Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Robles & Campbell Brown Now Lead World


It was a very long weekend for track and field. The NCAA regionals, and lower divisions started mid week. Rome was on Thursday. The NCAA meets continued through the weekend. Then following a three day Memorial Day weekend, Ostrava started the week.

One would think that with SO much action that we would have seen more brilliant performances. After all, tomorrow is the first of June, and it’s time to get things crackin! Rome did it’s share on Thursday, but it took until the end of the weekend and today, before things really began to heat up.

That started in Hengelo, where we got to see Dayron Robles once again. Robles, who missed most of the heart of last season due to injury, had only taken to the track once this year – a 13.35 on May 7th. Following the Liu/Oliver battle on May 15th, it was time to see if Robles would make it a three way fight for gold in Daegu. 13.07 seconds after the starting gun went off, Robles was co-world leader with Liu and starting to look like his old self again. After a two day break, he took to the track again in Ostrava and ran 13.14 – the =3 best time of the year and equal to David Oliver’s season best. I think it’s safe to say that Robles is healthy, and that we have the three horse race in the hurdles that we were hoping to get this year! Robles looked sharp and crisp and in mid season form. And if this weekend is any indication, is ready to go toe to toe with Liu and Oliver. This could well be the best rivalry of the year – especially given that the hurdlers run head to head more than the sprinters do!

However, after this weekend, we may have yet another three horse race in Daegu, and another HOT rivalry brewing – this one in the women’s 100 meters. While there is much anticipation over what will happen in the men’s race, with Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt, the women’s race is starting to shape up quite nicely. Defending World & Olympic champion Shelly Ann Price has yet to open up this year, but two time World’s bronze medalist (and #2 ever) Carmelita Jeter had already run 10.86 to lead the world. A week after her 10.86, however, she suffered a loss to Veronica Campbell Brown in Shanghai (10.92 to 10.95), taking a bit of luster off the previous race. Jeter was not in Ostrava today but that didn’t stop Campbell Brown from blazing a PR 10.76 to win handily over the field, and taking the world lead away from Jeter. Brown was silky smooth in Ostrava, gaining a solid start, and systematically running away from everyone. There were no hiccups in a race that said she is going to be a force in both the 100 & 200 in Daegu. In one race she stoked fire on two rivalries – the 200 meters between she and Allyson Felix (world leader in both the 200 & 400 currently); and in the 100 meters with she & Jeter, and perhaps Price depending on her form this year.

Speaking of world leads and rivalries, many expected Usain Bolt to take down upstart countryman Steve Mullings with a new world leader. But while Bolt won again – following Friday’s win in Rome – the time was equal to Rome in 9.91 and just off the world leader (9.89) that Mullings laid down on May 21st. After the blazing run that Campbell Brown on thehad track just prior to Bolt’s race however, one had the feeling that perhaps a low 9.8x would be forthcoming. But another unspectacular start lead to Bolt being slightly down early. A situation he once again rectified with a mid race surge that brought him even with Mullings, who began to tighten before Bolt went by for the win. Mullings’ 9.97 in second was his third sub-10 of the early season, and marked him as clearly in the hunt for a spot on the Jamaican sprint crew. Meanwhile, Bolt has not come out blazing as he has the past three years. Perhaps he’s still trying to adjust to the added muscle that he has come into this season with, or perhaps he’s taking a more conservative approach to this year with World’s as the singular goal. Either way, it will be interesting to see how the season progresses. Bolt doesn’t have to run at Jamaica Trials as he has byes to both sprints in Daegu. So not having to “make the team” he may be working towards a different peak.

No questions about Veronica Campbell Brown, however, who was the athlete of the weekend in my humble opinion. Yes there was lots of NCAA action, which I will begin to talk about in more detail tomorrow as the fields are now set for the NCAA championships. But Rome, Hengelo, and Ostrava were the best events during a very long weekend of activity. We get back to the Golden League this coming weekend with the Prefontaine Classic – which is promising to be HOT from start to finish.

Below are Robles and Campbell Brown’s world leading efforts.




Friday, May 27, 2011

Bolt, Felix & Van Zyl Pass Tests in Rome


If this year’s World Championships is the ultimate “Final” test of the season, then meets such as yesterday’s Golden Gala in Rome are a series of minor tests and pop quizzes. Several athletes were taking early tests in Rome – Usain Bolt (his season debut), Allyson Felix (a look at the double), and L.J. Van Zyl (defining his place) – and in my opinion all three passed.

Van Zyl (RSA) has been hot since the winter time, running 47.66 in the hurdles in February and 44.86 in the open 400 in March. Of course these were races at home in South Africa where Van Zyl has always done well early on. In Rome he was to face Kerron Clement, Angelo Taylor (men with several titles between them) and up and comers Jehue Gordon, Johnny Dutch, and Javier Culson. If Rome was indeed a test for Van Zyl, he passed with flying colors, as he controlled the race throughout, looked very strong in the stretch, and dominated in winning in 47.91 – his third sub-48 in this very young season. Brit David Greene also looked strong as his 48.24 in 2nd was his second best time ever (47.88 PR). The rest of the field was never a factor. At this rate Van Zyl has to be considered an early favorite in the hunt for long hurdle gold. He’s running confidently and fast, and is starting to rack up wins against some of the event’s best talent. The others have a lot of catching up to do if they plan to keep him off the top of the podium.

Felix was also in test mode in Rome, running both the 400 and 200. She has stated that she is considering the double in Daegu, and Rome would be a good test of her ability to pull it off running the 400 and then the 200 within 45 minutes of each other – simulating running a 400 final and then opening 200 round in Daegu. The result was a world leading 49.81 win the the 400 and a 22.81 for fourth place in the 200 (Bianca Knight won in 22.64). While some may have considered it a failure because she “lost” the deuce, I consider her performance a home run. First she dominated the 400 and her chief rival Sanya Richards. Her winning time was her second fastest 400 ever, yet within 45 minutes she was able to return to the track and put in a performance that would get her through the opening round in a major. Much tougher than what she would face at Worlds as the 400 final is on Aug 29, and the opening round of the deuce is on Sep 1 – giving Felix plenty of time to recover and switch gears to deuce mode.

After taking down this field – which included Amantle Montsho (BOT), Francena McCorory (USA), Debbie Dunn (USA), Sanya Richards (USA) and Sherika Williams (JAM) – it would appear that the most serious challenge to her winning a 200/400 double will most likely be Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) in the deuce. That is unless Richards can return to form in the 400. Here Richards was well beaten back in 50.98 and had no “pop” to her race. She too doubled back in the deuce finishing just behind Felix in 4th (22.88). I think we will see better from Richards as the season progresses, but as Felix gains more confidence in the 400 she could be tough to topple.

The final test of the day was in the men’s 100 as Usain Bolt (JAM) was making his season debut. In the field was former WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM) – looking to assert himself against the defending World and Olympic champion. Compatriots Mario Forsythe and Lerone Clarke were looking to measure themselves against these two as the logjam in Jamaica is getting tight. And Christophe Lemaitre was making his debut, and measuring himself against the upper echelon. Grading on the curve Bolt and Lemaitre got the day’s “A’s”.

Bolt looked a bit sluggish at the start, but showed smooth acceleration mid race and easily moved past the fast starting Powell at the end to win in 9.91 (+0.6). Not the 9.7x that some may have been expecting, but I’m not sure we’ll see that until sometime this summer as both Bolt and Gay work their way to an anticipated showdown. What we saw was controlled speed and Bolt’s ability to relax and close well. A sharp contrast to Powell who was clearly waiting for the rush that would be Bolt at the end. While Powell was well ahead of his countrymen Forsythe and Clarke at the finish (2nd in 9.93), his inability to relax and close out the final 20 meters of his races could bode ill against Nesta Carter, Steve Mullings & Yohan Blake in Kingston – all young and hungry.

Lemaitre gets my other “A” in this race. In with the “big boys” he didn’t panic, ran strongly, closed well, and at 10.00 was near his PR (9.97) and well ahead of all but Bolt and Powell. He’s not yet ready to challenge Bolt or Gay – he’s got to clean up his technique to even think of having a shot there – but he’s on pace to perhaps run near that 9.90 range and is Europe’s best hope for the final.

Rome was a nice start to the weekend. There is lots of action with the NCAA East and West Regionals which started yesterday and the NCAA Division II & III Championships, the NAIA Championships and meets in Cuba and Senegal. Something hot is bound to happen before the weekend is done!

