Thursday, December 24, 2020

Christmas in London

     by Mark Cullen

This story of how I found Christmas in London on the top of a double-decker bus early one morning in August 2017 is about US 800m runner Drew Windle and his remarkable family and was first published on 2/11/18. 
Drew Windle and Family
London Olympic Stadium
August 6, 2017

Windle went on to win the 800m silver medal at the 2018 World Indoor Championships in Birmingham. 

A revised version of this article, which focuses on the story of World Indoors, was published by IAAF in June 2018: https://www.iaaf.org/news/feature/drew-windle-usa-800m

Here is the original.


Christmas came early last year.

August 7th at 1:10 am.

On the top level of a double-decker bus in London.

Apparently I had not read far enough in the World Championships media guide to learn that London shuts down its subway system before midnight on weeknights.

More likely, I passed over that section as it never crossed my mind that one of the world’s great cities would close its subway system overnight, most especially not during a track and field world championships that set a record in selling over 700,000 tickets.

Possibly people needed a way to get home when events finished after 11:00 pm and the subway station was a mile away?

Further proof that I’m not in charge.

I arrived at the closed station at 12:30 am. Natives were ever helpful in guiding me to the multiple bus stops outside the other end of the massive Westfield Stratford City shopping mall.

Transformed from an upper middle class shopping mecca to an overnight shelter for homeless people – this thorough transformation was striking, the scale of it startling.

No daytime hint of this facility’s unexpected nighttime purpose.

I made my way past the dozens of homeless and exited the mall to find extensive street lighting, but otherwise, it was deserted.

“Well,” I thought to myself of London’s penchant for filming every moment of one’s life, “if I get taken out, at least my demise will be recorded.”

I waited, and waited, and waited for my bus.

At last it arrived.

“Right number,” the driver offered. “Wrong direction. Your stop is over there.”

I finally boarded my bus at 1:10 and climbed to the second level.

It was hard not to notice a man wearing running shoes bearing the image of the Union Jack.

        *                                         *                                        *

“The singing was never better,” said Jamie Snell of the 34th annual Christmas carol singalong held at his and his wife Sara’s home in Seattle in mid-December – Sara, class of ’79 at my school, and yes, I taught her. The Snells learned of my affinity for Christmas music and have graciously welcomed me ever since.

Ever, now, is measured readily in decades.

While I am not particularly religious, the holiday season has always held deep spiritual meaning for me. In a family of seven, my Irish Catholic father and Dutch Calvinist mother fought the Reformation at the dinner table every night.

It was not remotely a healthy place for five children.

Peace came for us a few days every year as my parents declared a Christmas truce and showered us with makeup presents.

There was no event more compellingly beautiful to me than the Christmas Eve candlelight service. Held in the white clapboard church that was the social center of our Western Massachusetts hilltown, we’d gather there before heading out for caroling all over our far-flung village, seeking out those of the 235 residents whose Christmas Eve we could brighten with sung surprise.

After a service of what we impish Cullen kids called the greatest hits – which of the traditional carols would we sing this year? – one was always guaranteed: “Silent Night.”

All the lights inside the church were turned off. Reverend Frank Carey would light a single pillar candle, and each of us would march to the front and light our own handheld candle.

Time stood still as we lit 100 candles.

As we ringed the outside walls, the glow from our candles grew brighter. When each of us had a place, we sang - a cappella - all three verses of Silent Night.

I know them still, by heart.

I found a greater sense of family in that church every Christmas Eve than I ever did at home, and the candlelight service became a comforting constant for a family that moved so frequently that one brother went to five different schools five years in a row.

People wonder why I’ve lived in the same house for 41 years.


        *                                         *                                        *


“Dear," she said, "he’s interested in your shoes."

“They’re a special edition Launch made by Brooks for the London Marathon,” he explained.

Brooks? The Brooks headquarters is four blocks from my home in Seattle.

“I’m Kenny Windle, Drew’s dad, and this is his mother, Karen. Drew’s up there.”

Several rows up, Drew turned around and gave me a welcoming wave.

Earlier that night, Windle’s remarkable 2017 string had played out in the World Championship 800m semi-final in which he finished a non-qualifying 5th.

I got out my phone and showed the Windle clan photos of my Bowerman waffle iron shoes. Mine are among the earliest Bowerman ever made, and Kenny was fascinated.

Karen, a teacher, asked if I know the Orton-Gillingham approach to teaching students with learning disabilities, and I replied that our school has an Orton-Gillingham program.

We instantly had a point of unusual connection.

Drew’s brother, Kyle, and his girlfriend, Kayla, were sitting right behind me. Kyle was in the process of becoming certified in Orton-Gillingham.

