Tag: USATF

OLYMPIC MARATHON QUALIFYING STANDARD STILL UNKNOWN

With the calendar’s turn to 2019, we have entered the year-plus long buildup to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. Along that road are the U.S. Olympic Team Trials, both marathon, and track & field, with the marathon trials in Atlanta up first in February 2020. The Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiled their Trials’ course layout just last week.

However, a new twist to Olympic and World Championships qualifying was introduced in November 2017 when IAAF announced its new World Rankings System. The idea was to make the sport more accessible to the public and to encourage more head-to-head competitions among the top-ranked athletes of the sport.

“For the first time in the sport’s history, athletes, media and fans will have a clear understanding of the competitions from the world through to global events, allowing them to follow a logical season-long path to the pinnacle of athletics’ top two competitions,” the IAAF said back in 2017.

In the new ranking system, every performance by an athlete in an international or national competition will be translated into a score, based on the IAAF scoring table, with the level of competitions also being graded.  The Olympics and World Championships will garner the most points and national championships the fewest.  The best five performances will be totaled and the average will be the athlete’s ranking score in his/her event. There are some other tweaks, but that’s essentially how it will work.

Though there is a consensus belief that a credible world rankings system is long overdue in Athletics, not everyone found the new system to their liking, which is understandable.  Among others, the North American, Central American and the Caribbean Championships (NACAC), one of the strongest member associations in the IAAF, took issue. “Understanding the system in the athletics community is limited, and on critical points, there are widely disparate views about fairness and viability of the system.”

In response to this and other reactions to the ranking system, the IAAF pulled its use as a qualifying factor for the 2019 World Championships in Doha, Qatar but plan to continue its use for Tokyo 2020/

Now, as we await the first big races of 2019 in the United States at the Houston Marathon and Half Marathon this weekend, I received the following email message.  (more…)

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AN INTERVIEW WITH PHEIDIPPIDES

With the Atlanta Track Club and USATF unveiling a map of the 2020 U. S. Team Trials Marathon course, I thought it might be a good time to reconnect (tongue firmly in cheek) with history’s original Marathoner, the one and only Pheidippides.

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Pheidippides in Athens

First, a little background.

Fame is a bitch! Take, take, take, that’s all she does (and why is fame a ‘she’, anyway?) But if fame is a handful, can you imagine trying to uphold the status of a legend?  

As has been proven time and time again, once the public gets a hold of you there’s a stiff price to be paid for any of the benefits that might come with such renown. All you have to do is ask Caesar, Lincoln, Elvis, JFK, Marilyn Monroe, John Lennon, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix or Michael Jackson, all of whom died of fame. So, you either nip such fame in the bud, like Dave Chappell, or find a way to accommodate it, because down that road has come many a man’s (woman’s) ruin. 

Take the case of Pheidippides, the legendary Greek messenger sent from the plains of Marathon to the city of Athens to tell the tale of the great military victory over the invading force from Persia in 492 B.C.  

Out of that single 40k run has come not only an Olympic event – and the Trials that precede it – but an entire industry, as well, as hundreds of such events are staged annually in cities worldwide for millions of avid runners. 

Yet in the case of Pheidippides and the Marathon, it took two and a half millennia for that history to finally come to pass.  That’s what happens when the first guy who does it dies. Takes a certain amount of fortitude for the next guy to step up. 

But back in 492 B.C. Pheidippides was no myth. He had a family and friends and people he worked with. Then, look what happened, one poorly paced run and he was marked throughout history. 

Being a day-runner, or herald – as it was then called – he must have been right behind the front lines while the actual battle against the Persians was raging. Then, when the tide turned in favor of the defending Athenians, he was called for what would become his historic assignment.

“Hey, you, Pheidippides. We need you to run back to Athens tell them we’re OK out here. Got it?  Tell them it’s good news. But you gotta hustle.”

Maybe his commanding officer didn’t know Pheidippides had already run over 250k to Sparta and back looking for reinforcements a few days earlier. Notwithstanding, the guy answered the call and ran back to Athens, announcing, “Rejoice we conquer!” before succumbing to his efforts. 

But as the late radio broadcast legend Paul Harvey used to say, there was more to The Rest of the Story.  And now we have The Man himself to ask. 

There have been mystical beings in every age, Highlander types, who lived beyond their eras. And who knew, Pheidippides was one himself? (more…)

VIN LANANNA ELECTED USATF PREZ. DOES IT REALLY MATTER?

Today, in Orlando, Florida Coach Vin Lananna was elected president of USATF, the governing body of athletics in the USA, when the other candidate for the office, three-time Olympic champion Jackie Joyner-Kersee of East St. Louis, Illinois, withdrew her candidacy.  Both were among the finest candidates for the office the organization has ever had.  Both had risen to the top in their respective fields, she in athletics, he in coaching. Both are honorable people, and both have a deep and abiding love for the sport. Yet, even as the USATF family met in Orlando for its annual meeting to vote on a new leader, the question should at least be asked, is this election simply a myopic whistling past the graveyard given all the deeply cynical drug and corruption charges coming out of so many other brother and sister federations in sport worldwide?

The question of existential relevance is hardly inappropriate. Today, former Chicago Tribune writer Phil Hersh suggested a similar notion: Rot at the Core Threatens Future of Olympics.  And with the release of yet another damning investigative film by Germany’s ARD TV in conjunction with French newspaper Le Monde, Doping – Top Secret: The Protection Racket that uncovered corruption at the very highest levels of governance of the sport, it seems that for many in positions of authority the corridors of power are only greased avenues for bribery and extortion schemes. How can simply replacing the head person at USATF or even in IAAF home office really matter anymore?

