Sunday, December 27, 2015

A Very Civil War

by Mark Cullen

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

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

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

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

Right?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

'It’s getting closer,' they reported.

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

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

Mr. Renfro and I got our batons simultaneously.

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

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

Pride is a strong motivator.

So is the distinct possibility of abject humiliation.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I have the t-shirt still:


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

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

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

Well, yes.



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Notes

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

In addition to its posting on the Track and Field News website, Bence's article has appeared at:
http://www.stevestandf.com/intersting-articals/prefontaine---civil-war-relay

and on Doug Binder's trackfocus.com website where the piece is available as an ebook:
http://www.trackfocus.com/gprofile.php?do=title&title_id=820&mgroup_id=45597

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

The Great Race was a men's only relay (varsity women's track and field and cross country were club sports then), but I'm happy to report that in its current iteration, the race is, of course, co-ed. The race still exists but in substantially modified form (sadly, it looks as thought the high entry fee would prohibit most university students from participating now):
http://runoregonblog.com/2015/11/06/race-preview-2015-civil-war-relay/

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


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

(Programs from my personal collection.)

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




Thursday, November 26, 2015

Laurel's Laurels

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

by Mark Cullen

Dubbed the “Godmother of Green Lake” by Seattle columnist Emmett Watson, Laurel James opened her legendary running store, Super Jock ‘n Jill, the day after Thanksgiving in 1975.
   
James was the single mother of five boys when she decided that the real estate and insurance licenses she held did not represent her future. “It wasn’t working at all,” said James. “This was the era of ‘Will the last person leaving Seattle please turn out the lights.’ ”

When her two oldest sons, Brent and Chet, went to college, her son Bryce came home one day in 1974 and asked if he could invite his new coach over for dinner.

Pat Tyson stayed for six years.

Tyson was the inspiration for James’ involvement with running, and he introduced her to his famous Oregon teammate and college roommate Steve Prefontaine. “Meeting Pre was like putting frosting on the cake,” she said. “I thought he was great and my Mom thought he was great, too.”

At 40, James had $10,000 and a dream. Stand-alone running stores were a novelty then; they were few and, quite literally, far between. But the running bug had bitten James.

“One reason I started Super Jock ‘n Jill was none of the sporting goods stores had a selection of good running shoes. All I had was a pair of Keds, and even track spikes were dated then.”

James opened “SJ+J” in a converted gas station near Seattle’s Green Lake where, ironically, Road Runner Sports now operates. This location, however, was her second choice. All along she had her eye on the Masonic Temple building where the store operates to this day, and after a two-and-a-half year wait, she occupied her dream location.

The fledgling business was a family enterprise, and all five sons helped clean years of dust out of the first facility. Chet is now the owner of Super Jock ‘n Jill and Brent - one of Nike’s early employees – has had a very successful career in shoe design. Allen was a ’92 and ’96 race walking Olympian. Says Chet, “My Mom gave birth to this; I adopted it.”

The store and the James home hosted prominent guests: Grete Waitz, Fred Lebow, Olympic and World champion Ernesto Canto and the Mexican race walking team, and none other than Arthur Lydiard.

The name of the store grew out of a trade show James attended in Phoenix. A friend had suggested The Jock Shop in honor of her energetic brood, but James flew home knowing that wasn’t quite right. “I came off the plane with Super Jock and four days later added Jill.”

This name generated threats of a lawsuit from the Jockey underwear company. Said James to their lawyer, “What makes you think you can take on a woman with five kids? What kind of press are you going to get out of that?”

Geography played a key role in the success of her enterprise. Green Lake became the go-to destination for Seattle’s running community as the 1970s running boom took off. James vowed that she would not start in a mall. “I don’t want looky-loos,” she recalled saying to herself. “I want clientele.”

Quick to recognize the opportunity, James organized timed runs around the lake, and an enterprising Seattle podiatrist, Bill Warnekros, sponsored Thursday evening clinics which drew grateful gimpy runners to the store for free advice.

Key to James’ success was her resourcefulness. “I remember one day a truck pulled up and they offloaded something like 577 pairs of Nikes – with a bill for $30,000. I didn’t have $30,000 and after three days, I called Nike’s credit manager, who really didn’t want me to have my own store. But their local rep, Al Miller, had faith that I’d make it.”

It was James’ irrefutable logic that carried the day. “I told the credit manager that he didn’t want these back, and that I didn’t want to pay a 15% surcharge if I did return them. I promised I’d send him a check every Friday.” In three months the bill was paid – and the shoes were sold. “It was 1979,” said James, “and it was one of the times we were hanging by a thread.”

Super Jock ‘n Jill was the first sponsor of the Seattle Marathon, and sponsorship made for some strange bedfellows in the early days. One underwriter of the Red Brick Road Half-Marathon was the lamb industry. “The night before the race we had a whole gang of people in my house making lamb sandwiches that we gave to the vendors the next day!”

