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

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

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

DEMENTIA TEST

Brain

So a friend calls me this morning.

“What do you put in a toaster?” he asks.

“Bread?” I reply.

“Say ‘silk’ three times in your head.”

(“Silk. Silk. Silk.”) OK.

“Now, what does a cow drink

 “Water?”

 “Ok. You don’t have it.”

                                                                   “What?”

                                                                     “Dementia.”

                                                                 “Gimme a chance. I’m working on it.”

Press conference this morning at the Lenox Hotel in Boston at 11 a.m. for the 18th New Balance Indoor Grand Prix, featuring the 3000m runners Galen Rupp, Donn Cabral, and Miles Batty of the USA and Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia.  Galen and Dejen hold Olympic silver medals from London 2012.  Full report to follow.

END

YES, BUT IS IT A REAL TOUR?

13BBTMtourLogo     Having just passed its first year anniversary the Bring Back the Mile campaign just announced its Bring Back the Mile Tour 2013 which will include 13 stops and an end-of-the-year gala celebrating a Mile legend and the year in the Mile.

Knowing how loosely strung most running “tours” have been in the past,  I emailed BBTM founder Ryan Lamppa the following query:  “Is this simply linking all these mile races up on paper, but not actually creating a specific tour with a prize purse attached at the end?  Now that would be news. Not that this isn’t.”

Here’s Ryan’s response:

“The BBTM Tour 2013 is about the Big Tent, and our main Tour objective in year one is about promotion – promotion of the Mile, Tour events and the athletes, and our broader vision is to have a national Mile grand prix series in 2014 (only top prize money races). In short, we are scaling this. Call the BBTM Tour 2013 lap 2 of the Bring Back the Mile campaign.”

Makes sense, Ryan. Like the mile race itself, it’s important to have a strategy to execute. You’ve had a good first lap, I’d say. Now it’s on to the second.

_____________________________________________________________

NBIGP2013
The first tour site is this Saturday night’s New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Boston’s Reggie Lewis Center.  I’m fortunate to be the house announcer for the meet.

In the featured men’s mile, 2011 World Championship bronze medalist Matthew Centrowitz, Jr. heads the field. There will also be both boy’s and girl’s junior miles, events which always light up the raucous New England fans.  The meet sold-out early, but you can watch it live on ESPN3 Feb. 2nd, and again on tape-delay on ESPN2 Sunday, Feb. 3, from 2-4 p.m. Eastern standard time.

Of course, the race that has everyone on the edge of their seats is the match up between Olympic 10,000m silver medalist Galen Rupp and his Olympic 5000 counterpart Dejen Gebremeskel of Ethiopia. These two battled three years ago at the Reggie over 5000m with both losing out to Bernard Lagat’s American record 13:11.50.  Gebremeskel took 2nd, Rupp a close fourth in what was his inaugural pro season.

But now they each hold Olympic hardware, and Rupp is coming off the fifth fastest indoor mile in history last week at the B.U. Invitational (3:50.92).  Gebremeskel will have to run something similar to his memorable one-shoe 3000 at the 2011 NBIGP meet where he bested now double Olympic champion Mo Farah in a final lap thriller.

This meet is not one to miss.

END

A GRANDFATHER’S PRIDE

Sabrina Benavides & Grandad Alberto Bazan

Sabrina Benavides & Grandad Alberto Bazan (behind in the straw hat)

With rich dreams being brought to life yesterday in New York, Boston, and Glasgow by Mary Cain, Galen Rupp and Duane Solomon, each heralding a fruitful beginning to the 2016 Rio Olympic cycle, it was at a small all-comers meet in Chula Vista, California that I was again reminded of track’s enduring draw.  On a dreary Saturday morning at the San Diego Track Club’s Mid-Winter Track Classic I witnessed track’s profound but timeless connection to effort, exhaustion, joy and frustration, the likes of which transcend the fanciful vogues of the moment while linking generations in a manner that the tastes of the day never can.

Toya taking the 1000m

Toya Taking the 1000m

As wife Toya completed a finely paced victory in the 1000-meter run at Montgomery High School’s Al Prazak Stadium, my eye was drawn to a young competitor focused on her upcoming race as she was being advised by portly man many years her senior.

A seventh-grader at El Centro Junior High, 13 year-old Sabrina Benavides was running in just the second 3000 meter track race of her life. She had debuted at this very meet one year ago, notching a 12:07 time.  Since then she had run a 20:27 5K at the Cougar Invitational, the cross country meet staged by Cal State San Marcos head coach Steve Scott, the former American record holder in the mile. Holding court with Sabrina before the start of her race yesterday was Alberto Bazan, 61, of Imperial, California, her grandfather. Continue reading

BOUNTIES ON THE TRACK

    The NFL is now investigating the New Orleans Saints for paying bounties to teammates for injuring other team’s players. Some people, perhaps most, are horrified by the practice, but Friday Night Lights author Buzz Bizzinger is not among them.

Is it barbaric? Yes. Is it terrifying? Yes. Is it sick? Yes. So what? I’ve said it before and I will say it again: That is why we watch football. Because it is barbaric and terrifying and sick. Because we love good hits and kamikaze safety blitzes and a quarterback sitting on the field after a sack with visions of Tweety Bird dancing in his brain.”

The corollary of which is why people don’t watch running.  As Buzz so rightly points out, we Americans love violence. But rather than commit violence on one another, running studiously avoids that while perpetuating what is essentially a self-torturing methodology of pure effort and internal combustion which, over time, convinces our self-flagellating opponents to forego their own suffering in the face of our steadfast willingness to absorb even more.

Which is why, as a TV guy, I have long suggested that if running wants to grow the SPORT rather than the ACTIVITY something like a “full-contact zone” should be instituted at regular intervals during races to appeal to our fellow American’s primary urge to rubber-neck at the gruesome disassembly of others. Continue reading