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

A TRIPLE CROWN FOR THE MILE?

Even as California Chrome‘s bid for horse racing’s first Triple Crown in 36 years came to a thudding halt in yesterday’s 146th Belmont Stakes, the outdoor track season swept into full summer swing last Thursday from sea to shining sea with plenty of action on the enameled plain in between.

Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival

Eric Avila wins Jim Ryun Festival

In San Diego, Eric Avila and A.J. Acosta, two former area high school stars who have been beset by bad fortune in recent years, returned to top form to cap off the Jim Ryun Festival of Miles at the San Diego High School track.  Avila blasted a near 10-second PR 3:56.89 to edge out Acosta’s 3:57.07 in front of a small but enthusiastic gathering that came to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Jim Ryun’s first high school sub-4  minute mile, a crowd that included many of track’s former stars from SoCal.

Eric Finan leads four sub-4s in Concord, Mass.

Eric Finan edges out New Zealand’s Hamish Carson (blue), Providence College’s Julian Oakley and Leo Manzano in Concord, Mass.

 

Back east In Concord, Massachusetts Eric Finan of Team USA Minnesota joined Avila in the sub-4 club, his 3:58.73 leading three other men sub-4 at the 6th Adrian Martinez Classic. New sponsor Hoka One One brought in Olympic 1500m silver medalist Leo Manzano as the star attraction, but Leo could only manage fourth place (3:59.31) in the tightly contested race.

 

 

Jordan McNamara captures his second FOM title in St. Louis

J Mac captures his second FOM title in St. Louis in record time

And in St. Louis, Missouri Jordan McNamara of Nike OTC Elite posted a 3:54.27 clocking to take down Leo Manzano’s 2009 event record (3:55.29) in the seventh edition of the Nike Festival of Miles. It was JMac’s second win on the St. Louis University High School track.  He captured his first FOM title in 2011.

In all there were 10 men under 4:00 on the same night, two in San Diego, four each in Concord and St. Louis.  And while all three events showcased excellent competition, giving fans much to appreciate and applaud, what also stands out is the parochial nature of it all. Even the name Festival of Miles shows how blinkered and uncoordinated the sport continues to be.

“The Jim Ryun event looks fun, though I was a little disappointed in the name choice,” wrote Ben Rosario, impresario behind the seven-year old Nike Festival of Miles in St. Louis. “But it is what it is.”

But why is it what it is? Continue reading

MILE 10 & 23 in BALBOA PARK

San Diego, CA. — I’m no Victah Sailer (PhotoRun), but even my jaundiced eye and shaky hand couldn’t miss the energy swirling around Balboa Park yesterday at the combined 23 & 10 mile marks during the Suja Rock `n’ Roll Marathon & Half Marathon.

We arrived early then waited as the leaders and followers came galloping by with just 5 Km left in their respective journeys.  It’s whole different experience than my normal view from the TV booth or lead press vehicle.

Setting up with Toya, Rick & Marla Nelson (and pooches)

Setting up with Toya, Rick & Marla Nelson (and their nosy pooches)

 

 

 

CGI senior Veep Tracy Sundlun leads the charge

CGI senior Veep Tracy Sundlun leads the charge

 

Kenya's Geoffrey Bundi trying to break Ethiopia's Solomon Dekissa at base of final hill

Kenya’s Geoffrey Bundi trying to break Ethiopia’s Solomon Deksisa at base of final hill in the Half Marathon

 

Bundi won't break and went on to win 60:10 to 60:26

Deksisa hangs tough

 

Bundi begins his drive to the top

Deksisa begins his drive to the top (finally prevailing 60:10 to 60:26)

 

Mammoth TC's Gabe Proctor (eventual 9th - 61:39) presses Kenya's Cybrian Kotut (7th - 1:01:38) with USA's Shadrack Biwott coming strong ( 6th - 1:01:24)

Mammoth TC’s Gabe Proctor (eventual 9th – 61:39) presses Kenya’s Cybrian Kotut (7th – 61:38) with USA’s Shadrack Biwott about to pounce ( 6th – 611:24)

 

Ryan Hall shows grit in 13th place (1:02:51)

Ryan Hall shows grit in 13th place (62:51)

 

Hall gut churning effort

Ryan Hall’s gut churning effort

 

Ethiopia's Birhane Dibaba takes the measure of 3X Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya - 69"34 -- 69:37

Ethiopia’s Birhane Dibaba takes the measure of 3X Boston Marathon champion Rita Jeptoo of Kenya – 69″34 — 69:37

 

Former Villanova standout and top local coach Kevin McCarey roots friends home

Former Villanova standout and top local coach Kevin McCarey roots friends home

 

All the way from Japan pal Wataru Ogushi

All the way from Japan pal Wataru Ogushi

 

Toya & Marla relentlessly supportive

Toya & Marla relentlessly supportive (well, at least Marla)

 

Taking the Turn into Balboa Park

Taking the Turn into Balboa Park

 

Sharing the experience

Friendly competition

 

Blue Man

Blue Man

 

Green Compression

Green Compression

 

Another old friend Robert Dennis of Newton Shoes

Another old friend Robert Dennis of Newton Shoes

 

Weary Suja Warriors

Weary Suja Warriors

 

Dribbler

Dribbler

 

The Red Brigade

The Red Brigade

 

Blinded by the Light

Blinded by the Light

 

Marla's marathon cheering

Marla’s marathon cheering for SDTC

 

Waiting for Dad

Waiting for Dad

 

Another lovely day in Balboa Park

Another lovely day in Balboa Park comes to a long-shadowed end

 

 

 

CITIUS, ALTIUS, WHO-IUS

Hellickson Family of Hinckley, Oh. awaiting arrival of Katey

Hellickson Family of Hinckley, Oh. awaiting arrival of Katey

While announcing at the finish line of last weekend’s 37th Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half, and 10K I began chatting with the Hellickson family from Hinckley, Ohio who were awaiting their daughter, Katey, who was running the marathon. With their signs and enthusiasm the Hellicksons rooted for all the runners who came across the line, and it got me to thinking.

