Monday, August 28, 2017

David Torrence

A near-legendary bet-settling downhill 3:46 mile at 2:00 am on a Berkeley, CA, street.

Who else would run that but David Torrence?

The Olympian and middle distance star, known not only for his remarkable talent but for the effervescent spirit he brought to his craft, died in Scottsdale, AZ, Monday morning. Torrence was 31.

The fun and joy that characterized his approach to track and field brought him some serious results. He sported outdoor bests of 1:45.14, 3:33.23, 3:52.01 and 13:16.53. 

In less than a month in 2014, Torrence set the indoor world on fire when he set an individual American record and a relay team world record.

His finest individual performance was his indoor 1000m of 2:16.76, = #10 on the all-time world list and still the American record, set on February 8, 2014, in Boston.

He was also a member of the indoor world-record setting 4x800m relay team dubbed the "US All-Stars" - all-stars indeed, as their 7:13.11 still stands as the world record. This was set 22 days after his 1000m record, also in Boston.

Torrence ran the second leg of the 4x800m relay. Richard Jones led off in 1:51.0, Torrence followed in 1:47.46, Duane Solomon was next in 1:47.98, and Erik Sowinski anchored the world record in 1:46.66.

Torrence ran for his mother's native Peru in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games and finished 15th in the 5,000m final.

Just 8 days ago, he placed fourth in the Emsley Carr Mile at the Birmingham Diamond League Meet in 3:56.10.

Torrence was noted for his courageous stand against doping and for speaking truth to power when it came to speaking with authorities about his brief but deeply uncomfortable relationship with Coach Jama Aden's training group.

For more on his engaging, fun-loving side, be sure to read LetsRun.com's wonderful tribute: https://tinyurl.com/ydfqvmnd

We share in the profound sense of loss of David Torrence and send our deepest sympathy and condolences to his family and his many, many friends in the track and field world.

On the morning of his 1500m heat at the recent London World Championships - in which he missed advancing by .28 - Torrence posted on his Twitter page:

"Hard work doesn't guarantee success... but it sure as hell gets your foot in the door. It's race day, and it's time to fly."

David Torrence

Photo: Hoka One One













Sunday, August 13, 2017

Bolt's Legacy

In His Own Words

Usain Bolt's final press conference of his career was held at London Olympic Stadium after the World Championships concluded Sunday with a special tribute to him.

Bolt was thoughtful, reflective, and funny, and I was privileged to have the opportunity to ask him a question; he gave careful consideration to my inquiry about his legacy.

This is a transcript of our exchange, with minor editing. I have highlighted sections, below.

MC
Usain, Mark Cullen for Track and Field News and the Trackerati website.

Much has been made of your forthcoming absence from the sport, but instead, what do you think you have left that will help the sport to grow in the future? In other words, what do you think your legacy to the sport of track and field is?

UB
I’ve proven that with hard work anything is possible. My motto says 'anything is possible; I don’t think limits.'

For me, I was actually sitting down today and doing an interview and it was ironic that my motto says 'anything is possible - don’t think limits' and no one would ever feel like I’ll be beaten in a championship. And I feel that it shows a high level to the kids: continue trying in anything you do.

I feel I’m on the wrong end of this situation (laughs wryly, referring to his 100m bronze), but I personally feel this is a good message to the kids: work hard, be strong, and let’s push on; and for me, if I can leave something like that to the younger generation - that with hard work, no matter what’s going on, you can be the best that you can be - then that’s a good legacy to leave.

MC
Thank you.

Usain Bolt's Farewell Ceremony at London Olympic Stadium

photo courtesy of and copyright by IAAF/Getty Images




Saturday, August 12, 2017

Did Great Britain Foul China in Men's 4x100 Relay?

Watch this video and decide: did Great Britain's Adam Gemili foul China's Bingtian Su in the 4x100m relay?

Note Gemili raising his arm and Su flinching in response.

Great Britain won the race and China finished 4th.

Click on link here:



Friday, August 11, 2017

Steeple Shocker

Emma Coburn and Courtney Freirichs stunned the distance running world with a wholly unexpected 1-2 triumph in the women's 3000m steeplechase at the World Championships in London.

Coburn set a personal, American, and Championship record of 9:02.58, breaking her previous best by over 5 seconds.

