Friday, July 5, 2019

Darlan Romani Feature in Track and Field News

Darlan Romani shot the lights out with a 16 lb steel ball at the Prefontaine Classic last weekend. Today Track and Field News published my feature about Romani's historic series. Hope you enjoy it!

Darlan Romani at the Prefontaine Classic
Jeff Cohen photograph

Darlan Romani at the Prefontaine Classic
Jeff Cohen photograph

Sunday, June 30, 2019

Prefontaine Classic

It's tough to choose a single highlight of the Prefontaine Classic when the choices include Rai Benjamin's 47.16 400m hurdles, Sifan Hassan's 8:18.49 3000m, Christian Coleman's 9.81 100m, and Darlan Romani's 22.61/ 74' 21/4 shot put triumph. Let's take a closer look at two of these: the women's 3,000m and men's shot put.
Darlan Romani, Brazil
Winner Men's Shot Put
Jeff Cohen photo
Congratulations to Hassan on her outdoor world record 3000m today. While her 8:18.49 places her at #4 on IAAF's all-time list, the top three times are by members of the widely discredited Chinese team of the early 1990s - even the fastest of whom has admitted doping. This easily is the legitimate outdoor world record.

In addition, that 6 women broke 8:30 was mind-boggling, and the official all-time lists were rewritten. In addition to Hassan's #4, Konstanze Klosterhalfen's 8:20.07 ranks #6, Letesenbet Gidey's 8:20.27 #7, and Genzebe Dibaba's 8:21.29 #10. Or as I prefer to put it, #1, #2, #3, and #10.

It was reasonable to expect one of the historically deepest men's shot put fields to produce some fireworks, especially between Ryan Crouser and Tom Walsh.

This is why we run the races, or in this case, throw heavy weights around. Brazil's Darlan Romani upset all expectations with one of the greatest series in history.
Jeff Cohen photo
His 3rd round 22.46/73' 8 1/4" was #14 all-time.

His 4th round 22.55/73' 11 3/4" was #11 all-time.

His 5th round 22.61/74" 2 1/4" is #10 all-time.

All 6 throws fair and the shortest was his first at 21.64/71' 0". An incredible series that no one saw coming!

When informed in the interview area that he is now #10 all-time, he was visibly moved.

Full results here:

Saturday, June 29, 2019


In honor of Sunday's Prefontaine Classic,
I am reposting my story of what happened between
Steve Prefontaine and me the day he won
the 1972 Olympic Trials 5,000m

It’s the last day of the 1972 US Men’s Olympic Track and Field Trials. 

The organizers at Eugene’s legendary Hayward Field were no fools. They scheduled the men’s 5,000m race as the last event of the 8-day program.

It featured Steve Prefontaine, the young man whom Sports Illustrated named  “America’s Distance Prodigy,” and George Young, the venerable veteran, the three-time Olympian trying to make his 4th Olympic team.

In an epic race that would see both men break the American Record, Prefontaine and Young went at it, lap by excruciating lap, and the issue was in doubt until the 9th circuit, when Prefontaine edged ahead, inexorably, and led Young to the finish.

Prefontaine (13:22.8) and Young (13:29.4) both broke Pre's American record of 13:29.6.

It would be a cliché to say that the crowd went wild.

But it did.

The sound of that last lap lives with me still. 

The roar was deafening as Prefontaine approached the finish stripe, but the sound when he crossed it is unlike any I have heard before or since.

If there’s one word I associate with that day, it’s “spectacle.”

The spectacle of Gerry Lindgren bounding from the stands with his memorable “Stop Pre” t-shirts, a lasting symbol of the Sparrow’s impish sense of humor.

The spectacle of the race itself, of seeing this prodigy realize the next stage of his potential.

The spectacle of what followed.

A lengthy victory lap, an ovation sustained, an achievement shared. What was so appealing about this young man was his generosity - his willingness to share his joy and, indeed, his triumph.

The celebration continued well into the evening, though it became more personal in nature. It shifted to an area on the east side of Hayward Field, where temporary bleachers had been erected to accommodate the overflow crowds. There a media platform had been built.

On it, young Mr. Prefontaine held court.

The television lights were blinding, the camera bulbs kept flashing, and person after person, kid after kid, asked something of him.

Long after the friends I had watched the race with decided their evening was over, I knew mine wasn’t finished.

For the previous nine months I had embarked upon a running career, such as it was, of my own. I had started running in Bill Bowerman’s beginning jogging class in the fall of 1971, a week after Bowerman had been named head coach of the US Olympic track and field team.

Bowerman’s “Hamburgers” shared the track with Gary Barger, Todd Lathers, Pat Tyson, Arne and Knut Kvalheim, future Olympic discus champion “Multiple” Mac Wilkins, US Olympic decathlete Craig Brigham, and Steve Prefontaine himself.

I was captivated and missed but one meet in five years.

When you run on the track inhabited by the likes of these memorable Ducks, no matter how slowly in comparison, you do get to know them. One of them, Coach Pat Tyson of the Mead and now Gonzaga University cross country programs, remains a friend to this day.

