Sunday, March 10, 2019

First Class

In their own words: 
some of the sport's greatest stars on why they succeeded

Anniversary of First US Track and Field High School 
Hall of Fame Ceremony

Copyright 2019. Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com. All Rights Reserved.

Tonight the second class of the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame will be inducted at the New York Athletic Club.

I had the privilege of attending the inauguration of the first class one year ago at the invitation of Linda Prefontaine, who was there to speak on behalf of her brother, Steve.

Before the March 8, 2018, ceremony, I asked inductees (or their representatives) why they thought they were included in the inaugural class – what did they think it took to have been included in such august company?

The next day, as the New Balance Indoors national high school championships took place in The Armory, I asked three athletes there what they thought it would take for them to qualify for the Hall of Fame in the future.

Allyson Felix, sprints and relays
I think first and foremost it’s a love of the sport - having a true passion for it - and being dedicated and seeing the long term picture and just going after it. When I think about high school I think about having so much fun – with my friends, with my teammates – that’s what sticks out to me is those friendships and those relationships. Working together for a common goal – that’s really what sticks out.

What is the source of your drive?

A lot of it came from family. Even though my parents weren’t athletes they were hard workers who taught me never to give up and never to quit. That’s something I brought to track and field and I hope to take it into other ventures as well.

Kathy McMillan, ’76, long jump
I think first of all it’s an amazing honor and I think that what it took to get here was the right people motivating me and encouraging me to do well in high school and do well in athletics and to do well in life. It’s a lot of hard work – something that I love doing.

Mc Millan cites her brother, Alexander Jim, as an inspiration.
He played football, and I would go out and train with him. I would run with him and he would encourage me to do well and he would say that he saw a lot of talent and ability and that I would do well in track.

And also my high school coach, William Colston, encouraged me a lot, too.

Encourage young athletes to stay encouraged and to love what they do. It doesn’t have to be track and field. They can be successful in their own career.

Chandra Cheeseborough, ’77, sprints
A pure love of the sport.

I don’t think that when we participated in high school that we were looking for anything. I think that we really genuinely loved track and field. We went out every day and did our very best. We worked hard and it paid off. Now we’re reaping the fruits.

On being a member of this first class: That is so amazing! It’s something you can’t ever take away. Knowing everyone will come after us. That is such an honor and a blessing to be the first.

She was joined at the ceremony by her daughter. They (her family) are very excited that (their Mom) be honored and blessed to be recognized.

We reminisced about the 1976 Olympic Trials in Eugene, the first track and field event I ever covered, as well as that summer’s Montreal Olympic Games.

’76. I remember being the fastest 17 year old in the 100m final in Montreal.

’76. To see the fan base in Eugene was so awesome. I go back there now with my college team and it was just unreal! People were behind you whether you were from Oregon or whatever school - they were just rooting on a good performance.

Montreal. We were young and we used to get in a little trouble and the manager (Evie Dennis)  had to call our coach and get us back on track, but we had fun and I wouldn’t trade that experience for the world.”

John Dye, DyeStat.com
Perhaps the single inductee with the greatest sense of awe and wonder at his induction was 82-year-old DyeStat.com founder John Dye.

“I’m amazed just now people I’ve never met before are coming to talk to me. It’s so humbling. It blows my breath away. 30 people out of a first hundred years of high school track! It just shows what the power of the internet did – it just changed communications.

“We created an (online) community of people who were interested in high school track. I had so many kids tell me they got more publicity on DyeStat than they did in their hometown newspapers.

“(DyeStat) took an awful lot of hard work – persistence, follow through, and perseverance.

“Allyson Felix persevered – she came out of high school 15 years ago and she’s an Olympic Champion. She’s the most amazing one in my time.

“I was 60 years old before I started the website. There would never had been a Dyestat if my kids hadn’t gone out for track. I just wanted to keep track of their competition.”

Once Dye received results in Maryland for his son in high jump and his daughter in pole vault, then they wanted to know how they ranked nationally, and “DyeStat blossomed from there.”

And how did he come to choose to list the top 100 nationally?

“To make sure my kids are in it,” he laughed. His son, Derek, and daughter, Natalie, came from Japan and Germany, respectively, to be there for their father’s induction ceremony.

Dye was proud of the incentive his lists created. “It becomes the event of a lifetime when a kid comes into their own and they become excellent. It regenerates itself every year as you have new faces every year.”

“Dyestat turned the stats into stories you wanted to follow.”

Tom Newton, son of high school coach, Joe Newton
It’s about a commitment to excellence – when you commit to excellence, you can do anything. I think that’s the key to it, whether you’re a coach or an athlete.

My dad would be thrilled and honored to be here today. He would be looking down here saying, “How sweet it is.”

When you love what you do, you strive to be the best you can be no matter what.

When you look at all the great athletes that are here today, they hate losing. I would challenge any one of them to say, “Oh, I didn’t mind losing.” They hate losing, whether you’re playing cards or running track. They’re competitors, always.