Frerichs' 9:03.77 broke her own best by an astounding 15.32 seconds. She came in with a best of 9:19.09 and left as #7 on the all-time world list, with Coburn ahead of her at #6.

In a dramatic and electrifying final lap, Coburn and Frerichs sprinted away from the Kenyan and Bahraini athletes at precisely the moment it might have been expected that the reverse would happen.

Not tonight.

As they sprinted off the last water jump, Coburn broke away for the win while Frerichs sprinted away from Kenya's Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi for silver.

In a historic race whose implications will reverberate for years to come, Coburn and Frerichs rewrote expectations for US women in the steeplechase.

With Evan Jager's bronze, the US won half of the steeple medals here and recorded a nifty tally of gold, silver, and bronze.

Frerichs summarized it best when she asked - several times - "Is this really happening?"



This just in: A Picture is Worth a Thousand Words

photo courtesy Getty Images/IAAF












Wednesday, August 9, 2017

Perfect Night for a Duck

The Oregon Duck began her reign in the rain.

Phyllis Francis is the new World 400m champion.

In a stirring display of tenacity and confidence, Francis powered past favorites Allyson Felix (US) and Shaunae Miller-Uibo (Bah) in the final 40 meters to claim her first individual World title.

Francis ran a personal best 49.92.

While that is the slowest winning time in World Championship history, the cool, wet weather kept times slow, distances short, and competition fierce on a night marked by persistent and heavy rainfall.

Francis is Oregon’s first major meet sprint champion since Otis Davis, who won the Olympic 400m in the 1960 Rome Olympics.

Francis was unsure of her position at the finish.

"Me?" she asked when told she had won.

Her mental approach worked to perfection.

Francis "put doubt on the back burner," she said, and the secret to her success is "patience and believing in yourself." 

She had both patience and belief in bundles Wednesday night. 

Doubt was nowhere to be found.

Before the race she told herself, "You deserve to be there. We're all finalists and whatever happens, happens."

The two runners she swept past are individual Olympic champions, Felix at 200m and Miller-Uibo - she of the famous Rio finish line dive - at 400m.

"They are such phenomenal competitors - I was just telling myself to stay up with them."

Francis' win is the culmination of a well-planned progression through the major championship ranks. She placed 7th in the 400m at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing and 5th at the Rio Olympic Games. 

An accomplished relayist, the 25 year old Francis owns 4x400m relay gold from both the 2015 World Relays and the 2016 Olympics.

"It means a lot to me... this is a huge step that is blossoming into something great in the future for my career."

Francis said of her last 40m, "I've got to go back and look at it. I was telling myself to be patient and go with the flow. I told myself 'don't panic, don't freak out, don't get too excited. Put your arms down, put your legs down, and keep going.' "

On winning the World title with a personal best time, Francis said, "It's a good feeling - I'm ecstatic. It's so surreal right now."

Francis has a fan in none other than Allyson Felix. When asked what advice she would give Francis about her career path, Felix said, “I think she’s already doing fabulous.”

Fabulous indeed.

On a perfect night for a duck, this Duck ran a perfect race.


Note the facial expressions of Miller-Uibo, Francis, and Felix (l-r)
Phyllis Francis Framed Felicitously by Flames
photos copyright by and courtesy of Getty Images/IAAF





Spinning in the Rain

It's pouring in London.

It's Wednesday of Worlds - the midpoint of these Championships - which have been characterized by cool but generally favorable conditions for the athletes.

No steam bath of Rio, no furnace of Sacramento.

All was well until last night when it got cold.

As a Seattle native, I am well-prepared for damp conditions, but I got chilled to the bone last evening in spite of multiple layers of clothing. The cold started in my hands and traveled up my arms into my core.

Now it is wet - soaking wet.

It was raining when I awoke early this morning, and soon I'll head back into it for travel to the evening session. From the Underground (subway) station to the stadium is easily a mile.

I'll be able to tolerate wet shoes quite successfully. My coaching mantra in Seattle: rain days are practice days.

But this, most unfortunately, is a day of finals in the women's shot put, and qualifying in the men's hammer.

Not a good day to be spinning in a ring.

The women's long jumpers, too, will encounter a possibly slippery takeoff board.

