Archive for the ‘iaaf’ Category

The third entry

Sunday, March 14th, 2010

Basketball teams talk about their home crowd as a “sixth man”, an advantage they have on the court. The biggest surprise to me about the 2010 World Indoor Championships in Doha has been Ethiopia’s third athlete in nearly all their events.

Unlike the outdoor championships and Olympics, where each country gets three entries (if qualified), the limit is two for indoors. The defending-champion “bye” doesn’t exist indoors, so there are never more than two athletes from any country in any race. But for some reason there are around 500 Ethiopian fans in the Aspire Dome every night. There was a small, vocal section for the rounds on Friday. There were three sections on Saturday, and they were chanting and cheering from the moment Meseret Defar stepped on the track until Deresse Mekonnen received his gold medal at the end of the evening. Competition isn’t due to start for the final session for another 45 minutes, but there are five sections full of Ethiopians who have been here over half an hour and have spent much of that time dancing, chanting and singing as though they were waiting for a football match and not a track meet.

They love their own team, of course, but unlike some meets with a large Ethiopian fan base (I’m thinking of the Boston Indoor Games) they’ve been more than happy to cheer athletes in events without Ethiopian entrants. They’ll clap for the high jump, chant for the hurdlers, and they’ve delayed the starts of more than one sprint race because they simply won’t be quiet for the start.

It’s not clear to me whether these fans are Ethiopian expats living and working in Qatar, or if they traveled here from Ethiopia (which is not so far away, really). Ticket prices are not steep; the primary expense of coming here is travel. Still, these fans are on the corners and in the upper deck: the cheap seats. basically. However they’re here, they’ve utterly transformed the atmosphere of the arena. This would not be the same event without them, and it would be much less than it is now.

What to watch from Doha

Monday, March 8th, 2010

I was asked last night which events I was most excited about at the upcoming World Indoor Championships. Because not all of the world’s best compete during the indoor season (e.g. Usain Bolt) and many of the events have different technical demands (e.g. 60m as opposed to 100m, both flat and hurdles) the quality of finals in Doha is likely to be more uneven than it usually is in an outdoor World Championships.

That said, there’s some really good competition on the horizon in events where the world’s best are showing up.

  • In the distance events, the women’s 1500m should be interesting. Gelete Burka is the “defending champion,” but in Valencia she was robbed of her chance to cross the line first by a doped up Russian, and in Berlin she was just robbed, period, by someone running roller derby instead of athletics. Add neighboring Bahrain’s Maryam Yusuf Jamal, gold in Berlin and silver in Valencia, and we have a world class final.
  • Bernard Lagat said in February that if he and Galen Rupp were the U.S. team for the 3,000m, they would medal. Lagat won gold in this event for Kenya in 2004, but much depends on who Kenya, Ethiopia, and hosts Qatar enter; the last two golds have gone to the Bekele brothers, and Saif Said Shaheen took silver in Moscow ‘06.
  • Ethiopia is sending Meseret Defar, the 3,000m World Record holder. Kenya is sending Vivian Cheruiyot, the 5,000m World Champion and the woman who knows best how to beat Defar. (Have I mentioned my feature about Cheruiyot and Linet Masai in the recent Running Times?)

Outside the distances, which have to compete with the World Cross Country Championships for the best athletes, there are plenty of fantastic competitions.

  • Trey Hardee, the decathlon World Champion, will face off against Bryan Clay, the Olympic champion, in the indoor heptathlon. The multi-events at World Indoors, unlike the rest of the events, are by invitation only, and the IAAF gets the best eight multi-eventers available for a top-class competition.
  • Christian Cantwell wants to win a third shot put indoor championship, something nobody has ever done before. He also wants the world record. He’ll have to throw over Tomasz Majewski of Poland to do either.
  • The women’s 60m hurdles has more athletes at near-parity than any other event I can think of. Lolo Jones, Priscilla Lopes-Schliep, and Damu Cherry all have a shot; so would Jessica Ennis, but she’s doing the pentathlon.