Thursday, May 26, 2011

USATF CEO Search – Another Bobble


USATF – USA Track and Field. The governing body of the sport in the United States of America. Outside of the IAAF, the body that should be the most powerful in the sport – in charge of the deepest strongest team on the planet. We produced Carl Lewis, Michael Johnson, Edwin Moses, Jackie Joyner Kersee, and Evelyn Ashford. By default we should start with 20 medals in Daegu and London.

But we can’t find a CEO! Are you kidding me?!

This “should” be one of the plum jobs in all of track and field. It should be like placing an ad for coach of the Lakers or manager of the Yankees or coach of the Patriots – announce the opening then decide which ultra talented candidate is most deserving of our selection! Yet after hiring a high powered agency to manage the search process we are told that we’re NOT the Lakers or Yankees or Patriots – as a matter of fact we’re not even the Timberwolves or Bengals – because apparently NO ONE wants the job! At least that what we’re being told – and that therefore Board President Stephanie Hightower could become the next CEO.

Of course, we really have no idea who does or doesn’t want the job, or even who applied for the job. Because the transparency we were promised has been as translucent as a brick wall – we know nothing. We do know that Vin Lananna turned the job down – he’s told us so. Apparently he was the leading contender in the hunt. But what of Mary Whittenberg, or Bill Schmidt? Individuals who clearly have what it takes to run the organization and move it forward. Did they apply? Were they interviewed? If so, were they finalists? And if not, who was seen as potentially better fits, outside of Lananna who turned down the job? And if they did apply, is Hightower really seen as a better option, or did they too turn down the job?

In his article on the subject Phil Hersh said that "There is a feeling the entire interview process may have been flawed because all potential candidates are aware of Hightower's interest in the job and may fear she would interfere with the CEO's ability to run the federation -- thereby compromising the CEO's security.". So was the entire process a farce from the beginning? Was this a front for the eventual move of Hightower to the position or, as has also been floated, paving the way for Ian Stewart (Hightower’s husband) to take the mantle?

All speculation aside, here’s what I do know. Since Doug Logan’s release last September we’ve been told two things, the name of the search firm, and the job description. Nothing else has been forthcoming, and when asked (I’ve emailed the office several times during the process) the standard response has been that information would be coming soon. We’ve been lead to believe that the board has been doing their due diligence, and has been focused on doing what is best for the sport. In essence we have been told to trust in them and trust in their judgment as this process was not going to be conducted in front of the public. And now we are being lead to believe that after months of research, interviews, and vetting (who, or even how many we have no clue) that this board has found only ONE suitable candidate for the position! And that we should trust in the current president of the board to take the reins and move this sport forward!

Mind you this is the same board and board president that after Masback’s departure sent American athletes onto the track of the Olympic Games in handwritten bibs. This is the same board and board president that allowed what was once one of the country’s most prestigious meets (Modesto/California Relays) to die a slow and agonizing death while TAKING AWAY USATF funding! The same board and board president that has allowed Olympic and World Champion Lashawn Merritt to rot for two years for an offense that athletes from other federations are cleared of in three to six months! A board that if any of it’s members have attended a meet outside of Eugene in the past few years has had it’s selection of seats because the majority of them were EMPTY!

But this board, and it’s president, want us to believe that while they have presided over the rapid deterioration of the sport in this country that they know what’s best for the leadership of the organization going forward. That they have found no one capable of taking the reins of this sinking ship and that the BEST option moving forward is the current steward of the board who, by the way, does NOT fit the requirements for the position as set forth in the job description adopted by THIS sitting board! I guess next they will be unveiling a fundraising plan centered around selling major bridges across the United States starting with the Golden Gate.

It’s time for USATF to poop or get off the pot! To stop insulting the intelligence of the track and field community. To stop with the building of a fiefdom and decide if it is happy with the state of track and field in this country. If they are happy with the lack of funding flowing into this sport. If they are happy with track and field being a third class citizen on television to lacrosse, cheerleading, and spelling bees. If they are satisfied with our inability to host a major championship in this country, then they should do as they suggest and continue the Keystone Cops standard status quo and move the current board president into the position of CEO.

IF, however, they are sincere about the needs of the organization as expressed in the job description that THEY claim to have used in their search for a CEO, then they will extend their search and/or revisit some of the candidates previously discarded. Because this organization/sport sorely needs someone that can interface effectively with the business community. Someone that can lead a fundraising effort substantial enough to secure the kind of sponsorships that will not only fund current meets/activities, but can begin to put more high level meets (like New York and Pre) back onto the U.S. schedule. We need someone that can lead a marketing effort strong enough to ensure that these meets are effectively sold to the general public, that tickets are sold, and seats are filled. We need a CEO that can negotiate with television networks to secure the sport adequate media face time, because we are after all a global sport that should at least have a presence comparable to hunting & fishing, cage fighting, hiking, and cycling which are all staples on sports television.

More importantly we need a CEO with vision, and the acumen to make that vision reality. We need someone with the vision that the sport needs at least one major stadium in this country. The vision that the U.S. should be the host of the sports’ grandest competition – the World Championships. We need someone that understands that the needs of the amateur faction of this sport are so much different than the professional faction of this sport that perhaps we need to move towards some sort of restructuring – and has the capacity to lead such an endeavor. In short we need the kind of CEO that can lead the U.S. to it’s rightful place into track and field’s global hierarchy!

The fact that this wish list is so extensive says that, clearly the leadership that we need does NOT currently exist within the organization. That’s why this board MUST go back to it’s job description and look for someone with (among other skills):

  • Previous CEO / President / COO or equivalent leadership experience
  • Minimum 10 years executive level corporate executive experience and a track record of growth and success
  • Minimum 5 years sports marketing, joint venture, licensing, sponsor relationship experience
  • Experience with developing a strategic and visionary plan in tune with a dynamic environment
  • Has established relationships with business CEOs, media moguls, and sports leaders that can be leveraged.
  • Has experience and insights in both the business world and the non-profit world coupled with negotiation skills (re: TV deals, sponsor contracts, meet director deals, athlete demands, etc.)

The board was correct in adopting the job description that it did to guide them in this search. To accept anything less than what they themselves determined was needed for the position however would be irresponsible – even hypocritical. While the lack of transparency prevents me from saying who among the actual applicants fits this mold, I do know that Vin Lananna, Mary Whittenberg, and Bill Schmidt do – my personal short list. If Whittenberg and Schmidt either didn’t apply or were frightened during the process because, as Phil Hersh said, they may have feared lack of support or even undermining from the board president, then the board needs to call them – and any others that fit the description – back in and ASSURE them that such would not be the case. That they would be welcomed with open arms, given the key to the kingdom, and asked to lead – and that the board would follow that lead.

If the board is unwilling to do that, then it is indeed irresponsible,incompetent, and clearly in possession of an agenda other than the success of the organization and the sport here in the United States. And if that is the case then perhaps it is time to revisit the Amateur Sports Act of 1978 and ask the USOC to take away the charter of USATF. If this is the best that can be done under current leadership, we could do no worse than to start over from scratch. Burn it down as it is currently constructed and start over with a new foundation. Because this organization has shown time and time again that the best interests of the sport is not a part of it’s vision and the failure to find a legitimate CEO for the organization would be the final straw in my humble opinion.

Harsh? Yes I guess I am a bit harsh. But really, how much more should we take? Were you not embarrassed in ‘08? Does it not bother you to see so many empty seats in stadiums – even for a meet like the New York Diamond League meet? Does it not anger you when our athletes are thrown under the bus while those from other countries are provided support? Did it not break your heart to find out that the Modesto Relays could not garner enough support to run this year or to find out that Lannana just walked away, and that talent like Whittenberg and Schmidt may have been scared away? More importantly do you feel at this point that USATF, the folk that are supposed to be in charge of these things, do you feel that they even care or have the capacity to do anything about it?

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Wheating Picks Up Where He Left Off


Last summer Andrew Wheating emerged as possibly the brightest face in men’s middle distance running in the U.S.. This past weekend he opened his season with a 1500 meter run at the USATF High Performance meet in Southern California. The result was a 3:36.46 win – the #2 time of his career. Not a bad way to start the season.

With Lopez Lamong (3:37.01, 4th) and  Leo Manzano (3:38.26, 9th) in his wake, Wheating opened well against what began to emerge last year as the core of our young middle distance runners. And with just a few weeks until the National Championships, looks ready to make a strong run at the team for Daegu.

