Thursday, August 16, 2018

Teardrop of Sunlight - Moscow Moments from Friday, August 16, 2013

Trackerati's 5th Anniversary

It's not often we have the opportunity to recognize a single defining moment when our life has changed irrevocably for the better.

In the five year history of this website - started on August 2, 2013 - no single day has been more meaningful or important than one two weeks later - five years ago today - when Sieg Lindstrom, Managing Editor of Track and Field News, highlighted "Teardrop of Sunlight" on the T+F News website on Friday of the last weekend of the Moscow World Championships.

I had no press pass then - just a ticket, a blog site, and color coded index cards. Of all unlikely things, it was the shape of the sunlight moving through Luzhniki Stadium that captured my attention that cool summer morning.

I am grateful to Sieg to this day, as his prominent placement of this piece introduced Trackerati to a broad international audience. Profound thanks to my many loyal readers and to those generous souls who publish and link to my writing.

In the meantime, I hope you'll enjoy this first of my anniversary posts. 

Teardrop of Sunlight

The morning sessions of the World and Olympic Championships have always held special appeal.

This is where the stories begin, surprises take place, the obscure line up against the greats, and national records are set by athletes who do not advance but who nonetheless become heroes in their own countries.

Much has been made of the sparseness of the crowds at these World Championships; they are never smaller than at the morning sessions. Yet this provides fans a terrific opportunity to connect more closely with the competitions, their developing storylines, and the thousand subtle moments that create the character of these championships.

There is one inherent difference between the morning and evening sessions: these are qualifiers, not finals; twelve in each field event leave with hope still alive.

Triple jumpers exit two by two after having met the automatic qualifying standard. They wave to the crowd and return appreciation. Javelin throwers who advance on their first attempt are done for the day. That’s it, just one throw.

This morning, the first to leave are those who succeed.

Their performances are greeted with roars from the crowd that belie our small numbers. The acoustics of this stadium amplify even moderate sound. Imagine when the soccer World Cup is here.

What would these championships be without the Ukrainian fans? In two separate sections they sit in massive numbers, their identity created by the blue and yellow shirts they wear in the image of their nation’s flag – rows of blue across the top and even more of yellow below.

Italy and Ukraine engage in the morning’s mightiest battle.

The top two will advance in each of three heats of the women’s 4x400m relay, with the 7th and 8th qualifiers determined by time. In an epic last-lap battle, Italy edges Ukraine by 1/100th of a second for the 2nd spot in this heat. Now Ukraine must wait through the next two rounds to see if they advance on time.

Ultimately, they do not, and that 1/100th will define their year. The human flag dissolves as disappointed Ukrainians head for the exits.

Great Britain’s Adam Gemili shatters his PR with a 20.17 200m – how’s that for breakfast? Brianna Rollins jets down the hurdles runway in 12.55. That’s the breakfast of champions.

Bruno Hortelano takes second in his 200m heat and advances in 20.47, a Spanish national record. That won’t make headlines anywhere but Spain, but oh the reception when he gets home.

The morning’s most engaging moment takes place between 19-year-old World Junior champion Delanno Williams (GBR) and Usain Bolt in their 200m heat.

With meters to go, Bolt looks around and starts to cruise in. He seems a bit surprised to see Williams so close and does a double-take at the temerity of this youngster to challenge him.

Williams breaks into a huge grin, Bolt does, too – and nods at the youngster. A nod of respect, a nod of appreciation, a nod of inclusion - a welcome into the club.

Many expect Williams to be a star of the future. Without saying a word, Usain Bolt has just said it’s so.

Friday morning dawns cool and sunny in Moscow. As the sun peeks into the stadium through the oval roof, it creates a broad swath of light at the far end which narrows at the near.

Like a teardrop of sunlight, it advances through the stadium, gradually rewarding this morning’s faithful with its welcome embrace.

