Sunday, August 21, 2016

Leaving Rio...

Thanks for the medals and the memories!

Closing Ceremonies Weather Concerns

After days of hacking away with the cough that has plagued our tour the past week, I woke up this morning with the full-fledged chest cold that has been its inevitable destination.

I had planned on visiting the Christ the Redeemer statue early this Sunday morning, but it was pouring, I didn't feel well, and most of all, the men's marathon was up - event #47 of 47. I saw a few brief minutes of it out on the course and returned to my hotel to watch the finish. Galen Rupp earned himself a worldwide audience for the medal ceremony during Closing Ceremonies tonight with his third-place bronze.

Later in the afternoon, after a restorative nap, I decided to give the trip to the statue another try, and this time they did everything but tell me they had closed down the gondola. A windstorm had come up, and my guess is that gusts in my neighborhood exceeded 40 mph. As I was walking back to the hotel, I heard corrugated metal ripping from a roof. Just across the street, a palm tree shed its fruit with a small but startling explosion all its own. The television in my room has gone on and off of its own accord twice, and a neighboring back door light gave its own show.

Now we are minutes from the start of Closing Ceremonies. I can only hope they will not be disrupted by the storm outside. Maracana Stadium is open in the center and so the performers likely will be affected, but I fear those in attendance will have stood in the usual long lines to get in, and this time in the rain and wind.

As for me, I'm going to head for the same place I watched Opening Ceremonies, the Catete Grill, and see how the neighbors view the end of their big event.

With some luck we'll get the real deal this time: Hela Pinto, the true inspiration for "The Girl from Ipanema," and not that same imposter we had during Opening Ceremonies.


Day 10: Men's Marathon Fearless Picks and Predictions

Sunday, August 21

UPDATE: It's pouring rain 15 minutes before the start of the race at 09:30 Rio time.

M Marathon
A World champion at 5,000m as a 19-year-old in 2003, 32-year old Eliud Kipchoge has been running at the highest levels for 13 years. He has made the transition from track to the roads far more successfully than some of his more famous counterparts, and now his fame rivals theirs.

Starting with wins at the Rotterdam and Chicago Marathons in 2014, Kipchoge won marathon majors London and Berlin in 2015, and added the London title in 2016 in 2:03:05, just 8 seconds off Dennis Kimetto’s (Ken) world record. Kipchoge is everyone’s favorite, including mine.

I had thought that two-time (’13 and ’15) Boston winner Lelisa Desisa would be on Ethiopia’s team, but instead it’s this year’s Boston winner, Lemi Berhanu (Eth) who will run in Rio. He was called a surprise winner in Boston, just as he was 15 months earlier when he really was an unknown when he won the Dubai Marathon. A medal for him will not be a surprise.

Tesfaye Abere Dibaba caught the attention of many when the then-unknown ran away from the field and won the Dubai marathon on a hot early morning this January in a fast-for-the conditions 2:04:24. There may well be very similar conditions here in Rio.

When it comes to looking for medalists who might not win, Kenya’s Stanley Biwott, 2nd at London this year in 2:03:51, has a remarkable record in the last four years (including half-marathons): 4 -1sts, 3 - 2nds, and a 4th and a 5th. His London race is especially impressive, to hang on so well when 1st is long lost.

It’s hard to know what to make of the top three in last year’s World Championship race, held in a sauna in Beijing. The only one I think is likely to make an impact here is the winner, Ghirmay Ghebreslassie of Eritrea, who showed himself to be a master (and confident) tactician under some of the most challenging conditions ever encountered in a major championship.

Galen Rupp of the United States is intriguing; the slower the pace the better his chances, and he ran a particularly impressive marathon debut in winning the US Trials with relative ease – and on a hot day. He has not helped himself by running the 10,000m first.

Speaking of London, Uganda’s Stephen Kiprotich was the unexpected winner of London ’12 Olympic gold. But that is usually how it turns out in these marathons – the favorites aren’t as favorite as we thought, magic takes place on the roads, and someone’s life is changed forever.

As for Kipchoge, the fact that during the dip in his career between track and roads he followed me on twitter without any prompting from me only adds to his luster.

Well, for some of us. OK, for one, but I’m doing the picking here.

1. Eliud Kipchoge, Ken
2. Tesfaye Abere Dibaba, Eth
3. Stanley Biwott, Ken

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Of Horses and Swansongs

Good Morning, Campers.

Well, 46/47 previews and predictions are posted. I'll post the men's marathon before its early start tomorrow. It has been a new and different experience writing the previews for a much broader audience on RunBlogRun. With more explanation of references and the need to establish context for that wider audience, the individual previews bloomed from 250-350 words to an average of 460 each this time.

