Tuesday, May 2, 2023

On Meeting One's Heroes: The Legends of Gold

                                                      by Mark Cullen 

The Legends of Gold Dinner, held in conjunction with the 2001 IAAF World Championships in Edmonton, Alberta, brought together twenty-six of the greatest living track and field stars from around the world. For many in attendance, this proved to be the highlight of these or any other championships. The evening began with a reception at the Shaw Center in downtown Edmonton, followed by seating at dinner tables for the introduction of the Legends.

Each Legend was introduced with video highlights of his/her career, accompanied by music provided by the Edmonton Symphony Orchestra. Each was paraded through the cavernous dining area to cheers and applause, and then was seated at a designated table for the feast to follow.

The rules of the road were this: leave the Legends alone during dinner, but they would be available afterwards for autographs in a meeting room downstairs. The magnificent printed program - with photos and career summaries - provided plenty of room for autographs.

The lines at the autograph tables were lengthy, and I had time to reflect on the encounters to come: what would I say to make this more than just an autograph-collecting venture? How could I honor the Legend in front of me, to give him or her something to take away from this exchange, just as I assuredly would?

The answer, of course, was that it was impossible to find the right thing to say twenty-six times in an evening. But four of my encounters stand out as most memorable.

                                                Frank Shorter, United States

Marathon gold medalist in 1972, silver medalist in 1976 

As I arrive at the front of Shorter’s line, he is talking about the performance-enhancing drug, EPO. “EPO makes a difference of four minutes in the marathon,” he is explaining to a disbelieving fan. The fan isn’t convinced. “The answer to EPO is this,” Shorter says, “DUH-DUH-DUH.” The fan backs away, a bit embarrassed, and Shorter extends his hand to me.

“Nice to meet you,” he says.

“Actually,” I say, “it’s been 23 years – a long time since the West Seattle Diet Pepsi 10k run.”

“Oh, NO!” he laughs.

“Oh, yes!” I reply.

“I know, I know - my PW – my personal worst!” 

He finished 40th that day.

As he signs, I say, “There’s something else.”

He looks at me, expectant.

“I wonder,” I ask him, “if you still have the photograph I gave you a week after Steve Prefontaine died. It’s the one I took one of you and Prefontaine jogging together on the infield at Hayward Field after his last race.”

His head and shoulders slump.

You gave me that photo?” he asks incredulously. “It means so much to me to have it to this day.”

                                                    Alberto Juantorena, Cuba

Double gold medalist in the 400m and 800m in 1976 and the only man ever to win both events in the same Olympics.

As I approach Juantorena’s table, I turn to the woman behind me, hand her my camera, and say, “If he’s willing, would you be so kind?”

“Just as long as you’ll be so kind,” she says, handing me hers.

Juantorena signs and I ask if he’d stand with me for a photo. He agrees eagerly, his legendary energy and enthusiasm apparent.

He wraps his huge arm around me, pulls me towards him, and as the woman is about to click the camera he interrupts, “Wait, wait!” He lunges forward, grabs his gold medal off the table, and puts it around my neck. “Now we take the picture!” he says, triumphantly.

Stunned, I hold the shimmering medal - apparently he polishes as well as he runs - and stammer, “I have never touched a gold medal before.”

He beams, even more pleased.

The photo is taken, we shake hands, and it’s time for others to get their chance. I begin to turn away when Juantorena says, tentatively but quite politely, “Ahh… I would like my medal back now, please!”

                                                Nawal El Moutawakel, Morocco

Gold medalist in the 400m hurdles in 1984, she was the first North African woman to strike Olympic gold. An unknown entering the Games, her win is widely regarded as one of the most unlikely in Olympic history.

Even though Herb Elliot, Peter Snell, and Kip Keino were among the Legends I met that night, I was most thrilled to see the name of Nawal El Moutawakel on the program. I had long held a special place in my heart for her. 

I have always enjoyed entering the Track and Field News Olympic Prediction Contest. In 1984, I noticed early in the collegiate season that a young woman from Iowa State was running exceptionally well in the hurdles… and you can guess the rest; she remains my favorite pick to this day.