Photo by Dmitry Rozhkov

The companion piece to this article is A Ride for Robert, the story of the magic moment when I discovered that Teardrop of Sunlight was on the Track and Field News front page:

Sunday, August 12, 2018

Mondo Mania

Armand Duplantis Wins
Pole Vault Competition for the Ages

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

In a virtuosic display of pole vaulting tonight in Berlin, 18-year-old Mondo Duplantis (SWE) set his personal best three times and topped the deepest field in the history of the European Championships. 

His 6.05 (19-10¼) winner ties him for #2 all-time outdoors in history.

In a game of “Can You Top This?” the answer was always an emphatic YES.

“I did feel like I could have made higher,” said the freshly minted gold medalist. “I just hope I wake up tomorrow and it’s still real.”

The statistics of this competition are staggering.

With five jumpers left in the competition, three had cleared 5.90 (19-4¼) and two had passed to 5.95 (19-6¼), the next higher height.

That’s 5 jumping at 5.95 (19-6¼); 17 jumps were taken at 5.95 (19-6¼) or above.

Duplantis and Renaud Lavillenie (FRA) cleared 5.95 (19-6¼), while Russia’s Timur Morgunov then shocked the field with his 6.00m (19-8¼) personal best, the last height he would clear. He won a totally unexpected silver.

Lavillenie missed his first attempt at 6.00 (19-8¼) and passed to 6.05 (19-10¼), where he missed twice and was done for the night, the bronze medal winner.  

Meanwhile, Duplantis etched himself into the track and field history books as well as the memories of the tens of thousands of rapt spectators with his magical 6.05 (19-10¼) winner. 

The compelling ease of it was remarkable as he floated over the bar.

Morgunov’s 6.00 (19-8¼) for second and Lavillenie’s 5.95 (19-6¼) for 3rd equal the highest marks ever for those places.

Poland’s Piotr Lisek was hot early and finished 4th at 5.90. Imagine jumping 19-4¼ and not medaling.

“It was great,” Mondo said of the enthusiastic crowd. “They were really into the competition and it was probably the best pole vault competition I’ve ever been a part of.

“It was a great place to jump and the atmosphere…” he said as his voice trailed off and he shook his head in wonder, still trying to absorb the magnitude of what he had just achieved. “I just hope we can have another championship here because I like to jump high like that.”

Friend and rival – and mentor – indoor world record holder, Renaud Lavillenie, walked on the runway with Duplantis when Duplantis called it a night.  

“He did say on the straightaway,” Duplantis said, ‘Enjoy this moment because not many moments will be like this sweet dream ever. Enjoy this moment because you don’t get these every day.’”

One of those he is now tied with at #2 outdoors is Lavillenie.

Duplantis is becoming comfortable with the fame bestowed on him by his rapid international success.

“I’m not trying to fill his shoes or anything,” he said of Lavillenie. “If people (want to) treat me like Renaud then I guess they can. If people are interested in pole vault and I’m one of the biggest names in track and field, that’s great! That’s great publicity for pole vault.”

A Swedish journalist said, “You look up to Renaud and now there are a lot of little kids looking up to Mondo.”

Mondo replied, “I hope to inspire people. I love pole vaulting so much. It’s such a unique event – such an awesome event and I love winning.”

He hopes to build his event through his success. He hopes it brings the pole vault some publicity, “and if people are watching, they can see how remarkable it is and how different it is from everything else. I want everybody to jump.”

After winning the competition at 6.05 (19-10¼), Duplantis elected not to pursue even high heights. It was simple, he said. 

“I was tired. I was really tired and I had already PRed 3 times.”

He described celebrating with his mother in the stands.

“I don’t think it was much words – I think it was just our faces so close to each other that we could feel each other’s tears down each other’s faces… I don’t think we could come up with words at that time.”

Duplantis revealed a strong sense of the occasion when he said, “It’s going to be one of my greatest track and field moments ever no matter what happens. Olympic gold, world record – this is one of the ones that will have stood out.”

 The Magic Moment
Note how far Duplantis is over the bar.