Friday, August 19, 2016

Day 8 - Olympic Track+Field

Fearless Picks and Predictions

for events beginning on
Day 8 – Friday, August 19

M 50k Walk
There is always a risk in being repetitive when evaluating the walks, as so many racewalkers cross over and do both the 50k and 20k. There is little action on the 50k front so far this year, as racewalking 31.1 miles is a little like running a marathon, only farther. You don’t want to do it too often, and you want to save yourself for the year’s biggest race.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Day 7 Olympic T+F Events Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Day 7 – Thursday, August 18

M Shot Put
Until the US Olympic Trials, this seemed like an easy call. Joe Kovacs (US) moved up through the ranks in a predictable path to greatness – predictable because it’s a path pupils of his coach, Art Venegas, tend to follow. His culminating achievement was a win at the World Championships last summer and he seemed well on his way to Olympic glory. He may well be… but then the Olympic Trials happened. Ryan Crouser (US, OR) blew his PR out of the water with his 22.11/72-6 ½, just two centimeters short of Kovacs’ 22.13/72-7 ¼ /world leader.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Late Olympics

The scheduling of the events of these games is heavily dependent on television broadcast schedules - not that that is anything new. Rio is 4 hrs ahead of Pacific time, 1 crucial hour ahead of Eastern, 3 hours behind GMT, and 5 hours behind Amsterdam. The Eastern time difference makes the 'packaging' of the events much easier for NBC and played a substantial role in their decision not to broadcast the evening events live.

Day 6 - T+F Events Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Wednesday, August 17

Decathlon (M)
1. Yo, Ashton!

2. See #1.

Ashton Eaton (US) is as prohibitive a favorite as there is in these Games. The world record setter, World Champion, and Olympic Champion is truly in a class of his own, as he usually wins by margins of 300 points or more.

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Day 5 - T+F Event Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Day 5 – Tuesday, August 16

W 5,000m
The ’15 World Championship 5,000m was an Ethiopian sweep, but not nearly in the order anyone might have predicted. Genzebe Dibaba was a prohibitive favorite to win, but her 1500/5000 double was not to be; gold and bronze is never a bad meet, unless you’re the queen and you don’t want to give up your crown.

Monday, August 15, 2016

World Records All Over the Place!

Who knew that a lithe 400m runner from South Africa could steal the spotlight from Usain Bolt?

Wayde van Niekerk accomplished that unlikely feat last night in Estadio Olimpico when he set the 400m world record of 43.03.

Van Niekerk broke Michael Johnson's 43.18 set 17 years ago in the World Championships final in Seville; I have the rare privilege of having seen the last two M 400m world records.

This morning Poland's Anita Wlodarczyk shattered her own world record in the hammer throw by 1.21 meters with a remarkable 82.29/269-11.

In a series for the ages, she had three of the top 5 longest throws in history; three times she moved her own previous bests down the lists! It is not overstating it to say that she is competing with herself, as she won by 18-2/5.54.

With that margin, she could win the pole vault.

While the hammer dramatics were taking place, Brunei's Ruth Jebet scared the steeplechase world record when she won in 8:59.75, missing the current world record by less than a second.

Jebet had 70 seconds to complete the last lap - well within her reach - and set the new record, but she slowed dramatically as she approached the finish line, seemingly more from joy than fatigue. After all, she was about to become Olympic champion, and no one else was close.

About that Bolt guy... the atmosphere in the stadium last night was electric, and the anticipation of the men's 100m final so high that the volunteers who brought out the blocks got a wild ovation from the crowd! And with all the anticipation of the 100m, van Niekerk stepped in to show there's more to the world of track and field than Mr. Bolt... and then Mr. Bolt stepped up to remind us that our sport truly can't live without him.

One of my favorite nights in 45 years of track and field.

If you didn't see it last night, you might enjoy my twitter feed of the evening, which includes several photos: @trackerati.

In a rather humorous moment, late in the evening just before the men's 100m started, I got a text message.

"Oh, great," I thought, "someone's responding to my tweets!"

It was our friends at AT+T saying, "Dude, you're blowing your data plan out of the water!"

On a personal note, I am now up to five event coverage assignments for Track and Field News. Two of them are - get this - the women's hammer and the women's steeplechase. Today I covered my first world record and came within a second of covering two at the same time.

Not sure if someone's going to wake me up and tell me that actually I'm at the Oregon Twilight Meet. More like the Twilight Zone, perhaps, but I do know this. I am

#livin'thedream


Day 4 - Previews and Picks

for events beginning on
Monday, August 15

M Triple Jump
Olympic and two-time World champion Christian Taylor was ranked second in the world among all athletes behind only Ashton Eaton in 2015. He won the World title in Beijing and scared the world record; his winning 59-9/18.21 jump set the American record and just missed the 60’ barrier.  He has won 18 Diamond League meets in the last 4 years. ‘Nuff said, he’s the favorite.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Last Throws

Michelle Carter (US) won the Olympic shot put title on Friday evening at Rio's Estadio Olimpico. In what has become her signature, she won on her last throw, just as she did in Portland in March to win the World Indoor title, and just as she did in Eugene in July to win the US Olympic Trials.

Three major championships, three last throw wins.

Here is a link to the article I wrote about Carter for the IAAF website in April:
https://www.iaaf.org/news/feature/michelle-carter-shot-diva

Carter sure has been waving to crowds a lot this year.

Meanwhile, in the men's discus, Germany's Christoph Harting won on - guess what? - his last throw to upset World champion Piotr Malachowski (Pol). Harting is likely already sick of being referred to as discus king Robert Harting's little brother (CH is 6' 8 3/4", RH is three-time World and 2012 Olympic champion).

Research mavens are hard at work trying to find out if siblings have ever succeeded each other as Olympic champions in the same event; none found so far.

Meanwhile, this morning the women's Olympic marathon passed about 10 minutes from my hotel. Why it started at 9:30 instead of 7:30 is beyond me. It was hot just standing there and watching.

Meanwhile, I believe there's a little gathering of sprinters tonight. If I see any, I'll be sure to let you know.