If you had told me I’d meet the family of a world class athlete in London, I’d never have guessed that so much of our conversation would revolve around this method of teaching.

Not surprisingly, teaching it takes extensive daily preparation and discipline.

Sitting next to Drew were his sister, Kaleigh, and her two year old son.

“There are more downstairs,” said Kenny.

You need a double-decker bus to hold this family.

        *                                         *                                        *


January in Seattle.

“I love my family,” Drew Windle said. “It means everything, really. My family has been super supportive not only of my running but anything I’m passionate about and have wanted to do with my life.

“The family name and everyone in it have shaped me into who I am. I was really happy that we were able to get them out there and watch me on the biggest stage and one of the most important parts of my life so far.”

Perhaps Windle’s toughest competition in London came from within his own family. Not to be outdone by a World Championship semi-finalist, by the end of the week the gender of his sister’s forthcoming baby had been announced, and the boyfriend and girlfriend sitting behind me on the bus were now husband and wife to be. (Windle's older sister and her family were unable to attend.)

Three adult children in London, three major life events. 

All in a week for the Windles.

“Their passions aren’t as public as track and field is,” said Windle, “but as soon as my brother got his teaching job and my sister had her first and second babies – well, everyone’s just super excited and wants to see really good things happen to everyone.”

So often the stories we write are about the hard luck kid, the one who overcomes seemingly insurmountable obstacles to reach the highest heights of the athletics world.

Drew Windle’s story is of the good luck kid, the one blessed by family – the one who knows it, appreciates it and wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world.

Gold? The good luck kid won gold the day he was born into this family, eight of whom came from across the US to support him and his London dream.

If only they could settle on a name.

“My birth name is actually Curt Andrew,” said Windle. “I’ve always gone by Drew, but I don’t think my parents have called me Drew since elementary school.”

In 2nd or 3rd grade his class was in the library where they learned about the Dewey decimal system.

One of his classmates noted that ‘Dewey’ was pretty close to ‘Drew’ and so he became ‘Dewey’ at school. But Windle never told his parents.

“My friends all came over one time and they were calling me ‘Dewey.’ ”

His surprised mother pointed out that Drew’s great-grandfather was named Dewey Hubbard.

“My Mom obviously loved the name and it stuck.”

With his own hashtag already in hand – “#RunLikeTheWindle” comes from an article title written by Ashland University in his early years on the team – Windle recently registered an LLC in that name.

“My parents, especially, took that and ran with it - it’s nothing that we created, though.”

They did, however, create the #RunLikeTheWindle buttons.

“I think they handed out probably a hundred buttons while we were in London.”

Add his own promo code for tickets for last summer’s TrackTown series and you have a young star with a considerable social media presence.

Of his two London races, Windle said, “Normally I would expect to be pretty disappointed but I was just happy to be there. It was a great experience that will prepare me for hopefully more experiences that are similar to that where I can do better next time and maybe end up with a medal.

“Sure I wish I had made the final, but it wasn’t until I watched the final and the way it played out – oh, man, that’s when I was disappointed because I realized how, if I had just run the race I had been running all year up to that point - how possible it would have been to end up with a medal.

“I was burning a little too hot for a little too long and I started to tail off by the time I got to Worlds.”

The July 21 Monaco Diamond League Meet was Windle’s first major international meet.

Windle said that while he felt grateful to feel minimal pressure, there were, nonetheless, some tactical errors he made.

“I was behind Amel Tuka for most of the race and he let this little gap form. It was probably the difference between 2nd and 4th for me,” said Windle, who tied for fourth in 1:44.72, just off his personal best of 1:44.63.

“There have been two races in my life when I’ve been taken out of my element because of events going on during the race and the first one was at Monaco and the second one was in London. Coming down the straightaway of the first lap in Monaco flames start shooting up going into the bell lap and I said ‘what the heck is going on here?!’ ”

Kyle Langford, the British athlete, was in Windle’s World Championships semi-final, “and the crowd erupted coming down the home straightaway and my ears were ringing it was so loud. At that point I knew it was going to take a lot to get up into 2nd place and I was hoping to get into 3rd or 4th and have a time (qualifier) – but it really caught me off guard.

“I think if I had gotten into two more races like that before London I would probably have been a little more prepared for the semi-final type of race - with a little more confidence as well, which never hurts.

“Hopefully I’ll get more chances like that this year.”

Windle’s big splash came in the furnace that was US Nationals in Sacramento, where he unleashed track and field’s 2017 Kick of the Year to fly from last to 3rd over the closing 200m and land a coveted spot on the World Championships team.

“I get a lot of flak about the way I race sometimes, but it’s very entertaining at the very least when it goes well. It gets people’s attention, which is a good thing to have.”