Gerry Lindgren, ’64, distances
I think it takes stubbornness and pain in your heart – not physical pain, but there has to be a reason why this has to be. It comes from the bad things in your life, the things that didn’t go right. The things that make you feel you’re not as good as other people, the things that leave you feeling bad.

Home life was really, really tough. It was like living in a little Vietnam. When I had an opportunity through running to shut the door on that kind of a life and leave it behind me and just go run – I took it! The more time I was running the more time I was away from the home life. There has to be a burning desire that makes it so you have to succeed.

I was just lucky, but I’ve always thought you have to make your own luck. If you do something that no one else is willing to do, then you make your own luck.

Tina Wood, granddaughter of Frank Wykoff, sprints
Tina Wood represented her late grandfather, who was the greatest American sprinter in the period immediately before Jesse Owens.

By the time I knew him, he was done with racing and had become superintendent of public schools in special education in Los Angeles. I just remember him being a great grandpa with a roomful of awards in his house and understanding that that was pretty monumental – and that he ran with Jesse Owens. I’m sure he worked very hard.

As a kid, her dawning realization came when others would say,You know Frank Wykoff?!” – or they knew of him.

I just knew him as my grandpa. At one point he had 8 world records. I’m still learning about him and I’m very happy to be here and to represent the family.

What became of all his medals?

We donated all of his medals to USC

Gina Strachan – Jesse Owens’ granddaughter
“I got to know my grandfather very well and I think he was always humbled by any kind of recognition.

“Work ethic was #1 – that started and continued from the athletic field to his life. I think he would have thought it was the same dedication, the same perseverance, the same hard work and just plain will power to do it on the high school level and to get to a place like Ohio State.

“His relationship with Luz Long was a true and authentic friendship, and he talked about it being just that. Long wrote my grandfather a letter after the Games and before he went to war which my grandfather kept and which we shared with his son, who came to my granddad’s funeral.”

One of the highlights of Strachan’s life was lighting the Olympic cauldron at the dedication of the refurbished Berlin Olympic Stadium with none other than Ragna Long, the granddaughter-in-law of German long jumper Luz Long, silver medalist to Owens in Berlin.

“It was WONDERFUL!” exclaimed Strachan, still awed by the experience. “Wonderful, wonderful. She and I and the families have remained friends for all these years.”

“Our family is just thrilled,” she said of Owens’ induction, “and we are always humbled as to how his legacy has continued over 80 years.”

Alan Webb, 01, middle distances
I think it took a great amount of dedication and the willingness to do things that other people aren’t willing to do. I was pretty disciplined as a senior in high school – it wasn’t an instant change, but it grew on me. If you’re willing to do what it takes from a training and lifestyle standpoint as a high schooler, you will stand out. You will.

I’m going to steal a line from a Prefontaine movie and say, “The hay’s in the barn! So get out there and let the big dog eat.”

Linda Prefontaine, sister of Steve Prefontaine, ’69, distances
Steve Prefontaine did not have to go far to find an accomplished athlete in his family.

In fact, he did not have to leave the house.

His sister, Linda, was a nationally ranked racquetball player of the 1970s who came within one point of winning the national amateur title in 1978.

An outstanding athlete herself, “I get what it takes.”

“It is not normal to set a national high school 2 mile record - not normal,” she said. It takes dedication, discipline, and working harder than everyone else. If you want to be a standout, you have to put out above and beyond the maximum - and not occasionally, consistently.”

In her induction speech she said, “When he started running twice a day, and he would go out and run before the rest of us got up in the house, that was such a new thing in Coos Bay that the police actually stopped him because they thought he had been robbing someplace!

“Steve Prefontaine, as a high school senior in 1969, wrote a paper called “Involvement in Distance Running,” in which he asked a profound question.

“’Why run?’ is a question often asked. Why go out there every afternoon and beat out your brains - what does it prove? Running in itself probably won’t count for much a hundred years from now, or maybe even tomorrow. What is the logic of punishing yourself each day? Of striving to become better? More efficient? Tougher?

“The value of it is what you learn about yourself. In this sort of situation all kinds of qualities come out, things that you may not have seen in yourself before.”

Lynn Bjorklund, ’75, distances
Appreciate the blessings you have in this life.

Don’t let yesterday take up too much time today.


High School Athletes
2018 US Indoor High School National Championships

Jaqueline Gaughan – ’18, G 5000m winner
“I think those people are really driven,” she said of the 2018 inductees. “Not only are they talented but they don’t think of themselves that way. They just want to work as hard as they can – and see what they’re capable of.”

Chad Johnson – ’18, B 5000 winner, is from rural Ohio
“I’ve always loved running – I really enjoy it – I just have to work hard to get somewhere.

“All our roads are a mile long and there’s a cornfield in the middle. If I want to run a hill workout I have to travel 30 miles to find a hill,” which he does, twice a week.

His dream is to “go to the Olympics – it’s as simple as that – that’s been a dream of mine since I was a kid - that’s the ultimate goal is the Olympics.”