Our middle distance fortunes took another step towards competitiveness at the meet as Cory Prim, fresh off his Pac-10 victory for UCLA, stormed to an 800 PR of 1:44.71, with Tyler Mulder (OTC) right behind in 1:44.83. With Wheating and Manzano both running under 1:45 last summer; Nick Symmonds in his prime; and collegians like Casmir Loxsom and Robbie Andrews rapidly improving; we suddenly are looking at a Nationals that should be run in something other than the mundane 1:45/1:46 that we‘ve seen in recent years!

The women’s 800 also saw some solid running as Alice Schmidt (1:59.48) & Maggie Vessey (1:59.56) ran the #2 & #3 times of the season with Geena Gall (2:00.86) rounding off a very nice top three. Schmidt took over the U.S. lead from Phoebe Wright (1:59.98) who has run well early this season. For Gall it was her best time since ‘09 (2:00.44 PR) and it looks like she may be ready to finally drop under 2 minutes and join with Morgan Uceny, Anna Pierce, Allysia Johnson and those above in what should be one hot 800 meter race next month.

Finally, I have to mention that a couple of sprinters went unnoticed when I made reference to Steve Mullings WL 9.89 the other day. First was Travis Padgett’s 9.99 for second place behind Mullings. It was the first sub10 for Padgett since the Olympic season of 2008. He turned the trick twice in Florida as he also ran 9.96w in his heat. While it it doesn’t immediately make him a “contender”, it does make him relevant again. And with his blitz starting ability he could have an effect on the outcome of the final should he make it.

Another who is quietly becoming relevant again is Justin Gatlin, who didn’t contest the 100 in Florida (10.06 earlier this season) but did win the 200 in 20.20 (+1.9). It was his fastest 200 since winning the World Championships in Helsinki in 20.04 (with a follow up 20.04 in Sheffield England shortly thereafter). It gives Gatlin the #7 time in the world at the moment (to go with #14 in the 100), but more importantly shows that he is fit – nearly as fit as when he was double World Champion. I’m not sure which event Gatlin intends to contest at Nationals, or if he will compete in both. But regardless of how one feels about his ban, his recent performances say that he will be competitive in June. Making the sprints at U.S. Nationals this year “must watch TV”!

Speaking of must watch TV, we get the Rome Diamond League in a couple of days and the Jamaican “mini meet” in the 100 with Bolt, Powell, Forsythe and Clarke. Also keep an eye on Frenchman Christophe Lemaitre to see how well he holds up against the hot competition.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Mullings 9.89 WL – Log Jam in Jamaican 100


Steve Mullings, already the world leader at over 100 meters at 9.90, improved his best to 9.89 (+2.0) at the NTC Classic in Florida. The mark is important because it shows consistency for Mullings at this new level of performance. It’s also important because it shows just how much of a log jam Jamaica is going to have in it’s 100 meter final in one month’s time.

In the past it was the United States that had to suffer the agony of leaving home sprinters that could possibly have made the final in a major if they had just been able to crack the top three at the National Championships. Carl Lewis (‘80), Calvin Smith (‘84), Albert Robinson (‘88), and Mike Marsh (‘92) are just a few of the men who found themselves in the dreaded 4th place when trying to make the team in the 100 – not to mention those in 5th and 6th.

Various nations have had the same problem in other events. Kenya in the men’s 800, Russian in the women’s 400, and Ethiopia in the 5000 are countries with this “quality” problem. Jamaica has been nearing that stage in the 100 in recent years. In ‘08 with Bolt (9.85), Powell (9.97) and Frater (10.04) they were close but 4th place (Anderson, 10.11) and 5th place (Thomas, 10.22) were off the pace. The 2009 Trials for Berlin was even closer with Bolt (9.86), Powell (9.97), Frater (10.02), Anderson (10.07), Mullings (10.08), Blake (10.09) putting their first five under 10.11 and giving them the toughest sprint trials this side of the US.

In 2011 that should change dramatically as over the last season and a half the PR’s of Jamaica’s 100 men have taken a major turn. Mullings latest WL/PR gives Jamaica five sprinters with bests under 9.90 – Usain Bolt (9.59), Asafa Powell (9.72), Nesta Carter (9.78), Yohan Blake (9.88) and Mullings. Throw in Mario Forsythe (9.95), Michael Frater (9.97) & Lerone Clarke (9.99) and you have a potential final with at least eight men under 10.00. Suddenly naming the athletes that will represent Jamaica in Daegu  is not as easy as 1, 2, 3.

Usain Bolt, barring injury, is a given. He’s easily Jamaica’s top sprinter and has the benefit, as the defending World Champion, of having a bye to Daegu. After that, however, there are seven men vying for three spots – and that’s if no one else emerges in the next few weeks! Powell and Carter have the best PR’s, but Carter, Blake, and Mullings have been improving the most over the last 12 months – and rapidly.

The pecking order should start getting defined this coming week with Bolt, Powell, Forsythe and Clarke scheduled to compete head to head in Rome. There Bolt’s health, Powell’s competitiveness and the fitness of Forsythe and Clarke will all be tested. These four will be able to measure themselves against the current standard set by Mullings.

Then in a few weeks time Jamaican sprinters will face the agony that American sprinters have faced in the past – potential finalists/medalists left home to watch the World Championships on television. A quality problem, but a painful one none the less.

I’ll give my thoughts on who I believe the sprinters heading to Daegu will be during the week I do my US Trials predictions.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

NCAA Championship Favorites

The conferences are done. Only two meets left for the collegiate season – the Regional meets and the NCAA Championships. So it’s time to look at who will be this year’s NCAA Champions.

Last year’s meet was perhaps the best meet of the year in terms of overall excitement. I expect this year’s meet to follow suit. Following are my thoughts on team champions, events to keep an eye on and individual champions.


Men’s Team Champion – Florida

Florida has been runner up outdoors the last two years in a row. By 1 point last year, 2 points in ‘09. Both times to Texas A&M. I think that Florida turns the corner this year – but not without a fight! The sprints and relays will be crucial with LSU and Florida State having a lot to say about point distribution. At the end of the day I think it is Florida’s ability to garner field points that should make the difference – especially in the jumps.


Women’s Team Champion – Texas A&M

The Aggies are the two time defending champion – and I see them making it a three peat. Oregon will be tough in the distances, and LSU in the sprints and relays. But like Florida on the men’s side, the Lady Aggies are deep and should score points throughout the meet. Keep an eye on the heads to heads with LSU.


Events to Keep an Eye On

Men’s 400 - While Kirani James is a strong favorite on the men’s side, several individuals have emerged this year that are capable of running under 45.00. When that happens there are usually fireworks in this event.

Men’s 4x1 – Four teams (all top contenders) are under the 39 second barrier. This race will be crucial in terms of the points that are scored. Look for Florida, Florida St, LSU and Texas A&M to lead what could be one of the fastest finishes ever.

Men’s triple jump – The core of the US triple jump squad for Daegu, and going forward, could be competing in this meet.

Women’s 1500 & 5000 – Look for Oregon’s Jordan Hasay to try to pull off the double. She was successful indoors and is one tough competitor. If Oregon has any hope to unseat A&M for the team title it will have to start with Jordan.

Women’s 100 – This race should come down to the photo. Several young ladies had suddenly dropped into the 11.0x range. And I suspect that we could see one of them make the team for Daegu. This race could be the debut of the core of our women’s sprint troops for the upcoming trifecta.



Men’s Favorites

Event Athlete School
100 Meters Jeff Demps Florida
200 Meters Maurice Mitchell Florida St
400 Meters Kirani James Alabama
800 Meters Fred Samoie Alabama
1500 Meters Miles Batty BYU
3000 Steeplechase Steve Finley Oregon
5000 Meters Stephen Sambu Arizona
10000 Meters Stephen Sambu Arizona
110 Hurdles Omo Osaghae Texas Tech
400 Hurdles Jeshua Andersen Washington St
4 x 100 Relay Lovett, Taylor, Wilks, Demps Florida
4 x 400 Relay Miller, Henry, Preble, Pinder Texas A&M
High Jump Erik Kynard Kansas St
Pole Vault Scott Roth Washington
Long Jump Will Claye Florida
Triple Jump Christian Taylor Florida
Shot Put Mason Finley Kansas
Discus Julian Wruck Texas Tech
Hammer Marcel Lomnicky Virginia Tech
Javelin Sam Humphreys Texas A&M
Decathlon Romain Martin Texas Arlington


Women’s Favorites

Event Athlete School
100 Meters Semoy Hacket LSU
200 Meters Semoy Hacket LSU
400 Meters Jessica Beard Texas A&M
800 Meters Anne Kessellring Oregon
1500 Meters Jordan Hasay Oregon
3000 Steeplechase Emma Coburn Colorado
5000 Meters Jordan Hasay Oregon
10000 Meters Liz Costello Tennessee
110 Hurdles Christina Manning Ohio St
400 Hurdles Turquoise Thompson UCLA
4 x 100 Relay Mayo, Tarmoh, Duncan, Collier Texas A&M
4 x 400 Relay Tarmoh, Mayungbe, Sutherland, Beard Texas A&M
High Jump Brigetta Barrett Arizona
Pole Vault Tina Sutej Arkansas
Long Jump Whitney Gipson TCU
Triple Jump Kim Williams Florida St
Shot Put Julie Labonte Arizona
Discus Anna Jelmini Arizona St
Hammer Nikola Lomnicka Georgia
Javelin Marissa Tschida Washington St
Heptathlon Chelsea Carrier West Virginia

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

My Thoughts on Street Races


I've been having a very interesting conversation the past couple of days with a good friend who took umbrage with my comment that I do not think that street races are the way to build this sport. His position, without all the details, is that street races, vaults, jumps, etc. are an asset to the sport because they bring out crowds of people - and therefore help to build the base of the sport.