Day 3 - Previews and Picks: W Marathon + M High Jump

for events beginning on
Sunday, August 14

W Marathon
Mare Dibaba (Eth) had a pretty nifty 1-2 last year: 1st at Worlds and 2nd at Boston. And her fastest race of ’15? A scintillating 2:19:52 at Xiamen. As she showed at the World Championships, she has the unnerving ability to run fast over the last 9 km as well as the ability to run fast over the last 100m.

Saturday, August 13, 2016

Day 2 - Event Previews - Fearless Picks + Predictions

2016 Olympic Track and Field / Day 2 – Saturday, August 13
M 100m
Funny, I think there’s not a lot to say about the men’s 100m. Or maybe it’s all been said so many times that it seems repetitive. So I’m going to stay away from the good guy/bad guy storyline and just stick with the facts.

Friday, August 12, 2016

Small Bits of Insanity

Ethiopia's Almaz Ayana ran into history in Olympic Stadium in Rio de Janeiro this morning with her historic 29:17.45 decimation of the 10,000m world record.

The previous world record of 29:31.78 was held by China's Wang Junxia, set 23 years ago in 1993.

In the greatest 10k of its era and certainly one of the two or three greatest in history - women's or men's - the all-time lists were completely rewritten as four runners broke 30:00 minutes.

There are small bits of insanity in these results.

Eight national records were set, including that of the United States by Molly Huddle in 30:13.17 in 6th place.

The first 13 runners set personal bests and 18/35 finishers did so.

Former US citizen Alexi Pappas, now running for Greece, set the Greek national record of 31:36.16 - and finished seventeenth.

Most striking is simply this:

1. 29:17.45
2. 29:32.53
3. 29:42.56
4. 29:53.51

Kenya's Vivian Cheruiyot was second, Ethiopian legend Tirunesh Dibaba 3rd, and Kenya's Alice Nawowuma finished 4th after having done much to set up the race for Ayana in the first 5 kilometers.

If anything, it appeared Nawowuna was headed for bronze until Tirunesh Dibaba and she traded places twice between 7 and 8 kilometers, with the Ethiopian veteran pulling away to win the battle for 3rd.

Imagine running 29:53.51 and finishing 4th.

In my preview of this race I suggested that it was time for the 22-year-old Nawowuna to run an open 5,000m race to break her prodigious 15:16.74 - run when she was 16 years old.

Today she did just that.

She led the race at 5,000m in 14:46.81.





Day 1 - Event Previews

2016 Olympic Track and Field

Fearless Picks and Predictions

Day 1 – Friday, August 12

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Circle the Wagons!

I've been kind of quiet here the last few days as I've pulled together my quadrennial 'fearless picks and predictions' of the track and field events of these Olympic Games.

This tome is over forty pages now and tomorrow's previews are queued up and ready to go. The men's discus will get these Games underway at 9:30am local time.

It is done in spite of the exasperation of my hotel having lost internet connectivity at the height of my work on the preview - for 36 hours. Yowza! My blood pressure is fine now - no, really.

You can see my tweets even if you don't subscribe to twitter. Just go to their website and plug in @trackerati and you can see my communications there.

Some of you may have seen my 'Grim Reaper' tweet a couple of days ago. There is more in that pic than meets the eye.


Notice the badge hanging around my neck? After an application process that lasted four months - and a week into my stay here - I was issued a pass to the Rio Media Center. This gets me into a great place to work, a place where numerous press conferences are held, and best of all, a place where I mingle with journalists from around the world.

To be clear, this is neither an all-access (royal blood required) nor single-sport pass, both of which are quite hard to come by (Track and Field News, the publication of record in international track, gets one sport specific pass per Olympics).

But it is certainly enriching my experience here, to wit:

One of the great hangout places on the planet.
Food trucks and picnic area outside the Rio Media Center.
Word went out that the media centers were under supplied - little liquid and less food. Circle the wagons! Enterprising food truck operators flocked to the two media centers and no one has gone hungry since.

Tonight a gracious couple, Patricia and Sidney, who are Cariocas - Rio residents - made room for me at their table and we hung out for a good - no, a great - half hour. She works in insurance security and he with a prominent energy company. They could not have been more welcoming - or funnier! We truly did have the best time. Thank you, Patricia and Sidney, for such a gezellig evening! Yes, we discussed language, among many other things.

Oddly, finishing the previews frees me up to do a greater variety of writing, even though track starts on Friday. I am eager to get a post up about the beach volleyball I attended, as I lucked into a historic match on the women's side when the Egyptian women's team played. I'll get that posted this weekend.

The press pass came about, in the end, in a rather funny way. After months of the most picayune picking apart of my application, I knew we had it down to the last possible detail. One last submission and... I waited. And waited. Again. For two more days.

In the meantime, I had met Heloisa Pinto.

The light went on.

I wrote them a rather cheeky message and said, "While awaiting your reply, I wrote a story about meeting the "Girl from Ipanema" - thought you might enjoy it." And sent them the link.

I had the pass 2 hrs, 44 minutes, and 42 seconds later.

Three years and two days after I started this blog.

Happy Birthday, indeed.


Addendum
No sooner had I pressed 'post' than I received an email message from Track and Field News.
That men's discus at 9:30 tomorrow morning? I'll be covering it for them.







