Friday, May 17, 2024

Laurel's Laurels

In honor of the 40th Anniversary of the first US Olympic Women's Marathon Trials, a reposting of this tribute to Laurel James, who conceived of and saw to fruition this historic event.

by Mark Cullen

Dubbed the “Godmother of Green Lake” by Seattle columnist Emmett Watson, Laurel James opened her legendary running store, Super Jock ‘n Jill, the day after Thanksgiving in 1975.
James was the single mother of five boys when she decided that the real estate and insurance licenses she held did not represent her future. “It wasn’t working at all,” said James. “This was the era of ‘Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights.’ ”

When her two oldest sons, Brent and Chet, went to college, her son Bryce came home one day in 1974 and asked if he could invite his new coach over for dinner.

Pat Tyson stayed for six years.

Tyson was the inspiration for James’ involvement with running, and he introduced her to his famous Oregon teammate and college roommate Steve Prefontaine. “Meeting Pre was like putting frosting on the cake,” she said. “I thought he was great and my Mom thought he was great, too.”

At 40, James had $10,000 and a dream. Stand-alone running stores were a novelty then; they were few and, quite literally, far between. But the running bug had bitten James.

“One reason I started Super Jock ‘n Jill was none of the sporting goods stores had a selection of good running shoes. All I had was a pair of Keds, and even track spikes were dated then.”

James opened “SJ+J” in a converted gas station near Seattle’s Green Lake where, ironically, Road Runner Sports now operates. This location, however, was her second choice. All along she had her eye on the Masonic Temple building where the store operates to this day, and after a two-and-a-half year wait, she occupied her dream location.

The fledgling business was a family enterprise, and all five sons helped clean years of dust out of the first facility. Chet is now the owner of Super Jock ‘n Jill and Brent - one of Nike’s early employees – has had a very successful career in shoe design. Allen was a ’92 and ’96 race walking Olympian. Says Chet, “My Mom gave birth to this; I adopted it.”

The store and the James home hosted prominent guests: Grete Waitz, Fred Lebow, Olympic and World champion Ernesto Canto and the Mexican race walking team, and none other than Arthur Lydiard.

The name of the store grew out of a trade show James attended in Phoenix. A friend had suggested The Jock Shop in honor of her energetic brood, but James flew home knowing that wasn’t quite right. “I came off the plane with Super Jock and four days later added Jill.”

This name generated threats of a lawsuit from the Jockey underwear company. Said James to their lawyer, “What makes you think you can take on a woman with five kids? What kind of press are you going to get out of that?”

Geography played a key role in the success of her enterprise. Green Lake became the go-to destination for Seattle’s running community as the 1970s running boom took off. James vowed that she would not start in a mall. “I don’t want looky-loos,” she recalled saying to herself. “I want clientele.”

Quick to recognize the opportunity, James organized timed runs around the lake, and an enterprising Seattle podiatrist, Bill Warnekros, sponsored Thursday evening clinics which drew grateful gimpy runners to the store for free advice.

Key to James’ success was her resourcefulness. “I remember one day a truck pulled up and they offloaded something like 577 pairs of Nikes – with a bill for $30,000. I didn’t have $30,000 and after three days, I called Nike’s credit manager, who really didn’t want me to have my own store. But their local rep, Al Miller, had faith that I’d make it.”

It was James’ irrefutable logic that carried the day. “I told the credit manager that he didn’t want these back, and that I didn’t want to pay a 15% surcharge if I did return them. I promised I’d send him a check every Friday.” In three months the bill was paid – and the shoes were sold. “It was 1979,” said James, “and it was one of the times we were hanging by a thread.”

Super Jock ‘n Jill was the first sponsor of the Seattle Marathon, and sponsorship made for some strange bedfellows in the early days. One underwriter of the Red Brick Road Half-Marathon was the lamb industry. “The night before the race we had a whole gang of people in my house making lamb sandwiches that we gave to the vendors the next day!”

It was James who conceived of the Olympia, WA, bid for the 1984 US Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon, and a point of pride for James is the trailblazing support she and her store gave women distance runners and running.

