportunity. And when the top level athletes do finally settle on payment, it is usually a substantial amount of the overall meet budget. This limits meet promoters to being able to sign no more than a few major stars per meet, and typically prohibits signing two major stars in the same event – especially if one is scheduled to be paid substantially more than the other has been offered. The result is still a meet short on top end talent – again a lose-lose proposition. Because in a sport that’s based on limited resources, bidding wars are akin to suicide – as we have seen with the limited participation of stars in most meets!

The final issue as I see it, is the lack of organization within the sport itself. Most other professional sports are generally structured along the lines of a Commissioner and a Board of Governors that oversee a league of teams – each in turn with a basic structure of Owner/President/Coach/Athletes. In track and field, however, the structure is MUCH less defined.

The IAAF is the international governing body for track and field, and sets the rules that the sport follows. Yet the national federations do not actually report to the IAAF. Nor do the meet promoters, or the athletes, or the agents, or any other affiliated personnel operating within the sport. Although the IAAF does have the right to sanction them from participation in IAAF affiliated events.

Each national federation in turn, however, is independent and sets its own rules for competition. Again, however, the coaches, athletes, agents, meet promoters, etc. do not report to the federations either. Though, like the IAAF, each federation reserves the right to sanction them from participation in affiliated events. See the pattern here?

Athletes earn their pay primarily from meet promoters who pay them appearance fees, and/or by sponsors who pay them to promote their products – primarily shoe companies. Athletes then hire coaches to provide instruction – though shoe companies may provide coaches for them. Shoe contracts may also provide nutritionists/masseurs or others to aid them in training – otherwise they have to compensate them themselves. Athletes also have to find agents (or the agents find them) to negotiate sponsor and meet contracts. In short whereas most professional athletes work for an “employer” who provides salary, training accoutrements, travel, benefits, etc., track & field athletes are like the travelling minstrels of yore, constantly on the road trying to earn their keep and a living.

Given this very loose structure – no direct lines of reporting within the sport – the real power lies not in the lead organization (IAAF) or the affiliate organizations (federations) but with the shoe companies, meet promoters, and agents. Why? Because these are the people who control the purse strings and in turn the athletes – and the athletes are the commodity!

The bottom line here (with respect to this conversation) is that the athletes must compete at the behest of the meet promoters – as they decide their own schedules. And while there may be some adjustments made on the part of promoters so as to avoid conflicts with other meets, there is no “schedule maker” who establishes a schedule to benefit “the group” – a league in most sports.

All of which leaves the athletes chasing after money (paydays) in a helter skelter fashion all over the globe – with those meets that pay the most sitting at the top of everyone’s list. Which is why the meets in Europe get better turnout of elite athletes than the meets in the U.S. – they pay better. Ditto for most South and Central American meets compared to their European counterparts. Meets “down under” (Australia & South Africa)  get their share of athletes looking to earn money early in the season because they have some money and decent weather.

The result is that most meets never truly have a shot at procuring the top talent. And with no one having enough money to satisfy a large portion of elite athletes at one time, we end up with the mess that we currently have – great athletes but the inability to pull them together with regularity outside of a major championship! And of all the reasons I’ve given above, THIS is the most problematic – the inherently loose and non cohesive structure of the sport itself!

Other professional sports get the regular services of their stars because all of the key elements (league, owners, athletes) are bound together through collective bargaining agreements. As such EVERYONE is guaranteed to get their money. In track and field, the athletes have no security of payment outside of a select few with high paying sponsorship contracts. Everyone else spends their time literally running for dollars.

A restructuring of the sport would go a LONG way towards solving this problem – and putting track and field in a position to actually compete on the level of other professional sports. Not to mention allowing the sport to present the best of its product to the public on a regular basis. And wouldn’t we all love that?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Texas A&M Prepping for Title Fights


The main excitement during this portion of the track season is at the collegiate level, with conference championships on tap in about 4 weeks time and the NCAA Preliminary rounds set for May 26 – 28. Which means that action will be heating up in the collegiate ranks any minute.

For Texas A&M apparently that minute was this past weekend, as both the men’s and women’s squads laid down some very quality marks at the Texas Relays. Both squads will head to Iowa in June as defending NCAA champions. The men took a 1 point victory over Florida last year (55 to 54), while the women had a bit easier time with a 72 to 57 point victory over Oregon.

