Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Los Angeles, CA. — There’s a whole different vibe to an Olympic Trials race, because by its very nature it is not a final, but a prelim. Top three is a win no matter how you slice it because that’s the goal, to determine the team going to the Olympic Games.  And yet for some the win is very important. This year in Los Angeles in the women’s Olympic Marathon Team Trials race 2012 Trials runner-up Desi Linden has made no secret that her goal is to break the tape first.

“Thanks for mentioning all my second-place finishes,” Desi quipped after USATF’s Jill Geer introduced Desi at the press conference yesterday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at LA Live with a list of her accomplishments, including second place in Boston 2011,  runner-up at the Trials 2012 in Houston.

“Hopefully this will be the breakthrough race where I can break the tape and get a win.”

Both Desi and Luke Puskedra, the other featured athlete at the kick-off presser that included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, USATF CEO Max Siegel, and Conqur Endurance Group CEO Tracy Russell, agreed with Desi that what it would take the ability to close well, handling that last 10k to win the race and make the team. Not hanging on, but closing well.

“You need to be ready for everything,” said the 6’4” Luke, whose 2:10:24 in Chicago last fall made him the fastest American of 2015 in the marathon.  “Even if someone goes early, it will take a 2:08 effort even if not a 2:08 time in the heat.”

Trials’ racing is different. I remember the 1984 Olympic track & field trials where Craig Virgin came into the meet with a bit of a knee injury.  Yet he pressed the pace in the 10,000m final, before coming in second to the late Paul Cummings of Utah 28:02 to 27:59. Afterwards I asked Craig why he pushed the pace when he was less than 100%.  And he said, “because I only wanted someone who was a peer to beat me. I didn’t want the pace to be slow, like 29 minutes where a bunch of people who normally couldn’t beat me might be in the position to do so.”

Pfitz nips Al in Buffalo `84

Pfitz edges Salazar in Buffalo Trials `84

At the 1984 Marathon Trials in Buffalo, New York Pete Pfitzinger opened a good lead in the second half. Then Alberto Salazar came and caught him. I was in the lead moto calling that final sprint. “They’re saving nothing for Los Angeles, they’re going for the win! They’re going for the win.”

Things get heated. Athletes are competitors.

And in Houston 2012 Ryan Hall dropped it into high gear right from the start on a chilly ideal racing day. Boom!  4:50 out the door! How do you do! 1:03:25 halfway.  I talked to Josh Cox yesterday who is agenting these days, and he recalled, ‘they took off at 2:06 pace. We were in the second pack around 2:08:30 pace. But we had no choice. You had to be in the in the second pack, cause we realized only two of those guys up front were gonna make it all the way through. So you had to win that second pack race if we wanted to make the team.”

Now, it didn’t turn out that way as Meb Keflezighi went by Ryan at 25 miles, and Abdi Abdirahman held off Dathan Ritzenhein for third.  But that’s the kind of mentality you have to have in a Trials race.

There’s a race for victory, and then there’s a race for third. But Desi has put it out there, after the disappointment of having to step off the Olympic Marathon course in London 2012 after two miles because of an injury, she’s here in Los Angeles going for her second team, but also the National title that will attend it.

“She’s saving nothing for Rio!  She’s going for the win! She’s going for the win!”

And we wish her well (along with all the others)



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


Emanuel A.M.E. Church

Emanuel A.M.E. Church

Both the state of South Carolina and the sport of athletics (track and field) are going through a particularly trying patch right now, though hardly on a par with one another.

In the Palmetto State the issue at hand has been the status of the Confederate Battle Flag, a polarizing symbol that has come under renewed scrutiny in the wake of the tragic shooting of nine at Charleston’s Emanuel A.M.E. Church by racist provocateur Dylann Roof.

In athletics the sides-divider it isn’t nearly as important, which is not to say that the allegations of rules bending, substance manipulation, and counter charges that continue to circle the Nike Oregon Project and its coach Alberto Salazar at the USATF Nationals is inconsequential within the realm of its own limits.

Through it all, opposing sides have been divided, opinions cemented, and reputations tarnished. Of course, due to the already significant loss of interest in the sport over the last 25 years, the mainstream press has yet to shine its blinding light beneath our particular little rock. No, there are way too many worms wriggling beneath Tom Brady’s Deflate-gate appeal and analyzing who did well or ill at the recent NBA draft. Continue reading


New York City 1981

New York City 1981

At long last Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar has come out with his response to the allegations made by a joint BBC/Pro Publica investigation regarding performance enhancing drugs and the misuse of Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUEs) at the Nike Oregon Project. I urge you to read both David Epstein’s original investigative piece (linked above) and Alberto’s two-part rebuttal here and here.