It was James who conceived of the Olympia, WA, bid for the 1984 US Women’s Olympic Trials Marathon, and a point of pride for James is the trailblazing support she and her store gave women distance runners and running.

Olympia was up against heavyweights: New York (Fred Lebow and the New York Road Runners Club), Buffalo (which had already been awarded the US men’s marathon trials), Los Angeles (which had ‘84’s biggest meet of all), and Kansas City. Olympia pulled out all the stops, including having US Senator Slade Gorton narrate the presentation in person.

Olympia’s win is considered one of the most colossal upsets in bid history. No surprise, given the determined driving force behind it.

James, who in August turned twice the age of the store, views Super Jock ‘n Jill as a neighborhood store – with a very expansive neighborhood.

The store’s success has always been about the personal relationships it generates. In its early days it was “a great hangout place,” said James, a place where lifelong friendships were formed. “There was no other place to go to find this sense of a running community.”

For 40 years, a store forged from family has given Seattle’s running community its home.


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Editor's notes:

I shopped at Super Jock 'n' Jill the day it opened in 1975. The previous summer Pat Tyson had introduced me to Laurel James in Eugene. She told me of her dream and I promised I'd support it. Laurel and I remain friends to this day. In fact, a year ago, when Super Jock 'n' Jill opened their Redmond store a year ago, Chet made sure I was the very first customer.

A version of this story appeared in the November/December issue of Northwest Runner. Special thanks to publisher Frank Field for his gracious introduction in the magazine. 

on_your_mark@comcast.net

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

trackerati in Track and Field News and NW Runner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Echoes of Silence

10/16/17 is the 49th anniversary of the famous black power protest by Tommie Smith and John Carlos on the 200m victory stand at the 1968 Mexico City Olympics. 

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

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

photo credit: www.usatoday.community
Peter Norman (silver), Tommie Smith (gold, world record), John Carlos (bronze)
Men’s 200m victory ceremony, 1968 Olympics, Mexico City

Echoes of Silence

by Mark Cullen

June 27, 2014

The 1968 US Men’s Olympic track and field team, arguably the greatest ever assembled, was honored today with the recognition of the Echo Summit, CA, US Men’s Track and Field Olympic Trials and high-altitude training site as a California Historical Landmark.

A crowd of several hundred gathered to celebrate the track and field legends who put their stamp on US social, cultural, and athletic history.

Members of the ’68 team in attendance were Tommie Smith, John Carlos, Ed Caruthers, Norm Tate, Reynaldo Brown, Larry Young, Tracy Smith, Mel Pender, Ed Burke, Geoff Vanderstock, and Bill Toomey. Smith and Carlos were the featured speakers.

Four world records were set during the Olympic Trials at the 7382’ elevation of the Echo Summit site, chosen for its nearly identical elevation to that of Olympic host Mexico City.

The ceremony was at the same time touching and moving, high-spirited and celebratory. It had the look and feel of a family reunion. The eloquent remarks of the speakers were greeted with repeated and sustained standing ovations by the knowledgeable and enthusiastic crowd.

Bob Burns, former Sacramento Bee reporter and the force behind the recognition of Echo Summit, said, “Few teams mirrored the social climate of their times as much as the ’68 Olympic track team did the 1960s.”

Jill Geer, USATF Chief Public Affairs Officer, cited “the importance of these people not only to sport but to society.” Geer pointed out that while the team is rightly noted for its 12 Olympic gold medalists, 20 of its team members have been inducted into the USATF Hall of Fame. “This team was so good that you didn’t have to win a gold medal to make it to the Hall of Fame.”

California state historian William Burg said that of over 1,000 California historic sites, Echo Summit is “the only one associated with both sports and civil rights history.”

South Lake Tahoe Mayor Pro-Tem Brooke Laine paid tribute to Walt Little, South Lake Tahoe’s Recreation Director in the 1950s and ‘60s, who was instrumental in convincing Bill Bowerman, Director of the US Olympic High Altitude Training Program, to accept the Echo Summit bid.

Little’s sons, Walt Jr. and Bill, in a stirring memorial, revealed that their family had lost their house as their father had used mortgage funds to help pay for athletes’ food.

Walt Little, Jr., said that their father was motivated “because of the Olympians and what they stood for. Dad carved his dream of a track and field arena out of the ice, the snow, and the trees. Echo Summit became the most beautiful track and field arena the world has ever seen.”

John Carlos lauded Little as “an icon in the world of athletics.”

“We are proud to have been a small part of your success,” Little, Jr., said to the assembled athletes. “Welcome home.”

My youth was marked by political violence: the assassination of the President when I was 11 and of Martin Luther King, Jr. and Robert Kennedy when I was 16. Shortly before the 1968 Olympic Trials began, there were riots at the Democratic National Convention in Chicago. Upon the opening of the Olympics in Mexico City, protests there were brutally suppressed. The 1963 March on Washington was peaceful, but by 1968 there was a growing divide in both the civil rights and anti-Vietnam War movements over what kinds of action to take.