In Texas both squads appeared sharp and ready to rumble, laying down marks that would be potential winners come June. The men’s squad had several world leading marks – 38.71 (4x1), Gerald Phiri (10.06, 100), 3:00.45 (4x4), 7:19.57 (4x8), and 3:15.18 (Sprint Medley). Throw in a 251’ 9” in the javelin, a 26’ 5.75”w long jump, and a 54’ 8.75”w triple jump and you have a squad that is putting itself in a solid position to make another run at a title. The women’s squad was also in mid season form with marks of 10.94w (100, Tarmoh), 42.87 (4x1), 3:27.33 (4x4).

On this day only the LSU squads were able to give the Aggies a decent run with the men turning 38.78 (4x1) then winning the 4x2 in a world leading 1:20.45. While the women also turned in a world leader in the 4x2 with a 1:30.88.

The Texas wind played havoc with times all day but there were some other performances that I feel were noteworthy. Erik Kynard continued his fine high jumping with an outdoor PR of 7’ 5.75” – and took shots at 7’ 7”. Although the race was windy, Marshavet Myers won the 100 in a nice 10.90 (+3.2). What really impressed me, however is the second place finish of Alexandria Anderson in 10.91. Anderson began to show promise indoors with a 7.12 60 meter win over Carmelita Jeter at US Nationals. It looks like she may be ready to impress outdoors as well.

Finally it was nice to see American sprinters getting some relay work together as squads of Trell Kimmons, Mike Rodgers, Darvis Patton and Wallace Spearmon (38.41) and Laryn Williams, Shalonda Solomon, Bianca Knight and Marshavet Myers (42.45) turned in a couple of early world leaders.

There should be more hot relaying in store with MtSAC, Sea Ray, The Freedom Games, Tom Jones Invitational, and UTEP Invitational all slated for this weekend. And what should be a hot collegiate dual meet with Oregon taking on UCLA.

Monday, April 11, 2011

Track MUST Get It’s Stars Engaged


I watched both the Texas Relays and the Arcadia Invitational on my computer this weekend via live streaming. Kudos to both meets on providing this service. It made for a great weekend of track and field.

As I watched both meets, however, I was taken by something that has bothered me for quite some time now – attendance. From what I could see of the stands in Austin, there were many gaps and attendance was sparse – unfortunately not uncommon at a large majority of meets here in the states. On the other hand, the stands looked pretty full in Arcadia. Why? After all Texas had the “better” athletes. They had college, university and professional athletes in attendance while Arcadia only had high school competitors.

So how does a meet with just high school athletes outdraw a meet with collegiate and professional athletes? Confusing? Not really. It’s pretty simple. In Arcadia the “best” high schoolers in the state were in attendance. While in Texas the best pros were not – and when it comes to parting with their sporting dollars Americans want to see the best!

If you want proof check out Austin when the Texas State High School Championships come to town in May. The stadium will be packed and rocking with thousands of Texans who will show up to see the BEST that Texas high schools have to offer. The California State High School Championships will get the same treatment in June – packed stands and raucous fans. You see there IS lots of love for the sport here, but fans have been conditioned to see the best perform when they pay their money! Be it the Texas Relays; last year’s New York stop on the Diamond League, or the Carson meet in Los Angeles or several other “big” meets in the U.S., ticket sales are hard to push when the fans believe they are getting less than what the sport has to offer.

Why? Because we live in a society where the general populace is “star struck” at a time when every other sport serves up their stars 24/7! Sports fans expect to see their favorites (ie the best) when they go to an arena or stadium. Buy a ticket to an NBA game and you’re guaranteed to see Kobe Bryant, Lebron James, Derrick Rose or Kevin Durrant. NOT just during the playoffs, or during a championship series, but every game their teams play. Nor does Kobe sit out the games against the Bulls – waiting to go head to head against Derrick Rose in the playoffs. Or games against the Celtics or Heat or any other top team or player. As a matter of fact unless he’s injured (and injured badly) you will see Kobe in every Lakers’ game against every team and every other top player. Ditto Lebron, Durrant, and Rose. It’s what sells tickets and fills seats. And it’s the NBA’s greatest marketing tool – advertising its stars and the multitude of matchups it parades before the public ALL season long!

The same goes for the NFL, MLB, NASCAR, and golf – all regular staples on television. Because their best are regularly on display – guaranteeing that fans will be watching and advertisers’ dollars will reap the benefits. If you tuned in to gold this weekend you got a full dose of Tiger Woods. Watch NASCAR and you’ll see Jeff Gordon, Kyle Busch, and Tony Stewart.

