YOU GOTTA BELIEVE!

Sport, like life, is a series of self-fulfilling prophecies, for what you think you can do sets the stage for the reenactment of the belief in performance. As such, championships are first won in the mind before coming to life via blood, breath, and bone.

It’s not like 2016 Olympic Women’s Marathon champion Jemima Sumgong of Kenya hadn’t been a winner before. In fact, she began her marathon career with the win at the Rock ‘n’ Roll Marathon in Las Vegas in 2006 (2:35:22). But though she also took victories in Castellon, Spain in 2011 and again in Rotterdam 2013, her Abbott World Marathon Majors record was that of a solid contender, but not a champion. Not until the spring of this year did she mark herself as a medal favorite for Rio when she stood atop the podium at the Virgin London Marathon, the de facto Olympic prelim. Continue reading

THE OLYMPICS: SUPER BOWL OR PRO BOWL?

Steph Curry skips Olympics

NBA MVP Curry opts out of Olympic tourney

It’s not like USA Basketball will miss a beat without him, but when two-time NBA MVP Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors announced that he was going to skip the Rio Olympics to rest a sore knee, it just reinforced the belief that for many professional athletes the Olympics are more like the Pro Bowl than the Super Bowl, a nice consolation for the guys who don’t make it to the Big Dance.  The only athletes who rely on the Olympics are the ones in track & field, swimming, gymnastics, boxing, wrestling, etc.  And for track athletes, at least, the irony is that they have to cover up what little sponsorship they do have when the world is finally watching.

It is kind of crazy, right?  So how’s this for a counter-intuitive “do the opposite” consideration?

Because the Olympics only comes around once every four years, and then so completely dwarf the non-Olympic year competitions in running, rather than help build up the sport, the Games actually restrict interest to their very small window.  Thus, as long as the Olympics remain at the top of running’s mountain, the sport will never experience new growth, leaving athletes with no voice, much less a financial interest in the biggest competition that defines their careers.

Continue reading

THE DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF SCANDAL

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

So on the same day that WADA unanimously declares Kenya non-compliant with its anti-doping code, thereby threatening the East African running juggernaut with exclusion from this summer’s Rio Olympics (along with Russia, which was also declared non-compliant last November) we also have word that  organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid were alleged to have made a “seven-figure payment” to an account controlled by the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who, himself,  was arrested last year by French authorities on corruption and money laundering charges, over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheaters.  And the beat just goes on and on and on.

Sebastion Coe Rebuilding Trust

IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Images)

I don’t know, maybe Sebastian Coe is the IAAF’s last best chance.  But these latest two bombshells make you wonder if anyone involved in this filthy sport can truly be the cleansing agent needed to disinfect the body politic?

And perhaps that reflects how bad the situation really is. Looking at the entirety of the WADA Independent Commission report, along with Commission chair Dick Pound’s subsequent public support for Seb Coe as new IAAF president, the only judgement one can make is that there seems to be little appetite for the kind of wholesale reconstruction that these reports suggest is necessary.  Continue reading

RUPP IS IN!!!

On to the marathon

On to the marathon

I think he’s the best marathoner in America right now, though he has never even run one. Olympic 10,000 meter silver medalist and American record holder Galen Rupp announced today on USATF.TV that he will make his marathon debut at the February 13th Olympic Trials in Los Angeles. Talk about throwing a switch on the electricity (and strategy) of that race!

Before Rupp’s announcement the consensus was that Meb and Ritz as the two experienced Olympic marathoners, and only two sub-2:09 Americans in the last three years, were the favorites with everybody else bunched behind them in what promised to be a generational turnover in the ranks of American marathoning. That’s always how it’s been with the U.S. Trials, a pivot point in the sport.

Young talent like Jared Ward, third in LA last year and reigning U.S. Marathon champion (2:12:55), is in good form according to coach (and two-time Olympian) Ed Eyestone. In fact, Jared was in LA yesterday (Wednesday 27 Jan.) taking a tour of the trials course.  The fastest American marathoner of 2015, Luke Puskedra, comes in off a 2:10:24 seventh place in Chicago, while another talented group of newly minted Americans join Rupp in making their debuts at the distance — Joe Vigil-coached Diego Estrada, along with Kenyan-born Sam Chelanga and Aron Rono — have all the talent needed to produce a  top three performance in LA.