Photo copyright Jeff Cohen
Thanks to invaluable online statistical resources on Twitter:
K Ken Nakamura @KKenNakamura
John Mulkeen @Statman_John

Saturday, August 11, 2018

Crazy Good

Teen Sensation Jakob Ingebrigtsen Wins the 5000
Completes the 1500/5000 Double

by Mark Cullen

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigtsen did the impossible again tonight.

The 17 year old distance running phenomenon won the European 5,000m title in decisive fashion in much the same way he won the 1500m the night before – with a sustained searing surge followed by a kick which left veterans far older and more experienced in his wake.

Brother Henrik took silver in 13:18.75, while Jakob’s winning time of 13:17.06 is a personal and European U-20 record. France’s Morhad Amdouni won bronze in 13:19.14.

Ingebrigsten ran in the middle of the pack until he took the lead with 1200m to go. At this point it could be reasonably asked if he was repeating last night’s successful strategy or if he was setting himself up to be outkicked while running on tired legs. The answer came quickly.

He continued to lead with two laps left, and as he put down the pedal, the chase group bunched behind him at 600m, but no one would pass. Jakob and brother Henrik surged away from the pack as they rounded the top of the curve with 350m to go and as a family team, they were never headed. The only issue was who would win, and that issue was not in doubt for long.

They gave each other an enormous embrace after crossing the finish line.

“He is crazy good,” said brother Henrik over the stadium public address system.

“You’re always nervous – if you’re not nervous, you’ll do a bad race. That’s just how it is,” said the track and field sensation of the year.

“You need to have the nerves because that way you’ll concentrate and focus on what you have ahead of you. I felt really confident going into today’s race and also yesterday. I know what I’m capable of and I know what shape I’m in, so yes, I was looking forward to racing here in Berlin and it worked out pretty good.”

When asked by an Austrian journalist what his readers should know about him, the supremely confident Ingebrigsten turned out to be more comfortable speaking about his running than speaking about himself, and he masterfully moved the discussion back to running. He answered:

“I’ve lived as a professional runner since I was five years old. Everything I’ve done I’ve prepared for being one of the best runners in the world. Not many people have believed (he laughs) in me and my family’s thoughts but that has been the main goal to be one of the best runners. Now I’m 17 and European champion and this is one step in the right direction to become one of the best runners in the world.”

“I’d like to ask you about history, please,” I said.

“History?” He seemed surprised.

“Context for what you have done. It was already true last night that the defining performance of this meet (was your 1500m win)... Now you have the double... Where do you think this fits?”

“I’m not that old," he said with a laugh, "so I don’t have that much experience when it comes to history and athletics but I know all the big names. I know all the world records and all the huge accomplishments for other athletes. I know what it means to be a European Champion and to be a runner in the 1500m at a high level. I know what it takes. I know that me and Henrik and Filip has put down a lot – a lot – a lot of work. I know that we have earned these medals.”


“Thank you so much.”

Two-time European Champion
Seventeen year old Jakob Ingebrigtsen of Norway

photo courtesy of Getty Images via Berlin

History question edited and clarified 12:45pm, 8/12/2018

Riff on a Friday Night Track Meet in Berlin

A Good Night for the Home Team
and a 
Prodigy from Finland

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

Have you noticed a lot of Germans walking around with their arms in the air?

They're smiling and laughing and crying and jumping up and down. They’re clasping their hands to their faces in stunned disbelief. They're lying on the track waiting for a mascot to help them up. They're holding black, red, and yellow flags across their backs and they’re jogging, ever so slowly, around the track.

You wouldn't want this moment to end, would you?

Friday, August 10, 2018


Germany Dominates Men's Javelin

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

It's rare in a regional championship that the top 3 in the world in one event come together to decide who is best.

It's rarer still that all three should be from the same country.

Rarer than that?

That the championship is held in their home country.

The hoped-for German men's javelin sweep did not materialize at Berlin's Olympic Stadium Thursday night, but their national team finished a still remarkable 1-2-5.