Endlessly we’ve been told that running is a participation-based sport rather than spectator-friendly one. But those who grew up in the first running boom know full well that running had a tremendous spectator base when local heroes were the stars of the sport. Only through the last 25 years and the East African domination have we lost that thread of interest.

Rather than individual brands like Shorter, Rodgers and Salazar, we’ve been fed an endless string of East Africans who are staged anonymously to run against the clock with the aid of pace setters. But rooting for a time rather than a person is inherently less meaningful and appealing.

We saw how impactful a rooting interest can be with Meb Keflezighi’s win at the Boston Marathon in April.  And though he didn’t perform up to hopes, look at the buzz Mo Farah generated for the Virgin Money London Marathon the week before that.

Citius, altius, fortius is all well and good, but any sport has to begin with who-ius, who are you rooting for, not what are you rooting for.

Boston crowd cheers Meb's win

Boston crowd cheers Meb’s win

If Boston had been a paced time-trial there is no way Meb would have won.  And if London had not been a time-trial you wonder how differently Mo might have fared. In that sense, straight up competition allows the improbable to become possible. But more than that, the sport needs to pit Him versus Him, Her versus Her, Them versus Them. Make it personal. Wrap the audience up in the who of it all, not the what.

We see this in boxing all the time. Many of the premier lighter weight division boxers hail from Latin America. While they speak no English, it doesn’t deter the sport from generating pay-per-view interest, because the promoters actively market mano a mano competitions. And while golf is full of stats like who hits the ball farthest, the only real stat is who won the tournament? Continue reading

2014 RITE AID CLEVELAND EXPERIENCE

The 37th Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half-Marathon & 10k took over downtown Cleveland yesterday on a glorious spring morning ideal for running.  Here are some photos from the announce platform at the finish line on Lakeside Avenue where some 20,000 runners came blasting by.  Kenyans Philip Lagat and Sarah Kiptoo won the marathon titles.  Lagat ran a near 3:00 PR in 2:12::39 to add the marathon to his 2010 Rite Aid Cleveland 10k win, while Kiptoo defended her 2013 marathon title in 2:34:58.  Fellow Kenyans Julius Koskei (29:06) and Lilian Mariita (33:42) earned the 10K titles.

 

14ClevelandExperience

 

Joy!

Joy!

 

Call Me! says #2280 Stella Balzli of New Castle, Pa. as she finishes her marathon in 4:45:27 with 10Ker Christine Shearer of New Wilmington, Pa. (51:39)

Call Me! says #2280 Stella Balzli of New Castle, Pa. as she finishes her marathon in 4:45:27 with 10Ker Christine Shearer of New Wilmington, Pa. (51:39)

 

We did it!

We did it!

Continue reading

FROM ROGER BANNISTER TO CALIFORNIA CHROME

California Chrome wins the 140th Kentucky Derby

California Chrome wins the 140th Kentucky Derby

The day before last Sunday’s Wings For Life World Run, our broadcast production team met up in the hotel bar in Sunrise, Florida to watch the 140th Kentucky Derby.  To ratchet up our interest we each ante upped $5 then blindly pulled a number to give us something to hang our hearts on.  Even the bartender got in on the act.

Then, amidst various hoots and hollers, we watched 2-1 betting favorite California Chrome pull away down the stretch to earn Churchill Downs famous the blanket of roses.  Juli Benson and her husband Bob had the #5 horse, and graciously accepted the $45 first-place jackpot. My 35-1 long-shot Commanding Curve closed like a David Mamet salesman with good leads to place second, bringing me a $22 dollar payoff.

In the aftermath of the race, however, folks on the other side of the bar asked about the winning time.

“2:03.66,” I reported taking a pull from my decidedly non-Kentucky libation. “Four-seconds off the Derby record set by Secretariat in his 1973 Triple Crown year.”

Why so slow, they wanted to know? That’s an interesting question, actually, especially on a day on which we commemorate history’s first sub-4:00 mile.

*

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

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

Of course, some of how any race plays out has to do with conditions and the size of the field. In this year’s Derby there  was a backstretch headwind along with 19-ponies stretched across the race track in search of a clean line.  In Oxford, England on May 6, 1954 there was a dying breeze and only seven runners on the Iffley Road track for the mile contest pitting three Oxford men against four British AAA runners.

Another factor in racing has to do with the strategy of the race itself.   In the Derby, as in all the Triple Crown races, time is immaterial, as place is all that counts.  For Bannister’s record attempt the strategy was all about producing the time, and he was assisted by two pacesetters, Chris Chataway and Chris Brasher who towed him through three of the event’s four laps.

In Saturday’s Derby California Chrome stayed close to the pace in striking position before coming free in the final furlong.  Even so, looking at the long list of Derby champions and their winning times, one thing becomes quite clear. While the human mile record has plummeted over sixteen seconds since Sir Roger’s 3:59.4 in 1954, the time it takes a handsomely muscled thoroughbred to gallop the 1.25-mile Kentucky Derby distance hasn’t seemed to budge at all. Continue reading