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

GEOFF HOLLISTER & CHICAGO MARATHON SOLD OUT

Geoff as we knew him best

The sport of running lost one its true guiding lights today as news of Geoff Hollister’s passing was announced in Portland, Oregon.  Hollister succumbed to cancer just days after his 66th birthday following a several year battle with the disease.  Full story here

Among his many other talents, Geoff was instrumental in bringing Alberto Salazar out to Oregon, and this past weekend at the New Balance Indoor Grand Prix in Al’s home town of Boston, Salazar’s Nike Oregon Project athletes Galen Rupp, Mo Farah, and Ciaran O’Lionard all wore specially designed singlets in honor of Geoff.  Galen, who grew up in Eugene and attended the University of Oregon, like Geoff, was especially touched.

“He was so passionate about the sport,” recalled Galen last Friday, Geoff’s 66th birthday.  “He brought so many new ideas, like Athletics West (the Nike-sponsored track team of the late 1970s).  He really knew how to advance the sport.  I’ve known him since high school, and he was always so good to be around.”

I’d known Geoff for over 30 years, too, and we’d reconnect every August at Joanie Samuelson’s Beach to Beacon 10k in Maine, where his laugh and embrace of life were always in full engagement. Though he’d long retired from Nike, Geoff kept busy in recent years using his arts background to produce documentary films, from the award-winning “Fire on the Track”, the tale of Steve Prefontaine, to last year’s “There is No Finish Line” showcasing the saga of Joanie’s rise to Olympic glory, and her continued influence on runners of all ages, genders, and abilities.

One of the original “Men of Oregon”, as writer and fellow Duck Kenny Moore dubbed the men who ran for legendary Oregon coach Bill Bowerman, Geoff Hollister lived a life that exemplified Joseph Campbell’s dictate to “follow your bliss”.  May we all be so fortunate.  Continue reading

WRINGING OUT THE OLD

    As 2011 comes to a desultory close, with the race of 2012 shaping up to be the one for the White House in Washington rather than the podium in London, the IAAF’s annual ‘End of the Season’ marathon review by A. Lennart Julin (SWE) and Mirko Jalava (FIN) left the two statisticians with their mouths agape, writing…“what really made 2011 a year that will be considered of historical significance in the sport of marathon running was that it changed our perception of what is really possible. The best illustration is probably the fact that there were new course records set in all the five races making up the “World Marathon Majors.”

DISTANCE RACING HAS HIT THE WALL made a similar case back in November, but more than simply challenging our perceptions of WHAT was really possible, 2011 showed us unequivocally WHO it was possible by.

There were 182 sub-2:10 marathon performances world-wide in 2011, including those on downhill, point-to-point courses like Boston, which, despite its history and renown, is often left off the statistical lists by the Stat-Nazis in the name of purity over common sense. Of that 182, athletes from Kenya ran 110 (61%) led by Geoffrey Mutai’s 2:03:02 Boston masterpiece and Patrick Makau’s “official” world record 2:03:38 in Berlin.   For the rest of the world – including the mighty Ethiopians with 42 sub-2:10s (22%) – 2011 was the year of nolo contendere.  The U.S. was once again led by Ryan Hall (2) and Meb Keflezighi (1) with three sub-2:10s.

As the U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials nears in Houston, Texas January 14th, a look back at where the sport was four years earlier gives us a sobering indication of why the sport of distance running has been transformed into an intra-mural battle among Kenyan camps rather than a world-class competition amongst evenly matched nations.  The tilt has become so severe, that the average jogger/runner has lost all contact with the exploits of their sport’s fastest purveyors as the running industry in the U.S. has settled on participation numbers, economic impact, and charitable contributions as their standards of excellence, speed be damned. Continue reading

STEP BY STEP

     In the classic Three Stooges episode, Slowly I Turned, first Mo – then Larry – smashes, hits, punches, and tears poor Curly’s clothing before knocking him to the ground, all for reminding him of his confrontation with Larry (then vice versa) in Niagra Falls over a woman.   After Curly innocently utters the offending city’s name, triggering the attacks, Mo and Larry’s refrain goes, “Niagra Falls! Slowly I turned, and step by step, inch by Inch…”  (Of course, all men can recite Stooges episodes by heart. Women think they are dumb. Men agree, but then remind them, “stupidity is the point. It’s purposeful stupidity, a whole different animal than the unintentional kind most often voiced by candidates running for President).

Well, Galen Rupp might not wear his hair in a bowler like Mo or a frizzed out ‘fro like Larry, but step by step, inch by inch the 25 year-old from Portland, Oregon is proving the American distance running equivalent the Stooges’ classic set piece.

Yes, I questioned the London 2012 Olympic medal chances of Mr. Rupp upon his seventh place finish in Daegu at the World Championships 5000 meters (RUPP‘S DILEMMA), but today at the final Samsung Diamond League meeting of the year in Brussels Rupp took another stride in his step-by-step, inch-by-inch approach to the London Olympic podium in the 10,000 meters. Continue reading