In contrast track and field can only guarantee it’s stars will be on display at the Olympics or World Championships! We can’t even guarantee attendance at our National Championships unless spots to a major championship are on the line! THAT is a major problem – a problem that the sport MUST address. Track cries about not being able to attract dollars, yet all you have to do is take a look at any of the sports mentioned to see that there is lots of money out there being spent on sports in the way of advertising and sponsorship. The issue is being able to guarantee that the money gets and adequate “return”.

The way to do that is to make people watch. The way to do that is to have your best athletes competing. This sport MUST figure out how to do that with some regularity. Because the scattershot appearance schedule of track and field’s best is just not getting it done! Why is this so hard and how do we fix it? I have some ideas on both fronts that I will put out there while we are waiting for our top athletes to start competing!

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Will the US PASS the Relay Test


It’s relay season here in the U.S., and with the Texas Relays up this weekend and talk of some top level athletes getting together on a couple of 4x1’s, and 2011 being a World Championships season, it’s time to once again begin talking about the U.S> 4x1’s.

The U.S. should be the medal count leader in Daegu,  as our troops should garner some twenty plus medals during the week of championship competition. Up to the Beijing Olympics, two of those medals were guaranteed to come from the men and women’s 4x1 relay squads – more often than not, gold. But in Beijing there were no medals in the relays as both the men AND the women failed to get the stick around the track. A feat that was ignominiously repeated in Berlin – making the U.S. oh for four in 4x1’s over the last two championships.

During those two championships we watched as the Jamaican men won both titles with little competition – and broke the world record while doing so in Beijing. Similarly on the women’s side we watched Russia (‘08) and Jamaica (‘09) run to uncontested titles. The sum of all of the above – U.S. failures and other's’ successes – have caused many to question the relay abilities of the U.S..

While I am very disappointed in our lack of success in the past two majors, I am not as unsure about our abilities as many seem to be. Look no further than last year’s Zurich meet for proof that the U.S. can get the baton around the track as the foursome of Trell Kimmons, Wallace Spearmon, Tyson Gay and Mike Rodgers ran a sizzling 37.45 – the #5 performance in history!

So we still know how to pass the baton. The issue will be to put the “best” squads available out on the track, because we can no longer afford to put “any” foursome out there and expect to beat the rest of the world.  We must be smart in our selection & placement of personnel, AND we must run as a team.

What many fail to remember is that we were blessed with all of the above for much of the 80’s and 90’s because our teams were dominated by the members of two distinct clubs – the Santa Monica Track Club and H.S.I. – each with several stars in tow. The Carl Lewis lead Santa Monica Track Club provided Carl, Mike Marsh and Leroy Burrell. Speedsters who regularly worked out together and ran relays together as a club. So the transition to international competition was simply a matter of making the U.S. team – which of course they did. Selection being out of the way, placement of personnel and working together as a team was already there!

Though we had a bit of a shaky transition in the ‘96 games – aging athletes having to give way to a youth movement of sorts – the Maurice Greene lead H.S.I. group provided “Mo” and Jon Drummond for much of the remainder of the decade and into the New Millennium. With only half of our units coming from one club, our results throughout the 90’s was a bit more shaky. Botched stick in ‘97 followed by brilliant wins in every major from ‘99 through 2003. Until in 2004 with three men who had run 9.88 or better, less than stellar passing produced a silver medal finish – and should have served notice just how important athlete placing and passing truly are in this event.

In the last several majors we have faced teams that are eerily similar to our own successful teams of the 80’s & 90’s, as Jamaican clubs M.V.P. and Racers T.C. have supplied Jamaica with nearly ready made squads – teams that have run together and train together prior to the major. Our success in ‘07 against an M.V.P. heavy squad with Usain Bolt on the backstretch and anchored by Asafa Powell, was followed by our passing debacles of ‘08 & ‘09.

Which brings us to 2011 and the thought by many that Jamaica is ready to run away with things yet again. A thought that I will echo IF we do not put this thing together properly. So here are what I feel are the keys to our success in bringing the gold medal back to America’s shores.