“It would take lot of focus,” he said. “You have to love running – I’ve never regretted a day of running.”

“I train smart not hard,” he added.

He listens to the ‘elders’ within his own family.

 “I have four older brothers who are also runners – they are always giving me advice and I take it to heart.”

Katelyn Tuohy, ’20, winner G two-mile, anchor winning distance medley, silver sprint medley
Of the high school athletes interviewed, multiple distance record holder Katelyn Tuohy would have the clearest path to a future induction ceremony, even if she stopped running today, so remarkable have been her freshman and sophomore year exploits.

Not only do you have to be a great runner but you need to have great character. Being on a relay team is a great example: you’re not just doing it for yourself, you’re doing it for your team.

Running your hardest and believing in yourself and believing in your training and knowing that no matter what you do, if you believe in your training, you can do anything.

When you run you’re doing it for a lot more than just yourself – you have a team, you have coaches, and you have family – you can’t let them down.

Being part of a team is something very special.


Katelyn Tuohy as a sophomore after anchoring her high school
Distance Medley Relay team to a national title.

photo credit: Mark Cullen/trackerati.com
Ed Grant, reporter
We’ll let 91-year old Ed Grant have the last word. For 70 years a New Jersey track and field reporter, the 91 year old Grant brought house down when he said he got the award “because I’m still here!”

He concluded, “When I’m with track people I’m with the best people in the world.”


Research Credit
Steve Underwood wrote the excellent Hall of Fame biographies for this ceremony.
I have relied on these for much of the biographical information used in this article:

Note: As this website is based in Seattle, WA, US, it’s of note locally that Washington State is well-represented tonight (March 10, 2019) with inductees Patty van Wolvelaere, hurdles, Renton High School, ’68, and Casey Carrigan, pole vault, Orting High School, ’69, both of whom made the legendary 1968 US Olympic team as high schoolers.

Friday, March 1, 2019

Crouser and Kovacs Trump Kushner and Kim

Two US Shot Putters Save the Day

by Mark Cullen

Copyright 2019. Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com. All Rights Reserved.

Wednesday could not have been much worse.

The show stopper was Michael Cohen’s testimony in front of the US House Committee on Oversight and Reform about the sitting US president, who has a shrewd scheduler and was in Vietnam hanging out with his nuclear playpen pal.

Speaking of sitting presidents, North Korea’s Kim Jong-un unwound from his 2,000 mile, 60 hour train trip by singing, “I’d ride a million miles, for one of your smiles, my Donny.”

Speaking of tone deaf, what was the US president’s son-in-law doing in the hours just  before Cohen testified? Why, Jared Kushner was in Saudi Arabia meeting with the prince - yes, that prince. 

Track and field rode to the rescue. 

Track and field?

Wednesday's saving grace was an engaging New York Times article featuring Olympic and World shot put champions, Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs, by Lindsay Crouse. 

Crouser and Kovacs are two of track and field’s most accomplished competitors, and Crouse’s article captured the warmth and mutual respect of the terrific friendship these great rivals have.

When was the last time the shot put earned coverage like this? Not since the glory days of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when Parry O’Brien and Randy Matson were on the cover of Sports Illustrated - and magazines were made of a substance produced from trees.

Crouser and Kovacs have been the two best in a deep event since Kovacs won the World title in 2015 and Crouser the Olympic title – with Kovacs winning silver – the following year in Rio. 

Crouser is throwing so far so early this year – 73’ 3¼” to win the Millrose Games on February 9 – that the world record (75’ 10 ¼") seems within his reach.

On a day when the world threatened to sink even deeper into its current quagmire, two shot putters named Crouser and Kovacs trumped Kushner and Kim and restored order. Friendship, appreciation and mutual respect nudged morals, ethics and integrity to remind us of the essential goodness of our core. Together, they righted the ship.



Ryan Crouser (right) with (l-r) Allyson Felix, Jenny Simpson, Tianna Bartoletta,
Christian Coleman and Christian Taylor at the US team press conference
prior to the 2017 London World Championships

photo credit: Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com



Joe Kovacs
after winning the shot put silver medal
at the 2017 London World Championships

photo credit: Getty Images/IAAF





Sunday, February 24, 2019

On Oscar Sunday, A Star is Born!


Super Sunday at US Indoor Nationals

As One Star is Born, Another Comes of Age

New Jersey's 16-year-old Athing Mu ran 1:23.57 to set the American Record and just miss the world best at 600m today at the US National Indoor Championships on Sunday. 

Everything about this race on Oscar Sunday had "A Star is Born" written all over it as the high schooler held off Raevyn Rogers for the win. On any other day, Rogers would have made headlines with her 1:24.88, #8 all-time.

Then Donavan Brazier stepped up to set the world best at the same distance - 1:13.77! He split a remarkable 48.09 at 400m and took down Michael Saruni's previous world best by over a second. In 2nd, Sam Ellison's 1:15.20 ranks him #9 all-time, while Kameron Jones' 1:15.32 in 3rd ranks him #12. 