Even if that were the case, that these events brought people out, I would still be against them because that would be a case of the tail wagging the dog. Getting people excited about something slightly related to the sport, is not the same as getting them excited about the sport itself. And unless these people are headed to our meets in the stadium, then it is a wasted effort in my humble opinion. You see the sport is run around a track and in stadiums. Our championships are run the same way. That is where our stars are developed; where our records are developed and measured; how our sport is defined. As such anything else is a hybrid, and we already have one hybrid of the sport that we are having difficulty selling and sustaining - the indoor season. A hybrid that is slowly dying as our athletes, as they should, are putting a greater emphasis on the outdoor season and the fame and money that they gain from it.

But back to the streets. My friend is correct in one respect, the select street events that have been held have been fairly successful - they have drawn crowds. But just as the fact that we see smoke at a fire doesn't mean that the fire was started by the smoke, I submit that the crowds at these events are NOT generated because the event itself was held! The key to these events are what should be the key to any of our events INSIDE the stadium - they secure star talent to compete, AND they are heavily marketed.

Usain Bolt became a star because of what he did on the track (the Games and Worlds), not because of the exposure in Manchester. The Manchester race gained legitimacy because Bolt ran there - Bolt didn't gain legitimacy because of the street race.

Do they get good crowds in Manchester? Absolutely. But NOT because they’re racing on the streets. Put a bunch of school kids out there, or even some of Britain's "B" level talent (I use them because they may be well known to the locals) and no one is watching. They go because someone takes the time to get top level talent to come run down that street! But guess what? They will go watch them in the stadium if you get the same athletes to commit! And if you get great matchups - Bolt v Gay, Liu v Robles v Oliver, Felix v Campbell Brown - you sell the meet out early!

The attractions in this sport are the matchups between the stars. Not just the stars themselves, but the matchups between them. Worlds, in spite of Mr. Diack's general feelings, is the spectacle it is because it has the largest gathering of stars, and the best matchups of the year - it cannot be diminished! Meets like Zurich and Oslo and Pre were track and field "nobility" long before the Diamond League, or even the Golden League, came to be. They attained their status because of their ability to attract the big name athletes and pit them against each other - not because they used "gimmicks" to attract fans.

THAT is how you build the sport, by showcasing your best talent and your best matchups - not by hosting ancillary events. The truth of the matter, is that I feel that the ancillary events delay the growth of the sport! Why? Because in order to make an ancillary event successful, you have to "steal" from your "real" events - no Bolt, no Gay, no Felix, no stars and no one cares regardless of where you hold the event.

When you put forth the money to attract stars to compete at hybrid events, you use money that could have been used to attract them to, and market, a "real/normal" event. In essence, every street race that Bolt, Felix or others compete in is one less "real" race that they will NOT compete in. Tyson Gay was running down the street in Manchester this past weekend instead of running against Powell in Shanghai. The sport would have been better off Sunday with Felix running a hundred against Campbell Brown and Jeter than it was with her running a race that didn't matter down the middle of the street. And the sport would have been immensely better off with Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell going head to head instead of Tyson taking a shot in the rain at a record that at the end of the day meant nothing. Even if Tyson had set the record over the hybrid 150, the question then becomes: how would he fair against Bolt over 200! For proof look no further than his 19.41 "WR" run last year. The talk centered around what would he do in a "real" deuce, and that (in the eyes of most) had no bearing on how he would do against Bolt! When the rankings for the event were compiled at the end of the season, that race had no impact on how he was ranked - it was a nearly forgotten race. Come January, Manchester will be remembered by few as part of the fabric of the 2011 season. It will not be spoken with Pre, Weltklasse, Lausanne, Rieti, or any of the meets that will be contested on the oval this year.

As if the above were not enough, not only does competing in Manchester prevent the competitors from competing in other "legitimate" meets that particular weekend, but given the time it takes athletes like Bolt, Gay, Felix, et al to recover from their competitions (due to their intensity and strain on the body) it effectively removes them from competing in any "legitimate" meets for up to the next two to three weeks! THAT is a drain from start lists that the sport isn't in the position to sustain as we are already having difficulty getting our best to compete at the meets that truly define the sport! Yet, now that we've had Tyson blaze down the middle of Main Street, we may not have the opportunity to see him again until the National Championships. Was Manchester worth that? Because when he's not competing, Tyson is not a part of the conversation/marketing of any of our "real" meets. Just as Bolt, with his world wide stature now, does the sport little good if he is NOT competing. The fame only matters for the sport when the athletes compete.

If my choices as the architect of the sport are to A) have Tyson run a 150 down the street of Manchester, or B) have him run in Rome against Bolt and Powell, guess which one I'm advocating as having the most impact towards building the sport? I'm sorry but "B" is a no brainer for me! Because given the dearth of appearances we are already faced with from the stars of the sport, we cannot afford to throw any of them away on non consequential events.

Now, let me say that I am not so myopic that I don't understand that the average or even non fan needs a little extra from what many may consider to be a "boring" sport. Because many people, until they are hooked, see track as people "running around in a circle". I get that. Which is why I'm not against having bbq's, fairs, concerts and the like at our meets. Even for the die hard fan a meet can get a bit "slow" when your favorite events aren't being contested. So, yes, we should look at "adding" some things to our meets that have an entertainment value - to keep people in or around the stadium - if we are going to ask them to stay for an extended length of time. It's what I call "added value" - you get to see Bolt, Robles, Felix, Isinbayeva AND you get something else. But the "something else" should be an added value, not the reason people are there. And the reason for them to be there is to see GREAT COMPETITION. Always has been. Always will be.

Now, you may or may not agree with me, and I am curious to hear what you think. So there is a poll on the left and feel free to leave comments in the comments area.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

W.O.W. – What O’ Weekend !


Collegiate conferences, Diamond League action, a secondary meet in an off location. If you’re a true fan of track and field, this weekend had some of everything. There are links to results to the right, my impression of some of the happenings of the weekend follow.


Shanghai Diamond League – Great Head to Heads

Another very early morning (4am) to catch this meet online! Not the first meet of the weekend, but the one that finally gave us a couple of star level head to heads – and they did not disappoint. The first of these was the women’s 100 with Carmelita Jeter (USA) and Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM) going at it. Campbell Brown got perhaps the best start of her life and held to the tape, just holding off the ever closing Jeter 10.92 to 10.95. This should be the matchup in Daegu as long as both can start well – Jeter’s Achilles heel. As evidenced here, no one else can finish like these two vets.

The second matchup was in the men’s 110 hurdles with Liu Xiang (CHN) and David Oliver (USA) finally getting together on the track after a year’s layoff from Xiang due to injury. Xiang proved two things in Shanghai: 1) he is BACK and healthy, 2) he is still the best there is around the finish line as he won Round 1 13.07 (WL) to 13.18. They ran side by side for most of the race. Oliver looked as imposing as ever, but there is something about Liu, that even though he doesn’t “look” fast, he’s always right there – and zeroing in on the finish line. This time the win broke an 18 meet win streak for Oliver and was Liu’s best mark since 2007 (12.92). Now all we need is Dayron Robles to join in. And while Diack says that heads to heads diminish Worlds, I can’t wait to see these two go at it again!

The other impressive race was the men’s 1500. Impressive on two fronts. One was the winning time of 3:31.42 for Nixon Chepseba (KEN), just ahead of teammate Asbel Kiprop’s (KEN) 3:31.76. And speaking of teammates, Kenya had 11 of the top 12 finishers with five of them under 3:35! They will be a force in Daegu.


