KNOWING WHEN TO SAY WHEN

The Fancy Bear hackers have been at it again, releasing their fifth batch of Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) records. Included in the latest dump of 41 athletes from 13 countries are the TUEs of American distance running stars Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp. A shorthand analysis of the release, however, shows nothing of note to report.

But it continues to strike me how Gotcha! the search for guilt in the world of sport is on the one hand  — there is a TMZ quality to it — while at the same time society at large turns a blind eye to widespread, even institutional drug use/abuse on the other.

Perhaps sports is the last of the perceived innocents in a world of increasing cynicism, still falling into the “is nothing held sacred anymore?” category.

Len Johnson penned an excellent column today on the Runner’s Tribe website, We Need To Talk About Drugs.  Among his observations was:  “Sport has never quite managed to get to grips with PEDs from the time the IOC and individual federations first took the issue seriously. The first testing was done at the Mexico City Olympics in 1968 and the first tests for anabolic steroids at the Montreal 1976 Games. Both measures were playing “catch up” on what was already occurring.”

When you look at the larger world around, it makes you wonder why athletes wouldn’t give in to the drug culture that exists. After all,  “Ask your doctor if (insert any one of a hundred brand name drugs here) is right for you.”  And consider how much of popular culture, our music, art, books and movies, has been created via thought enhancement.

In literary circles one easily recalls the list of boozy writers: Hemingway, Faulkner, Bukowski, Fitzgerald,  Raymond Chandler, etc. Yes, alcohol is a legal product, but the only question is whether it enhanced their writing, or just made the writer’s life tolerable.  In either case, the pattern is clear. And there’s no secret that the kaleidoscopic words of Hunter S. Thompson were informed by heavy drug and alcohol use.

How much music from the 20th century alone, from blues to jazz to rock to hip-hop, was created free from drugs or alcohol? And when did the Beatles fully expand into true pop music greatness? After they began experimenting with pot and LSD.

Today, students and parents alike look to “study drugs” to enhance their children’s concentration and focus, hoping to better their chances at getting into college. And once in college, about 1 in 5 students reports using study drugs to get them through those punishing all-nighters.

It makes you wonder if this widespread tolerance of drug use in the wider society will finally do in the prohibition against it in sport, when enough people just can’t prop up the hypocrisy any longer. Continue reading

SOLINSKY’S GREATEST RUN

Even as the sport celebrates the 10,000 meter debut of American master phenom Bernard Lagat at last night’s Payton Jordan Invitational in Palo Alto, California — a world master’s record win in 27:49 — we recall that six years ago today Chris Solinsky ran his own 10,000m debut at Payton Jordan in what turned out to be the run of his career.   Here is how I reported it on our old Runnerville.com website, created by by Tracksmith founder Matt Taylor.
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May 2nd, 2010

SOLINSKY AR 26:59.60!!!

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Solinsky in American Record form

Solinsky in American Record form

Well, they sold it as an American record attempt at 10,000 meters.  Just top-billed the wrong guy.  In a stunning debut in track’s longest event, former University of Wisconsin All-American Chris Solinsky shocked the field, the fans, and even himself with a sensational 26:59.60 win at the Payton Jordan Invitational 10,000, ripping 14 seconds off Meb Keflezighi’s 27:13.98 record set on the same track in 2001.

Galen Rupp, the Alberto Salazar-trained Nike star who the record attempt had been built around, ended up doing much of the second half pace work.  And though he achieved his goal of dipping under Meb’s old record, his 27:10.74 clocking could only garner him fourth place as a slew of records fell in the wake of Solinksky’s shocker.

