I WANT A NEW DRUG – CHICAGO DROPS PACERS

Bannister on his way to history's first sub-4:00 mile

Bannister on his way to history’s first sub-4:00 mile

After a decade long assault, the sport of athletics hit the sweet spot with its dopamine release on 6 May 1954 at Iffley Road track in Oxford, England. It was on that steel gray day that Roger Bannister broke the 4:00 barrier in the mile. Paced by Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher, Bannister’s Everestian effort hooked the sport on sweet time, and it has been dependent on its pace suppliers ever since.

At each IAAF Diamond League meeting, every event over 400 meters is a paced affair. Yet come the World Championships or Olympics, where pacing is removed and rounds are conducted to earn a place in the metal round, we tend to see wildly imbalanced racing efforts.  In part, because the pressure is different. It isn’t just raw power, but tactical control of power. One may know how to run.  But we learn how to race.

Today, we learn that the B.A. Chicago Marathon has decided to end its dependence on pacers, joining Boston and New York City among the Abbott World Marathon Majors in the non-paced category.

Carey Pinkowski, Chicago Marathon

Carey Pinkowski, Chicago Marathon

“The thing with this is we try to set up a world record every year,” said long-time race director Carey Pinkowski, “but we never get close. It (pacing) is like a prop. So get rid of the prop. It’s a race. So if they go out at six minute pace, so what?” Continue reading

TIME FOR A NEW DRUG PRESCRIPTION?

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Falmouth, Ma.- Given that there’s any wider interest still remaining in athletics (track & field in the USA) now that an IAAF whistle blower has been shown the sport to be deeply corrupted and filled with line erasers and out right cheats, the question is how best to contour its future as the IAAF World Championships harken in Bejing, China and the governing body votes in a new president?

“Football, for some reason, when you get popped for drugs you get a couple games penalty,” said Hawi Keflezighi, brother/agent of Meb, the 2014 Boston Marathon champion. “But it doesn’t change anyone’s endorsement deals. It’s like in running the same rules don’t apply.”

I was speaking with Hawi at the NB Falmouth Road Race press conference, as Meb will compete Sunday in the  43rd edition of the great American road race. Representatives like Hawi have to go into the market to champion their athletes where the biggest difficulty, he says, is the public perception that everyone is dirty.

“When in fact people are making the choice to be clean,” lamented Hawi.  “So they get hit two times. First, the cheaters take the prize money and appearance fees. Then the public perception is that everybody is guilty, anyway.”

One way to handle that, he suggested, is to release the names of those athletes who have suspiciously high blood values, and then allow them to explain the circumstances which could naturally lead lead to those elevated values.

“The burden of proof shifts, said Hawi.  “That way the public perception that everyone is using is addressed to some degree. It is simply not fair the way it is, because when the names are not released, it’s too easy for fans and the public to assume the majority are not clean. At some point something has to be done to relieve the sport and the clean athletes of that unfair burden.”

This year marks the 40th anniversary of Frank Shorter’s first win at Falmouth, a win against budding rival Bill Rodgers that served as s booster rocket for the initial running boom.

After a touching recollection of his first visit to Falmouth as an impressionable 15 year-old, Frank sat and chatted about the drug issue, a cause that has been close to his heart for decades now.

“When USADA and WADA first began -and they were the first entities to understand that you can’t promote and police the sport simultaneously – the supposition was that if you’re not willing to work behind-the-scenes, then you really didn’t want to solve the problem.

(Former AAU, TAC and USATF CEO) “Ollan Cassell published a book “Inside the Olympic Rings”. He was at a meeting in LA where it was decided only 12 (drug) positives would be announced. So they created a lousy system full of loopholes that made it easy to look like they were doing something.”

There are some, like 2012 Boston Marathon champion Wesley Korir of Kenya, now a member of the Kenyan parliament, who would like to impose legal rather than federation level sanctions on drug cheats.

“Normally,the statute of limitations begins went fraud is discovered,” said Shorter, “rather than when it’s committed. But the most recent Lance Armstrong investigation has done away with that.  We see more and more events suing athletes to get their money back. They won’t get it, but technically drug cheating is a felony. It’s just the sport has not chosen to deal with it as such.

“But I think it’s coming around.  If Sebastian Coe (running for IAAF presidency against Russia’s Sergey Bubka) truly outsources all testing to an independent agency, and that model has been around since 2000, I’ll support anyone who’s for that.”

Maybe the  difference in how sports are regarded is due to athletics being seen as the centerpiece of the sacrosanct Olympics, where the purity of the contest is still held in higher esteem than today’s pro team sports.

In any case, simply releasing the fact that X number of athletes either re-tested positive at some past competition – as we heard this week from the IAAF in regard the 2005 & 2007 World Championships – or have been shown to have elevated blood values – which the German ARD TV documentary and Sunday Times revealed via a leaked IAAF list – by not linking those findings to specific names only perpetuates the debilitating assumption that all champions or good performances are tainted.

Certainly casting doubt on someone who may be clean is one downside of any new transparent policy. But the current no-names policy has proven injurious to the health and state of the sport as a whole. After decades of being the poster child for drug use in all sport, at some point that health must become the primary concern.

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DEFLATED IN COURT?

DeflateGateThough the Symmonds Matter has managed to leak into the public sphere, let there be no doubt as to which sport’s legal case the population is riveted.  Deflate-Gate hit federal court today in Manhattan where the long unraveling of each side’s case began before Judge Richard M. Berman.

