POWER IS AS POWER DOES

When the IAAF Council announced its significantly more strict Olympic entry standards for Tokyo 2020 on March 10th, and also changes to its Diamond League Tour, also for 2020 – essentially eliminating distance races over 3000m – the response from around the running world came fast and (mostly) furious. 

Perhaps most chagrined was Rich Kenah, Executive Director of the Atlanta Track Club, who will host the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials next February 20th.  In wake of the strict new Olympic entry standards, the Atlanta Trials may not have much practical meaning in Olympic team selection anymore. 

This whole Olympic entry standards tightening didn’t happen in a vacuum, of course; it came at the request of the IOC, which, since the Olympics returned to the Modern Era in 1896, has used the sport of athletics as its center-stage attraction.  But now, as the sporting landscape has erupted with many more new sports looking for Olympic inclusion, the IOC doesn’t need as much from the sport of athletics as they once did.

It reminds me somewhat of when ESPN grew into the cable TV Hulk that came define an era.  Here’s how. Continue reading

ATLANTA TC EX. DIR. RICH KENAH ON NEW OLYMPIC STANDARDS

Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah

In an addendum to my post earlier today, NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS, I received the following email from Atlanta TC executive director Rich Kenah, who will host the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials next February.

“The thrill of a U.S Olympic Trials is unrivaled. USA Track & Field’s make-or-break selection system of a top-three finish at the Trials, while attaining a reasonable qualifying mark, allows every participant and spectator to dare to dream regardless of an athlete’s seed time at the start line. With due respect to the leadership at the IAAF and the decision makers involved with yesterday’s announcement, Atlanta Track Club is concerned that the uncertainty created by this massive change from past practices will render a U.S. Olympic Team Trials in the Marathon irrelevant for participating athletes, and wildly confusing for the media assigned to cover them. I recognize the need for a credible world rankings system, but I hope the powers that be reconsider the damage this will do to the Olympic movement in the U.S., the organizations committed to organizing Trials events, and most importantly the athletes who are chasing their Olympic dream in 2020.”

 

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Me again:  Staging an Olympic Marathon Trials is an enormous and costly undertaking.  It would have been one thing if these new standards would have been in place before the bidding process for the Marathon Trials began and everyone knew what they were up against. Now it seems like what’s the point? In looking at every element in this far-ranging, in need of repair sport, the one thing that wasn’t broken, perhaps the most compelling competitions in the entire sport outside the Olympics themselves have been the U.S. Olympic Trials, both track and marathon editions.

Kenah and his team at the ATC have done an excellent job of elevating what was already one of the standout track clubs in the nation.  The 2020 Marathon Trials would have (and still will) only bolster their reputation.  Unfortunately, some of the glamor of the event may have been lessened by today’s news out of Doha.  Then again, maybe the athletes will step up and make these Trials one for the ages.  For ATC’s sake, let’s hope that is case.
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OLYMPIC MARATHON QUALIFYING STANDARD STILL UNKNOWN

With the calendar’s turn to 2019, we have entered the year-plus long buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Along that road are the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, both marathon, and track & field, with the marathon trials in Atlanta up first in February 2020. The Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiled their Trials’ course layout just last week.

However, a new twist to Olympic and World Championships qualifying was introduced in November 2017 when IAAF announced its new World Rankings System. The idea was to make the sport more accessible to the public and to encourage more head-to-head competitions among the top-ranked athletes of the sport.

“For the first time in the sport’s history, athletes, media and fans will have a clear understanding of the competitions from the world through to global events, allowing them to follow a logical season-long path to the pinnacle of athletics’ top two competitions,” the IAAF said back in 2017.

In the new ranking system, every performance by an athlete in an international or national competition will be translated into a score, based on the IAAF scoring table, with the level of competitions also being graded.  The Olympics and World Championships will garner the most points and national championships the fewest.  The best five performances will be totaled and the average will be the athlete’s ranking score in his/her event. There are some other tweaks, but that’s essentially how it will work.

Though there is a consensus belief that a credible world rankings system is long overdue in Athletics, not everyone found the new system to their liking, which is understandable.  Among others, the North American, Central American and the Caribbean Championships (NACAC), one of the strongest member associations in the IAAF, took issue. “Understanding the system in the athletics community is limited, and on critical points, there are widely disparate views about fairness and viability of the system.”

In response to this and other reactions to the ranking system, the IAAF pulled its use as a qualifying factor for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar but plan to continue its use for Tokyo 2020/

Now, as we await the first big races of 2019 in the United States at the Houston Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, I received the following email message.  Continue reading

AN INTERVIEW WITH PHEIDIPPIDES

With the Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiling a map of the 2020 U. S. Team Trials Marathon course, I thought it might be a good time to reconnect (tongue firmly in cheek) with history’s original Marathoner, the one and only Pheidippides.

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Pheidippides in Athens

First, a little background.

Fame is a bitch! Take, take, take, that’s all she does (and why is fame a ‘she’, anyway?) But if fame is a handful, can you imagine trying to uphold the status of a legend?  

As has been proven time and time again, once the public gets a hold of you there’s a stiff price to be paid for any of the benefits that might come with such renown. All you have to do is ask Caesar, Lincoln, Elvis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson, all of whom died of fame. So, you either nip such fame in the bud, like Dave Chappell, or find a way to accommodate it, because down that road has come many a man’s (woman’s) ruin. 