Monday, August 8, 2016

Chorus of Squeals

Then... Now... Women's Gymnastics
Montreal '76 and Rio '16

Montreal
I had two tickets to women’s gymnastics on the first day of competition of the ’76 Montreal Olympic Games, the day after Opening Ceremonies.

The tickets indicated the sport, gender, place, time, location, and seat, but not the teams, and teams are all in women’s gymnastics.

My first seat was in the rafters of Montreal’s Forum – a partially obstructed view of the four teams that marched in. We did not know which teams would appear until that moment; these turned out to be among the lowest seeded teams in the tournament, including the United States and its one individual star, Cathy Rigby.

At last the Forum was emptied, and I could only hope that my second ticket would produce a higher level of competition. This time I drew a once-in-a-lifetime gymnastics seat; I was at eye level with and directly in front of the uneven parallel bars.

Seated next to me was a young woman who was as passionate about gymnastics as I am about track and field. She was eager to share her knowledge and I was a more than receptive audience.

The crowd buzzed with anticipation, and then burst into applause as Romania, Hungary, East Germany, and the USSR marched in – the four best teams in the world.

First-round tickets were never so good.

Ever, as it turned out, as we were about to witness history.

Over the previous winter, Omega Timing staffers had approached the International Olympic Committee to make sure they had the score display design correct – three digits or four? Three, they were told, as a 10.00 is impossible.

Romania’s Nadia Comaneci - all of 14 - put the experts in their collective place when she completed her historic uneven parallel bars routine that earned the first 10.00 in Olympic history. We knew we had witnessed something special, and after her breathtaking routine the rousing applause continued… and continued.

There was a lengthy delay in the posting of her score. Finally, I leaned over to my seatmate and  said, “Maybe the scoring system can’t handle a 10.00?”

You’ll win many a bar bet with the answer to this question: What did the scoreboard display?

1.0

That’s right, a 1.0, 9 full points short of the score she had earned.

The British newspaper The Guardian has Comaneci’s perfect 10 as the #5 greatest moment in Olympic history (of course, this must be viewed with some skepticism as they have Jesse Owens at #6).

Rio
I did my best to replicate my Montreal tickets, and ended up with ducats to the 1st and 3rd preliminary round sessions of women’s gymnastics. In ‘the more things change the more they remain the same’ category, these first rounds took place exactly one day later in the Olympic schedule than in 1976.

In the first session, this Geography teacher got schooled by geography, as well as by the entire transportation and spectator entry process. Suffice it to say that I could have entered Olympic Arena with 2 minutes left before the finish of this ‘subdivision,’ and decided instead to learn the layout of the Olympic campus and get a head start on my second session, scheduled to begin at 2:30.

The first group teams had been similar to those in Montreal, and the quality was much higher for Rio’s 2:30 round, which included Germany, Russia, Belgium, China, and a “mixed group of 8” individuals, the individual stars of countries/territories like Sweden and Guam whose team had not qualified - the notion of Guam not having a national gymnastics team had not occurred to me.

And one more country:

Brasil!!!

I shoulda brought earplugs.

It was just me and 15,000 screaming, shrieking, and – to coin a possibly new term – shrilling Brazilian teenage girls.

They did not wait until a routine was complete to voice their approval. Rather, when one of theirs completed an individual move, they went crazy.  A pirouette, backflip, cartwheel, side aerial, straddle backward roll (do not attempt this if you’re over 18), a front walkover – the result was the same.

A chorus of squeals.

Under this relentless pressure from the crowd, not to mention the television cameras in their faces as they left each apparatus, the Brazilian team did admirably well – and what I saw Sunday afternoon is on the front pages of newspapers here today.

Brazil’s first two athletes were a bit wobbly on the balance beam but they hung in there – on there, actually – and stuck their landings.

Bedlam.

I was impressed at the variety of cheers, and looked forward to the ‘BRA-SIL clap!clap!clap!’ every time it came around. I became quite convinced that there’s a special cheer of encouragement reserved for those climbing back onto the balance beam.

Flavia Saraiva had one of the best performances of the day – a 15.133 on balance beam; neither perfect scores nor 14 year-olds are allowed at the Olympics anymore. But as she nailed each element of her program the roar grew and then she, too, stuck her landing.

Crocodiles in the Amazon dove under water.

I will say that at times all this seemed a bit much. Pity poor Amy Tinkler of Great Britain. She waited a lifetime to perform her floor exercise and got off to an inspired start. Then the crowd erupted over a Brazilian’s move and quite truly, Tinkler’s music could no longer be heard.

As this crowd represents a nation in crisis, I find myself torn between the hokiness of it all and the visceral response of a nation desperate for something to cheer for. I’ll err on the side of the latter every time, in spite of the challenges presented all the athletes in this rotation who competed in the same subdivision as the host nation.

There was lamentable in-house commentary.

“You’re great,” said an announcer to a Brazilian who had fallen short. “You’re awesome.”

Funny, he never said anything like this to anyone else.

As one of the Brazilian gymnasts made the shape of a heart with her hands, we were implored by the announcer’s female counterpart to “… send some love back…” to her.

Adults should know better.

India’s Dipa Karmakar made Olympics history by being the first from her country to qualify for an individual event final. She performed magnificently on vault to etch her name in the history books, not quite the same way Comaneci did in ’76, but a magnificent moment of its own, nonetheless.

