It is perhaps the most Sisyphean of athletics’ challenges, the movement to truly modernize the sport of athletics (track & field). Over the years, the boulder of professionalism has approached its summit on a number of occasions, only to see its fortunes tumble back down to the old status quo time and again.

Sisyphus by Titan

It’s as if the athletes were being punished for their sport’s leaders’ “self-aggrandizing craftiness and deceitfulness”, as was Sisyphus.  Yet the primary impediment to change has been the gravity of tradition, the weight of Olympic amateurism that defined the birth of organized sport in Victorian times and the consequent power vested in the federations-based model that grew to dominate the sport cradle-to-grave in the ensuing hundred-plus years. 

Attempts have been made to challenge the old order. In 1972, the International Track Association initiated a circuit of events in the USA and Canada featuring a coterie of well-known though aging stars. But the new association found itself unable to sign the stars coming out of the 1976 Montreal Olympic Games because the “amateurs” could still make more money from under-the-table appearance fees on the federation-led tour than they could as “professionals” in open prize money events on the new ITA circuit.

Then, in the early 1980s when road racing in America was in its first boom stage, the top road racers attempted a breakaway under the auspices of the Association of Road Race Athletes (ARRA). Their attempt at creating an independent circuit for professional road racing was eventually smothered in the cradle after the U.S. federation negotiated a semantic accommodation called TACTRUST which, though allowing the athletes to keep their winnings, retained the veil of amateur eligibility and federation control.

That temporary solution proved sufficient for the athletes of that era, but it left the old system in place and kept the sport from breaking free of its amateur chrysalis and perhaps taking flight as a truly professional sport.

In the meantime, the hallmark of the international system continued to be its inherent paternalism, a system that treated athletes first like serfs in feudal bondage and then as independent contractors without the collective bargaining power to determine their own fate via a more balanced system.

The persistence of financial corruption and self-dealing by past leaders of this federations-based system has been the one through-line that has defined its rule. And now under new leadership, the system’s solution to track’s shrinking viewer base is the elimination of events to reduce the sports’ TV window from two hours to ninety minutes. Continue reading


Westbrook forcing Curry to play D

Westbrook forcing Curry to play D

Everyone is burying the defending NBA champion Golden State Warriors after their game 4 loss to the OKC Thunder the other night as the teams prep for game five tonight in Oakland.

That 118-94 defeat on Tuesday was the first time all season that the Warriors had dropped back-to-back games, and puts them one loss away from elimination in the NBA’s western conference finals after a record-setting 73-9 regular season.

According to what sports fan Toya heard on talk radio, all the Warriors are is a bunch of three-point gunners. It’s the only thing they can do. So in the playoffs OKC has been able to shut them down by clamping down hard on Steph Curry, who has been off his regular season MVP form.

I have said this before but will re-emphasize it here. The makeup and chemistry of an NBA team is very tenuous. There is only one ball, but five players.  So it all boils down to how the unity of the five translates into putting the ball where it needs to be from their point of view against the defense of their opponents. That determines the fate of the team.

Bogut slowed by injury

Bogut slowed by injury

In terms of team chemistry, the thing I see overlooked is the health of the Warrior’s starting center Andrew Bogut. The 7-foot Australian is not playing up to par against the OKC, and while the team doesn’t talk about it, Bogut  still seems slowed by an adductor strain he suffered during game five in the western conference semifinals against Portland.  He is not him, and it shows. Continue reading



What had always been a unifying force in America’s melting pot city, the one thing that drew every New Yorker and visitor together, has now been blown apart by Hurricane Sandy.  So count the ING New York City Marathon as another victim of last Monday’s vicious storm, except this is a constituent that even FEMA can’t help put back together.

Last night’s decision to cancel the 42nd NYC Marathon by city officials and race organizers has left behind a nasty split.  A city already in tatters and tears is that much more divided than the day before.  Opposing sides in the marathon cancellation debate stare in shocked disbelief at the insensitivity of the other side, leading to arguments and recriminations posted on chat rooms, e-mails and text boxes world-wide.

From “it was the only thing to do”, to “what a wasted opportunity to rally the city”, the reaction has come as swiftly as the miles up First Avenue on race day, but as opposite as one curbside to the other. Needless to say, the overwhelming, though not 100%, view from the marathoner’s side is that the decision to call off the race was wrong-headed.