Windle compares his Sacramento race to a race his junior year in college at the 2014 Grand Valley Big Meet in Michigan when he blew apart his personal best with his unexpected and other worldly 1:46.52.

“To me it’s such a cool moment because I feel like a lot of people can look back and say ‘this is the moment that changed my life.’ I realized in that moment: this has a lot of potential to get me to that next level in my running career.”

Windle cites a Hoosiers-esque moment as being influential in shaping his approach to running.

Trent Mack, his coach at Ashland University said, “Here it’s 400m, in Oregon it’s 400m, it doesn’t matter where you are, it’s a 400m track no matter where you go.”

“It’s really simple, really,” said Windle. “You don’t have to make running any harder than it is.

“You’ve just got to work hard, stay healthy, and believe in yourself, and if you do those things really well you’re going to run fast.

“I think I have the work hard and stay healthy parts down really well and last year the belief in myself part is what kicked in.”

The most important lesson of 2017 was confirming that he belongs.

“It’s belief in the program, belief in your coach. I was a (NCAA) Division II guy who hadn’t gotten to race people like this and I was still trying to figure out if I belonged.

“I got frustrated with it and I said, ‘You know what? I belong, and even if I don’t I’m going to tell myself that I do. I finished 3rd and it was a good feeling and now – now you can take it where you want to go.’ “

        *                                         *                                        *


Windle’s family reunion took place after his semi-final late at night outside the stadium.

“They were patient enough to wait – I hadn’t seen them up to that point since they had gotten into London.

“I finished my semi-final and,” he said, wryly, “was ‘lucky’ enough to be chosen for drug-testing. It took about two hours to get through all that. I was really excited to get out of drug testing and see my family.

“We walked around looking for food – a lot of places were closed so we ended up finding a McDonald’s, grabbed some dinner real quick and then…”

Then their late-night odyssey began.

They, too, encountered the closed subway system.

“Around the time we met you, I was starting to get pretty tired, I was starting to feel the long day, the race, and all of that.

“Our night got more interesting once we got off that bus that we were on – we were still pretty far from where we were staying (in Teddington)… then we got on a different bus.”

“We got taken,” he said, cryptically, “not in the direction of our Airbnb. We were just trying to figure how to get back to the place my parents were staying.”

        *                                         *                                        *

It grows quiet on the bus.

Kyle and Kayla doze off behind me, never a more contented, peaceful pair.

For twenty blessed minutes I sit in the comfort of this remarkable family.

I don’t want to leave the privilege of being in their double-deckered ark.

Ahead, Tottingham Court Station lights up the night sky, and I hesitate as I prepare to disembark.

I say my multiple goodbyes, and as I exit the first level, Windles I haven’t even met yet bid me farewell.

I think we are headed for separate destinations, but we are not.

At the end of this landmark day, the magnificent athlete on the second deck is son, brother, uncle, and friend – a member of a family cradled on a bus which lumbers from stop to stop deep into the London night.

Tonight’s star of the Windle family sits in wistful reflection with his young nephew in his arms - his nephew’s head a mass of curls, bobbing up and down and rocking gently on Drew’s shoulder as this bus delivers them to their ultimate destination.


Home.



Special thanks to Drew Windle for an engaging, discursive interview, and to Karen Farley Windle for permission to use her photographs.



Friday, June 5, 2020

Echoes of Silence

In honor of the 76th and 75th birthdays of Tommie Smith and John Carlos. 2014 dedication of the 1968 high altitude training camp and Olympic Trials site at Echo Summit, CA, as a California Historical Landmark - a story of that day, and of their times. Addendum reflects recent scholarship on the ‘third man on the podium,’ Australia’s fast-closing silver medalist, Peter Norman.
photo credit: www.usatoday.community
Peter Norman (silver), Tommie Smith (gold, world record), John Carlos (bronze)
Men’s 200m victory ceremony, 1968 Olympics, Mexico City

Echoes of Silence

by Mark Cullen

June 27, 2014

The 1968 US Men’s Olympic track and field team, arguably the greatest ever assembled, was honored today with the recognition of the Echo Summit, CA, US Men’s Track and Field Olympic Trials and high-altitude training site as a California Historical Landmark.

A crowd of several hundred gathered to celebrate the track and field legends who put their stamp on US social, cultural, and athletic history.

Members of the ’68 team in attendance were Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ed Caruthers, Norm Tate, Reynaldo Brown, Larry Young, Tracy Smith, Mel Pender, Ed Burke, Geoff Vanderstock, and Bill Toomey. Smith and Carlos were the featured speakers.

Four world records were set during the Olympic Trials at the 7382’/2250m elevation of the Echo Summit site, chosen for its nearly identical elevation to that of Olympic host Mexico City.