The places were decided early. On a hot and humid night replete with swirling wind and heavy air, the expected 90m+ fest did not materialize.

Thomas Rohler, 2016 Olympic Champion, the most consistent of the German trio, came closest to 90m and won with his 89.47 (293-6) 3rd round heave.

Andreas Hofmann's 87.60 (287-5) second round toss led until Rohler flew by him one round later.

Estonia's Kirt Magnus broke up the sweep with his first round 85.96 (282-0), which kept him entrenched in the 3rd podium position, while Poland's Marcin Krukowski picked a good time to record a season's best as his 3rd round 84.55 (277-4) stood up for fourth.

The top four were decided in the first three rounds as throwing conditions deteriorated. 2017 World Champ Johannes Vetter (Ger) mustered 83.27 (273-2) in the 5th and simply could not get unwound.

Rohler was the only one who had a successful strategy for handling the wind. In separate individual interviews with Trackerati, Rohler and Hofmann revealed the subtle difference between gold and silver.

"The wind was difficult," said Rohler, "but we expected that - or I expected that - and I had a game plan for today: just throw precise, no power, nothing. Just do what you can do as precise as you can. All the throws showed it was possible, but it was really tough to make them sail."

As he said "precise", Rohler pinched his thumb and forefinger together, raised his arm, and pointed to the sky to exactly the point he was aiming for.

The changing nature of the wind was a factor, too.

"The wind was level, I guess, because people from tribunes told me it was a headwind, we just felt a strong tailwind - I think we just felt it at different levels."

Runnerup Hofmann, who had taken the lead in the 2nd round at 87.60 (287-5) said, "Sometimes it was from the back and sometimes from the side and after the second throw I don't know. I hit the point - I hit the javelin very good the first few meters, but then when the javelin got its height it came down very, very early - too early.

"But it was not a technical thing - the throw was very good but I don't know what happened in the air. Some dealed with it better than me. It was a struggle, and you see it was two meters further," he said ruefully of Rohler's winner.

When asked if he has a favorite stadium to throw in, Hofmann laughed and said, "This year in Offenburg again I threw my personal best of 92 (.06) meters - last year it was 88.79. The conditions were perfect in that moment. It was easier to throw with a tailwind."

When asked if it would be helpful to have a directional wind gauge for the javelin, Hofmann said that one on the ground would only be a beginning.

"You throw 30, 40 meters higher - you have to have a wind gauge there or flags or something like that. Sometimes you see it (wind) in the stadium," said the always shrewd Hofmann. "On the roof you see some flags and then you can deal with it - how the wind goes 10-12 meters faster."

How to use this information? 

"Before the competition you can deal with the struggle of how you want to throw."

As if to put a fine point on it, as soon as the last event ended, a torrential rainfall began that was reminiscent of the one that brought competition to a halt in the 2005 Helsinki World Championships.

In a remarkably precocious field, five throwers came in with bests over 89.02 (292-1), with the German trio at a remarkable 91.78 (301-1) and above. It would not be fair to say that the wind won; everyone encountered unique conditions due to the weather.

It was Rohler who figured out best how to handle the wind, and his precision won the day.

Thomas Rohler
Andreas Hoffmann
Gold and Silver Medalists
2018 European Championships

photos courtesy of European Championships - thank you

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Farewell and Welcome - Berlin Night #2

I wrote this as a narrative during the course of evening #2, in real time as much as possible.

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

The much-anticipated men's discus competition is about to begin. Germany's three-time World and 2012 Olympic discus champion Robert Harting was just introduced and the crowd responded predictably. On the track for his 200m semi-final is Spain's Bruno Hortelano, a medical student who is recovering from a grievous hand injury suffered in a car accident.

Harting is closing his major-meet career here tonight and will have his final competition in the ISTAF Meet on September 2, fittingly also here at Olympic Stadium.

