USATF TAKES OWNERSHIP OF ROAD RACING

.US National Road Racing Championships    In what must be seen as a harbinger of hope, USA Track & Field announced yesterday that it has signed a new sponsor for a new event to bolster what has previously been little more than a nominal national road race series.  Called the .US National Road Racing Championships, the new 12-kilometer event will feature a $100,000 purse — $20,000 to each gender champion — while putting a jaunty cap atop a currently quite bland USA Running Circuit —  nine locally controlled unaffiliated events which run from February through October over distances from one-mile  to the marathon.

The new event and sponsorship was announced yesterday as part of a three-year deal with Neustar, a Virginia-based domain-name registration company.  No specific date or location for the new race was disclosed as details are still being worked out.  However, the time and place announcement is said to be coming in March.

The signing of Neustar was ushered through by the still-dewy USATF CEO Max Siegel who took office last May.  The deal represents the single largest event sponsorship signed by USATF in a decade (which is telling in itself).  What’s more, the event will be the first road race wholly owned and operated by USATF.

With hundreds of road races and millions of road racers nationwide, and only several thousand adult track and field athletes, the imbalance in USATF membership and focus has been a festering challenge since road racing was first lumped in with track and race walking when Congress broke up the old AAU with the enactment of the Amateur Sports Act of 1978.

Max Siegel, USATF CEO
Max Siegel, USATF CEO

“…the vast majority (of runners) are running for something other than prize money or Olympic medals,” Siegel said in the announcement. “This race is their race, and USATF is their organization. With the support of Neustar, we will be able to reach out to a full cross-section of runners like never before.”  (more…)

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THE POST-MODERN OLYMPICS

With yesterday’s news that the IOC executive committee voted to drop wrestling from the Olympic calendar beginning in 2020, I thought it worthwhile to resurrect portions of a previous post written at the conclusion of the London Games.  As the IOC is more anxious than ever to market the Olympic Games for (their) monetary gain — Avery Brundage must be apoplectic in his grave — what then of the place of Athletics (track & field) in the Olympic movement going forward?  Given wrestling’s once-firm standing among the pillars of both the ancient and modern Olympics, how safe should athletics feel in this world of the Post-Modern Olympics?

Red flags should have been raised in Beijing 2008 when NBC lobbied the IOC to move track out of the primetime viewing slot in the U.S. so they could show more Michael Phelps swimming and little girl gymnastics live.  And this favoring of less-martial, more female-oriented sports was in even greater evidence in London.  Not only did American Idol host Ryan Seacrest make his Olympic debut, but with women making up more than 50% of the U.S. Olympic team for the first time, the interest in fashion and glitter hit an all-time high.

Ancient Games

In ancient times Olympic events emulated the speed and stamina needed for warfare.  One such event, the hoplitodromos, or “race of soldiers”, had competitors covering 800 meters wearing full battle armor weighing as much as 60 pounds.  The idea was to sublimate war-like tendencies into athletic competition, and thereby foster peaceful coexistence among the city-states.  Of course women weren’t even allowed to watch those contests, much less participate in them.  Only free men who spoke Greek competed.  But in recent times, with the welcome, and ever-increasing focus on empowering women throughout the world, we have seen the Olympics move gradually away from the warrior ethic of old, and evolve toward a Cirque de Soleil mise-en-scène. (more…)

JIM RYUN RETURNS TO SITE OF RECORD RUN

Balboa Stadium 1960s
Balboa Stadium 1960s

San Diego’s Balboa Stadium formed a classic horseshoe design in 1965 when it was home to the AFL San Diego Chargers.  Today the place has shrunk in size and import as home to the San Diego High School Cavers.

Back in  1965 Balboa Stadium also hosted the AAU Track & Field Championships, the highlight of which was the one mile run, featuring New Zealand’s Peter Snell and Czechoslovakia’s Josef Odložil, the Olympic gold and silver medalists from Tokyo 1964.  Joining them in the field was the newly-minted American mile record holder, Jim Grelle, a product of Bill Bowerman’s University of Oregon program, and one other notable worth mentioning, a gangly high school senior out of Wichita East High School in Kansas, one Jim Ryun.

Last night an only slightly less gangly Jim Ryun stepped back into Balboa Stadium for the first time in 48 years to address members of the San Diego Track Club just before their weekly workout.  After his remarks and the surge of autographs and photos had slowed, Jim stood and recalled the night in 1965 that still stands as the most legendary that any U.S. high school athlete in track ever created.

Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC
Jim Ryun speaking to SDTC

“In 1965 I had just turned 18, and the day before the meet there had been a press conference, and I was not invited because I was a high school kid — which didn’t bother me.  But my coach, J.D. Edmundson, went, and he came back and said, ‘They asked Peter Snell what he thought about the kid from Wichita East.  And he said, “Well, one day he may be a factor in a race, and I’m sure he’ll have a great career”.  Well, J.D. was telling me that hoping it was going to fire me up.  But I was already fired up. I didn’t need that.”

Ryun remembers an electric crowd of around 20,000 that night in a stadium which held 34,000. ABC’s Wide World of Sports covered the meet live with Bill Fleming and Jim Beatty on the call. (more…)

BEN ROSARIO: WHAT ARE WE AFRAID OF?

