BIX 7 CELEBRATES 40TH WITH U.S. CHAMPIONSHIP

Bix14 signDavenport, IA. — The 40th Quad City Times Bix 7 Road Race crowned USA 7 Mile Road Champions today as it doubled as the national 7 Mile championship for the fourth time.  Under overcast skies but high humidity Boulder, Colorado’s Sean Quigley and Providence, Rhode Island’s Molly Huddle emerged as champions, taking home $12,500 first place checks.  Quigley’s winning time of 33:28 was the slowest since Bill Rodgers first visit to the Quad Cities in 1980 (33:58), while Molly Huddle’s 36:14 represented the fastest American time ever run on the undulating, out-and-back Bix course, and fourth fastest in event history.

Christo Landry (l) & Sean Quigley (r) battle down Brady Street in final mile

Christo Landry (l) & Sean Quigley (r) battle stride for stride down Brady Street in final mile

Sean Quigley’s margin over runner up Christo Landry of Ann Arbor, Michigan was just four seconds as the two battled down Brady Street onto Third Street for the final three block sprint to the tape.  Former University of Wisconsin Badger Maverick Darling finished a surprising third in his first major road race (33:43).

Molly Huddle’s margin over California’s Sara Hall was 1:07, as the race was for second place, not first.  For Molly it was a second Bix title to go along with her 2009 win.  She had a ten second lead after the first mile, and never was challenged.  Of course, Molly arrived in the Quad Cities after breaking her own American record for 5000 meters Friday before last in Monaco (14:42.64), so the odds were long that anyone could match her, especially on a course where she had already had success.

Two-time Bix champion Meb Keflezighi made his first return to serious racing since his memorable win at the Boston Marathon this spring.  Meb, understandably, has been on an extended victory tour since his historic Patriots’ Day race, and hasn’t been able to hunker down and do the training he normally would for an event like the Bix 7.

Notwithstanding, Meb led the men’s pack through five miles until a balky hamstring began to tighten up on one of Kirkwood Boulevard’s stiff hills.  Meb soon got dropped as Quigley, Landry, Stephen Pifer and Maverick Darling began to pull away. By six miles Meb was by the side of the road retching.  So much for what have you done for me lately, huh.

“I’m a realistic guy,’’ Meb told QC Times sports editor Don Doxsie after his 12th place finish. “I knew I wasn’t in peak, peak form.’’

None of that seemed to bother any of the hordes of runners coming to ask for his autograph at the finish line party, though, as Meb has inherited the mantle of America’s favorite runner from Boston and Bix Billy Rodgers who has been coming to Davenport every year since 1980, and helped put the race on the map.  Joan Benoit Samuelson ran one minute faster this year than last to win her 13th master’s title at the Bix to go along with her four open titles.  At age 57 Joan ran 43:38, 6:13 pace for the seven hilly miles!

Thousands climb Brady Street Hill

Thousands climb Brady Street Hill in the opening mile

Meb will be heading east to Joanie’s popular Beach to Beacon 10K next weekend in Cape Elizabeth, Maine, and then down to Cape Cod for the Falmouth Road Race two weeks later. But there is another accolade heading his way on August 5th when he and wife Yordanos will fly down to Washington D.C. to be guests of President Obama at a White House dinner for the U.S. – Africa Leaders Summit.  It will be an historic gathering representing the first time a sitting U.S. president will host all the leaders of Africa to a single event to discuss issues of interest to the continent and the U.S.

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With retiring KWQC Sports Director T.C. Cornelis broadcasting his 35th straight Bix 7

With retiring KWQC Sports Director T.C. Cornelis (r) broadcasting his 35th straight Bix 7

As I prepared to host the award’s ceremony with Thom Cornelis after our KWQC-TV6 live broadcast, I checked through the top ten finishers to make a note beside each name to announce to the crowd gathered outside the Quad City Times building.  All the names, save one, were familiar.  In 10th place in the women’s category was a 29 year-old runner from Evanston, Illinois wearing bib #423 named Laura Batterink.

