Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Choreographing Our Future

"The Pursuit of the Dream Heals Broken Souls"
Billy Mills in Coos Bay, Oregon

Copyright 2018. Mark Cullen/ All Rights Reserved.

Billy Mills at Steve Prefontaine's High School
Billy Mills, described by Superintendent Bryan Trendell as a "national treasure," gave an inspiring presentation to a rapt audience of engaged students at Coos Bay's Marshfield High School on Tuesday morning. Linda Prefontaine, who organized this event, gave a thoughtful and insightful introduction. Then Billy Mills had the audience spellbound.

On October 14, 1964, "I laid footprints that forever changed my life," said Mills of his historic 10,000m win at the Tokyo Olympics. "I truly felt I had wings on my feet."

"Olympians are chosen by the gods," he said, and "someday you may have wings of an eagle."

He described himself as once having been a "broken soul." Mills, who had lost both of his parents by the time he was 12, found healing in having a dream.

"It's the pursuit of the dream that heals broken souls."

Before his father's untimely death from a stroke, his father assured him, "Magic happens, son."

Mills' positive message was one arrived at through the heartbreak of being a Native American unwelcome in his native land. 

"I was not ready for the racism I would find in America," he said.

It was not uncommon for him to be asked to step out of victory photos, for example. For three years in a row of being a cross country All-American, two photos were taken after every race - one with him in, and one with him out.

Mills blended the "virtues and values from my culture" and transformed them into ones which he applied to his marriage and his lifetime goals.

"Pat was the first person to believe in me," he said of his wife. "I took the virtues and values of my Olympic pursuit and turned them into being a better husband and man. These were the things that gave us confidence."

Just as Mills set out on a quest to find what was broken and heal himself, now he passes that experience on to the younger generation.

"What we need to do is come together," he said. "You need to collectively choreograph your future."

He appreciates the platform that he gave himself, and today, at 80, he continues to be passionate about the opportunity to help others.

"Everyday I celebrate my victory when I heal a broken soul."

After his stirring speech, students formed a long queue to greet him, he met with the student leadership class, and students who wanted to engage with him for just a moment stopped him on his way to the car. 

Every time he met a student he asked, "Do you read?" He encouraged civic engagement and good citizenship every step of the way.

A magnificent day with Mills became even richer with the showing of "Running Brave" at the Egyptian Theater, which was followed by a question and answer session with the public.

Mills concluded the evening with unifying comments about the divisiveness that pervades our country. 

"We need to tell our own stories," Mills said. "If we can tell our own stories we can come together. The most powerful prayer in my tribal language is, 'We are all related.' "

"But there is fear," he continued. "Fear in America. We have to overcome that fear with knowledge, and our young people play a major, major role by learning, by coming together."

"We have to have the strength and the courage - collectively - through our tax system - to reach into the poverty pockets of America and give opportunity.

"Never in the history of our existence as a country has the need for tribal, state, and federal governments - along with our marketplace - to come together and collectively choreograph the horizon of our future been greater.

"It starts with our young people."

Billy Mills with Student Leadership Class at Marshfield High School

Personal Notes
Before the evening presentation, we took advantage of some great photo opportunities at the Prefontaine murals in downtown Coos Bay. Below you'll see Billy Mills and Linda Prefontaine in one; Billy Mills and yours truly in the other. 

Thanks to Linda Prefontaine for putting together Billy Mills' memorable visit. It was an excellent learning experience for all the students and runners Mills reached out to and connected with. 

Thanks to all who came, and thanks, too, to Linda for her invitation for me to introduce Mills, and for her warm and kind introduction of me last evening.

Billy Mills and Linda Prefontaine

Two American Distance Legends 
(Scroll Up!)

Billy Mills – Introduction
copyright 2018. Mark Cullen/ All Rights reserved.

Every Olympics has an image – a snapshot – a moment seared in our minds forever that one iconic moment that captures the spirit of that quadrennium’s games.

The 1964 Tokyo Olympics were a games of the expected, yet for all the outstanding accomplishments of favorites like Bob Hayes, Al Oerter, Wyomia Tyus, and Edith McGuire, the lasting image of the ’64 Olympics is none of these.

As you know from the film you just saw, Billy Mills was born and raised on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Although Pine Ridge is very rich in culture and spirit, it has long been recognized as one of the poorest communities in America with unemployment often reaching 80%.