Unlike Valencia, where the track was fit inside the bowl of an indoor velodrome and therefore produced very dramatic and distinctive images, I have no idea what to expect of the inside of the Aspire Dome. More like the Tyson Center in Arkansas, the B.U. track, or what?

Doha is GMT+3, so they are eight hours earlier than U.S. Eastern time and eleven hours ahead of Pacific time. This means most evening sessions in Doha will be over before noon in the U.S. I’m not sure I’m looking forward to that part.

Coming attractions

Friday, January 22nd, 2010

A few notes on coming assignments while I struggle to find time to complete other thoughts:

  • I’ll be at the Millrose Games a week from today, January 29th.
  • I’ll also be at the Boston Indoor Games on the 6th of February.
  • Capping that, I’ll be at the IAAF World Indoor Championships in Doha in early March, including the IAAF council meeting immediately following. (Fear not, I am in no danger of being given any responsibilities not involving data.)

So far, I haven’t been able to justify the trip to Albuquerque for the USATF Indoor meet, and the NCAA indoor meet, while long a favorite of mine, conflicts with World Indoors.

Athlete of the Year Finalists

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

The IAAF announced the five men and five women who are finalists for the Athletes of the Year this week. You’ll recall that voters were asked to nominate three names, with no restriction on which three (I could have nominated myself) and those were used to select the five finalists.

My male nominees did pretty well, with all three of them making the final five. I named Usain Bolt (how could anyone not?), Kenenisa Bekele, and Steven Hooker. I reasoned that I should limit the pool to Berlin champions and other World Champions (e.g. World Cross) and the major marathon winners. Bekele I named because of his 5,000m/10,000m double in Berlin, a difficult double to manage.

Hooker got the nod partly for the incredible drama of his win in Berlin, but there were other dramatic wins in Berlin. Hooker also had a very impressive indoor season, though, including near-World-Record winning vaults in New York and Boston, and to add to that he’s a great interview and very helpful to the press. Athletes take note: it does pay off.

(The other two finalists are Tyson Gay, who would have had the best 100m season in history if he hadn’t shared it with Usain Bolt, and javelin World Champion Andreas Thorkildsen.)

My nominees on the women’s side were less successful. Only one of my nominees, Poland’s World Record-setting World Champion hammer thrower Anita Wlodarczyk, was a finalist; the other four finalists are Yelena Isinbayeva (yawn), Sanya Richards, Valerie Vili and Blanka Vlasic.

I also nominated Allyson Felix, who like Gay had a very impressive season. Like Richards, Felix won an individual World Championship in Berlin (200m for Felix, 400m for Richards) plus a relay gold (both ran the 4×400m) but unlike Richards, Felix was winning her third consecutive World Championship, and I still think that counts for something.

I also went for a long shot and nominated Linet Masai. Masai’s 10,000m World Championship has been tainted by the bungled officiating at the start, but it was important just the same in breaking the near-total dominance the Ethiopian women have held over the long distance events in the last decade. Furthermore, Masai beat the world record holder in New York in May in an astounding race at Randall’s Island. Maybe she’ll have more chances to be Athlete of the Year, but I think we’ll be remembering 2009 as the year we met Linet Masai.

Now we’ll see how the final selection goes; it will be announced at the Gala next month. The winners will be selected by a much smaller pool of which I am not part, so I’ll know nothing until the press release arrives.

Closing the books on the Berlin women’s 10,000m

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

The recent edition of the IAAF newsletter (N.B. that link is to a PDF file) included the following bald announcement under the heading “Women’s 10,000m Final – 15 August 2009 – 12th IAAF World Championships in Athletics”, after the list of athletes sanctioned for doping offenses:

Nine runners starting in the outside stagger did not cover the entire race distance.  Therefore, while their times and placings will remain the same they are not eligible for statistical purposes including Personal Bests or Season’s Bests:

…and then follows a list of the names.

As I wrote at the time, the IAAF had no good options here; the officials should have marked the lane in the first place, and failing that, should have called the race back immediately when the lane violation took place. But the statisticians will not tolerate inaction on this front, and this is a sort of signal from the statisticians that while there may have been no official notice taken at the time, they know when 10,000m have been run and when they haven’t.