That discussion was reflected in the choices made by athletes at Echo Summit. To boycott the Olympics or not? African-American athletes were under heavy pressure to do so. But all made the same choice: to represent their country in Mexico City.

When Tommie Smith and John Carlos, gold and bronze medal winners in the Mexico City 200m, took the victory stand and raised their glove-covered fists in silent protest, I was awestruck at the peaceful eloquence of their statement.

They spoke to the whole world without uttering a single word.

The next day, the US Olympic Committee, under threat by the IOC of having the entire US team disqualified from the Olympics, dismissed Smith and Carlos from the team and they were forced to leave Mexico City immediately.

Tommie Smith and John Carlos have been united for life by their singular act as young men. They have traversed the territory from outcasts to heroes. Their “protest on the victory stand in Mexico City is one of the iconic images of the 1960s and the civil rights movement,” said Burns.

After their peaceful protest, Smith and Carlos paid a heavy personal price, and it was common to find them denounced in the US media for what were characterized as unpatriotic acts.

“Mr. Smith and I, in particular,” said Carlos, “we were vilified.”

Carlos noted the irony of the fact that he and Smith are now regarded as patriots and said, “All the individuals on this team are patriots… In many ways they tried to divide our team: these guys are civil rights activists, these guys are athletes. These guys are for a boycott, these guys are not for a boycott.”

“I’m just here to let you know now that we are one. We have been one all along.”

Smith and Carlos reflected on their days at Echo Summit. Both expressed gratitude and appreciation to the US Forest Service for their support of the ‘100 Days at Tahoe’ in 1968 as well as Friday’s ceremony.

“Look around and you see the goodness,” Smith said to the many youth foresters who staffed this event. “My heart is so full now.”

Smith remembered what it was like to take the turn from Highway 50 to the track at Echo Summit. “I hated to see that turn because that meant I had to train against him, and to train against John Carlos is no fun at all! You would have to run a world best just to stay in his shadow,” said Smith.

Smith noted the humor that came with practicing at a site that was carved out of a forest. When Bob Seagren came down from a 17’ pole vault clearance, Smith recalled, “I thought he had fallen out of a tree!”

To say that they raised the bar for each other is to put it mildly. “Tommie and John had to run awfully fast to put themselves in a position to mount a protest that will outlast any record,” said Burns.

Carlos paid tribute to the US athletes who watched the Olympics from home.

'I have to remember those individuals who did not make the team… It’s just unfortunate that God put so many of us in a cluster and we could only pick three. But it didn’t stop us in terms of who we were as human beings... as civil libertarians... as people that were concerned about humanity.'

Smith reflected on his remaining time on this earth. “I hope that it’s longer than I feel sometimes… Sometimes you get up in the morning, you head for the door - and it never gets to you!”

Carlos concluded by noting that “the only downfall that we had here is the fact that we didn’t have a co-ed team. It was a shame that the women that represented this nation did not have a chance to experience the beauty, the love, the understanding, and bonding that we had.”

In 1968, their silent act of courage echoed around the world; it reverberates still.

Today, it echoed among these trees, one last time.

photo credit: pausatf.org

Peter Norman Update

Peter Norman, Australian silver medalist, also paid dearly for his courage. He wore a badge of the Olympic Project for Human Rights in support of Smith and Carlos, and for this he, too, was vilified in his home country. 

In spite of the fact that he met the 1972 100m and 200m qualifying marks repeatedly, was the 200m defending silver medalist and the Australian 200m record holder (and still is to this day), he was not named to Australia’s 1972 Olympic team. To Australia’s eternal shame, Norman was not invited to the 2000 Sydney Olympics.

It was in 2012 that the Australian Parliament finally apologized to Norman.

Too little too late; he had died in 2006.

Smith and Carlos, lifelong friends of Norman’s, served as pallbearers at his funeral.

Research credit for information about Peter Norman: Riccardo Gazzaniga.


Track and Field Autographs of a Lifetime



Program signed at the dedication of the Echo Summit, CA, site of the
1968 US Olympic High Altitude Training Center and Olympic Trials
June 27, 2014

Photo copyright 2014 Mark Cullen, All Rights Reserved




"Interview" with Segway Man

trackerati.com gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

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

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

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

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

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

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

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

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

trackerati: Did you?

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

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

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



Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Oiselle and LetsRun.com Among RW's 50 Most Influential in Running

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

The Runner's World citation says in part:

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

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

"The masterminds behind perhaps the most engaged online community of runners—particularly those at the front of the pack—have also earned their stripes as tenacious watchdogs...

Letsrun.com’s homepage has become an essential bookmark for followers of the elite sport."

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

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

Congratulations all around!

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

http://rw.runnersworld.com/the50/

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Melissa, Ashton and Cheering Chinese

Melissa
Sometimes you get lucky when covering these events.