“I met a girl who flew 20 hours from Australia,” texted my friend Rich Jayne from the Haile Gebrselassie Marathon expo booth at Javitz Center which continued unabated today till 5 p.m.  “There was another guy with only a year to live and this was to be his last marathon.  When the announcement was made we had three foreign runners in our booth.  NYC is not making friends.”

While runners from the top professionals to the 40,000th placer are disappointed and upset for time and money spent and paydays lost, NYRR President and CEO Mary Wittenberg hinted at a graver concern at last night’s press conference in Central Park.

“We became concerned that runners would not receive the welcome they were used to,” she said, adding, “it’s been tough on the volunteers and staff, too, anyone associated with the marathon.”

The city’s mood had turned toxic.

“I heard organized violence was being planned,” wrote a friend in the city, “and runner’s safety was the main concern.”  Continue reading



     What, is David Stern in his dotage bucking for the USATF CEO job now?  Unbelievable.  You’ve just come off a forced player lock-out which has already lopped 16 games off your NBA season.  You’ve pissed off the fans royally, lost revenue and good will, and now, knowing full well that five marquee franchises have been working feverishly for months to secure the services of New Orleans Hornets all-star point guard Chris Paul – who is going to be a free-agent in seven months anyway – and after the Hornets, Lakers and Rockets publicly announce their multiple-player swap, you nix the deal ex-post-facto? And why?  Cause the 29 NBA owners who collectively own the ownerless Hornets feel like Paul’s departure somehow lessens the franchises worth as they search for a new buyer?  Wow!

     Well, it’s good to know that even the major league sports can step in it.  Ironic, cause no sport has been more sure-footed over the last 30 years than the NBA since Mr. Stern took over from Larry O’Brien, and Magic and Larry turned the league around leading to the rarified air of MJ himself.    

     Maybe it’s just these dislocated times in which we live. All moorings seem to have been cast free.  I was kinda stunned when St. Louis Cardinal slugger supreme Albert Pujols chose to leave the friendly confines of Busch Stadium this week for the Orange County banality of the Anaheim Angels. And all for what, an extra $50 million and the chance to stretch his career via the American League’s “I-don’t-actually-have-to-play-baseball” designated hitter rule?  I mean, Albert, you have the chance to be the modern-day Stan Musial, maybe even more, and you opt for Anaheim?  What can you buy for $250 million that you can’t for $200 million, anyway?  Certainly not loyalty.

     Now, I feel sorry for my poor Laker-loving wife who, though disappointed by the seeming loss of petulant philanderer Pau Gasol and Kardashian B-teamer Lamar Odom, was eager to see how the Chris Paul/Kobe Bryant One-Ball-Two-Egos Challenge would work out this year.  And me, the long-time Celtic fan who wondered what C’s G.M. Danny Ainge was thinking when he made his own fruitless attempt at Chris Paul – which only sullied the front-office relationship with their own All-Star point guard Rajon “I can’t shoot straight” Rondo

     Notwithstanding, that’s all behind us now, and the story is one of idiocy, greed, and –  hell,  and you’d think that the NBA would see the trade as a PR godsend, coming off the lock-out with a big-splash three-team reshuffle, thereby taking the focus off that billionaires’ blunder. Instead, once-genius David Stern has allowed the PR monkey to get out of its cage and start throwing poop on everybody.  Well, all I can say is “bless your heart, Mr. Stern.  Running welcomes you to the dunce-cap corner.  Here’s spare roll of TP.”


USA vs. The World – Who Won?


     First of all, it sounds like either Michael Bay’s next disaster starring Shia LaBeouf, or The Donald’s campaign slogan for 2012.  Instead USA vs. The World is the Penn Relays format / marketing campaign  for their century-plus year old track carnival in Philadelphia.  

     I watched yesterday on ESPN, but I never caught the score.  Anyone catch the final?  It probably came down to the last race, and what a match up that would have been.  Everything on the line in that one race, all the pressure, all the prestige, all the money.  I know I saw a lot of national uniforms racing around the track, and waving flags in the packed stands. 

     Excuse me?  Oh, you say they didn’t actually keep score? Really?  But it was supposed to be a competition between the USA and the World, right?  I wanna know who won. 

     It was what?  Just a bunch of individual races?  You mean with nothing on the line like moving on to the next round or money?  So kind of like if the Heat – Celtics game this afternoon in the NBA Eastern Division semifinals just ran up and down the court for 48 minutes with every 24-second possession being an end in itself?  Jeez, you wonder why the NBA doesn’t do that. It’s such an intriguing format.