Category: Opinion

OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW

It’s said you can tell what a society values most by ts skylines. Through much of history, it was the steeple of the local church that pricked the sky above any other edifice, giving living testament to the role of faith and the religion in the lives of the people. So, too, did the imposing castles of kings and their feudal lords speak power to the peasants who toiled in their service.  Then, with the arrival of the American experiment in self-rule, we began to see the majestic state capitals rising as cathedrals of civic pride. And with the coming of the industrial age and its vast commercial fortunes, towers of brick, then glass and steel sprang up in urban centers to reflect that wealth, bearing witness to the rank that commerce now held in modern society. To witness the order in one place, visit Salt Lake City, Utah where the sacred, the secular, and the governmental stand in close ordered ranks beside one another.

Today, it’s cathedrals of sport that burst with devotion, even as the teams are comprised of free agents selling their talents to the highest bidder.

While the Coliseum in Rome still stands some 2000 years after its erection, modern-day stadia seem to come and go like castles of sand. Remember the Astrodome in Houston, dubbed the eighth wonder of the world? Construction began in 1962, and it officially opened in 1965, home to the Houston Astros until 1999, and to the NFL Houston Oilers from 1968 until 1996.  But by the 1990s, the Astrodome was considered past its prime.  Today, NRG Stadium is the major stadium in Houston while the Astrodome was mothballed onto the National Register of Historic Places in 2014. The same out with the relatively old, in with the brand spanking new can be seen with ballparks in Atlanta, Dallas, St. Louis, San Francisco, and San Diego among others.

These days up to $2 billion is spent to erect houses for games, even as the infrastructure of our cities – roads, bridges, schools, tunnels, and airports – continues to crumble because of lack of funding. We have indeed become a society with its priorities turned upside down. (more…)

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KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE

It’s a completely defensible position because it has been taken from a completely defensive posture. If your product can’t be guaranteed for purity, even with new and improved testing, you do what you must to mitigate the potential downside while still maintaining brand growth and awareness.

Today, (December 19, 2017) on the same day that twice-banned U.S. sprint star Justin Gatlin  was tangentially implicated in an investigative drug sting,  Abbott World Marathon Majors announced that Edna Kiplagat of Kenya has been awarded its Series X women’s championship and the $500,000 prize that attends it.

Ms. Kiplagat had originally finished second in the Series X cycle to fellow Kenyan Jemima Sumgong, the 2016 London and Rio Olympic champion.  But after the putative champion gave a positive sample for EPO in an out-of-competition test in February 2017, the series title was held up awaiting disposition by Kenyan doping authorities. Today,  Ms. Kiplagat, runner up in Chicago 2016 and winner at the Series X closing 2017 Boston Marathon, was officially moved into the top spot as Ms. Sumgong was banned for four years by the Anti Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK).

Ms. Sumgong’s drug failure marked the fourth time in its ten-cycle history that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has had to disqualify a women’s series winner for a failed a drug test, not the outcome the original five series events had imagined when they banded together in 2006. (more…)

BERLIN’S DREAM RACE

This is one of those everyonevhasanopinion races.
Like the prize fight between Floyd Mayweather and Conor McGregor August 26, or Triple G vs Canelo Alvarez last Saturday (16 Sept.), this coming Sunday’s BMW Berlin Marathon has something for everyone.

It is an interesting notation, however, that never in modern history have all the top marathoners in the world been on the same starting line at the same time. Even the Olympics limits competitors to three per nation. With so many events glutting the calendar, there is a natural leveling in the quality of all race fields, including within the Abbott World Marathon Majors, which all draw from the same talent pool.  This year, however, and perhaps for the first time, Berlin race director Mark Milde will showcase a trio of past champions that make his race the brightest light in the fall marathon firmament.

On September 24th defending champion Kenenisa Bekele of Ethiopia will again take on 2016 runner-up and 2013 champ Wilson Kipsang of Kenya, with 2015 Berlin winner, 2016 Olympic champion, and 2017 Breaking2 supernova Eliud Kipchoge adding to the thunder.  In this time of natural dilution, Berlin has gathered the dream (men’s) race everyone wants to see.

Last year Bekele and Kipsang battled to a near world record in the German capital, with Bekele besting his Kenyan rival by ten seconds, 2:03:03 – 2:03:13, Bekele just six seconds shy of Dennis Kimetto’s 2:02:57 world record set in Berlin `14.  Eliud Kipchoge arrives off a historic 2:00:25 Breaking2 marathon exhibition in Monza, Italy in May. And last year he not only won the Olympic gold in Rio, but came within eight seconds of the world record in London in April.  All three men have been sharpening their pencils to rewrite the record book on Sunday.

To date, the Dream Race title holder is the 2002 London Marathon where America’s Khalid Khannouchi – remember him? – took on Kenya’s Paul Tergat and a debuting Haile Gebrselassie of Ethiopia, with Special K taking the win, breaking his own world record by four seconds in 2:05:38, ten seconds up on Tergat and 37 seconds clear of Geb. (more…)

TWO MARATHONS PER YEAR?

