SCRUBBING THE SPORT CLEAN

Nations have been turning citizens into soldiers for as long as anyone can remember.  And over time, no matter the nation, the process hasn’t changed a great deal, as it has proven tried and true.

First, the military breaks down the individual recruits – cutting off their hair, dressing them alike, housing them together in close quarters – in order to build a cohesive unit.  Then they teach precision through constant drilling until a finely tuned military force has been forged.

One of the first lessons in unit cohesion is everyone is responsible for everyone else. And if one makes a mistake, all pay the price. For instance, if one recruit decides he doesn’t want to take a shower every day in boot camp, it eventually falls to the other recruits to drag him to the showers for a late night cold water scrubbing with a hard bristled brush. It is not the drill sergeant who does this, it is the rank recruit’s own fellow privates.  That cold-water scrubbing tends to get the message across. If one recruit screws up in training, the entire platoon does extra pushups or low crawl. Eventually, life for the screw-up is made intolerable by his fellow recruits until he gets his act in order.

Bringing this analogy into the world of athletics, until the athletes themselves take some responsibility to deal with their own in this matter of doping,  the situation will never be resolved.  Every athlete only wants to train and race, total focus.  And that is fully understandable.  But that only works if the sport is in good health, and this one is not. Continue reading

2017 LONDON MARATHON: A VIEWER’S PERSPECTIVE

Kenya’s Mary Keitany is all smiles at London Marathon 2017

This is a strange game, isn’t it?  Here we see the great Mary Keitany winning her third Virgin Money London Marathon in 2:17:01, and for the rest of the morning we try to figure out where her performance stands in the list of best-ever women’s marathons.

Now, forgetting all this mixed-gender, women’s-only, point-to-point, downhill  or loop course qualifiers, Mary’s 2:17:01 is the second fastest women’s finishing time ever posted behind Paula Radcliffe’s 2:15:25, London 2003.  But on the coverage shown in the USA by NBCSN her time was referred to as the fastest time ever in a women’s-only race, bettering Paula’s 2:17:42 from London 2005.  But even that 2005 London time ranks behind Paula’s 2:17:18 from Chicago 2002. Confused?

When reading through the chattering class on LetsRun.com, and referring to my own 2002 journal when I covered the women’s race for NBC5 in Chicago, we remember LetsRun co-founder Weldon Johnson served  as Paula’s “escort”, if not rabbit per se.  But when Paula smashed that Chicago mark in London the following spring with her magical 2:15:25, she was also “escorted” by two Kenyan guys the entire way. Continue reading

MONEY VALIDATES

IAAF Continental Cup logo 2014     Our friends at Letsrun.com wrote a preview of this weekend’s 2nd IAAF Continental Cup from Marrakech, Morocco comparing it favorably to the recently completed IAAF Diamond League tour.

“The prize money for the event is insane as compared to the DL meet. The Continental Cup offers $2.9 million in prize money, that’s more than 6 times what a DL event offers ($480,000) and more than three times as much what two DL events would offer. Each event pays out $73,000, plus four relays, each of which pays out $68,000, for a total of $2.9 million in prize money. All finishers are guaranteed prize money, which is allotted as follows:

$30,000 for 1st,
$15,000 for 2nd
$10,000 for 3rd
$7,000 for 4th
$5,000 for 5th
$3,000 for 6th
$2,000 for 7th
$1,000 for 8th.

That’s a HUGE increase from a Diamond League meet.”

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Recall that at last month’s U.S. Open tennis championship in New York, Serena Williams was awarded a check of $3 million for winning her sixth U.S. Open title, and collected an additional $1 million for winning the Emirates Airline U.S. Open Series. Now consider the gulf between the payoffs in these two sports, and the ramifications that develop from it.

As one pundit put it, “Mary (Wittenberg’s) got Caroline Wozniacki (U.S. Open Tennis finalist) running the New York City Marathon. John McEnroe was talking about it during Sunday’s prime time coverage. Now that’s all they’re talking about, not Kipsang, not Mutai, not Edna Kiplagat or Mary Keitany.”

How often have we heard, “well, running isn’t golf or tennis”? As if that alone explains the differences. As if this weekend’s season-ending Fedex Cup prize of $10 million (to one golfer!) was always the way golf was conducted, or that tennis always had a multi-million dollar professional underpinning. Of course they didn’t. Golf and tennis became what they are today by the concerted efforts of many people, including pioneering athletes, event directors, and agents willing to challenge a stagnant status quo. Continue reading

PRO RUNNER DAVID TORRENCE – “Don’t Blame Elite Athletes for State of the Sport”

Reaction to the Competitor Group’s decision to discontinue much of their elite athlete program at their Rock `n` Roll Series events in the United States continues to come in. Even now, nearly four weeks after the decision became public, pro athlete David Torrence has reacted to a quote in the comments’ section of my post “Dumbing Down, Slowing Down” by Competitor Group maven, John “The Penquin” Bingham.  In the following column posted on LetsRun.com today, Torrence fires back at Bingham’s assertion that pro runners don’t show sufficient interest in the back-of-the-pack masses, thereby maintaining the distance between them.  A 1998 grad of U.C. Berkeley, David has won four National Championships, one indoors at 3000 meters, and three straight Road Mile Championships (2009-2011).

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3:52 miler David Torrence

3:52 miler David Torrence

My name is David Torrence. I am a Professional Track Athlete and Road Racer.  I’ve run in front of packed sold-out stadiums, and in front of empty bleachers. I’ve run in Road races with 10,000 participants, and some with 10 total.