In the subsequent race, Ajee Wilson narrowly missed the American 1,000m record with her 2:24.71.

Much has been made of Staten Island's Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex: its architectural beauty, its environmentally rigorous design, and its state of the art track which can expand from 6 lanes to 8. But like the Harvard indoor track before it which became a destination for those who wanted to run fast miles, how much help, exactly, does this track give?

It's not so much the fast times at the top that have my attention - Mu and Brazier were record-setters this weekend on any indoor track in the world. But in fields which Track and Field News described in some instances as "thin," there was remarkable depth of quality in the performances. 

In a tweet this afternoon, FloTrack noted that 8 performances in this meet fall in the top 15 on the world all-time lists - not bad for thin fields! It will be interesting to see how this track performs in future major championships, and to see if it becomes a destination for oh-so-fast middle distance times.

Complete results:
http://www.usatf.org/News/Young-American-middle-distance-talent-set-records,.aspx


Here is a link to my Day 1+2 report:
http://www.trackerati.com/2019/02/in-breeze.html

This report is written from Seattle.

Fast Times on a Fast Track
photo credit: Carol Coram





Saturday, February 23, 2019

In a Breeze

US Indoor Nationals Highlights
Days 1+2

*Quigley's Triumph Is Not a Surprise; Houlihan's Loss Is

*Win by Watching

*High Schoolers Shine with Two National Records

In the beautiful state of the art Ocean Breeze Track and Field Athletic Complex in Staten Island, NY, the 2019 US Indoor Track and Field competitions got underway Friday and continued with an exciting Saturday program. 

Alternate distances such as 300m, 600m, 1000m, and the two-mile are being  contested in a year with no World Indoor championships on the line. An interesting and much-debated qualifying system is being used: advancement is based on time. That is, a faster first place time in a 'slower' heat could win a national championship title outright.

That's exactly what happened in the men's two-mile when Andrew Hunter - who was placed in the "B" heat when he did not have a qualifying time - ran a meet record and world leading 8:25.29. 

Hunter stood back and watched as the "A" heat could muster only a 4:24.78 opener; Eric Avila's 8:32.41 "A" heat win gave him second place overall, and the talented and acclaimed Hunter - of whom much has been expected since his surprising decision to forego collegiate running - had won his first senior national title while watching from an unusual place: the sidelines.

What to many was the most surprising performance came when Colleen Quigley upset Bowerman Track Club teammate and 8-time national champion Shelby Houlihan in the mile. Quigley ran a magnificently paced race that, combined with an assertive acceleration with less than 600m to go, gave her a lead Houlihan could never overcome. Quigley closed with 200m splits of 34.59 - 31.09 - 29.00 to win in 4:29.47. Note that from her 3rd to 2nd to last 200m she increased her pace by 3.5 seconds.

It's surprising that Houlihan lost; it's not surprising that Quigley won. 

Quigley showed she was ready to win her first national title when she ran 9:10.75 to win the ISTAF steeplechase in Berlin last September in much the same manner. She was unbeatable in the later stages of the race and won going away by over 4 seconds to defeat Kenya's Daisy Jepkemei and move to #3 all-time US, behind only Courtney Frerichs and Emma Coburn. One could only wonder how much faster she might have run in Berlin had she been challenged more at the end; 9:05 or faster seemed a distinct possibility. 

Quigley might wish to add an open 800m to her schedule. IAAF lists her personal best as 2:16.08; today she closed in 2:09.88.

Two national high school records fell on the first two days of competition. Anna Hall set a new pentathlon record of 4302 Friday evening, taking down the previous high school best of Kendell Williams, who was in the field and won. Hall rewrote the record by a remarkable 234 points.

“[Breaking the record] was definitely in the back of my mind. I was hoping for 4400 points and fell a little short of that but, I’m still happy with how I was able to execute with the best people I’ve ever competed against.” 

Best indeed as Hall stood on the podium, a high schooler 3rd in the nation at the senior level.

Said gracious winner and Georgia graduate Kendall Williams, “Her competition today was so great and we’re really excited to have her coming to Athens. If anyone was going to break my record, I’m glad it was a baby Bulldog.” 

Meanwhile, Athing Mu of Trenton, NJ, broke Sammy Watson's 600m high school record by .9 seconds with her stellar 1:26.23. Mu now owns 3 of the top 4 600m times ever run by high schoolers. 

Possibly of greater significance is that the 16 year old led all qualifiers. Raevyn Rogers, Olivia Baker, Georganne Moline, Madeline Kopp, and Kendra Chambers will join her in Sunday's final, which is suddenly one of the most highly anticipated races of these championships.

Ryan Crouser had what is intrinsically the finest mark of the first two days. The Olympic champion's 72' 10 3/4"shot put is #10 all-time world indoors. To be close to 73' indoors begs the question of how far he can throw outdoors. The world record is 75' 8".

Vashti Cunningham won her fourth consecutive indoor US high jump title, the first woman in 50 years to do so. The 2016 World Indoor champion is aging gracefully at 21.


