WHEN THE SHOE DOESN’T FIT ANYMORE

I was in Tampa last weekend to help announce the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic as the old-line road race was reintroducing prize money after an absence of 17-years. After the race I drove north to visit old friends in Gainesville where I’d spent 10 winters in the 1990s. And what happened while I was away?  The track world falls apart in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the U.S. Indoor Nationals.

I tell you, I’ve been trying my best to embrace USATF as a changing, responsive national governing body, what with Max Siegel taking over in an appreciably quiet, yet focused way as CEO.  And though there were momentary echoes of some benighted AAU or TAC ghost hovering near the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials selection process that chose L.A. over Houston, a closer inspection revealed both sides on firm ground with no hidden agendas, and a fair argument to bolster its case.  Just sad one of the cities had to lose.  And with combined trials, the sport loses inventory, too, as there is one less national exposure available.

Brooks athlete Gabby Grunewald passes Nike Athlete Jordan Hasay in women's 3000.

Brooks athlete Gabby Grunewald about to pass Nike Athlete Jordan Hasay in women’s 3000.

But now again at the indoor nationals in Albuquerque we see yet another shit storm erupt in the controversy surrounding the no, no,yes, no again disqualification of Gabby Grunewald in the women’s 3000 meters.  Certainly, given the evidence available to anyone who watched that race, or has ever spent any time racing or watching indoor meets over the years, while there was minor contact, (in my opinion) there was nothing suggesting disqualification.  Indoor track has long been a contact sport as bodies fatigue, wits wither, and space narrows. Yet due to the current organizational structure and sponsorship arrangements of USATF, once again we saw the fuse of unrest only needing a minor spark to ignite a major controversy. Continue reading

CONVERSATION COACH ALBERTO SALAZAR ON STAR PUPILS GALEN RUPP & MARY CAIN

Coach Salazar all smiles after Mary Cain sets American high school 1500m record 4:04.62 at at the 2013 USATF Occidental High Performance Meet in May.

Coach Salazar all smiles after Mary Cain sets American high school 1500m record 4:04.62 at at the 2013 USATF Occidental High Performance Meet in May 2013.

Boston, Ma. — Had a nice sit down with old friend and Nike Oregon Project coach Al Salazar today after hosting the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix press conference at the Lenox Hotel.  Al , who grew up in suburban Wayland, Mass., has Galen Rupp racing the one-mile tomorrow, while Bronxville, N.Y. high school sensation Mary Cain will go in the 1000 meters.  Both athletes have already had great success this indoor season with Galen taking down two American records — the 5000m (13:01.26) and the two-mile (8:07.41), both at Boston University in January – and Mary knocking down the world junior record in the 1000m January 17th (2:39.25), then barely missing the world junior mark in the mile January 24th at the B.U. Terrier Invitational by 1/100th of a second in 4:24.11.

Galen had originally planned to take a shot at Hicham El Guerrouj’s indoor world mile record of 3:48.45 at B.U. tomorrow as the NBIGP was being run at the Reggie Lewis Center on the campus of Roxbury Community College, but after the two-mile record and 4 X one-mile workout that followed 45 minutes later (4:20, 4:20, 4:16, 4:01!) they thought better of it.

“It came down to realizing that the travel and effort for these record attempts was taking a toll,” Al said.  “And doing another one was too close.” Continue reading

USATF ANNOUNCES MARY CAIN AS YOUTH AOY

Coach Salazar all smiles after Mary Cain sets American high school 1500m record 4:04.62 at at the 2013 USATF Occidental High Performance Meet in May.

Coach Salazar is all smiles after Mary Cain set the American high school 1500m record, 4:04.62, at at the 2013 USATF Occidental High Performance Meet in May.

It was around this time last year at Nike Cross Nationals in Portland, Oregon that Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar began touting his new pupil, Mary Cain, the high school sensation out of Bronxville, New York.  Cain was in Portland making her NXN debut.

“I wouldn’t call it the Mary Cain “experiment”, Alberto suggested after having worked with Mary over the previous two months. “It was really circumstances why we got together.  I’d seen a video of her at the World Junior Championships where she ran 4:11 (sixth place, 1500m) and set the U.S. high school record.  Then we met at the Olympic Trials.  I recognized that her bio-mechanics, though not horrible, if fixed early would mean fewer problems down the road.

After Al found out Mary was essentially self-coached he spoke with her parents and decided to begin their long-distance coach/athlete relationship.  Alberto began flying east every two weeks to evaluate then supervise Cain’s progress.

Bio-mechanics have long been a cornerstone of Alberto’s coaching philosophy, a direct result of an ungainly (though effective) form that carried him to a remarkable track, road, cross country and marathon career until his early flame out after 1982.

“We are running against so many talented East Africans,” he explained.  “We are not going to out train them.  Our only chance is to do everything perfectly with bio-mechanics and strength (training).  That is where they don’t have an expertise. So we have to train perfectly to go against the survivors of their programs.”

