RACING WITH THE STARS?

The field lists for the winter and spring racing seasons are flooding out now as the sport begins to emerge from its turn-of-the-year hibernation. The Dubai Marathon goes off  tonight at 10 pm ET, while the Boston Marathon, London Marathon along with the New Balance Indoor Grand PrixMillrose Games and USATF National Cross Country Championships have recently released their talent-laden casts.  And just today Competitor Group announced double Olympic champion Mo Farah for their New Orleans Rock `n` Roll Half (with more top names to come, according to athlete coordinator Matt Turnbull.) Running afficionados are anxiously circling calendars and planning their travel and internet viewing accordingly.

At the same time, Entertainment Weekly posted an EXCLUSIVE story today informing us that the ABC reality series Dancing With the Stars has offered Lance Armstrong a spot on its upcoming spring season.  According to the EW story, Armstrong has declined the offer. That news comes on the heels of a similar story about troubled actress Lindsay Lohan who also turned down an appearance on DWTS (reportedly rejecting $550,000 in the process).

So, what’s the lesson here?

I had an email exchange with Millrose meet director Ray Flynn last week regarding the excellent fields that he’s put together for not only the showcase Wannamaker Mile, but for the Two Mile event, as well.  What I wanted to know was, “what needs to be done to gather interest beyond the athletics’ world bubble?  In other words, what are the stakes these athletes are racing for? Isn’t that the missing element when we try to engage the general public? Ok, a wonderful field has been assembled, but what’s the purpose of the race other than winning it? What’s the hook for those outside the sport?”

Ray replied: “The Millrose Games is in its 106th year. Having run it on six occasions, I am a big believer.  I think these kids like the idea of the big stage, we’ll set up a great race, and it’s good timing for them.  You may think I’m deflecting and that athletes only race for money. I don’t think so. They want to know that they will be part of something great! This will be a great race. The first time I got to race in Oslo, I would have slept on the floor.  All that mattered was that I had arrived on the big stage! It’s a show in the end.”

The key to that exchange was that Ray was still looking at his races through the eyes of an athlete; it’s what the races meant to them that counts. What I was wondering was what the races might mean to the public; why would they want to watch?
Continue reading

PASSING OF A HERO

John Thomas

John Thomas

An ArmoryTrack.com news release has informed us that two-time Olympic high jump medalist John Thomas of Brockton, Massachusetts passed away Tuesday, January 15, 2013 at the age of 71.

A soft-spoken gentleman, Thomas was revered – especially in his native New England – as one of his sport’s most enduring icons.  He was also among a small cadre of personal boyhood heroes of mine, along with former mile record holder Jim Ryun, St. Louis Cardinals baseball star Stan Musial, and St. Louis Hawks basketball All-Star Bob Pettit.  With great fortune I got to know “JT” during my quarter-century living in Boston.  Meeting your heroes later in life and finding that they embody all the qualities you’d  imagined of them as a young fan is one of the pleasures life can offer.  Think of that legacy, alone, in today’s world of Lance Armstrong and Tiger Woods.

The following is from last March 25th’s High Jump Heroes which speaks to the seeds of a life long passion planted in a young boy’s heart by heroes like John Thomas and his great Russian rival Valery Brumel. 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