But what has always been a head-scratcher to me as I followed the story over the last three weeks (and after knowing Alberto for most of our adult lives) was how so many people knew about the Androgel, the testosterone cream that was one of the main contentions of the investigation and follow up stories.

According to a headline linking to a Daily Mail story out of England: “The AndroGel was so prevalent”

But that’s my point. Seems Alberto was telling anyone and everyone about it, not hiding it or making it all secret.  He told massage therapist John Stiner to clean out the Park City, Utah apartment that the NOP team used as a high-altitude training camp, all the while knowing there were needles and vials and a tube of Androgel there? That is who you tell to clean up your drug pit, an independent contractor who is not in on the cabal? Continue reading


six_million_dollar_manWhen is a man not a man?  Whoever thought that such a question might one day have currency?  We might have chuckled at the campy 1970s TV series The Six Million Dollar Man, starring Lee Majors, or chomped through several over-priced buttered popcorn boxes watching Arnold as the Terminator, but with technology rapidly replacing worn parts —  or, in the case of Caitlyn Jenner (nee Bruce), unwanted parts — we are fast reaching the point where man and machine may soon be indistinguishable, and ethics will once again be sorely tested.

Rules and regulations are instituted with the goal of establishing an even playing field whereupon fair competition can be conducted. How else to determine a true champion? But it is only when we all agree upon and adhere to those rules and regulations that such a goal can be achieved.  The minute there are competing interpretations is when we come into existential conflict.

Periodically, as today, there is a school of thought which throws up its hands, and in frustration declares, “just give in and let performance-enhancing drugs (PEDs) be allowed in sport.” After all, goes the argument, although there are health risks involved with PED use, by their nature sports are inherently risky, and PEDs would simply be another risk associated with participation. Plus, with medical supervision those risks would be largely eliminated.

And there is some logic behind that frustration and its corollary suggestion, as the best efforts of the testers have consistently lagged behind the users since PEDs came into wide spread use in the 1960s. But since there is not a clear boundary between “safe” and “unsafe” PED use, the line would only be shifted, not erased. So is it ever as simple as just turning the page? Continue reading


Alberto Salazar

Alberto Salazar

Good news — Bad news on this National Running Day 2015.  The bad news comes from the BBC investigative show Panorama, which, in conjunction with Pro Publica raised disquieting questions about alleged drug use and unethical practices by Coach Alberto Salazar at the Nike Oregon Project.  I won’t retrace the allegations. You can read the complete story at the Pro Publica link above. *

Suffice it to say that performance-enhancing drugs have been the bane of sports for over sixty years. How many of the current track records do people really believe were achieved on the up-and-up? Today, it is damned if you do run fast, jump high, or throw far (see Justin Gatlin), and damned if you don’t (everybody else).

I’m no apologist for drug use, but with the political conflagration at FIFA, soccer’s governing body, and the corruption  everyone knows to be endemic in athletics, where does the concept of fair play even begin to come into consideration for the lowly athletes of this world? Kris Kristofferson wrote about such displacement with “freedom’s just another word for nothing left to lose”. Continue reading


I was in Tampa last weekend to help announce the Publix Gasparilla Distance Classic as the old-line road race was reintroducing prize money after an absence of 17-years. After the race I drove north to visit old friends in Gainesville where I’d spent 10 winters in the 1990s. And what happened while I was away?  The track world falls apart in Albuquerque, New Mexico at the U.S. Indoor Nationals.

I tell you, I’ve been trying my best to embrace USATF as a changing, responsive national governing body, what with Max Siegel taking over in an appreciably quiet, yet focused way as CEO.  And though there were momentary echoes of some benighted AAU or TAC ghost hovering near the 2016 Olympic Marathon Trials selection process that chose L.A. over Houston, a closer inspection revealed both sides on firm ground with no hidden agendas, and a fair argument to bolster its case.  Just sad one of the cities had to lose.  And with combined trials, the sport loses inventory, too, as there is one less national exposure available.

Brooks athlete Gabby Grunewald passes Nike Athlete Jordan Hasay in women's 3000.

Brooks athlete Gabby Grunewald about to pass Nike Athlete Jordan Hasay in women’s 3000.

But now again at the indoor nationals in Albuquerque we see yet another shit storm erupt in the controversy surrounding the no, no,yes, no again disqualification of Gabby Grunewald in the women’s 3000 meters.  Certainly, given the evidence available to anyone who watched that race, or has ever spent any time racing or watching indoor meets over the years, while there was minor contact, (in my opinion) there was nothing suggesting disqualification.  Indoor track has long been a contact sport as bodies fatigue, wits wither, and space narrows. Yet due to the current organizational structure and sponsorship arrangements of USATF, once again we saw the fuse of unrest only needing a minor spark to ignite a major controversy. Continue reading