Month: July 2016

BEAT DOWN AT BIX

Davenport, Ia. — So there was this little dustup between miles four and five at the BIX 7 Road Race yesterday in Davenport, Iowa. Teshome Mekonen of Ethiopia was clipping the heels of race leader Silas Kipruto, and two-time champion Kipruto became a tad tired of it. Anyone who’s been in a pack has had that situation happen to them. At first it’s frustrating, but soon, if it keeps happening, it has a tendency to piss you off.

Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options
Silas Kipruto lashes out at Teshome Mekonen (19 in yellow) as #11 Isaac Mwangi considers his options

So after a couple of head turns and stern glares from Kipruto, and a corresponding ‘go eff yourself’ from Mr. Mekonen, the 6’4″ Kipruto took a MMA backhand swipe at the much smaller Ethiopian, which backed him off, and caused all kinds of panic in the pack, which by that time was made up of two Kenyans and two Ethiopians, the Yankees-Red Sox of distance running rivalries.

As it so happens, all four of the guys in that lead pack had been racing against one another on the tour, and so were well aware of one another.

On July 10 at the Utica Boilermaker 15K it was Ethiopian Mekonen who took the win, with countryman Belay Tilahun in 5th, followed Kenyans Isaac Mwangi and Silas Kipruto.

Then last week in Santa Cruz, California at the Wharf to Wharf 6 Miler it was Isaac Mwangi outkicking Silas for the win with Mekonen in third. So these guys were not strangers.

Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win
Kipruto pulls away from Tilahun for the win

Yesterday at Bix Kipruto pulled away with Belay Tilahun in tow as Mwangi and Mekonen succumbed on the infamous Kirkwood Boulevard hills in Mike 5. New father Kipruto finally went on to win the race in a last 800m sprint to notch his third BIX victory.

But Mekonen then filed a protest saying he had been interfered with. But it’s not like it all happened in a vacuum. Mekonen was causing the problem by clipping the heels of Kipruto in the first place. But in any case, this is exactly what we need in the sport. At least in America.

Every sport in America that is successful has a modicum of violence. The most popular sport, football, is predicated on violence. If you want to find an audience better find a way to incorporate some version of it. So here’s a proposal. In every 5 km of a race there ought to be at least 100 meters designated as a full contact zone. Let’s let them go at it MMA style and let the chips (and teeth) fall where they may.

Meb Keflezighi came into yesterday’s race wanting to get out of his comfort zone as he heads toward the Rio Olympic Marathon in three weeks time. And he did the early race leading with U.S. Army WCAP runner Elkahan Kibet.  But there is nothing that will get you out of your comfort zone quicker than a shot of adrenaline from a well thrown punch.

Oh, Mekonen’s protest was disallowed.

“Are you ready to rumbbbllle!!??”

Let’s get it on?

END
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NO BAN, NO JUSTICE

Leaking pipes, electrical problems and stopped up toilets found at the Rio Olympic athletes village by early arriving Aussies seem a perfect metaphor for the state of the Olympic movement in the summer of 2016. Today, just two weeks before the Games are scheduled to begin, the International Olympic Committee took the cowards way out in dealing with the Russian state-supported doping scandal by deciding not to issue a blanket ban on the entire Russian Olympic team.

“We had to balance the collective responsibility and the individual justice to which every human being and athlete is entitled to,” said IOC President Thomas Bach.

The IOC pronouncement was made despite a Court of Arbitration for Sport ruling last week upholding the IAAF ban on the Russian track and field team, which the IOC said they would use as a guideline in their larger decision. 

Thus, rather than proof of a state-supported doping program across a wide spectrum of both winter and summer Olympic sports leading to serious consequences, the IOC went all wobbly in their moment of crisis management. Instead of issuing a ban themselves, the IOC said it will leave the decision up to the individual sports federations, while at the same time placing a thumb on the scales by declaring the “presumption of innocence” cannot be applied to Russian athletes in any of the 28 Summer Olympics sports.

This muddled, middle-ground decision seems intended specifically to assuage Russian President Vladimir Putin who had intimated repercussions if a total ban was handed down.  It also calms the IOC’s international sponsors for whom scandal is the ultimate deal breaker. By pushing the responsibility down to the individual sports’ federations, the IOC is using Pilate’s sink to wash its hands of any political responsibility and potential retribution.   (more…)

TO BAN OR NOT TO BAN

The International Olympic Committee is caught between the proverbial rock and a hard place as it comes to its decision on the potential Russian Olympic ban for Rio 2016.  It’s one thing for the U.S. to lead a multi-nation boycott of the Moscow Games in 1980, and for the Soviet Union to reciprocate four years later in L.A. But it is quite another for the IOC itself to say, you’re out, because who knows what may come from that?

Yet the likelihood of just such a decision was given impetus today when the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) upheld the IAAF banishment of 68 Russian track and field athletes not implicated in a state-supported doping program uncovered in a series of independent investigations. The International Olympic Committee said earlier this week that it would use Thursday’s CAS ruling as a guideline on a total Russian Olympic banishment from Rio.

There is no easy solution here, and the IOC is trying to thread the needle between who it is and who it was, between just desserts and just money (cynical me). In a last ditch move Russian President Vladimir Putin entered the scrum yesterday.

‘Now we’re observing a dangerous relapse into the interference of politics in sport,” he said in a statement.  “Yes, the form of that interference has changed but the essence is the same, to make sport an instrument of geopolitical pressure and the formation of a negative image of countries and peoples.  The Olympic movement, which plays a colossal unifying role for humanity, could again wind up on the edge of schism.”

Really?  The old KGB operative is interested in a unifying movement?  Who knows. His recent annexation of Crimea sure unified some folks. But there is certainly no self-reflection about the mind-numbing corruption in his Sports Ministry, just indignity once they’ve been caught.

There are so many competing interests at play here. From a purely moral standpoint banning the entire Russian Olympic team for their uber-cynical doping program in Sochi 2014 and beyond seems like a no-brainer. Come on, let the punishment fit the crime.

But who amongst nations is innocent?  One would have thought, too, that some executives involved in the financial collapse of 2008 might have been brought before the bar and their institutions appropriately down-sized to avoid another such meltdown in the future. Yet as we soon found out too-big-to-fail meant just that. So how much weight does Russia still have left to push back with?  (more…)

TIME FOR OLYMPIC PARENTS TO LAY DOWN THE LAW

Devon Allen takes Trials title in 110m hurdles
Oregon’s own Devon Allen takes Trials title in 110m hurdles

All that is good and pure about athletics (track & field) was on display in Eugene, Oregon at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials.  The ultimate make-or-break meet showcased the glory of sport’s purest forms before a hard-core fan base in the sports’ one true competitive shrine in America. Yet all that purity and goodness was being presented against a political backdrop of muck and mud which has left the sport mired in a purgatory of its own construction.  (more…)

CAN ATHLETICS BE MARKETED TO MATTER ANYMORE?

CROWD CHAOS AT TOUR DE FRANCE

Wild times on Mont Ventoux
Wild times on Mont Ventoux

“There’s no way to control a crowd like that if they don’t want to be controlled,” said former Boston Marathon race director Will Cloney after huge throngs on Heartbreak Hill forced runners into a single file as they climbed the iconic rise. The narrowed channel made for great excitement, great theater, but also dangerous racing conditions as it was all but impossible to pass anyone in the bedlam.

Accordingly, the Boston Athletic Association soon installed rope lines and finally snow fencing and barriers all along Heartbreak Hill and other crowded sections of the course to keep the crowds at bay in the name of race safety. 

FEAR RISING: DALLAS, BATON ROUGE & ST. PAUL

The Gathering Storm
The Gathering Storm

There’s a fear coming over the land like an ominous summer storm darkening the skies above the prairie. Even as the two major political party candidates jockey, attack and defend from 30,000 feet, at ground level the forces of law and disorder have come into direct opposition like two colliding weather fronts, most recently in the far-flung cities of Baton Rouge, St. Paul, and Dallas.

After all the progress the country has made over the last half-century in living up to its lofty ideals, not only has the forward momentum stalled, it feels like we’ve regressed 100 years in no time at all.  As always, America’s most aggrieved minority is openly fearful of the law assigned to protect it, while the police are now publicly wary of the people they have been sworn to serve. And it’s all organized itself into in a swirling exchange of anger, blame and frustration now come into violent release. (more…)