Olympia was up against heavyweights: New York (Fred Lebow and the New York Road Runners Club), Buffalo (which had already been awarded the US men’s marathon trials), Los Angeles (which had ‘84’s biggest meet of all), and Kansas City. Olympia pulled out all the stops, including having US Senator Slade Gorton narrate the presentation in person.

Olympia’s win is considered one of the most colossal upsets in bid history. No surprise, given the determined driving force behind it.

James, who in August turned twice the age of the store, views Super Jock ‘n Jill as a neighborhood store – with a very expansive neighborhood.

The store’s success has always been about the personal relationships it generates. In its early days it was “a great hangout place,” said James, a place where lifelong friendships were formed. “There was no other place to go to find this sense of a running community.”

For 40 years, a store forged from family has given Seattle’s running community its home.

                                                                      *     *     *

Editor's notes:

I shopped at Super Jock 'n' Jill the day it opened in 1975. The previous summer Pat Tyson had introduced me to Laurel James in Eugene. She told me of her dream and I promised I'd support it. Laurel and I remain friends to this day. In fact, a year ago, when Super Jock 'n' Jill opened their Redmond store a year ago, Chet made sure I was the very first customer.

A version of this story appeared in the November/December issue of Northwest Runner. Special thanks to publisher Frank Field for his gracious introduction in the magazine. 

First published on 11/26/2015

                        Super Jock 'n' Jill Founder Laurel James (l) and two-time 
                            marathon world record-setter, Jacqueline Hansen.

Saturday, May 4, 2024

Sixty's Seventieth: Parry O'Brien

Seventy years ago - May 8, 1954 - Parry O’Brien, one of the greatest male shot putters in history, broke the 60’ barrier. If ever he made a mistake, it was shattering 60’ two days after Roger Bannister ran the first sub-4:00 minute mile. While the world was understandably focused on Bannister, O’Brien did little to call attention to his own momentous achievement.
Parry O'Brien
photo credit: USC

Certainly, breaking the 4:00 barrier was to confer legendary status on the athlete first to accomplish it. Roger Bannister, who had a relatively brief career, is rightly accorded that status for his singular achievement. But while Bannister held his world record for 46 days, O’Brien held the shot put world record for over 1,400 more.

O’Brien set world records a staggering 17 times. Interestingly, the IAAF ratified only 10 of these. When O’Brien set multiple world records in the same meet - the most famous of these when he broke the WR three times on June 11, 1954 - IAAF ratified only his best world record of the day.

Olympic gold medalist in ‘52 and ‘56, O’Brien won silver in ‘60 and finished 4th in ’64. He improved the shot put world record by over four feet, from 59’ ¾” to 63’4”, a remarkable record rewrite of 7.23%. His personal best of 64’ 7 ¼” came when he was 34; the world record had by then been claimed by Randy Matson.

During his peak, O’Brien won 116 meets in a row, one of the greatest winning streaks in track and field history. O’Brien earned the highest accolade an American amateur athlete can win when he was recognized with the 1959 Sullivan Award. Perhaps the greatest appreciation of all came when his 1964 Olympic teammates elected him flag bearer for Opening Ceremonies in Tokyo.

Most of all, O’Brien was one of the very few athletes to permanently alter his event. He pioneered “The Glide” and was the first shot putter in history to make use of the entire ring. In a 1955 Sports Illustrated article, Herman Hickman called O’Brien’s Glide “completely revolutionary.”

I met O’Brien at the Legends of Gold Banquet, held in conjunction with the 10th World Athletics Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, in 2001.

As I sat down at my table, I was thrilled to see a placard with his name on it. I was considerably less thrilled when, moments later, someone plucked it off our table and moved it to an adjacent one. In a hall filled with 26 of the most notable track and field gold medalists, ours was, sadly, a table without a legend.

Each legend was given a rousing introduction by the emcee, Canadian television broadcaster, Brian Williams. When he introduced Dick Fosbury, he said that Fosbury held the singular distinction of being the only athlete in the room to have transformed an event.

After dinner I went downstairs and stood in long lines to have my moment with at least a few of these legends.

O’Brien sat leaning forward at his table; it gave him a hunched effect: shoulders forward, head down.

O’Brien struck me as a shy man of great depth.

Humble, certainly.

