David Rudisha

The build-up to the London Olympics is well underway. On June 9th the reigning 800-meter world record holder David Rudisha of Kenya will make his U.S. debut at the Adidas Grand Prix in New York City, the sixth stop on the 2012 Samsung Diamond League tour.  During a media teleconference this morning, Rudisha spoke about his dual goals in 2012 of winning the London Olympics and attempting to break his own world record of 1:41.01, set in Rieti, Italy in 2010.

“To run 1:40 is possible,” said the reigning World Champion. “I am planning still to do that because I think I can still go under 1:41, but it’s tough. Any world record is very hard to break it, even if it is your own world record. You need to do some good planning also on how to do it. I am looking forward to that but my plan is the world record will be after the Olympics. I’m keeping my focus, my main concentration to the Olympics, which is the only main title I’m still lacking in my career. I don’t want to take any time or do anything else before I finish that task.”

Interesting how the idea of winning the Olympic title and running a world record have long since been separated into two distinct categories, as if the two were different disciplines altogether.  And in many ways they are.  But has something been lost in the process?  Has the long-time emphasis on running world record times with pacers become so prevalent that the focus on competition between and among carbon-based life forms been diminished along the way?  And since that change in focus, has the sport lost some of its appeal to a broader audience when racing was the thing, and the world record was merely the cherry atop the cake of victory? Continue reading


Elegance: Wilson Kipketer

How many times have you watched a race and thought, “Boy, was he/she born to run?”, thereby giving voice to the emotional power released by the human form in fully articulated flight.  Without knowing why or how, we all understand and appreciate at a visceral level the aesthetic that attends athletic excellence, an aesthetic which goes beyond simple results-oriented efficiency or effectiveness, and instead inhabits an expressive gestalt all its own.

We have all had our favorite such stylists.  One of mine was the great Kenyan-born Dane Wilson Kipketer, the former 800-meter world record holder whose rapier-like form cut so cleanly though the pliant pocket of air.  Another beauty was 1987 world 10,000-meter champion, the late Paul Kipkoech of Kenya, who I called “The Ambassador” for his carriage brought to mind white tie and tails, so elegant was his pure upright form.

Though athletes can improve form and function through plyometric drills and gym-work, most of how we generate force over distance comes from our physical conformation, how we are put together in this system of pulleys and levers via the hard and soft tissue of the body.

In the world of horse racing, millions of dollars are invested in the breeding for physical conformation.  But as the undervalued (purchased for $35,000) I’ll Have Another goes for the first Triple Crown title in 34 years at the Belmont Stakes next week, we are reminded again that more than physical conformation goes into the creation of a champion.  Beyond the talent of the form is the drive from the heart, the unquantifiable aspects of an athlete’s makeup which defy programmatic identification – think Tim Tebow in American football.

In an on-line blog about the Emotional Conformation in the equine athlete, an old, but not forgotten name from running’s past surfaced last fall in the comments section of Calvin Carter’s Classic Thoroughbred Champions. Continue reading


     (The following editorial was written for and posted by the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) on its website. It is re-posted here with their permission.)


“The test of allegiance to a cause or people is the willingness to run the risk of repeating on old argument just one more time, or going one more round against a hostile, or much worst, indifferent audience.”  – Christopher Hitchens, from his memoir Hitch-22.

Amidst the swirling eddies and currents of a race a champion must possess more than just strength, speed, and endurance. He/she must also be able to “read the whitewater” to discern the fugitive line to victory. Those who lack this critical capacity are pulled under in the sweep of the flow or find themselves shunted to a limpid side-pool wondering what became of the moment.

Today, on their own political course, the athletes of track and field find themselves looping around again full circle – or full oval, if you must – to a line they seem to discover once every generation, the one separating ‘what is’ from ‘what might be’.