Pac-10 Championships – Back to Great Sprinting

The Pac-10 used to be the home of great sprinting. UCLA & USC produced some of the finest sprinters and races this side of the Olympics. That seems like forever ago as the SEC and Big 12 have taken over that mantle. But two Pac-10 FRESHMEN put the conference back on the sprinting map this weekend. Not from a Los Angeles school, but from the University of Oregon!

First it was Oregon freshman Mike Berry blazing a 44.91 in the 400 – breaking a 41 year old school record (45.07) set by Olympian Otis Davis. USC’s Joey Hughes (45.05) and Bryshon Nellum (45.56) finished with fine times as well in second and third. For Nellum it continues his comeback from a devastating injury, and solidifies my feelings that the young man is one to watch this year. As is Berry who should now be thought of as a threat to medal at the upcoming NCAA championships.

Ditto for fellow Oregon frosh English Gardner who blazed to an 11.03 American Junior Record in the women’s 100 meters. Her run broke the AJR of non other than Angela Williams (11.04) who was a four time NCAA champion over the distance! Her emergence to go with teammate Amber Purvis could well be enough to pair with Oregon’s distance strength to give the lady Ducks a strong run at the NCAA team title. Take note that soph Jordan Hasay took the 1500/5000 double here – 4:19.18/16:24.10.

Final note, Washington State’s Jeshua Andersen appears back on track with a sizzling 48.13 win here, crushing his own meet record of 48.63!


SEC Championships – Florida & Arkansas Deep

How deep are Arkansas & Florida? Florida won the decathlon, the long jump at 27’ 2, the triple jump at 56’ 6.75 (and 56’ 3.25 for 2nd), the 4x1 at 38.53. And in spite of the fact that defending National Champion Jeff Demps false started out in the heats, they still won the 100 in 10.11w! Arkansas swept the 1500, took 3 of the top 4 spots in the 800, won the 200 and scored 13 points in the 5000! Redshirt Dorien Ulrey winning the 800/1500 and scored points in that 5000.

These are quite possibly the deepest and diverse squads in the nation on the men’s side – only Texas A&M may b4e in their league in that regard. It’s that diversity – the ability to score points in a number of different type of events – that I think puts them in the drivers seat come Nationals. Ditto for the Lady Tigers of LSU who parlayed dominating sprint points with a mixture of field event point to dominate this meet with a 30 point victory over the Lady Gators. LSU is ranked #1 in the country and should be the favorite heading to Nationals.

Individually Kirani James (Alabama) looks like one of those athletes that is a prohibitive favorite for Nationals. He won here in 44.86, but it wasn’t just the time, it was the strength that he showed in the stretch that was impressive. Florida soph Tony McQuay, has been coming back from injury at indoor Nationals, but halfway through the final turn took control of the race and looked ready to give James a serious challenge. Coming into the homestretch, however, Kirani began to drive his arms with power and pulled away from McQuay and the rest of the field on his way to a one second victory (McQuay 2nd in 45.87).

In addition to Ulrey’s double victory, Florida’s Will Claye pulled off the jump double at 27’ 2.5”/56’ 6.75”. Awesome at any level. Tennessee’s Liz Costello also won the 5000/10000 double (16:13.06/33:42.96). The women’s 100 saw three within .01 sec with Hacket (LSU, 11.01), Brookins (S. CAR, 11.02) and Duncan (LSU, 11.02) just over the allowable at +2.4! AND this meet saw a Collegiate record as Arkansas’ Tina Sutej vaulted a big 15’ 1.5”! This has arguably become THE Strongest conference in the country for track and field.


Big 12 Championships

Omo Osaghe (Tx Tech) had the best mark of the meet, scorching the 110 hurdles in 13.23 sec (+0.8). He’s been tough all season and is looking like a strong favorite for Nationals as well as a potential break out athlete for the season. On the heels of the performances of the Oregon freshmen, we got another strong frosh performance as Kansas frosh Diamond Dixon shown brightly with an upset victory over Jessica Beard (Tx A&M) 51.55 to 51.68. The oval stayed hot as shortly thereafter Demetrius Pinder (Tx A&M) joined the weekend’s sub 45 club with a 44.87 win – putting him in the mix with Berry (Oregon) and James (Alabama) – with the next four all between 45.28 and 45.64. The men’s 400 is shaping up to be one of the hottest events at the NCAA championships.

The sprints didn’t let up as Jeneba Tarmoh (Tx A&M) and Rakieem Salaam both scored sprint doubles. Both fought strong headwinds in the 100, keeping their times modest (11., –1.6 & 10.23, –2.5). The winds were much less oppressive in the deuce however, and both seemed to enjoy the change with PR wins in 22.46 (-0.3) and 20.05 (+0.0) – both collegiate leaders.

Texas A&M won both 4x1’s and both 4x4’s and ran away with both the men’s and women’s team titles. Both are clearly in the running for team titles at the National Championships. Which judging from this weekend is going to be one hum dinger of a meet.


Ponce – The Past and the Future Meet

Ponce is one of those “light” meets that fall on the schedule – typically an opportunity for athletes to get in an extra race here or there without a lot of pressure. For Justin Gatlin these meets have become his opportunity to work his way back into contention, because he’s not being given invites to locales like Zurich, Rome and Lausanne. Ponce however, gave Gatlin a great opportunity this time as it paired him with Jamaica’s newest sprint find Nikel Ashmeade who ran a world leading 19.96 last week in the 200. The result was a PR for Ashmeade (10.05) and a comeback best for Gatlin (10.06). Both athletes could make an impact at their respective National championships in June. More on that later.


Manchester – Tyson Gay Debut

I’m not a fan of these types of events. I’ve been asked several times why and will explain why later this week. I am mentioning Manchester, however, because we finally got Tyson Gay’s first race of the season. There was a lot of talk about taking a shot at Usain Bolt’s World Best over 150 meters – Gay set a World Best for a straight 200 here last year in 19.41 sec! The British weather was not kind however, being very cold and the race taking place in what was described as a downpour. None the less Gay managed to run 14.51 – short of Bolt’s 14.35 record as well as his own 14.41 run en route to his 19.41 last year. Still not bad given the conditions, but I’m waiting to see Tyson in a real race.

I’ve almost been on track overload this weekend – almost. The season seems to be going in earnest now. We have two Diamond League events under our belts, Rome is on the slate for next weekend, and the collegiates are headed towards their Regional championships. We’re just about a month from most countries selecting their squads for Daegu, so expect to see marks begin to get faster, further, and higher.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

Oliver (13.14) & Felix (22.38) in Daegu


The Colorful Daegu meet is already over. I had forgotten how early things are in that part of the world compared to here in the US. Suddenly I remember the Seoul Olympics and the huge difference in time. Watching Worlds this year is going to be a middle of the night (online), time delayed (TV) nightmare!

Today’s meet had some decent fields, but after the slew of marks turned in this past weekend, jet lag must surely have had an effect on many of today’s participants. Combined with temperatures in the mid 60’s, the results were not as outstanding as one would have hoped to see on the track that will be hosting the World Championships. Still some good efforts were turned in.

Chief among them being wins by David Oliver (USA) in the 110 hurdles and Allyson Felix (USA) in the 200 meters. For Oliver, he eclipsed his own world best with a 13.14 (+0.0) victory, easily ahead of second place Aries Merritt (USA, 13.30). Given the still wind a very strong mid May performance for Oliver. Ditto for Allyson Felix who had pretty much a solo run in the 200 as her 22.38 (+0.4) was well ahead of second place Consuela Moore’s 23.16! The time puts Felix at the top of both the 200 & 400 lists for the season and confirms that she is ready to compete over both distances.

While not nearly a world leader, the men’s 400 hurdles had an interesting result as Johnny Dutch (USA), last year’s breakthrough athlete in the event, won in 49.03 over vets Bershawn Jackson (USA, 49.14) and Angelo Taylor (USA, 49.67). This is Jackson’s second loss in a row coming off a loss to South African’s Van Zyl and Fredericks in Doha. After last year’s juggernaut season where he was undefeated for most of the season and lead the world at 47.32, Jackson has been much less sharp this season. Perhaps it is just a matter of working to peak for Worlds. Time will tell.

One who has been sharp in all of her races this year is Carmelita Jeter (USA). Jeter won yet again in Daegu sprinting 11.09 (+0.0) to win handily over LaShauntea Moore’s 11.27. After debuting last month at 10.99 it was Jeter’s first mark over the 11 second barrier this year – which gives an indication of the conditions for this meet. In the men’s race, Walter Dix (USA) took a tight race over Michael Rodgers (USA) 10.00 to 10.03 (+0.3). Dix moved to #4 on the season and only list leader Steve Mullings 9.90 (+2.0) is substantially faster so far on the season.