Yet it was here that a future Olympic Champion, Olympic record holder, and world record holder took his first steps towards greatness.

In spite of the absence of major championships on his resume, he had trained with a focus and determination since he was 12 with only one goal in mind: an Olympic gold medal.

He arrived in Tokyo well ‘under the radar screen,’ and the world was about to see the greatest upset in Olympic history unfold.

I’ve long thought Mills’ stunning victory was best summarized by the reporter who came up to him afterwards and asked: “Who are you?”

To give our many runners in the audience some context of the nature of his triumph that day, suffice it to know that he set a personal record by nearly 2 seconds per lap for the 25 lap race.

While most discussions of Mr. Mills’ running achievements seem to end with Tokyoit’s important to note that the following year, while winning our national championships with a dramatic lean at the tape over his Tokyo roommate, Gerry Lindgren, he set a world record for six miles of 27:11.6.

Today, Mr. Mills is an accomplished businessman, author, and national spokesperson for Running Strong for American Indian Youth, a division of Christian Relief Services. In this role, he has helped raise millions of dollars in cash and in-kind gifts for charities worldwide, and now has launched and supported the Dreamstarter program for Native American youth.

He has received five honorary doctorates, is a member of six Halls of Fame, and the Distinguished Service Citation of the University of Kansas Alumni Association cites his outstanding achievement for the betterment of humankind.

Just days ago – in fact hours before the 54th anniversary of his stirring triumph - he was inducted into the inaugural class of the National Native American Hall of Fame.

And to top it all off, in 2012, he was awarded the Presidential Citizen’s Medal by President Obama.

This evening we see that Mr. Mills’ life is about far more than one moment of greatness; rather. it’s about what he’s done with the platform that that moment of greatness has provided him – or, to put it far more accurately, which he provided for himself.

Greatness, in Mr. Mills’ case, is a lifelong experience.

Tonight, we have the great privilege of meeting with Billy Mills, and in no less a place than Coos Bay, OR, where someone else was also known for running brave.

Thank you, Linda Prefontaine, for making this opportunity happen.

Those of you who were at the high school this morning saw the video of the finish of Mr. Mills’ Tokyo 10,000m race, and tonight we’ve seen the recreation of one of the most iconic last laps in distance running history.

Many of you have noted that he finished in lane 4… In spite of what almost every coach will tell you about finishing in lane 1, some rules are made to be broken!

In both videos we’ve seen 1964’s iconic image, the smile that would not end – a testament to what happens when you are Running Brave, Running Strong,
and running with unfettered joy.

Let’s Welcome Billy Mills!

Thursday, October 25, 2018

Billy Mills to Speak in Steve Prefontaine's Hometown

1964 Olympic 10,000m gold medalist Billy Mills will speak in Steve Prefontaine's hometown of Coos Bay, Oregon, on Tuesday, October 30.

The inspirational biopic "Running Brave" will be screened at the Egyptian Theater at 6:00pm. Following a brief intermission, Mills will engage in a question and answer session with the public.

Admission is free.

The Egyptian Theater is located at 229 South Broadway:

Poster courtesy Prefontaine Productions LLC
In 2014, in honor of the 50th anniversary of his Tokyo triumph, I put together a copy of my 2005 introduction, links to three videos, and my favorite Billy Mills quote in this story:

I took this photo (below) at the 2017 US National Track and Field Championships in Sacramento. Paul Chelimo stands atop the victory stand as the winner of the men's 5,000m. Billy Mills is in the foreground having just presented the medalists with their honors.

Photo copyright Mark Cullen/, 2017, All Rights Reserved

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

Echoes of Silence

10/16/18 is the 50th anniversary of the famous black power protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the 200m victory stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. 

This is my story of the 2014 dedication of the 1968 training camp at Echo Summit, CA, as a California Historical Landmark - a story of that day, and of their times.