The unfortunate part, in my opinion, is that this still creates the appearance that it’s the athletes who screwed up. And while they contributed (they could have remained in their stagger even without the markings), final responsibility still has to go to the officials.

Athlete of the Year

Wednesday, October 21st, 2009

It looks like the IAAF is doing their Athlete of the Year selections a little differently this year. In the past, as I’ve noted, they presented a slate of athletes and asked their panel of judges (there are about 1,500 names on this list, of which mine is one) for male and female votes, and also solicited votes on their website; this narrowed the field to a group of three “finalists,” with a much smaller group selecting the actual winners.

This year, the process has changed in two ways. First, it appears there will be no internet vote. (N.B. there has been no announcement; it may be that the internet vote still hasn’t opened, or will be opened for the finalists only.) This is fine by me; the website results were sometimes bizarre and only counted for 30% of the weight anyway. Second, the panel has been asked to select three men and three women, but we have not been given a list to select from. We are free to nominate pretty nearly anyone we want.

I am just cynical enough to think this is the Usain Bolt effect on the Athlete of the Year. Given one vote for one male, anyone who has been paying attention would have to be insane not to vote Bolt, and competition for the other two finalists would be fierce. Given three votes, we can put one on Bolt and look for two other likely candidates. With those names in the finalists, we can say, hey, Sammy Wanjiru did win two fast marathons this year. Kenenisa Bekele did win the Woolworth Double in Berlin. Tyson Gay did retain some semblance of competition in a sprint landscape that includes Bolt.

The women’s list is much harder to come up with, not because the performances have been poor but because there have been so many good performances. Who would you nominate?

Jesse Owens Award voting

Monday, October 5th, 2009

USATF is following the lead of the IAAF this year. The IAAF has for several years included an online voting component in its Athlete of the Year selection process, with the online component making up about 10% of the decision. (Ever the optimist, I think this is meant less to minimize the opinions of true fans and more to avoid the need to rigorously police the voting against the kinds of shenanigans which are easily mounted on the web, but in the end it does make the weight of any single web vote effectively nil.)

USATF is encouraging visitors to its website to cast their votes for the Jesse Owens Award, and like the IAAF, they are giving the internet vote 10% of the total weight.

For the second year, I’m a panel voter for the Owens Award, but I intend to vote on the website as well, and I encourage you to do the same.

I’m voting twice because I am, as I’ve often explained, a “fan with a notebook,” and this situation gives me the chance to vote both sides of that personality. I can cast a “fan vote” on the website for the athletes I identify with most, and then cast my “panel vote” as a more dispassionate judge, if such a thing actually exists. (As a runner, I have to be comfortable with the idea of striving for a perfection I know I can never reach.)

What really happened in that 10,000m final?

Sunday, August 16th, 2009

There are some races which just won’t die. The protests surrounding the 1992 Barcelona Olympic men’s 10,000m final lasted for days before Skah finally collected his medal (to jeers). It looks like the women’s 10,000m here in Berlin may be just as complicated.

Here’s the situation: Linet Masai crosses the line first, ending an Ethiopian major-championship streak in this event going back to 1999 and winning Kenya’s first medal since that year. The results are published showing Meseret Defar in third, then abruptly withdrawn again. Later, they are republished to show Defar in fifth.

Meanwhile, those watching the video are chattering about the start. As is traditional, several of the starters were put in an outside start, expected to stay outside lane 4 until crossing a “break line” at the top of the backstretch. Normally, however, this “alley” is marked with small cones or flags; last night there were no markers, nor was the break line marked. The athletes starting on the outside broke for the rail less than 50m in to the race, and took the head of the pack.

If everything had been done by the book, those athletes–including Masai–would have been disqualified. But everything wasn’t done by the book; the alley was unmarked. Officials, apparently, decided to do nothing. The Ethiopian press, this morning, was fuming that the Ethiopian team officials declined to protest the results on the basis of the start; such a protest would have DQed Masai and Momanyi, the fourth-place finisher, and given Ethiopia a sweep of the medals.