It’s the scene of his greatest success and of one of my five most memorable moments in track and field. Berlin native Harting came to his final throw of the 2009 World Championships in silver medal position and unleashed a personal best to win. I was privileged to be in the stadium as a spectator that night and have rarely experienced such joyful, thunderous, prolonged celebration.

A rising star coming into the meet, Harting was the world’s best for almost a decade.

Tuesday, August 7, 2018

Mr. Inadvertent is Looking for a Job

It's midnight in Berlin where I've just arrived after an arduous 23-hour journey from Seattle. The Frankfurt Airport was closed Tuesday due to a security breach and my flight to Berlin - among many others - was cancelled.

It was truly a chaotic scene at the airport where thousands were evacuated. Little information was made available and the pitiful lone megaphone was helpful to perhaps 25 of the thousands of stranded passengers.

The airlines and airport were woefully understaffed and unprepared to handle this situation. To make matters far worse, if there was air conditioning, it wasn't evident on a sweltering day.

The breach occurred when a family was inadvertently allowed through a checkpoint by a security officer when they had not yet been fully cleared.

Mr. Inadvertent is looking for a job.

Meanwhile, that bag I checked? On July 28 a similar event happened in the Munich airport. Nine days later 20,000 (not a typo) bags have yet to be reunited with their owners.

I'll be shopping in the morning.

Frankfurt Frenzy
photo by Mark Cullen

Special thanks to Mr. Sven Gogoll at Motel One-Upper West in Berlin for holding my room for me in a week when there is such heavy demand in Berlin. 

Upon my arrival he said that I got here the way almost all of their customers from Frankfurt did today: by train.

Saturday, July 21, 2018

Chasing Steeples Was Never Like This

Beatrice Chepkoech Shatters the 3000m Steeplechase World Record

In one race, on July 25, 1952, Horace Ashenfelter won the United States’ only Olympic steeplechase gold medal, set the world record, and defeated the then-current world record holder Vladimir Kazantsev – of the Soviet Union, no less, at the height of the Cold War.

His time? 8:45.4.

Five days short of 66 years later, Kenya’s Beatrice Chepkoech shattered-demolished-obliterated-crushed-decimated the existing women’s world record of 8:52.78 with her spectacular romp in Monaco on Friday.

Her time? 8:44.32

She ran over these barriers as if there were no barriers.

Behind her, Courtney Frerichs set the US record in 9:00.85, breaking Emma Coburn’s 9:02.59 from the epic London World Championships race which saw Coburn and Frerichs finish 1-2.

Ironically, on this same day, Ruth Jebet, the previous world record holder, was named publicly by the Athletics Integrity Unit as being under investigation for a failed drug test for EPO.

Take Jebet’s tainted time out of the equation and the next best time ever is Celliphine Chespol’s 8:58.78, which she ran in winning the 2017 Prefontaine Classic at age 18. 

That makes Chepkoech’s time an improvement over the previous world best by 14.46, or almost exactly two seconds per lap.

Beatrice Chepkoech
photo credit: IAAF/Getty Images
Meanwhile, stat fans revel in this:’s terrific piece called 10 Crazy Stats from Absolutely Bonkers Monaco Diamond League Meet

So, Beatrice Chepkoech is faster than Horace Ashenfelter.
I am now officially old.

Monday, June 25, 2018

Des Moines Day 4 - Apres Sandi, Le Deluge

2018 US National T+F Championships
Sunday, June 24

A deluge it was as events of the final day of the US Outdoor National Track and Field Championships were postponed by almost three hours Sunday afternoon and evening. The meet was suspended at 4:06 pm and competition resumed at 7:00pm CT.

Sunday, June 24, 2018

Des Moines - Day 3 - It's All About DeAnna!

2018 US National T+F Championships
Saturday, June 23

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

On a busy day at the USATF Outdoor Track and Field Nationals, the women’s hammer throw took center stage.

DeAnna Price spun an American record 78.12/256-3 on her fifth throw. This vaulted her to the #4 position on the all-time performers list worldwide, and to the top of the yearly world performance list as well.