Flavia Saravaia won this subdivision of qualifying, and Brazil was only .067 of a point behind Germany going into the final rotation, the uneven parallel bars. Could Brazil actually win against one of the traditional European powers?

Here, I’m afraid, the storybook ending fails. The last of Brazil’s uneven bars competitors stuck the landing prematurely when she fell off, and Brazil’s team score plummeted to 4th.

This did not faze the two women who sat next to me, both from Brazil, and both beaming at the end of this competition, regardless.

As for the engaging woman next to me in Montreal, the one who so generously gave me an insider’s view of the greatest moment in gymnastics history?  To this day I wish we had stayed in touch, but in those times asking for someone’s contact information was asking for home address and telephone number.


I am quite sure she has been to as many gymnastics meets as I have been to track and field, and to this day I am grateful that as tour guide to my first gymnastics meet, she was a perfect 10.00.



Saturday, August 6, 2016

Opening Ceremonies at the Catete Grill

The Catete district is a middle class neighborhood southeast of downtown Rio de Janeiro and north of the famous beach areas of Copacabana and Ipanema. It will be my home for the next two weeks. It seems a much more realistic view of Brazilian life than the one I had near the beach during my first week here – or is it?

I had attended Opening Ceremonies in Montreal in '76, and as much as I would have liked to be in Maracana Stadium on Friday night, I found myself with a question I could begin to answer only outside the stadium.

How deeply do these Olympic Games reach into the lives of everyday Brazilians?

During Opening Ceremonies, I visited five local restaurants/cafes/bars/hangouts in Catete, most of them a combination of all four. I wondered: with room for 80,000 in the stadium, what was this experience like for the 7,000,000 Cariocas (natives of Rio) who did not get to attend?

Opening Ceremonies began at 8:00 pm local time. I started at the Deca Bar and Cafe at 7:55, and already the place was crowded. This is not a challenge for a space perhaps 7m across and 30m long, but everyone was frozen in the position of the evening: seated, facing in one direction, and looking up.

I moved along to a neighborhood landmark, the Catete Grill. It’s opposite of the Deca - a vast space with the buffet of a lifetime (pay-by-weight buffets are very common in Brazil), seating for well over a hundred, and numerous huge flat screen TVs.

As the ceremonies began with an airplane flying towards the stadium, everyone turned and toasted each other. 

This night, people were dining and staying.

One woman in particular caught my attention. She (right, with her daughter) sat riveted and unmoving - but clearly not unmoved - for four hours. 

As I contemplated her age and her rapt attention, I wondered what her life has been like, lived under a military dictatorship for 21 of her years.

A poignant scene, too, as a young man staffing the buffet line stopped in front of a screen to watch the proceedings. That he had to work during Opening Ceremonies broke my heart and likely his. He kept one eye on the food and the other on the screen.

I saw him repeat this move numerous times during the evening, the events on the screen clearly so much more compelling than yet another night working the line. What does his future offer him? I estimate that he is 21, which means he’s been anticipating this event for 1/3 of his life. Numerous young staffers lingered whenever they could to catch a glimpse of their moment of untold pride.

Three times, young adult men came in with their mothers on their arms. The treat was Opening Ceremonies at the Catete Grill and each mother was beaming. (Those were their mothers, weren’t they?!)

I left at 10:00 to visit other gathering places and found much the same: people glued, a younger crowd, perhaps, at the watering holes a block or two north, but the same rapt we’re-not-leaving-this-until-it’s-over attention.

I’d become attached to the scene at the Catete Grill and returned at 10:30. Countries beginning with S were marching in; anticipation was building to the proverbial fever pitch.


Zambia was announced, and a woman clapped and shouted what everyone knew: “Braaaaziiiiilll!!!!!” was up soon.

A glimpse of the flag at the head of the Brazilian team.

The Catate Grill crowd erupted.

And did so again when the flame was lighted, though there was palpable disappointment that it was not Pele.

I may not understand Portuguese, but I understand ‘It’s not Pele.’

There was one particularly memorable moment at the Catete Grill, one which will bring a rueful smile every time I think of it and of the place of the US in the world.

During the environmental segment, the issue of rising seawaters was raised, and a number of places were shown with projected levels of future inundation. Each location got a murmur of knowing commentary from the patrons of the Catete Grill.

Then Florida appeared, half submerged.

Apart from the entry of Brazil and the lighting of the flame, I’ve never heard such clapping and cheering.

This Catete crowd was deeply connected - to all the events on the screen.




Friday, August 5, 2016

The Summer Winter Games


It's been 7 years since the Olympic Games were awarded to Rio de Janeiro. Tonight at long last the games will indeed begin, and tomorrow the world's athletes will put politics aside and get on with the business of competition.

40 years have elapsed (or lapsed, depending on your point of view) since I attended the Summer Olympics in Montreal. Those were, from a geographer's perspective, noteworthy for having been held in summer, unlike these games, which are being held in Rio's winter. Good thing, too, as today was the first day in a week that could reasonably have been called hot.

'16 feels very much like a major case of second verse same as the first: in '76 the state of the unfinished facilities was bemoaned, the worst traffic in world history was expected, the East Germans were accused of using performance-enhancing drugs - and were later found to have run a state-sponsored doping system... does all of this sound familiar?

The cast of characters has changed, but the drive to excel and the desire to be the best haven't - thankfully - changed a bit.

