RUNNING REMAINS MUDDLED IN FORMING WORKING PARTNERSHIPS

Seattle, WA. — With Athletics Kenya releasing news Thursday that three Kenyan marathoners face doping bans for failing drug tests, and former three-time steeplechase world champion Moses Kiptanui adding his voice to those expressing the opinion that there is more PED drug use going on in Kenya than previously believed,  it was timely to find the World Marathon Majors release a new drug policy this week. The World Marathon Majors is made up of the New York City, Boston, Chicago, London, Berlin and Tokyo marathons.

While not aimed at any particular nation or region, the new policy is an acknowledgment that the same temptations are in play in Africa as anywhere else.  And having been to both Kenya and Ethiopia several times, and as recently as last year, I can tell you that the argument against the likelihood of drug use in East Africa has always been more about cost, availability and regimentation than the desire to partake.  Plus, the number of talented athletes is so huge, and some regions so remote as to negate the practicality of widespread drug use.

However, all one need do is recall that when I first visited Africa in 1998 there were no cell phones, internet cafes or wireless technology whatsoever.  In other words, things have changed; modernity rolls in quite quickly.  And with more and more opportunities to perform around the world, the temptation to lift oneself out of poverty, by whatever means necessary, grows right along with them.  Therefore, the need to increase testing should mirror that same pattern of growth.

But testing is expensive, not just in the form of the tests themselves, but in the human cost of placing testers in areas where athletes live and train.  That’s why I found it interesting to note that a major World Marathon Majors initiative should be released under a London Marathon letterhead rather than a World Marathon Majors’ one.  It points to the continued muddled nature of this sport from an organizational standpoint. Continue reading

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MO FARAH TO RUN HALF OF LONDON’S MARATHON: GOOD IDEA?

Mo Farah

Mo Farah

Britain’s double Olympic track champion Mo Farah begins the re-landscaping of his career toward the marathon this weekend when he competes in New Orleans at the Rock `n` Roll Half Marathon.  It will be the second competitive half-marathon of Farah’s career. The 2012 Olympic 5000 & 10,000 champion won the 2011 New York City Half Marathon in his debut in 60:23.

While the half in New Orleans will serve as an intermediate step toward Farah’s full marathon debut in London 2014, he will concentrate his 2013 efforts on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Moscow this summer. But there will be another, more significant step toward the marathon this April when Mo will start this year’s Virgin London Marathon.  Yes, he will start, but he will not finish.  How do we know?  Because that is the deal that Mo’s people worked out with London, start this year, run till half-way then drop off. Then go the full distance in 2014.

From an athletic and PR standpoint this makes perfect sense.  From Mo’s vantage point getting the chance to take part in the event without actually being a competitor should serve him well, even if to a small degree, in 2014.  And financially it’s a certainly a win fall. According to the U.K’s Daily Mail, Mo Farah will receive an impressive (by running’s standards) £750,000 for his two London starts ($1,160,000US).  That fee, which was not confirmed by first-year race director Hugh Brasher (son of event founder Chris Brasher), would dwarf even the £500,000 it is believed Paula Radcliffe received in her prime a decade ago.

The Daily Mail story also underscores the point  made by Ben Rosario in a recent submission about the need to make such appearance fees public to hype the sport as being truly professional. BEN ROSARIO: WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

“He’ll be rightfully well rewarded as an Olympic champion,” was all Hugh Brasher would reveal to the Daily Mail.

But while it all works well for Mo and the event to go just half-way in London 2013, how fair is it to the actual race contenders?  And what does it do for the focus of race coverage? Continue reading

KASTOR TUNES UP FOR L.A. WITH RECORD ATTEMPT IN PASADENA

Deena Kastor

Deena Kastor

Foot racing is one of the few sports which make us wish (at times) we were older as a new age-group leads to new challenges and better chances to succeed.  Other times it just makes us feel old.  So while NBA legend Michael Jordan copes with turning 50 today, Deena Kastor, the 2004 Olympic Marathon bronze medalist and 25-time U.S. champion across all running disciplines, competed for the first time in the Master’s Division (40+). Having turned 40 last Thursday, Deena chose Pasadena, California for her debut, taking on the Kaiser Permanente Rock ‘n’ Roll Pasadena Half Marathon benefiting CureMito (how’s that for a convenient name?)

So even as Jordan continues searching for an outlet to quench his infamous competitive spirit, Kastor was racing in Pasadena as a final tune-up for the Asics Los Angeles Marathon, a home town race she will be running for the first time March 17th.  She was also going after Colleen De Reuck’s 2006 American master’s best for the half-marathon (1:11:50).

After a strong third-place finish at the February 2nd USATF National Cross Country Championships in St. Louis, Deena stayed right on-pace through the first half in Pasadena — 33:58 at 10K, 71:46 pace.  It was in the second half that Kastor slowed to finish in 1:12:57 (5:34 per mile for the distance).

“It was definitely a strength person’s course out there,” she said afterwards. “There were a lot of hills to tackle, both up and down.  I wanted to push hard the whole way, but it’s difficult to focus on times on a course like this where the hills pile on throughout.”  Continue reading

USATF TAKES OWNERSHIP OF ROAD RACING

.US National Road Racing Championships    In what must be seen as a harbinger of hope, USA Track & Field announced yesterday that it has signed a new sponsor for a new event to bolster what has previously been little more than a nominal national road race series.  Called the .US National Road Racing Championships, the new 12-kilometer event will feature a $100,000 purse — $20,000 to each gender champion — while putting a jaunty cap atop a currently quite bland USA Running Circuit —  nine locally controlled unaffiliated events which run from February through October over distances from one-mile  to the marathon.

The new event and sponsorship was announced yesterday as part of a three-year deal with Neustar, a Virginia-based domain-name registration company.  No specific date or location for the new race was disclosed as details are still being worked out.  However, the time and place announcement is said to be coming in March.

The signing of Neustar was ushered through by the still-dewy USATF CEO Max Siegel who took office last May.  The deal represents the single largest event sponsorship signed by USATF in a decade (which is telling in itself).  What’s more, the event will be the first road race wholly owned and operated by USATF.

With hundreds of road races and millions of road racers nationwide, and only several thousand adult track and field athletes, the imbalance in USATF membership and focus has been a festering challenge since road racing was first lumped in with track and race walking when Congress broke up the old AAU with the enactment of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

Max Siegel, USATF CEO

Max Siegel, USATF CEO

“…the vast majority (of runners) are running for something other than prize money or Olympic medals,” Siegel said in the announcement. “This race is their race, and USATF is their organization. With the support of Neustar, we will be able to reach out to a full cross-section of runners like never before.”  Continue reading

THE POST-MODERN OLYMPICS

With yesterday’s news that the IOC executive committee voted to drop wrestling from the Olympic calendar beginning in 2020, I thought it worthwhile to resurrect portions of a previous post written at the conclusion of the London Games.  As the IOC is more anxious than ever to market the Olympic Games for (their) monetary gain — Avery Brundage must be apoplectic in his grave — what then of the place of Athletics (track & field) in the Olympic movement going forward?  Given wrestling’s once-firm standing among the pillars of both the ancient and modern Olympics, how safe should athletics feel in this world of the Post-Modern Olympics?

Red flags should have been raised in Beijing 2008 when NBC lobbied the IOC to move track out of the primetime viewing slot in the U.S. so they could show more Michael Phelps swimming and little girl gymnastics live.  And this favoring of less-martial, more female-oriented sports was in even greater evidence in London.  Not only did American Idol host Ryan Seacrest make his Olympic debut, but with women making up more than 50% of the U.S. Olympic team for the first time, the interest in fashion and glitter hit an all-time high.

Ancient Games

In ancient times Olympic events emulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare.  One such event, the hoplitodromos, or “race of soldiers”, had competitors covering 800 meters wearing full battle armor weighing as much as 60 pounds.  The idea was to sublimate war-like tendencies into athletic competition, and thereby foster peaceful coexistence among the city-states.  Of course women weren’t even allowed to watch those contests, much less participate in them.  Only free men who spoke Greek competed.  But in recent times, with the welcome, and ever-increasing focus on empowering women throughout the world, we have seen the Olympics move gradually away from the warrior ethic of old, and evolve toward a Cirque de Soleil mise-en-scène. Continue reading

JIM RYUN RETURNS TO SITE OF RECORD RUN

Balboa Stadium 1960s

Balboa Stadium 1960s

San Diego’s Balboa Stadium formed a classic horseshoe design in 1965 when it was home to the AFL San Diego Chargers.  Today the place has shrunk in size and import as home to the San Diego High School Cavers.

Back in  1965 Balboa Stadium also hosted the AAU Track & Field Championships, the highlight of which was the one mile run, featuring New Zealand’s Peter Snell and Czechoslovakia’s Josef Odložil, the Olympic gold and silver medalists from Tokyo 1964.  Joining them in the field was the newly-minted American mile record holder, Jim Grelle, a product of Bill Bowerman’s University of Oregon program, and one other notable worth mentioning, a gangly high school senior out of Wichita East High School in Kansas, one Jim Ryun.

Last night an only slightly less gangly Jim Ryun stepped back into Balboa Stadium for the first time in 48 years to address members of the San Diego Track Club just before their weekly workout.  After his remarks and the surge of autographs and photos had slowed, Jim stood and recalled the night in 1965 that still stands as the most legendary that any U.S. high school athlete in track ever created.

Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC

Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC

“In 1965 I had just turned 18, and the day before the meet there had been a press conference, and I was not invited because I was a high school kid — which didn’t bother me.  But my coach, J.D. Edmundson, went, and he came back and said, ‘They asked Peter Snell what he thought about the kid from Wichita East.  And he said, “Well, one day he may be a factor in a race, and I’m sure he’ll have a great career”.  Well, J.D. was telling me that hoping it was going to fire me up.  But I was already fired up. I didn’t need that.”

Ryun remembers an electric crowd of around 20,000 that night in a stadium which held 34,000. ABC’s Wide World of Sports covered the meet live with Bill Fleming and Jim Beatty on the call. Continue reading