Archive for the ‘usatf’ Category

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.

Jesse Owens Award: How I voted

Sunday, October 25th, 2009

I have a window here where I can mention my votes for the Jesse Owens award (and my reasoning) without being tempted to make it look like I voted for the winners (we don’t know them yet), or trying to change your minds about how to vote (because voting is now closed).

As I mentioned, I voted twice, once online like everyone else, and once in the journalists poll. (I’m still tickled to be asked to participate in these things, and a little distressed that our pool of “journalists” is so small they need to include me in order to get enough voters.) I used my online vote as a “sentimental” vote for the ones I liked most, or identified with most; the official vote went to the athletes I thought had best earned the award as it is described with their competitive results in 2009.

So that latter vote went to Tyson Gay and Allyson Felix. Felix was a tough choice over Sanya Richards; both athletes were double World Champions, winning individual events and running a leg on the 4×400m relay. Felix, however, delivered her third consecutive 200m championship, a truly historic accomplishment considering she was facing down two-time Olympic champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. I might have considered Carmelita Jeter with those two had she won the World title as well as her undeniably fast late-season times, but Felix and Richards came through in the big show, and I still think that counts for a lot.

You’d think that would put me off Tyson Gay, particularly with Christian Cantwell and Trey Hardee on the nomination list, but I give Gay a tremendous amount of credit for attitude and American Records. Like Jeter, Gay ran phenomenal marks late in the season, but I really voted for Tyson because he never once used Usain Bolt as an excuse. He ran hurt, and still ran faster than anyone other than Bolt ever has. He faced off with the most dominant sprinter in history and gave the best he had to make the races real races and not walkovers for Bolt. I think that effort deserves to be rewarded.

On the website, I cast my women’s vote for Jenny Barringer. Shalane Flanagan and Kara Goucher are great athletes, and the runs they’ve had in the past three years have been tremendous, but I have a suspicion that Jenny Barringer is the second coming of Lynn Jennings. (Or, more likely, the first coming of Jenny Barringer; she may be completely without precedent.) Nominally a steeplechaser, she ran PRs from 1,500m to 5,000m (including becoming the first of three–THREE–American women sub-4 at the shorter distance this year), dismantled a series of quality fields in the NCAA track championships, and is probably going to dominate the NCAA cross country meet this fall in a way no American woman has since Flanagan… and Goucher. Get on the Barringer train now, because she’s acting like she’s just getting started.

I don’t actually remember how I used my online vote for men. It may have gone to Christian Cantwell, who took the shot put gold back for the USA in a thrilling competition in Berlin, but it may also have been Trey Hardee, who put together one of the most dominating decathlons I’ve seen from an American in Berlin, and made it look easy despite his relative inexperience. The story at the U.S. championships was that with Olympic champion Bryan Clay out, the U.S. team in Berlin would be weak, but coming out of Berlin it actually looks like the Hardee/Clay duel in 2011 may be more interesting than anything that happens in Daegu–unless, of course, they both arrive in Daegu healthy and can deliver the way they both did in the ‘08 and ‘09 global competitions.

So that’s how I voted. We’ll see in December if I voted with the majorities.

(I’m still interested in hearing thoughts on the Athlete of the Year balloting–assuming Usain Bolt gets one vote, who do the other two go to?)

Update, November 19: Gay won, Felix did not. Here’s the announcement.

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.)

Berlin starts tomorrow

Friday, August 14th, 2009

I had dinner with the 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 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.

Steeple barriers: safety or fairness?

Sunday, June 28th, 2009

(My stories from Day Two and Day Three are online. It’s been busy here.)

The buzz in Eugene since yesterday evening has been about Nicole Bush. The runner-up at the NCAA women’s steeplechase, from Michigan State, Bush finished third in her heat on Friday evening and was visibly limping afterward. This wasn’t odd–several of the women were limping, and several including co-favorite Jenny Barringer told officials and reporters that the water barrier was at 36 inches (the men’s height), not 30 inches (the women’s height.)

Bush, when asked, told David Monti of Race Results Weekly that it “might be” an ankle injury. Turns out she broke her foot, which makes her both more impressive (she finished a steeplechase on a broken foot? And finished third?) and all the more tragic (a healthy Bush might have contended for the third spot on the World Championships team, and now she may not even be running again by Berlin).