Sooner or later, someone will touch the wall first. Someone will lean at the finish and win by a hundredth, and we will adjudge one performance as better and more significant, no matter the path. Someone will rip the entry. Someone will score a penalty kick, rip off her jersey, and change sporting life for a generation of girls. Someone will stick the landing.

We'll never forget it.

Today my tour group went to Sugarloaf, one of Rio's vertical promontories, and we had much excitement when the return gondola was closed in anticipation of the arrival of the Olympic torch. There we were, stranded at the intermediate station, but with views like this, that's some kinda stranded.

The torch didn't arrive while we were there, but it was interesting to see how the possibility of it turned us into giddy children.

There is magic left in all of this after all.



Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Girl from Ipanema


trackerati meets Heloisa Pinto, inspiration for
"The Girl from Ipanema"
Aren't we a lovely couple?!

Today I walked from Copacabana to Ipanema and I was on a mission. My destination was the bar where the song "The Girl from Ipanema" originated in 1962. This bossa nova classic - the second most recorded song in history behind "Yesterday" - was part and parcel of my childhood as it was played repeatedly at home. 

I found the bar and knew that Heloisa Pinto, the inspiration for the song, had a boutique nearby; turns out it's next door. I had seen her picture online and was startled to see her inside. As I started to enter her boutique, she was joined by a man and they left right in front of me. Squandered opportunity of a lifetime, I thought.

But no, this one was meant to be. They went into the bar next door, were joined by another man, and began to sit down. The server asked me where I'd like to sit; instead I gestured towards Pinto with my phone and he said, knowingly, "Ahhhhhh."

Apparently they've been down this road a few times before.

He arranged for her to join me, and her friend took the photos. Helo - her nickname, one which I'm free to use now that we're such good buds - was nothing but gracious and welcoming, asked me where I'm from, and what sports I will see in the Olympics.

Get this: The Girl from Ipanema has my trackerati business card. Here's hoping she sees this post.

Meanwhile, take another look and ponder this: she's seven years older than I am. I mean, is that remarkable?

And all this on a day when I was given a senior discount without anyone asking! I assure you, I'll gladly balance that with the rest of what the universe offered me today.

"Tall and tan and young and lovely..."

Yes, she still is.


trackerati in Rio!

Greetings from Rio de Janeiro - the River of January. I arrived several days ago and am busy at work on my quadrennial preview and predictions tome - a preview of each of the 47 track and field events of the 31st Olympiad, complete with fearless picks and predictions.

For the first few nights I am staying at a hotel across the street from Copacana Beach. It's beautiful here, and interestingly, it hasn't been hot yet. "It's our winter," the locals keep saying. Also, I haven't encountered a single mosquito - nada, not one.


Tomorrow I will join the Track and Field News Tour as it arrives in Rio, and I'll be staying at one of their four hotels. While it's closer to the most of the Games sites, it's still a good hour from the stadium, with much yet to be resolved about logistics here.


I'm active on twitter: @trackerati.

More - much more - to come.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

One for the Ages

52.82

Thoughts and reflections on the 9th day of the US Olympic Trials

*It’s a given that the Hayward Field crowd response to an Oregon athlete is amplified by the athlete’s Duckness. I had already made a note to write about the crowd’s roar in Devon Allen’s win in the third semi-final of the men’s 110m high hurdles. Then he won the entire event.

Heard anything like that recently? Well, yes – it was much the same with Ducks Jenna Prandini, Ariana Washington, Deajah Stevens, and Galen Rupp all  Saturday afternoon.

Then 41-year-old Bernard Lagat won the men’s 5,000m.

In defiance of aging, Lagat finished off his astonishing 5,000m victory with a 52.82 final lap. Saturday’s roar joins legendary Hayward Field crowd responses to the men’s 2008 800m - when three runners training in Oregon made the Olympic team - and Alan Webb’s 3:53.3 national high school record in the mile in the 2001 Prefontaine Classic.

Oh, yes - there was quite a response several decades ago. Also the men’s 5,000m.

It may well have been 1972 when we last heard an Olympic Trials roar like this.

Lagat, who did not want to end his Hayward Field career on a down-note, was worried after dropping out of both the Olympic Trials 10,000m and this year’s Prefontaine Classic 5,000m. But he kept perspective about the meaning of Saturday’s win to himself and his family.

He wanted “… to win in front of my kids, who had been telling me we had to go. My daughter tells me, ‘Daddy, I want to go back to the Olympics so I can watch gymnastics.’”

*So much rides on so little:

-         Omar Craddock finished 4th in the triple jump, 2”/5cm behind Chris Bernard.

-         Eric Jenkins missed the Olympic team by .06 in the men’s 5,000m. Try timing six one-hundredths by hand on a stopwatch.

-         Aries Merritt and possibly the greatest story of the Olympics: he missed the team by an agonizing 1/100th in the men’s hurdles. The kidney transplant patient - who won bronze at the 2015 Beijing World Championships 4 days before his transplant - was the picture of grace in post-race interviews.

*Chris Lotsbom of Race Results Weekly asked this trenchant question in a twitter post several nights ago: why do Hayward Field fans clap and cheer for athletes who have failed drug tests? Granted, they have served their time in suspensions, but this does not absolve them of their role in cheating. When a LaShawn Merritt or Justin Gatlin wins, my small protest is that I just don’t clap. Sound ineffective? What if we all didn’t clap and cheer? The silence would be deafening – and eloquent.