”It hasn’t sunk in yet what I ran,” a surprisingly fresh Solinsky told the gathered media that surrounded him after his historic run.  “We came in hearing about Galen Rupp trying to break the record. This was a glorified tempo run.  This was just an indication race to see where I was, because we are going to Oslo for a 5K (June 4th).  This was my debut. No one expected it.  I didn’t expect it!” Continue reading

MEB NOW ATOP ALL-TIME U.S. DISTANCE RUNNING LIST

 

Meb and family celebrate his 4th OIympic berth

Meb & family celebrate his 4th OIympic berth

After his impressive win at Saturday’s U.S. Olympic Team Trials Marathon in Los Angeles (in his debut at the distance) who knows how far Oregon’s Galen Rupp can take his career in the years to come — or if he will even have a sport left to build a career upon, given all the rot coming out of the IAAF Eyes Wide Shut hall of mirrors in Monaco these days. But let’s say the sport survives its current suicide attempt, just for argument’s sake.

Though the Oregon-based 2012 Olympic 10,000m silver medalist and American record holder is well on his way to a historic CV, and is now talking a probable 10K-marathon double in the Rio Games this August, Galen still has a way to go to match the career resume of his Trial’s runner up Meb Keflezighi.  With Meb’s second-place finish behind Galen at the Trials last Saturday, earning his fourth Olympic berth, you have to say once and for all — though it’s a close call — that Meb has finally climbed to the very top of the U.S. distance running mountain as the best we have ever seen.  Continue reading

THE HEAT WILL BE ON IN LA

2012 Olympic Trials, Houston, Tx.

2012 Olympic Trials, Houston, Tx.

 

Twice in recent men’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials history the weather has been a significant factor.  This coming Saturday in Los Angeles that number will jump to three as temperatures in LA have been forecast for the low-70sF (21C) at the 10 a.m. start, going up to 80F (27C) at noon.  Not ideal, by any measure, but consider that the average daily range in Rio de Janeiro in August for the Olympic Marathon will be a low of 66F (19C) and a high of 78F (25C), fairly similar to LA this Saturday. 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

FALLING APART AT THE SEEMS

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

PORK STEAKS AND PRO MEETS

Pork Steaks on the grill

Pork Steaks on the grill

Being a native Midwesterner I grew up on backyard summer barbecues where a particular grilling favorite in St. Louis was the delectable pork steak.  But what made the pork steak so good was the corn on the cob, baked beans, and potato salad that went with it. Those side dishes added flavor, spice  and textural contrasts against which to savor the main course.

Well, it is the presentation of compatible athletic tastes and textural delights that has always been one of the track and field’s greatest appeals.   Today, two of the best T&F meets in the world arrive on the calendar, the Exxon Mobil Bislett Games in Oslo, Norway, and the beginning of the 2014 NCAA Outdoor T&F Championships in Eugene, Oregon. Both meets have compelling story lines, but I wonder if my viewing will reflect a recent watching of two other top meets on TiVo?

Last week I re-watched coverage of the SEC Track & Field Championships on ESPNU, then immediately reviewed the Prefontaine Classic from NBC Sports. Surprisingly, what stood out was how much better the SEC presentation was than the Pre coverage. Not in terms of performances, camera angles or announcing. Obviously, the world-class performances in Eugene were superior to the SEC races, just as the fields in Oslo represent the very best track & field talent the world has to offer. No, what stood out was how the narrative thread of team-based competition throughout the SEC program gave coherence and meaning to the coverage that was totally missing in Eugene at Pre.

At the SEC’s in Lexington, Kentucky Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson presented the team element very usefully on ESPNU, while the efforts of Tom Hammond, Ato Boldon, Craig Masback and Dwight Stones for NBC at the Pre meet came in the service of unconnected, stand-alone events.  While every race at the SEC’s had an individual champion and particular story line, the linking element of team competition gave the meet a competitive arc and payoff for viewers to latch onto and follow.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m.

Galen Rupp goes 26:44.36 seconds to break his own American record at 10,000m at Pre Meet.

On the other hand, while the Pre Classic produced a string of world-class performances, led by Galen Rupp’s American record over 10,000 meters, what stood out was the lack of any narrative thread beyond that. It was all a bunch of individual snapshots, not a building drama. Each non-sprint was staged as a series of predetermined paced laps with only the final lap, perhaps two in the case of Rupp, turning into a full out competition. It was hard not to fast forward to the moments of actual engagement as, once again, we were reminded why track and field has lost contact with the casual sports fan.  Continue reading