I’ve included an addendum to reflect recent scholarship on the role of the ‘third man on the podium,’ Australia’s fast-closing silver medalist, Peter Norman.

photo credit:
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:

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/ All Rights Reserved

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Un Moment Magique

Kevin Mayer
Smashes the Decathlon World Record
New Standard: 9126

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/ All Rights Reserved

Kevin Mayer after the long jump on Saturday.
He set a 7.80 (25-7.25) PB en route to his new world record
after fouling out of the event in the European Championships in August.
photo credit: Getty Images/IAAF
Kevin Mayer set a new decathlon world record of 9126 in Talence, France, today. He broke Ashton Eaton's 9045 - set in winning the 2015 Beijing World title - by 81 points. Mayer did so at the Decastar IAAF Combined Events Challenge in front of an enthusiastic and appreciative home-country crowd.

Mayer rode personal bests in 4 events - the 100m, pole vault, long jump, and javelin - to the record. In addition, he had set personal bests in the 110m hurdles, shot put, and discus earlier in the summer, and was a heavy favorite to win the European title until he fouled three times in the long jump. For the long jump to have been key to his world record was sweet revenge.

Indeed, his European Championships experience fueled his decision to compete in Talence, and his win and world record virtually assure him of a #1 world ranking this year.

He celebrated with a backflip in front of ecstatic French fans on his way to the imaginatively constructed podium, one which had room for every one of the competitors. Mayer was thoughtful and articulate in his comments to the thrilled crowd, and generous in his thanks to his family, competitors, meet officials, and spectators.

Then "Le Marseillaise" was played and the enormity of his accomplishment washed over him.

Together with Eliud Kipchoge's marathon world record this morning, this is one of the most memorable days in track and field history. 

World records in the marathon and decathlon, two signature events of the sport.

The stadium announcer aptly called Mayer's achievement "Un Moment Magique".

On this day - remarkably - it's deux.

Even the Pacers Couldn't Keep Up


Eliud Kipchoge Shatters Marathon World Record

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/ All Rights Reserved

Photo courtesy SCC Events/Berlin Marathon
Kenya's Eliud Kipchoge took advantage of perfect running conditions to rewrite the marathon world record by 78 seconds in Berlin today. His 2:01:39 took down Dennis Kimetto's 2:02:57, run on the same course in 2014.

Even the pacesetters couldn't keep up with Kipchoge, as two of the three dropped out between 14 and 15 kilometers, far earlier than expected. Sammy Kitwara, the "special pacer" who holds a half marathon best of 58:48, was a particular surprise.

It appeared that Josephat Boit, the 2006 NCAA 10,000m champion, had saved the day by staying with Kipchoge as the lone pacer until 25.7 km, but as soon as Boit dropped out, Kipchoge sped up.

He won the race by almost 5 minutes as countrymen Amos Kipruto and former marathon world record holder Wilson Kipsang finished second and third in 2:06:23 and 2:06:48. It was a good day for Japan, too, as Shogo Nakamura led a 4-6-8 finish for his country.

Asked after the race if he had any goals left, Kipchoge, the 2016 Olympic Champion, quipped, "Yes, 2:02!" Kipchoge skipped the 2:02 range as he dropped his previous best of 2:03:05 by 86 seconds - an astounding 2 seconds per kilometer and 3 seconds per mile.

Earlier in the week, Kipchoge had been coy about a world record attempt, saying he wanted a personal best when his best was only 8 seconds off the world record. He also said that he would pace the 2:06 group, presumably sending race organizers into fits of apoplexy.

In a very fast and highly competitive women's race, Gladys Cherono (Ken) led three women under 2:19 to win in 2:18:11. Ruti Aga's (Eth) 2:18:34 set a personal best by over two minutes, while Ethiopian distance legend Tirunesh Dibaba (Eth) was third in 2:18:55.

Just seconds after crossing the finish line, Kipchoge began posing for the assembled photographers. Kipchoge then moved from having pictures taken to turn to the crowd and start his victory celebration.

At the moment he turned, the clock read 2:02:57, the previous world record.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Hearing Crickets

Olympic Champion Thomas Rohler Gives Continental Cup the Context It Needs

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved
Thomas Rohler
Olympic, European, Continental Cup Gold Medalist
photo Getty Images/IAAF
A higher level of understanding of the scoring system led to a more enjoyable second day of Ostrava's Continental Cup.

A central goal for the 2022 Continental Cup is a more clearly understood format, one which doesn't take fans and observers a day to learn.

At the same time, preservation of the team concept - and one which doesn't have athletes competing against their own team members until the final round - is essential.