Benn Rosario
Ben Rosario

(Today, we feature a column by guest blogger Ben Rosario)

On February 2 I had the extreme pleasure to serve as meet director for the USA Cross Country Championships in Saint Louis, and we were fortunate to have one of the most talented fields for that particular event in a long, long time. The members of our local organizing committee worked their butts off to promote the likes of Chris Derrick, Shalane Flanagan, Deena Kastor, Dathan Ritzenhein, Matt Tegenkamp and more. I’m biased, but I think we did a pretty darn good job, and though it’s difficult to give an exact number, we certainly had at least a couple thousand fans out on the course that day. That said I believe it could have been even better. I think if the thousands upon thousands of casual runners knew more about the professional side of the sport then having those athletes in their own backyard would have been an absolute can’t miss event.

Earlier this week the Bank of America Chicago Marathon announced that Dathan Ritzenhein, who owns the #3 all-time marathon in U.S. history, will be back to run the storied windy city race on October 13. That’s great news and I’m happy for the folks at Chicago and I’m happy for Dathan. They got a valuable commodity that will bring attention to their event and he will be compensated thusly, I’m sure.

My pet peeve is this; why can’t we find out how much he is getting as an appearance fee? I am a sports junkie and I’ve probably read a thousand articles about professional athletes signing their first contract, signing as a free agent or being traded, etc. and  in each and every one I see something to the effect of , “The deal is reportedly worth $x,xxx,xxx.” And you know why we see that? We see it because people want to know. It is just one of the many things that makes these athletes larger than life to the rest of us. It is what puts them on a pedestal where granted, we sometimes try to knock them down, but they are up there nonetheless.

And yet we continue in our sport, even in the year 2013, to try and seem amateur. It’s leftover from the 60s and 70s and the days when runners would have to get paid under the table or risk their Olympic eligibility. News flash; we don’t have to do that anymore! I think we’ve made a huge mistake in this industry, and I was guilty of it during my days as a running store owner, of trying to make guys like Ritz seem like he’s just like “you.”

We tell people that they feel the same things he feels during a marathon and that’s what separates our sport from all those others. Well guess what…that ain’t true. What it feels like to run 2:07 is absolutely nothing like what it feels to run four hours and you know what…that’s okay. We can idolize the 2:07 guy and still admire and respect our friends, our neighbors, or our customers who run four hours. They are not mutually exclusive. The model is out there folks. Walk into any sporting goods store and go to the football section, then the basketball section, th  en the soccer section, etc. All you’ll see is jersey after jersey of famous players. Look at television ratings and see how NFL football completely rules on Sundays, Monday nights and now even Thursday nights. Sure we might talk about how these guys are overpaid prima donnas but we love every minute of it.

So what are we so afraid of in our sport? (more…)

POPE-ATHON – A RUN FOR THE MITRE?

Stunning news out of Rome that Pope Benedict XVI has announced he will resign the papacy as of 28 February, making him the first Pope in nearly 600 years to step down voluntarily from the throne of St. Peter.  The news has thrown the Church into a tizzy, as no one saw this resignation coming.

The 85-year-old German’s resignation letter said, in part: “After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry.

Pope Benedict XVI at a consistory at the Vatican today
Pope Benedict XVI at a consistory at the Vatican today

“…in today’s world, subject to so many rapid changes and shaken by questions of deep relevance for the life of faith, in order to govern the bark of Saint Peter and proclaim the Gospel, both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me.”

Of course, very little in Vatican City is as simple as it seems or is presented.  (more…)

WORLD RECORD HOLDER MAKAU: LONDON MARATHON TUNE UP IN HAWAII

The Hapalua    Though the indoor winter track season is in full swing on both sides of the pond, the spring marathon majors in Boston and London have already begun to loom on the horizon.  Even with the monster storm tracking toward New England and scheduled to dump as much as two feet of snow on the area tomorrow through Saturday, the mud and scuttling clouds of April – conditions well recognized in both Boston and London – still beckon off in the soon-to-be whited out distance.

While training for the marathons continues in deep sequestration at camps across the American west and along East Africa’s Great Rift Valley, we can begin to see the training sweats being stripped off as schedules get set for the tune up races heralding marathon season.  Yesterday, the RAK Half-Marathon field was released.  Headed by 2010 champion Geoffrey Mutai, the marathon list leader in both 2011 & 2012, the RAK Half has swiftly become the world’s deepest and fastest half marathon.  Its list of champions is a true who’s who of this running generation, and features several Virgin London Marathon contenders going head up on February 15th.

Patrick Makau, marathon world record holder
World record holder Patrick Makau (photo by PhotoRun.Net)

Yet one man who will not be in the UAE next weekend is the 2008-2009 RAK Half champion and course record holder Patrick Makau of Kenya (58:52), who is also the marathon world record holder.  Makau will instead tune up for the London Marathon one month from now thousands of miles away on the island of Oahu at the Hapalua Half Marathon, the second-year sister event of the Honolulu Marathon.

With men like 2011 Boston & New York, and 2012 Berlin champ Geoffrey Mutai, 2011 London winner Emmanuel (not related) Mutai, and 2012 Chicago runner-up Feyisa Lelisa of Ethiopia matching up in the UAE before going double the distance in London April 21st, it may seem an odd selection for Makau to go solo at a low-key race in Hawaii.  But according to Makau’s manager Zane Branson, Makau is more than comfortable with his choice. (more…)