The ceremony was at the same time touching and moving, high-spirited and celebratory. It had the look and feel of a family reunion. The eloquent remarks of the speakers were greeted with repeated and sustained standing ovations by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd.

Bob Burns, former Sacramento Bee reporter and the force behind the recognition of Echo Summit, said, “Few teams mirrored the social climate of their times as much as the ’68 Olympic track team did the 1960s.”

Jill Geer, USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer, cited “the importance of these people not only to sport but to society.” Geer pointed out that while the team is rightly noted for its 12 Olympic gold medalists, 20 of its team members have been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame. “This team was so good that you didn’t have to win a gold medal to make it to the Hall of Fame.”

California state historian William Burg said that of over 1,000 California historic sites, Echo Summit is “the only one associated with both sports and civil rights history.”

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro-Tem Brooke Laine paid tribute to Walt Little, South Lake Tahoe’s Recreation Director in the 1950s and ‘60s, who was instrumental in convincing Bill Bowerman, Director of the US Olympic High Altitude Training Program, to accept the Echo Summit bid.

Little’s sons, Walt Jr. and Bill, in a stirring memorial, revealed that their family had lost their house as their father had used mortgage funds to help pay for athletes’ food.

Walt Little, Jr., said that their father was motivated “because of the Olympians and what they stood for. Dad carved his dream of a track and field arena out of the ice, the snow, and the trees. Echo Summit became the most beautiful track and field arena the world has ever seen.”

John Carlos lauded Little as “an icon in the world of athletics.”

“We are proud to have been a small part of your success,” Little, Jr., said to the assembled athletes. “Welcome home.”

My youth was marked by political violence: the assassination of the President when I was 11 and of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy when I was 16. Shortly before the 1968 Olympic Trials began, there were riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Upon the opening of the Olympics in Mexico City, protests there were brutally suppressed. The 1963 March on Washington was peaceful, but by 1968 there was a growing divide in both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements over what kinds of action to take.

That discussion was reflected in the choices made by athletes at Echo Summit. To boycott the Olympics or not? African-American athletes were under heavy pressure to do so. But all made the same choice: to represent their country in Mexico City.

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medal winners in the Mexico City 200m, took the victory stand and raised their glove-covered fists in silent protest, I was awestruck at the peaceful eloquence of their statement.

They spoke to the whole world without uttering a single word.

The next day, the US Olympic Committee, under threat by the IOC of having the entire US team disqualified from the Olympics, dismissed Smith and Carlos from the team and they were forced to leave Mexico City immediately.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos have been united for life by their singular act as young men. They have traversed the territory from outcasts to heroes. Their “protest on the victory stand in Mexico City is one of the iconic images of the 1960s and the civil rights movement,” said Burns.

After their peaceful protest, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy personal price, and it was common to find them denounced in the US media for what were characterized as unpatriotic acts.

“Mr. Smith and I, in particular,” said Carlos, “we were vilified.”

Carlos noted the irony of the fact that he and Smith are now regarded as patriots and said, “All the individuals on this team are patriots… In many ways they tried to divide our team: these guys are civil rights activists, these guys are athletes. These guys are for a boycott, these guys are not for a boycott.”

“I’m just here to let you know now that we are one. We have been one all along.”

Smith and Carlos reflected on their days at Echo Summit. Both expressed gratitude and appreciation to the US Forest Service for their support of the ‘100 Days at Tahoe’ in 1968 as well as Friday’s ceremony.

“Look around and you see the goodness,” Smith said to the many youth foresters who staffed this event. “My heart is so full now.”

Smith remembered what it was like to take the turn from Highway 50 to the track at Echo Summit. “I hated to see that turn because that meant I had to train against him, and to train against John Carlos is no fun at all! You would have to run a world best just to stay in his shadow,” said Smith.

Smith noted the humor that came with practicing at a site that was carved out of a forest. When Bob Seagren came down from a 17’ pole vault clearance, Smith recalled, “I thought he had fallen out of a tree!” 

To say that they raised the bar for each other is to put it mildly. “Tommie and John had to run awfully fast to put themselves in a position to mount a protest that will outlast any record,” said Burns.

Carlos paid tribute to the US athletes who watched the Olympics from home.

'I have to remember those individuals who did not make the team… It’s just unfortunate that God put so many of us in a cluster and we could only pick three. But it didn’t stop us in terms of who we were as human beings... as civil libertarians... as people that were concerned about humanity.'

Smith reflected on his remaining time on this earth. “I hope that it’s longer than I feel sometimes… Sometimes you get up in the morning, you head for the door - and it never gets to you!”

Carlos concluded by noting that “the only downfall that we had here is the fact that we didn’t have a co-ed team. It was a shame that the women that represented this nation did not have a chance to experience the beauty, the love, the understanding, and bonding that we had.”

