REMEMBERING MIKE & ZANE

Davenport, IA. – I am in the Quad Cities this weekend for the 43rd QC Times Bix 7 Road Race, this year doubling as the USATF 7 Mile Road Championship.  I’ll have a preview later after today’s presser.

But as this sport of life and vigor looks ahead excitedly to the Bix 7 and the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in London next week,  it also remembers once again a difficult anniversary week.

Mike with pal Haile Gebrselassie and grandson Jack

It was ten years ago that we lost the incomparable Mike Long, the former elite athlete coordinator for Elite Racing, founders of the Carlsbad 5000 and Rock ‘n’ Roll Series of marathons and half-marathons. Mike passed in his sleep at age 65 July 18, 2007 at his home in South Mission Beach San Diego.

Then, just two years ago on July 25th the sport was stunned to hear that long-time athlete manager Zane Branson had succumbed to a heart attack while attending some of his athletes in Iten, Kenya.

Both Mike and Zane represented the best this sport had to offer, passionate commitment in the service of others and an abiding love of the game of running. Former New York Road Runners president Mary Wittenberg (now CEO of Virgin Sports) flew to San Diego for Mike’s memorial service ten years ago, and jokingly encapsulated proof of Mike’s status as the most beloved man in the sport.

“We (NYRR) think we are pretty nice people,” she said, “but we have to pay $50,000 for an athlete Mike would get for free.”

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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. Continue reading

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). Continue reading

BASS FISHING

I was sitting at gate A6 in Lambert St. Louis airport heading to Atlanta for the 48th AJC Peachtree Road Race, the biggest foot race in America with its 60,000 entrants. Sitting across from me was a guy wearing a fishing vest over a checkered shirt, jeans, half-boots,  and a ball cap. We don’t see too many such as he on the road circuit. But such is the nature of sport in its kaleidoscopic array.

Whether aerobic, anaerobic, or hardly breathing at all, sport continues to animate the American experience, hovering near war on the most revered of its activities list.  Over the course of many years I have covered a number of sports other than my specialty, foot racing, including, oddly enough, sumo wrestling.  But in the mid-1990s I worked on a series for ESPN called In Pursuit that followed the exploits of disabled athletes all over the globe over a wide expanse of the sporting spectrum.  In April 1998 I was assigned to cover the 12th U.S. Open Bass Tourney on Lake Monroe in Sanford, Florida.

“Bass fishing?” I queried my producer, wondering how I had received the assignment.  But once I dipped my journalistic toe in the water, I soon found out that competitive fishing, like competitive anything, reveals itself to be a world of peculiar charms and attractions that can stand against any other sporting contest.

Upon reaching Lake Monroe, the first thing I wanted to know, as I did when approaching any new contest I was unfamiliar with was, “where is the competitive dynamic?  Where’s does IT happen?”

In short order what I learned was that professional bass fishing was a sport of high pressure and calm nerves, a combination that began even before the first lure was cast. And what I eventually came to fully understand, even appreciate, was whether it was balls-out racing or tender hooking an elusive gill-flapper, the common denominator in all sport revealed the human capacity to handle pressure under fire. Continue reading

KIPCHOGE TO ATTEMPT OFFICIAL WORLD MARATHON RECORD IN BERLIN 2017

To nobody’s surprise Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge will make a world record attempt this September 24th at the BMW Berlin Marathon, site of the last six men’s marathon world bests dating back to Ethiopia’s Haile Gebrselassie‘s 2:04:26 in 2007. That Kipchoge would run in Berlin this fall was always one of the probabilities coming out of Nike’s Breaking2  Project from this past May in Monza, Italy where the 2016 Olympic Marathon champion completed the marathon distance in a remarkable 2:00:25 in an unratified attempt to break the two hour barrier for 26.2 miles.

Kipchoge came so close to the sub-two hour barrier in Italy in May using a rotating stream of 30 even-tempo pacers, that a sub-62 first half in Berlin will seem modest by comparison. In essence Breaking2 will have been a speed session for Berlin.  Continue reading

SIMPLE, PURE, AND HEARTLESS

The 10,000 meter finals at the USATF Outdoor Nationals ran late last night in Sacramento due to the steamy weather that is coating much of the western half of the country.  But you couldn’t say the results were a product of the weather. Instead, if they showed anything, it was the relentless, heartless nature of the sport itself.

Highlights, of course, were the wins by Molly Huddle for the women, her third, and Hasan Mead for men, his first. But equal stories were to be found a bit behind in the forms of previous champions and Olympic medalists, Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp. We could say the same for retiring 800 meter star Nick Symmonds Continue reading

TEAMING UP

IAAF President Sebastian Coe gave an interview to the British newspaper The Guardian this past Tuesday June 13th to discuss the unsteady state of the sport of athletics. While admitting that the sport has been mired in crisis, racked by both internal institutional corruption and wide-spread drug cheating, Lord Coe’s prescription included the following observation:

“We have to be more innovative, we have to be braver and more creative in formats. The first thing I said when I became president was that we have to think differently.”

My question to President Coe is, did he watch last weekend’s NCAA Track & Field Championships in Eugene, Oregon?  Did he watch the women’s 4X400 meter Relay final when the University of Oregon’s Raevyn Rogers took the baton from Deejah Stevens a half-stride in front of USC’s Kendall Ellis with the entire women’s championship hanging in the balance?  Did he watch knowing that Raevyn had to win in order to overcome Georgia’s 8.2 point lead over her Ducks by scoring the 10 points for the victory? Continue reading