VIN LANANNA ELECTED USATF PREZ. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Today, in Orlando, Florida Coach Vin Lananna was elected president of USATF, the governing body of athletics in the USA, when the other candidate for the office, three-time Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Illinois, withdrew her candidacy.  Both were among the finest candidates for the office the organization has ever had.  Both had risen to the top in their respective fields, she in athletics, he in coaching. Both are honorable people, and both have a deep and abiding love for the sport. Yet, even as the USATF family met in Orlando for its annual meeting to vote on a new leader, the question should at least be asked, is this election simply a myopic whistling past the graveyard given all the deeply cynical drug and corruption charges coming out of so many other brother and sister federations in sport worldwide?

The question of existential relevance is hardly inappropriate. Today, former Chicago Tribune writer Phil Hersh suggested a similar notion: Rot at the Core Threatens Future of Olympics.  And with the release of yet another damning investigative film by Germany’s ARD TV in conjunction with French newspaper Le Monde, Doping – Top Secret: The Protection Racket that uncovered corruption at the very highest levels of governance of the sport, it seems that for many in positions of authority the corridors of power are only greased avenues for bribery and extortion schemes. How can simply replacing the head person at USATF or even in IAAF home office really matter anymore?

There are 200+ federations that make up the IAAF. These are political fiefdoms that are run by fiat, and exist with all but no oversight, nationally or internationally.  If Washington, Jefferson, or Adams were around and involved in this sport, one might assume a Declaration of some sort might well be in preparation.  And it isn’t even that people believe in the system.  Instead they have absorbed it and learned to use it to their best interests.  I have no doubt that Jackie and Vin have the best interest of the sport as their animating mission. But that makes them the outlier in this international cabal, if inquiry and evidence be any judge. Continue reading

NCAA XC – TORTURE IN THE WAITING

Yesterday’s NCAA D1 Cross Country Championships in Terre Haute, Indiana again produced compelling competitions and high drama. But that drama was immeasurably stretched out by the interminable wait for team results, especially in the women’s race. So long was the hold up that it nearly bled over into the men’s competition.

Oh, it was pure torture, like waiting for voting results on election night. But in the end the Oregon Duck women were that much more thrilled, and Coach Mike McGuire’s Michigan Wolverines were all that much more disappointed when the whisper-thin 125 to 126 scores were finally posted.

This is not a new problem for NCAA cross. Most recently in 2012 there were all kinds of technical difficulties that had officials declaring Oregon as the women’s national champs, then Providence, and finally the Ducks one more time after the technology failed to account for several finishers.

But what is it with technology that can be so impressive in almost every regard – automation is replacing every worker in the nation, including brain surgeons  – but it can’t keep track of several hundred runners going 10 mph over an open grass field? Continue reading

THE ROADS AS RECONCILIATION

The divisions in this country remain profound as we exit this most contentious election season with a new president-elect. Yet despite those divisions America remains what it has always been, a unique patchwork society quilted of many colors sewn together with a common thread – the rule of law and an originating declaration espousing the equality of all.

Though it is a patchwork that is in constant need of mending, and it’s originating declaration in need of expanding, it has survived for 240 years along an arc of inclusion, which is no mean feat. We can see how difficult this quilting truly is when we look to the European Union’s current attempt.

There, a thousand years of national divisions defined by blood, religion, and wars have hardened hearts and released spasms of revanchist pride (see the Brexit vote in U.K.) It is a difficult history to surmount, much less in a single generation during which tumult and dislocation loosed by ongoing wars in the Middle East is a primary feature.

There is much in the world that is conspiring to separate us, while very few things find universal appeal. Even a mother’s hope for her child is defined differently in different places. And the Olympic Games, an institution born to unite, has been shadowed by corruption, cynicism, and a growing allegiance to fortune rather than fair play.

In any open society elections expose fault lines and divisions as new ideas are offered and debated while old ways are challenged. In that contested environment camps pitch and feelings get hurt.  Yet notwithstanding those divisions, there still exists in most people a desire for empathy and understanding.

One place these universal feelings are being expressed most profoundly are at road races, both in the U. S. and abroad. Continue reading

NOVEMBER SURPRISE

They call it an October surprise, and we had a few of those in the run-up to this historic 2016 election. Maybe not one as stunning as the November surprise that put Donald Trump in the White House, but now comes the question, how about the surprises that may come in February, March, April and beyond?

Because here’s the thing about Donald J. So without context is he upon entering the Oval Office, and so opaque to the public are his business dealings – no tax returns released after all – what happens when it turns out he just said all those things on the campaign trail to get into office, and didn’t really believe wholeheartedly in very much of that agenda?

It may be a cynic’s view, but what if he turns out to be the left-leaning New York Dem he once admitted being?  OMG, what if in one of the great ironies in U.S. political history President-elect Trump ends up as a hybrid version of a third Obama term? Yikes! Continue reading

A TIME FOR HEROES

The marathon is an event designed for heroes, as the long grind strips away all our defenses, leaving only the nub of a person by its end. It’s why feelings are so raw, because the carefully constructed artifice that we’ve erected, that we’ve come to believe is the real us, like a chrysalis, has been shed, even as a glistening new me emerges in the bonhomie of the chutes.