In 1968, their silent act of courage echoed around the world;  it reverberates still.

Today, it echoed among these trees, one last time.

photo credit: pausatf.org

Peter Norman Update

Peter Norman, Australian silver medalist, also paid dearly for his courage. He wore a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in support of Smith and Carlos, and for this he, too, was vilified in his home country. 

In spite of the fact that he met the 1972 100m and 200m qualifying marks repeatedly, was the 200m defending silver medalist and the Australian 200m record holder (and still is to this day), he was not named to Australia’s 1972 Olympic team. To Australia’s eternal shame, Norman was not invited to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

It was in 2012 that the Australian Parliament finally apologized to Norman.

Too little too late; he had died in 2006.

Smith and Carlos, lifelong friends of Norman’s, served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Research credit for information about Peter Norman: Riccardo Gazzaniga.


Track and Field Autographs of a Lifetime



Program signed at the dedication of the Echo Summit, CA, site of the
1968 US Olympic High Altitude Training Center and Olympic Trials
June 27, 2014

Photo copyright 2014 Mark Cullen. All Rights Reserved

Copyright 2014  Mark Cullen/Trackerati.com. All Rights Reserved





Friday, May 29, 2020

Steve

Memorable encounter with Steve Prefontaine 
the day he won the 1972 Olympic Trials 5,000m
by Mark Cullen
Steve Prefontaine Murals
Coos Bay, Oregon
United States
It’s the last day of the 1972 US Men’s Olympic Track and Field Trials. 

The organizers at Eugene’s legendary Hayward Field were no fools. They scheduled the men’s 5,000m race as the last event of the 8-day program.

It featured Steve Prefontaine, the young man whom Sports Illustrated named  “America’s Distance Prodigy,” and George Young, the venerable veteran, the three-time Olympian trying to make his 4th Olympic team.

In an epic race that would see both men break the American Record, Prefontaine and Young went at it, lap by excruciating lap, and the issue was in doubt until the 9th circuit, when Prefontaine edged ahead, inexorably, and led Young to the finish.

Prefontaine (13:22.8) and Young (13:29.4) both broke Pre's American record of 13:29.6.

It would be a cliché to say that the crowd went wild.

But it did.

The sound of that last lap lives with me still. 

The roar was deafening as Prefontaine approached the finish stripe, but the sound when he crossed it is unlike any I have heard before or since.

If there’s one word I associate with that day, it’s “spectacle.”

The spectacle of Gerry Lindgren bounding from the stands with his memorable “Stop Pre” t-shirts, a lasting symbol of the Sparrow’s impish sense of humor.

The spectacle of the race itself, of seeing this prodigy realize the next stage of his potential.

The spectacle of what followed.

A lengthy victory lap, an ovation sustained, an achievement shared. What was so appealing about this young man was his generosity - his willingness to share his joy and, indeed, his triumph.

The celebration continued well into the evening, though it became more personal in nature. It shifted to an area on the east side of Hayward Field, where temporary bleachers had been erected to accommodate the overflow crowds. There a media platform had been built.

On it, young Mr. Prefontaine held court.

The television lights were blinding, the camera bulbs kept flashing, and person after person, kid after kid, asked something of him.

Long after the friends I had watched the race with decided their evening was over, I knew mine wasn’t finished.

For the previous nine months I had embarked upon a running career, such as it was, of my own. I had started running in Bill Bowerman’s beginning jogging class in the fall of 1971, a week after Bowerman had been named head coach of the US Olympic track and field team.

Bowerman’s “Hamburgers” shared the track with Gary Barger, Todd Lathers, Pat Tyson, Arne and Knut Kvalheim, future Olympic discus champion “Multiple” Mac Wilkins, US Olympic decathlete Craig Brigham, and Steve Prefontaine himself.

I was captivated and missed but one meet in five years.

When you run on the track inhabited by the likes of these memorable Ducks, no matter how slowly in comparison, you do get to know them. One of them, Coach Pat Tyson of the Mead and now Gonzaga University cross country programs, remains a friend to this day.

When it came to young Mr. Prefontaine, we saw each other 4 or 5 times a week during the first year I ran. I was from the wilds of Western Massachusetts and knew little of him when I began running. He seemed to like the fact that I never got caught up in the myth of Pre, and that we used each other’s first names was a bond of its own.

That I saw him as a new compatriot, special in terms of his ability but otherwise in many ways like everyone else, created the framework of our passing relationship, and formed the basis of what we Yankees call a 'nodding acquaintance.'

Indeed, the one time, the only time, I asked him for an autograph - not for me but for the 8-year-old son of a friend I had in tow - he grew quite impatient with me. It took me awhile to realize I had violated the boundary. It was the only time in his presence I had bought into the mythic “Pre.”