The very first time Track and Field News linked to an article of mine, it was two summers ago after the Harry Jerome and Victoria International meets in Canada. The focus was on several athletes and on their quest to achieve the World Championships “A” standard.

The first athlete I wrote about was Melissa Bishop, who shrieked when she crossed the finish line and saw her time: 1:59.76, her first time under two minutes, and an automatic qualifier for the 2013 World Championships.

She was not on anyone’s radar screen for a medal here until the semi-final rounds when she ran 1:57.52 to win the deepest qualifying round in World Championships history (1:58.50 did not make the finals out of this semi).

Tonight she won silver, just .09 out of what would have been one of the most improbable golds at these championships.

As it is, it’s one of the most improbable silvers.

All of you claiming to have had her in your top three in your prediction contests likely know “O Canada” by heart.

Ashton
Ashton Eaton’s javelin throw was key to putting him in position to go after his world record in the decathlon; his second throw - had it been fair - would have made his task in the 1500m much easier.

Many on press row thought he had thrown in the towel on the first lap, and it was clear after two laps he was well behind the pace needed to break his own world record. But Eaton, as he had in his world record in the US Olympic Trials in 2012, played a waiting game. Turns out he was just warming up.

Eaton unleashed a tremendous kick in the last 300m and stopped the clock at 4:17.52, just under the 4:18.25 he needed. He added 6 points to his best-ever score, which now stands at 9045.

Chinese Athletes at Worlds
After not having struck gold during their own Olympics in 2008, China did so in the women’s 20k racewalk when Hong Liu won gold – and Xiuzhi Lu added silver for good measure. China has seven medals in these championships, one gold, five silver, and one bronze.

Tonight’s crowd reaction to the men’s sprint relay silver was among the most compelling I’ve heard in the eight World Championships I’ve attended.

Deep-throated, visceral, a soul-touching sound.

Last Sunday, China’s Bingtian Su made the 100m final and finished last.

You shoulda heard ‘em for 9th.



I’m sitting in the Bird's Nest and am certainly feeling wistful in this inevitable moment of departure.

I'm working on a reflection about the meet and these remarkable three months since the press pass came my way; I need a little time, distance, and a sunny airplane ride across the Pacific to complete it. 

In the meantime, I’ll close with this: for this experience, I am grateful beyond words.


Friday, August 28, 2015

Hup Holland!

The Netherlands’ Dafne Schippers won the 200m tonight in 21.63, a championship record and the fastest time in the last 17 years. Many are calling it the greatest women’s 200m ever run, as Jamaica’s Elaine Thompson and Veronica Campbell-Brown won silver and bronze in 21.63 and 21.97.

Schippers won the first Dutch World or Olympic gold medal since 1992 when Ellen van Langen struck Olympic gold at 800m in Barcelona.

Schippers completed her ascendancy to the top of the world sprinting ranks which began with double gold at the European Championships in Zurich last summer.

The 33-year-old Campbell-Brown won her 18th major meet medal.

Schippers took the lead with 3-5 meters to go in an exceedingly close race. She knew she had it, but I wasn’t celebrating along with my many Dutch relatives quite yet. There was a hush in the stadium as fans awaited the posting of the results – and then a huge roar as the very popular Schippers’ name came up first.

Medal ceremony is at 18:05 local time on Saturday for those of you - ok, us – who have waited 23 years to hear Het Wilhelmus, the Dutch national anthem, played at a World or Olympic championships.

Radio
In a previous post I mentioned my interview by Radio Beijing. How this came about was that I was at the press conference for the medalists in the men’s hammer throw. I am covering this event for my own website as well as Track and Field News and the Throwholics website in Germany. I had some questions for the medalists, including ones about their technique. In a press conference in which only four questions were asked, I asked three of them.

A reporter from Radio Beijing approached me afterwards and she asked if I’d be comfortable with being interviewed. Remind me next time to ask what about.

That evening, Su Bingtian, had become the first Chinese man to qualify for the finals of the 100m. The reporter asked if I was surprised that a Chinese man would make the 100m final.

Not exactly a softball question! I replied that I was not, of course, and went on to have a thoughtful discussion with her about the socioeconomics of track and field. We discussed one of my favorite parts of the meet, the first round of the men’s and women’s 100m, when athletes from countries which sometimes don’t have a single track compete at this definitive distance. This year, for example, Tashi Dendup, a teenager from Bhutan, set his country’s national record of 12.15. I’ll let you know if the interview is posted.

Interview with Segman

trackerati.com gets to the bottom of the Segway fiasco

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

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

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

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

trackerati: How long do you expect to stay?

Segman: How long have you got?

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

Segman: (blank stare)

trackerati: So, why did you take out Bolt?

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

trackerati: Did you?

