Day 1

Friday, January 1, 2016

2015 Athletes of the Year: Infeld and Simon

Trackerati’s 2015 Female and Male Track and Field Athletes of the Year are Emily Infeld and Meron Simon.

Infeld gained unexpected World Championships glory when she won the 10,000m bronze medal in Beijing. Simon gained unlikely fame when he won Eugene’s Pepsi Invitational 3,000m steeplechase in 8:57.86 on April 12 in Eugene.

Each had unwitting co-conspirators who, by failing to follow the most elemental rules of track and field, highlighted the achievements of Infeld and Simon and gave their accomplishments amplified attention on a global stage.

Infeld ran a magnificent race at Worlds. After two stress fractures in a doubt-ridden year and a half before Beijing, Infeld had been ready to call it a career. But she recovered steadily and ran 31:38.71 at the Peyton Jordan Invitational at the beginning of May and 31:42.60 for 3rd at the US Championships in June.

In Beijing, Infeld hung with the lead pack the entire race, was 7th with 300m to go, and blew by Kenya’s Sally Kipyego – on the inside – into 4th with 230m left.

As Infeld gained on teammate Molly Huddle, Huddle made not one but two mistakes. Much attention has rightly gone to her colossal brain freeze that had her raising her hands in triumph for a bronze that was not yet hers – but Huddle also failed to protect her lane and thereby left enough room for Infeld to pass her on the inside.

Infeld ran a perfect last lap in 62.4 and finished in 31:43.49, very close to her pre-Championship race times. She passed the prematurely celebrating Huddle to win the coveted bronze.

For Meron Simon, then of the University of Washington, his Pepsi Invitational performance was not only a win but a personal record and his first time under the 9:00 minute steeplechase barrier.

After passing James Brown of Kentucky at the last water jump, he looked up and saw his surprising chance. Oregon’s Tanguy Pepiot seemed to have the race won, but he started waving to the crowd before sealing the deal.

“I thought he had me,” Simon said of Pepiot’s lead. “I thought he was so far ahead and then he started throwing his hands up and I was like ‘I don’t think he knows I’m coming!’”

“I just went through the line and (here Simon shrugs his shoulders) just raced.” (emphasis mine)

As Pepiot waved to the crowd, Simon charged by on the outside to win by a tenth of a second.

Little did Simon know he would become a viral sensation, with millions of views of his finish on YouTube and discussion of his race on worldwide media, including Eurosport and ESPN.

There is no claim here that, intrinsically, the performances of Infeld and Simon exceed those of world champions, world record setters, or even list leaders.

But those are not always the most memorable performances.

Infeld and Simon embody best the spirit of our sport: the dogged determination to get to the finish line first, the relentless focus on one goal to the exclusion of anything or anyone else, and the capturing of the moment by finishing what they came to do first – and then celebrating the joy of their unlikely achievements.

In a year tangled by scandal and controversy, Infeld and Simon represent the best of athletics. These two runners sustained our faith in track and field while many tried to shatter it. In a year in which we lost Yogi Berra, it was indeed not over until it was over.

While the rest of the world focused on his improbable win, Simon said, “I’m just stoked for the next race.”

Infeld and Simon keep us stoked for our sport, and for that they are Trackerati’s 2015 Athletes of the Year.

Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Very Civil War

by Mark Cullen

The Great Race is a fund-raiser for Muscular Dystrophy, held annually between the University of Oregon and Oregon State in conjunction with the heated football rivalry known - unfortunately - as The Civil War. Oregon’s early ‘70s 800m star, Steve Bence, wrote an engaging story featuring the 1974 Great Race, in which he focused both on Steve Prefontaine’s role as anchor and on the meaning the race came to have for Pre (links below).

A full team was full - 45 runners. All but the final four miles were run on Friday, and the race finished in the host's stadium at half-time of Saturday's football game. The time differential was applied to Saturday’s first runners and the race to the stadium was on.

I ran the Great Race, likely in '73. Bence noted that his t-shirt – green printing on yellow – was what he was wearing in Nike’s first product catalogue. My shirt is red on white, with the name “SWEETSER” on the back in honor of the women’s dormitory which sponsored my leg of the relay. As much as I'd like to be able to say I ran a race anchored by Pre, I do think we ran it in different years.