Fortunately, he forgave me.

So, as he sat surrounded by worshipping kids and an adoring, and yes, fawning press, I wanted to watch the rest of the spectacle.

I made my way up the temporary bleachers, sat in the corner closest to him, and watched. Watched for over an hour as Steve sat there with the patience of a saint, even though he wasn’t one, and did not claim to be.

Every now and then he’d cock his head, look up at me and wonder what on earth I was doing there.

Come to think of it, for someone known for his strong opinions and sometimes colorful language, “what on earth” were probably not the words he was thinking.

Yet he was curious, inquisitive, clearly wondering.

It got dark.

Fortunately, the scoreboard operator had a sense of the moment and didn’t turn off the lights. The darker it got, the more clearly etched into the evening sky was Prefontaine’s new American Record.

I can see it today, just as clearly, more than half a lifetime later.

Finally, there were only a couple of families left, little kids waiting for their moment of magic. I scurried up the rickety bleachers, down to the track, and waited while he completed his hero’s duties.

He smiled in recognition, still with that quizzical look.

*   *   *   

The kids are gone now, and it’s just the two of us with his drug tester in attendance. We exchange greetings and I offer my congratulations. I’m delighted to sense his receptivity, in spite of how long his day has been.

He actually has a few moments left, for me.

Well, I say, I’ve watched this spectacle unfold this afternoon, and now this evening.

He nods.

I’ve seen many people approach you and ask for many things.

He nods, as if to say this is not news.

An autograph, a photograph, an interview, a moment, even, with you.

Yes.

But Steve, I say, for all these people have asked, and all you’ve given in return - one thing has not been said today.

One thing is missing.

What’s that?

Thank you.

He clutches my forearm with both hands.

He will not let go.

Tears come to his eyes.

We both just stand there, at ease in the moment.

When he can speak, I wish him success in the Olympics, and he wishes me good luck in the summer all-comers meets.

Off he scampers across the track and onto the infield. Before he vanishes into the enveloping darkness, he turns and gives me a huge, full-body wave.

I wave back.

Off he jogs into the underbelly of the now gloomy West Grandstand and to his appointment with destiny in Munich.

My favorite photo of Steve Prefontaine.
With Coach Bill Bowerman the day Pre first broke 4:00 in the mile.
Multiple sources listed, including milesplit.

copyright 2016 Mark Cullen. All rights reserved.

Saturday, March 21, 2020

Listen to the Universe, Dudes!

Ayoub Harrouchi and Mark Cullen
Note the Little Mermaid over Harrouchi's shoulder.
A year ago today I had one of the most memorable travel experiences of my life. 

I was in Denmark on my way to Aarhus and the World Cross Country Championships. At the Little Mermaid in Copenhagen, I ran into a kind man from Morocco, Ayoub Harrouchi. We took each other's photos at the mermaid, chatted for a while, and then went our separate ways. 

I was kicking myself for not having exchanged contact info with this nice and thoughtful man. 

Hours later, as I was about to cross a street, I looked over my right shoulder - and there he was at the window of a coffee shop bar! I went inside and we talked for a long time. We also met for coffee the next day before he departed, and yes, this time we exchanged contact info. 

Utterly remarkable that our paths crossed a second time within hours in a city of over 2 million. 

Ayoub and I have exchanged notes a few times since, and I had especially looked forward to a reunion this May during the Diamond League track and field meeting in Rabat, but for obvious reasons I won't be making that trip this year. The world is a very different place than it was a year ago, and in ways I could not have imagined. 

Nonetheless, this experience in Copenhagen gives me hope. The universe stated rather clearly, "Dudes (yes, the universe says "dudes!"), you were supposed to stay in touch!" 

Miraculously, it gave us a second chance. 

Happy Friendship Anniversary to my kind friend, Ayoub, in Morocco.

Thursday, November 21, 2019

Prefontaine Classic and Bowerman Mile Named World Athletics Legends

Millrose Games, Wanamaker Mile Honored As Well
by Mark Cullen
Copyright 2019. All Rights Reserved.

The Prefontaine Classic and the Bill Bowerman Mile were named World Athletics (IAAF) Heritage Legends in a ceremony honoring the greatest milers, miles, and meets in Monaco Thursday night.

The iconic United States single-day track meet was originally the Hayward Field Restoration Meet, held in 1973 and 1974. It was scheduled to be renamed the Bowerman Classic in 1975 in honor of '72 US Olympic Head Coach Bill Bowerman, but only two days after the tragic loss of distance legend Steve Prefontaine and with Bowerman's approval, the Oregon Track Club renamed the meet the Prefontaine Classic.