It’s hard not to get a little frustrated about this. Earlier this season, there was an incident in the men’s 400m hurdles at Carson where the last women’s hurdle flight was left on the track, so the men found their last flight both lower and earlier than they expected it. Now we can’t get all the women’s steeple barriers the right height.

What’s more, it was obvious after the first round of the race, when the women came off the track, that there was a problem. Jenny Barringer hits those barriers every day; she could probably tell the difference between 35 inches and 36. So what is USATF to do? They could set the barrier correctly for the second heat, giving them a safer race but a clear advantage in qualifying and an utter mess for selecting the final. Or they could leave it as is, risking more injuries but giving both heats the same disadvantage. They apparently chose the latter (to be fair, they didn’t know Bush was injured at the time) but who knows if it was the right decision.

Doug Logan made some statements to the TAFWA breakfast on Friday about accountability, transparency, and ownership of issues. I’m not sure if this is a USATF issue or an Oregon issue, but I’m curious to see if, today, someone takes ownership of the issue and creates some transparency around those steeplechase rounds. It’s an unfortunate situation with lots of losers and no clear villians.

Update: The Register Guard is all over the story, of course. They say it’s a USATF issue, and Logan is in accept-and-apologize mode. And they quote Kara June on the same safety-or-fairness question. Well done, R-G.

Yesterday’s work

Friday, June 26th, 2009

Here’s my story about Day 1 of the USATF Championships. I’m hoping that was just warmup.

Rumbles about the future

Friday, June 26th, 2009

This year’s TAFWA (Track and Field Writers of America) breakfast was the longest I’ve ever attended, but it included presentations from three top USATF officials, five of the six runners who made the 10,000m team for Berlin last night, and a few words from Alberto Salazar, not to mention the annual awards presentations. I’ll attempt to have a better report on soon, but there were two bits I found particularly interesting.

First, Doug Logan talking about the new Nike deal for USATF described the athlete support section in a way which reminded me strongly of Logan’s old job at MLS. Logan is (justifiably) unhappy with the dominant role of agents and shoe-company sponsors in the sport, and claims to have a long-term plan to change how sponsorship and athlete support work in the sport, at least in this country. This deal provides a clue, as USATF is wading in to bridging the gap between collegiate competition and competent, mature professional athletes.

It’s a great selling point, because post-collegiate support was a major complaint in the Project 30 report, but it’s also likely to disappoint the shoe companies and agents because it begins the process of having all athletes essentially sponsored by the federation. This is the MLS model, where all players are contracted and paid by the league, not the teams. It’s a little like socialism in that it suppresses the open sponsorship market for athletes, and it may undercut how much the top athletes get paid, but it may also spread the available sponsorship money across a broader base of athletes, and if it works in that way it might be worth the trouble.

(As an aside, there is widespread disappointment in Eugene that many of our sport’s stars aren’t running “their” events because they have byes through to Berlin. Bernard Lagat is at least putting on a show in the 800m, but Wariner in the 200m and Tyson Gay running just one round are both wet firecrackers. Those who complain about this largely blame the agents, not the athletes. I think the real problem is that stars like Wariner and Gay aren’t going to be competing inside the live television window.)

Interesting fragment #2 came when Alberto Salazar, usually one who shuns the spotlight, followed two of his athletes to the podium and delivered a brief, apparently unscripted minute of praise for his colleague, Jerry Schumacher, and a number of other coaches around the country (Terrence Mahon was also mentioned by name). As part of this, Salazar mentioned that he thought a coach could only develop and mentor six or seven top-level athletes at once, and that he wanted to continue to attract top-flight coaches like Schumacher to Portland, each coaching a small group of developing athletes under the Oregon Track Club umbrella and support structure, as long as he could persuade Nike to keep funding it. Considering the success he and Schumacher have been having in the last few years, I tend to think this is a good idea. Questions: who’s next?

(Full disclosure: I am a nominee to be Vice President of TAFWA starting next year; the elections are happening later this year, and so far as I know there are no other nominees. Join now if you want to vote against me.)

The Preserve

Saturday, May 30th, 2009

It was a week or two ago that two different stories caught my attention. They didn’t have an obvious link, but both referenced a place: Eugene, which hosted a spectacular Olympic Trials last summer and will host the USATF Nationals next month. (Yes, I’ll be there.)