There are 200+ federations that make up the IAAF. These are political fiefdoms that are run by fiat, and exist with all but no oversight, nationally or internationally.  If Washington, Jefferson, or Adams were around and involved in this sport, one might assume a Declaration of some sort might well be in preparation.  And it isn’t even that people believe in the system.  Instead they have absorbed it and learned to use it to their best interests.  I have no doubt that Jackie and Vin have the best interest of the sport as their animating mission. But that makes them the outlier in this international cabal, if inquiry and evidence be any judge. (more…)

HOW TO GO METRIC

2 1/2 months years old
2 1/2 months years old

Ever notice how when you ask new moms how old their babies are they always say 2 1/2 months, or six months, or 13 months, whatever? Until kids reach two years we always refer to their age in months.

Well, why did we get away from that? In the Bible Methuselah was said to be 969 years old. But like so many things that get a little lost in translation over time, they might have been using months back then, but you know how that works.  As time went on the story got built up in barrooms and herding conventions, and next thing you know people started believing the guy had actually lived to nearly a thousand years when in fact he was really about 80 (12 months X 80 = 960).

When you consider that life expectancy in north America in 1776 was 37 years, what do you think it was in biblical times? You were lucky to get out of your teens. So back then 80 might as well have been a thousand far as they saw it.

So getting back to using months for age in today’s world means you could drive at 200 (give or take, since 192 months is 16 years). You’d vote at 250, reach Social Security age at 800, you get the idea.

Let’s not stop there, though.  We ought to weigh ourselves in ounces and say our height in inches. Obesity wouldn’t seem so bad if even 150 pounds would turn into 2400 ounces.  Or just maybe, let’s go all the way to metric once and for all. In fact, that might be how to get track & field popular again, or at least make it a useful tool. (more…)

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 SYMMONDS DILEMMA

Nick Symmonds heading to Beijing? Credit: Micah Drew, Boise
Will Nick Symmonds be Smiling in Beijing?   Photo credit: Micah Drew, Boise Weekly

Here’s the problem. When an endemic sponsor — in this case Nike — is signed to a generation long contract as the footwear and apparel sponsor of your national athletics federation, there will be unintended consequences that fail to serve the best interest of one constituency or another over that period. That is the situation that currently confronts 2013 800 meter World Championships silver medalist Nick Symmonds who had until noon today to sign the USATF “Statement of Conditions” contract that attends his Team USA berth on the IAAF World Athletics Championships in Beijing, China later this month.

Symmonds, formerly a Nike athlete, is now sponsored by Brooks.  But under USATF by-laws, athletes competing at the world championships or Olympics (or other Team USA selected competitions) are prohibited from wearing non-USATF sponsored gear during “official team functions”.

As to what constitutes “official team functions” is the wording Symmonds contends is both vaguely written and in violation of his personal contract with Brooks.  USATF CEO Max Siegel has told Mr. Symmonds that if he doesn’t sign he will be replaced on the team.  And so it goes. And so we wait. (Late on August 9 Mr. Symmonds was informed he has been dropped from the team for Beijing for failure his to sign the contract.)

But with USATF signing Nike to a reported 23-year, $500 million extension as exclusive shoe and apparel sponsor for Team USA in April 2014, every athlete signed by any other shoe company finds him / herself in opposition to his/her own best interests since they will not benefit financially from the USATF deal with Nike — other than to elevate their future marketability by performing well on the stage provided. The situation is similar to the IOC generating $6 billion in sponsorship and TV rights from the Olympic Games, none of which is distributed directly to the athletes who make those Games possible and profitable.

But we must also look at the issue from the national federation’s standpoint, recalling the state of USA Track & Field over the last generation, and the job confronting Mr. Siegel when he took the CEO job three years ago. (more…)

ATHLETICS: A HOUSE ON FIRE

IMG_440106424Honolulu, Hi. —   It is easy to get lolled into a complacent repose here on the magical isle of Oahu. The rolling surf and easy trade winds loosen even the stiffest resolve, and one can forget, for the moment, the sulfurous zeitgeist wafting over the sport of athletics of late.

From the doping positives and allegations of wide-spread cheating and corruption coming out of the distance Eden of Kenya, to the hardened realpolitik of alleged payoffs to cover failed drug tests in Russia — or to secure championship site selection by the IAAF —  from the overturning of a mandate-level membership vote by a know-better USATF Board of Directors, to the potential loss of root and branch events like the 10,000, shot put, triple jump, and 200 meters on the track at the Olympics, there seems to be a sense of a house on fire on all fronts of athletics.

Maybe this is the entropy toward which any old and failed model eventuates. Maybe this is how the culture of greed and corruption loops back on itself in an ironic twist of Shakespearean delight.   In any regard, it is clear that the sport has completely lost its way.

Those in charge seem less passionate about the game than about the easy rewards that come from positions within extra-national oligarchies that lack adequate oversight and deal in the murky world of international banking.  It is why this sport is so attractive to so many of the wrong people as well as to so many great athletes and well-meaning supporters.

But there has always been the sense that the problem cannot be solved by simply rejiggering the NGB model or by replacing fallen men with more upstanding counterparts.  Though every sport has its difficulties and foibles, other successful sports have long since separated the necessary duties of governance, grass roots development and national team selection from the very different requirements of a truly professional sport.   (more…)