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 an endemic sponsor — in this case Nike — is signed to a generation long contract as the footwear and apparel sponsor of 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”.

As to what constitutes “official team functions” is the wording Symmonds contends is both vaguely written and in violation of his personal 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, every athlete signed by any other shoe company finds him / herself 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. The situation is similar to the IOC generating $6 billion in sponsorship and TV rights from the Olympic Games, none of which is distributed directly 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


Claudio Berardelli & Federico Rosa 2011 (via PhotoRun)

Claudio Berardelli & Federico Rosa  (via PhotoRun)

As Defalate-Gate continues to be the lead story leading up to Sunday’s Super Bowl XLIX in America, Inflate-gate (as in performance) continues to make headlines in Kenya.

With the case against discredited Kenyan marathon star Rita Jeptoo still awaiting final disposition, the IAAF handed down sanctions Tuesday January 27th against eight Kenyan athletes for doping violations (mostly marathon runners).  It was also reported by The Daily Nation that Ms. Jeptoo’s Italian manager Federico Rosa of Rosa & Associates has followed through with his intention of introducing blood testing for all the athletes in his Kenyan stable.

The technology used for such testing arrived in Kenya on Monday and was being cleared at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport’s customs department, according to The Daily Nation.

Two weeks ago Ms. Jeptoo gave testimony before an Athletics Kenya doping commission, and faces either a two or four-year ban after having produced a positive result for the banned blood-booster EPO in an out-of-competition test preceding last fall’s Chicago Marathon, a race she won for the second year in a row.  Jeptoo’s coach Claudio Berardelli and Mr. Rosa also gave testimony before the commission, as did her estranged husband Noah Busienie, who coached Jeptoo before Mr. Berardelli.

With three Boston and two Chicago Marathon titles Jeptoo is the biggest name caught up in the growing performance-enhancing drug scandal coming out of Kenya in recent years, a scandal that threatens to undermine belief in the entire scope of excellence that the world has come to
expect from the East African distance running juggernaut. Continue reading


IMG_440106424Honolulu, Hi. —   It is easy to get lolled into a complacent repose here on the magical isle of Oahu. The rolling surf and easy trade winds loosen even the stiffest resolve, and one can forget, for the moment, the sulfurous zeitgeist wafting over the sport of athletics of late.

From the doping positives and allegations of wide-spread cheating and corruption coming out of the distance Eden of Kenya, to the hardened realpolitik of alleged payoffs to cover failed drug tests in Russia — or to secure championship site selection by the IAAF —  from the overturning of a mandate-level membership vote by a know-better USATF Board of Directors, to the potential loss of root and branch events like the 10,000, shot put, triple jump, and 200 meters on the track at the Olympics, there seems to be a sense of a house on fire on all fronts of athletics.

Maybe this is the entropy toward which any old and failed model eventuates. Maybe this is how the culture of greed and corruption loops back on itself in an ironic twist of Shakespearean delight.   In any regard, it is clear that the sport has completely lost its way.

Those in charge seem less passionate about the game than about the easy rewards that come from positions within extra-national oligarchies that lack adequate oversight and deal in the murky world of international banking.  It is why this sport is so attractive to so many of the wrong people as well as to so many great athletes and well-meaning supporters.

But there has always been the sense that the problem cannot be solved by simply rejiggering the NGB model or by replacing fallen men with more upstanding counterparts.  Though every sport has its difficulties and foibles, other successful sports have long since separated the necessary duties of governance, grass roots development and national team selection from the very different requirements of a truly professional sport.   Continue reading



IAAF president Lamine Diack

IAAF president Lamine Diack

The Norwegian Nobel Committee today has announced that IAAF president Lamine Diack of Senegal has been nominated for the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize for his and his organization’s long and unwavering leadership in the promotion of cooperation through running around the world.

“The Nobel Committee has long believed that there is a close connection between health, fitness and peace,” said a committee spokesman in announcing the selection. “Such connections are a prerequisite for the fraternity between nations of which Alfred Nobel wrote in his will.”

Over the past several decades the IAAF has made enormous progress in creating and sustaining running initiatives throughout the world, even as it hopes to culminate those efforts with their proposed Israeli-Palestinian Friendship Marathon Relay, which yearns to bring the long-time enemies into accord through the “Runners Without Borders” program.  The event would symbolically use as its finish line the proposed permanent border between Israel and the Palestinian state.