The women’s 1500 saw Ukrainian Anna Mischenko nearly repeat her world leading effort from Doha (4:03.00) with a 4:03.52 to once again best Irene Jelegat (KEN, 4:04.32). This time Meskerem Assefa (ETH) separated them at 4:03.63 to become #2 on the yearly list.

These were the best marks coming out of Daegu this morning/evening. Full results can be found here. The weekend should now be dominated by the collegiate conferences as they start their drive towards the NCAA Championships. Keep a close eye on the Big 12 (Texas A&M), Pac-10 (Oregon), and SEC (Florida, LSU, Arkansas) as that is where the balance of power lies.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Demus, Robles, Wariner, Howe / Weekend Wrap


This was a very big weekend for track and field at this early stage of the season. The Diamond League opened in Doha on Friday. Saturday we had a sprint fest in Kingston. Late Saturday saw more big names taking to the track in Guadaloupe. And Sunday we got another surprise in the sprints.

In what was reportedly rainy weather in Guadaloupe, Lashinda Demus (USA) took her first run over the 400 hurdles this year and finished in a world leading 54.92 – the year’s first mark under 55.00. With a best of 52.63 Demus is one of four women currently competing with a PR under 53.00 – Melaine Walker (JAM, 52.42), Natalya Antyuhk (RUS, 52.92) & Sheena Tosta (USA, 52.95). Walker and Demus went 1,2 in Berlin in ‘09 and appear headed for another showdown in Daegu as Walker currently sits right behind Demus on the yearly list at 53.60.

Another hurdler debuting in Guadaloupe was Dayron Robles (CUB) the WR holder in the 110 hurdles. He won here in 13.35. A fair time for the conditions, but more importantly showing fitness and health – and putting him on a path to meet AR holder David Oliver (USA) in Daegu. Now we just need to see Liu Xiang in action to set up what could be one of the greatest hurdles races of all time as Robles (12.87), Liu (12.88) and Oliver (12.89) are the three fastest hurdlers in history! A Worlds final with all three healthy has the potential to produce something special – perhaps the best of the meet. So it’s nice to see that two thirds of the trio is currently healthy.

Jeremy Wariner returned to good health last year. And while he has been competing for several weeks now, his victory in Guadaloupe was significant in that it was his first sub 45 of the season (44.88). Wariner didn’t break 45 in 2010 until June 10th (44.72) so it looks like he is ahead of last year’s schedule and more in line with previous seasons when he ran under 44.00. In other words we could see Wariner back to his 43 second form, which would make him very difficult to beat in Daegu. Because believe it or not we haven’t seen a sub 44 quarter since 2008 – Merritt 43.75, Wariner 43.82!

Speaking of the quarter, Andrew Howe (FRA) keeps convincing me that what he really is is a sprinter. The long jumper (27’ 9.5” PR) ran a sterling 20.28 as a junior athlete. Coming off a couple of years of serious injuries he ran a 200 last year and scoots 20.30. This past weekend he runs the 400 for the first time in five years and runs a European best 45.70! I know he was good enough to take silver in the long jump in Osaka (‘07), but given his history of injuries I can’t help but wonder what would happen if he gave the sprints some serious consideration.

This last weekend was awesome – yet we’re just getting started. This weekend will see the second leg of the Diamond League in Shanghai, and the collegiate season turns to championships in earnest with several of the top conference championships on tap. There is much to talk about this week.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Sprints Hot in Jamaica Without Bolt or Gay


The hottest sprinting of the weekend was not in the Doha Diamond league event on Friday, but at the Jamaican Invitational in Kingston on Saturday. Given the results in Kingston and the talk earlier in the week about the meets being scheduled too close together, you can bet that somebody will have a different place on the schedule next year.

But another time to talk about the scheduling woes of the sport. Jamaica is about sprinting, and Jamaica’s best stayed home for the weekend to ply their wares on the newly laid track at National Stadium. And the results on the track were pretty impressive.

Carmelita Jeter (USA) got the track hot by scorching the track for a new world leader in the 100 with her 10.86 (+1.9). Excellent sprinting for any time of the year, let alone early May. It seems she may be on her way back to the 10.6x zone. It’s still very early in the season, but she’s moving into a favorites position unless others begin to step up soon. Here her closest competitor was Kelly Ann Baptiste (TRI) in 10.94. Beijing co-silver medalists Sherone Simpson (JAM) and Kerron Stewart (JAM) were well back as both ran 11.07.

Jeter’s win was the only victory to break up the Jamaican sprint party on this day however, as immediately following in the men’s race Yohan Blake controlled things handily with a 9.80 (+2.2) victory. Slightly windy, but still impressive. He too was well up on second place as Daniel Bailey (ANT) was well back in 9.94, just ahead of Michael Rodgers (USA) 9.96. With 9.89/19.78 credentials last year, Blake’s race here confirms that he is a serious threat to make the Jamaican team for Doha in both sprints – and a threat for both finals.

Jamaica repeated it’s winning ways in the 200. First in the women’s race with Shelly Ann Fraser Pryce moving up from the 100 (Olympic and World champion in ‘08/’09) and blazed the turn on her way to a 22.10 (+2.4) victory. While the wind negated the legality of the race, the fact that second place was held by Veronica Campbell Brown (JAM, 22.37), the ‘04 & ‘08 Olympic champion, makes Fraser Pryce a potential threat here as well. As this race certainly marked her as someone to watch in this event.

The men’s race gave us yet another sprinter to watch this year as Nickel Ashmeade (JAM) moved from promising youngster to accomplished sprinter as he became the newest member of the sub 20 club with his 19.95 (+1.6) win. The victory gave him the world lead, and broke the stadium record set by Tyson Gay in 2007 (19.97). His win came against some big names in the sport with yearly 100 leader Steve Mullings (JAM, 20.15), World and Olympic medalist Wallace Spearmon (USA, 20.16), and last year’s 100 co-leader Nesta Carter (JAM, 20.25) all some distance behind. The race saw one time 100 WR holder Asafa Powell (JAM) in 8th place as Jamaican youth were on display on this day.

It’s still very early in the season, and one can only imagine what we will see when Bolt and Gay finally take to the track, but I think it is safe to say that the sprints are going to command center stage this year – and the rivalry between the US and Jamaica just had more logs thrown onto the fire! Anyone wanting to be in the mix this year is going to have to bring his AND her “A” game!

And I can’t go without mentioning another world leader from Kenia Sinclair (JAM) as she outran Phoebe Wright (USA) in the 800 1:58.41 to 1:59.98 in a replay of their anchor legs at Penn. Jamaica may be sprint happy (and with good reason) but Sinclair could bring home a middle distance medal in Doha. And it’s nice to see Phoebe under 2:00 so early in the season.

Today belonged to Jamaica, however, as they feasted on home cooking. For full meet results click here. The weekend isn’t over and there are still more results to come in. But it’s going to take some to top the sprinting that took place in Kingston.

Friday, May 6, 2011

How to Run the Diamond League

Once again we’ve started the Diamond League without a matchup of any of the true stars of the sport. Doha produced many of the world’s top marks – but that is to be expected when you begin to get the world’s truly elite athletes on the track. We will see wholesale revisions of the yearly performance lists on a weekly basis now that the “best” are performing.

But what we were promised with the unveiling of the Diamond League last year was not just another series of “European Circuit” type meets. What we were told was that this league was going to contract with the crème de la crème in such a manner that we would get regular servings of elite head to head matchups. Yet one of the complaints after the end of last season was that that promise went unfulfilled. And if Doha, and quotes by IAAF President Lamine Diack are any indication, we won’t be seeing too many this season either.

Why is getting these athletes to compete so hard – aside from the fact that the head of the sport doesn’t seem to feel it’s a priority? Personally I don’t think it’s really all that difficult. So here’s my suggestion.

First off, since this is supposed to be a “league” let’s treat it like a league. To me that means that each “meet director” is treated like an “owner” in any other sporting league, and that the league is treated as a single unit. As such, let’s develop a collective agreement between all the meets on the circuit and put all revenues into a league trust. That would include turnstile revenue, souvenir sales, corporate sponsorships, etc.

A formula can be created to determine each meet’s profit level and, more importantly, the payout base for athletes. Once the payout base has been set for the season, the league can set it’s individual meet payouts, overall season payouts, and then begin negotiations on individual performance contracts. These individual contracts would be based on criteria such as previous season’s performance, rankings within events, and number of meets the individual is willing to commit to.

