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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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

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

HOW LIVE TV COULD CHANGE THE MARATHON TRIALS OUTCOME

View from 7th & Hope Street, downtown L.A.

View from 7th & Hope Street, downtown L.A.

Los Angeles, CA. – How important is live television to a sporting event? Some would argue it’s an absolute, and for the first time the U.S. Olympic Marathon Team Trials have been accorded that distinction by NBC. But with TV comes compromise. And in this case it may turn out to be an important one, though purely by chance and fortune.

As the Midwest and North East bundle up for this weekend’s big freeze, out here on the sunny west coast its just the opposite. Here temperatures are expected to ramp up toward 80°F (27c). And with the men’s Trials kicking off at 10:06 a.m. Pacific time, followed by the women at 10:22, temperatures two hours later at noon will be 79°F,  very hot by marathon standards.

However, if the races started at 7 a.m. like tomorrow’s Skechers Performance LA Marathon will, the temperature would read a still tender 52° (11c) and will only be 64°F (18c) two hours later. If not perfect, that spread would be pretty, pretty, pretty good (Larry David reference).

But for live television you can’t start a sporting event on the network before noon on the East Coast. So the give-and-take of live television means that we may well see the make-up of the Rio Olympic team be different just because of that three hour difference in start time. Of course, the weather in Rio in August will be warm and humid, so maybe this is a good break after all.

And that, my friends, is how life in the big commercial pool of professional sports works. Maybe one day we’ll be able to dome the stadium and pump in the weather we like. Till then, don’t forget your sun block, and enjoy the show.

(Posted with apologies to our Midwest and Northeast friends for gloating).

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DESI GOING FOR THE WIN IN LA TRIALS

Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Desi tired of 2nd place, (2011 Boston)

Los Angeles, CA. — There’s a whole different vibe to an Olympic Trials race, because by its very nature it is not a final, but a prelim. Top three is a win no matter how you slice it because that’s the goal, to determine the team going to the Olympic Games.  And yet for some the win is very important. This year in Los Angeles in the women’s Olympic Marathon Team Trials race 2012 Trials runner-up Desi Linden has made no secret that her goal is to break the tape first.

“Thanks for mentioning all my second-place finishes,” Desi quipped after USATF’s Jill Geer introduced Desi at the press conference yesterday at the J.W. Marriott Hotel at LA Live with a list of her accomplishments, including second place in Boston 2011,  runner-up at the Trials 2012 in Houston.

“Hopefully this will be the breakthrough race where I can break the tape and get a win.”

Both Desi and Luke Puskedra, the other featured athlete at the kick-off presser that included Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti, USATF CEO Max Siegel, and Conqur Endurance Group CEO Tracy Russell, agreed with Desi that what it would take the ability to close well, handling that last 10k to win the race and make the team. Not hanging on, but closing well.

“You need to be ready for everything,” said the 6’4” Luke, whose 2:10:24 in Chicago last fall made him the fastest American of 2015 in the marathon.  “Even if someone goes early, it will take a 2:08 effort even if not a 2:08 time in the heat.”

Trials’ racing is different. I remember the 1984 Olympic track & field trials where Craig Virgin came into the meet with a bit of a knee injury.  Yet he pressed the pace in the 10,000m final, before coming in second to the late Paul Cummings of Utah 28:02 to 27:59. Afterwards I asked Craig why he pushed the pace when he was less than 100%.  And he said, “because I only wanted someone who was a peer to beat me. I didn’t want the pace to be slow, like 29 minutes where a bunch of people who normally couldn’t beat me might be in the position to do so.”

Pfitz nips Al in Buffalo `84

Pfitz edges Salazar in Buffalo Trials `84

At the 1984 Marathon Trials in Buffalo, New York Pete Pfitzinger opened a good lead in the second half. Then Alberto Salazar came and caught him. I was in the lead moto calling that final sprint. “They’re saving nothing for Los Angeles, they’re going for the win! They’re going for the win.”

Things get heated. Athletes are competitors.

And in Houston 2012 Ryan Hall dropped it into high gear right from the start on a chilly ideal racing day. Boom!  4:50 out the door! How do you do! 1:03:25 halfway.  I talked to Josh Cox yesterday who is agenting these days, and he recalled, ‘they took off at 2:06 pace. We were in the second pack around 2:08:30 pace. But we had no choice. You had to be in the in the second pack, cause we realized only two of those guys up front were gonna make it all the way through. So you had to win that second pack race if we wanted to make the team.”

Now, it didn’t turn out that way as Meb Keflezighi went by Ryan at 25 miles, and Abdi Abdirahman held off Dathan Ritzenhein for third.  But that’s the kind of mentality you have to have in a Trials race.

There’s a race for victory, and then there’s a race for third. But Desi has put it out there, after the disappointment of having to step off the Olympic Marathon course in London 2012 after two miles because of an injury, she’s here in Los Angeles going for her second team, but also the National title that will attend it.

“She’s saving nothing for Rio!  She’s going for the win! She’s going for the win!”

And we wish her well (along with all the others)

END

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