#423 finishes top ten in a national championship?  Though she was rail thin, and elite looking, I had never seen this woman before, nor did I recognize her name.  So I had to go find out who she was.

No wonder I didn’t know her.

“I never ran in high school or college,” she told me behind the stage.  “I began running for recreation about ten years ago two or three times a week for a half-hour. Then when I moved to Evanston I joined the Evanston Running Club to meet people, and they told me I was pretty fast.”

10th place finisher Laura Batterink

10th place finisher Laura Batterink

You think?  Laura is a post-doctoral student in cognitive neuroscience at Northwestern.  Originally from outside Toronto she took her undergrad degree from Middlebury College in Vermont, then did her graduate work at the University of Oregon.

So with a brain like that, and background at a place like Eugene, Oregon, otherwise known as Track Town USA, you never considered you might be good at a sport that has you finishing top ten in a national championship?

“I played soccer a little growing up, and my dad might have been a good runner, if he ran,” Laura admitted with a smile. “But I feel now like maybe I can compete against and maybe get to these ladies’ level.  I’m doing around 70-75 miles a week. 80 is the highest I have ever done.  I didn’t push too hard at the beginning. I’m not used to hills.  At some point somebody told me I was in 10th or 11th, so I just pushed it trying not to get passed at the end.”

Laura finished 12-seconds behind Clara Santucci, the 2014 Pittsburgh Marathon champion.  She will take on the Big Sur Half Marathon in November after running the Canadian 10K Championship in October.

“I’m not thinking about the marathon yet, but I am enthused about running one eventually.  Yeah, I guess this is the biggest achievement of my career, though I really haven’t really had one yet.”

Laura did compete in the Canadian Half Marathon Championship in April in Montreal.  She finished fourth in 1:16.  She has two more years of study at Northwestern before looking for a faculty job.  Who knows what kind of running career she will have assembled by then?

The Bix 7 began with just 84 runners in 1975. Since then more than half-million participants have beat their feet along the seven miles climbing off the banks of the Mississippi River in Davenport, Iowa. Truly, it is one of the classics of the American road revolution.

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PRESENTATION MODEL

After last week’s 2014 USATF Outdoor Track & Field Championships in Sacramento, California the sport is again engaged in a dialogue regarding presentation venues.  Eugene versus Sacramento is the current exchange with Indianapolis, Des Moines, and Palo Alto also in the conversation as recent championship host sites.

2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene's Hayward Field

2008 Olympic Trials at Eugene’s Hayward Field

Eugene is Eugene, Tracktown USA.  Say what you will about Big Swoosh, the folks in Oregon understand track and field, and know how to present it.  The 2008 and 2012 Olympic Trials in Eugene felt like a major sporting event.  The stands were full, and a fan festival was erected right outside to entertain and inform the casual fan.

By comparison, despite the attendance figures released –- 32,783 over four days –- Sacramento’s Hornet Stadium on the campus of Sacramento State University looked consistently empty on the backstretch, and only two-thirds to three-quarters filled on the homestretch throughout the four days of competition.  Some of that may be attributed to the heat that bakes Sacramento each summer.  Who but the most rabid fans want to sit out in triple-digit heat for hours on end? (Though it was only in the 80s till the final day).

Others point out that Hornet Stadium is larger than Hayward Field , 21,000 capacity versus 10,500 (though expandable to 21,000).  So while it might seem emptier, there may in fact be more people in attendance than one realizes.  This argument only reminds us of the role perception plays and how important staging and presentation is. Continue reading

AND THE CHILDREN SHALL LEAD

The state of the sport is never far from the minds of its most accomplished practitioners, for they are children of the game fully in the thrall of its embrace.  This past weekend in Seattle Brooks Shoes brought together 135 of the sports budding new generation for a celebration of youthful competition at the Brooks PR Invitational.  Friday before the meet, however, several of the top professionals sponsored by Brooks met with members of the press for an open-ended discussion of any and all things running.  Among the questions asked of Gabby Grunewald, Garrett Heath, Katie Mackey and Nick Symmonds was, “If you could change just one thing about the sport, what would it be?”

