DRINKING THE OLYMPIC KOOL-AID

It is a spectacle beyond wonder, and an all but incomprehensible effort to stage, primarily for the host city and its organizing committee.  But so, too, for the grand ayatollahs of the IOC, the bishops of their member national committees, and their deep-pocketed supporters, the sponsors.  Yet it remains the labor of the plebian athletes to be the sine qua non for the entire enterprise.  Without them, what?  And so, of the $6 billion generated by the London Games, how much will be shared with those whose exploits make the grand exposition possible?

Well, consider that a 2012 Olympic gold medal has been struck with less than 1.5% actual gold (a mere 6 grams), and you have an apt understanding of the balance of commercial power we are about to behold over the next fortnight plus three. We know who really gets the gold.

My old friend Bob Bright excoriated me recently following my previous post – BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED.  Bob charged me with becoming an advocate for the athletes rather than a straight journalist.  “Folks, including you, are trying to build a sport around the wants and needs of athletes. How’s that working out? Athletes are here today and gone tomorrow.”

True enough, Bob, athletes do come and go; it is the way of all sportsmen. But take a good look at the sports which have strong athlete representation. Those are the ones that flourish.  In fact, track and field is not built around the athletes, and how that is working out is, as you say, abundantly evident.

Therefore, it isn’t the athletes’ side I am taking. Instead I’m casting a critical eye at the imbalances which continue to hold sway in this sport, and which, over time, have contributed to the withering of the sport’s status on the sporting landscape.  Make no mistake, if the situation were tilted unfavorably to the advantage of the athletes at the expense of the federations and events, and as a consequence the same sad state of the sport was in evidence that we see under the current model, you can be certain that I would write in favor of a corresponding swing in fortunes.  But until that eventuality is witnessed, I will read and write as my eye and conscious lead me.

It has never been my intention to diminish the role of any of the stakeholders of the sport, simply to acknowledge the critical role the athletes play in the proceedings, and the consequences of not elevating their station.  Thus, the issue of athlete rights remains evergreen, and with each passing month seems to be gaining increasing momentum.  Now with bright light of the Olympic flame about to be lit, the subject is rife for further enlightenment. Continue reading

BOB BRIGHT: AFTER 25 YEARS NOTHING HAS CHANGED

The following is a response to my last post TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD which outlined the political wranglings at last weekend’s Aviva London Grand Prix where American runners Nick Symmonds and Lolo Jones were barred by meet director Ian Stewart for being “liabilities”.

Today’s responder is none other than legendary 1980s Chicago Marathon race director Bob Bright who helped steer what was then a regional-quality event into the deep waters of the marathon mainstream.

With the backing of Beatrice Foods sponsor money, Bright brought marathon recruitment to a new level of sophistication. After taking the helm in 1982, he was the first to scour the  European track circuit for marathon talent.  There Welshman Steve Jones caught Bright’s eye, and in 1983 Bright lured Jonesy to Chicago for a $1500 fee to try on the marathon for size. 

After a DNF caused by a run-in with a pothole past half-way, Jones returned in 1984 ready, willing, evidently able.  Avoiding all hazards of the Windy City roads Jonesy bested the reigning Olympic champion Carlos Lopes of Portugal and 1983 World Champion Rob de Castella of Australia by breaking the marathon world record (2:08:05). 

The next year Bright engineered the Joan Samuelson-Ingrid Kristiansen-Rosa Mota women’s battle that produced Joanie’s 18-year standing American record 2:21:21.

What follows is Bob’s recollection of the 1986 Chicago Marathon and his behind-the-scenes tangle with Norway’s Ingrid Kristiansen, at the time the women’s marathon record holder.  Evidently the more things change, the more they remain the same. 

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“Toni,  I read your last post with interest and it sparked memories of some long past shoot-outs.

After a 25 year walkabout, I have to agree with you, nothing has changed.  There appears to be zero leadership. With no leadership, meet directors become war lords. I liked the war part but never reached the lord status.

Meet directors cannot let athletes run over them, and athletes in some cases are vulnerable. A proper governing body would set standards, enforce rules and help solve problems similar to the recent London kerfuffle.  We will differ here; I would support the Ian Stewart position. Here is why and you might have some insight into this situation.

In the spring of 1986 I received a call from the Ingrid Kristiansen’s connections in Norway stating she wanted to try and break the marathon World Record in October. I flew to Oslo, met with Ingrid and her people for four hours in a bank with no lunch.  The deal:  a $40k appearance fee with travel and accommodations for five people. No Joanie, Rosa or any other heavy who would pressure Ingrid in the race. Just a greased skid where she could blast. The grease was $40K.