When it came to young Mr. Prefontaine, we saw each other 4 or 5 times a week during the first year I ran. I was from the wilds of Western Massachusetts and knew little of him when I began running. He seemed to like the fact that I never got caught up in the myth of Pre, and that we used each other’s first names was a bond of its own.

That I saw him as a new compatriot, special in terms of his ability but otherwise in many ways like everyone else, created the framework of our passing relationship, and formed the basis of what we Yankees call a 'nodding acquaintance.'

Indeed, the one time, the only time, I asked him for an autograph - not for me but for the 8-year-old son of a friend I had in tow - he grew quite impatient with me. It took me awhile to realize I had violated the boundary. It was the only time in his presence I had bought into the mythic “Pre.”

Fortunately, he forgave me.

So, as he sat surrounded by worshipping kids and an adoring, and yes, fawning press, I wanted to watch the rest of the spectacle.

I made my way up the temporary bleachers, sat in the corner closest to him, and watched. Watched for over an hour as Steve sat there with the patience of a saint, even though he wasn’t one, and did not claim to be.

Every now and then he’d cock his head, look up at me and wonder what on earth I was doing there.

Come to think of it, for someone known for his strong opinions and sometimes colorful language, “what on earth” were probably not the words he was thinking.

Yet he was curious, inquisitive, clearly wondering.

It got dark.

Fortunately, the scoreboard operator had a sense of the moment and didn’t turn off the lights. The darker it got, the more clearly etched into the evening sky was Prefontaine’s new American Record.

I can see it today, just as clearly, more than half a lifetime later.

Finally, there were only a couple of families left, little kids waiting for their moment of magic. I scurried up the rickety bleachers, down to the track, and waited while he completed his hero’s duties.

He smiled in recognition, still with that quizzical look.

*   *   *   

The kids are gone now, and it’s just the two of us with his drug tester in attendance. We exchange greetings and I offer my congratulations. I’m delighted to sense his receptivity, in spite of how long his day has been.

He actually has a few moments left, for me.

Well, I say, I’ve watched this spectacle unfold this afternoon, and now this evening.

He nods.

I’ve seen many people approach you and ask for many things.

He nods, as if to say this is not news.

An autograph, a photograph, an interview, a moment, even, with you.


But Steve, I say, for all these people have asked, and all you’ve given in return - one thing has not been said today.

One thing is missing.

What’s that?

Thank you.

He clutches my forearm with both hands.

He will not let go.

Tears come to his eyes.

We both just stand there, at ease in the moment.

When he can speak, I wish him success in the Olympics, and he wishes me good luck in the summer all-comers meets.

Off he scampers across the track and onto the infield. Before he vanishes into the enveloping darkness, he turns and gives me a huge, full-body wave.

I wave back.

Off he jogs into the underbelly of the now gloomy West Grandstand and to his appointment with destiny in Munich.

My favorite photo of Steve Prefontaine.
With Coach Bill Bowerman the day Pre first broke 4:00 in the mile.
Multiple sources listed, including milesplit.

copyright 2016 Mark Cullen. All rights reserved.

Tuesday, June 18, 2019

NCAA Men's and Women's Hammer Throws

The women's and men's hammer throws in sweltering Austin, TX, added some thunder and lightning of their own to the proceedings.

These two articles appeared in edited form on the Track and Field News website (access with subscription).

Birthday Thunder
2019 NCAA Women's Hammer Throw
Thunder, lightning, drenching rain – the women’s hammer had it all. In an event that began almost two hours late, Cal-Berkeley’s super sophomore Camryn Rogers led from first round until last to clinch the title.

Rogers, 2019 Pac-12 and West Regional champ, sealed the deal in a highly competitive field with her 4th round 234-7/71.50, but not before several others had their say.

The World U20 champion seemed to be on her way to a dominating win until Indiana State’s Erin Reese uncorked a 5th round 231-2/70.46 that capped her progression from 19th to 4th to 3rd to 2nd, after an opening foul.

Reese gave Rogers a scare with her final 233-2/71.06; Reese’s 5th round toss had moved her into 2nd to stay, and she was the only athlete with two throws over 70.00m (229-8).

UCLA’s own super soph Alyssa Wilson was never off the podium. 2nd or 3rd the entire competition, Wilson’s 228-10/69.75 fourth round toss moved her back into second at the time, only to be surpassed by Reese’s late meet thunder.

Ohio State’s junior Sade Olatoye joined the party late as it took her several rounds to find her rhythm; her 5th round 227-7/69.37 left her only 15”/38cm short of a place on the podium.

A surprise in 8th was Tennessee’s Stamatia Scarvellis, the SEC and East Regional titlist, who came into this meet undefeated with 5 wins in a row. She did not improve from her second round best of 221-9/67.59.

There is a youth movement afoot in women’s hammer. With two sophomores on the podium, a total of five of the top nine finalists will return next year.