I approach her table. She is elegant, serene, and delightfully open and approachable.

I introduce myself and say, “I’m going to say something to you that not many can say.”

“What’s that?” she asks in impeccable English.

“I picked you to win in 1984.”

She is astonished. “What is your secret?” she wants to know, and I explain how I came to make her my golden choice.

We have a delightful conversation - longer with her than with any of the other Legends. She takes her time signing my program, seemingly not wanting the conversation to end.

“I have traveled in your country,” I say.

“Really,” she says with surprise and interest. I describe my trip, which I took just before going to the ’99 World Championships in Seville, and indicate my plan to return.

“When you return you must visit me,” she says emphatically, and writes her phone number underneath her autograph.

Actually, I hadn’t planned on going to Casablanca next time, but I do believe my itinerary just changed.

Parry O’Brien

1952 and 1956 Olympic Champion; 1960 Olympic silver medalist

As I sat down at my dinner table, I was thrilled to see a placard with O'Brien's 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, O’Brien sat leaning forward at his autograph 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 much this would touch him; I think I had given voice to what he thought but could not say.

With great feeling he said,

“Thank you.”

He looked down quickly and then up again.

“Thank you.”

He is trying to tell me something important.

“Thank you very much.”

Sunday, July 24, 2022

50 Meters Spans 50 Years

by Mark Cullen

Monday, September 27, 1971.

Bill Bowerman walked out of a Hayward Field West Grandstand tunnel and said to 40 startled beginning runners, “Hi, I’m your coach.”

Startled because we expected a graduate assistant to be teaching Bowerman’s  famous beginning jogging class.

It's not every day that your beginning running teacher was selected Head Coach of the US Olympic Track and Field team just the week before.

Or that he ignited a running boom in his country.

Or that he transformed shoe technology and design.

Or that he co-founded a small sporting goods company (it was more than running shoes almost from the start).

Or that he was a key fund-raiser for rebuilding Hayward Field’s West Grandstand. Yes, we have been down this road before.

Without Bill Bowerman, we are not all gathered here today from around the world.

Below us, athletes' workouts were underway: Steve Prefontaine, Todd Lathers, Gary Barger, Mac Wilkins, Mike McClendon, Steve Bence, Craig Brigham, Patrick Tyson and many more. 

All men, as women's sports were then at the club level, if at all.

On that first afternoon of what would prove to be a lifetime in track and field, what did I do before class?

Went downtown to The Athletic Department and bought a pair of shoes. I would not have wanted to be underprepared for class – for Bill Bowerman’s least of all.

When I was finished with those shoes months later, I put them in my sister’s green Army duffel bag – the first I placed there, but by no means the last. 28 pairs of shoes and over 270 pieces of memorabilia later, I had what most call a collection, though ‘archive’ is more accurate. The archive of a college kid who was fascinated by wondrous things transpiring around him and kept a record of it all.

I was drawn to this class by my early interest in all things track and field, most notably the Olympic stars of 1964 and 1968. While I came to track and field from the dark side - that would be soccer - I had always liked to run, and six years of soccer provided me with a solid base.

Bowerman cared deeply about each and every one of his runners, and what he said mattered. He would greet us on campus, review race results, and make us beginners feel part of an Oregon track and field heritage and family. For years after I graduated in 1975, I would make the pilgrimage across the track to the Bowermans' seats in the East Grandstand at the end of a meet. He didn't always remember our names, but he remembered us.

"How are you?" he would ask earnestly and the update was on.

One benefit of being in Bowerman's class was people's general reluctance to take him on about administrative details.

He knew them well enough, thank you; his abilities as an administrator don't always get the attention or full credit they deserve. Bowerman was vocal and influential; his Olympic team head coaching gig was not the least of it.

Bowerman did not suffer fools lightly, and he took on sports entities like the NCAA and AAU and their sometimes arcane and archaic rules. Steve Prefontaine got more attention for doing the same, but it’s clear who set the example.