*Meanwhile, speaking of clapping, I have a peeve of my own: please, no rhythmic clapping or victory cheers when athletes are in their blocks. Do the best fans in the world really need to be told this?

*Galen Rupp showed up bedecked in aerodynamic tape for Saturday’s 5,000m race. If it does, as he claims, reduce air drag by up to 2%, it begs the question of when the line is crossed between using technology for an ethical advantage and when technology helps too much. Swimming had to address this question when full-body suits (based in more buoyant polyurethane material) were banned in 2010 after a wholesale rewriting of the record book once these suits were introduced.

*Special note to Olympic Trials hurdles champion Devon Allen: 

Dude, it’s time to stop playing football. 

The universe has been telling you this for some time now.  You’re the Olympic Trials champion and in the thick of a worldwide discussion of who the Olympic hurdle medalists will be.

This or 9 catches for 94 yards? 


An Olympic Trials 4th of July

The 4th of July began early at the US Olympic Track and Field Trials.         

Or actually it began late.

Which was early.

It began the night of the 3rd with a fireworks display at Autzen Stadium, one the entire city heard at 10:30 – no one could escape it.

Including athletes trying to sleep the night before their events.

So, not a great start to a great 4th of July in Eugene.

The day itself dawned cool, sunny, spectacular – truly not a cloud in the sky.

Matthew Knight Arena on the 4th of July

One option visitors have is to stay in the dormitories at the University of Oregon. Deal of a lifetime. $99.00 a day - including three meals - when motels across the street are going for $300-500 a night.

This is a throwback for me as I lived in these same dormitories in the early ‘70s when I was an undergraduate here. I lived in Dyment – rhymes with cement – and how many people can claim they lived in a dorm so aptly named for undergraduate life? 

It’s no coincidence that Animal House was filmed on this campus several years later. I’ll move on so as to protect the guilty. 

An interesting aspect of dormitory life this time is that one of the entry gates to Hayward Field is half a block away. I rise every morning to the sight of growing lines of fans waiting to go through security, and with protective fences, concrete blocks, federal marshals, and bomb-sniffing dogs, we are reminded at every turn that track and field heaven is part of the real world.

Security Force with Dog

I look forward to breakfast every morning, a place where new friends are made and old are renewed. We discuss upcoming events and rehash yesterday’s controversies. On this holiday morning I sit with newer friends, ones I’ve gotten to know since returning to writing and starting my blog three years ago. We have an animated discussion about the men’s long jump and the qualifying process for the Olympics; we leave having clarified what we don’t know.

One of the characteristics of an event such as the Trials is what goes on beyond the track. A writer’s life can be pretty constrained during an event like this. In my first three days here, my life took place in a three-block radius: from my dorm to Hayward Field in one direction and to the dining hall in the other. Not a bad radius when you think of it.

The late holiday start times at the track make possible a number of options for visitors, and the Track and Field Writers of America (TAFWA) hosts a morning social at the self-styled unofficial social center of the Trials, the Wild Duck restaurant. First I speak with several of the eminent LetsRun.com crew and finally I meet Steve Soprano, their mysterious “employee 1.1,” who has been so good to me with linking to my articles on their heavily trafficked front page. I sit with Cheryl Treworgy, who as Cheryl Bridges set the world marathon record of 2:49:40 in the 1971 Culver City marathon and became the first woman ever under 2:50.

Treworgy has a very successful photography business called PrettySporty; she is a familiar face at sporting events around the country, including many beyond track and field. She is immensely proud of her two daughters and we speak for some time about daughter Maggie’s service work in Africa. Cheryl and I are teachers, and we have much to discuss about service, purpose, and the magic of reaching a child. We also speak about her daughter, Shalane, who, like her mother, runs a fair marathon, and will in Rio.

Next stop is the Caspian restaurant for lunch with friends. The Caspian is a couple of storefronts down from the Duck Bookstore on the west side of campus. It’s my favorite restaurant in Eugene; there is something for everyone. While it focuses on Mediterranean food, it has an expansive menu that will keep even the most enthusiastic carnivores satisfied. Best of all for writing late, it’s open until 2:25am on weekends and 11:45pm on weeknights. 

It’s here I met Curtis Beach’s parents the night he waved Ashton Eaton home to a world record in 2012. I told them it’s one of the greatest acts of sportsmanship I’ve ever seen.

To the stadium after lunch and a meeting with my longtime friend, Carol Coram, who sits on the Jury of Appeals. I always wish Carol an uneventful day… and then there was the women’s 800m. I tried.

Enough for One Day

John Nunn won the Olympic Trials 20k race in Salem last Thursday; I interviewed him there twice, once one-on-one and the other as part of the group interview after the awards ceremony on the Capitol steps. Later that evening in Eugene, I was at the campus alumni center to pick up my accreditation and was directed to sit in a specific chair.

I look at the man next to me: “Hi, John.”

At the appeals tent today, two men sit down to discuss the appeals process; one is an athlete liaison and advocate.

“Hi, John,” I say once more. “We can’t go on meeting like this.”

We walk out together and agree it’s time for me to do an article about him, the universe having spoken rather clearly on this matter.

Olympian John Nunn with that stalkerish trackerati guy. No, no - Nunn's on the right!