In conditions like these everyone hesitates just a touch, and that hesitation wreaks havoc. Athletes become understandably cautious.

Caution changes everything when throwing caution to the wind is what we're here for.

Dwight Stones - 1976 - Montreal. 3rd in the high jump final in the drenching rain when the covering of the stadium was not finished on time, he set the world record in good conditions just days later in Philadelphia.

In a statistical and geographic oddity, Stones had set the world record also in Philadelphia on June 5th. For Stones, world records were bookends to Olympic bronze.

Ask Stones if weather conditions made a difference - in his career, in his life.

I understand that everyone is competing under equal conditions, and that athletes should prepare for all. But how well can anyone prepare for drenching rain? Or, for that matter, blistering heat: 111F/44C, as it was at US Nationals in Sacramento, CA this year?

Is it time for us to consider covered stadiums as a requirement for World Championship sites?

Did I mention that the 2019 World Championships are in Doha, Qatar?









Tuesday, August 8, 2017

A Cold Evening in London

Events that like warmth are left in search of it tonight.

It's 59F/15C in London Olympic Stadium.

Much anticipated finals will be held in the women's javelin, men's steeplechase, men's 800m, men's pole vault, and men's 400m.

There is much buzz about a possible win by Evan Jager (US) in the steeplechase, and even more about the possibility of a world record by Wayde van Niekerk (RSA) in the men's 400m.

Most unfortunately, the single person most likely to push van Niekerk was Botswana's Isaac Makwala. It is widely being reported that he was turned away at the gate tonight. A norovirus went through his hotel, and he is now only 24 hours into the 48 hour quarantine requirement.

The steeple, 800m, and 400m will take place within a sparkling 40 minutes at the end of tonight's program.

A great finish is guaranteed.



Friday of Worlds

Four years ago, just weeks after I started this website, I went to a morning session of the 2013 Moscow World Championships and posted a description of the experience.

Hours later, Sieg Lindstrom of Track and Field News placed "Teardrop of Sunlight" at the top of the center column of the Track and Field News website.

On Friday of Worlds.

Exposure was never like this.

It was the turning point for my blog - the before and after moment.

In fond acknowledgment of what has proved to be a turning point in my life, here is a link to "Teardrop of Sunlight":

http://www.trackerati.com/2013/08/teardrop-of-sunlight.html

A longer piece, "A Ride for Robert "- my #1 post these last four years - tells the story of how I came to that moment:

http://www.trackerati.com/2014/12/a-ride-for-robert.html

I would like to thank my readers - you honor me every time you read a story. Thank you for your enthusiastic support.

I remain deeply grateful to Sieg Lindstrom and Track and Field News for their ongoing support and encouragement;

to Thomas Byrne of IAAF's Spikes Magazine who has been singularly enthusiastic about my perspective on this sport we care so deeply about;

to the crew at LetsRun.com for their ongoing support of my work - and for their courage and the risks they take to make ours a sport of honor and integrity.

Meanwhile, it's Friday of Worlds again, and this evening I'm honored to be trusted with covering the men's hammer throw and women's steeplechase finals for Track and Field News.

What a difference four years makes.

I've got to get back to the stadium.

With gratitude and appreciation,

Mark Cullen
www.trackerati.com

Luzhniki Stadium, Moscow
Tuesday, August 13, 2013
World Athletics Championships

Photo by Dmitry Rozhkov




Monday, August 7, 2017

Good to the Last Drop

Sometimes, a picture is worth a thousand words. 
Take a look at the finish of the women's 100m.
Torie Bowie (lane 7, US) wins 100m over Marie-Josee Ta Lou (lane 4, Ivory Coast)
Note the positions of Bowie and Ta Lou.
Bowie is leaning forward so far that she lost control of her footing.
Ta Lou is straight up and almost leaning back.

There it is: the difference in the race.

1/100th of a second.

Here is what happens next:
Bowie's momentum causes her to fall after the finish line.
Here is the difference 1/100th of a second can make in someone's life:
Bowie and Ta Lou embrace after the final results were posted.
Yes, silver can be a bitter disappointment.