A format that's well-understood before the meet begins is not too much to ask; one which applies equally to all events is what's needed most.

The Continental Cup is a format in which team plays a central role in this otherwise individual sport, and in a way it usually does not at its upper echelons. The team aspect is well-understood at collegiate and school levels, especially with the NCAA in the United States.

Here the teams are Africa, Europe, Asia-Pacific, and Americas.

In a post-meet interview, Olympic, European, and Continental Cup javelin champion Thomas Rohler (Ger) gave an interesting critique of the format, but also saw it as an event which builds interest in athletics world wide.

The men's javelin serves as an interesting case study of the flaws of the format.

In the 3rd of 5 rounds, Rohler and local favorite, Czech Jakub Vadlejch, both members of the European team, went head-to-head for the opportunity to advance.

As Rohler says so well below, it is awkward to be forced to try to knock your teammate out of the competition so early - it goes against the team philosophy that is central to this competition. (If you're going head-to-head against a teammate in the 5th and final round, at least you're assuring your team 1st and 2nd place points.)

Surely this can be structured so that head-to-head competition between teammates comes only in the last round.

Rohler scored his final round win over Asia team member Cheng Chao-Tsun of Chinese Taipei, 87.07-81.81 (285-8 to 268-50).

"We knew that it was going to be close," said Rohler. "It was challenging. We all had just one throw to warm up in here due to TV times. I knew what I was capable of but I also knew that Jakub was always a strong contender. I tried to do a good throw but not a too risky throw which is actually what I did the whole competition because of this model.

"The core identity of javelin throwing is taking super high risk. We love this game of winning and losing being so close, and here with the new models you have to have performances from round to round to round so there's no room for risk, so I'm super happy with the 87m at the end with the precise throw and not too much risk.

"It's hard to understand from the outside," he continued. "This is what I really feel about it. It's a team event - Jakub and me we're good friends. We've been trying to be a team but the problem is the goal of the first three rounds is to kick out your team. That's weird.

"So I would love something about points better. If someone is really good in something, why not give them the bonus for being good at something. It's the same in school: if somebody's good at something he gets a Mark 1, if not, he's out. There's no soft rules, so I would look for something about point systems."

On the other hand, he says, this was a terrific spectator event.

"Being out there competing is fun. It's like everything is so quick. It's a little bit early (in the day), it's hard to concentrate out there.

"Yesterday I was a spectator and that's the other part of the game. I was sitting there. It was pure excitement. There was something going on all around the stadium. I was watching here, there - there was always action. If you can attract people with this end of season kind of format, why not? Why not?"

Why not, indeed.

Of his season, Rohler said, "2018 was really good to me. It was an exciting year. Every competition was really challenging due to my competitors.

"We had a year where you would travel to competitions and you never knew who was going to win. It was great for the spectators. It was also tough for the athletes because keeping the level up that high all season from May to September was challenging.

"I mean this is what our sports is about, this is why we became an athlete. This is why we are out here: we are getting ready to perform, but at the end we are only human, and I'm also happy that I was able to finish here in a really good manner."

I'll leave the last word to my colleague and good friend, Dave Hunter.

When the men's javelin came to round three and Jakub Vadlejch (84.76/278-1) took the lead over Rohler, the Czech spectators, who had only 4 entrants in the Cup, went wild.

However, Rohler's masterful response 86.39 (283-5) eliminated his Team Europe comrade, and the stadium went from raucous revelry to disappointed, deafening silence.

Said Hunter, "I'm hearing crickets."

Far better to hear crickets after the 5th round than the 3rd.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Track and Field's Low Profile High Profile Championship

The Continental Cup

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

Majd Eddin Ghazel, Continental Cup, 4th place

photo credit: Getty Images/IAAF
"Mom, I qualified for the Olympics!"
"Mom, I qualified for US Nationals!"
"Mom, I qualified for the Continental Cup!"

The last statement has a resonance in Europe it does not have in the United States.

It was evident the very first night in Berlin at the European Championships: the palpable excitement of athletes who had just qualified for the Continental Cup.

In contrast, several US athletes at the national championships in Des Moines who, when they made reference to the Continental Cup, viewed it as a great trip and even better way to finish the season. It is certainly those and much more.