Once the contracts have been established the athlete’s and agents are done. Now the most important phase begins – setting up the competition schedule for the season. The league should have a Competition Committee whose function would be to take the athletes that are under contract and based on the number of meets, and events they have agreed to compete in assign each athlete to a set of meets for the season.

Not an easy job I know. Usain Bolt, for example may want to compete in three 100 meter races and two 200 meter races – based on talks held during contract negotiations. Conversely, Tyson Gay may want to compete in one 400, two 100’s and two 200’s. The job of the Competition Committee will be to see that both athletes run head to head, while also sharing time on the track with the likes of Nesta Carter, Wallace Spearmon, Yohan Blake and Walter Dix. Athletes/agents could make some stipulations during contract talks, such as they don’t want to meet a rival within X days of the start of the season, right after Nationals, amount of recovery time between meets, etc. From that the Competition Committee would be charged with ensuring that all events (in this case the sprints) within the Diamond League have an adequate number of top level athletes competing, as well as a fair number of head to head matchups among not just numbers that engage let’s say the top half dozen or so athletes in each event. A daunting task I know, but one that I believe is doable.

The idea here being not to end up with a circuit that becomes a series of “Time Trials” each meet with a major competitor lining up against a group of up and comers. But that each meet provides a series of challenging competitions to the fans. Because these athletes will be paid to compete and to fulfill contracts that require some serious competition outside of the year’s major championship. After all, the public is paying to see just that, and just like other sports track and field needs to deliver it’s best every meet. I can already feel the excitement of fans waiting for the unveiling of the Diamond League season. Fans waiting with baited breath to see against whom and when their favorite athletes are going to be lining up during the season. Knowing that Gay & Bolt, Robles & Oliver, Kaki & Rudisha, Felix & Campbell Brown, et al have to go through each other on their way to the next championship! Now that makes for an exciting season, not just an exciting championship.

I know this is radical thinking. I can already hear that Bolt’s agent or Gay’s agent or whoever’s agent isn’t going to want to give up that kind of control. That the athletes and agents and coaches want to determine their own destiny. But if the sport is to grow, it is only going to happen by getting the athletes to compete against one another. And truth be known, it’s only been in the last decade that we’ve had such difficulty getting athletes to compete head to head. Maurice Greene, Ato Boldon, Tim Montgomery, Frank Fredericks and Bruny Surin competed against each other in various configurations quite often – in the late 90’s and leading into the oughts. Ditto Merlene Ottey, Gail Devers, Gwen Torrence, Irina Privalova and Inger Miller in the mid to late 90’s. And Allen Johnson, Liu Xiang, Ladje Doucoure, Terrence Trammell and Anier Garcia in the early oughts. Oh, and neither the Olympics or Worlds lost any stature.

Besides most professional sports have no control over how the competitive season gets laid out. Scheduling committees are common place. And low and behold those sports are all thriving – primarily because they put a great product on the floor/field every time patrons go through the turnstiles. And that is my aim – for track and field to put a great product on the track every time out. Because right now we are closer to putting the Harlem Globetrotters out to play the Washington Generals each meet than we are to putting out Kobe v Rose or Lebron v Carmelo. And it seems that the only way to effectively move in that direction is to go from being a bunch of individual meets and individual competitors to becoming more like a collective operation. And I believe that the Diamond League could be used to begin that process.

I know I’m whistling in the wind – nobody’s listening or hears. Some people may even be questioning if I’ve lost my mind. But something has to change. The direction we’re going as a sport is NOT a good one. We’re running races down the middle of the street because we can’t get people to the stadium! When Jesse Owens ran against horses it was out of desperation – and I feel the same way about street races, begging football players to run 40 yards at a meet, and long jumping in a sand box. Kobe and Lebron don’t have to play at Rucker’s Park and Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt shouldn’t have to run down the middle of the street. They just need to run against each other in a stadium and EVERYONE will come and watch! So if we’re going to make radical changes – like racing in the street – why not make a few that will do more than create novelty. Let’s get back to basics by creating competition – the one true staple of the sport!

Diack Says Head to Heads Diminish Value of World Championships


Yes, you read the headline correctly. The head of the IAAF, the global governing body for track and field provided the following quote during an interview which can be read here. The quote made while discussing head to head meetings:

“"It will be more difficult this year," Diack said, adding that it would not be realistic, for instance, to foresee to see three or four meetings between Gay and Bolt. "Don't expect that," he added. "That could diminish the value of the World Championships. Maybe they will meet just once before then. We will see."”

I’m sorry, but I’m not following the logic here.The World Championships is the biggest meet of the year – regardless of what happens in any other meet during the season. The fields contain the crem de la crem of the sport – the ONLY time you will get them all together in one venue – plus the tension of competitors trying to work their way through the rounds. It’s THE meet that everyone strives to peak for. After all it is the meet where if you win you are crowned the CHAMPION of your event – because you’ve met and defeated the best there is.

There is absolutely NOTHING that can take place during the rest of the season that would diminish the value of the World Championships! That’s like saying the Super Bowl has no meaning if two undefeated teams meet during the season. Or the NBA finals is meaningless because the Lakers and Heat play four games prior. I find it almost insulting that the head of the sport would make such a comment – it’s not what you want to hear coming from leadership.

It’s either like the Fox and the Grapes – I can’t get them to run head to head so I don’t care about head to heads and didn’t want them to anyway. Or, he really believes that somehow great competition during the season diminishes the World Championships. Either way, both positions are ridiculous.

For starters, as I’ve said so many times now I’m nearly blue in the face, great match ups DRAW people to the meets and to the sport! That’s what people WANT to see. And in the words of the O’Jays, you’ve got to give the people what they want!

Besides, we got lots of head to heads in the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, even the 90’s and guess what? The sport was infinitely MORE popular than it is NOW! We had more meets, and filled stands – and the Olympics and World Championships were as anticipated if not more so than today! Why? Because head to head competition during the season only increases the anticipation of what is going to happen once they face off again in the Major!

For example, adding an even number of head to heads during the season would provide the potential for Worlds to be the ultimate tiebreaker. Not just a tiebreaker, but a tiebreaker with at title on the line! That would diminish Worlds? Even in the event that the season series was uneven (say 3 to 1) Worlds now becomes the ultimate “redemption” race. The race of the year, with the season’s strongest field, with a title on the line, and the chance for “winner take all” glory! There are so many ways you can play the scenarios from a marketing standpoint – marketing opportunities that we are now lacking!

Not in the history of the sport has a Major championship race NOT held the throne as the ultimate race of the year. From Jesse Owens v Ralph Metcalf, to Jim Hines v Charlie Greene, to Carl Lewis v  Ben Johnson, to Mo Greene v Tim Montgomery, time and time again great sprinters have met during the season only to meet in the Major with the question looming – ok, can you do it with the lights on! And when an underdog comes back and wins, oooo “How ya like me now”!

After all, there is nothing like settling a good rivalry on the ultimate battle field with all the world watching with anticipation. Rivalries enhance a championship. And in order to have a rivalry, well you have to compete against each other. Individual time trials during the season by the sport’s best – each dominating the competition – with a one race season finale between the best, only leaves everyone wanting MORE.

This is why the sport is dying a slow agonizing death – and apparently it starts at the top! Perhaps next we’ll be advocating for no meets during the season at all – just a World Championships. After all, if we see them compete before Worlds it just may diminish the World Championships!

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

A Look Ahead to Doha


The pro season will get started in earnest Friday in Doha, Qatar. Judging from the lineup for the meet, and the large number of top level athletes on tap, the pros will be using the Diamond League to get paid while they prepare for Worlds. We may not see them all at the same time, or get the head to head “showdowns” that we want, but it looks like the Road to Daegu will run down the middle of the Diamond League.

The Start Lists for Doha are now available: Men’s List. Women’s List.

Let me say that the event I was most looking forward to was the men’s 800, but earlier this week both David Rudisha (KEN) and Abubaker Kaki (SUD) pulled out due to injury. I was hoping we would get a nice early season show down of note. However, there are still lots of athletes to keep an eye on. With that said, based on the current entries, here are a few events that I will be watching closely.  

Men’s 110 Hurdles. David Olver (USA). Until we get Liu &/or Robles on the track, Oliver should be running time trials in his preparation, as no one else has yet risen close to the stature of the Big Three. So the question in Doha for me is how close will Oliver get to 13.00? Because this year could be his shot at the WR if he can get the competition from Liu and Robles.