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

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

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





Thursday, August 27, 2015

Lightning Bolts and Twitter Mavens

Bolt vs Gatlin Part Deux
The Usain Bolt/Justin Gatlin travelin’ road show stopped in Beijing once again this evening. After the super hype that accompanied their 100m showdown, tonight’s event seemed positively tame in comparison.

While Gatlin couldn’t beat Bolt, a Chinese photographer on a Segway nearly did. He tripped Bolt and both went down hard, but Bolt, in spite of joking that the photographer “tried to kill me,” bounced back and seemed none the worse for wear.

Bolt was his usual playful self before the race; has he ever met a camera he didn’t love?! Gatlin, on the other hand, seemed tense and nervous, and his smile for the camera seemed forced. The outcome of this race was no surprise.

I attended part of their post-race press conference and was surprised to find a fairly friendly and respectful relationship between the two. Bolt razzed Gatlin about his age, and Gatlin said that what the rest of the world doesn’t see is Bolt calling him “old man” in the waiting room before races.

Gatlin as evil and Bolt as good is disaggregated by Alan Abrahamson in this thoughtful and discursive piece from his site, 3 Wire Sports: http://www.3wiresports.com/2015/08/25/cut-justin-gatlin-some-slack/. As you’ll see, good vs evil is neither as simple nor as cut and dried as it seems.

Hammer Time
The 80.85/265-3 fourth round hammer throw by Poland’s Anita Wlodarczyk is a championship record and the second-farthest hammer throw in history. Poland has won three of the six hammer medals in these championships; their men’s team won gold and bronze – a dominant performance by one nation in one event. 

Even more impressive is Germany’s across the board performance in the throwing events, as they have advanced two or more to finals in all but one throwing event so far. In that, David Storl won silver in the shot put.

Heartbroken at the end of the women’s hammer was Amanda Bingson (US). The top 8 advanced to the last three throws (and a likely top 10 world ranking). Bingson was in 8th place with only two throwers left who could displace her out of the last three rounds. Moldova’s Zalina Marghieva topped Bingson’s mark by 3cm: 237’ 5” – 237’ 4”.

400m for the Ages
Last night’s men’s 400m race was one for the ages. 

Specifically: 23, 29, and 22. 

In order to medal, you had to run under 44 flat. South Africa’s 23 year old find Wayde Van Niekerk defeated veteran LaShawn Merritt, 43.48 - 43.65. No slouch in bronze was Grenada’s Kirani James in 43.78. 

James won this title in 2011 in 44.60. When he won the 2012 London Olympics, he ran a slowish 45.23. Neither time would have medaled here.

James is a favorite of mine in the stat book. He holds the record for the fastest 400m ever run by a 14-year-old - 46.96 - which is nice work if you can get it. He’ll turn 23 next month.

IAAF Daily Event Reports Link
I took a break from writing daily summaries to write a piece about the importance of both the reality and the symbolism of the results in the men’s javelin, in which gold and silver were won for the first time by throwers from Africa. It’s received a strong online response and was posted on the popular RunBlogRun website today, along with another piece about women’s hammer qualifying. 

As it’s not possible for me to summarize all 47 events and do each justice, here is a link to the excellent daily event summaries being prepared by the crack IAAF writing team: http://www.iaaf.org/competitions/iaaf-world-championships.

Throws Twitter Maven
When you think of me you think of twitter maven, right? Hello?

Or better yet, you think of me as throwing events twitter maven - no?

Well, I started sending out round by round qualifying and finals results on twitter, and the international throwing community found these faster than Anita Wlodarczyk can spell her name. To say that there’s been a whole lotta tweetin’ and retweetin’ goin’ on is to put it mildly. The tweets are reaching an estimated audience of upwards of 75,000 during each event, and throwing fans are delighted to see their events getting this kind of attention.

This is not completely out of the blue. The German site Throwholics is posting my articles about the throwing events, and they have a very dedicated and enthusiastic following.

Still, I knew all this had gone too far when a USATF staffer saw me in the mixed zone and said, “Hey, there’s the throws guy!”

Please don’t tell anyone in Eugene, OK?


Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Watching History

The podium in the men’s javelin looks quite different than it ever has before.

Once the province of Northern and Central European countries, tonight’s podium looks like this:

Gold              Kenya               Julius Yego
Silver             Egypt                Ihab Abdelrahman El Sayed
Bronze           Finland             Tero Pitkamaki

Until tonight, the IAAF World Championships men’s javelin final had been held 14 times.

42 medals had been awarded – and there were no ties.

Of these 42 medals, 37 were won by European countries, 3 by North America, 1 by Asia, and 1 by Africa.

Tonight, two of the three - gold and silver - were won by Africa.

It is a truism in track and field that the simpler the event the more diverse the medal winners. Put on a pair of race walking shoes and the medalists come from six continents. Put on a pair of running shoes and socioeconomic barriers to World and Olympic success begin to fall away.

But the more highly technical the equipment required for an event, the more likely the medalists are to come from an increasingly narrow geographic and socioeconomic range.