“It’s kind of surreal (to win the championship),” said Rogers. “It still hasn’t hit me, and I don’t think it will hit me for a little bit. It’s a crazy feeling to walk out of the cage after your last throw and go hug your coach, and for me, to go hug my mom, and just see all my teammates so happy. It feels really good… Anything I can do for this awesome team is amazing." 

The Richmond, British Columbia, native, has accomplished much in her young career; she won her NCAA title the day before her 20th birthday. This year, she has much more than her birthday to celebrate.

First First
2019 NCAA Men's Hammer Throw
Daniel Haugh took the road less traveled to his and Kennesaw State’s first NCAA individual track and field title. In his first outdoor season throwing for the Owls, Haugh, a redshirt senior transfer from Alabama, won a highly competitive men’s hammer championship with his fifth-round 244-10/74.63.

Kansas’ Gleb Dudarev came into the championship riding a four-meet win streak, which included titles at the Big 12 and West Regional meets. Co-favorite Hilmar Orn Jonsson of Virginia rode a three-meet streak of his own, including the ACC and East Regional crowns.

Haugh and Georgia’s defending champion, Denzel Comenentia, lost to Orn Jonsson at the East Regional. Comenentia, the yearly leader at 252-0/76.80, showed cracks in his armor with that loss as well as a runner up finish in the SEC Championships.

Here, Comenentia took the lead briefly in an eventful 3rd round with his 239-3/72.93, in what would prove to be his only fair throw of the meet. Dudarev answered with a 242-5/73.88 heave to make the massive Dutchman’s lead short-lived. Meanwhile, OJ put himself into the medal mix to stay with his 240-1/73.19, second place at the time.

The fourth round was quiet, but the fireworks exploded in the fifth. With three throws over 73.00 meters (239-6), the podium positions were determined. Haugh took the lead for good at 244-10/74.63 and pushed Dudarev to 2nd, while Orn Jonsson solidified his claim on 3rd with his 240-6/73.31. SEC champion Thomas Mardal (FL) moved into 4th at 239-10/73.10.

Both Haugh and Dudarev had their 2nd farthest throws in the last round as Dudarev kept the pressure on Haugh until the very end, but among the top 9, there were no position changes in the final stanza.

“The only thought that comes to mind is thankful,” said Haugh. “Thankful for the Lord who makes this possible, thankful for my parents, my coaching staff, my friends and family who believe in me and push me day in and day out. None of this would be possible without the community that I am surrounded with on a daily basis.

“It was just my training,” Haugh concluded. “You know in these types of conditions and this environment you always fall back to the level of your training. I think that showed today.”

Props to Florida throws coach Steve Lemke; on a sweltering day in Austin, only two throwers in the entire field of 24 recorded personal bests; both were Gators.

Sophomore Mardal (4th) and senior AJ McFarland (6th in 235-2/71.68) improved their bests by 4”/10cm and 3-3/.69, respectively, to pick up a nifty 8 points. With senior Anders Eriksson 11th in 223-7/68.14, Florida had three in the top 24 while no other school had more than one.

Saturday, May 18, 2019

Shanghai Diamond League

                    by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Note: I’m writing from Olympia, WA, where I’m covering the 35th Anniversary Celebration of the 1984 Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon. Joan Benoit Samuelson, Jacqueline Hansen, and Doris Brown Heritage are in attendance, along with many of the competitors who toed the line in 1984.

I’m presenting here an overview of Saturday’s Shanghai Diamond League Meet, along with a link to more extensive results.

I’ll have much more from the Marathon Trials commemoration in the coming week.

Diamond League Shanghai
Several events were highly hyped in the run up to the meet, and not one of them disappointed.

The long-awaited clash between 400m hurdles superstars Rai Benjamin (US) and Abderrahman Samba (Qat) found them tied coming off the 7th hurdle, but Samba powered away from Benjamin over the last two to win 47.27-47.80 and establish a new meet record.

Sydney McLaughlin’s Diamond League debut came in the 400m - not her specialty, which is the 400m hurdles. Nonetheless, she finished a very creditable 2nd to Bahrain’s #1 of 2018, Salwa Eid Naser.

If anything, the men’s 5000 was overhyped in terms of how fast it might be – it’s May and no one wants to run 12:44 quite yet – but the competitive showdown between Ethiopian stars Yomif Kejelcha and Selemon Barega did not disappoint.

Pacer Bram Som was instructed to take the field through the first kilo in 2:30 and did so in 2:30.2 – late again! – but the second pacer was not nearly as masterful as Brom and the pace drifted into the 66 second per lap range. Barega then took the lead, followed by world cross country champion, Joshua Cheptegai, who took it next.

It was a free for all on the last lap with Kejelcha and Barega duking it out. Kejelcha, who has been working on improving his finishing speed, put it on display with an especially impressive last 50m to take the win. All is not lost for Barega: he’s 19.

There was a huge upset in the women’s shot put as heavily favored Liu Gong lost to rising star Chase Ealy (US)), who PRed in 19.58 – much to the disappointment of the hometown crowd. Yu Wang won the high jump on the countback on home soil at 2.28 with three tied at that mark. Li Ling scored a notable Asian record for China in the pole vault. The top 4 all cleared 4.72, and she took 3rd with Greece’s Katerina Stefanidi and Nikoleta Kiriakopoulou 1-2. Sandi Morris (US) was a notable and unexpected 4th.

In the men’s 100m, Noah Lyles (US) caught Christian Coleman (US) at the line after a furious finish over the last 30m, 9.86-9.86. (That is not a typo). Can you say 4x100m relay?! Not incidentally, this is a personal best for the 200m specialist.
Noah Lyles at 2018 USATF Championships
Photo Credit: USATF
The women’s 100m featured Olympic Champion Elaine Thompson (Jam), Nigeria’s Blessing Okagbare, and Aleia Hobbs (US), who had anchored the winning US 4x100m team at World Relays the week before. Lo and behold, the veterans Okagbare and Thompson finished 2-3 to Hobbs’ 11.03. 

Said Hobbs, "This is my biggest win."

Hobbs was sporting a cast on her wrist after fracturing it while playing laser tag two weeks ago. Note to Hobbs: you just defeated Elaine Thompson and you may play laser tag again in 15 years.

Our favorite spanning the globe result came in the men’s long jump won by Jamaica’s Tajay Gayle, with China’s Wang Jianan second, and South Africa’s Ruswahl Samaai third.

Complete results:

Sunday, May 12, 2019

World Relays Yokohama

This is Why We Run the Races: Part Deux
by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved
Photos by Roger Sedres for the IAAF
Brazil's Paulo Camilo de Oliveira
anchors the upset
Men's 4x100m Relay
If you made predictions for the 2019 IAAF World Relays, may I help you get that egg off your face?

What? Oh, I have egg on mine?

Surely you picked Brazil to win the men’s 4x100m. No?

France to win the women’s 4x200m. What?

Trinidad and Tobago the men’s 4x400m? 

Not enough eggs to go around?

You picked Poland to dust off the US in the women’s 4x400m. And you had Italy for 3rd, right?

The refrain of this meet: this is why we run the races.

Women's 4x400m Relay
Poland's Justyna Swiety-Ersetic
anchors the upset
Poland set the tone for an upset-filled day with their unexpected victory in the women's 4x400m relay. The race was won on the final pass as Poland was 3rd coming to the exchange and 1st coming out.

Anna Kielbasinska is the unsung heroine of this win for her textbook pass, with props to Justyna Swiety Ersetic for a terrific anchor; she held off Courtney Okolo of the US and top-notch hurdler Janieve Russell of Jamaica - that's heady stuff. 

Even though Russell took the lead briefly with 200m to go, she had to work too hard to get there, and Ersetic sped to a surprisingly comfortable victory over the US, with a strong team from Italy in 3rd.

Men's 4x400m Relay
 Trinidad and Tobago's Macho Cedenio
anchors the upset
OK, this is not such a huge upset as Trinidad and Tobago won the 2017 World title. The US had a 15 meter lead with 300m to go, but super-closer Macho Cedenio ran down US' Paul Dedewo for the win. Dedewo almost pulled off a spectacular win (note him in mid-air in the photo, above), but he began to tie up with 30m to go. To add insult to injury, the US was disqualified for a lane violation on the last exchange.

The next time Trinidad and Tobago wins the men's 4x400m, it won't be an upset anymore, as the United States teams from London 2017 and today can attest. Had it not been for today's DQ, the US would have been silver medalists in the last two major 4x400s. Belgium finished 3rd with only two of the bevy of Borlee brothers running today.

Women's 4x200m Relay
France's Maroussia Pare
anchors the upset
Jamaica fielded a team with two Olympic champions, Elaine Thompson and Shelly-Ann Fraser Pryce. They got a lot of attention, but not of the kind they had hoped for. Video of Jamaica's abysmal passing will outlive them - especially Thompson's opening pass to Stephanie-Ann McPherson - and the US team can thank Jamaica for having even worse passes than theirs. Meanwhile, France, in lane 9, had the privilege of not viewing the disasters occurring inside of them, and they did what their Middle School coaches taught them to do and they did it to perfection. France, China, and Jamaica took the podium places.

Mixed 4x400m Relay
Dontavious Wright Anchors the US
to the World Mixed Relay 4x400m title
The US won this event handily, and part of the pre-race speculation - in what order would the teams run their athletes? - was answered when all teams ran men on the opening and closing legs while women established several of the final places on the 2nd and 3rd legs. The US had a comfortable win over Canada, with Kenya earning bronze.

Men's 4x200m Relay
Remontay McLain Anchors the US to the 4x200m Relay Title
All went according to form as the US, South Africa, and Germany won the medals. The US team passed well and established enough of a cushion that Remontay McLain held off South Africa's 100m star Akani Simbine. Simbine closed well on McLain, who simply had too much of a lead to overcome. Germany set a national record in 3rd, while South Africa's 1:20.42 is an area record.

Women's 4x100m Relay
Aleia Hobbs Anchors the US to the World Relays 4x200m Title
The United States ran the same team two days in a row, and this consistency paid off in a big way. NCAA Champ Aleia Hobbs was given a comfortable enough lead by Dezerea Bryant, but Jamaica's Jonielle Smith took an 'it's not over 'till it's over' attitude into her anchor leg and made up a substantial amount of territory on Hobbs, only to lose by .02, 43.27 to 43.29. Germany was a comfortable 3rd in 43.68.

Men's 4x100m Relay
Brazil's 4x100m Relay Team
after the upset

With Justin Gatlin leading off and Noah Lyles on anchor, this was to be a slam dunk for the US, correct? Not so fast. The US team might have taken a page from the victorious US women book and run the same team two days in a row.

While not terrible, the US passing was merely average, and that's not good enough at this level. Brazil was in lane 7 (interesting how some teams in the outer lanes did so well in this meet) and doing just what France did in the women's 4x200: sticking to crisp passing and taking the lead out of the final exchange. Brazil's Paulo Camilo de Olivera ran a brilliant anchor and held off a a hard-charging Lyles by exactly the same margin as the US women's 4x100m team: .02, 38.05 to 38.07, with Great Britain in 3rd in 38.15.

Pssst. Want a meet summary? 
For the first time in World Relays history, Jamaica did not win a gold medal. 
You heard it here first.
Special thanks to IAAF senior website editor Jon Mulkeen for making available Roger Sedres' magnificent photos of this compelling event. 
And thanks to Sedres, of course, for his terrific images.
Winners' Parade

Saturday, May 11, 2019

World Relays - Yokohama

First Day - Saturday, May 11

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

The Day 1 World Relays highlight came in a semi-final, not a final, as Denmark's women's 4x100m relay team reminded us of why we run the races.
Mathilde Kramer of Denmark anchors the 4x100m relay to a heat win
and place in the final.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
With podium favorites Great Britain/Northern Ireland and France dropping the baton, and with Canada disqualified, Denmark more than took advantage of their competitors' miseries as they ran a superb race with crisp passing, and they set a national record of 43.90. The joy - and shock - was evident on the face of anchor Mathilde Kramer, caught in the magnificent image by Roger Sedres for the IAAF.

In the other heats, the United States ran a world leading 42.51, and Denmark finds itself as the 7th-fastest qualifier in Sunday's final. Denmark has drawn lane 3 for the final, next to the United State in lane 4; this could be mightily to Denmark's advantage. A podium finish would set off a celebration royale.

Shuttle hurdles: more arms in the air.
Devon Allen anchoring the US to victory in the shuttle hurdles.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
After a withdrawal by Jamaica and a false start by Australia, only Japan and the United States were left to duke it out for the win. Japan started strongly and held a surprising lead going into the 3rd leg when Sharika Nelvis reminded everyone of which country dominates the women's hurdles. She restored order by surging into the lead, and Devon Allen anchored going away.

What are they going to do with the bronze medals?

2x2x400m Relay - A new event in need of explanation.
Donavan Brazier anchoring the US to victory in the 2x2x400m relay.
Roger Sedres for the IAAF
The first '2' refers to the number of athletes running: one woman and one man. The '2x400m' refers to the total distance each athlete runs.
That's right, each runs 400m twice.
But not in succession.
The two athletes alternate 400m, so the key is judging how fast to run the first one when you'll be starting the next in approximately 50 seconds.
You also get to choose who goes first - the woman or the man?

It's little like the last workout before State: two incredibly high level repetitions on short rest.

The US team of Donavan Brazier and Ce'Aira Brown won with Australia a delighted 2nd; Joshua Ralph's spectacular anchor took the Aussies from 5th to silver. Japan took bronze, to the thunderous approval of hometown fans, while Kenya was disqualified after having led for the first three laps.

There were few other major surprises in the rest of today's races, all of which served as qualifying for Sunday's much-anticipated seven finals. Japan will field teams in the finals of the men's 4x400m as well as the women's 4x200m, and in the heats of the men's 4x200m. Their best opportunity for a podium finish is in the M 4x400m, though they are seeded very evenly in the M 4x200.

The social media highlight of the day came when Japan - a heavy favorite to medal in the 4x100m in front of the home crowd in Yokohama - botched the 3-to-4 pass, Yuki Koike to Yoshihide Kiryu.

But they did so with elegance, style, and creativity. There has never been a pass like this and there will never be another. 'Arming' the relay pass is a whole new concept.

Here is video of the pass in a link to Steven Mills' @Trackside2019 page on twitter:

You just watched it, didn't you?!

Friday, May 3, 2019

Doha Diamond League

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved

Caster Semenya was the star of the 2019 Diamond League opener - on the track as well as off. Generous and gracious in the face of those who are not, Semenya let her running do the talking as she won the 800m in a blistering 1:54.98 against a field that featured all the medalists from the 2016 Olympic and 2017 World Championships.
Caster Semenya after winning the ISTAF Title in Berlin, 2018
Photo credit: Gallery4/ISTAF
The depth of the results was remarkable as 1:59.07 was Raevyn Rogers’ time in 5th place; ahead of her in 2nd, 3rd, and 4th were Francine Niyonsaba, Ajee Wilson, and Nelly Jepkosgei.

“For me, I believe nothing is hard in life because it is up to you how you take life,” said Semenya, referring to the CAS (Court for Arbitration of Sport) decision against her this week.

“As an athlete, I believe in sportsmanship, and what sports teaches you is to keep pushing on despite all odds. I know life could be difficult at times but I'm a believer and I believe there is always a way to resolve issues. One of my firm belief is that there is always a way out for everything. So if a wall is placed in front of me, I jump it. I'm going to keep enjoying my life and live it. I will keep on training and running. To me, impossibility is nothing.”

“It's all about inspiring the world,” she said, further, in an interview on the Olympic Channel. “When you are a living testimony of God, you cannot let things affect you personally.”

So strong were today’s performances that it was hard to tell it was the first week of May.

Delilah Muhammad set the tone for the day in the first track event, the 400m hurdles, as she blew past the field coming around the final turn and won going away in 53.61, a 1.11 margin of victory over a stellar field. World indoor and outdoor champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Ashley Spencer (US), Olympic relay bronze medalist Anna Ryzhykova (UKR), and World and Olympic Games finalist Janieve Russell (Jam) have some work to do.

Sweden’s Daniel Stahl set the Diamond League discus record with his 71.29/233-10 statement, one which drew scant response from his competitors, as he won by over two meters. Setting the DL record is no small feat when we consider who has thrown before him, and he gains a huge advantage by achieving this in the World Championships ring.

“I had great power and I have been working on my technique a lot and training hard in the gym so I expected it and I am really happy,” he said. “I hope to return here for the IAAF World Championships and win again. The big focus though is always to have fun and big power.”

Sam Kendricks won the pole vault in 5.80/19-¼, while 2016 Olympic Champion Thiago Braz (BRA) finished a strong second. His attempts to return to his Olympic heights may finally be coming to fruition.

A surprise in the women’s long jump was that Tianna Bartoletta did not qualify for the final. There went an intriguing matchup against the 2018 IAAF Female Athlete of the Year, Caterine Ibarguen (COL), who scored a narrow win over Ukraine’s Maryna Bekh-Romanchuk, 6.76/22’2¼ - 6.74, with Australia’s Brooke Stratton another centimeter behind in 3rd.

The women’s high jump had “star is born” written all over it.  Let’s let Ukraine’s Yaroslava Mahuchikh say it in her own words.  

“I was so surprised that I won because I am the youngest competitor here,” she said, “so I am extremely happy to take the win and to jump a personal best.”


She is 17.

Remember her name in October.

Five men broke 1:45.00 in the 800m; the resurgent Nigel Amos won in 1:44.29. Donavan Brazier (US) seemed to be moving into perfect placement with 180m to go when he had to steady himself when some jostling took place. Still, he recovered nicely to work his way back from 5th to 3rd at the finish.

Brianna McNeal is the World and Olympic Champion in the 100m hurdles. That was hard to tell today as the field blew by her over the 7th and 8th hurdles and she finished a surprising 7th in 12.94. Jamaica’s Danielle Williams’ 12.66 ruled the day.

“I didn't expect that,” said Williams. “It was a big surprise so I am very happy. It was a big step forward for me, I am so happy I got the win, I went for glory. Now, I just need to remain consistent and stay injury free.”

Hilary Bor (US) won everything except the last 100m of the men’s 3,000m steeplechase. He took the lead with 600m to go but stutter-stepped repeatedly as he approached the final barrier and Morocco’s Soufiane El Bakkali sprinted past to win, 8:07.22 to 8:08.41 – a personal best for Bor. 

Nonetheless, the manner in which Bor took control of the race in its latter stages was impressive, and he served noticed that he’ll be a medal contender in October.

“Finish second behind Soufiane (El Bakkali) a world silver medalist, is a great achievement and it means I’m doing something right,” said Bor. “My goal now is to go back and study the race and see how I can improve… I love the stadium and the atmosphere here tonight is great.”

Put him in a 100m race and he’ll be taking attendance from behind. Put him in a 200m race and you have an Olympic Champion. Turkey’s Ramil Guliyev ran a scintillating early-season 19.99 to win going away. He led coming off the turn and was never challenged.

Similarly, Dina Asher-Smith dominated the women’s 200m with her 22.26 world leader. Jamile Samuel of the Netherlands was a big surprise in 2nd in 22.90 over Phyllis Francis and Blessing Okagbare among others in a deep field. Asher-Smith won triple gold at the European Championships in Berlin last summer, but she has yet to mine World or Olympic metal. This serves notice to notable absentees Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bah) and Jenna Prandini (US) that Asher-Smith is a force to be reckoned with in 2019.

With an 800m split of 1:53.32, it was surprising to see 11 men still in contention 300m later at the bell of the men’s 1500m. In a mild upset, Elijah Manangoi held off Timothy Cheruiyot in the area that had been Cheruiyot’s strength in his domination of the 2018 season, the last 120m. The top 7 finishers were from Kenya.

Anticipation for this meet had been high after a stellar indoor season was capped by outstanding performances on the outdoor and relay circuits, most notably by Ryan Crouser’s 22.74-74 7¼ world leading shot put at Long Beach. As noted here before, he seems well on his way to a world record this year, and today he won with apparent ease at 22.13. However, New Zealand’s Thomas Walsh put him on notice that it won’t be quite so easy, as he finished a scant 7cm behind.

In a stellar concluding event, Hellen Obiri outsprinted Genzebe Dibaba (these are words you don’t hear often) in a women’s 3000m race that saw the top 6 break 8:30. The 2019 World Cross Country champion held off the 2008 and 2009 U20 World XC titleist, 8:25.60 to 8:26.20. I would have used the term “down the stretch they come” as two of the greatest distance runners in history battled it out, but tomorrow is the Kentucky Derby, so that phrase is already taken.

It was 88 F (31 C) degrees inside the refurbished Khalifa International Stadium and 99 (37 C) outside the stadium, so while 88 is hot, it could have been worse. This is of import not only for track and field’s September/October World Championships but for the 2022 soccer World Cup as well.

A sophisticated cooling system has been installed in the stadium, and several track and field journalists noted how surprised they were at how much difference it made, one indicating that he felt cold in the media tribune (press row) near the top of the stadium. Cold! The system is so strong that it is turned off as competition begins so there will not be interference from the wind it generates.

Next Diamond League stop: Shanghai on May 25th.

Thanks to IAAF for making the flash quotes available.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

This Royal Runs

Denmark's Crown Prince Changes His Nation 
as Aarhus 2019 Changes Cross Country

by Mark Cullen/ © 2019 All Rights Reserved
Sebastian Coe and Crown Prince Frederik of Denmark in Aarhus
Photo Credit: Lars Moller

Denmark’s Crown Prince Frederik inspires not only by who he is but what he does. Frederik - an ardent runner - led a national running challenge called The Royal Run in honor of his 50th birthday last May.

Races were held in five different cities.

He ran in all five - on the same day. Four one-mile legs and a 10k anchor for an impressive total of 10 miles.

An engaging and accessible monarch-to-be, Frederik, 50, has inspired many in his country to higher levels of fitness and health. It is reliably estimated that over 63,000 Danes ran the inaugural Royal Run, and the event was front page news in Denmark.

Widely known as an engaging, enthusiastic, and accessible man, the Crown Prince makes a visible commitment to the people he was born to serve. His informal manner commands enormous respect and generates remarkable levels of popularity.

Late at night after the World Championship XC races had finished, a server at my restaurant in Aarhus sang her crown prince’s praises for inspiring her to raise her fitness game. She participated in the 2018 Royal Run, has been running consistently ever since, and looks forward to competing in the second iteration of the event. 

The 2019 edition will be held over the course of 10 days, with the bulk of the running on June 10. Princess Margrethe will lighten the Crown Prince’s load by running one of the races. Well over two months in advance, three of the five legs are sold out.
Crown Prince Frederik presenting the silver medal to Ethiopia's Dera Dida
Awaiting her gold medal: Hellen Obiri, Distance Queen
Photo Credit: Jane Monti for Race Results Weekly
My mother was Dutch - I lived in the Netherlands for two years as a child - and I came to understand the emotional power a royal family can have in even progressive countries like the Netherlands and Denmark. The royals have the opportunity afforded them by fate to do good in this world; think of Lady Diana’s crusade against landmines.

Crown Prince Frederik’s commitment to his nation’s health is visible: he lent not only his name but his time and his presence to the World Cross Country Championships. While he was scheduled to run in the Mass Race Relay at the end of the day, Frederik sat this one out - due to a back injury - in favor of June's big event. 

However, Danes took note of his royal stamp of approval, and his presence was one of many factors that inspired 10,000 spectators to come to Aarhus to witness the birth of a new generation of cross country.

“As a keen runner, who celebrated his 50th birthday last year by participating in mass participation road races all over Denmark, Crown Prince Frederik is a man after my own heart," said IAAF chief Sebastian Coe. "The Royal Run has now claimed an annual place in the Danish sporting calendar and the prince’s enthusiasm for health and fitness sets a great example."

Jakob Larsen, Championships Meet Director, Director of the Danish Athletics Federation, and course design genius, said, “Having the Crown Prince present is a tremendous boost for us as organizers, not only because he is royalty but also given his role as an IOC (International Olympic Committee) member. His presence adds credibility at the national level, and gives us even more leverage when telling the story of cross country.”

This from the man who, with his inspired and inventive Aarhus course design, changed how the story of cross country itself will henceforth be told.

"At the IAAF we also want to inspire people around the world to be fitter and healthier," said Coe, "which is why we are encouraging mass participation events alongside our elite championships."

"At the World Cross Country Championships in Aarhus... thousands of recreational runners had the chance to run in the footsteps of our great distance running champions on the official world championships course," Coe continued. 

"We will be offering more such opportunities in the future as it’s a great way to connect our elite athletes with the global running community and inspire more people to join our sport.”

It had been announced well in advance that the Crown Prince would be present; I was quite surprised that he stayed for four hours. The warmth of the friendship between Coe and Prince Frederik was evident as they hung out in the infield and enjoyed the races, the atmosphere, and the medal ceremonies. Someone observing them without context might have thought that two good friends were having a remarkably good time, and wondered how they got such good seats.
Coe and the Crown Prince
Photo Credit: Lars Moller

As Championship Saturday continued and Frederik emerged as a visible part of the fabric of the day, I began to think it might be interesting to get his take on this cross country festival. I enlisted the aid of the Director of Communications, Henriette Leth Nielsen, in seeing if an interview could be arranged. I’m grateful for her efforts on what surely was one of the busiest days of her life. It turned out to be too late as it was after 15:00 and the Crown Prince was about to leave. We both were quite disappointed. 

If only I’d thought of it earlier.

I gave up - for a few moments.

About to leave?

There's an opportunity.

I bolted from the finish line press tribune and walked a long way around several fenced off security areas. I tried to keep my eye on the prince as I hurried over. By the time I reached the road and the exit gates from the infield, I had lost sight of him and thought he had left.

But two cars - not limousines, exactly, but tastefully understated jet black S-Class Mercedes Benzes with deeply frosted windows - crept by as if expecting someone. I thought he was in one of them, but it was hard to tell.

To my surprise, Frederik emerged from behind the immense start/finish line structure. He had stayed for one more victory ceremony.

I glanced at him and back at the cars and wondered which exit gate he would use. I picked the one that seemed most logical and planted myself in front of it.

“This is either going to work or it’s not,” I said to myself.

He made a beeline for my exit and was there in moments. 

I raised my press pass so he could see I was credentialed and he slowed. I extended my hand and he took it as I introduced myself and asked if he had a moment to speak with me.

His reply was a gracious, thunderous, "Yes."

Everything that happened in the next minute happened very quickly. In fact, the time on my voice recorder says 1:28, but our exchange really didn't last that long.

Three times back and forth.

After two exchanges, a very strong hand clasped my left shoulder from behind. Firm and directive, with a gracious but clear message: "There's only so much unscheduled time you get with royalty."

Think of it this way: how much time would you get with Queen Elizabeth?

We concluded our third exchange and I said a simple, “Thank you very much,” to which he replied, “No worries.”

An older couple standing immediately to my left beamed as the Crown Prince approached, and were thrilled that he stopped so close to them. The looks we exchanged afterwards needed no translation.

I scurried back and found Nielsen.

"I got it," I said.

"Got what?" was her reasonable reply, as my simple declarative statement  had seemed so unlikely only minutes earlier.

On the day that was the culmination of several years' work, she was visibly moved.

While I was in the media center transcribing the interview, a volunteer
staffer named Jakob came in. I paused the recorder, took off my headphones, and said, "You might be interested in this.”

I pressed 'play' and immediately and without hesitation, Jakob said, "The Crown Prince."

Jakob turned beet red.

When I first published my brief interview on race day, I presented the verbatim transcript but realized soon afterwards that the words by themselves did not effectively communicate the nature of our conversation. By themselves, they came across as stiff and formal, and our conversation was hardly that.

There was a laugh or a chuckle of appreciation from the Crown Prince after each statement. There was thoughtful energy in our exchanges. He was gracious and welcoming, but also, in concert with his security detail, able to signal non-verbally when our encounter was about to end.

Here is my brief interview with Frederik, Crown Prince of Denmark, after he served as starter and medal presenter for many of the World Championship Cross Country and community races in Aarhus on March 30. 

MC - Would you please say a few words about what you thought of the event today?

"The event is a big success for everybody - I hope you ask some of the participants (for their perspective), too!"

I nod in agreement.

"This is a major event for this country, we have amazing surroundings, we have a lot of backup, a great audience, and the weather was also looking our way."

He chuckles a bit at their good fortune.

MC - People came from around the world for this...

"Yes, I don't have a country count..."

MC - 70, I believe.

"...but there are beautiful colors and flags and sportswear (representing these countries)."

Clearly, he enjoyed the spectacle of the day.

MC - I assume that Denmark would like to host events like this again in the future.

(The hand appears on my left shoulder as Frederik makes eye contact with his security personnel over my right.)

"Yes, it's not the first time..."

He pauses.

"We've hosted big world championship events in a variety of sports, 
so it's going to happen again."

(It’s time for me to go.)

MC - Thank you so much.

“No worries!”

He finishes with a grin and a handshake. He seems bemused and in fact charmed that I would step forward to make this request of him, and he is genuinely pleased to have been helpful.

Later that evening, the same server at my restaurant says of my royal encounter, “This is a once in a lifetime experience, isn’t it?”

Indeed. It is inspiring to witness what happens to his nation when this royal runs.

I am deeply grateful to those who took time out of schedules which remained intensely busy after the World Championships to support this article: Jakob Larsen, Sebastian Coe, Henriette Leth Nielsen, Jane Monti, and IAAF Director of Communications Nicole Jeffery.

Mange tak!