Tag: Running USA

BREAKING UP IS HARD TO DO

We’ve all been dumped. And it hurts. But the immediate reflex is always to beg her/him to take us back. “Please, just tell me what to do. I’ll change. I swear.”

Yeah, well, we all know how well that works, rarely – OK, never! So you pick your self up, reset your dignity, and eventually move on, generally to greener pastures. Which is what distance running ought to do after getting dumped by the IAAF. 

If ever there was a time for the sport of long-distance running to say adios to their governing body, now might be exactly the right time. After all, the IAAF just said adios to you by eliminating the 5000 and 10,000-meter races from the 2020 Diamond League, the IAAF’s premier track & field summer tour, which, in time, will only lead to their elimination at the Olympic Games, as the IOC continues to press for fewer track athletes to make room for breakdancers, skateboarders, pole-dancers, and kite-flyers.

There’s been a case to be made for this separation for years with the massive growth of road running across the globe. But the ties that bind long distance running to its parent organization were historic and seemingly of mutual advantage. But that connection no longer seems so apparent as the ties continue to come undone. (more…)

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KILLING THE GOLDEN GOOSE

It’s a completely defensible position because it has been taken from a completely defensive posture. If your product can’t be guaranteed for purity, even with new and improved testing, you do what you must to mitigate the potential downside while still maintaining brand growth and awareness.

Today, (December 19, 2017) on the same day that twice-banned U.S. sprint star Justin Gatlin  was tangentially implicated in an investigative drug sting,  Abbott World Marathon Majors announced that Edna Kiplagat of Kenya has been awarded its Series X women’s championship and the $500,000 prize that attends it.

Ms. Kiplagat had originally finished second in the Series X cycle to fellow Kenyan Jemima Sumgong, the 2016 London and Rio Olympic champion.  But after the putative champion gave a positive sample for EPO in an out-of-competition test in February 2017, the series title was held up awaiting disposition by Kenyan doping authorities. Today,  Ms. Kiplagat, runner up in Chicago 2016 and winner at the Series X closing 2017 Boston Marathon, was officially moved into the top spot as Ms. Sumgong was banned for four years by the Anti Doping Agency of Kenya (ADAK).

Ms. Sumgong’s drug failure marked the fourth time in its ten-cycle history that the Abbott World Marathon Majors has had to disqualify a women’s series winner for a failed a drug test, not the outcome the original five series events had imagined when they banded together in 2006. (more…)

THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN PROMOTING AND DIRECTING

Interest in this Friday’s Standard Charter Dubai Marathon continues to mount, though it has little to do with competition. Instead, the focus is almost entirely centered on one man, Ethiopia’s Kenenisa Bekele, whose stated goal is to break the marathon world record set in Berlin 2014 by Dennis Kimetto of Kenya at 2:02:57.  While the marathon record is almost always the object at the annual BMW Berlin Marathon, where the last six men’s records have been run, the sport rarely finds athletes willing to boldly predict their intentions with a gaudy Trump-like flourish. Not sure if it’s chicken or egg, whether the unpredictability of the marathon itself or the nature of the men and women who ply their trade in that game tend to deliver an endless series of “Only God knows” answers to “how do you think you’ll do?” questions.  (Maybe it’s just bad questions, too). 

In any case, building fan interest under such circumstances has become increasingly difficult in a more crowded sports landscape that features more and more charismatic characters with Facebook Live accounts, tattoo tapestries, and multi-million dollar prize purses.  Even when the top first prize in marathoning is Dubai’s $200,000, it doesn’t break through to the general public as having relative importance in the greater realm of pro sports.  And if you don’t have an Olympic gold medal or a World Championship on the line, what else do you have to generate interest other than money?

But fan interest, like the stock market, is an iffy proposition. Hard to read, hard to presume or presage.  Yet there are some who are better than others at gauging what might pique the public interest. 

Promotion Game
Promotion Game

“We like making fights people are interested in,” UFC president Dana White told Colin Cowherd on his Friday, Jan. 13 show in response to the public interest in a possible Floyd Mayweather v Conor McGregor match between the undefeated boxer and the current mixed martial arts fan fave. “We like putting on entertainment events, whatever.  As long as the people who buy the pay-per-view or bought the tickets are excited about what happened that night, how do you lose?”

That’s the attitude a showman has, the desire to please the paying customer. The question I have is where are those characters in the running game?  Because there is a big difference between a meet director and a meet promoter.  (more…)

FAD OR LIFESTYLE?

Where lies the line between fad and lifestyle?  Who knows if, how, or when one switches from one to the other?

So what will history make of this whole running movement 100 years from now? 2116.  Imagine the changes ahead.  Will the act of running still hold forth in the 22nd century filling lives with purpose and pleasure?  Or will it have gradually faded to join the myriad of other such booms gone bust?

“They did what? Ran how far? For what?  That was Craaayzeeey!”

(more…)

THE DRIP, DRIP, DRIP OF SCANDAL

WADA Independent Commission Report 2015
WADA Independent Commission Report 2015

So on the same day that WADA unanimously declares Kenya non-compliant with its anti-doping code, thereby threatening the East African running juggernaut with exclusion from this summer’s Rio Olympics (along with Russia, which was also declared non-compliant last November) we also have word that  organizers of the 2020 Tokyo Olympic bid were alleged to have made a “seven-figure payment” to an account controlled by the son of former IAAF President Lamine Diack, who, himself,  was arrested last year by French authorities on corruption and money laundering charges, over allegations he took payments for deferring sanctions against Russian drugs cheaters.  And the beat just goes on and on and on.