The smaller world we live in is one of the reasons access to the technical events is broadening. Tonight’s winner, Julius Yego, is well known in Kenya as “The YouTube Man.” He is a self-taught javelin thrower who says in a video he produced, “My coach is me, and my YouTube videos.”

At the end of the most famous of his self-produced videos, Yego says, “As the world progresses, everything changes.”

It does, indeed.

The medal ceremony for the men’s javelin will be held Thursday evening, August 27, at 18:35.

Take a moment to watch it.

You’ll be watching history.





Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Women's Hammer Throw Qualifying

One and done – that was the morning’s hammer throw competition for Poland’s world record holder Anita Wlodarczyk, one of the most prohibitive favorites in any event of these World Championships. 

Wlodarczyk's 75.01/246-1 leads 12 qualifiers into Thursday’s final.

China, Germany, and the United States grabbed 6 of the 12 qualifying spots.

Zheng Wang (3rd, 73.06/239-8) and Wenxiu Zhang (4th, 72.92/239-3), will have the support of this highly vocal hometown crowd.

Germany’s 31-year-old 2007 World champ Bette Heidler (9th, 70.60/231-7) seeks her 5th World or Olympic medal in her 10th appearance at a major meet. Compatriot Katrin Klaas (7th, 71.41/234-3) goes for her first major medal in her 8th attempt; she was 4th in 2009 and 5th in the 2012 London Olympics.

US teammates Amber Campbell (72.06/236-5) and Amanda Bingson (69.99/229-7) advanced by placing 6th and 11th, respectively. Campbell noted that she feels very comfortable in this facility as these World Championships mark her fourth competition in the Bird’s Nest. 

“It feels super comfortable, the people are always super accommodating, so it’s a great atmosphere to throw in.”

“It’s been a very good year so I’m just going to keep building on that,” she continued. “I had a 72 to open with and I’ll take it!”

Campbell was gracious to teammate and fellow qualifier Bingson. “I’m so happy for her. I know she was back here sweating but she’s a solid, solid girl and strong enough to do great tomorrow.”

US record holder Bingson, who finished 7th in the first qualifying group and then had to wait through the second before learning she had advanced, was excited by her 3rd throw, a three meter improvement over her other legal mark.

Until this point in her career, she said, “… it’s been super, super jumps, and now we realize at 75m, you just can’t make those kinds of jumps anymore.”

“I know I have the strength and I have the power and I know it’s in my head. I know on the last throw I just relaxed a little bit and trusted myself to do what I knew I had to do.”

Bingson is delighted with her performance here so far, but her sights are clearly set on Rio.

“Next year is really what we’re banking on.”





Beijing Buzz - August 25 - Day 4

After a morning’s rest in the Bird’s Nest, competition at the 15th IAAF World Championships resumed this evening.

First up was an upset in the women’s discus. World and Olympic champion and pre-meet favorite Sandra Perkovic could not get unwound until her final throw when she vaulted from 4th place to 2nd to capture her third consecutive major-meet medal with a throw of 67.39/.

Cuba’s Denia Caballero’s first round 69.28/227-3 stood up for the win. This was not a total surprise as she threw over 70 meters earlier this summer. Nadine Muller’s (GER) 65.53 withstood a final round challenge from Cuba’s Yaime Perez that missed bronze by 7cm. Germany finished 3-5-7 and Cuba 1-4 in two terrific national performances.

Great Britain’s Olympic champion Greg Rutherford returned to the winner’s spot on the podium in the long jump. He had only two legal jumps, and they both beat the best everyone else had to offer. His winning 8.41 - 27’7 1/4'” is his seasonal best.

Australia’s Fabrice La Pierre’s 5th round 8.20-26’11” vaulted him into silver medal position and broke a lot of Chinese hearts. His come-through performance knocked Jianan Wang, Xinglong Gao, and Jinzhe Li down a spot each, but China had a memorable national performance of 3-4-5 nonetheless.

The men’s 400m hurdles produced another surprise as Kenya’s Nicholas Bett won from lane 9 in a world-leading 47.79. Exceptionally fast times were required to medal; Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev won silver in 48.05 and Jeffery Gibson won bronze in 48.17. Kerron Clement missed bronze by .01 of a second in a dismal meet for US 400m hurdlers.

There were few surprises in the night’s last two events, at least not at the front. The Kenyan and Ethiopian middle distance crews came to the fore as Genzebe Dibaba (Eth) and David Rudisha (Ken) won their respective specialties.

Rudisha controlled the men’s 800m and even slowed it down. So feared is he that no one would go by. He won the race going away… which is exactly what Dibaba did in the 1500m. Her last lap is simply unbeatable, and it was clear with 800m to go that the race was for 2nd. American Jenny Simpson bravely went with Dibaba, but it was a failed mission as she faded to 11th.

IAAF is reporting that Dibaba’s last 800m was run in 1:57.2.