Bowie's finish is reminiscent of Emily Infeld's (US) in the 2015 Beijing 10,000m when she ran through the finish line to nab bronze from Molly Huddle (US). It also conjures a vision of Shaunae Miller-Uibo (BAH) throwing herself across the line of the women's 400m in Rio to nip Allyson Felix (US) in one of the most stirring 400m races ever run. 


This 100m was surely its equal.


Photos courtesy of and copyright by Getty Images/IAAF.
Thank you.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

Bronze

Usain Bolt, a sprinter from Jamaica, won the bronze medal in the men’s 100m dash.

That could be the opening line of reports written by journalists covering the event.

But it’s not – not anywhere, and not here.

How about this?

Mason Finley, a thrower from the United States, won the bronze medal in the discus.

Yes, that’s a likely lead.

How different bronze looks when it’s worn by Usain Bolt and Mason Finley.

Bolt is, of course, not just any sprinter, but one who changed the face of the sport. To say that the sport is in his debt is to put it ever so mildly. While bronze may seem a disappointment now, some perspective is in order. Bolt won silver in the 2007 Osaka 200m.

He wasn’t perfect in the 100m, either, as we seem to forget; he false-started in the 2011 World final in Daegu. With time, I hope we’ll view this bronze differently than we might today.

Our long-term perspective should be that, in sprints, he medaled in senior major championships over the course of 11 years, which is an utterly remarkable and unlikely achievement.

Bolt first appeared on the world scene in the World Youth championships – in 2001. A space odyssey, indeed.

This was a down year for the 100m and a down year for Bolt. Bolt’s start was not that of a world champion in any of his races here, and while it was not a huge surprise that he lost – well, there’s that word again. He finished 3rd. In the entire world. But his previous achievements led us to expect more than we had a right to.

For Mason Finley, the excitement of the final four rounds was palpable. 16th on the discus world list coming into this meet, Finley stated after qualifying that his goal was to break the 66m barrier again. Finley, who was 11th in the Rio Olympics at 62.05/203-7, brought a PB of 66.72/218-11, set in 2016, to this meet.

So he threw over 67m on his first throw.

And over 68m on his second.

From the second round on, he was in bronze medal position, and he defended it vigorously throughout. The countdown was on. Throw after throw, round after round, champion after champion came after Finley’s 68.03/223-2 - a stunning number for him regardless of place.

Finley’s bronze is an unexpected triumph. While it’s tempting to say that he is the little engine that could, I did note during our interview that I was looking up at the underside of his chin. He’s 6’8”, 345lbs.

Finley was thunderstruck at his achievement, and when asked how bronze changes his view of where he fits in the discus cosmos, he demurred and asked for time to absorb it all.

“Especially when you’re talking about (Piotr) Malachowski (defending champion, 4th) and (Robert) Harting (Olympic and 3x World champ, 5th), it’s crazy to me,” he said. “These guys are my heroes.”

The other bronzes won Saturday night were by Ruswahl Samaai of South Africa in the men’s long jump and Agnes Jebet Tirop of Kenya in the women’s 10,000.

While Samaai, 25, has been nipping at the edges of major meets, he had yet to medal. He has been operating in the shadow of his teammate, Luvo Manyonga, this year’s champion. Samaai finished well. He claimed bronze on his 5th jump and then his 6th was best of all.

Agnes Jebet Tirop, 2015 World Cross Country champion, twice finished 3rd in the World Junior 5,000m, and on Saturday won her first major meet track medal, bronze in the women’s 10,000m.

Think there’s not joyous celebration in her camp today? Most certainly, though at 21, her potential is vast and the color of her medals is sure to change.

Of the four finals Saturday night, how do the bronzes rate?

Three joys and a disappointment, though not nearly the disappointment it seems on the face of it.

Gold doesn’t tarnish. With proper care, neither does bronze. Just buff it from time to time to reveal the master craftsman’s achievement underneath.





Usain Bolt and Mason Finley
photos courtesy of and copyright by Getty Images/IAAF.









Saturday, August 5, 2017

Saturday Morning at Worlds

The story of the morning was athletes who had to spin. It rained on their parade, and with few exceptions, the women’s hammer throwers and men’s shot putters threw less well than expected in the Saturday morning qualifying rounds. Slippery surfaces left athletes understandably tentative and cautious.