From Berlin, I recall best the excited chatter, the bear hugs with fellow athletes and coaches, the engaging interviews, all in the context not only of having just medalled at the European Championships, but of having qualified for Europe's Continental Cup team.

The team aspect of the Continental Cup is what makes it unique and distinctive. In a way that occurs in no other event, regional, continental, and team pride is on the line.

The Continental Cup needs a higher profile in the United States. This is a destination meet, one of the highlights of the schedule every four years.

Certainly, the format needs some work, as I noted yesterday (link below). It works better in some events than others, but it will be interesting to see today - on the second and final day of the Cup - if familiarity with the format will make it an even more engaging event for the spectators.

The profile of the event in Europe is high, and media from around the world are here covering the event: my friend Yujia Dao from China is to my left. Reporters from the United States are few and far between.

Let me send out the call for 2022: this meet is a highlight of the international schedule.

The Continental Cup is well worth the trip.

Anzhelika Sidorova (Eur/Rus)
Surprise Winner of the Pole Vault

photo credit: Getty Images/IAAF

Continental Cup Day #1

Saturday, September 8, 2018

Continental Cup Day #1 - Track's Big Experiment

Highlights and Lowlights
Distinctive Format a Work in Progress

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

Taking Joy in What She Does Better Than Anyone in the World
Continental Cup Triple Jump Champion
Caterine Inbarguen

photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup

IAAF has crafted a brief summary of the format of the Continental Cup:

That they needed to speaks to the sometimes unnecessarily complicated scoring system in place for this meet.

In its simplest, the Continental Cup has four regions of the world competing against each other: Africa, Asia-Pacific, Europe, and Americas. There are variations on this depending on the event, and I'll describe several of today's best events as well as one that I think was hurt by the format.

DeAnna Price (Ams/US) defeated World and Olympic champion, Anita Wlodarczyk (Eur/Pol), in the women's hammer. Her win brought her back to the heights she enjoyed when she set the American record at US Nationals in Des Moines in June, a 78.12 (256-3) whopper that put her firmly in #4 position all-time.

This capped a challenging second half of the season for Price; after Des Moines she did not get past 64.82 (212-8) meters in the London Diamond League meet, her only loss of the season. It must be noted that Price threw under extraordinarily challenging conditions there when she competed in spite of having been notified of her grandfather's passing an hour before the meet began.

"This is way better than I did in London, I'll tell you that," she said today, her exuberance back.

"I've been really focusing on trying to get to that next level, and Coach Lambert had me really focus on being able to capitalize on the format."

"We didn't know about the setup until the week before," said Price, who found herself in a winner-take-all format against Wlodarczyk in the fifth and final round.

"Everybody had that pressure," she said of the three rounds followed by two elimination rounds. "It worried me because you're not really able to push it because if you foul you're done, you're out. Today I was very fortunate to be locked in and keyed on the technical work."

When asked what it means to have defeated the Olympic and World Champion and world record holder, the always focused Price said, "It doesn't mean anything - she still has the farther mark." At the same time she acknowledged, "I have a lot of respect for Anita; it's crazy to think that I did beat Anita, but I'm going to keep striving to get first."

Highlight of the season? Having her coach and fiancee by her side.

"It was the drive and dedication of my coach to get me through," she said, referring to the summer dip, a period when she had not been feeling well and her throwing was not going well. "He got me through everything, and I couldn't be more thankful for Coach James Craig Lambert.

Their wedding is in October.

Morocco's Soufiane El Bakkali went down and was in agony in the men's steeplechase, an event which showed the down side of this experimental format. With El Bakkali out, Evan Jager a no show, and two eliminated in the 'devil take the hindmost' format, Conseslus Kipruto (Afr/Ken) started waving to the crowd with 350m to go.

Matthew Hughes (Ams/Can) didn't seem to take kindly to that, took off after Kipruto, and got a huge crowd response for doing so. However, the valiant challenge didn't last long, and after the finish line Kipruto walked around as if he had just warmed up while Hughes was flat on the track. All ended well when Kipruto extended his hand and helped Hughes off the tarmac.

It's not a good sign when the most competitive part of the race is the chase for 3rd and 4th, an 8:32.89-8:33.76 showdown won by Yohannes Chiappelini (Eur/Ita) over teammate Fernando Carro (Eur/Esp). Kipruto's winning time was a walk-in-the-park 8:22.55, while Hughes finished in 8:29.70.