Complete results are at: https://results.usatf.org/

USATF's daily summary is at: http://www.usatf.org/News/Hunter-Hunts-Down-Two-Mile-Meet-Record,-World-Lead.aspx


LetsRun.com is doing its usual fine job with post-race video interviews, and these can be seen at: https://www.youtube.com/playlistlist=PLwq03wnoevG8IkjTYOSWATu4SxoL77wiC


This report is written from Seattle.

Ocean Breeze Wall Art Photos by Carol Coram, ITO, with special permission.











Tuesday, January 8, 2019

Beyond Fair Hope

by Mark Cullen

for Andrew and Tessa

Copyright 2019. Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com. All Rights Reserved.
Olympiastadion, Berlin, August 13, 2018, 12:30am
photo by Yujia Dou
In year of blessings beyond fair hope

It’s not a momentous decision to retire

It’s not kind farewells

It’s not an epic 5-week track and field trip in Europe

It’s not “Why Germany?”

It’s not Olaf and Thomas and Dave and Yujia and Michelle and Phil and Matt

It’s not French sportswriters to my left in Berlin

It’s not standing on a dais in Coos Bay with Billy and Linda

It’s not old pictures with a new friend

It’s not IAAF the night before USATF

Not Mondo Mania

It's not even “Carma”

Or Carla

Not the Weltklasse and the Van Damme at long, long last

It’s not LeBron and Robert

Not Shalane, Tshepang, or Blake

It’s not even the night of uncommon kindness at Safeco Field

It’s who was there with me

My new friends, my new neighbors

In a year of blessings beyond fair hope

These are the greatest blessings of all.


Beyond Fair Hope
Annotations

In year of blessings beyond fair hope
I could never have asked more of a year. As the good rolled in, I held my breath - time after time - and waited for the crash to come.

It didn’t.

In any single year, any one of the people and events referenced here would have been the signature highlight of a memorable year.

It’s not a momentous decision to retire
It was just another Sunday evening in March. I was at my dining room table correcting a stack of essays – something I always enjoyed. In my 41st year in education (in various incarnations: teacher, coach, athletic director), I had gone to a ¾ time contract, which meant two things: I had more flexibility for appointments, and I baked Christmas cookies for the first time in decades.

I had been working with the school on a half-time contract for the next year, and thought I might well teach for several more.

Halfway through the assignments I looked up and said, “You know what you need to do.”

To make sure, I gave myself this task: “Write down what you’re going to.”

That was easy. My future couldn’t have been clearer.

“It’s time.”

We had an inservice day the following Friday; I had decided that’s when I’d tell our Head of School. But Tuesday at lunch he sat down across from me. The Middle School principal was at the end of the table, and the Academic Dean – the one who’d been so helpful with the contract discussions – showed up moments later.

The administrative harmonic convergence was at hand.

Deep breath and I changed my life.

It’s not kind farewells
The school couldn’t have been more gracious on my way out, and at two separate events, longtime friends and colleagues Karen James and Deb Playter gave the kinds of speeches that left little doubt as to what likely would be said at my funeral. I can’t imagine two people better qualified to put the ‘fun’ back into funeral.

It’s not an epic 5-week track and field trip in Europe
This is the future I imagined.

However, the launch (first, a plumbing emergency in my house five hours before my plane was to leave – without me, as it turned out; and, as I arrived two days later, the Frankfurt airport closed and in chaos due to a security breach) wasn’t quite the joyful beginning I had in mind.

Nonetheless, after a 23-hour travel ordeal, I was in Olympiastadion in Berlin for the European Championships. Never more tired or, surprisingly, more focused, two of my articles that week soared into my top six most-widely read out of over 200. Apparently, I should write while exhausted more often.

My grand tour took me to Zurich for the Weltklasse and Brussels the next day for the Van Damme Memorial. Thank you, scheduling gods, for putting a few days between these events in 2019.
Letzigrund Stadium
Home of the Weltklasse
Zurich, Switzerland
Then, back to Berlin for the ISTAF meet and 2012 Olympic discus champion Robert Harting’s farewell. Who knew I’d encounter not only Harting but a certain US basketball player, too?

I was never more in the writing zone. In my five weeks on the road, readership for my website more than tripled, and six of my top ten articles bear the copyright date of 2018.

The last stop on my tour was the Continental Cup in Ostrava, Czech Republic, where I met with IAAF Heritage Director, Chris Turner, at the site of IAAF Hertitage's first public exhibition. We discussed how my running shoe and memorabilia collections could be helpful in telling Eugene’s track and field history at the 2021 World Championships. 

As we concluded, he said, “And I’ll be in touch regarding Doha.” There a more extensive display will be mounted in conjunction with the 2019 World Championships.

Sometimes the trip is about more than the writing.

It’s not “Why Germany?”
For a dyed-in-the-wool distance devotee from the University of Oregon, who knew that I’d take such an interest in the throws?  

I have an ongoing conversation with two of Germany’s javelin greats, 2016 Olympic Champion Thomas Rohler and 2018 World #1 Andreas Hofmann, about why Germany is the dominant throwing country in the world right now. 

