RUPP IS IN!!!

On to the marathon

On to the marathon

I think he’s the best marathoner in America right now, though he has never even run one. Olympic 10,000 meter silver medalist and American record holder Galen Rupp announced today on USATF.TV that he will make his marathon debut at the February 13th Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. Talk about throwing a switch on the electricity (and strategy) of that race!

Before Rupp’s announcement the consensus was that Meb and Ritz as the two experienced Olympic marathoners, and only two sub-2:09 Americans in the last three years, were the favorites with everybody else bunched behind them in what promised to be a generational turnover in the ranks of American marathoning. That’s always how it’s been with the U.S. Trials, a pivot point in the sport.

Young talent like Jared Ward, third in LA last year and reigning U.S. Marathon champion (2:12:55), is in good form according to coach (and two-time Olympian) Ed Eyestone. In fact, Jared was in LA yesterday (Wednesday 27 Jan.) taking a tour of the trials course.  The fastest American marathoner of 2015, Luke Puskedra, comes in off a 2:10:24 seventh place in Chicago, while another talented group of newly minted Americans join Rupp in making their debuts at the distance — Joe Vigil-coached Diego Estrada, along with Kenyan-born Sam Chelanga and Aron Rono — have all the talent needed to produce a  top three performance in LA.

But isn’t this Rupp story the beauty of the sport? Continue reading

THEORY OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN RUNNING

When applied to American politics the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how gerrymandering congressional districts has led to gridlock rather than problem-solving – ostensibly the purpose of Congress – because gerrymandering incentivizes congress people NOT to work with the opposition party.  When applied to today’s running world, the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how the focus on the individual-event management, while improving the quality of events, has constricted the potential growth and development of The Sport, which would necessitate a unity of purpose across multiple event platforms.

What can you do?

Perfect Storm?

Today, a decade and a half into the 21st century, The Sport of racing has been subsumed by The Activity of jogging.  The tail, we might say, is wagging the dog.  And regardless of what Lord Sebastian Coe, the embattled IAAF president told viewers on the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon telecast recently — “when people see elite performances you can see how it pulls them into competition. It’s almost a perfect storm” — the opposite, in fact, is true.

There has been a total break between the front of the pack and the back of the pack. There is an almost complete lack of interest in the sport of foot racing by the experiential runners, much less by the general sports fans. And now with the devastating accounts of drug abuse and institutional corruption haunting the IAAF, the sport is in even more desperate condition than ever.

“Fast times once meant something,” says Patrick Lynch former elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon and long-time observer of the sport. “There used to be a slew of running writers who could contextualize those times, people like Bert Rosenthal of Associated Press, Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe, Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Dick Patrick at USA Today. They’re all gone now. There are no running beat writers left anymore in the mainstream press.

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2012 Honolulu Marathon with Mark Wetmore (Mr. Green), Pat Lynch (Mr. Blue) across from Hono race director Jon Cross and Moi (Messrs. White).

“Just as the three-point line came in to play through the American Basketball Association to differentiate it from the established NBA – along with the red, white, and blue ball – when the NBA absorbed the ABA, NBA executives saw that their same old brand of basketball needed to adapt to grow.  In the same sense running has become stagnant, well past due for a change. Events are successful but their races are not.”

Though he built the elite fields at the Boston Marathon from 1986 to 2012,  and before that was very active in the Boston running community, Pat Lynch has always cultivated an opaque public persona (you can’t even find a picture of him on Google!).  That he is willing to speak openly now only underscores the seriousness of the case he makes. Continue reading

THE NEED FOR WHITE HATS V. BLACK HATS

Tesfaye Abera wins in Dubai

Tesfaye Abera wins in Dubai over defender Birhanu

Last night’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon showed in microcosm all the strengths as well as all the weaknesses confronting foot racing as public spectacle. From a purely athletic standpoint it was a terrific show with 23 year-old unknown Tesfaye Abera of Ethiopia coming back in the final 500 meters to sling shot past defending champion Hayle Lemi Berhanu by nine seconds in 2:04:24 to notch a five-minute PR!

But except for a small, but enthusiastic gathering of Ethiopian ex-pats at the finish, the dead flat, three-turned Dubai course layout was as empty as the Revlon makeup counter at the local mosque.

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"Money" Mayweather bling

“Money” Mayweather bling

Say what you will about Floyd ‘Money’ Mayweather, the recently retired-now unretired boxing champion (and richest sportsman in the world in 2015), the guy could sell the be-jeezus out of his fights. People just hated the guy with a passion for his swaggering, make-it-rain lifestyle, his pimped up, iced-out persona. And boy, did the people want to see him get his ass handed to him. The fact that none of his opponents could knock his block off just made his next fight sell all the more pay-per-view buys. The guy could sell the sh*t out of his fights.

But the fact is, however you chose to see Mayweather – and his numerous trips to court to defend his treatment of women gave validity to the charge he wasn’t putting on that much of a show, he might actually have been a bit of a d*ck after all – a sport needs its Black Hats to gin up interest going up against the good guy White Hats to promote the game. Continue reading

ELLIPTICAL THOUGHTS

Mindless yoga

Mindless yoga

Ever find yourself standing around somewhere – maybe Costco or Target – and realize you’re doing some made up yoga pose in the middle of the aisle?  Maybe the wife is looking at another variety of scented candle, so you begin moving your chi around to get that pelvis lined up or stretch out that tight right hammy?  Then all of a sudden you realize what you’re doing, look around to see if anybody’s watching, get a little self-conscious and stop?

There’s your kid/adult crossroads, right there, in those small unselfconscious moments of internal disregard to public awareness. It’s when we begin to give a sh•t what other people think that we lose our innocence and conformity sets in — along with the tightening that gives rise to need for yoga in the first place . Continue reading

TENNIS ENTERS THE DARKNESS

 

The Dark Side

The Dark Side welcomes tennis

Forget it, it’s all the same. As John Manyama, manager of 1989 New York City Marathon champion Juma Ikangaa lamented after visiting a big time Manhattan disco then comparing it to the one he’d built back home in Arusha, Tanzania with lights he bought at Home Depot, “we have only just been kidding ourselves”.

Well, we have only just been kidding ourselves, too. After all the rigmarole about the two WADA-commissioned Independent Committee reports outlining corruption, extortion and willful blindness in the IAAF, now we hear that 16 players who have been ranked in the top 50 in tennis have been fixing matches or sets or games over the last decade, with the outcomes determined by Mafioso in Russia and Italy.

Come on, people, it is officially over. First FIFA, then IAAF, now tennis? And before that MLB and its complicity with steroids, and football’s case with concussions, lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan water supply?  Kids, this is who we are. Not that we don’t try to keep things above board, but how can we not see all of this as anything other than the human condition regardless the sport, regardless the national origin, regardless the political affiliation?

Put a lot of money on the line in a competitive arena, and the sharks and short-cutters begin to circle like the water has been chummed. It’s in their DNA, and too good to pass up.  The only thing that can’t be fixed is the human drive to beat the system. Continue reading

RYAN HALL ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

The end of an era is upon us.  And it is hard to believe, really. Ryan Hall announced his retirement from competitive athletics today at the still tender age of 33, leaving all who followed his career, whether as fans or reporters, feeling a little bit emptier upon hearing the news.

It seems like only yesterday that Ryan flew into our consciousness as one of the avatars of a new era of American running excellence. Along with Class of 2000 mates Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein, Ryan Hall took on the world, giving as good as he got, inserting himself at the front of the pack while exciting American distance running to a pitch not felt in years. There were times — Houston `07, Olympic Trials/New York ’07, Boston `11 — when his flowing stride produced results that were downright breathtaking.

Now, at age 33, the Big Bear, California native has announced he is retiring from professional running as chronically low testosterone levels have hollowed out his legendary endurance and stripped away his most elegant speed. Continue reading

PEACE FOR OUR TIME REDUX

"Peace for our time." - Neville Chamberlain

“Peace for our time.” – Neville Chamberlain

We heard it in September 1938 when British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain returned from Munich announcing “Peace for our time” after meeting with Chancellor Hitler regarding Germany’s takeover of the Czech Sudetenland.

Considering Hitler invaded Poland a year later to kick off World War II, Chamberlain’s pronouncement stands as gold medal winner in the “Ooops” competition in World Political Assessments Olympics. But it sounds like we just heard something vaguely similar coming out of Munich again today in regards the ongoing IAAF Corruption Scandal

After a scathing indictment of the IAAF came out last November in his original WADA-commissioned report outlining institutional corruption, extortion and widespread drug abuse in the Russian athletics’ federation, founding WADA president Dick Pound announced that today’s follow up report would go even farther and include a “wow factor” revelation.

As you can imagine, alarm clocks were set and seats were arranged around computers worldwide to hear the latest nefariousness and watch for any potential perp walks. After all the wickedness these princes of power had put the sport through for so long, here was the coup de grace about to come down.

So what the hell happened? Where, exactly, was the “wow factor”? The only wow I heard was my own exclamation after Mr. Pound made a screeching 180-degree turn on his own Independent Commission’s report. Continue reading