Thursday, June 30, 2016

20k Race Walk Festival in Salem

Ticket to Rio

Men’s and Women’s 20k Race Walks

“This is my ticket to Rio!” exclaimed Maria Michta-Coffey while holding her Olympic Trials 20k race walk gold medal. Michta-Coffey won Thursday’s Olympic Trials race in Salem, OR, in 1:33:40.8, under the Olympic qualifying standard of 1:36:00. She is joined on the US team by Miranda Melville who was 2nd in 1:34:11.1. Bronze medal winner Katie Burnett finished in a non-qualifying 1:41:12.2.

While winner John Nunn (1:25:36.1) finished outside the 1:24:00 standard, he earlier had qualified in the men’s 50k walk, so his ticket to Rio is already stamped. He was followed by the resurgent Trevor Barron (1:27:27.1) and Nick Christie (1:27:43.3). Nunn noted that today’s time qualifies him for next year’s London World Championships, “… so there’s that silver lining.”

In an Olympic year, the Trials race counts as the US national championship, and so Michta-Coffey and Nunn are US champions as well. They were greeted by enthusiastic crowds along the one kilometer race route in the shadow of Oregon’s state capitol building.

Four years ago, Melville lost out on an Olympic team berth by a heartbreaking three seconds. Those three seconds both haunted and motivated her. After a strenuous race on a hot day, Melville leaped into the air as she crossed the finish line.

“I (am) ecstatic,” she said. “Right now, it’s floating on cloud 9 and then we get back to business. Maria and I have seven weeks until we race in Rio. We’re ready to show that the US is moving up in the ranks of race walking.”

“In the past four years we told ourselves we’re going to do this together,” said Michta-Coffey of her training partner’s Olympic quest. “In the past two months of training we’ve been visualizing hugging each other at the finish line and saying ‘We made it to Rio!’ That happened today… this is redemption for her.”

The two training partners are #1 and #2 all-time in the United States in this event. “Miranda and I have gone back and forth for years now and it’s only made us stronger,” said Michta-Coffey. “We both continually keep raising the bar.”

Michta-Coffey credited the New York state public high school system with today’s two-Olympian performance, as race walking is part of New York’s high school track and field lineup.

“That’s how we started,” she said. “When you do have race walking in your high school program, Olympians are possible.”

Michta-Coffey became the first Olympian for Oiselle, the Seattle-based women’s running and athletic apparel company. “It’s so awesome!” said Michta-Coffey. “It’s a way of life and the people that I represent are amazing. I always tell everyone back home that I’m racing for them and I feel even more connected now, because the people now aren’t just back home in New York, they’re all over the US – the whole flock!”

John Nunn noted today’s festive celebration of race walking when he addressed the crowd. “I want to thank the city of Salem. This was phenomenal. The crowd lined the course the whole way and I can’t thank you enough. This is the best crowd we have ever had. Thank you city of Salem.”


Wednesday, June 29, 2016

Miles and Meters Olympic Trials Podcast with Steve Sievert

Was delighted to be invited by Steve Sievert of the Miles and Meters website to discuss our predictions of the top 10 storylines coming out of the Olympic Trials.

Click here for the link: Miles and Meters Olympic Trials Podcast.

I had a terrific time and am grateful to Steve for the invitation to join him. We both hope you will enjoy the podcast. Let's see how we did with our predictions - the next 10 days will tell!

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Running Shoe Collection Noted in Oregonian Story

Many thanks to Andrew Greif of the Portland Oregonian and the OregonLive.com network for highlighting my vintage running shoe collection in his terrific story about Jordan Geller's successful attempt to outbid Nike for the first Nike "moon shoes" worn in competition.

The article is available at: Moon Shoes Acquisition.

You'll need to scroll deep into Greif's definitive article to read his reference to my collection and my coincidental meeting with Nike co-founder Phil Knight at the World Indoor Track and Field Championships in Portland in March. I had just been interviewed by 1996 Olympic decathlon gold medalist Dan O'Brien for USATF's Cool Down program. I had a bag with 5 of the rarest shoes in one hand and the inventory lists in the other!