“Why Germany?” became a theme of our summertime interviews.
Colin Jackson interviewing Andreas Hofmann and Thomas Rohler
Letzigrund Stadium, Zurich

August 29, 2018
It’s not Olaf and Thomas and Dave and Yujia and Michelle and Phil and Matt
The most wonderful part of this new life is, of course, the people, and these writers – and many more - enrich my life more than they know. 

It’s not French sportswriters to my left in Berlin
I didn’t get to know the French sportswriters very well, but there they were - all five of them - to my left on press row at the European Championships every night. Even though we didn’t speak much, we always acknowledged and welcomed each other as we occupied the same air space. 

It was on the last night I realized they – all easily half my age – were looking out for me. As they got ready to leave after midnight, they asked if I'd be OK. Gracious farewells, but they didn’t leave until they knew I had a stadium exit plan. I was writing “Mondo Mania” and wouldn’t leave until 2:30am, well after the trains stopped running.
With Yujia Dou
Olympiastadion, Berlin
August 13, 2018
Photo was taken by one of the French sportswriters referenced above.

As Yujia Dou is from China, three continents were represented in the creation of this image.
It’s not standing on a dais in Coos Bay with Billy and Linda
Linda Prefontaine brought Billy Mills to Coos Bay, Oregon, in October, and the 1964 Olympic 10,000m gold medalist thrilled every audience he engaged with.  I let drop that I had introduced Mills at an event in Everett, WA, in 2005, and Linda gave me the distinct honor of introducing Billy Mills in Steve Prefontaine’s hometown. 

This was not the only memorable moment brought my way by Prefontaine this year. She also invited me to accompany her to the inauguration of her brother into the National High School Track and Field Hall of Fame in New York in February. 

Livin' the dream.
http://www.trackerati.com/2018/10/choreographing-our-future.html


Billy Mills and Linda Prefontaine
Steve Prefontaine Murals
Coos Bay, OR

Linda Prefontaine introducing Billy Mills
Marshfield High School
Coos Bay, OR
















It's not old pictures with a new friend. 
The single-most time-intensive project of the year was bringing to light Joe Head's photographic treasures of a 1968 meet at the Echo Summit (CA) High Altitude Training Camp. A classic example of how the internet can not only give this historical record new life, but of how it can link two people together who otherwise would likely never have connected. 
Jim Ryun 
wins the 1500m
Echo Summit, CA
August 31, 1968
Joe Head photograph
It’s not IAAF the night before USATF
Earlier in the year I had submitted a profile of US 800m runner Drew Windle – silver medalist at the 2018 World Indoors – to IAAF. I knew they would publish it at some point, but had no idea when. After the USATF press conference in Des Moines, Iowa, the day before outdoor nationals began in June, I drove to Ames to visit my brother, Matthew, and his family. It was only after everyone had turned in for the evening that I checked my social media - and it had exploded. IAAF had published the story as their lead-in article for US nationals.

Not Mondo Mania
My friends at IAAF’s Spikes Magazine got ahold of this article and sent it out to the athletics world. Over 400 people responded to it directly, and it reached almost 600,000 people on Twitter. It was boosted by the retweet of a certain Olympic pole vault gold medalist; when Renaud Lavillenie retweets a link to your article, over 300,000 followers receive it in an instant. http://www.trackerati.com/2018/08/mondo-mania.html
Mondo Duplantis scaling the pole vault heights
in winning the European Championships
in the = #2 outdoor vault ever.


6.05m/19' 10 1/4"


Note how high Duplantis is over the bar.
Photographer Jeff Cohen captured the magic moment
in my choice for track and field photo of the year.
It’s not even “Carma”
I took some lumps on this one as the humor in my post was misunderstood by some. I wasn’t making fun of the safety issue involved when the screening around the USATF hammer throw venue in Des Moines was inadequate – not even close. I was, however, interested in how the universe responds when you park illegally near that venue and a hammer gets loose (the hammer bounced and added a chapter to an already well-storied vehicle). My short photo essay of this event enjoyed a vigorous 24-hour life online.

Or Carla
The support staff of these meets make all the difference in how we experience them, and when it seemed all was lost when it came to finding a media souvenir backpack at the Van Damme, Carla worked some wonders and one magically appeared. I still fear that she gave up hers for me; nonetheless, there is Seattle smoked salmon in her future this summer.

Not the Weltklasse and the Van Damme at long, long last
If ever I felt I paid an unnecessary price (in track terms) for working so many years, it came with the Weltklasse (Zurich) and Van Damme Memorial (Brussels) meets. These iconic single-day events always fell during the first two weeks of school. It was painful to know these were taking place as I was 10,000 km away in what were similar school meetings for the 37th – 38th – 39th times. Though I had been to nine World Championships and two Olympics, I hadn't been to these. It was high time to close the gap.