We exchanged greetings, and as he signed my program, I said, “Mr. O’Brien, many of us cringed tonight when the announcer said that there was one person in the building who transformed an event. Everyone knows there are two."

I had not anticipated how deeply this would touch him; I think I had given voice to what he thought but could not say.

With great emphasis, he said, “Thank you.”

He looked down quickly and then up again.

“Thank you.”

He was trying to tell me something important.

“Thank you very much.”

Parry O’Brien, an athlete dedicated to his fitness for his entire life, passed away eight years later at 75 while competing in a masters swimming event in his native California.

*Note: This article was first published on May 7, 2014, under the title Sixty's Sixtieth.
I'm as surprised as anyone that ten years have passed. 

Saturday, December 23, 2023

Christmas in London

     by Mark Cullen

How I found Christmas in London on the top of a double-decker bus early one morning in August 2017. Featuring US 800m runner Drew Windle and his remarkable family, this 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:

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.


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

Monday, September 18, 2023

A Few Days in Sorrento

by Mark Cullen

It would be hard to conceive of Sunday’s Prefontaine Classic as a more fitting end to a season that stands out as one of the most memorable.

Could it get any better than a 5,000 meter world record in Prefontaine’s signature event by Ethiopia’s Gudaf Tsegay in a mind-bending 14:00.21?

Or how about Mondo Duplantis’ 20-5 ¼ world record pole vault – on his first attempt! Has this become his Eugene calling card?

The Diamond League finale was preceded by what many are calling one of the greatest World Championships.

In turn, this Diamond League championship compares favorably to any held before.

(It might be helpful, if you have the time and inclination, to first read my report of Saturday’s stat-fest at Hayward Field, below.)

 Australia's Matt Denny Wins the Discus
photo by Marta Gorczynska for Diamond League AG

Typical of the excitement was the men’s discus - held, seemingly, just after brunch on Sunday with its 11:30 am start.

Nothing like a final-throw win to wake up the crowd and stir the competitive juices.

Not to mention topping a field that included World and Olympic champions.

“I’ve always gone to the majors with the goal to win,” said Australia’s Matthew Denny, newly crowned Diamond League discus champion.

The 27 year old had made World and Olympic finals four times, but this was the first time he left as major meet champion – or medalist. 

However, as 10 x national champion, as well as World University and Commonwealth Games gold medalist, he’s had plenty of practice ascending the podium

“I thought we could be on for a PB here,” understated the surprise titlist, who won with a last-round heave of 68.43 (224-6), a personal best and national record.

“This really cements my point that I can be the best… and that’s my goal for Paris.”

Denny thinks the winning throw in Paris will be in the 71-72 meter range. “That’s the goal and this gives me great confidence going into next year.”

Denny was ready for what was to come on Sunday.

“I had a lot of energy in me,” he said. “I was pretty twitchy and I was just ready to compete. I knew that I could potentially put something together.

“I wasn’t going to count Daniel (Stahl) or Kristjan (Ceh) out. I’m just so happy to finish on such a high note for this season because it’s been a great season, and I wanted to finish it the right way.”

Making the mental transition from Budapest to Eugene was not, for Denny, the same strain it was for a number of other athletes who found it difficult to sustain energy and focus and to bridge the three-week gap from one major championship to another.

Denny credits new coaching and a revamped team for a renewed and energized perspective.

“I’ve been really refreshed this year in the way that I conduct my whole process of training,” he said. 

“After Worlds I had a little break with my wife and we went to Sorrento in Italy. I did some band work, but not full sessions, and it just recharged me.”

“I got 4th at Worlds and I got the national record,” he said, “but I’m in the game to win World Championships. It’s hard to be satisfied with 4th.”

“So, to turn it around and reignite it… I had a whole point to make this year. We wanted to finish this year on a stamp and we did that.”

“I feel refreshed,” Denny reiterated.

It showed.

A few days in Sorrento will do that.

Sunday, September 17, 2023

Brave New World

                                                            by Mark Cullen

It’s a late night for track and field statisticians.

So many lists, so many revisions.

The statistics are staggering.

Yared Nuguse (US) runs 3:43.97 for the mile and finishes second.

New Zealand’s Sam Tanner runs 3:49.51 and finishes eleventh.