“No matter the differences between people, the act of running has been instrumental in showing us all the commonality rather than differences between us,” said Thorbjørn Jagland, chairman of the Nobel Committee. “The IAAF has shown us all what’s possible in the realm of human cooperation through international sport. We would also like to make special note of the work done by the IAAF’s 212 national governing body members, which have become the ne plus ultra of competence and forward thinking. What would the athletes of the world do without them? We can only imagine.”   Continue reading


IAAF Road Commision Dave Bedford

Dave Bedford, IAAF Road Running Commision Chairman

The sport of road racing has always had an arms-length relationship with the IAAF, the international governing body for the sport of track & field (athletics to the rest of the world outside the U.S). With the Marathon being the lone road event on the Olympic schedule, when we speak of the IAAF and its 212 national governing body members — like USA Track & Field in the United States — we speak mostly about track racing, jumping and throwing.  Yes, there is a biennial World Half-Marathon Championship — coming to Copenhagen, Denmark on March 29th — but it is no exaggeration to say that the sport of road racing has been under-served by the IAAF and its members for a long, long time.

That reality hasn’t just been detrimental to the sport of road racing, it has hurt the IAAF as well.  Since the vast majority of runners are not involved in making Olympic or World Championship teams, the tens of millions of recreational and non-elite runners around the world have rallied beneath the flags of independent local events, robbing the runners, the events, and their federation overseers of the marketing potential their huge aggregate numbers might have otherwise represented.

world-running-logoNow, for the first time, the IAAF is taking a long overdue look at this highly under-valued constituency.

This past week the monarchs in Monaco unveiled World Running, a global website whose goal, according to its About Page, “is to bring the world of running together, with a global Ranking system, expert advice and the latest running news.”

At the heart of World Running is its global Rankings system through which runners of all abilities can virtually compete on a worldwide basis. The concept is simple; every time you finish a race, whether a local 5k or a World Marathon Major, you input your finishing time and event into World Running, and through a mathematical algorithm your global ranking is produced.

Designed by Realbuzz out of Great Britain, the site also promises expert training advice, training guides, nutritional tips, injury advice, as well as an extensive events calendar, charity fundraising listings and the latest running news.

Former London Marathon Race Director Dave Bedford, the current chairman of the IAAF Road Running Commission,  has been “involved and supportive” of the concept. However, according to the one-time 10,000-meter world record holder, the original idea was suggested some 2 ½ years ago by IAAF General Secretary Essar Gabriel of France.  I spoke with Bedford Saturday from his home in London. Continue reading


With the Fukuoka Marathon just completed, the fall marathon season (at least in terms of fast times) has come to its completion.  From a competitive standpoint the Honolulu Marathon still awaits this Sunday morning December 8th.

But this is how the marathon year shook out in 2013 via the lists.


Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Wilson Kipsang sets world record in Berlin 2013

Top time of the year:   2:03:23 – Wilson Kipsang, Kenya – Berlin Marathon

 3 < 2:04            2012  –    0

 9 < 2:05            2012  –   11

14 < 2:06           2012  –   24

34 < 2:07           2012  –   51

60 < 2:08           2012  –   92

111 < 2:09          2012  – 153

184 < 2:10          2012  – 225

100th best of 2013:     2:08:46 – Abebe Negewo, Ethiopia – 4th, Beijing Continue reading


     Beginning in 1992 in Newcastle, England, the IAAF staged a World Half Marathon or Road Racing Championship every year for 19 straight years.  By 2002 60 nations and over 200 athletes came to Brussels to compete in the 11th edition.  From that point forward, however, the event began to witness a diminished interest in the number of nations and competitors taking part.  The major cause for this loss seemed to be the continuing and utter domination by athletes from Kenya and Ethiopia.  By 2010 just 30 countries and 123 athletes participated in Nanning, China.

In the shadow of the 2010 event, the IAAF converted the Half Marathon Championship to a biennial schedule, meaning there was no 2011 championships at all.  A similar circumstance has also taken place with the IAAF World Cross Country Championships for similar reasons.

The only conclusion to draw from this scheduling is that the importance the IAAF placed on the World Half Marathon Championship (and World Cross) has diminished, and it/they are being pushed away.  For further proof we need only look to Kavarna, Bulgaria, this year’s host city.  Though founded in the 5th century along the Black Sea coast by Greek colonists, it’s not quite the most alluring venue one might consider for a world championship.

With road running at the people’s level being reduced to slowly moving block parties, and the top-end talent from East Africa continuing to pull farther and and farther away in front, we have seen the geometric shape of road racing change from a huge wedge to separated and distinct clusters.

On July 3rd I published a story OLYMPIC PETITION – ROAD RACING which argued for the inclusion of team medals in the Olympic Marathons, and the introduction of an Olympic Ekiden Road Relay for the purpose of elevating road racing to the status of an Olympic sport.  I also instituted a petition drive on-line to generate interest in the proposition.

Now, the same week USATF announced the teams which will represent the USA at the October 6th IAAF World Half Marathon Championships in Bulgaria, the IAAF Athletes’ Commission has sent out the following survey to athletes around the world.  Continue reading