I was speculating that if assassinating an Austrian archduke in Serbia could cause Germany to declare war on France, perhaps some missing lane cones could spark an Ethiopia/Kenya war if everything went wrong. We also wondered if the steeplechase barrier crew from Eugene was running the 10,000m start. But what options were left? Disqualify a third of the race, including the apparent winner? Or tell three Ethiopians that they are getting lesser medals (and lesser prize money) because they were beaten by two Kenyans who ran a shorter race?

The athletes should have been called back for a restart the moment the outside alley broke for the rail. When that opportunity was lost, there were no good options remaining.

Berlin starts tomorrow

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I had dinner with the IAAF.org team last night, and we checked out our positions in the media tribune this morning. The stadium is, of course, gorgeous, an imposing classical temple from the outside, a soaring modern bowl on the inside. The royal blue track surface colors the whole venue.

We will be encouraging readers of the IAAF.org competition blog to submit comments and questions. I’ll promote some to the front page and answer them on the fly if things aren’t too busy; I may also answer questions without posting the question itself. I’m not sure yet how quickly I’ll be able to check Twitter.

Interesting news over the last week:

  • The IAAF Congress passed a false start rule (or, more accurately, a no-false-starts rule.) I understand why the athletes complain–sometimes you just twitch–but there’s nothing that kills the drama of a sprint final like three or four false starts or so.
  • I’m reading now that the World Cross is going to become biennial. This might be pragmatic but I don’t like it.
  • The Jamaicans tried to withdraw four athletes. Then they withdrew the withdrawl, but only because Diack asked them. Honestly, even the Kenyan federation isn’t that pig-headed: when they yank a top athlete off their team, it’s done months in advance and the replacement is nearly as good. Obviously if Team USA wants to continue global domination, the forward-thinking route is for USATF to become more opaque and arbitrary in order to keep up with the Jamaicans and the Kenyans. (I’m joking, of course.)
  • I can understand that an athlete who’s been injured as long as Paula Radcliffe might want a shakedown race before a championship-level marathon. I’m not sure why she chose a half-marathon one week before Berlin, though. A six-hour time change and, well, a half-marathon with only six days of recovery? Kara Goucher’s chances are looking better and better. (Mikitenko pulling out doesn’t hurt, either.)
  • I tried to go to the Usain Bolt press conference yesterday, but I got bad directions online and couldn’t find the venue in time. Finding one’s way around in this city is like navigating by waves on the ocean; even Google’s maps show streets going where the satellite photos clearly show buildings (and buildings where there currently are none).
  • The Local Organizing Committee is using the most underwhelming tag line in marketing history as the motto of the Championships: “Have a Good Time.” Seriously, that’s it. We asked one of their media staffers about it last night (after the beer but before the ouzo–long story) and he refused to offer his own opinion (good man) but did say it was chosen by a market research firm, which should tell us everything we need to know.

I’ve entered the Media Race, which is on Monday. Rumor has it that Wilson Kipketer is running, and saying he wants to run sub-1:50.

Berlin

Thursday, August 6th, 2009

I’ve been too busy recently to comment on the pre-Berlin news; in fact, I generally still am, even though I’m seeing some stuff I wish someone would pick up on. (For example, the IAAF sent a press release today about qualifying for the World Athletics Final in Greece, and I did a quick skim of the current rankings. The U.S. women are really getting it done in the middle distances; they’re all over the top 5 in the 800m and 1,500m, and Jen Rhines is #2 in the 5,000m.)

I hope to have more notes from Berlin, but be aware of these sites:

  • I’ll be writing the “competition blog” on berlin.iaaf.org. Pre-meet discussion suggested that readers will be able to submit comments and questions for me to “promote” to the blog page as well, so if this is true it will be much more interactive than previous events.
  • I will have articles on the distance events on the Running Times website.
  • If there’s anything too short for here and too offbeat for other venues, it may wind up on Twitter. (The IAAF competition blog may also be bridged to Twitter, but I’m not sure how many of these plans are actually happening.)