Go with what works. We were successful with the SMTC and HSI squads because they were already proven to be able to work together – and work together well. Jamaica is having similar success with squads based on athletes that are proven to work together well. Though we have no strong clubs right now, we have perhaps the world’s most lethal combination in Wallace Spearmon and Tyson Gay. They were the interior runners on last year’s 37.45 team. They were the interior legs on the America’s winning team at the World Cup last year. They were the interior runners on the ‘07 squad that beat the Bolt/Powell Jamaican squad for gold in Osaka. They ran the interior legs on the U.S. squad that won the ‘06 World Cup title in 37.59. And they were the interior of the University of Arkansas’ 2005 NCAA championship squad. In short, they are experienced, know how to pass to each other, and together put anchor legs out of reach of the competition! Not to mention that running them in the second and third positions ensure that they have a hand in every handoff around the track – and I want the baton in their hands as often as possible! We don’t have to reinvent the wheel here because we have a combination that is proven to work!

We just need to find the right two sprinters to pair with them. Now my first suggestion combined with this suggestion says quite clearly that I am against taking the “first four across the line” at Nationals and trying to force them together to form a relay squad. In the “old days” when we were the only real sprint game in town it was ok to run Jesse Owens on lead off or Mel Pender on second. But given the competition we face from squads from Jamaica, Trinidad, Britain and France, among others, having the right people in the right places is paramount. Which means that egos, agents, and personal coaches have NO PLACE in determining the personnel and/or running order of a relay!

Tyson Gay is arguably the best turn runner on the planet. Putting him anywhere but the third leg (as was attempted in Beijing) is utterly ridiculous. Wallace Spearmon is as good a backstretch runner as there is in the world. Not the best 100 man in the world, but eliminate the blocks and once he’s up and running he’s as good as there is. So what we need is A) someone who starts well and is adept at running the turn to lead things off, and B) someone fast, powerful, and fearless to bring it home on the anchor.

I expressed my sentiments on who I think should be on this year’s squad at the end of last season. So I’m not going to rehash my rationale. And by Nationals individuals will begin to sort themselves out. What I will say is that we need to start getting people together to gain the cohesiveness that will be necessary to pull off a victory. Because the relay is not about adding up the 4 fastest times you can put together – we proved that in 2004. It IS about putting together four individuals that work well together. And in that respect most of the rest of the world has a head start on us – because most have a pretty good idea who will be on their squads.

Ironically part of our problem lies in our depth as we possess possibly the deepest sprint pool on the planet. Our other weakness lies in our attempt to be “democratic” with respect to putting out team together. But putting together relay squads is one area where trying to be democratic simply doesn’t work. You need to have someone that is in charge and let them do their job! Because this is one project where too many cooks indeed spoil the broth!

So, since we already have the coaching staff selected, let’s give them the keys to the car and allow them to start getting their relay teams together. Sure we can stick with the rules that say that relay eligibility is based on making the team at the National championships, but the team members can be selected NOW and start working together with the caveat that if they do not make the team in June they won’t be running in Daegu. But honestly if they don’t make the team in June it will mean that they have experienced problems that would make them unlikely relay members anyway!

So let’s see if we can pull some guys together for some “spring ball” type relay work before individual seasons get too hectic. Then of course again for relay camp prior to Daegu. Because in spite of running 37.45 in Zurich, the passing was still not the best. Which tells me that with a bit of work and the right personnel, not only can we win this thing, but we can bring the record back home as well. So yes, I do think we are more than capable of PASSING the test.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Season Starting Quietly

I had expected to see a few bombs dropped by this point in the season. But aside from L.J. Van Zyl running first 47.66, then 44.86, the season has been rather somber so far.

The Florida Relays had some promising entries early on – Tyson Gay in the 4x4, along with the seasonal debuts of Justin Gatlin, David Oliver and Xavier Carter. All pulled out prior to the start of the meet, however – none yet ready to display their wares.

And it’s not just the sprinters and hurdlers. The top middle distance runners have yet to step to the track, as neither have the top distance runners, jumpers or throwers. In short the world’s elite are clearly eyeing The World Championships in August and are being very careful not to debut too early. Or more precisely, being careful not to establish a peak that they must ride too long.

Watching the competition over the last half decade or so  I can understand the hesitation. The men’s 100 and 110 hurdles both boast the 3 fastest men in history. The women’s 100 should have at least three women that have run under 10.80 competing this season. Last year there were seventeen men under 13:00 in the 5000 and seven women broke 4:00 for 1500 meters.