On race day, the air was rife with dark rumors of previous mischievous predations, of runners purposely misdirected to the wrong level of the stadium. This happened in Corvallis, of course, as my beloved Ducks would never stoop to such tactics.


I rode a bus on race day and was dropped off well down the road on Highway 99. In a day of no cell phones or instant communication, an occasional cyclist came by with a report of a substantial Oregon lead – much to my relief. As a relatively new runner, the last thing I wanted was the pressure of protecting a marginal lead.

In spite of the heat that accompanies the football rivalry, this race did much to better relations between the two universities, as 41 pairs of supposed adversaries stood together awaiting our turns. My Oregon State counterpart and I stood out there for a long time - upwards of an hour - with just each other to speak with.

I remember his last name – Renfro – a familiar name in athletics in the state of Oregon in those days, though this Renfro was not a famous athlete, nor was he related to Mel, the legendary U of O football and track and field star and NFL Hall of Famer.

This Renfro certainly appeared to be a good athlete, however. Tall and strong, with easy confidence in his athleticism.

I thought I was doomed in the event of a close race.

We talked and got to know each other, and he seemed altogether reasonable for someone from Oregon State - all things considered.

We’d warm up together only to warm down again.

As the batons approached, more and more people came by.

'It’s getting closer,' they reported.

As the lead vehicle approached with flashing lights, my worst nightmare came true.

Two runners running together stride for stride after almost 30 miles.

Mr. Renfro and I got our batons simultaneously.

Panic is a strong motivator and I likely could have paced Roger Bannister for my first quarter mile. I had the lead, but there were three quarters to go.

A car pulled up beside me and Duck cheerleaders and fans screamed their support.

Pride is a strong motivator.

So is the distinct possibility of abject humiliation.

Mr. Renfro pulled up to me as I tired, and we settled into a more reasonable pace.

Much was on the line, not the least of which was the possibility of my having to explain to Bill Bowerman and Bill Dellinger how I lost the lead for the U of O. The '72 Olympic Coach and his Olympic 5k bronze medalist successor were my running class teachers in different years.

I was told I broke five minutes that day out there on Route 99.

Of course, that was in a mile measured by the odometer of a car, then the universal standard of measurement.

But Mr. Renfro was not a miler. Like me, he was roped into this event at the last minute. I pulled away in the last quarter mile and handed the lead to my successor.

The matter was settled fair and square at halftime of the football game the next day, and with a narrow Oregon win.

I have the t-shirt still:

At a time of divisiveness and fear - Bence’s article was posted on the Track and Field News website at midpoint between Paris and San Bernardino - I take heart in the memory of all these pairs of young men strung out along the Oregon countryside. Mr. Renfro and I were just two enthusiastic students pleased as punch to be representing our universities, gracious and polite to each other and searching for ways to keep the conversation going. 

Kind and respectful, encouraging and supportive, we put the ‘civil’ back into this Civil War. He and I exchanged exactly the same words as the batons approached: “Good luck.”

I’ve always wondered what the other conversations were like that day, as runners from rival schools would have to negotiate the social minefield that would be ours when we returned to our dormitories and fraternities. What on earth would we say when we got back to our respective camps – that the other runner was a surprisingly respectable guy?

Well, yes.

*                                                                               *                                                                        *                 


Many thanks to Steve Bence for taking the time - in the middle of the holidays - to communicate with me about The Great Race. A tremendous help and much appreciated.

In addition to its posting on the Track and Field News website, Bence's article has appeared at:

and on Doug Binder's website where the piece is available as an ebook:

There are all sorts of research issues attendant to a race this old and with such thin documentation. An interesting one is: how far is it from Eugene to Corvallis? Not as simple an answer as you might think - I have three different sources with three different distances and therefore different numbers of runners. I have used the 45 legs statistic (41 run on Friday, 4 on Saturday) published in the Eugene Register-Guard on November 17, 1972, as it is the most contemporary reference I've found.