The women's 3000m provided redemption for Holland's Sifan Hassan who was dismayed to lose to Hellen Obiri in the Diamond League 5000m final. Hassan stormed past the finish line going into the final lap and won going away in a championship record 8:27.50.

In the highly anticipated women's 400m, Salwa Eid Naser defeated Caster Semenya, 49.32-49.62. Semenya comes back in the 800m on Sunday.

Those who picked Russia's Anzhelika Sidorova to win the women's pole vault are probaly related; improbably, Katerina Stefanidi (Eur/Gr) was 2nd and Sandi Morris (Ams/US) 3rd.

One of the highlights of this team-by-continent format was the quality and remarkable depth of the relay teams. In a scene we may not see repeated again, Bahamas' Shaunae Miller-Uibo ran the second leg of the sprint relay and passed to Jenna Prandini (Ams/US/OR). Prandini ran a scintillating curve and assured Americas the win.

Jenna Prandini hands off to Vitoria Cristina Rosa 
in the women's 4x100m relay.

photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup

"It's been a fun day getting to represent Team Americas. It's a fun meet to get to switch it up and have some fun," said the former Oregon Duck.

"We've never handed off to each other before," she said of Miller-Uibo, "but we've both run relays and we know how to do it. It was really fun to get out and run with people I've never ran with before."

After starting the season with an injury, "This season turned out a lot better than I anticipated so I'm really excited for next year heading into Worlds and the year after."

About her approach to the late (Sep/Oct 2019) World Championships, Prandini said, "I don't really have to do any of the adjusting - it's all about my coach and him telling me what to do. I'll just be out there doing the work but I'll just be counting on him to get the timing right."

Similarly, the Americas' men's sprint relay featured Mike Rodgers (Ams/US), Noah Lyles (Ams/US), and Yohan Blake (Ams/Jam), while Tyquendo Tracey (Ams/Jam) on anchor was the least prominent member of this stellar quartet, which won in 38.05.

One of the deepest fields of the day was in the men's 400m hurdles. #2 all-time Abderrahman Samba (APA/Qat) stormed into the lead off the 6th hurdle and was never headed as he won by over a second in 47.37. Jamaica's Annsert Whyte was 2nd in 48.46, with Karsten Warholm (Eur/Nor) and Yasmani Copello (Eur/Por) 3rd and 4th in 48.56 and 48.65 - all outstanding times. When, by the way, have you ever seen 400m hurdles results without a US athlete in the top 8?

Abderrahman Samba
400m hurdles champion
photo courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF/Continental Cup
Introductions were by region, with both athletes from each team side by side, introduced at the same time. I very much enjoyed the team spirit of this event today.

The meet was announced - twice - as a sellout, but it didn't look like one. Perhaps the rain scared people away, but it stopped raining well before today's events began.

As for the Joker, here's how it works. A team captain has two Jokers s/he designates every day. If a Joker wins, the winner gets double the points for his/her team - 16 instead of 8. But only for winning; no bonus for 2nd place.

It's kind of like having double S+H green stamps, only better.

Festive Atmosphere in Ostrava as Continental Cup Gets Underway

Photos of the Pre-Meet Festivities in Ostrava
Local Runners Represent Asia-Pacific Team

Team Americas Youth Competitors
Big Guys Just Wanna Have Fun!
Youth Relays an Early Highlight

Javelin Thrower of the Present
Javelin Thrower of the Future?

Big Guys Still Just Wanna Have Fun

Friday, September 7, 2018

Track and Field - My International Language

On Meeting Pauline Davis-Thompson for the First Time

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

In recent years, students from Lithuania made annual treks to the school in Seattle where I worked for 41 years.

Every visit I would approach them and ask, “Is Virgilijus Alekna still the bodyguard of your  prime minister?”

How’s that for an ice breaker?

They would look at me - astonished - and ask, “How do you know that? We were told athletics (track and field) is not such a popular sport in America.”

The doors to cross cultural communication had opened, and without my speaking a word of Lithuanian, the conversation was on. We had something in common – a discus thrower – and from there we spoke of ourselves, each other, and our lives.