Sebastion Coe Rebuilding Trust
IAAF President Sebastian Coe (Getty Images)

I don’t know, maybe Sebastian Coe is the IAAF’s last best chance.  But these latest two bombshells make you wonder if anyone involved in this filthy sport can truly be the cleansing agent needed to disinfect the body politic?

And perhaps that reflects how bad the situation really is. Looking at the entirety of the WADA Independent Commission report, along with Commission chair Dick Pound’s subsequent public support for Seb Coe as new IAAF president, the only judgement one can make is that there seems to be little appetite for the kind of wholesale reconstruction that these reports suggest is necessary.  (more…)

POP GOES THE BOOM!

1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.
1972 Olympic Marathon gold medalist Frank Shorter.

The running boom is over, and you can blame the millennials.  So says an article in the Wall Street Journal quoting statistics from, among others, Running USA showing a significant slide in running event participation from the peak of 19 million in 2013 to 17 million in 2015. 

With running being one of the few recession-proof industries during the height of the 2008 Great Recession, a headline like this and its supporting statistics might come as a shock to some.  But it was only a matter of time before this bubble burst, too.

 The oldest of the baby boomers are now 70 and beginning the long generational bleed out. Gen Y is still involved, but the Miilenials are off into something else, reflecting the natural rebellion one generation mounts against their elders – “this isn’t music!” But in this case it’s also a consequence of teaching an entire generation not to compete, drilling into their skulls the idea that every one of them is special and a winner, giving them all medals for showing up, and leading them to believe that 60% of them deserve an A for “just being you!” before shoving them out into a decidedly Darwinian world. Oops, I guess we didn’t prepare them very well. 

Manifest Destiny
Manifest Destiny

What’s particularly amazing about this is America was built on competition. From the hand-over-fist pioneer spirit that drove Manifest Destiny westward (not saying it was a good or moral thing, just noting a hard-charging, can-do national spirit), to the high-risk, big-reward entrepreneurial spirit that created the greatest economic engine in history, America thrived on competition. 

I remember being at a Super Bowl party one year, and explaining to a German friend how USA Today would rank the commercials in tomorrow’s paper, not just not write about the game. Her reply was a tersely Teutonic, “everything with you Americans is competition.” And I had to agree. “That’s how we know we’re American.  Maybe not totally self-aware, but goin’ after it with refreshing vigor.”

But sometime in the 1990s we began leveling not just the playing field, but the results’ page. Now, instead of everyone getting the same opportunity at the start and an outcome determined by individual achievement, we began engineering the same outcome for all.  Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It” inferred striving, but soon simply doing became the functional equivalent of doing well. 

Everyone is a winnerThese days, everything has to be social and protected and non-competitive until the inevitable softening begins to show.  But rather than do something about it, we began to salute what we had with plus-size models and wider coffins. Finally, competition is viewed as a destructive force.  Only then do we begin to see how a backlash can form, leading to the rise of a very unconventional candidate who trumpets a return to a greatness now gone. 

But these are the sweeps of history at play, the larger changes that only become apparent after they show up as data points. 

For the Baby Boom generation running toward self-fulfillment was in its own way a backlash against the sit-ins and marches they staged during their college days when they thought they could change society at-large. In the wake of their fractured idealism they were shown a new path by Frank Shorter at the ’72 Olympic Marathon in Munich. 

Inspired by Shorter, and informed by new medical studies led by Ken Cooper in Dallas, the Boomers began working on the one thing they had any chance of changing, themselves. But in reducing the fight to an internal one-on-one battle, in their aggregate the generation did in fact help change the world. 

And now the world is changing again as time first begins to march, then trot, then run flat out until it’s away and gone. 

END

CITIUS, ALTIUS, WHO-IUS

Hellickson Family of Hinckley, Oh. awaiting arrival of Katey
Hellickson Family of Hinckley, Oh. awaiting arrival of Katey

While announcing at the finish line of last weekend’s 37th Rite Aid Cleveland Marathon, Half, and 10K I began chatting with the Hellickson family from Hinckley, Ohio who were awaiting their daughter, Katey, who was running the marathon. With their signs and enthusiasm the Hellicksons rooted for all the runners who came across the line, and it got me to thinking.

Endlessly we’ve been told that running is a participation-based sport rather than spectator-friendly one. But those who grew up in the first running boom know full well that running had a tremendous spectator base when local heroes were the stars of the sport. Only through the last 25 years and the East African domination have we lost that thread of interest.

Rather than individual brands like Shorter, Rodgers and Salazar, we’ve been fed an endless string of East Africans who are staged anonymously to run against the clock with the aid of pace setters. But rooting for a time rather than a person is inherently less meaningful and appealing.

We saw how impactful a rooting interest can be with Meb Keflezighi’s win at the Boston Marathon in April.  And though he didn’t perform up to hopes, look at the buzz Mo Farah generated for the Virgin Money London Marathon the week before that.

Citius, altius, fortius is all well and good, but any sport has to begin with who-ius, who are you rooting for, not what are you rooting for.

Boston crowd cheers Meb's win
Boston crowd cheers Meb’s win

If Boston had been a paced time-trial there is no way Meb would have won.  And if London had not been a time-trial you wonder how differently Mo might have fared. In that sense, straight up competition allows the improbable to become possible. But more than that, the sport needs to pit Him versus Him, Her versus Her, Them versus Them. Make it personal. Wrap the audience up in the who of it all, not the what.

We see this in boxing all the time. Many of the premier lighter weight division boxers hail from Latin America. While they speak no English, it doesn’t deter the sport from generating pay-per-view interest, because the promoters actively market mano a mano competitions. And while golf is full of stats like who hits the ball farthest, the only real stat is who won the tournament? (more…)