Grunewald, Heath, Mackey, Symmonds meet the press and press for changes

Grunewald, Heath, Mackey, Symmonds meet the press and press for changes

Not surprisingly, runners are a politically savvy group, always have been.  Among today’s pros few have been as politically outspoken as five-time U.S. 800-meter champion Nick Symmonds, who recently signed with Brooks.  He took first crack at the leading question. Continue reading

BROOKS PR INVITATIONAL CONTINUES YOUTH RESURGENCE

 

Brooks PR RentonSeattle, WA.  -  American youth track and field is in the middle of one of its most vibrant stretches ever as young athletes are making their marks well beyond their years, especially on the girl’s side.  With names like Mary Cain, Alexa Efraimson, Elise Cranny and Sarah Baxter leading the charge, a full renaissance in track fortunes may well be nearing as fans latch onto these precocious talents.

Besides the expansion of knowledge via the internet, one explanation for this resurgence  is the number and quality of post-season track meets that have cropped up for young athletes in recent years.  From coast-to-coast high quality meets offer competitive opportunities that many of the nation’s top-end talent has a hard time finding at home.  The better the competition, the better becomes the quality of performances.

Today the Brooks PR Invitational comes to Seattle, Washington’s Renton Memorial Stadium on the heels of last weekend’s New Balance Outdoor Nationals in Charlotte, North Carolina and the Dream Miles and Dream 100-meters in New York City — part of the Diamond League’s Adidas New York Grand Prix. And waiting on the near horizon are the U.S. Junior Nationals and IAAF World Junior Championships just south in Eugene, Oregon in July. Continue reading

PORK STEAKS AND PRO MEETS

Pork Steaks on the grill

Pork Steaks on the grill

Being a native Midwesterner I grew up on backyard summer barbecues where a particular grilling favorite in St. Louis was the delectable pork steak.  But what made the pork steak so good was the corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad that went with it. Those side dishes added flavor, spice  and textural contrasts against which to savor the main course.

Well, it is the presentation of compatible athletic tastes and textural delights that has always been one of the track and field’s greatest appeals.   Today, two of the best T&F meets in the world arrive on the calendar, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, and the beginning of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Both meets have compelling story lines, but I wonder if my viewing will reflect a recent watching of two other top meets on TiVo?

Last week I re-watched coverage of the SEC Track & Field Championships on ESPNU, then immediately reviewed the Prefontaine Classic from NBC Sports. Surprisingly, what stood out was how much better the SEC presentation was than the Pre coverage. Not in terms of performances, camera angles or announcing. Obviously, the world-class performances in Eugene were superior to the SEC races, just as the fields in Oslo represent the very best track & field talent the world has to offer. No, what stood out was how the narrative thread of team-based competition throughout the SEC program gave coherence and meaning to the coverage that was totally missing in Eugene at Pre.

At the SEC’s in Lexington, Kentucky Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson presented the team element very usefully on ESPNU, while the efforts of Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Craig Masback and Dwight Stones for NBC at the Pre meet came in the service of unconnected, stand-alone events.  While every race at the SEC’s had an individual champion and particular story line, the linking element of team competition gave the meet a competitive arc and payoff for viewers to latch onto and follow.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m at Pre Meet.

On the other hand, while the Pre Classic produced a string of world-class performances, led by Galen Rupp’s American record over 10,000 meters, what stood out was the lack of any narrative thread beyond that. It was all a bunch of individual snapshots, not a building drama. Each non-sprint was staged as a series of predetermined paced laps with only the final lap, perhaps two in the case of Rupp, turning into a full out competition. It was hard not to fast forward to the moments of actual engagement as, once again, we were reminded why track and field has lost contact with the casual sports fan.  Continue reading