WHEN NECESSARY ISN’T NECESSARILY RIGHT

Sometimes something might not necessarily be right in one sense, and yet be necessary just the same in another. That seems to be the grounding principle being applied in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

As the championships began yesterday, the extreme heat and humidity that defines that part of the world completely overwhelmed the women’s marathon to a degree that 41% of the field dropped out. The medals probably wouldn’t have changed much in another more traditional venue, as the very best runners did emerge. But contesting a marathon in ultra high heat and humidity in the middle of the night isn’t anyone’s idea of a proper test to determine the world’s best. But such are the trade offs in staging the games in a new part of the world.

We saw the same ‘not necessarily right, but necessary’ ethic being applied before the games as well when qualified athletes like two-time Olympic 1500 meter medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand were substituted out for unqualified athletes from countries without representation.

In both cases, staging and participation, something was given up on the high-end in order to spread the base at the low end. It’s not necessarily right in the sense that athletics is supposedly pure in its goal – citius, altius, fortius irrespective of skin color, religious affiliation or national origin. This is especially so at the pinnacle event in the sport.

Yet if that purity-alone metric had been applied consistently over time, women would never have been allowed to enter the arena in the first place because they would never have reached existing male-based standards.

So in order to grow the sport, trade offs in staging and participation become necessary though they aren’t necessarily right in their particular moment. Such are the hard determinations of leadership.

Or, in this case, did the IAAF (under now disgraced former prez Lamine Diack) just chase all that Qatari moolah and see all the athletes as just collateral damage? Because what really are the chances Qatar ever becomes anything other than a hotbed as opposed to a hotbed of track and field?  Empty seats tell their own tale. Continue reading

BELICHICK, BASKETBALL, AND RITZ

ESPN Pardon the Interruption’s Mike Wilbon thinks that New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick is “ruthless” and “will crush you”, as if it were a personal thing. His remarks came in the wake of the Patriots’ 43-0 drubbing of the Miami Dolphins last Sunday in week two of the NFL season. 

But the Patriot Way of “playing 60 minutes” and “doing your job”  have been the hallmarks of Belichick coached teams for nearly two decades now. And it is those mantras that explain why when his teams get to the Super Bowl – as they have nine times with six wins –  they’re already so steeped in the culture of playing 60 minutes and doing their job irrespective of the situation, that the Super Bowl becomes just another situation in which the Patriot players say, “I’ve been here all year. I’m  more prepared.”

This is the backdrop for last Sunday’s shutout of the Miami Dolphins in which the Patriots blitzed on the final play of the game to preserve the 43-0 snooker.  Pundits like Michael Wilbon were convinced it was further evidence of Belichick’s cold-cold heart – to borrow from Ken Burns’ excellent series Country Music currently airing on PBS – while I would see it more as Belichick’s relentless preparation and mindset.

This has always been the backbone of distance running training, the daily attention to detail. ‘What I do today has no value outside the context of what I did yesterday and what I must do again tomorrow’. It’s that continuum that breeds success, not the single killer workout or waiting for the Big Game to knuckle down. Continue reading

PINKOWSKI ON KIPCHOGE & 1:59

Not too snappy a game in Chicago last night as the NFL’s “nobody-plays-preseason-games-anymore-and-it-shows” 100th season kicked off with a 10-3 snoozer between the league’s oldest rivals, Da Bears (3) and the Green Bay Packers (10). Hopefully, there will be more action in six weeks when the Bank of America Chicago Marathon starts its 43rd running.

When it was first announced that Kenya’s remarkable Eliud Kipchoge would forego another Abbott World Marathon Majors season to make a second attempt at a solo sub-2 hour run over 42.2 kilometers – staged as an exhibition under non-record eligible conditions – I expected that the AWMM men might be less than thrilled. After all, Kipchoge already tried this gimmick two years ago in Monza, Italy rather than defending his London Marathon title from the year before. And of course he got close at 2:00:25.

At the same time, the six Abbott events are trying to build a brand. And so far they have done a pretty good job of it. But when the unquestioned top athlete in their field decides to take his talents off their grid and perform in a pure exhibition instead — Like if Serena Williams decided not to play the U.S. Open in order to stage a Billy Jean King-Bobby Riggs type exhibition, how would the WTA feel about it?

Chicago Marathon Ex. Director Carey Pinkowski

So when I called and asked Chicago Marathon executive director Carey Pinkowski what he thought about the possibility of having Eliud Kipchoge make his 1:59 attempt near the same date as his Marathon, I expected some pushback. Instead, the kid that still exists deep in the DNA of the onetime sub-9:00 high school two miler out of Hammond, Indiana and Villanova All-American came through. Continue reading