The women’s steeplechase rounds are first up on the track, followed by the men’s. Next are the men’s 5k heats, and this sequence causes me some confusion. After 5 steeplechase heats I keep expecting the 5,000m runners to jump over something.

I have an idea about how to approach the 4th of July interviews with the athletes; it’s time to have some fun. I ask athletes who have advanced to the next round or who have just made the Olympic team, “So, how’s your 4th of July going so far?”

Bridget Franek, who had just won her steeplechase heat: “Going pretty well so far, I’d say! Came with my nice 4th of July glasses and hat so I was ready to go and then that happened (winning her heat), so it’s a good one!”

Shalaya Kipp, who advanced to the steeplechase finals: “You know, it’s really great! It’s a really good 4th of July.”

Clayton Murphy, who won the 800m with a Wottle-esque kick: “I told Boris: I’d love to be on a boat right now and having hamburgers and grilling out with the family, but running the Olympic Trials on the 4th of July is cool. So I’d say the 4th of July is going pretty well. A boat does sound nice and floating down the river on the 4th of July - but I think this is pretty good, this is better.”

800m Olympian Clayton Murphy

Boris Berian, who made the Olympic team in 2nd behind Murphy: “I’ll save the boat – that is definitely a fun thing to do – I’ll save that for later. I’m just proud to be an Olympian now.”

More smilin' Olympians! Murphy - Berian - Jock

Charles Jock, third member of the 800m squad, turns to Berian and says, “Well, I think you’ve still got some time to go floating down the river!”

800m Olympian Charles Jock

Chrishuna Williams: When I ask the question, the 800m third-placer grabs the microphone and says, “I’ll answer that!”

Williams and Coach Chris Johnson

“As soon as I crossed the line I saw that my name, Chrishuna Williams, had the 3rd position, and just to represent the red, white, and blue and have USA across my chest on the 4th of July – I’m very ecstatic!”

Kate Grace, Ajee Wilson, Chrishuna Williams - US 800m Olympic Team

The fun in this question is that it was unexpected.  When I asked it in both 800m press conferences, the athletes cracked up laughing each time. They are so used to similar questions, race after race, year after year. The grace of Allyson Felix, for example, is how she makes it appear she’s answering each question for the first time.

No one has as much grace as Kate.

I return to the stadium and bid farewell to my press row neighbor, Caitlyn Pilkington, a rising star who is now with Women's Running Magazine. She has covered the first half of the Trials and her publisher will be here for the second. We've made a nice connection and I know this is the first time we'll say farewell but by no means the last. 

Sun sets on a dazzling 4th of July at Hayward Field

I remain in the stadium and write until 9:30 or so. The remarkable facilities crew is raising the hammer throw cage. It’s not hyperbole to say their work is never done. 

Raising of the Hammer Barn

It’s time for dinner and I head for the Wild Duck. Note that I started and ended my day at the Wild Duck. Can the term ‘ubiquitous’ apply to a single business? It seems as if the Wild Duck is everywhere, even though it’s in one place.

I sit with my RunBlogRun editor and publisher, Larry Eder, who is a connector if ever there was one. I have told his son that my goal is to find a single person in track and field Larry does not know. To my left is the gifted writer, Dave Hunter, from whom I learn more about our craft every time I read his work.

I am introduced to the man across from me and in the enthusiastic noise of the late evening I misunderstand his name. He looks very familiar, but the name I hear does not match my memory. I spend a considerable amount of time thinking I’m speaking with a famous writer. It takes a while, but finally I ask him to repeat his last name.

“Ahhhhhh,” I say. “Virgin. You are Craig Virgin.”

The two-time World cross country champion nods.

We’re joined by Bobby Hodge, he of the epic Greater Boston Track Club team of the late ‘70s. Across the street in a motel meeting room I encountered his voluble coach, Billy Squires, the day before the men’s Olympic Trials marathon trials race in 1976. Squires and I hit it off and he coached me by mail; we stayed in touch for a good 15 years. I sought him out in Massachusetts a couple of summers ago, wanting to complete our story.

As I started running in Bill Bowerman’s beginning running class in the fall of ’71, I have long wondered if anyone else has been coached by both.

Virgin peels off, then Hodge - it’s time to bring this 4th to a close. I realize I didn’t see any fireworks this year, but then I remember the women’s 800m.

I did see fireworks after all.


Good Night, Coach.
Thanks for teaching me how to run.






Saturday, July 9, 2016

Steve

In honor of today's men's 5,000m final at the US Olympic T+F Trials,
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, while he was still in high school, “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.

Yes.

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.



copyright 2016 Mark Cullen. All rights reserved.

Mirror Image: Men's Steeplechase

Men’s steeplechase final takes on a familiar look

Apparently the men’s steeplechasers did not wish to be upstaged by Thursday’s dramatic women’s steeplechase final. The men’s race mirrored the women’s: similar tactics, similar pacing, similar last lap sprints – and similar bumps and falls over the crucial last water jump.

Evan Jager was his usual masterful pacing and tactical self. He took the lead earlier than he had planned and tightened the tourniquet on this accomplished field by running the last 4 laps in 64-62-62-62. That’s world class and no one could stay with him. The American record holder finished in 8:22.48, won his fifth consecutive US title, and made his second Olympic team.

NCAA champ Mason Ferlic led the pack through the first kilometer in a slow 2:58.04 – warmup pace for this deep and talented field. Then Jager took over.