Monday, May 30, 2016

Prefontaine Classic 2016

I arrive in Eugene on Friday having flown from Seattle. My carefully planned schedule works like a charm in spite of the Memorial Day weekend travel challenges thrown its way. I park at my motel a few blessed blocks from Hayward Field, open my car door, and find myself looking directly at Alberto Salazar, who is standing no more than five feet away.

You’ve gotta love Eugene - they’ve got the welcoming committee bit nailed.

There was some danger in having the wind go out of the sails of this year’s Classic. The star power was diminished considerably with the withdrawals of Genzebe Dibaba, Allyson Felix, Galen Rupp and Matt Centrowitz. Each of their races was memorable nonetheless, but one can only wonder what having someone to run with so deep into the women’s 5,000m would have meant to Dibaba’s final time. And Centrowitz vs Kiprop? Rupp vs Farah? Felix vs Richards-Ross? Seems a little was left on the table in this Olympic year.

This did not in any way diminish the on-the-track performances, where two American records were set and two world records barely survived. Emma Coburn had previously set the steeplechase AR, only to have it invalidated when she was not drug-tested after her performance. Her 9:10.76 will stick this time, however, in a race which featured the #2 and #3 performances of all-time: Ruth Jebet (BRN, 8:59.97) and Hyvin Kiyeng (KEN, 9:00.01).

Similarly, Harrison set the 100m hurdles AR in 12.24, smashing the previous record of Brianna Rollins (12.26) and scaring Yordanka Donkova’s (Bul) world record of 12.21.

The Bowerman Mile was won in 3:51.54; the international mile in 3:52.64. It’s just not the Bowerman Mile anymore if it’s not sub-3:50. Guys, would you get with the program?

It strikes me that the international mile must be the greatest developmental event in the world – for men. Am wondering why there is not an equivalent event for women. Doesn't have to be the mile - how about the 100m hurdles, likely the deepest event for women right now.

Coolest moment every year: announcement at 1:00pm that the international television feed is joining us. Suddenly, millions of like-minded appreciators of the sport have joined the athletics festival unfolding before of us. 

Welcome one and all.

Memorable moment: Kenyan Julius Yego appears in the hotel lobby. We make a connection and I indicate I’ve written about him – on the day he won the World javelin title, becoming the first man from Africa to do so. It’s a short piece and I read it to him. 

He bows in gratitude.

In the local color department, a man near me in a restaurant was devouring rather enthusiastically his root beer float. Then his enormous dinner arrived. 

I could learn from him.

That’s it from Eugene where the trees are green, the grass is greener as well as for sale, and greenest of all are the false start cards.


The Yego article: http://www.trackerati.com/2015/08/watching-history.html


Tuesday, May 24, 2016

Steve

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, while he was still in high school, “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.



copyright 2016 Mark Cullen. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Shot Put Diva Michelle Carter - IAAF

IAAF, the governing body of international track and field, published my article about World Indoor shot put gold medalist Michelle Carter (US) on their website today:

                                      http://www.iaaf.org/news/feature/michelle-carter-shot-diva

Ian Walters/Getty Images for IAAF photo

Michelle Carter in her moment of triumph in Portland.
Note the crowd in the background - going wild!


Sunday, April 3, 2016

Soles' Souls: USATF.TV Cool Down Interview with Dan O'Brien


Blue Ribbon Sports Waffle Soled Shoes
Adam Schmenk photo/USATF
The interview that preceded my meeting Nike's Phil Knight at the World Indoor Championships in Portland is now featured on the USATF.TV Cool Down program.

Arranged by producer Adam Schmenk with interviewer Dan O'Brien, 1996 Olympic decathlon gold medalist - special thanks to both.

Click here to watch the interview: http://www.usatf.tv/gprofile.php?mgroup_id=45365&do=videos&video_id=171423

Be sure to read the next post about what happened as soon as the interview was over!