Spurred by an arbitrary decision by the USATF’S national office which instituted a policy of enforcing IAAF advertising regulations restricting the size and number of commercial and club logos on athletes’ uniforms, athletes gathered at the 33rd USA Track & Field Annual Meeting in St. Louis to voice their displeasure and concerns. Once there, however, the meeting of the Athletes Advisory Committee quickly turned chaotic once live-streaming to the internet was discovered.  Soon tempers flared, sponsor walk-outs ensued, the room was cleared, then re-opened, but with the media now barred.

Ultimately, however, the athletes prevailed, in as much as they convinced the USATF board of directors to adopt their position in opposition to the logo policy in domestic meets. The athletes’ cause was led by the Athletes Advisory Committee chairman Jon Drummond and attorney David Greifinger, the former legal counsel to the USATF board, now serving as the athletes’ advocate.  it was Greifinger who submitted a resolution that USATF lift its logo restrictions for competitions that are not classified as “international” by the IAAF or conducted by the USOC.

The takeaway message from that meeting was simple, if the athletes cohere, their voice will carry. Today, the Track & Field Athletes Association (TFAA) has taken up the megaphone on behalf of their current and nascent members, affirming that the operating model of their sport has not been designed with the athletes’ best interests in mind.

However, though bolstered by the logos-on-uniforms issue, TFAA is still a fledgling organization (founded in December 2009). Which beggars the question, what is the true nature of TFAA’s existence? Is it resolved to take some kind of intelligibly vertebrate stance, striving to become one among equals in the determination of its membership’s fate? Or is it only looking to work the margins, just another tender in a larger game beyond its capacity to engage much less control? Continue reading


Presidential Race

Do you feel like I do?  Do you wish the race for president would never end?  Ooohh, the very idea of a fully-blustered presidential campaign sets my pulse to racing.  All those scabrous lies, heinous rumors, and statistical confabulations lobbed up against charges, counter charges and past indiscretions.  I tell you, I get all goose pimply at the thought of it all.

But do you ever wish that there was a better way to choose our leaders than by wading through the offal of political ads, unctuous speeches and gotcha debates?  I never feel like I’m getting the unfiltered candidate – except for the satanic Newt, the tail-regenerator who seems Dr. Seuss-born, and soon to be played by Jim Carey.

Actually, we see best what the process has become with Good Neighbor Mitt, a candidate whose every utterance has campaign staff inspection slips falling out of each syllable.   Seems the only candidate this cycle who was unafraid to put it to us straight was Grandpa Ron (Paul) who understood that such discourse carries the unfortunate penalty of never actually achieving the office being sought.

What we need instead of this year’s-worth of mucking about is a fail-safe way to make the right choice.  And here is the premise:  Americans love athletic types in the White House.  I say, find the best athlete, and we’ll find the best president.  If his body is coordinated, his policies just might be, too.

Just look at history.  But it has to be recent history, because pre-World War II the nation was still mostly rural.  So the whole idea of leisure activity from the President would have looked unseemly outside an occasional duck or quail shoot.  Even so, the press wasn’t as intrusive back then.  So who really knew what happened way back?  Lincoln could have been a bowler, for all we know, and Mary Todd his pin setter.  Maybe she took a few Brunswicks to the head; could have explained a lot. Continue reading



Andrew Wheating holds off Dorian Ulrey at Hayward Field

    “I felt good, I was running fast. Then, as everybody does, I kind of glanced up at the big JumboTron and I see this little guy over my shoulder. I was like, ‘Oh my god!’ I had to pick up the pace.” – Andrew Wheating, May 6, 2012 after winning the Oregon Twilight 1500 over Dorian Ulrey.

Please, please, please, would the straw-boatered officials of track and field take control of the JumboTrons and turn them off when athletes are making the turn and heading for home?  (Note:  just change the picture on the Tron the athletes can see straight ahead. Keep the other Trons going).  How many times have we seen it, or have athletes like Wheating admitted it, that they just look up to see where their opponents are rather than having to swivel their heads to see what’s what?  I know the Jumbotrons are there for us fans, but guess what, it compromises the racing for us, too.