Few people on the planet have ever arrived at these meets as joyfully as I - and the waits were worth every exhilarating moment these two meets had to offer. This year, they were held within 28 hours of each other. Never was there a more fun train trip than the 6:00am from Zurich to Brussels after we all were writing until 1:00am earlier that morning.

Perhaps it should be no surprise, then, that my stats-based report on the historic Brussels men’s 5000m soared to my #1 most widely read piece. My joy and excitement in being there, and my wonder at the performances, was reflected in an article I hadn't anticipated writing. The magic of the unexpected - 18 year-old Selemon Barega's 12:43.02 5,000m is #4 all-time - was thrilling to watch.
http://www.trackerati.com/2018/08/epic-mens-5000m.html
Selemon Barega after winning 2017 U20 3000m title.
Photo credit: Getty Images for 2017 IAAF
It’s not LeBron and Robert
Only I could inadvertently photobomb LeBron James and 2012 Olympic discus champion, Robert Harting, at the ISTAF Meet in Berlin.
Duo with Dufus
Matt Lynch photo
Matt Lynch, my new writing mate from Australia, recorded this for posterity.
Not Shalane, Tshepang, or Blake
I came to appreciate - in a way I hadn’t before - the relationships I’ve built with athletes over time, including athletes I met well before I began my website five-and-a-half years ago.
Shalane Flanagan winning the
2017 New York City Marathon
photo credit: New York Road Runners
One of those who came back this year was Blake Preece, who I had featured in my 2017 story about Linda Prefontaine’s Tour de Pre. I met Blake – now all of 20 – in the Hayward Field stands just before the start of the Prefontaine Classic. 

“It feels like you’re jumping off the pages of my website,” I said.

Before I left he asked me to stay for an extra moment.

“I want to show you something.”

He turned on his phone and my article popped up – as it does every time he turns on his phone.

You never know where it lands.
http://www.trackerati.com/2017/07/linda-prefontaines-tour-de-pre.html
Mark Cullen and Blake Preece
Prefontaine Classic
May 26, 2018

It’s not even the night of uncommon kindness at Safeco Field
It’s who was there with me
My new friends, my new neighbors
In a year of blessings beyond fair hope
These are the greatest blessings of all.

A tumultuous day was over – my retirement day from school. Andrew Schneider, new to our school, and I were in the group office. I was decompressing and looking forward to a quiet evening at home. My style is the quiet and the internal, and I looked forward to catching my breath.

It was a Friday in June, however, and it was hard not to notice that the Red Sox were in town.

“I’m thinking of going,” I said.

“I could do that…”

It was the first time I met Andrew’s wife, Tessa - they’re both over half my age younger - and in four hours they pulled off quite a surprise. Andrew had said they would ‘get the tickets’ – did they ever.

First base side.

First row.

Their memorably generous treat.

Andrew was colleague and co-teacher, and by the time I decided to retire, a good friend - one who lived only three blocks away. Already I had lived in the same house for 41 years; now with friends in the next generation in the neighborhood, I felt more anchored than ever.

Andrew and I shared teaching duties for 6th grade geography; little did I know this would turn into a double-edged sword. I came to realize early in our work together that his talent would make it easier for me to retire, as the 6th grade geography curriculum I care so deeply about would be in such imaginative and creative hands. 

Ironic that just at the time I worried considerably that my extended family would contract as I went from seeing so many people every day to far fewer, it expanded.

My work on the Echo Summit story caught Andrew’s eye one day.

“Tessa and I met at a camp nearby,” he said of the Stanford Sierra Camp.

When Thanksgiving hosts asked what it’s like to be around two Stanford graduates, I said that I hung in there and tried to hold my own, but they were right to perceive a problem.

“Their dog’s a genius, too,” I said.

“Now that’s rough!” they replied.

Epilogue
I wrote the front page in November, and since then, there have been some wonderful life changes. By far the most joyous is that Andrew and Tessa are expecting their first child. Already they’ve moved to a house that will accommodate their new future far better than their beautiful, hip, urban apartment would. It’s the second time in a year we’ll have to be intentional about this unlikely friendship of ours; while they have moved, our friendship has not.

In my experience, we don’t get many years like the one I just had. It’s time for me to hand off the baton to Andrew, Tessa and their child, and share the wealth.

It’s their turn for a year beyond fair hope. 


Billy Mills (left)
walking down the hallway of Marshfield High School

Coos Bay, OR
October 30, 2018



Sunday, December 30, 2018

Where It Lands

2018 Reunions with Three of the Sport's Finest:
Shalane Flanagan, Julius Yego, 
and Tshepang Makhethe

Copyright 2018. Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com. All Rights Reserved.
Continental Cup Celebration
Ostrava, Czech Republic
"You never know where it lands," I said many times during my 41 year career in education. Students I thought might return vanish, and ones who surprise me  come back and repeat what I said in class one day 30 years ago. So it was in 2018 as I encountered Shalane Flanagan (13 years), Tshepang Makhethe (4), and Julius Yego (3) some considerable time after our first memorable meetings.