Take the case of Pheidippides, the legendary Greek messenger sent from the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens to tell the tale of the great military victory over the invading force from Persia in 492 B.C.  

Out of that single 40k run has come not only an Olympic event – and the Trials that precede it – but an entire industry, as well, as hundreds of such events are staged annually in cities worldwide for millions of avid runners. 

Yet in the case of Pheidippides and the Marathon, it took two and a half millennia for that history to finally come to pass.  That’s what happens when the first guy who does it dies. Takes a certain amount of fortitude for the next guy to step up. 

But back in 492 B.C. Pheidippides was no myth. He had a family and friends and people he worked with. Then, look what happened, one poorly paced run and he was marked throughout history. 

Being a day-runner, or herald – as it was then called – he must have been right behind the front lines while the actual battle against the Persians was raging. Then, when the tide turned in favor of the defending Athenians, he was called for what would become his historic assignment.

“Hey, you, Pheidippides. We need you to run back to Athens tell them we’re OK out here. Got it?  Tell them it’s good news. But you gotta hustle.”

Maybe his commanding officer didn’t know Pheidippides had already run over 250k to Sparta and back looking for reinforcements a few days earlier. Notwithstanding, the guy answered the call and ran back to Athens, announcing, “Rejoice we conquer!” before succumbing to his efforts. 

But as the late radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey used to say, there was more to The Rest of the Story.  And now we have The Man himself to ask. 

There have been mystical beings in every age, Highlander types, who lived beyond their eras. And who knew, Pheidippides was one himself? Continue reading

MAKING IT PERSONAL ONCE AGAIN

My friend Elizabeth from Atlanta Track Club and I were talking about our pets as she drove me to Hartsfield International airport this morning for my flight to Honolulu for this weekend’s marathon. I’d been in town emceeing last evening’s Atlanta Track Club’s All Metro Cross Country Awards Banquet, where Lovett High School senior Selena Tripoli and Milton High School junior Sam Bowers were named Ray Buckley and Jeff Benton Award winners as Outstanding Athletes of the season.

Elizabeth has a 10 year-old greyhound with a bad back, and she told me how her vet actually made a house call when her dog was too hurt to travel. My wife Toya and I have two cats, and we, too, sing the praises of our vet out in San Diego.

Elizabeth and I then remarked how vets today are actually much like how human doctors used to be back in the day when every patient was also an individual client, rather than simply an insurance policy holder.

The distinction, we decided, was important in the effect it has on society at large. Continue reading

ATLANTA TRACK CLUB CELEBRATING ALL-METRO RUNNERS

We are right in the middle of post-season for high school cross country. NXN was last weekend in Portland, Oregon, while the Foot Locker Nationals come up this weekend at San Diego’s Balboa Park. Tonight, though, I’ll be hosting the 53rd annual Atlanta Track Club All-Metro Cross Country Awards banquet, a celebration of excellence that goes all the way back to the start of the ATC.

The All-Metros continue to inform the club’s spirit of promoting a healthy and active lifestyle no matter where one is in their life-cycle. 42 young athletes representing 31 schools will be feted tonight as members of the 1st, 2nd, and 3rd All-Metro Teams. Two coaches will also be recognized for their outstanding dedication to the sport.

Atlanta TC Executive Director Rich Kenah is just completing his third year heading the country’s second largest running club (28,000), and has continued expanding the club’s focus on  encouraging youth participation and rewarding its excellence. Congrats to all the 2016 Atlanta TC All-Metro Team selections.

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On the other end of the age scale, here’s something I’ve always wondered. Why do they call 40-year olds “Masters”?  Are they kidding? Believe me, by the time you hit the big 4-0, you’re no master, you’re losing your mastery.

Look, a master craftsman is one who gets better with age, I get that. But you don’t get better as a runner at 40 (much less 50,60, or 70). You just slower, if you can run at all. At the very least it takes forever just to find race photo that shows you with both feet off the ground. It’s pathetic, not masterful.

Anyway, everyone in the upper age divisions are always getting hurt, too. And not just little niggles from running. The one that gets me is when you start hurting yourself sleeping.

I get people asking all the time: “What happened to you? Why are you holding your neck like that?”
“I slept wrong.”
“Slept wrong? How, in the name of God, do you hurt yourself sleeping?”
“Yeah, well, maybe you should ask that all-loving God of ours. Seems to be one of His mysteries.”

Sure, I remember the days when I could feel the wind blowing my hair back when I stepped on the gas while racing. Kinda like Keninise Bekele and Wilson Kipsang must have felt in Berlin earlier this season (well, if they had long, flowing hair).

But add a few decades onto those two 34 year-olds, and they’ll be hoping to still have hair that’s not coming in tufts out of their noses and ears, or growing like a chia pet on their backs. I’ll tell you, the first time you go to the hair salon and the nice looking young woman starts clipping at your nose and ear hairs, well, that’s a crossroads day.

So I say enjoy it while you got it, kiddies. It ain’t no endless road. One foot in front of another is one thing, but blowin’ in the wind at some point just becomes another old Bob Dylan song.

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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