One summer I was on campus while a candidate was being interviewed for an English position. As few adults were present that day, I was asked to come speak with the candidate, even though our subject areas were different.

“She’s from the Bahamas,” I was told.

“I’ve got this one nailed,” I thought to myself.

We hit it off well, and even better when I let this little bit of information slip.

“I was in the stadium in Seville in 1999 when –“


Why, yes.

We had more than enough to sustain our conversation, and finally I was told that it was time for the real interview to begin.

The real interview had just taken place.

What’s most memorable to me is the candidate’s description of how life stopped the moment Debbie Ferguson crossed the finish line in triumph. People poured out of buildings into the streets, traffic stopped, and a national celebration was on.

“I’ve also heard that employees just left their positions and ran out of banks!” a still astonished Pauline Davis-Thompson said outside the IAAF Heritage exhibit in Ostrava, Czech Republic on Friday.

Our meeting was 19 years in the making.

Davis-Thompson, who ran third leg on both the 1999 World and 2000 Olympic gold medal teams and is the Sydney Olympic 200m champion, is serving her 3rd 4-year term on the IAAF Council. I was meeting with Chris Turner, Director of IAAF’s Heritage program.

You can guess what story I told Davis-Thompson.

She loved hearing how her performance and that of her teammates had influenced the course of a job interview several years later.

Instant connection.

The Bahamas women’s 4x100m relay team pulled off a colossal upset in the 1999 Seville World Championships, defeating France, Jamaica, and the United States.

It wasn’t quite such an upset the next year when they won the Olympic gold medal in Sydney.

“No, it wasn’t – was it?!” laughed Davis-Thompson.

“Not anymore,” I replied.

I have always said that track and field is my international language. Almost every time I meet someone from a country other than mine, there is an athlete I mention or a memorable performance I note. What we have is a common heritage, an international heritage, even if it may not always seem so at first glance.

The doors of friendship and understanding fly open when we discover what we have in common, and what we invariably have in common is a track and field story, an event, a shared memory: where were you when?

She asked for my business card.

“Track and field storytelling,” she read. “Yes, indeed.”

As for the candidate?

She got the job.

Speaking Track and Field
Honored to be with Pauline Davis-Thompson, Bahamas
2 x Olympic Gold
1 x World Gold

Dude, get a comb.
You never know when you're going to meet an Olympic Champion.

Mary Poppins Rocks the Relay

Let’s Go Fly a Kite – or Run a Relay

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

The girls 16 x 50m relay at Berlin’s ISTAF Meet was a thriller. The team in bright yellow had a substantial lead but missed the final exchange. While they retrieved the baton, the rest caught up – but not for long. The local Mary Poppins Elementary School team had the strongest anchor by far, and Mary Poppins won going away.

Tuesday, September 4, 2018

LeBron James, Robert Harting and Trackerati

Close Encounter in Berlin
Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/Trackerati, All Rights Reserved 

Please watch this 15 second video before reading this post:

Monday, September 3, 2018

ISTAF Berlin Meet

Semenya #5 All-Time at 1000m as Robert Harting Retires

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

While the track and field world was celebrating the career of German discus great Robert Harting, a terrific meet broke out in Berlin’s Olympic Stadium.

Sunday, September 2, 2018

Robert Harting's Farewell

Discus Great Retires

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved

Robert Harting came close to repeating history in Berlin's Olympic Stadium Sunday night, but it was not the storybook ending many had hoped for.

In the final competition of his definitive career, the three-time World and 2012 Olympic Champion famously won his first World discus title here in 2009 on his last throw. Tonight he almost did the same before settling for 2nd behind his brother, Christoph, the 2016 Olympic Champion.

The Hartings do keep it all in the family.

I had the terrific opportunity of interviewing four current German throwing greats about Harting on Sunday and I will post their comments as well as a career retrospective here later this week.

Today, I am posting links to two articles of mine about Harting, and if his public profile in the US is not what it is in Germany, an indication of his international stature comes in the pageview count on this US-based website.

My stories A Ride for Robert and Legacy: Harting and Bolt - In Their Own Words are my #2 and #8 most widely read pieces out of over 200 articles in the 5 years of Trackerati.

Here they are:

Harting's Face Has Quite Literally Been All Over Town

photo credit: Camera 4 - ISTAF