This would place her 2nd on the yearly outdoor world list in the open 800m.


Men's Hammer Final

(Apologies for text issues in this article; issue diagnosed and will be fixed later today.)

Pawel Fadjek won twice on Sunday.

First, he won the men’s hammer competition as expected, and by a dominating margin.

Second, he won for understatement of the year when he said, “I came in as a heavy favorite.”

Fajdek lived up to his advance notices with a dominating 2.33/7-7 ¾ margin of victory with his 80.88/265-4 fourth-round winner over Tajikistan’s Dilshod Nazarov.

“I was training hard for this championships and I felt very confident,” said the World Champion, who repeated his win from Moscow in 2013.

On a terrific day for Poland which saw teammate Wojciech Nowicki pull off an unexpected podium finish, Fajdek said, “The medal has got an even sweeter taste as my roommate got the bronze medal.”

Nowicki said, “I have always been trying to catch up with my friend Pawel Fajdek, as he always encouraged me.”

Kristzian Pars (HUN) was in bronze medal position until Nowicki unleashed his last-round throw of 78.55 to tie Nazarov. Nowicki said, “I was trying my throws again and again but still it was not good enough. It worked in the last round - I am very surprised.”

Nazarov won silver on the basis of the superior second-best throw, 78.06 to 77.20/256-1 to 253-3.
Nazarov was ecstatic about his medal-winning performance.

“I am feeling a big joy right now,” said the newly crowned silver medalist. “I realize that I won the silver medal, but it took me a long time to get there. Now, finally, I won a medal at the World Championships.”

Nazarov hopes his medal will grow the sport in his home country. “I want to promote athletics in Tajikistan,” he said, and noted that Tajikistan has previously had a hammer gold medalist in Andrey Abduvaliyev in 1995.

Fifth placer Sergey Litvinov (RUS) said he needs to go back to the Litvinov of 2011, 12, and 13. “The training was more motivated then,” he observed. “I was ready today 100%, but I can do more in the preparation.” While his speed in the ring was good, “I am not very powerful.”

About his famous name, Litvinov said, “I am a very lucky guy. Not because my father is Olympic champion ('88), not because he threw 86m (WR 86.74), but because he knows a lot about hammer. This is the difference: not every hammer thrower knows a lot… He was training alone and was thinking and (doing) a lot of experiments.”

“I am very lucky because I can go (train) this way. I know the way. He didn’t know the way.” He admires his father for having figured out hammer training on his own. While his father is not his trainer, he is his advisor, and Litvinov the younger appreciates very much the insight his father brings to his program.

Litvinov is looking forward to Rio. “In two days I go back to Russia and start the preparation,” he said,” and he is impatient to begin his focused and demanding year-long program.

“I don’t want rest.”

Fajdek found it “weird” that no one else is throwing 80m when he does so almost every competition. He noted that age is a factor in this event, and that, “Everyone over 30 is having a problem.”
The 26-year-old noted that he, too, had significant problems with his back last year. “This time I think only about my health… not much weightlifting but only throwing and this is why I throw it so far this year.”

When asked how he develops and improves his remarkable speed in the ring, Fajdek said, “I do nothing special” in training and “my coach has same rules of training as from 60 years.”

His assistant coach, Jolanta Kumor, said that now that the competition is over, they will analyze every part of Fajdek’s performance and technique, and even such variables as the weather. “First I will congratulate him,” she said. But then, in a few days, it’s back to the business of training.

When asked what he did well in terms of technique in the World Championships competition, and what he needs to focus on moving forward towards the 2016 Rio Olympic Games, Fajdek said that more important things come first.

“Something good to eat... maybe Wojciech and I go to Pizza Hut to eat something good,” he said with emphasis, as the local hotel food has not been to his liking. “After a few days’ rest, back to training. Rio is really coming fast so we have to be prepared there.”

He looks forward to working again with his coach, Czeslaw Cybulski, who was struck by a hammer thrown by Fajdek in June, and who watched the competition from his hospital bed.


“I hope it’s often we go back to work together.”




Monday, August 24, 2015

Beijing Buzz - Monday Evening, 8/24 - Day 3

5 Finals, 5 Scintillating Competitions

Tonight’s women’s triple jump final featured longtime rivals Caterine Ibarguen (COL) and Olga Rypakova (KZ). Ibarguen won her second consecutive World title with a season’s best 14.90/48’10 ¾”, while Rypakova was edged by a centimeter for silver by Israel’s Hanna Knyazyeva-Minenko, who became that country’s first woman to medal at Worlds. Giants of the event Olga Saladukha (UKR) and Ekaterina Koneva (RUS) were surprise 6th and 7th place finishers.

The men’s steeple was a disappointment for American Evan Jager, who faded to 6th in his much heralded quest for a medal. Kenya swept the top four positions and surprising Dan Huling (US) sprinted by Jager to claim 5th.  