Julius Yego, Kenya
2015 World Javelin Champion; Africa Team Co-Captain, 2018 Continental Cup 
Africa Team Co-Captain Julius Yego
2018 Continental Cup
Ostrava, Czech Republic

photo credit: Mark Cullen/trackerati
My path had crossed in person with Julius Yego only twice. The first was when he won the World title in Beijing in 2015, notable for the fact that an African won the javelin for the first time. I ran some stats to put this historic event into a global and cultural context in Watching History:
http://www.trackerati.com/2015/08/watching-history.html

Two years later, at the Prefontaine Classic, I ran into Yego in person - almost literally at first - as we were both leaving the athletes' hotel. I worried for him as he left at dusk for a nearby shopping mall.

It was - and remains - a time of intense concern for the safety of young black men in America, and I was deeply concerned for his; Dusk on America:
http://www.trackerati.com/2017/05/dusk-on-america-sunset-ineugene.html

I waited for him to return to his hotel and would not leave until I was assured of his safety. Athlete and writer no more; instead, two people looking out for each other.

On Friday in Ostrava, at the captains' press conference the day before the competition began, I spoke with Yego for the first time since that evening.

He looked me in the eye and our eyes didn't budge.

"Yes, I remember."

Shalane Flanagan, United States
2017 New York City Marathon Champion, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000m, 2011 World Cross Country bronze medalist
Shalane Flanagan
Winning the 2017 New York City Marathon
photo credit: New York Road Runners/TCS New York City Marathon
Flanagan was fresh off her memorable NYC Marathon victory when she ran the 3000m at the Husky Indoor in Seattle on January 13.

I had not interviewed her directly, but was part of many mixed zone interview scrums over the years. I very much wanted to talk with her now, yet it was not clear to athletes that they were to go to an interview area – much less where that interview area was – as soon as their competitions were complete. 

After a strong 3rd place in the 3000m, Flanagan disappeared to the other side of the arena. I watched a number of runners put on sweats and exit outside for a warm down run.

It was close to 5:00pm and I had been on my feet much of the day. I was ready to eat and had nothing with me. A wave of fatigue came over me.

Flanagan was nowhere to be found, and suddenly it dawned on me.

"That’s it," I thought - Flanagan must have been with them. I couldn't have been more disappointed than to miss her. The reward of this long day was supposed to have been a minute with Flanagan – then I’d have the capper to my story.

I looked down, arranged my backpack and got ready to leave.

My inner voice. “Dude. Look up.”

“Hi, Shalane.”

She’s 5 feet in front of me.

It’s awkward. Her runner's duties are done. A child is climbing all over her.

“Do you have a minute, please?”

A gracious yes, but a minute would be a good idea.

“I remember the last time we spoke,” I said.

I have her attention.

“On the ferry from Talinn to Helsinki the day after the end of the 2005 World Championships.”

“NOOOOOO WAAAAAYYYY!!!”

And the interview was on.

It took me awhile to realize just how valuable it is to build relationships with the athletes over time. Our Gulf of Finland meeting took place a full 8 years before I began Trackerati. I realize now that having been in and of this track and field world as a spectator and fan for over 40 years before I began Trackerati is its own reward, one I never expected.

The interview lasts 2:04.

See? 

I got double-time with Shalane.

Tshepang Makhethe, South Africa
Hammer Throw, 2018 Africa Continental Cup Team

Tshepang Makhethe
2014 World Junior Championships, Eugene
photo credit: Mark Cullen/trackerati
I didn't tell Tshepang Makhethe that I'd be at the Continental Cup. In fact, I didn't know for certain that he'd be there until final entries were confirmed.

Four years ago, just a year after starting this website, I covered my first World Championships - the 2014 Juniors - in Eugene, OR. I met Makhethe when I was taking photos of athletes who were looking at their names on display boards in the fan zone.

I wrote one of my earliest stories, and my first of what are now many about hammer throwers, in As Good As Gold:
http://www.trackerati.com/2014/07/as-good-as-gold.html

Four years later, as I was readying my "I hope you remember..." introduction in Ostrava, both Makhethe and Sean Donnelly (US) came into the Continental Cup's interview area at the same time. A welcome smile and handshake from Donnelly, while Makhethe was his exuberant self and almost flew over the barriers to greet me.

Donnelly looked quite surprised and, on a day that hadn't gone well for him, we had a brief interview in which he said how pleased he was with the entire season - "I rewrote my top ten list" - in spite of a disappointing day in Ostrava.

"You either win or you learn," he said, ruefully.

Donnelly and I were joined forever by an errant hammer throw of his at the 2018 US National Championships. My photo essay, such as it was, went crazy online and he shrugged his shoulders the next day at his sudden infamy; Scene of the Hammertime Crime:
http://www.trackerati.com/2018/06/scene-of-hammertime-crime.html

I gestured to Makhethe and said to Donnelly, "In case you're wondering, Makhethe was my first hammer article."

"Ahhh..." A knowing nod and he leaves us to our reunion.

Replied Makhethe to me, "And you were my first international article."

Ahhh.

We never know where it lands.