Last year at NXN Mary placed second to Sarah Baxter of Simi Valley, California who won her second straight NXN title.  Mary closed fast, but had lost ground to Baxter through the mid-section of the Portland Meadows mud bath of a course.

“I’m confident,” said Al before the race. “Some runners are unbeatable on the track, but you don’t know about cross country.  I do know she is in better shape than when she ran 4:11 in July.  I think she’s a 15:30 5K runner now, because she’s done things which only people who made the Olympic team have done.”

Looking back it was as if Alberto had the looking glass Windexed perfectly clean last December, because throughout the remainder of 2013 Mary Cain certainly outdid even his high expectations.  Here is the USATF announcement.
Continue reading

MARY CAIN – CHIN UP, SHOULDERS BACK, CAN’T LOSE

Teen Sensation Mary Cain

Mary Finishes Strong in Boston

High school sensation Mary Cain, the junior out of Bronxville, New York, closed with a stride-lengthening rush at last Saturday’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix women’s two mile at the sold-out Reggie Lewis Center in Boston.  Her strong final 50 meters delivered her to the finish line in third place, within one stride of Canadian 5000 meter Olympian Sheila Reid,  though 25-seconds behind race winner and three-time Olympic champion Tirunesh Dibaba of Ethiopia, herself a former teen sensation dubbed the “Baby-Faced Destroyer” for the lethality of finishes.

Notwithstanding, Cain smashed the 21-year old U.S. high school indoor 2-mile record by 17-seconds (9:38.68).  In all, another fabulous performance for the 16 year-old high school junior who continues her assault on the all-time U.S. high school record book.

And yet – yes, there’s an “and yet”, but it’s a good one. Though Mary Cain has broken three long standing U.S. indoor high school records over the course of the still budding 2013 season (unofficial 3000m, one mile, now two mile), her coach Alberto Salazar can still see room for vast improvement.  Even a casual fan can see that her youthful physique still exhibits a mix-master, across the mid-line action in her upper body, an alignment which has profound effect  on the action of her stride, its length, and overall efficiency.

“What I first saw with her was her shoulders hunched forward,” explained Coach Salazar in Boston.  “But we can fix that pretty quick.  And that will fix her legs and stride.  I was talking to my wife about Galen (Rupp) hunching his shoulders forward, and our daughter (Maria) was listening.  She’s an equestrian.  She said, ‘Dad, there’s a thing I wear called Shoulders Back which helps us sit straighter in the saddle’.  So I ordered it, and it has pulled her shoulders back. Both Mary and Galen run with it now. She still has form to improve. She’s weak on top, but at least it’s an improvement.”

Shoulders Back

Shoulders Back

There are many examples of teen sensations who never go on to open division heights.  Melody Fairchild, whose 1991 indoor 2-Mile record Cain broke last Saturday, never approached the same level of track success in her post-high school years.  More recent California teen queen Jordan Hasay, who famously qualified for the Olympic Trials final at 1500 meters in 2008 as a high schooler, has had a very good collegiate career at Oregon – she won the 2011 NCAA indoor championships in both the one mile and the 3000 meters – but not one that stands out like her high school years. BTW, Hasay and Cain will meet up at the February 16th Millrose Games in New York City over the one mile distance.

There are many complex reasons for teen female talent not to blossom further in running, or any sport, for that matter. Some of it has to do with changes in maturing body composition, the psychological pressure to succeed, and new, competing interests. There’s no telling where Mary Cain is headed.  Tirunesh Dibaba took her junior success all the way to multiple world records and three Olympic gold medals.  Mary Decker Slaney, perhaps America’s most celebrated teen sensation, captured double World Championship gold in Helsinki 1983 before infamously – and perhaps ironically – tangling legs with another teen wonder, Zola Budd of South Africa, in the L.A. Olympic 3000 meter final.

Noted throughout his own running career – and now as a coach – for his blunt assessments, Salazar believes the future is unlimited for Mary Cain, who, though restricted by Salazar to post-race interviews, exhibits both an ease and charm in the unforgiving glare of the spotlight that suggest that the stage will not be too big for her to handle.

“In the next couple of years you’ll see her become America’s top middle-distance runner, no question,” Alberto asserted.

The weight on her shoulders will continue to grow.  But with her chin up and Shoulders Back, looks like she’s prepared to carry that load.

END

COACH SALAZAR AND GALEN RUPP DETERMINED TO WIN IN 2013

I button-holed old friend Alberto Salazar to discuss last weekend’s 3:50.92 indoor mile PR by Galen Rupp at the B.U. Terrier Classic across town.  Salazar has coached Rupp since his high school days in Oregon, and lead him and training partner Mo Farah of Great Britain to the gold and silver medals at last summer’s London Olympic 10,000 meters.  Of course, Alberto grew up in nearby Wayland, Mass. where he began his own legendary running career.  Tonight, Al and a bunch of his old Greater Boston Track Club mates will meet up with their old coach Bill Squires for a laugh-filled dinner in the Back Bay.