But isn’t this Rupp story the beauty of the sport? Continue reading

THEORY OF PERVERSE INCENTIVES IN RUNNING

When applied to American politics the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how gerrymandering congressional districts has led to gridlock rather than problem-solving – ostensibly the purpose of Congress – because gerrymandering incentivizes congress people NOT to work with the opposition party.  When applied to today’s running world, the theory of Perverse Incentives shows how the focus on the individual-event management, while improving the quality of events, has constricted the potential growth and development of The Sport, which would necessitate a unity of purpose across multiple event platforms.

What can you do?

Perfect Storm?

Today, a decade and a half into the 21st century, The Sport of racing has been subsumed by The Activity of jogging.  The tail, we might say, is wagging the dog.  And regardless of what Lord Sebastian Coe, the embattled IAAF president told viewers on the Standard Charter Dubai Marathon telecast recently — “when people see elite performances you can see how it pulls them into competition. It’s almost a perfect storm” — the opposite, in fact, is true.

There has been a total break between the front of the pack and the back of the pack. There is an almost complete lack of interest in the sport of foot racing by the experiential runners, much less by the general sports fans. And now with the devastating accounts of drug abuse and institutional corruption haunting the IAAF, the sport is in even more desperate condition than ever.

“Fast times once meant something,” says Patrick Lynch former elite athlete coordinator for the Boston Marathon and long-time observer of the sport. “There used to be a slew of running writers who could contextualize those times, people like Bert Rosenthal of Associated Press, Joe Concannon of the Boston Globe, Neil Amdur of the New York Times, Dick Patrick at USA Today. They’re all gone now. There are no running beat writers left anymore in the mainstream press.

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2012 Honolulu Marathon with Mark Wetmore (Mr. Green), Pat Lynch (Mr. Blue) across from Hono race director Jon Cross and Moi (Messrs. White).

“Just as the three-point line came in to play through the American Basketball Association to differentiate it from the established NBA – along with the red, white, and blue ball – when the NBA absorbed the ABA, NBA executives saw that their same old brand of basketball needed to adapt to grow.  In the same sense running has become stagnant, well past due for a change. Events are successful but their races are not.”

Though he built the elite fields at the Boston Marathon from 1986 to 2012,  and before that was very active in the Boston running community, Pat Lynch has always cultivated an opaque public persona (you can’t even find a picture of him on Google!).  That he is willing to speak openly now only underscores the seriousness of the case he makes. Continue reading

RYAN HALL ANNOUNCES RETIREMENT

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

Ryan Hall, Meb, Abdi at the point

The end of an era is upon us.  And it is hard to believe, really. Ryan Hall announced his retirement from competitive athletics today at the still tender age of 33, leaving all who followed his career, whether as fans or reporters, feeling a little bit emptier upon hearing the news.

It seems like only yesterday that Ryan flew into our consciousness as one of the avatars of a new era of American running excellence. Along with Class of 2000 mates Alan Webb and Dathan Ritzenhein, Ryan Hall took on the world, giving as good as he got, inserting himself at the front of the pack while exciting American distance running to a pitch not felt in years. There were times — Houston `07, Olympic Trials/New York ’07, Boston `11 — when his flowing stride produced results that were downright breathtaking.

Now, at age 33, the Big Bear, California native has announced he is retiring from professional running as chronically low testosterone levels have hollowed out his legendary endurance and stripped away his most elegant speed. Continue reading

WHAT WOULD IT TAKE?

2015

As the 2015 running year comes to its rather sad conclusion we find a sport existing, barely, on life-support, reeling from the toxic shock of massive internal corruption at the governance level, and widespread performance enhancing drug use at the sporting level.

But let’s not feel too aggrieved.  The self-inflicted wounds suffered by the sport of athletics in 2015 fit neatly into a world at-large now forced to come to terms with an apocalyptic nihilism that doesn’t share the basic assumptions of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.  And without such common assumptions and goals mankind will never fully reconcile the fratricidal tendencies that have emerged and now play out with an increasingly alarming frequency in regions both near and far. Continue reading