I started running in Bowerman's class just three years after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in eloquent protest in Mexico City. In 1968, the United States established a high altitude training camp at Echo Summit, CA, where Olympic Trials were held as well.

When asked the question of who led a place that has left an enduring impact on US Civil Rights history, almost to a person contemporaries in age guess that it must have been a leading honcho of the AAU or the US Olympic Committee.

Nope. Bill Bowerman was in charge, and in fact, it was Bowerman who chose Echo Summit from among four candidate locations. He helped US track and field to navigate the churning waters of what was in many ways one of the most devastating years in US history.

Having a teacher with this much clout served his class members well, especially when we came, most reluctantly, to the end of the fall quarter.

"Just register under varsity track and I'll sign for it," Bowerman said, while trying to contain his delight that so many of us wanted to continue running.

This is how I came to have varsity track in my University of Oregon transcript - a status not well-supported by my beginner's times.

The tunnel Bowerman came through is replaced by tonier digs now, but that spot  is only 50 meters from where I’m now sitting in the press tribune, having realized in 2013 when I started my first website that the choice I made when I was 19 between journalism and history as majors need never have been a choice.

I am asked, often, if I “ran for Bowerman.”

“I need to answer that carefully,” I always reply.

“I began running in his class.”

I have taken a 10:25.5 two-mile about as far as I could!

And he’d be proud of that.

Bill Bowerman Statue at Hayward Field

Photo copyright Mark Cullen 2020. All Worldwide Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Back to Back!

Shericka Jackson (Jam) and Noah Lyles (US) set the 200m world on fire at Hayward Field Thursday evening with two of the greatest 200m races ever run.

The women were up first and were treated to a deafening welcome by the Hayward Field denizens.

Shericka Jackson became the second fastest 200m runner in history with her mind-boggling 21.45. Her decisive stretch run put any doubt about who is #1 in Jamaica - much less the world - to rest. 

Jackson is the #2 performer all-time with the #2 performance. Only Florence Griffith Joyner's controversial (there are questions about the wind gauge) 1988 21.34 is faster.

Teammate Shelley-Anne Fraser-Pryce (SAFP) was second in 21.81 with Great Britain's defending world champion Dina Asher-Smith third in 22.02.

Next, Noah Lyles led a US sweep with a stunning 19.31 which makes him the #3 performer ever with the #4 performance. 

Kenny Bednarek, who suffered a broken toe earlier this season, completed a resounding comeback for silver in 19.77. 18-year-old Erriyon Knighton won bronze in 19.80.

To put this in context: remember Michael Johnson with his golden spikes in Atlanta in 1996 when he set the world record?

This is faster than that, and makes Lyles the new 200m American record holder.

It gets better.

In the audience were Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They were introduced before the 200m races and received a warm, lengthy, and sustained standing ovation from the appreciative Hayward Field crowd.

Shericka Jackson

Noah Lyles

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

All three photos courtesy Getty Images for World Athletics

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Sonia's Bouquet

Sonia O’Sullivan’s 1500m race at the 1993 Stuttgart World Championships remains one of my favorite races I've seen in person.

In a brief window of history, China was the dominant distance running nation under the tutelage of the very controversial coach, Ma Junren; his runners’ spectacular results came under much suspicion.

Ireland’s O'Sullivan was one of the few to take on his crew of distance runners, even though their spectacular results made any efforts to dethrone them daunting.

During the meet, O'Sullivan's parents were sitting just behind me and to the right. We had some pleasant exchanges about the competitions and greeted each other every day.

In the 1500m final, O'Sullivan charged down the straightaway and crossed the finish line.

As if counting to a beat - 2-3-4-5 - after O'Sullivan had crossed the finish line, Mrs. O'Sullivan said, "Can I open my eyes now?"

Open she could, as her daughter had just won silver.

Mr. and Mrs. O'Sullivan left for the victory ceremony and were gone a long time.

When they returned, Mrs. O'Sullivan was carrying Sonia's bouquet of flowers.

I have told this story many times over the years, and long hoped to meet O’Sullivan and tell it to her myself. I even recounted it this morning when I compared Laura Muir’s hard-charging style to that of O’Sullivan.