In short one must be at one’s absolute best come championship time if you want to have any hope at taking the gold medal – or any medal for that matter. And given the recent triage list of athletes during any recent season, some of the most oft injured have been those in what I will call the “medal bracket”. Athletes like Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Dayron Robles, Sanya Richards, Kenenisa Bekele, along with many others.

So after watching the first few weeks of the outdoor season unfold, it is my guess that we are going to see a lot less of the stars this year, but with a high level of quality when we do. Because quality racing/competing requires more rest in between outings than frequently competing at more reduced physical levels. And given that this is a livelihood for these athletes, I would expect that most of that competition will take place in more lucrative surroundings such as the Diamond League events.

Now that doesn’t mean that there isn’t quality track and field going on. In spite of the cancelations Florida saw some outstanding performances. Minus Gatlin and Carter, Florida’s own Jeff Demps blitzed a slightly windy (+2.2) 10.07, marking himself early on to repeat as NCAA champion. Florida State’s Maurice Mitchell ran a world leading 20.36 in the 200 as did Natasha Hastings (USA) with a 22.77 in the women’s event.

Ashton Eaton, who is certain to make an impact in the decathlon this year, set 3 personal bests (shot put, javelin, and discus) while competing in a small meet at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo. And Tabarie Henry (ISV, 44.83) and Rondell Bartholomew (GRN, 44.65) ran the world’s two best 400’s in Baton Rouge LA, and Lubbock TX, respectively this weekend.

So the competition is still hot! But expect most of the competitive excitement to come from the college ranks. As it looks like we may not see true “debuts” of the elite until after the beginning of May, with the Diamond League kicking off in Doha on May 6.

Of course fresher athletes should mean extremely high level performances. I’ll take that trade off. Especially since the level of track and field at the NCAA level is very high itself. And with most of the top NCAA teams already looking strong – i.e. Florida, Texas A&M, LSU, Florida State, Oregon – on both the men’s and women’s side – it should make for a great “early” season.

Which should in turn lead into what I’m hoping is an improved Diamond League. And then of course what should be a very exciting World Championships. If we can get the majority of our elite athletes to the line healthy in Doha, there should be some very exciting fireworks!

Friday, April 1, 2011

No California (Modesto) Relays in 2011


I received notification today that the California (Modesto) Relays will not be held this year. This will mark the second time in the last three years that the meet will be absent from the schedule. Following is the copy from the notice that I received – with permission from Mr. Miller:


909 15th Street, Suite 7
Modesto, California 95354

Modesto Relays, Inc.
Dba: California Invitational Relays
Gregg E. Miller
Executive Director
(209) 988-0390
March 30, 2011
Re: California Relays 2011
Sacramento, California

Dear Athletes, Coaches, Managers, Officials and Loyal Fans,
The purpose of this letter is to inform you of our status for the 2011 meet. Due to the revailing economic conditions, many of our longtime sponsors including SaveMart supermarkets have informed us that they are not in a financial position to participate this year. This is also the case with longtime supporter USA Track and Field, as they have instead allocated funds in other areas and to other events this year.

During these past months our staff of dedicated volunteers have been working tirelessly to secure additional sponsorships, with some success, however regrettably not enough to stage the meet as it should be done and as you would expect of us. We have therefor made the difficult decision to suspend the meet for 2011 and come back in the 2012 Olympic Year. This decision is very disappointing, as our Meet, founded in 1942 is the 3rd longest running Meet if it’s class in the USA, and so many enjoy and appreciate the need for a West Coast meet with stellar conditions held in our traditional hometown style. We are extremely grateful to all of you for your dedication and support over these many years, and we look forward to 2012 and the return of one of the greatest meets in the history of our sport.


Gregg Miller

Bill Morad 60 years
Bob Stewart 62 years
Jack Albiani 46 years
Bill & Linda Meyers 31 years
Marty Muse 16years
Olivia Owens 16 years
Mike Terry 14 years
Kathy & John Hogrefe 11 years


I am hoping to see the return of this meet to the track and field schedule. At one time this was one of the premier meets in the world, with a legacy of top level athletes and world records on par with some of the best meets on the European Circuit. With it gone once again, we here on the West Coast will be missing a great opportunity to see some of the world’s best athletes compete.

I would implore USATF and whomever the new CEO turns out to be, to make every effort to see this great meet returned to the 2012 track and field schedule.