Tag: USATF

WHEN NECESSARY ISN’T NECESSARILY RIGHT

Sometimes something might not necessarily be right in one sense, and yet be necessary just the same in another. That seems to be the grounding principle being applied in Doha, Qatar at the 2019 IAAF World Athletics Championships.

As the championships began yesterday, the extreme heat and humidity that defines that part of the world completely overwhelmed the women’s marathon to a degree that 41% of the field dropped out. The medals probably wouldn’t have changed much in another more traditional venue, as the very best runners did emerge. But contesting a marathon in ultra high heat and humidity in the middle of the night isn’t anyone’s idea of a proper test to determine the world’s best. But such are the trade offs in staging the games in a new part of the world.

We saw the same ‘not necessarily right, but necessary’ ethic being applied before the games as well when qualified athletes like two-time Olympic 1500 meter medalist Nick Willis of New Zealand were substituted out for unqualified athletes from countries without representation.

In both cases, staging and participation, something was given up on the high-end in order to spread the base at the low end. It’s not necessarily right in the sense that athletics is supposedly pure in its goal – citius, altius, fortius irrespective of skin color, religious affiliation or national origin. This is especially so at the pinnacle event in the sport.

Yet if that purity-alone metric had been applied consistently over time, women would never have been allowed to enter the arena in the first place because they would never have reached existing male-based standards.

So in order to grow the sport, trade offs in staging and participation become necessary though they aren’t necessarily right in their particular moment. Such are the hard determinations of leadership.

Or, in this case, did the IAAF (under now disgraced former prez Lamine Diack) just chase all that Qatari moolah and see all the athletes as just collateral damage? Because what really are the chances Qatar ever becomes anything other than a hotbed as opposed to a hotbed of track and field?  Empty seats tell their own tale. (more…)

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NEW OLYMPIC ENTRY STANDARDS

The entry standards for the 2020 Tokyo Olympics were released yesterday (March 10, 2019) by the 216th IAAF Council meeting in Doha, Qatar, site of this summer’s IAAF World Championships.

Across the board, 100 meters to 50K walk and field events, the standards for Tokyo 2020 are significantly stricter than for Rio 2016.  Interestingly, the 2012 standards for the London Games were generally harder than for Rio 2016, too, but slightly easier than Tokyo 2020. 

The only events that had a harder standard in 2012 than either 2016 or 2020 were the men’s triple jump where it took a hop, step, and jump of 17.20 meters to qualify for London, while only 16.85m for Rio and 17.14m to get into Tokyo 2020. Also, the men’s Hammer Throw, which took a heave of 78 meters in 2012, 77m in 2016, and 77.5m for Tokyo.

2020 Olympic Entry Standards

But the generally more stringent standards for Tokyo confirmed the changing nature of the Olympic Games as the International Olympic Committee looks for new eyeballs and sponsorships and accordingly has put the squeeze on the IAAF to reduce the number of track & field athletes at the Games.  No doubt, the landscape of what it means to be an “Olympian” continues to undergo fundamental change with the evolving nature of sports participation and viewing worldwide.  Recall how Breakdancing is making its case for Olympic inclusion for Paris 2024.

The greatest percentage change in athletics qualifying from 2016 to 2020 came in the women’s marathon where the sub-2:45 of 2016 was lowered 9.4% to sub-2:29:30 for 2020 (the ‘A” standard in 2012 was 2:37).  Besides the racewalk category, which showed a 6.51% lowering in the men’s 50K and a 5.21% tightening in the women’s 20K, the men’s Olympic Marathon standard underwent the next biggest drop from sub-2:19 in 2016 to a sub-2:11:30, representing a 5.4% thinning (the “A” standard was 2:15 in 2012).

The qualifying window for the racewalks, the marathons, and the 10,000 meters has already begun (1 January 2019) and will end on 24 May 2020. All other events begin their qualifying window on 1 May 2019.

In related news, the IAAF Council also announced in Doha fundamental changes to the Diamond League beginning in 2020.  Most dramatic was news that the 3000-meters will be the longest track event on the schedule.  What’s more, the number of DL meetings will be cut from 14 to 12 with only one meeting per week leading to a single, one-day Final, rather than the two-meets that currently end the season.  The number of contested disciplines will also be trimmed from 32 to a core 24, the same 12 for both men and women.  And the meets themselves will be trimmed from two-hours to ninety minutes.

Also, at the end of each season the IAAF will decide which are the most entertaining disciplines going forward.  One can only wonder how much longer the 5000 and 10,000 meters will last as Olympic events at this rate? That, in itself, is an entire column of thought. Imagine the Olympic legends that would never have been if the 5000 and 10,000 were never contested?

But in terms of the Olympic Marathon, based on 2018 results, and leaving aside the IAAF Ranking System, which will combine in a 50-50 percentage breakdown with the time-based standards to create the final list for Tokyo 2020 – Our friends at LetsRun.com have an excellent summary here  – Americans would have only qualified five men for the Olympic Marathon in 2020 under the new guidelines.

Galen Rupp ran 2:06 twice in 2018, winning in Prague (2:06:07) and taking fifth-place in Chicago (2:06:21).  The next best American was Jared Ward, whose 2:12:24, though outside the 2:11:30 qualifying standard, came home with a sixth-place finish from the New York City Marathon last November.

He, along with Scott Fauble of Northern Arizona Elite, four seconds behind in seventh; Shadrack Biwott in ninth-place in 2:12:51; and Chris Derrick at 2:13:08 in tenth would qualify based on a top-10 finish at any of  the six Abbott World Marathon Majors (within the qualifying period).

Runners who finish top-five in any IAAF Gold Label marathon, and top-10 at the IAAF World Championships Marathon are also deemed qualified. However, Elkanah Kibet, who ran 2:12:51 to finish 13th in Chicago would have come up short.

On the women’s side, there were ten Americans who went under the 2:29:30 entry standard in 2018 led by Amy Cragg’s 2:21:42 third-place finish in Tokyo 2018. Another nine would have qualified by finishing top-10 at World Marathon Majors, combining for a total of 19 qualified American women. (more…)

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…)

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)

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