Steve Prefontaine and Bill Bowerman
after Pre's first sub-4:00 mile
photo credit: Milesplit.com
The Bowerman Mile is the concluding event of the Prefontaine Classic every year, and its all-time lists are dazzling. The meet itself is usually ranked by World Athletics as the #1 or #2 best single-day meet of the year (the Diamond Monaco Herculis meet is the other).

The Prefontaine Classic and the Bowerman Mile are in good company: among the others named "Legend of the Sport" were Roger Bannister and Diane Leather Charles, respectively the first man under 4:00 for the mile and the first woman under 5:00.

In addition, three other meets were accorded Legend status: The Ivo Van Damme Memorial (Brussels), the Oslo Bislett Games, and New York City's Millrose Games. Oslo's Dream Mile, Millrose's Wanamaker Mile, and the UK's Emsley Carr Mile were honored with Legend plaques as well.

Germany's Indoor Karlsruhe Meeting, site of Genzebe Dibaba's world indoor 1500m record, was honored with a Legend plaque.

Here is the complete announcement from World Athletics:
https://worldathletics.org/news/press-releases/bannister-charles-honoured-heritage-mile-nigh


Sunday, October 6, 2019

Somalia's Sister

The greatest athlete in Doha was far from the track.

by Mark Cullen
Copyright 2019 Mark Cullen and Trackerati.com. All rights Reserved.

Doha hotel.

Tall Dutchman, born of Somalia.

We speak of track and field, but that’s not why he’s here.

His younger sister was in the wrong place at the wrong time when a suicide bomber detonated herself in Somalia, where a rash of such attacks have taken place this year.

Among the survivors, his sister is most grievously wounded, with extensive injuries to her left face, her left shoulder, her left hip.

Here to reclaim her young adulthood.

Two days later, the lobby, a tap on my shoulder.

The tall Dutchman with his entire entourage.

This is my sister, he says, as she extends her hand from her wheelchair.

I encounter their mother at breakfast every morning, a towering familial fortress of strength and reserve. I glance and nod, my daily brief greeting.

Impenetrable.

On a day, she holds my eye.

On another, a barely perceptible nod.

Ten days sweep by.

At breakfast, a movement captures my attention. A woman is using a walker.

Her daughter.

Mother follows.

She waves.


Saturday, October 5, 2019

Imaginary Outcome

by Mark Cullen
Copyright 2019 Mark Cullen and Trackerati.com. All rights Reserved.
Joe Kovacs
75-2/22.91
Historic Gold
Photo: Getty Images for IAAF
Last night IAAF issued a results sheet for the men's shot put. It must be a test page to make sure the system is working. On it, they have an imaginary outcome, and you can tell that the techies preparing it had a lot of fun.

It has Joe Kovacs winning in 75-2/22.91. I know there are a lot of guys throwing over 22.00/72-2 1/4 these days, but this has the winning throw almost a meter farther. I know Kovacs has been off the radar screen a bit, if you can imagine a radar not picking up Kovacs, but he's an unlikely pick for gold.

It has Ryan Crouser and Tom Walsh tied at the same distance one centimeter behind. Great to have techies who know the sport so well because this scenario tests the system's ability to break a tie on the countback, and it nailed it.

Interesting, too, that it should be Crouser and Walsh they have behind Joltin' Joe. They must have included the Prefontaine Classic results in their algorithm. There, Crouser and Walsh were co-favories, and Brazil's Darlan Romani was the unlikely winner.

Here, same scenario, different champion. At least this time Track and Field News hadn't asked me to write a feature on the winner. They did at Pre, and I was really well prepared for my story on Crouser or Walsh.

The whole idea of three guys throwing within one centimeter of each other is absurdly fun and creative. Can you imagine ever seeing an outcome like that? You and I could go outside right now - just the two of us -  and take several dozen throws with a shot and we'd never tie.

Statistically improbable.

Physcially, even more so.

Well, good one on you, mates. It was lots of fun to read this. But I have a deadline and the humor is wearing thin.

Would someone please send me the real results?


Friday, October 4, 2019

A Night at the Stadium

by Mark Cullen
Copyright 2019 Mark Cullen and Trackerati.com. All rights Reserved.
Mutaz Essa Barshim
Hometown High Jump Hero
This evening I titled my post "A Night at the Stadium" before the competition began. The general idea was to reflect what happens on any given evening of World Championship track and field. From semi-final race strategy to the interruption of the men's high jump by a medal ceremony, I wanted write without a plan and respond to what was happening in the stadium. But I'll save these for my next post and write this instead.

On my way into Doha, at the airport, I ran into a young man named Daniel and his wife. While waiting for luggage we struck up a conversation, and he grew quite interested in the championships. I urged him to come for even one night, and he picked this night, of all nights, a night of nights.