Japan’s “Citizen Runner” Yuki Kawauchi is notably famous for his relentless marathon schedule. Since his humble start in February 2009 when he finished 20th at the Beppu-Oita Manichi Marathon in 2:19:26, the now 30 year-old school custodian has run 67 marathons, 22 of which have ended in victory. Twice, 2014 and 2015, he has started 12, and generally his time range has been from 2:09 to 2:18.

Kawauchi, however, is the outlier. The conventional wisdom has long held that at the very highest level professional marathoners optimized at two per year, one in the spring, one in the fall. The original cast of five Abbott World Marathon Majors was built on that assumption.

With a marathon training cycle of roughly 12 weeks, and a proper recovery requiring one month, it was felt that two per year was the way to best schedule a marathon career, with exceptions made for an Olympic or (possibly) a World Championships year, where athletes were willing to compromise their fall effort for a shot at Olympic or WC glory.

Wilson Kipsang breaks from Eliud Kipchoge in 2013 Berlin, the only loss in Kipchoge’s marathon career

The perfect illustration of this is the current world number one marathoner Eliud Kipchoge of Kenya. Since the ’03 5000m world champion began with a win in Hamburg in April of 2013 (2:05:30), he has run two per year like clockwork, one in the spring, one in the fall, winning each and every race except his second career start in Berlin in September 2013 where he took second place (2:04:05) to Wilson Kipsang‘s then world record 2:03:23.

Even last year when Eliud won in London in April in a near-world record 2:03:05, then came back in Rio in August to claim Olympic gold, he didn’t force a fall start, saving himself instead for the mighty effort in Monza, Italy this past May in the Nike Breaking2 Project.

So, too, with rival Wilson Kipsang. His marathon career has stretched from Paris 2010 (3rd, 2:07:13) to Tokyo in late February 2017 (1st, 2:03:58). Only twice in that span has he added a third marathon, 2012 when he took bronze at the London Games, and 2015 when he DNF’d at the Beijing World Championships.

Ethiopia’s Keninisa  Bekele, too, has generally stuck to the two-per-year model since he began in Paris 2014 (1st, 2:05:04). However in 2015 he only made one start, DNF’g in Dubai in January as he worked through an injury.

But as the paydays continued to spread around the world and opportunities began to crop up where the weather was conducive to marathon running in what previously might have been off season, we have begun to see more and more athletes stretch their wings and challenge old assumptions. (more…)

ASSESSING WOMEN’S MILESTONES

There is an interesting article in Outside Magazine online penned by Sally Bergesen, founder of Oiselle, the Seattle-based women’s athletic apparel company, asking where are the female equivalents of the sub-four minute mile or the sub-two hour marathon? (Article)

“How are our own benchmarks so unfamiliar?” she asks rhetorically.

Her conclusion, in part, is that “the dearth of women’s milestones and tradition is a result of our relatively recent entry into competitive sports.”

I wouldn’t disagree with that assessment, but perhaps in that understanding there is another way to look at the underlying question.

What if there have already been such women barrier breakers, but since women’s athletics have only in recent times come into the spotlight, we missed them in their own day? (more…)

TRACKTOWN FREEZE OUT

So there’s this story on LetsRun.com today talking about how Dallas SportsRadio 1310/96.7 The Ticket was mocking the TrackTown Summer Series final last Friday, which they evidently ran into the night before on ESPN while channel surfing.

The Freeze, Nigel Talton

Mostly, the hosts focused on The Freeze, Nigel Talton, the sprinting groundskeeper / mascot for the Atlanta Braves who has captured baseball’s attention chasing down fans who are given a head start as they race foul pole to foul pole along the outfield warning track.  At the TrackTown Summer Series Final in New York, The Freeze raced a bunch of track fans who were given a 20-meter head start – two of the fans actually beat him.

Oh, and the Dallas sports radio guy’s mocked the whole thing quite viciously, even suggesting that the well-mocked WNBA “is laughing at these guys.”

But mocking isn’t altogether a bad thing. You know what mocking is better than? Silence, or total indifference. Like it or not, think it’s gimmicky or not, the Tracktown Summer Series has people talking in the mainstream media. It might not be the kind of talk they would prefer, but talk is talk. (more…)

LONDON DIAMOND LEAGUE COVERAGE

Though it has always seemed to be something of a cottage industry in this sport, personally I am always loath to criticize how others may cover the sport of track and field. Having covered the sport myself for many years, I am fully aware that mistakes are part of the game. But I jump to give a nod of approval when it’s deserved.

Today’s NBC coverage of the London Diamond League meet was notable for several reasons.  First, the commentary by Paul Swangard, Ato Boldon , and Josh Cox was concise and drew attention to the athletes rather than themselves.  But more than that, there was finally a technical level of proficiency that merited attention (though, as pointed out in a response below, the video feed was provided to NBC by the Diamond League organizers, to which they added the commentary of Paul, Ato, and Josh).

I have long said you could make a 44-second 400 look unusually pedestrian by shooting it with the stationary camera positioned high in the stands looking down at the track. But today there was temendous gator-mounted tracking camera footage utilized to bring the power and speed of the sport into America’s living rooms (or wherever one may have watched). (more…)