That stripping away and revelation is part of what attracts people to the event. And for those who watch the final stretch from the sidelines, it isn’t the pain that inspires, it’s the feelings they see on display, those looks of inner satisfaction that transcend place and time, looks that plant the seeds for their own subsequent entry.

The long internal battle from first training days to final exultant step is also why grace and humility seem like an integral part of every marathon champion. It is also why every competitor, regardless of their time, can relive their journey with any other finisher with appreciation and empathy. Continue reading

WALLS OF INTOLERANCE, BRIDGES WITHOUT SPANS

Last Thursday First Lady Michelle Obama delivered an emotional rebuke to Republican Party nominee Donald Trump after sexually aggressive comments he made in 2005 surfaced on an open-mic Access Hollywood video.  The week following the tape’s release nine women came forward telling of incidents with Mr. Trump that mirrored the behavior he bragged about 11 years before.

Mr. Trump has vehemently denied his accuser’s allegations, said his 2005 comments were just “locker room talk”, and then called the uproar that followed part of a sinister news media led conspiracy meant to take down his insurgent presidential bid.  His rabid followers began sharpening pitchforks and re-tarring their torches, but many on both sides of the aisle were deeply offended by the grabber in chief’s words, denials, and conclusions.

First Lady Michelle Obama‘s voice broke several times during the speech she delivered in New Hampshire as she categorized Mr. Trump’s conversation with Billy Bush in 2005 as “hurtful, hateful language.”

“Language that has been painful for so many of us,” she continued. “Not just as women, but as parents trying to protect our children and raise them to be caring, respectful adults. And as citizens who think our nation’s leaders should meet basic standards of human decency…It has shaken me to my core in a way that I couldn’t have predicted.”

There is no doubt the First Lady was deeply troubled by Citizen Trump, as she probably has been since he first championed the Birther issue that questioned her husband’s legitimacy as president. But while it is easy to puncture the gilded pomposity of a man born of great wealth but an equal dearth of couth, perhaps Mrs. Obama knows now how the right-to-life movement feels about abortion and what it represents to their closely held beliefs.  Is it happenstance alone that the coarsening of American culture has coincided, not just with the emergence of a man like Trump, but with the Roe  v. Wade decision in 1973 (not to mention Watergate and the Vietnam War)?

So let’s all open our eyes and look around. There is more than one point of view. And if you are talking about equivalency, there are many who (evidently) would still take a loud-mouth lout who pushes himself on women, but who represents fundamental political change, over a status-quo candidate who “dissembles on an Olympian level”, “condones infanticide”, and enables her husband to push himself on women, too, all while serving as poster girl for the same/old, same/old. Continue reading

COVER UP!

My wife is a coach, and you people are driving her crazy. So pay attention, because your issues tend to fall back on me when she gets home and has to deal with my normal idiot-husband tendencies. And I’m starting to run out of wiggle room.

Coaches are throwbacks, professional nitpickers with hearts of gold and hair-trigger tongues.  That’s why they give them a whistle, so they can blow off some of that steam after you rile them up.

David Lloyd (Manchester Wheelers') and Eddie Soens (National Coach).

David Lloyd (Manchester Wheelers’) and Eddie Soens (National Coach).

Anyway, one such coach I remember well was Eddie Soens, a Runyan-esque character out of Liverpool, England who mentored two-time Boston Marathon champion Geoff Smith, a fellow Liverpudlian who stayed in the U. S. after his career at Providence College.

When I met Soens he was 70, and had decades of experience as a top cycling coach back home. Whenever Eddie would visit New England as Geoff prepped for one of his Boston victories (1984-`85), I recall standing alongside as the old coach just shook his head as he watched American runners cool down after a race or hard workout.

“I cannot believe how they walk around with their legs still bare,” he’d vent in that deep scouse accent.  “There’s no attention paid to detail!  No attention atall!”

The tough-love spirit of Eddie Soens lives on in Liverpool every March at the Eddie Soens Memorial ,  a cycling race that is now in its 55th year. But recalling the words of Eddie is like hearing Toya at the end of every workout and race with her Team Toya or USD charges.

“You might feel warm, but your muscles don’t. The next day when you say, ‘I don’t know why my hamstring or calf feels a little tight, or I feel a little niggle’, well, when you walk around for an hour without covering up after a race or hard workout, that’s the danger.

Where are your sweats?

Where are your sweats?

“The first order of business is to get out of your wet clothes and into some sweats. Do you ever notice how the Ethiopians and Kenyans are always fully clothed when they aren’t competing, even when it’s hot outside?  Same with all the sprinters, they aren’t showing off their legs. They keep them covered up.  That isn’t modesty, it’s being attentive to the small things that avoid injury and lead to top performance.”

OK, there it is, another prudish prompt from an old-timer. So when Toya and all the other coaches out there say to put on a layer of sweats and not just wear your shorts ‘cause you feel warm, I don’t care what the temperature is, cover up!

Those coaches have spouses and significant others who are making enough mistakes on our own without having to bear the burden of your inattentiveness. So in the name of said spouses, Get on it!

Thank you.

END