Archive for the ‘millrose games’ Category

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.

Millrose, Hooker scares and Nelson’s MoYo

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

I covered the Millrose Games last night.

Of note: a British journalist of my acquaintance commented on the headline’s use of “scare” with a world record as the subject. (I didn’t write the headline.) I don’t have a problem with the personification (anthropomorphization?) of records, myself; in the past I’ve had them celebrate birthdays and get drivers’ licenses to illustrate age.

Also, for those who didn’t read the USATF release word for word, Adam Nelson announced that next year, when his wife has finished law school, they’re moving back to Athens, Georgia to open a yogurt shop. I guess that’s what you do with an MBA and a law degree. The name of the shop will be “MoYo”, because Nelson’s nickname as a child was “Mo”. But the name works even if you don’t know that, and even if Nelson is pulling our collective legs.

The shot put in context

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

One of the things Adam Nelson talked about in our interview was the relative importance and position of the shot put among the athletics events, particularly in America. It was particularly interesting to hear him tell this, because he has been part of the renaissance of that event in America, starting at the 2000 Olympic Trials.

I included some of his quotes in the article, most notably his observation that to break through as an event in this country, you need to be breaking records constantly (think women’s pole vault) or have “awesome competition” which is what the shot put is currently delivering.

This is a point I think is often missed. The frequency with which Nelson, Christian Cantwell and Reese Hoffa compete with each other is unprecedented, I think, even in this sport. Even an uncharitable observer will put all three of those names among the top five in the world, if not the monopolizing the top three, and they go out and deliver a veritable event summit on a very, very frequent basis. Those three threw against each other more often in 2008 than Sebastian Coe and Steve Ovett faced off in their entire careers. It’s as though Asafa Powell, Usain Bolt and Tyson Gay met eight or ten times in one season.

It also doesn’t hurt that it’s the collective that dominates, not one of the three. The men’s 400m was boring when Jeremy Wariner (or Michael Johnson before him) was winning every race he entered. When LaShawn Merritt started beating Wariner, but not on a regular basis, the 400m got a lot more interesting. Which one would win this time? Same with the shot. Cantwell and Hoffa threw long in Europe last week, Cantwell longer than Hoffa, but Hoffa’s the Olympic champion. But Cantwell’s the indoor champion. And Nelson, well, he’s Adam Nelson, he’s been the diameter of a shot away from two Olympic gold medals. Which one’s going to get a grip on a good one tomorrow night?

Did you get a little excited there? Can you see why?

I suggested, and Nelson concurred, that this really sprung from the 2000 Trials. Nelson, John Godina (since retired) and C.J. Hunter (since booted from the sport in disgrace) made the team. Kevin Toth and Andy Bloom could’ve made it. I’m forgetting at least one other name. Six guys with a legitimate chance to make the team. The drama didn’t need to be manufactured, and the crowd in Sacramento recognized that.

Now add on the event itself. The shot is the heaviest of the throwing implements, and the circle it is hurled from allows the least movement of any of the throwing events, not that the spinning used by hammer and discus throwers would help putters much. Nelson describes the event as, “I’m trying to push a 16-pound steel ball as far away from myself as possible,” but that’s the reductio ad absurdum of the shot.

He also says the shot put is the purest strength event outside powerlifting. And yet he works on more than raw strength; he works on  speed, balance, form. He doesn’t advertise himself as the strongest guy, and when you compare him to a giant like Christian Cantwell, he doesn’t look it. He does say, and I’m taking this out of context in a way which makes it sound immodest, “I’m stronger and quicker than most of the people I’ve competed against.” (Emphasis mine.)

And quicker.

It’s tempting to look at the shot put as a sort of sideshow, feats of strength to amuse us while we wait for the World’s Fastest Something-or-Other. It’s harder to look at it as half a dozen or a dozen men performing a precise little dance they have been perfecting for over a decade apiece, and try to determine how the subtleties of each performance affect the precisely measured outcome, but ultimately it’s a richer experience. And while track fans may good-naturedly refer to themselves as “nuts”, it’s the fact that this sport features over a dozen such events, each of which may be observed just as richly, that makes it so fascinating.

Adam Nelson is bigger, stronger, and probably faster than you

Wednesday, January 28th, 2009

On Monday, I sat down for an hour with Adam Nelson, the 2005 World Champion in the shot put. The first article from that interview ran this morning on the IAAF website.

Boiling an hour interview down to 1,200 words means things shrink a lot, so there’s a lot more to add which is not in that article. I’ll let you digest the story first, then start in with my notes.

Unusual winter track schedule

Saturday, December 27th, 2008

The Boston Indoor Games announced their date earlier this month. It will be later than usual: February 7. If that date looks familiar, that’s because it’s also the date of the USATF cross country championships, to be held in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC. Adding another line to the unusual spring schedule is the Millrose Games, scheduled for Friday evening, January 30.

I call this “unusual” because normally those three meets are spread over three weeks: first Boston, then Millrose the following weekend (though there have been years, earlier this decade when Millrose was Friday night and the Boston Indoor Games followed on Saturday evening). Cross country would be the third weekend, usually overlapping with the Tyson Invitational indoor meet in Arkansas (though in 2004, cross country overlapped with the men’s Olympic Marathon Trials).

It’s pretty easy to guess at why this happened. USATF scheduled their cross country meet ages ago, and date-wise, they’re not too far from where they usually are; if anything, a week early.

Millrose and the Boston Indoor Games, both put on by Mark Wetmore’s Global Athletics and Marketing group, probably had a tougher time. Global likes to dodge the NFL playoffs in order to get the full attention of the Boston sports press, but they also had to schedule Millrose in Madison Square Garden around the Knicks and the Rangers. Friday, February 6th is a Knicks game (hosting the Boston Celtics, of all teams) and Global needs time to set up and break down the Garden’s track. So January 30 it had to be, and the track will be going up in a hurry after a Kings of Leon concert in the Garden on Thursday night. (The Knicks won’t take the floor back until Monday the 2nd.)

That leaves three options for the Boston Indoor Games, none of them terribly good. They could go early, and run on January 24th; they could follow Millrose immediately on Saturday the 31st, and they could conflict with USATF on February 7th.

I’m guessing January 31st was vetoed immediately by the Global staff, considering that the consecutive-weeks schedule has been tough enough for them since Global added Millrose to their portfolio. The Reggie Lewis Center is booked for the MSTCA Relays meet from 9:30 to 3 on the 24th; this nominally leaves the evening for the Boston Indoor Games, which usually starts at 5, but two hours isn’t enough to set up for the meet, so assuming that was previously scheduled, February 7th was the only option left.

The interesting problem is what this means for the fields at the Boston Indoor Games. While the middle-distance and sprint events are unlikely to be affected, the backbone of the BIG in recent years has been record attempts at the 3,000m, 5,000m and two-mile distances by various international (often Ethiopian) stars. These athletes will be available, of course (and Commonwealth stars like Nick Willis and Steve Hooker have already been announced), but the field has generally been filled by Americans hoping to get a quick clocking in the Ethiopian slipstream. (Indeed, Shalane Flanagan’s 2007 3,000m AR was set here, signifying the start of a big year for an athlete who was known to much of the crowd from when she was an in-state high school star.)

With no World Indoor Championships this year, most distance runners will be emphasizing cross country over indoor track, vying for a spot on the U.S. team for World Cross in Amman, Jordan in March. This will probably mean a big hit for the distance fields in Boston–if not in front, then in 3rd through 6th. And possibly in crowd interest.

(For the curious, I’ll be at the Boston Indoor Games for certain, and possibly also the Millrose Games.)