Indeed, the slowest of the 13 finishers in Saturday’s Diamond League Final Bowerman Mile was Kenya’s Abel Kipsang in 3:53.50. 

Ahead of him was Elliott Giles of Great Britain, whose faster than 58 seconds per lap pace garnered him only a 12th place finish.

Usually, 6th place doesn’t get much ink. Perhaps it should this time. University of Oregon graduate Cole Hocker demolished his PB by almost 3 seconds and ran 3:48.08 – two-tenths of a second behind Kenya’s Reynold Kipkorir Cheruiyot.

The significance of Cheruiyot’s 3:48.06?

It’s the World Junior (U20) record; this lad turned 19 at the end of July.

Did we mention? Jakob Ingebrigtsen won by a nose, outleaning Naguse to win in 3:43.73, a scant six-tenths short of the world record.

    Jared Naguse and Jakob Ingebrigsten
     Photo by Matthew Quine for Diamond League AG

The madness extended well past the men’s mile.

Faith Kipyegon (Ken) outsprinted one of the deepest fields in history.

Trouble was, it wasn’t a sprint – or was it? She scared her own 1500m world record of 3:49.11 with a stellar, dominating 3:50.72, a 3+ second margin over Ethiopia’s Diribe Weltije.

3:59.57 got you 9th in the women’s 1500m, as Great Britain’s Melissa Courtney-Bryant found out the hard way.

Nine women finished under 4:00 minutes.

Sub-4:00 for 1500m has become the benchmark for women that running sub-4:00 for the mile once was for men.

Now, it’s sub-3:50 for male milers. Will it soon be 3:55.0 for women? Is it already?

Faith Kipyegon 
photo by Marta Gorcznska for Diamond League AG

Rai Benjamin (US) wasn’t leading over the final hurdle of the men’s 400m hurdles, but he was leading when it counted most: at the finish line, just a few meters later.

His 46.39 leads the world this year and is the meet as well as Diamond League record. Karsten Warholm’s 46.53 is, astonishingly, none of those. Today, what that got him was 2nd in the 7th fastest performance ever.

 Washington State’s popular graduate CJ Allen got a sweet ovation upon introduction; his 48.62 – not long ago a lock for a podium finish -  got him 9th and last as the top 7 broke 48.00.

 A look at the all-time lists reveals that longtime world record hurdler Kevin Young (46.78 in ’92) dropped off the all-time top 10 performance list today, joining Edwin Moses (47.04, ’83), who preceded him in statistical purgatory.

Shall we continue? 

How about 8:51.67, the #3 time in women’s steeplechase history?

You’re on to this by now: yes, this was second place for Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech behind Winfred Mutile Yavi’s winning 8:50.66, the second fastest ever.

The current world record holder second to the current World champion.

Yulimar Rojas won the triple jump at 15.35 (50 4 ½), just outside the all-time top ten. If only she didn’t already have 9 of those top 10 marks, she might have had even more to celebrate today.

Chase Ealey set the American and Diamond League records in the women’s shot put at 20.76 (68-1½). And Katie Moon set the pole vault meet record of 4.86 (15-11 1/4).

Meanwhile, no one in the men’s and women’s javelin, men’s triple jump, and men’s steeplechase got a personal best, season’s best, Diamond League record, etc. These results keep us grounded.

One stat stands out above all others today:

In the men’s mile, 13/13 ran season’s bests, a result so unlikely as to seem almost anomalous.

It gets better.

11/13 ran personal bests

6/13 ran national/area records.

When we say that everyone in the men’s mile peaked at just the right time, we’re not kidding.

Said Ingebrigtsen, “Everything is possible.”

Sunday, August 27, 2023

Bols for Bol - Dutch Relays+Femke Bol Bookend Worlds

 "If you ain't Dutch, you ain't much" is a saying well-known among Dutch expatriates like my late mother. Sunday the Dutch 4x400m relay team featuring Femke Bol on anchor was too much for the rest of the world.

Bol, the World 400m hurdles champion, ran one of the most scintillating anchor legs in World Championship history. The Dutch brought themselves back from the depths of their first day to redemption on their last. 

The schedule of the opening day was designed to have the 4x400 mixed relay as the closing event - something that would engage the audience and keep them coming back for more.