Alan Abrahamson, in his “Open Letter to Doug Logan“, had this to say about Eugene:

Eugene, Ore., is a nice-enough place; Hayward Field there is rich with tradition. So what? You and I both know you’re not going to grow the sport from Eugene. Indeed, it’s not unreasonable to argue that going back time and again to Eugene – the Olympic Trials there last summer, the nationals there in a couple weeks and again in 2011, the Trials there again in 2012 – only reinforces the image of track and field as a niche sport in an eco-cute college town when what you need is instead an electrifying presence in New York, in Chicago and especially in L.A.

Earlier this month, Ron Bellamy at Eugene’s Register Guard quoted Pre Classic race director Tom Jordan:

“For a long time, rightly or wrongly, I had the feeling that the Pre Classic was kind of the last bastion of keeping the reputation of Eugene as a track capital going,” Jordan said. “And that’s no longer the feeling at all. It’s sort of like the engine’s firing on all cylinders and we have a great potential to create a whole new generation of track fans.”

With new leadership at USA Track & Field — CEO Doug Logan — Eugene can’t assume that what it’s been in the past, or what it became last year, will be immediately understood or appreciated. Or ignore the fact that there are track fans who want to see the Trials in larger cities after they return here in 2012.

The vision that came to mind was the Svalbard Global Seed Vault, the blast shelter in the Arctic permafrost created in an effort to store a sort of backup for biodiversity–samples of seeds from around the world, so species might be re-established if they are ever lost. I imagined Eugene as this sort of preserve for track, hiding away in Oregon as a shelter from which the sport might re-emerge if it’s lost elsewhere.

It’s a nice idea, but it suffers from the same problem as the seeds: if the species is lost due to a hostile environment in the outside world, don’t we need to fix the factors which caused it to die out before we try re-establishing it?

Red, white & blueprint

Saturday, April 25th, 2009

I’ve promised a few times to post the text of the story I wrote for the Boston Marathon program. With the marathon over and all the programs distributed, here’s the text. (Note that I’ve started with the copy I submitted, and may have missed some of the edits made between submission and publication. Also note that the copy deadline, in early March, meant that some of the details here are obsolete; the discussion about the 2012 Trials has progressed since the time of writing.)

Headline: Red, white, & blueprint
Subhead: When it came to staging the Olympic Trials, Boston put on a clinic

In 2008, the organizers of the Boston Marathon added something to the weekend program they had never tried before: another marathon.

The day before 35,000 runners made their way from Hopkinton to Boston, 150 women lined up for the 2008 Olympic Team Trials–Women’s Marathon. The first three finishers would represent the US and run the Olympic Marathon in Beijing in August. The race started in front of the Hynes Convention Center and, after a short loop around Beacon Hill, ran four laps of a 10-km loop which crossed over the Charles River on the Massachusetts Avenue bridge (and featured long segments on Memorial Drive in Cambridge) before returning to Boston. The finish line was the same as that for the traditional Patriots’ Day event.

“I never anticipated what it would be like to come down Boylston Street,” says Blake Russell, “with the church bells ringing and the crowd yelling like thunder.” Russell, who is coached by longtime Boston-area coach Bob Sevene and lived in the area for years before following Sevene to California, finished third in 2:32:40 and went on to place 27th in 2:33:13 in Beijing.

“Everyone was trying to out-yell the person next to them,” says Deena Kastor of Mammoth Lakes, CA, who won a bronze medal in the 2004 Athens Olympic Marathon and won the 2008 Trials in 2:29:35.

“We put those women on a whole different stage,” says Dave McGillivray, race director for both marathons.

Boston in fifteen terse paragraphs

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

I had actually considered not going to USATF Indoors, but I got an assignment. Here’s the result.

Running USA, of course, is only interested in distance runners. The schedule placed both men’s and women’s 3,000m finals and the men’s 1,500m on Saturday, and the women’s 1,500m on Sunday, for reasons beyond my understanding. This meant I made an extra trip from Amherst to Boston and back on Sunday to watch one race. I grumbled a bit about this to myself, but really the problem was the narrow scope of the assignment and nothing else.

(The trip wasn’t wasted, of course, because I did get to watch the 800m finals, which were pretty cool if not terribly competitive; I’m going to be interested to see what Katie Waits does in the outdoor season. And also, the men’s shot put final, which for the first time since I started paying attention to the event was won by someone not named Nelson, Godina, Hoffa or Cantwell. In fact, I think there’s a pretty decent corps of young putters out there ready to take over.)

I filed another story this weekend, a longer-term project for the Boston Marathon program. Due to its relatively-limited availability, I’ll post it here after the marathon in April.