The judge had requested that the NFL and NFL Player’s Association meet prior to today’s hearing to discuss or even come to a settlement.  That didn’t happen. So Judge Berman conducted an open court hearing followed by a closed-door session in an attempt to get the two sides closer to doing for themselves what he will eventually do for them if they can’t work it out for themselves. Continue reading

THE TRUMP CONUNDRUM

The Man

                 Certaindude

The whole Donald Trump political phenomenon, culminating (so far) in last Thursday night’s Fox News GOP presidential debate, has the American political class in a tizzy and his opponents in a quandary. For that alone we ought to thank him. No matter the hair, the harangues, or the heresy, none of it seems to matter as Trump’s standing in the polls continues to defy accepted political gravity.

While the media keeps insisting that this is only the “Silly Season”, and The Coiffed One will tumble eventually, even his debate take down of Fox News darling Megyn Kelley last Thursday hasn’t taken the pink from his political cheeks. And previous barrages against Mexicans and John McCain he now wears like political battle ribbons. Everyone keeps wondering how the Big Bluster can remain atop the heap of what is considered the best class of GOP candidates in recent memory.

On Monday, Bloomberg Politics’ Mark Halperin asked, ‘if it’s such a strong field, and he’s so weak, why isn’t it any Republican overtaking him?”

Might it be suggested that the issue/problem isn’t the Trumpster, as such, isn’t the great field of candidates, isn’t the political mainstream’s dislike. The Trump ascendancy — like that of his Democratic counterpart Bernie Sanders — has risen out of the disaffections in America circa 2015.  That alone should give us pause. For when the usual complement of political assets: experience, likability, collegiality, well-modulated argument, get Trumped by bluster and bullying, what we have is a political reflection of a nation on the defensive, one putting on its bark as it senses the loss of its bite.

People have become more sensitive, rubbed raw, feeling pressed. They are keeping a closer inspection of perceived slights.  Comics don’t do colleges anymore, too PC.  But how much longer do we keeping spouting ‘everyone is a winner’, where grade inflation and social advancement are seen as educationally worthy, and celebrity lacquers the culture in a shiny, vacuous veneer? Who was it that said, “people get the government they deserve?” Continue reading

THE SYMMONDS DILEMMA

Nick Symmonds heading to Beijing? Credit:  Micah Drew, Boise

                                       Will Nick Symmonds be Smiling in Beijing?   Photo credit: Micah Drew, Boise Weekly

Here’s the problem. When you sign an endemic sponsor — in this case Nike — to a generation long contract for your national athletics federation there will be unintended consequences that fail to serve the best interest of one constituency or another over that period. That is the situation that currently confronts 2013 800 meter World Championships silver medalist Nick Symmonds who had until noon today to sign the USATF “Statement of Conditions” contract that attends his Team USA berth on the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China later this month.

Symmonds, formerly a Nike athlete, is now sponsored by Brooks.  But under USATF by-laws, athletes competing at the world championships or Olympics, or other Team USA selected competitions, are prohibited from wearing non-USATF sponsored gear during “official team functions”. But the Statement of Conditions contains in paragraph C the clause, “and other official team functions”.  This the issue Symmonds contends is both vaguely written and in violation of his contract with Brooks.  USATF CEO Max Siegel has told Mr. Symmonds that if he doesn’t sign, he will be replaced on the team.  And so it goes. And so we wait. (Late on August 9 Mr. Symmonds was informed he has been dropped from the team for Beijing for failure his to sign the contract.)

But with USATF signing Nike to a reported 23-year, $500 million extension as exclusive shoe and apparel sponsor for Team USA in April 2014, this places every athlete signed by any other shoe company in opposition to his/her own best interests since they will not benefit financially from the USATF deal with Nike — other than to elevate their future marketability by performing well on the stage provided. This is similar to the IOC generating $6 billion in sponsorship and TV rights from the Olympic Games, none of which is distributed to the athletes who make those Games possible and profitable.

But we must also look at the issue from the national federation’s standpoint, recalling the state of USA Track & Field over the last generation, and the job confronting Mr. Siegel when he took the CEO job three years ago. Continue reading

ELLIPTICAL THOUGHTS – PRESIDENTIAL APPRENTICE

The Boys of Summer

The Boys of Summer

A race is a race is a race.  So while we await the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing later this month, we were left with last night’s opening round of the Republican party presidential debates in Cleveland as a teaser.  Turned out to be the best reality TV show Donald Trump has ever starred in.  Call it Presidential Apprentice, high dungeon life imitating art. But other than ejaculate ratings for FOX, what was really gained beyond the entertainment value? Then again, let’s take what we can get.

As the Federal Reserve continues to offset the true recalibration of the American economy in the wake of the Great Recession —  it ended its triple-down quantitative easing late last year, but still maintains an easy-money stance by keeping short-term interest rates at zero —  what is needed in this election year is an impartial arbiter in the tension between capital and labor, one that understands the need for a moderating equipoise in that tension.

Perception is all, and the perception is the rich get, the rest don’t; bit of Bruce Hornsby’s ‘That’s Just the Way It Is’ at work.  Until that organizing principle has been processed it will continue to run its course. But how long can the nation afford to see the health of one side come at the expense of the other? It simply isn’t in anyone’s long term best interest to disenfranchise millions so that millionaires can see their own stakes grow. Yet the immediacy of today means that there is no time for tomorrow.

Continue reading