Ezekiel Kemboi won his 4th consecutive World steeple title. In one of the greatest distance running careers of all-time, Kemboi, who won the Olympics in 2004 and 2012, made up for his 2008 Beijing 7th in fine style tonight. In addition to his 6 major meet golds, he also won World silvers in 2003, 2005, and 2007.

Canadian and University of Akron student Shawn Barber won the bronze medal at the World Junior Championships 3 years ago. Today he turned dragon slayer as he fended off some of the world’s greatest track and field stars and won the pole vault in 5.90/19’4 ¼”.

Raphael Holzdeppe (GER) prolonged the suspense by clearing 5.90 on his final try, but the 2013 champion could not improve on that height and gold was Barber’s. Bronze medalist Renaud Lavillenie, the IAAF and Track and Field News 2014 world athlete of the year, failed in his second consecutive bid to win a World outdoor title.

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce won the women’s 100m in 10.76 to join Usain Bolt as Jamaican World 100m champ. Dafne Schippers (NED) set a Dutch national record of 10.81 in winning silver.

Visibly moved by her achievement, Schippers, who rose to prominence only a year ago with her 100/200 double in the European Championships, sealed her position in the top ranks of sprinters with her first major meet medal. Fetchingly, she used the Dutch flag as a handkerchief to wipe away tears. Torie Bowie (US) finished 3rd in 10.86; her bronze is her first major meet medal as well.

The women’s 10,000m was unlike any run at this level for some time. That is, there was a pack of 7 with one lap to go. No Tirunesh Dibaba running a victory lap before the race was over - and three Americans were in the mix. The sprint was on and was won by Kenya’s Vivian Cheruiyot in 31:41.31. Ethiopia’s Geleta Burka took silver, and what happened next was painful to watch.

Molly Huddle (US) appeared ready to cap her magnificent career with bronze, but she seemed unaware of teammate Emily Infeld, who was in 4th and closing fast. Huddle drifted to the outside, and she failed to protect lane one and force Infeld to go around her. Huddle raised her arms in triumph a step short of the finish line – and Infeld rushed by on the inside to grab bronze by .09 of a second.

Remember, ya always gotta protect the infield.


Beijing Buzz - Monday Morning, 8/24 - Day 3

A relatively quiet morning in the Bird’s Nest – at least as compared to the 100m madness of last night. It was a hot and steamy walk over here, but there’s a welcome breeze.

I remain amazed at how fast these events go. No, not the 100m… the six rounds of the men’s hammer last night, for example, seemed to go by in a flash.

After a brief recap of this morning’s qualifying and two major non-qualifying surprises for the US, I’ll close with something unexpected from last evening.

Pole Vaulter Demi Payne was rumored earlier in the season to be practicing at world record heights. But the NCAA champion had difficulty with her steps today and did not advance to Wednesday’s final.

Long jumper and medal favorite Marquis Dendy had a final jump that echoed that of Katarina Johnson-Thompson in yesterday’s heptathlon – oh so close, lengthy discussion, but ultimately a failure to advance on the third opportunity. He has another shot at a medal in the triple jump.

In this morning’s women’s discus qualifying, the results from the two groups were remarkably parallel. That is, each group produced two automatic qualifiers and well as four by next-best distance. Had an interesting experience with Gia Lewis-Smallwood, which I’ve described in more detail in my separate post about today’s discus qualifying.

Christine Day looked uncommonly smooth in winning her 400m round. Not at the top of most lists of medal favorites, keep an eye on her as the rounds progress.

The steeplechase still looks good for a US medal as Emma Coburn advanced comfortably in her heat. The range of times among the three heats was remarkably narrow, as the 15 finalists qualified between 9:24.38 – 9:30.23.

Realized I failed to mention in the midst of last night’s magic that it wasn’t magical for everyone. Jenny Simpson and Shannon Rowbury advanced to one of the championships’ most anticipated finals, tomorrow night’s 1500m. The remarkable run of Lauren Johnson came to an end as she missed the final by one place; she ran well in her semi but acknowledged that she just didn’t have it in the last 100m.

Up tonight are finals in the men’s pole vault, women’s triple jump, women’s 10k, men’s steeple, and women’s 100m. Much anticipation in the US delegation about the prospects of Evan Jager in the steeplechase; will he put a dent in Kenyan dominance of the event with a medal tonight?

Much anticipation, too, among Oregon Ducks everywhere: Jasmine Todd and English Gardner toe the line in tonight’s 100m semis, of which there are three. It’s a brutal qualifying system that has the top 2 finishers in each plus the next two fastest advancing to the final just under two hours later. Both Todd and Gardner face legends in the sport. Todd goes up against Veronica Campbell-Brown and Gardner faces heavy favorite Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.


Meanwhile, last night I was interviewed by Radio Beijing. This came about when I asked several questions of the men’s hammer throw medalists in their press conference; only one other journalist did so. I’ll have more on this in a post to follow.