Rupp’s 3:50.92 solo mile at B.U. was the fifth-fastest indoor mile in history and # 2 on the all-time U.S. list.  His coach was pleased, it’s what he expected, but wasn’t overly impressed.

“He ran 3:334.7 last year for 1500 meters,” said Al.  “That’s equivalent to a 3:51.7 mile. So he’s just a little faster now. It’s a natural progression as he gets older, not like a WOW! all of a sudden sort of thing. He’s gotten faster at all distances from the mile to 10,000 meters.”

The Salazar-Rupp connection began when Al saw Galen play soccer on the same team as one of his sons in junior high.  That led to a long-term relationship similar to the foundation of the old British club system where an athlete is coached by one man his whole career.  But even now with success at the highest levels, Galen has only whetted his appetite for more. Continue reading

COMPETITION, NOT TIME, SPURS RITZ IN CHICAGO

Ritz 3rd in Philly

   

Dathan Ritzenhein’s 60:56 third-place finish at Sunday’s Rock `n” Roll Philadelphia Half-Marathon sets him up well for his marathon in Chicago in three weeks time.  After his race he was quoted as saying that his goal in the Windy City was to able to run a 2:06 time.  But according to his coach Alberto Salazar, that pronouncement wasn’t at the heart of Dathan’s statement, nor is it how either one of them even approaches the sport.

“They took out the second half of his quote,” Al told me during a phone interview on Tueday.  “He said he’d love to run 2:06, but what he wanted to do in Chicago is be competitive.

“He’s been training with Mo (Farah) and Galen (Rupp, the Olympic gold and silver medalist at 10,000-meters.  Dathan finished 13th in London).  We don’t concentrate on time.  Dathan hasn’t run that super time (in the marathon), and until he does he won’t be competitive, but he wants to run with the guys.”

Having followed Dathan’s career since his days as a scrawny high school sensation in Rockford, Michigan where he won back-to-back Foot Locker National Cross Country titles and a bronze medal in world junior competition, I can attest that finishing position – the essence of cross country – rather than finishing time has always been his focus.  Though he briefly held the American record at 5000 meters, time trials have never been Ritz’s forte.

Following a stellar career at the University of Colorado, Dathan has so far topped off his pro career with a bronze medal at the 2009 IAAF World Half Marathon Championship in Birmingham, England in 2009 (PR, 60:00).  Through it all, however, Ritzenhein has been plagued by injuries, particularly foot problems.   But coming into Chicago 2012, Ritz is as healthy as he’s ever been for a marathon.

“We’ve been disappointed with (marathon) results in the past,” admitted Salazar, himself a former three-time New York City and one-time Boston Marathon champion. “But sooner or later, unless he’s just not suited to the marathon, he will run a (super) time.  Finally, we’ve come to the conclusion that 110 miles is the max per week he can train.  Every time we get greedy he gets injured.  But he’s been healthy over the entire last year.” Continue reading

1982 BOSTON MARATHON, A REMINISCENCE

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1982 Runner’s Digest Boston Marathon Press Guide Cover

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Our Runner’s Digest radio show had put together a 75-station network for the 1982 Boston Marathon. This was back in the days when running was still consumed by a general public as primarily a sporting contest.  That Patriot’s Day I was stationed at the finish line above Ring Road below the Prudential Tower.  This was the old marathon finish line, pre-John Hancock 1986, directly across Boylston Street from Hereford Street.

We had six reporters strung along the course giving live updates from the field. To help with their assignment, we put together what we believe was the first press guide for the Boston Marathon.  Four of those pages are contained in this post.

By Boston 1982 the running boom was thundering over the land at its highest decibel level.  But when word leaked out that Wayland, Mass. native Alberto Salazar was coming back from Oregon to compete for the first time in the hometown marathon, well, for those who have never experienced the excitement that foot-racing once caused, all I can tell you is that the needle was pinned to the far right of the gauge that year. Every TV station in town met him at Logan coming in. He tried to keep it low-profile, but his dad tipped the press. Al was not happy.

Al was homeward bound off two straight New York City Marathon wins, and what we thought was the marathon world record (2:08:13) the previous October.  Only later would the course be remeasured and found to be 149 meters short.  Notwithstanding, Al was at the height of his piercing focus and unwavering willfulness.  The week before Boston he had gone head up against 10,000m world record holder Henry Rono of Kenya at an Alberto-directed 10,000 meter track race at Hayward Field in Eugene, his alma mater.  Henry (with a gut, I kid you not) barely got by Alberto 27:29 to 27:30. But Al had shown his fitness, and then some, and seemed ready for anything come Patriot’s Day. Continue reading