Upon reading the recent discussion on Competitor/RnR events, the value of elites, popularity of the sport, etc…something has struck a chord with me. Specifically with what John Bingham said in the comments section of Toni Reavis’ blog “Dumbing Down, Slowing Down”

Bingham wrote, “I invite ANY winner of ANY race to join me (cheering on finishers) instead of rushing back to their hotel after the awards ceremony. I guarantee that the first ‘elite’ to show even a LITTLE interest in the rest of the pack will become a hero overnight.” (bold my emphasis)

Well John, that comment… how can I put this politely… really frustrated me. Continue reading

BLOWING IN THE WIND

Visual Aid

Visual Aids

Watching last night’s Distance Night at the Pre Classic on RunnerSpace we, like everyone else, including commentators Tim Hutchings and Paul Swangard, were a little baffled by how far off the pacers were from their pre-race projections – other than in the women’s 800m, which hit the split, but was way too fast for the quality of the field.  Now this morning reading LetsRun we see that a headwind on the backstretch of Hayward Field was at least partially responsible for the slowish times.  So my question is, and this applies to both track and road races, why, in the name of God don’t event organizers place small flags at different intervals to let the crowd and TV audience see for themselves what the conditions are?

If Tim and Paul never mentioned the wind, and instead began supposing why the half-way split in the 10,000 meters was 13:33 instead of the requested 13:18, something as simple as a series of small flags lining the inside of the track would give everyone the instant information needed. Same should apply at road races.

How many times have I sat aboard a lead camera motorcycle and been asked, ‘How are the conditions out there?’, and not been able to tell which way the wind was blowing because I, too, was moving, thereby creating our own breeze.  So unless there was a flagpole atop a nearby building, I wouldn’t be able to tell shit from Shinola – not that I generally can anyway.

Haile in Phoenix 2006

Haile in Phoenix 2006

Yet in 2006 when Haile Gebrselassie came to Phoenix trying to break the half-marathon world record – he did, 58:55 – our TV producer Rich Jayne had erected  six-foot high sticks beside each kilometer clock with crepe paper in Ethiopian colors streaming in whichever direction the wind was blowing. So not only could Haile tell whether the wind was helping or hurting, but Ed Eyestone and I in the lead vehicle calling the race live could tell our viewers who could also see for themselves.

Come on, organizers, try helping fans (and commentators). This wouldn’t cost anything in the larger scheme of things, and yet would instantly elevate the experience. How many tracks must a man run around…

Rant over.

END

SAME AS IT EVER WAS

     As we approach this weekend’s USATF Indoor Track & Field Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico, once again we find the advance stories focusing as much on the politics of the sport as on the competition itself.  The wedge issue currently roiling the sport – as it has since the USATF annual convention in St. Louis last December – is over the number of sponsorship logos athletes can display on their competition singlets, the size of those logos, and at which competitions those regulations will be fully enforced by USATF, the sport’s governing body.

According to stated USATF rules, which follow international IAAF regulations, an athlete can only display two commercial logos or one club logo and one commercial logo.  But as reported today on LetsRun.com, in a nod to athlete demands, USATF has agreed to allow athletes with a club logo to have two commercial logos on display, as well. For their part, athletes want the right to display one club and three commercial logos.

Regardless, while USATF and the athletes go back and forth over number, size, and where the uniform rules will be enforced, the USATF Board’s legal counsel Larry James wrote a memo to the Board stating his concern that any deviation from the stated rules might be seen by Nike – sponsor for the USATF Indoor and Outdoor National Championships  – as reducing the value of its own contract with USATF, and thereby, under the terms of that contract, would allow Nike to pay a lesser amount to USATF for its own visibility.  And since more athlete logos appearing on athletes’ singlets might thus be interpreted as a reduction in value by Nike, USATF is forced to implement its uniform restrictions, irrespective of the gentleman’s agreement they came to in St. Louis with athlete legal counsel David Greifinger to hold off on the implementation at domestic events.

You can read the whole account on LetsRun.com, but the bottom line according to David Greifinger (the former legal counsel to USATF, by the way) is, as currently worded Nike can argue anything reduces the value of its contract. “Taken to its logical extreme, Nike would have veto power over the composition of USATF’s Board and committees, USATF’s Bylaws, Regulations, and Competition Rules, and all matters pertaining to competitions and athletes’ rights.”

That a kerfuffle like this is still taking place 34 years after the institution of USATF as governing body for track & field, road racing, youth running, masters running, trail running, race walking is evidence enough of the limitations of the institution.  However, history, too, may be instructive for the current situation. Continue reading

WHAT DIRECTION RUNNING USA?

Following this weekend’s U.S. Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston, Texas will be the annual Running USA conference set for January 15-17 at the Hyatt Regency Houston. This year’s conference theme is Passing the Torch: Running Toward the Future. The special guest speaker at Monday’s Ashworth Youth Awards Luncheon will be Shellie Pfohl – Executive Director of President’s Council on Fitness, Sports and Nutrition.

As Running USA is currently fashioning its own Youth Initiative, it might be instructive to look back at the history of the President’s Council on Physical Fitness, Sports and Nutrition as it relates to Running USA’s  Running Toward the Future efforts.

After a report raised concerns about the physical fitness of America’s children relative to their European counterparts in the early 1950s, it was President Dwight Eisenhower (not JFK as many believe) who created the President’s Council on Youth Fitness, and confirmed it via cabinet-level status. The Executive Order specified “one” objective as the first Council identified itself as a “catalytic agent” concentrating on creating public awareness. And guess who was the first chairman of the Council? None other than Vice President Richard M. Nixon! Certainly not the man anyone would think of first when fitness comes to mind.

Notwithstanding, a plan of action was developed at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1957, and the first nationwide pilot study of 8,500 boys and girls ages 5 thru 12 resulted in the first national testing program which many of us who are old enough remember quite well. Continue reading