Men’s 200. Walter Dix (USA). After his Penn leadoff beat down by Asafa Powell (JAM) I want to see if Dix bounces back in Doha. He needs a pro like race here badly – meaning a victory near or under 20.00. Dix has shown the potential to be a great sprinter. He’s also shown a tendency to be up and down. His demeanor in championships is as good as any – but he’s got to get there first. He should get a fair test here from Saidy Ndure (NOR). And running a deuce gives us another look at Dix running around that turn.

Men’s Triple Jump. Teddy Tamgho (FRA). I would love to see a long 58 footer out of Tamgho. I think he is capable of challenging the 60 foot barrier (and Edwards’ WR) and getting out well beyond 58 feet early should move him towards 60 feet by season’s end. IMHO Tamgho is capable of being this year’s Bolt / Rudisha – that athlete that makes a “major” breakthrough.

Men’s Pole Vault. Renaud Lavillenie (FRA). Another athlete approaching a barrier as Lavillenie seems to have the potential to reach 20 feet. So does Steven Hooker of Australia. Their season’s bests last year were only .01cm apart. While they don’t grab the headlines their road to Daegu, and the battle once there, could be as epic as any in the sport this year.

Women’s 1500. Gelete Burka (ETH). Burka is one of the top 1500 runners out there. She should be in the mix for a spot on the podium at Worlds. With the current yearly leader only at 4:06, I expect this race to begin to set the standard for the season. Daegu should go sub 4:00, I expect to see Burka around 4:02 here.

Women’s 400. Allyson Felix (USA). Felix is in good shape – she split 50.3 in the 4x4 at Penn. Her speed is fairly sharp – she looked good on the backstretch of a 42.34 4x1 at Penn. She is considering making an attempt at the 200//400 double at Worlds and this will be her first open 400 of the season. It should be an interesting race. Amantle Montsho (BOT) is always tough and should give Felix all she can handle. I’ll also be watching Nicola Sanders (GBR). She ran 49.65 and was the silver medalist in Osaka (‘07). She’s had injury issues since, but could be a factor if healthy. She could be a sleeper.

Post Penn, this will be an excellent way to finally get the season rolling.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Distance Runners Come Alive at Stanford

For most of the early season I’ve talked about the speed events and the collegians, because they’ve been the one’s making most of the noise. I’ve been waiting for the distance runners to join the fray – if for no other reason than I feel like we really have a chance to compete against the rest of the world.

That happened yesterday at the Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto. A full invitational with sprints hurdlers and field events, it’s the distances that always seem to feature at this meet. In large part I’m sure because the weather is almost always nearly perfect for distance running.

The two big races were both the men’s and women’s 10,000 meters. On the men’s side Kenyan Bitan Karoki ran a world leading 27:13.67 – an excellent time at this point in the season. Americans followed in 2nd, 5th and 6th as Robert Curtis (27;24.67), Tim Nelson (27;28.19) and Matt Tegenkamp (27:28.22) all notched PR’s – Tegenkamp in his debut at the distance. Confirmation that U.S. distance fortunes are definitely on the upswing.

Further confirmation came in the women’s race as Kenyan Sally Kipyego also ran a world leader at 30:38.35, with American Shalane Flanagan right behind at 30:39.57. With Molly Huddle in 5th (31:28.66) and Jen Rhines in 8th (31:43.00) it’s clear to me that our distance crew is going to be ready to give it a good go come August. We’re becoming deep as well as competitive and that’s always a good thing.

There was also a good sign for our middle distances as Christin Wurth Thomas, better known as a 1500 meter runner, ran the #2 time in the world in the 800 as she won in 2:00.72. Coming on the heels of Phoebe Wright’s strong anchor leg in the sprint medley at Penn (1:59.25) and some earlier races by Jenny Simpson, our middle distance corps is also coming along quite nicely for this time of the year.

Daegu opens up this year’s Diamond League season on Thursday, and certainly things will begin to accelerate. I’ll be taking a look at Daegu’s lineup shortly.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Penn – The Power of the Relay


A packed stadium. Raucous crowd. Yelling, screaming, clapping, chanting, This is track & field at its best. This is what we get annually at Penn!

As other meets have either died or struggle to attract fans, Penn fills the seats every year – for FOUR DAYS! They say a meet shouldn’t last more than a couple of hours – you can’t prove it by Penn! They say you need to have a featured race run down the middle of Main Street to attract fans – you can’t prove it by Penn! They say you need World Record attempts to get the public to show up – you can’t prove it by Penn!

Penn presents track & field the good old fashioned way – great athletes, great competition, rivalries and relays – and it WORKS year after year! They get the best east coast high schoolers for the “local” fans and import Jamaican and west coast high school relay teams. They attract top level collegiate squads in their final tune ups before their championships runs. And they bring in some of the world’s best relay squads (replete with Olympic caliber athletes) for the USA vs. the World showdowns. Stir it up for four days and you have a packed stadium with the fans going CRAZY!

Like I keep saying, present top athletes to the public and they WILL come! You CAN prove THAT by Penn. USATF and meet promoters take note of the recipe.

As usual the competition kept the crowd on its feet as showdown after showdown had the fans engaged and rooting for their favorites. Full results can be found here, so I won’t recap them line by line. But between the results and what I was able to see of the meet online and on TV here are some thoughts that I came away with.

Going in I saw a chance for the U.S. relay squads to make some serious progress towards Daegu. I think our women’s teams did just that. I would be very comfortable with the women’s 4x1 squad at Penn representing us at Worlds in August. They looked crisp and competitive and and will only get better as they approach true “race shape” by the end of the summer. Ditto for the women’s 4x4 team. Though it’s clear with the 4x4 that we will have a minimum of six women vying for those final four spots – but that’s what I call a quality problem.

I’m a bit less excited by the men. I knew going in that without Tyson Gay it would be difficult getting a read on the men’s 4x1, but I didn’t expect to a) see Walter Dix look so ordinary, or b) see Justin Gatlin running a leadoff leg. Dix’ lackluster effort put the “Red” squad out of it from the gun Running from behind coupled with less than average handoffs, it was amazing that we only lost by .10sec. Spearmon was solid if unspectacular on second leg and Rodgers tried gamely to turn it over on anchor but it was Trell Kimmons’ third leg that brought us in reach in spite of running against last year’s rising sensation, Jamaican Nesta Carter. Between Kimmons’ effort on third leg (coupled with his run on leadoff in Zurich last year) and Dix’ performance on leadoff (there seems to always be the question of which Walter is going to show up at a meet), I’m now convinced that Kimmons should be our lead runner followed by Spearmon, followed by Gay. With the rest of the season an audition/search for someone to bring it home! And I must give Kudos to Jamaican’s Asafa Powell (who made Dix look ordinary) and Michael Frater as they made the first half of the Jamaican squad look in Daegu form! As for our “Blue” squad, that dog didn’t hunt. Gatlin is no leadoff, and it was further downhill from there with poor handoffs and average legs. They all have to show a lot more than I saw Saturday.

As for the men’s 4x4 squad, 3:02 says little to me. It’s nice to know that we can throw some long hurdlers out there in a pinch, but we can get high schoolers to run the 46 second legs we got from Clement, Gaymon and Dutch. Come Daegu we will need some 44’s and 43’s, because when it matters we’re not safe unless we’re running well under 2:57. Bottom line, it’s time for the quartermilers to step it up. It’s now May and nary a 44. Our 400 picture needs to start getting clear this month. And we’d better keep an eye on Grenada. Yes I said Grenada. Kirani James and Rondell Bartholomew looked lethal and will put Grenada in the thick of things if they are given a chance. If they can find two others to slip under 46.00 they could make a go of it on sheer will power – they have the talent! The Bahamas are solid and will threaten. Jamaica did not show up with their best – no Gonzales or Chambers. So while the win was nice, it was just a win and not a statement.

Speaking of statements, it’s clear from Penn that this year’s NCAA championships are going to come down to a show of will! Top squads were in town from LSU, Florida, Texas A&M among others. And though the top squads from the Pac 10 and ACC were missing, judging from the mixed results at Penn (no one dominating) focus and will power are going to be important elements. Because if you blink, flinch, botch a handoff, or simply hesitate there will be someone there ready to fly right by you! That was the statement made by the collegians at Penn, as no one is afraid and everyone is looking for that opportunity. The NCAA championships will be won by those that make the fewest mistakes and show up ready to compete!

Penn was great and signaled the next phase of the season as the collegians now head towards conference, regionals and nationals, and the elite season begins in earnest with Daegu (6th), Shanghai (15th) and Rome (26th) on tap this month!