The Great Race was a men's only relay (varsity women's track and field and cross country were club sports then), but I'm happy to report that in its current iteration, the race is, of course, co-ed. The race still exists but in substantially modified form (sadly, it looks as thought the high entry fee would prohibit most university students from participating now):

Bence's prominence on the University of Oregon track and cross country teams is not ever to be understated, as these program covers attest:

When you're sharing the program cover of an Oregon home meet with Steve Prefontaine... that's correct: 'nuff said.

(Programs from my personal collection.)

I would be grateful for any correspondence which would shed further light on the history of The Great Race.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Laurel's Laurels

Seattle's Super Jock 'n Jill Celebrates Its 40th Anniversary

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.

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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.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

trackerati in Track and Field News and NW Runner

In better news in this dismal but possibly redemptive week for international track and field... a personal note.

My five event reports from the Beijing World Championships - men's and women's hammer throw, men's and women's discus, and men's javelin - are in the World Championships edition of Track and Field News. 

My 'coverish' story on Laurel James, founder 40 years ago of Seattle's Super Jock 'n' Jill, is in the November/December issue of Northwest Runner.

These magazines are on your newsstands now; T+F News internationally, NW Runner regionally.

I'm not able to post links here as both publications are subscription-based and password protected. However, by agreement with the publisher, I'll be able to post my Laurel James story the day after Thanksgiving, the 40th anniversary of the opening of the store - and yes, 40 years to the day since I shopped there first. I was the first customer at their Redmond store when it opened last fall.

Why 'coverish'?! The story is highlighted as an insert on the cover.

Thanks to Sieg Lindstrom of T+F News and Frank Field of NW Runner.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Echoes of Silence

Friday, 10/16/15, is the 47th 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. I’ve edited this piece to reflect recent scholarship by Riccardo Gazzaniga on the role of the ‘third man on the podium,’ Australia’s fast-closing silver medalist, Peter Norman. Note in this photo that Norman is wearing the badge for the Olympic Project for Human Rights in support of Smith and Carlos.

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’ 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 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.”

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.

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:

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

Research credit for information about Peter Norman: Riccardo Gazzaniga.

"Interview" with Segway Man gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

trackerati: How are you liking your new digs in Outer Mongolia?

Segman: Well, I didn’t know it was possible to get here so fast!

trackerati: We didn’t know there still was a Chinese Gulag.

Segman: There wasn’t! They made one just for me.

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

trackerati: That’s not the question. How long have you got?

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

Segman: I was just trying to get a great pic of him.

trackerati: Did you?

Segman: It’s a lovely photo, really, except his feet are in the air.

trackerati: If only you had knocked over Justin Gatlin instead, The Guardian would have paid for your new life in Great Britain.

Segman: So that’s who was screaming at me saying I hit the wrong guy!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oiselle and Among RW's 50 Most Influential in Running

Oiselle founder and CEO Sally Bergesen has been named one of the 50 most influential people in running by Runner's World magazine. We are honored at to count Bergesen as a longtime friend and one of our earliest supporters.

The Runner's World citation says in part:

"Oiselle is still small fry compared with the giants of the running industry—with sales at almost $10 million last year—but in opening its first brick-and-mortar store in Seattle this summer, Bergesen’s showing that her flock is here for the long haul. She’s a fighter—fearlessly critical of the likes of Nike and USATF—and she needs to be; as this very grouping demonstrates, she’s elbowing for space in an industry dominated by male executives. Her women’s-only apparel brand has fostered a fierce following..."

Congratulations, too, to Weldon and Robert Johnson, co-founders of Their citation says in part:

"The masterminds behind perhaps the most engaged online community of runners—particularly those at the front of the pack—have also earned their stripes as tenacious watchdogs...’s homepage has become an essential bookmark for followers of the elite sport."

Weldon and Robert have been generous with linking to articles on trackerati, most recently my piece about my meeting with Dennis Kimetto and Wilson Kipsang in Beijing. Their prominent placing of "A Ride for Robert" helped to assure the article's success and turn it into one of my top two most viewed pieces of my first 100 posts.

I am deeply grateful to Sally, Weldon, and Robert for their ongoing support, and could not possibly be more pleased with their success and their well-deserved recognition.

Congratulations all around!

Here is a link to the Runner's World article: