SIMPLE, PURE, AND HEARTLESS

The 10,000 meter finals at the USATF Outdoor Nationals ran late last night in Sacramento due to the steamy weather that is coating much of the western half of the country.  But you couldn’t say the results were a product of the weather. Instead, if they showed anything, it was the relentless, heartless nature of the sport itself.

Highlights, of course, were the wins by Molly Huddle for the women, her third, and Hasan Mead for men, his first. But equal stories were to be found a bit behind in the forms of previous champions and Olympic medalists, Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp. We could say the same for retiring 800 meter star Nick Symmonds Continue reading

TEAMING UP

IAAF President Sebastian Coe gave an interview to the British newspaper The Guardian this past Tuesday June 13th to discuss the unsteady state of the sport of athletics. While admitting that the sport has been mired in crisis, racked by both internal institutional corruption and wide-spread drug cheating, Lord Coe’s prescription included the following observation:

“We have to be more innovative, we have to be braver and more creative in formats. The first thing I said when I became president was that we have to think differently.”

My question to President Coe is, did he watch last weekend’s NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon?  Did he watch the women’s 4X400 meter Relay final when the University of Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers took the baton from Deejah Stevens a half-stride in front of USC’s Kendall Ellis with the entire women’s championship hanging in the balance?  Did he watch knowing that Raevyn had to win in order to overcome Georgia’s 8.2 point lead over her Ducks by scoring the 10 points for the victory? Continue reading

TIME TO GET UP!

People wonder where the next Steve Prefontaine is, that runner who can both race with charismatic elan while simultaneously challenging the status quo to the point where he/she draws a whole new category of fans into the game.

Pre died 42 years ago on Memorial Day weekend, and time has worked its magic, as it always does. Yes, Pre was special, but even Usain Bolt – who’s been exponentially more successful than Steve ever was – hasn’t been able to lift the sport to a realm it never reached in any previous epoch. Guess what?  Ain’t gonna happen. Know why?  Cause running isn’t that kind of sport. Wasn’t then. Isn’t now.

Once you get beyond the mile, running doesn’t pay off close scrutiny unless you are a hard-core practitioner yourself.  Distance running is a nuanced sport that builds dramatic tension, but only when the stakes are high. But since the stakes are almost never high – maybe twice  every four years, or at the Breaking2 Project  – there is no compelling drama in the intervening period unless you’re a die-hard.

The sports that are dramatic are episodic, sh*t happens every thirty seconds, like a pitch, a play, or a shot.  And those mini-dramas eventually lead to a denouement and satisfying dramatic conclusion, i.e. somebody wins the championship, like either the Penguins or Predators in the NHL Stanley Cup Finals ( Pittsburgh up 2-0), or tonight’s opening of the NBA Finals, Cavs v. Warriors.

Running comes to one conclusion each in a hundred different places after many minutes (even hours) of soporific sameness. That was a hard enough sell when the only other sports were horse racing and wife brow-beating, you know, when leisure time was a fantasy.  Today, the competition is stiffer than ever, and running’s presentation is sealed in amber.

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I was at a Target store yesterday, and a crew from the local NBC affiliate came up to me and the wife and said they were doing a story on whether schools should start later than they do. The premise being cause kids are not getting enough sleep they can’t retain what they’re being taught.

I looked it up.  The National Center of Education Statistics (NCES) shows that average start time for the 39,700 public  middle and high schools in America is 8:03 a.m.  In 2014 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) urged middle and high schools to modify start times to enable students to get adequate sleep by starting no sooner than 8:30 a.m.

How about go to bed earlier? There, now you got enough sleep.  Problem solved.

When did parents give up being in charge of their kids? I respected my parents, was afraid of them, too, with good reason, teachers, yeah, them too.  Why? There were consequences to non-compliance. That had a tendency to grab your attention. And what is government anyway but forced compliance? Do whatever you want until you get on the wrong side of the law.  Then see how it works out for you.

For a very short time I used to be a schoolteacher. Back then it was the adults (parents and teachers) in league against the kids, because we knew better. Screw up in school and you’d be in even more trouble at home. Today, it seems like the parents and kids occupy a united front against the educators, because evidently nobody knows better.

We had to go to bed at 8 o’clock when we were kids. Didn’t want to. Wanted to stay up and watch The Untouchables and Sea Hunt. But we went to bed against our will because parents looked at us. Who’s callin’ the shots here?  What lessons are really being taught?

But for some reason when every American adult of certain learning has the stunted attention span of the President of the United States, good effin’ luck with delayed gratification, discomfort, and doing stuff you don’t want to do – like going through with a deal you made with the rest of the world.

That’s why running doesn’t resonate, and never will. It’s the sporting equivalent of going to bed early to be ready for training tomorrow morning.  Think Pre ever told Bill Bowerman to move practice back so he could sleep in after staying up late?

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MEMORIAL DAY 2017

Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery outside St. Louis, Mo.

Memorial Day, a day to remember those who have given their lives in the service of the country.  I wrote about Memorial Day last year on a larger scale – MEMORIAL DAY 2016 – noting the loss of meaning and recognition for the holiday in this time when the responsibility that once attended liberty seems to be among the unknown.

Today, like last year and the years before that throughout this still young century, wars continue to send members of our all-volunteer forces into danger. Continue reading

GRETE’S PLACE

We learned last week that the apartment building Grete Waitz (nee Anderson) grew up in in Oslo, Norway had been fitted with a plaque recognizing the place as her girlhood home.  The five time IAAF World Cross Country champion, nine time New York City Marathon winner, inaugural IAAF Women’s World Marathon Champion in 1983, and silver medalist the following year in the initial Women’s Olympic Marathon in Los Angeles was commemorated not only as a champion runner, but as a leader in the development of women’s sport.

In May 2011 I flew to Oslo for a service celebrating Grete following her passing the previous month at age 57. She had succumbed to a several years bout with cancer with the same grace she had displayed throughout her public career.  Later, Grete’s husband Jack, a friend not just from the circuit but from our wintertime days in Gainesville, Florida throughout the 1990s, took me to the Keiseirlokka (Kaiser Field) neighborhood where Grete had grown up with her older brothers Jan and Arild.

Grete Waitz girlhood apartment, second story on left

Today, Kaiser Field is a quiet working class neighborhood, but in the post-war years when the Anderson’s lived there it was bustling with children, an idyllic place to grow up. Nearby stood Hasle Lutheran Church where Jack and Grete were married in 1975.

“She was the only girl in the family,” Jack explained. ”And her mother, Reidun, ran a tight ship. Grete was given all the tasks in the house. They made her take piano lessons, and they weren’t too enthusiastic about her running, because it wasn’t considered a girlish thing to do.”

A track star and school teacher before her second career began as a marathon champion in New York in 1978, Grete had to overcome the prevailing girls-staying-in-their-place headwinds that her own running, and that of others in her generation, helped turn around for future generations of girls everywhere.

Today, Grete’s greatest legacy lives on in her Aktiv Against Cancer Foundation, which works to ensure that physical activity will become an integral part of cancer treatment.

helle aanesen & grete waitz Aktiv against cancer co-founders

Helle Aanesen & Grete Waitz Aktiv Against Cancer co-founders

AKTIV Against Cancer was founded by Grete and Helle Aanesen in Norway in 2007. After donating more than $14M and helping to create 15 physical activity centers in cancer treatment facilities throughout Norway, AKTIV Against Cancer established its official 501(c)(3) presence in the United States in 2014.

Today, the work of incorporating physical activity into cancer treatments, and researching the effects continues throughout Norway, and at the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York City where an AKTIV Against Cancer pledge of $3.3 million helps fund exercise oncology research by Dr. Lee Jones, PhD.  Work in exercise oncology has also been initiated in Ethiopia via Aktiv measures.

Grete’s influence was enormous during her all too brief life, due not just to her athletic excellence, but to her quiet dignity and innate elegance.  She wasn’t one to call the spotlight to herself, in fact, she dodged it whenever possible. But it found its way to her all on its own. Nice to see the beam still glowing around her memory.

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EXERCISE SHMEXERCISE

We in the running world contain variants of every political persuasion, making the sport the true Big Tent, an open flap for everyone. One reason the sport is so inclusive is because it is so honest and pure (at least in heart, if not always in practice).  Anybody can do it, yes, but you can’t talk your way into a good performance, it’s all there in the training log, hard work and perseverance, the most basic lesson of the sport, you get out what you put in. And based on that metric alone I think we can see a new way to evaluate the Big Bopper in Washington D.C.

Those of a certain vintage will remember the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, a prophetic program that encouraged kids to get out and exercise at a time when there was a near universal introduction of television sets into American homes.  Though begun by President Eisenhower in 1956, the council was re-invigorated by President Kennedy in 1963.  The Presidential Champions Award was given to students who achieved the top fifteenth percentile across a series of events: 50-yard dash, 600-yard dash, Standing broad jump, Pull-ups (boys), Flexed-arm hang (girls), Sit-ups in 60-seconds, and the shuttle run.

Now if you ever wondered how to tell if times really do change… Continue reading

WHERE TO NOW?

IAAF president Sebastian Coe is said to be seriously considering a proposal outlined at a recent European Athletics Council meeting which would erase all track & field records pre-2005, reasoning that’s when officials began saving blood samples for future testing.

“What we are proposing is revolutionary, not just because most world and European records will have to be replaced, but because we want to change the concept of a record and raise the standards for recognition a point where everyone can be confident that everything is fair and above board,” European athletics president Svein Arne Hansen said.

Arbitrary? Sure. Necessary? Lay out some alternatives. Unless, of course, you believe the current situation is acceptable and maintainable. And I would love to hear that argument.

Yes, any one-size program will not fit all. Not every pre-2005 record is tainted, and athletes whose records may be in jeopardy are not happy.  So maybe the sport just lists them as the pre-2005 records, while attaching no further moral judgements one way or the other. Don’t deny them, simply differentiate them from the records where blood samples are available to be retested. There isn’t going to be a way that perfectly threads this needle.

But the way it stands now, you’re damned if you don’t run fast, jump high, or throw far enough, but you’re doubted if you do. Plus, things are awkward out there, elite athletes can’t even say hi to their local pharmacist anymore, much less visit a doctor, without arousing suspicion.

At the same time, the sport can’t survive if every time they hand out awards like Olympic medals, prize purses, or World Marathon Majors titles, they just have to keep taking them back later because the supposed winners were dirty. And let’s not even begin about what constitutes females or males.

Today’s system doesn’t get it done; it’s a loser. Who wants a medal upgrade ten years later? That only looks good in your obit. Continue reading