At the core of the racing enterprise is making decisions in the heat of battle when precious blood has been shunted to the legs at the expense of the brain which still has to make the critical calls.  Anyone who has raced at the outer limits of fatigue can recall those desperate times when you sense an attack from behind, even hear the crowd, but are too scared to turn and look.  Or, have seen a clock or lap counter, and know perfectly well the numbers as displayed, but can’t quite get your blood-starved brain to make heads or tails of what those numbers mean.

Even in road racing we see this. At the 2007 U.S. Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials in New York City, the leader Ryan Hall saw the image of former world record holder Khalid Khannouchi on the JumboTron as Ryan passed the finish line to begin his final lap of Central Park. Worried about the legendary closing speed of Khannouchi, Hall knew that he couldn’t wait, and admitted as much after the race.  He put down the hammer and pulled further away to victory.  Behind, Special K was no longer so special, coming off injury and could only manage fourth place.  But that’s not the point.  Hall was privvy to information he ordinarily wouldn’t have had, and it changed how the race was run.

Call me a purist, but it’s more what boxers call ring generalship that I expound, the ability to think on your feet under duress.  That je ne sais quoi that defines a champion: the ride along the rail, the elbowed opening at precisely the right moment, the strike for home when your rival is perfectly boxed.  It’s not just speed.  It’s the lime in the tonic, the fragrance, not just the beauty of the flower.  To dismiss it for expedience is to diminish the sport.  That’s how you sell it, with its refinements buffed and polished.

Part of racing is the consequence that goes along with leading, taking that step into that yawning chasm where all is unseen, where hope and fear co-mingle, and where knowledge now holds a price, whether in showing fear to a fast-closing opponent, or throwing off your form with the twisted strides needed to take that peak. If all you have to do is look up at a video screen, the price has been discounted, but so, too, the value and excitement.

Here’s the solution. If there are two JumboTrons, one on either end of the stadium, simply change the picture on the one the athletes will be facing when they head up the backstretch, or the one they’d see down the homestretch.  In either case, leave on the JumboTron that is at their backs so the audience can still follow along.

Modern technology should at all times be utilized to improve the sport. It shouldn’t be used to corrupt what’s best about it.




Geoffrey Mutai

Now that Athletics Kenya has made its Sophie’s Choice for their 2012 Olympic Men’s Marathon team, it seems cruelly unfair that both history’s fastest marathoner, Geoffrey Mutai, and the official world record holder, Patrick Makau, will not be Olympians in London 2012.  All of which makes one stop to consider how this wholly unsatisfactory outcome might eventually be corrected.

Patrick Makau

While competitions on the track are restricted by the availability of lanes, thereby making it necessary to limit competitors to a qualified three-per-nation, the marathon is contested over open road, negating the space restriction argument.  Therefore, is it time for the IAAF to lobby for an open marathon format where, if not any qualified athlete can enter, then at least five runners per nation would be fielded with an accompanying team medal formulation added like in World Cross Country?

The New York Road Runners recently posted a Head-to-Head debate between ex-USA Today Olympic writer Dick Patrick and former New York Times Sports editor Neil Amdur on the value of staging a separate half-marathon in the Olympic Games.  Neil gave the idea a qualified thumbs up, while Dick replied, “Not so fast, my friend.”

While I might suggest an Olympic Ekiden Relay as a better choice which would include more athletes and be purely team-based, nowhere in Dick and Neil’s back-and-forth was the idea of an Olympic Half Marathon or marathon team medals forwarded for the express purpose of elevating the distinct sport of Road Racing into the pantheon alongside Track & Field via the Olympic imprimatur. Yet as more and more hybrid sports continue to sprout up, more and more of them are finding space on the Olympic schedule, while the very historic and distinct sports of cross country and road racing remain locked out without even an advocacy coming from their governing body. Continue reading