As October approached, I heard rumors from European contacts that she was slightly injured. I tried but couldn’t make contact with her coach or agent.  On Wednesday before the race her party (8 people) shows up.  They need rooms and travel money for the additional folks.  Ingrid hides in her room and sends her husband to collect her appearance fee. Not much luck with that stunt. The running gun-battle is launched. Alan Ladd has gone missing.  Lawyers, agents, hangers-on and journalists jump into the melee. I’m surrounded.

I have a slightly? injured athlete demanding her appearance money (not hiding but resting) and an agent representing IMG declaring she is under contract to wear a MAZDA racing singlet which will upstage a race sponsor.  Right there, I should have declared Ingrid a ‘LIABILITY’ and sent her packing.  Where was Ian Stewart when I needed him? Continue reading

TRACK ATHLETES IN SEARCH OF ALAN LADD

I just finished watching an undistinguished 1957 horse opera called The Big Land starring Alan Ladd and Virginia Mayo on Turner Classic Movies.  (It’s a low-key Saturday).  The movie tells the story of a group of farmers in post-Civil War Kansas teaming up with some Texas cattlemen bringing their herds north as together they hope to create a large and diverse enough new market to convince the Kansas Pacific Railroad to build a spur off its Kansas City line to handle the new town’s business.

It’s a good strategy, but also a major threat to a sinister Missouri cattle buyer who holds a monopoly on the current market and tightly controls the prices paid to the Texas ranchers.  So when the new town begins to get built and another group of cattle buyers are brought in to bid on the herds about to arrive, the ruthless Missouri buyer rides in a gang of hired guns to intimidate the town folk and the new buyers.

Without any law enforcement in the new town the hired guns kill one of the Chicago buyers and also Edmond O’Brien, Alan Ladd’s business partner and the town father.  The cattle buyers from Omaha, Chicago and Cincinnati are properly cowed and prepare to flee, meaning the demise of the new enterprise.  Not until Aland Ladd returns from Texas with his herd to face down the bad guys does he get the girl, and give the new town its chance for a prosperous future. It’s the Wild West in all its 1950s Hollywood Technicolor re-creation.

We might as well be talking about the modern day sport of track and field, minus the Alan Ladd character. Continue reading

OLYMPIC PETITION – ROAD RACING

PETITION BACKGROUND (Preamble)

Since its rapid growth during the so-called Running Boom of the 1970s and early 1980s, the sport of Road Racing has become a world-wide phenomenon.  Participation has expanded into the tens of millions as people on every continent and of every ethnicity, background and age have joined its ranks.

With the development of road racing over the last 40 years, we have witnessed the emergence of distance running athletes whose particular skills, interests, passions and careers have found their highest expression in the sport of road racing.  Yet with 24 men’s and 23 women’s events on the Olympic athletics (track & field) schedule, only the marathon – perhaps the most iconic of all Olympic events – is offered to road race athletes.  Thus,  while there is a distinction made between 100 and 200 meters, 400 and 800, 5000 and 10,000 on the track, no such distinction is allowed between 10,000 meters on the track and 42,195 meters on the road. Though one most decidedly does exist.

Furthermore, with the on-going epidemic of childhood obesity continuing to exact its tragic toll in many developed countries of the world, and distance running’s proven impact on the health and well-being of its practitioners, the sport of road racing is missing the status that an Olympic imprimatur would confer upon it in the minds of government officials, school administrators, potential sponsors and fans.   Therefore,

PETITION

We, the undersigned, petition the International Olympic Committee to grant the distinct sport of Road Racing the recognition it merits and truly deserves by extending Olympic medals to the top three-person teams beginning at the 2020 Olympic Marathon – as determined by a combined-time format.  Further, we petition for the addition of a team-based Road Relay to the Olympic schedule, also beginning in 2020.

The inclusion of Olympic Marathon team medals and the addition of an Olympic Road Relay would serve as a perfect showcase to elevate the sport of Road Racing to the station it both deserves and has earned in world sport.

Sincerely,

To date this petition has been signed by, among others, Bill Rodgers, Joan Samuelson, Anne Audain, Geoffrey Mutai, Sharon Cherop, Catherine Ndereba, Cosmas Ndeti, Lucy Kabuu and Coach Renato Canova (I was recently in Kenya).  It is currently being circulated with its own Facebook page in the offing.  Comments and additional electronic signatures are welcome and encouraged.

PETITION

END