This afternoon, 29 years after the race, I was at a track and field display on the University of Oregon campus.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman standing next to me, “Are you Sonia O’Sullivan?”

I now have told my story twice today.

~Mark Cullen

Sonia O'Sullivan
1993 World Championships
Stuttgart, Germany

Allstar Picture Library Ltd.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Day 1 Reflections

 First Day Reflections

by Mark Cullen

US 1st, 2nd, and 5th, with Canada 4th and 9th.

US 2nd, 5th, and 12th.

Looks like North America is dominating the downhill again.

There has never, ever been a hammer throw performance like this for the United States.

All three men made the final.

All three women made the final.

In World Championships history, never had more than two men and women combined made their finals. Today’s performance shattered that record by 4.

Add Canada’s two women’s finalists and you have North American domination of the women’s hammer throw qualifying.

Not so fast I hear you say, and you’re right: the recent US history has been of throwing well in qualifying, getting tight in the finals, and not executing to pre-meet potential.

And yes, Daniel Haugh in 2nd is surrounded in 1st and 3rd by the defending World and Olympic champions from Poland. Duly noted.

Nonetheless, the US throwers are performing as a team in a way that has been unheard of until now.

But it’s not a team competition, I hear you say.

Right again. Yet the opportunity for changing the face of an event lies in the hands of these six.

US men’s hammer finals qualifiers: Daniel Haugh, Rudy Winkler, and Alex Young.

US women’s hammer finals qualifiers: Brooke Andersen, Janee Kassanavoid, and Annette Echikunwoke.

(At the conclusion of this post are quotes from Janee Kassanavoid and Daniel Haugh.)

Meanwhile, the qualifying rounds of the men’s 100m showed once again that while we are welcoming the world… well, not everyone who cannot get a visa for this meet would agree.

In rather dramatic fashion – would lane 3 of the 100m be occupied or not? – Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala did indeed fill lane 3 after a tense week that saw him landing in Eugene only a few short hours before his race. He advanced to the semi-finals and has less than a day to prepare.

Via Track and Field News, the BBC’s article on marathoner Chris Thompson depicts the human cost of this situation: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/athletics/2022/07/15/chris-thompson-absolutely-devastated-visa-farce-ruins-world/

One of the more engaging aspects of World Championships is often the 100m preliminary round in which single athletes are entered as the only representatives of their countries - in the entire meet. 

The whole world is watching as they run times in the 10.50 – 12.00 range. Today, Bhutan’s Mipham Yoezer Curung ran a personal best of 11.86, while equaling his PB of 12.22 was Tonga’s Nehumi Tuihalamaka.

But the saddest sight of all on this first day was seeing Fiji’s Ratu Benuve Tabakaucord walk away from his blocks, disconsolate at having false started. And the margin by which he missed a fair start?

4/1000 of a second.

That will be one long plane ride home.

Meanwhile, all of you who picked the Dominican Republic to win the 4x400m mixed relay with the Dutch 2nd and US 3rd, well, step right up – there’s room on the pickers’ podium for you!

Of the many statistics provided us by World Athletics about Allyson Felix’s stellar career, this one struck me the most: she won World medals over a span of 17 years.

If you think this photo needs a caption,
you just haven't been paying attention.
Photo credit: Getty Images for World Athletics

Daniel Haugh

If you have the right intensity, you’ll produce a large throw. You have to have a good plan and execute it. If you execute a bad plan, it’s not going to turn out well.

I really wanted to open up with the standard and go home. I think it ended up working well… at the end of the day I got 5 throws up there: 2 warmups and 3 competitions, so it’s 5 throws now in the circle and now I’ve got my physical and my visual Q points and I feel comfortable and ready to put some big throws tomorrow in the final.

Haugh on Japan’s Olympic gold medal hammer legend, Koji Mirofushi:

I look up to him, he has beautiful technique, and he was a guy - in high school I’d bring my lunch into the library and I’d watch him throw on You Tube. He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to and studied his technique. I’d love to meet him one day.

I’m in personal best shape – training has indicated that… I’d love to open up right in that 77-80 meter range and then just build it and keep improving like I did today. If I can leave here with a personal best it’s hard to be upset. Just want to execute and get a throw I’m proud of.

The field is absolutely stacked. There are some big guys and they’re older, they’re veterans. I kind of like the baby in this!

I need to focus on me, on my throw, and I believe I’ll be on the podium.

Janee Kassanavoid (courtesy USATF)

In her comments today, Kassanavoid echoed what she said at US Nationals: that she needs to pause and focus and take a deep breath.

I am ready to go, just had to take a deep breath when I got in. Then I just did what I have been doing every day. Got the Q with the first round and now ready for the next one. I think the hammer throw is open no matter who is number one or the last person to make it to the meet. 

I know that I am capable of making great things, PR, WR and things like that. So it is about who wants it the most. My personal coach is here and I got couple of my friends coming here to support me. 

I love my journey.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Barbers of Brisbane

by Mark Cullen

Mike and Kelsey-Lee Barber

The 7th in my series of memorable World Championships experiences wrote itself at the University of Washington track this morning, where Australia, Greece, and Poland were holding practice.

After Kelsey-Lee Barber's epic last-round Worlds javelin win in Doha in 2019, I struck up an online correspondence with her husband and coach, Mike, about my track and field collection. I promised him it would be on display in Eugene and that I'd give him a personal tour. Alas, it's not on display, and yet I wanted to keep my promise to Mike, at least in part. So on what was really a last-minute inspiration, I went to my bank on my way to the track and checked out the Bowerman waffle iron shoes.

I arrived to hear that 'the Australian team had left 15 minutes ago.' Gut punch! I was really disappointed to have missed them. Not that the Polish hammer throwers didn't give me a lot to observe (3 athletes respresenting 5 World/Olympic golds were here), or the Greek Olympic champion in the long jump... you get the idea.

I waited for my track and field friend and guru Paul Merca to return, but by 11:00 it was hot and I needed to get ready for Eugene. I was on my way out when two Australians (identifiable by their green and yellow outfits, which ought to get them far in Eugene!) walked across the track.

The Barbers.

I was astonished and delighted; 30 seconds either way and we would have missed each other. Turns out only part of the team had left. I am very appreciative of their keen interest in this part of track and field history, and a terrifically engaging conversation was had by all. Then off we went with good wishes both ways for a successful time in Eugene.

 (The first 6 experiences can be found on my facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/mark.cullen.7946)


Friday, April 29, 2022

The Guy with the Shoes.com

I’m launching my new website featuring my collection of running shoes and memorabilia from the University of Oregon’s 1970s Golden Age of track and field. 

30 pairs of shoes and over 270 pieces of memorabilia are featured.

These are all items I saved when I was in Eugene from 71-76; I have never intentionally added to this archive, though I have been given several items over the years.

There are 140 pages of text and over 35,000 words in the website. The website is best utilized when you click on Read More, which will get you a closeup of the artifact, more text, or both.

Highlights include: 

Bowerman waffle iron shoes (yes, handmade by the master himself, with waffle soles from the waffle iron).

Two pairs of shoes handmade by Dennis Vixie, prototypes of the Waffle Trainer and the LD-1000.

Blue Ribbon Sports shoes, receipts, and boxes.

Nike’s first product catalogue

1968 Mexico City victory stand image signed by Tommie Smith and John Carlos.

Two of the earliest books on women’s running.

The classic 1972 Track and Field in Oregon poster featuring Rich Clarkson’s photo of steeplers at the water jump at Hayward Field.

Among the first items I ever saved were the famous Afro Ducks - a t-shirt and a window decal. Designed by Tinker Hatfield, who later designed the Air Jordan for Nike, the Afro Ducks are believed to be the first representation of an NCAA Division I school mascot as African American.

Sadly, a photo of Steve Prefontaine taken May 29, 1975 – this may well be the last photo taken of Pre in a competitive setting. It has not previously been seen by the public.

I especially hope that this website will serve as a resource for the 2022 World Championships, to be held in Eugene, Oregon, July 15-24, 2022, and that it might enhance the exerience of all who attend.

I hope you will enjoy this website as much as I have enjoyed developing it. It is a true labor of love, and I hope it will become a lasting and trusted resource for this remarkable era of track and field.

I welcome your responses, especially new information and insights. With 300+ items in the collection, it will always be a work in progress.

Friday, December 24, 2021

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: https://www.iaaf.org/news/feature/drew-windle-usa-800m

Here is the original.

Christmas came early last year.

August 7th at 1:10 am.

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

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

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

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

Further proof that I’m not in charge.

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

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

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

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

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

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

At last it arrived.

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

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

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

        *                                  *                                        *

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

Ever, now, is measured readily in decades.

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

It was not remotely a healthy place for five children.

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

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

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

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

Time stood still as we lit 100 candles.

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

I know them still, by heart.

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

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

        *                                      *                                 *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We instantly had a point of unusual connection.

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

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

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

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

“There are more downstairs,” said Kenny.

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

        *                                *                                      *

January in Seattle.

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

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

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

Three adult children in London, three major life events. 

All in a week for the Windles.

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

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

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

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

If only they could settle on a name.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They did, however, create the #RunLikeTheWindle buttons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

        *                                 *                                      *

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

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

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

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

Then their late-night odyssey began.

They, too, encountered the closed subway system.

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

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

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

        *                                *                                    *

It grows quiet on the bus.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

Friday, September 3, 2021

Tired Legs

Note: this website was down for several weeks and I sincerely apologize for that. Thank you, loyal readers, for returning to the fold! Special thanks to Jake Willard for assuring the joyous reunion of Trackerati's content with its domain name.

I am resuming with an article I posted on Facebook during the Prefontaine Classic:

Sifan Hassan
22:35 on August 20, 2021 
after her 5,000m world record attempt at the Prefontaine Classic
Mark Cullen photo

Tired Legs

During the Olympic Games, many worried that multiple event athletes like Sifan Hassan or Katie Ledecky might 'explode' from all the racing - that there might be a physical or mental breaking point. While that, quite fortunately, hasn't happened, late last evening Sifan Hassan acknowledged feeling fatigue in her legs as early as the 3rd lap of her 5,000m world record quest at the Prefontaine Classic. This after her double gold with a frosting of bronze at the Olympic Games in Tokyo.

"I'm not fresh," she acknowledged.

"It was actually physically the hardest. I was so tired and I had to push to the limit."

She then said, quite cheerfully, that she'll be racing in the Diamond League soon. When one reporter suggested that being only 5 seconds off her PB and recording a seasonal best was, when all is said and done, not a half-bad result, Hassan offered perhaps unexpected perspective by saying, "I'm really happy! I was so tired ... I'm proud of today and I push myself, and I think Tokyo made me stronger." She was, indeed, quite pleased that she finished the race.

While the pace lights eventually became irrelevant to this race, she likes them nonetheless.

"If I don't feel OK, I can do without lights. It's good, actually, to have it," she said, but she did not feel discouraged when the pace lights got ahead of her.

Of the enthusiastic and supportive Hayward Field crowd, Hassan said, "I'm so happy to see them... because I have so many fans everywhere," and she looks forward to her return to Hayward in 2022.

On a night when a world record attempt was the focus of the meet, Hassan gently reminded us that there was much to celebrate in a 14:27.89.

There were three PBs behind her, most notably Alicia Monson's nineteen second drop from 15:07.65 14:48.49.

Meanwhile, Francine Niyonsaba took the measure of a star-studded world class field in the 2 mile, as her 9:00.75 left 5k and 10k world record holder Letesenbet Gidey and two-time world 5k champion Hellen Obiri in her wake.

Rebecca Mehra won the North American 1500m in 4:06.35.

New Zealand’s Geordie Beamish found himself a surprise winner of the International Mile in a stellar 3:54.86, while Craig Engels revealed a fundamental misunderstanding of the relationship of athletes to Hayward Field fans: Dude, they wave at you.