What wasn't expected was that the Dutch, in the incarnation of Femke Bol, would do a face plant mere meters from the finish while in the lead - much as teammate Sifan Hassan had just done in the final of the women's 10,000m. Instead of gold, the Dutch mixed relay team came away with no medals at all. 

Today Bol, on anchor in the 4x400, got the baton at least 20 meters behind leader Jamaica. Inexorably, Bol narrowed the gap, and with 150 meters to go, it appeared she would move from 4th to 3rd and a position on the podium. 

She did more than that, and with 10 meters left was in 2nd. In a truly remarkable close, Bol surged by Jamaica's Stacey Ann Williams, leaned, and won by .16 of a second. Another .16 back was the Great Britain and Northern Ireland team, and in 4th was Canada.

"It was one of my most important runs ever, but it is the first time we became world champions so it applies for all of us," said Holland's selfless star. "Every tenth and hundredth of a second was needed. We had good exchanges and still barely won it."

From the last event on the first day to the last event on the last, the Dutch relay teams embodied the heartbreak and triumph that defined the intervening days.

These Dutch Are Much
World 4x400m Relay Champions
Femke Bol, Cathelijn Peeters, Lieke Klaver, Eveline Sandberg
photo by Stephen Pond/ Getty Images for World Athletics

In the men's 4x400m, the United States team of Quincy Hall, Vernon Norwood, Justin Robinson, and Rai Benjamin took the lead early and the outcome was not in doubt, barring faceplants or dropped batons. 

The US ran a world leading time of 2:57.31, while France set a national record in 2nd at 2:58.45. Great Britain and Northern Ireland, Jamaica, and India followed.

Said anchor Rai Benjamin (3rd in the intermediate hurdles), "After the 400m hurdles I wanted to come back and anchor this relay. It means a lot that the guys have faith in me and trust me. It is amazing." 

For India to have made the 4x400m final was historic in itself as India has now qualified for the semis at the Paris Olympic Games. It will be India's first long relay appearance in the Olympics.

India's Javelin Sensation
World Champion Neeraj Chopra
Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics

All in all, not a bad day for India, as its javelin contingent finished 1-5-6, with national hero and Olympic champion Neraj Chopra leading the way at 88.17 (289-3) to win India's first ever World Championships track and field gold medal.

"This has been a great championships for India and I am proud to bring another title to my country," said India's track and field superstar.

Somewhat unbelievably, second place of 87.82 (288-1) went to Arshaad Nadim, with Czech veteran Jakub Vadlejch third in 86.67 (284-4).

Why unbelievably? 

Because Nadim is from Pakistan.

That's right, India and Pakistan went 1-2 in the javelin.

And what did Chopra and Nadim do at the end of the competition?

They hugged each other.

India and Pakistan hugging each other on the infield of the World Championships?!

It now, officially, will never ever get better than this.

Unless, of course, it does.

Just weeks after the Russian invasion of her native Ukraine, Yaroslava Mahuchikh won the World Indoor high jump title, much to the delight of the fans in Belgrade. She had had a terrifying escape from her homeland just to get to Belgrade, and hasn't been home since. 

"I have to win this gold for my country and all Ukrainian people who are still fighting for peace in Ukraine and for our independence," she said. 

The 21 year old from Dnipro already had two World silvers and one Olympic bronze. Today she added gold to her remarkable resume. 

She was clutch with first jump clearances at 1.97 (6' 5.5") and 1.99 (6' 6.25"), and her second attempt clearance at 2.01 (6' 7") sealed the deal over two accomplished  Australians. 

2022 World titlist Eleanor Patterson's first jump clearance at 1.99 (6' 6.25") was the difference between silver and bronze. It took teammate and Olympic silver medalist Nicola Olyslagers a second jump to clear at the same height and this sorted the medals. 

Great Britain's Morgan Lake, who won the U-20 high jump and heptathlon titles in Eugene in 2014, was 4th at 1.97 (6' 5.5").

Yaroslava Mahuchikh
Ukraine's High Jump World Champion
photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics

Who needs redemption at age 22? That would be Jakob Ingebrigsten (Nor) who won silver in the 1500m for the second Worlds in a row. 

Let's hope he is feeling a bit better as he just won his second consecutive 5,000m title. Ingebrigsten ran a scorching last lap 52.45 to win in 13:11.30.

Mohamed Katir (Sp) held the lead until he didn't and succumbed to Ingebrigsten's withering kick by .14 to win silver. Kenya's Jacob Krop was 3rd, and as if to put a finer point on how close this race was, look at Ingebrigsten's wining time and reflect on this: the top 8 were at 13:12.99 or faster, and they all finished within 1.69 seconds of each other.

While defending World and Olympic 800m champion Athing Mu was the favorite of many, it was hard to pick someone to win who had had so few races this year. In one interview this spring, she said she'd rather spend time on her flourishing modeling career than on running. 

All this makes perfect sense for someone so young who already had won the two most important titles our sport has to offer - before she was 21.

It was neither a surprise that she won bronze today, nor that Mary Moraa (Ken) won gold. Moraa moved up from her bronze medal finish in Eugene, while Great Britain's Keely Hodgkinson won her third global silver.

Moraa won the 2022 Diamond League 800m final, raced in 3 Diamond League meets in 2022, and 3 in 2023 before Worlds. 

Coming into the meet, Hodgkinson ran 5 Diamond League races in '22 and '23, and won the 2021 Diamond League final.

How many Diamond League meets did Mu run? One - in 2022.

When it came to being race ready, it was Moraa who swept by Mu on the outside on the final stretch, with Hodgkinson sprinting for her running life on the inside.

 My concern is not with Mu, who I respect enormously. It's her handlers who need to balance giving her the race experience she needs with giving her the space to just be 21.

A note for Oregon fans that graduate Raevyn Rogers finished 4th in 1:57.45. And Nia Akins (US) ran a personal best of 1:57.73 in 6th.

It should be noted that Moraa ran a personal best 1:56.03 to win gold. No better time or place - and few achievements are as notable - as a personal best the single day of your life you need it most.

"I am pleased to get the gold this time and become the world champion," said Moraa in the understatement of the day.

"After bronze last year I wanted to improve and I have. Everyone in the final was so fast I knew I would have to have a fast finish. I came from a long way behind but I managed to do it."

"Beatrice Chepkoech has just finished second in the steeplechase," she continued,  "and I am so happy for her too. We are very good friends. I just want to get back to the track and celebrate together with her."

Speaking of PBs when you need them most, how about 1st and 3rd in the women's steeplechase? Winfrid Mutile Yavi led a group of four over the last three laps. Four dropped to three dropped to two, and no one could stay with the delighted Yavi on the last lap. 

Yavi won in 8:54.29 - which, not incidentally, makes her the 4th fastest performer all-time.

Ethiopia's Zerfe Wondemagegn hung onto the pack valiantly, but finally had to let go and finished 4th as the remaining medals went to Kenyans Beatrice Chepkoech in 8:58.98 and Faith Cherotich in 9:00.69, who ascended to #12 on the all-time performers list. Keep an eye on Cherotich, who turned 19 six weeks ago.

So why no props for Chepkoech's 8:58.98? She is already on the all-time perfomers list, thank you - at #1! Today's silver medalist is the world record holder, an achievement from the Monaco Diamond League meet in 2018.

"This silver feels like gold to me," said Chepkoech. "The last few years have been tough due to my injury. Coming back is something special for me."

"I knew I would have the power on the last lap," said Yavi. "It was perfect. I have never felt like this before. I worked hard and I am grateful for this amazing achievement." 

Winfred Mutile Yavi
Kenya's Steeplechase World Champion
photo by Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics

Uganda's Marathon Champion Victor Kiplangat, left
Photo by Sanjeev Surati

As in the women's marathon the day before, the conditions for the men's marathon can only be described - in spite of the 7:00 am start - as brutal. And they got worse the longer the athletes were on the course.

It was a run of attrition, and Uganda's Victor Kiplangat emerged the victor by applying relentless, sustained pressure, especially over the last three kilometers. His 2:08:53 is stellar for these conditions. Israel's Maru Teferi hung close and finished strongly to win silver in 2:09:02, while Ethiopia's Leul Gebresilase  finished 3rd in 2:09:19.

Quite oddly, there were two falls during the race... and defending champion Tamirat Tola was a contender until stomach problems sidelined him.

Kiplangat joined his more famous teammate, 10,000m winner Joseph Cheptegai, as World Champion. And he won this race ten years after countryman Stephen Kiprotich won in Moscow.

"This has been my dream and it has come true at last," said the newly crowned champion. 

"Last year I was Commonwealth Games champion and that made me think this year I must become world champion," said Kiplangat. "Now my prayers have been answered and hopefully next year in Paris I will become Olympic champion too." 

Meanwhile, just one question to close out this championship: if you're not much if you're not Dutch, what if I'm half Dutch - where, exactly, does that leave me? 

In the absence of an answer to such ethereal questions, many Dutch today no doubt will lift a glass of Bols - an aptly named Dutch gin - and salute Bol and her teammates. 

They will, as I do, count ourselves richly privileged to have witnessed such an extraordinary World Championships - even if 8793 kilometers from afar!

~Mark Cullen, writing from Seattle

Saturday, August 26, 2023

It Takes Two! Budapest Worlds Day 8

Faith Kipyegon Completes Historic Double
US Wins Men's and Women's Sprint Relays
US Women 41.03, #3 Time All-Time
US Sprint Relay Teams Celebrate Golds Together
Christian Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics

If you thought the dominance the US sprint relay teams once had were a thing of the past, check out today's 4x100m races.

The men were up first - and in spite of somewhat shaky passes - gave Noah Lyles a small lead on anchor and that was all he needed. He won going away, and the team recorded a 37.38 world leading time. 

Lyles made history of his own by winning his third gold medal of these championships. 100, 200, 4x100 - that's the ultimate achievement for a sprinter.

As announcer Ato Boldon pointed out, there were three world 100m champions on this relay team. Christian Coleman led off to Fred Kerley who passed to the only non-individual champion on the team, Brandon Carnes, and he passed to anchor Noah Lyles. 

As the baton crossed the finish line without having touched the ground, all was well. Italy scored another major meet medal - silver this time, and of note was Olympic 100m champion Marcel Jacobs running the second leg and displaying great team spirit in doing so. 

Filippo Tortu ran another brilliant anchor leg for Italy. And all of you who picked Italy to finish ahead of bronze medalists Jamaica, please step forward.

Ahhhh, you must be Tortu's grandmother.

The women did the men one better and recorded the Championship Record of 41.03. Only twice have women's teams run faster, making this the #3 time all-time. Only Jamaica (41.02 in 2021) and the United States (20.82 in 2012) have run faster, both in Olympic finals.

The first two passes were shaky, but Gabby Thomas ran a brilliant third leg and had a great handoff to Sha'Carry Richardson on anchor. Anchoring for Jamaica was Shericka Jackson, so this was one and done, correct?

Nope! Richardson established an early lead and sustained it all the way down the track to the finish line where she was mobbed by a jubilant US men's team that had just won gold itself. It was one of the more affecting moments of these championships.

The US team of Tamari Davis, Twanisha Terry, Gabby Thomas, and Sha'Carri Richardson was up against a Jamaican team that included Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Shericka Jackson. The US win today, and in the #3 time ever, was truly a remarkable performance.

Earlier, the US had failed to complete a pass within the zone in the 4x400m relay semis and was disqualified. 

This plus the uncertain passes in the 4x100 speak to the continuing need for the US to have a focused relay program that goes beyond the time between US nationals and Worlds. Tellingly, one of the 4x400 meter runners cited lack of practice as one of the reasons for the failed pass.

Nonetheless, US 4x100 leadoff Tamari Davis got to the heart of what succeeded when she said, "We needed to do our job and we all did that and trusted each other."

After concluding a week in which she won two golds and a bronze, Sha'Carri Richardson said, "Dreams like this come true." 

If two wins for the US sprinters wasn't dramatic enough, try two for Faith Kipyegon. The seemingly unbeatable middle distance sensation made history by becoming the first ever to win both the 1500m and 5000m at Worlds. 

With 1500m gold already in her pocket, today in the 5000m, the pack ran together for a surprisingly long time - that is, until the last lap, and then it was Kipyegon's sustained drive and sprint vs that of Siffan Hassan of the Netherlands. 

The finish of the 5000 looked a lot like that of the 1500, with Kipyegon sustaining a lead that others could not dent. Today, Hassan was second and Kenya's Beatrice Chebet third.

"This has been an amazing year for me," said Kipyegon. "Making history today, winning two gold medals in a championships is what I was dreaming for this season. I have been patient waiting to be able to break world records and win double golds... I believed in myself. I have been consistent, focused on the finish line, and on writing history."

Chris Petersen/Getty Images for World Athletics

Faith Kipyegon Running into History
L>R: Beatrice Chebet - 3rd, Gudaf Tsegay- 13th
Sifan Hassan - 2nd, Faith Kipyegon - 1st

If you're fortunate enough to be at the World Championships this week, surely you've heard one anthem more often than you expected: Canada's.

With four more medals today - gold and silver in the decathlon, gold in the men's 800m, and silver in the women's shot put - Canada has emerged as the surprise country of the meet.

Marco Arop, Canada's bronze medalist in the 800m in 2022, won today by running the second lap faster than the first - a rare negative split in this event. This had the desired effect of burning off the stellar field as he powered his way down the stretch to win in 1:44.24. 

Second was Kenya's 19-year-old sensation Emmanuel Wanyonyi, in 1:44.53. There was a spirited rush for bronze, won by England's 21-year-old Ben Pattison in 1:44.83; only 12 one-hundredths of a second separated 3rd from 5th.

Note, too, that Arop was 7th in the 2019 Doha final; rare is the 800m runner who qualifies for three World finals in a row.

Canada's Pierce Lepage scored a robust 8909 points in the decathlon to place him #6 on the all-time world list. The new champion moved up a place from silver in Eugene and turned back none other than teammate Damien Warner, the 2021 Tokyo Olympic champion, who scored a season's best 8804 and gave Canada a 1-2 finish in the event. 

Bronze went to Lindon Viktor of Grenada in 8756, a national record and the first World or Olympic medal for the 30-year old in nine years of competing on the international circuit.

On the other end of the medal spectrum is pole vaulter Mondo Duplantis who at last count has 739 gold medals. Or so it seems. He won once again; he not only has multiple titles, but he has broken indoor and outdoor world records 11 times. 

Duplantis won at 6.10 today, and in the spirit of sharing medals, this time there was an actual tie for third between Chris Nielsen of the United States and Kurtis Marschall of Australia at 5.95, which equalled Marschall's personal best.

An even better kind of best was recorded by the Philippines' Ernest John Obien, who tied the Area Best of 6.00m for silver.

The women's shot put final was closely contested and may well have been the deepest ever. Chase Ealey (US) won her second consecutive World title; she opened at 20.35 and exceeded that in the fifth round with an effort of 20.43. Teammate Maggie Ewen started well and was second after the first round, but she gradually slipped to 6th. 

Canada's (I told you!) Sarah Mitton leaped into silver medal position in the fifth round at 20.08. China's venerable veteran Lijiao Gong and Portugal's Auriol Dongmo tied in the 4th round at 19.69; Gong won her 8th World medal by virtue of having the better second throw, 19.67 to 19.63.

Finally, the women's marathon was held at 7:00am Budapest time. Kara Goucher, NBC announcer, described herself as having become soaked with sweat by walking only two blocks just before the race began.

The results, all things considered, were fairly astonishing, as Amane Beriso Shankule (Eth) ran 2:24:23 in oppressive conditions to win. Second was teammate Gotytom Gebreslace, just 9 seconds behind.

There was joy in Morocco over Fatima Ezzahra Gardadi's bronze in 2:25:17, the first medal won in the marathon by a Moroccan woman.

Lindsay Flanagan (US and late of the University of Washington) finished 9th in 2:27:47.

Let's give the last word to shot put gold medalist, Chase Ealey, who is one of the best interviews in the sport, and one of the most direct and engaging athletes. Said she after winning gold:

"I started crying with my mum. I ran to her and she started crying so I started crying, and now my face is a mess."

I think it's written somewhere in the Olympic Creed that if you win gold and start crying tears of joy, it's OK for your makeup to run!

Stephen Pond/Getty Images for World Athletics

Two-Time World Shot Put Champion Chase Ealey

~Mark Cullen, writing from Seattle