A world record by Dalilah Muhammad in the 400m hurdles, her second of the year. The crowning comeback win of Mutaz Essa Barshim of Qatar in the men's high jump in front of a raucous home crowd - a year's recovery from serious injury that had many doubting a return at all. A steeplechase win by the resurgent Conseslus Kipruto - by a thrilling one one-hundredth of a second. And a discus title by Cuba's Yaime Perez in her 6th attempt at a global medal. Her last major title? 2010 World Junior gold.

In a week overshadowed by drugs, Daniel chose the best night of these championships. Here's what I wrote to Daniel:

"I am so pleased that you chose tonight of all nights. To see a world record is something rare and special - when someone does something that no one else has done before.

"And Barshim on top of that - a packed house rocking and roaring.
This was track and field at its best."

So, Daniel, there's hope for this troubled sport yet. Keep on coming back. I can't always promise a night like this, but I can promise that each will be memorable in its own way. It's worked for me for 48 years.
Dahlilah Muhammad (52.16) and Sydney McLaughlin (52.23)
2xWorld Record setter with #2 all-time

Photo Credits: Getty Images for IAAF




Updated 1:47pm 10/5/2019 to include last paragraph.

Doha Dhaze - #1

Air pollution, heat, humidity, a heat index to top all - none stood in the way of a successful start to the World Track and Field Championships - yet.

As I write this, the women's marathon will start in two hours, and while I have pledged to myself that I'll watch in person one of the five midnight events, it won't be this one a starting the Championships by being on a course until 3:00am in this heat and humidity does not seem like a good idea. For someone just standing there, much less running 26 miles.

IAAF has decided to go ahead with tonight's race, and it's telling that a decision had to be made. In a press release this afternoon, IAAF made a revealing comment; read carefully and see if you see what I see.

"Any decision to alter the starting time of the event will be made by 10:30pm, on the recommendation of the IAAF Medical Delegate, who also has the authority to withdraw any athlete before or during the event if he believes the athlete is experiencing any type of severe distress."

Let's check this out: "...has the authority to withdraw any athlete before... the event..." In other words, if an athlete is so cooked by the very act of being outside before the race has even begun..."

I hope this ends well; I fear greatly that it may not.

In better news, DeAnna Price led all qualifiers in the women's hammer to remain the favorite going into Saturday's final. Gwen Berry joined her by finishing 10th of 12, and Brooke Andersen, plagued by injury at the end of the season, ended her memorable 2019 run by finishing out of the top 12. Nonetheless, Anderson is now #3 on the US all-time list and the 24 year-old is still quite young for this event. Nothing but tremendous potential here.

Price delivered a message before competition even began with a sector-splitting warmup toss that had to have left an impression on her competitors. "It was really nice," she said. "That's how it's been; that's how we've been practicing."

Gwen Berry was pleased to advance even though she seemed a bit off her earlier season form. "I was a little nervous," she explained. "I feel like I should have warmed up a little more maybe because once we got into the call room we couldn't warm up, so I'll have to take that into consideration for tomorrow."

"I feel confident about tomorrow," she said. "I got in the ring and shook out the nerves, so I'll do better tomorrow."

Brooke Andersen, "I've had some injuries come up the past few months because it's been such a long season... Unfortunately, some of them acted up before my warmups...I haven't been able to practice the last few weeks as well as I would want to."

"Right now it's hard to think of all my great accomplishments this season because this was the one thing I was working towards all season and it didn't go how I pictured it. But I definitely had a great season overall and I'm really appreciative for the season I did have and all the accomplishments I did have along the way. It's hard to see them right now - I'm just so bummed."

While her clear goal for 2020 is the Tokyo Olympics, "Right now I'll rest and take some time off and get back to it in a few weeks."

"I'm one of the youngest in the field," she reflected, but takes away the knowledge that this World Championships experience can be of substantial benefit to her as early as next year. I'll take away the experiences like going through the motions like getting through the call room and taking few warmups. It's always a little but different in each international meet.

"I've gotta get used to the net being so close," she said, "and I've got to get used to the competition feel. Being here on this  international stage - track feels way different than being at home is the US. Track is definitely more... they love track over here! They love track over here! It's great coming over here and the atmosphere - you get the whole stadium effect with all the people clapping for you. It's a really good experience for us to come over here and get all this international experience before Tokyo."

"The ring when I tested it felt faster than it did today, so it was a little funky for me. It felt a little bit slower. I didn't mind it - I just wasn't necessarily prepared for the switch up. I don't know if it was the humidity... but it's overall a great facility definitely one of the better ones I've competed in so far internationally in my experience so far - in my rookie year!"