Nothing says it better than that 2016 world Athlete of the Year Anita Wlodarczyk of Poland finished second to her teammate Malwina Kopron. The world record holder and Olympic champion was satisfied with her throw nonetheless.

"We have to be ready for all conditions and it all went OK for me to qualify with the first throw,” she said. “The circle is OK, the throw was also solid, it felt normal, like a throw at the beginning of a competition.”

Striking fear in the hearts of her competitors, she said of Monday’s final, “I hope I will manage to open the competition with a solid throw." Her idea of a solid throw is a world record, which is close to likely if the weather conditions are good.

While there was nothing spectacular about the men’s 800m heats, Donavan Brazier (US) looked exceptionally good in the last 180m of his qualifying heat win. His stride was elegant and seemingly effortless. Watch out. The 800m resumes with semi-finals Sunday evening.

Thomas Walsh unleashed a sterling 22.14/72-7¾ season’s best to lead the shot put qualifiers. All four US entrants advanced – 2016 Olympic Champion Ryan Crouser, 2015 World Champion Joe Kovacs, two-time World Indoor Champion Ryan Whiting, and 23 year old Darrell Hill. The main casualty of qualifying rounds was Jamaica’s O’Dayne Richards, the surprise bronze medalist in the 2015 Beijing Worlds.

The expected showdown between two-time World and Olympic champion Caterine Ibarguen (Col) and her young rival from Venezuela, Yulimar Rojas, will take place in Monday evening’s final. Both qualified easily, but 2008 Olympic champion Olga Rypakova served notice that she’s not quite through yet; she was the surprise leader of the entire qualification at 14.57/47 9¾ . 

The much-anticipated men’s 400m featured strong performances by the favorites in the opening round. South Africa’s world record holder Wayde van Niekerk won his heat in 45.57, while Isaac Makwala of Botswana led all qualifiers in 44.56. LaShawn Merritt (US) qualified in 45.00, while teammate Fred Kerley, the discovery of the NCAA season, advanced in 44.92.

The women’s heptathlon featured a scintillating high jump between Cuba’s Yorgelis Rodriguez and Nafissatou Thiam of Belgium. Rodriguez became the crowd favorite when she PBed three times on her way to earning 1171 points. Thiam, the surprise Rio gold medalist, tied Rodriguez  at the same height, and both earned the honor of setting the championship record. Rodriguez is only 8 points behind leader Thiam after two events. Another surprise in the making?

This evening features finals in the men’s 100m, women’s 10,000m, men’s long jump, and men’s discus. The heptathletes will contest two more events, the shot put and 200m. 

As for the men’s 100m, Usain Bolt is looking as vulnerable as he ever has. I will not be surprised to see someone else win. He displayed an uncharacteristic sign of lack of confidence yesterday with his lengthy complaints about the blocks. How many times have I seen an athlete set up his excuses in advance? I’d love to see him win and close out his glorious career in style, but teammate Julian Forte and US emerging star Christina Coleman both have a chance to pull the upset. Watch out, too, for Christopher Belcher (US), who has been under 10.00 only once but has competed exceptionally well when it counts in what has been a slow year for the event.

Meanwhile, the women’s 1500 is as deep as it’s ever been and four UK athletes will compete, with Laura Muir a medal favorite who needs to get through to Monday’s final.

Earplugs anyone?!

Friday, August 4, 2017

Mo from Mo

Mo Farah won one of the most dramatic 10,000m ever run to win his final 10 kilometer race on the track. In a scintillating competition whose outcome was in doubt until the final strides, Farah held off Joshua Cheptegei (UG), Paul Tanui (Ken), and Bedan Karoki Muchiri (Ken) for the win. In a raucous stadium filled with cheering Brits (and an annoying announcer who really didn’t need to keep hyping a race that needed no hyping), Farah gave the hometown fans something to sing about - and something to sing. Hearing “God Save the Queen” sung by the better part of 66,000 people was as stirring a moment as they come.

Daniel Stahl (Swe) led the field in men’s discus qualifying at 67.64/221-11. A terrific final is in store Saturday night with aging World and Olympic medalists going up against newcomers. Will it be the final stand of the veterans or a changing of the guard?

Mason Finley (US), one of the young turks of the event, surprised all with his 6th place finish in qualifying. If he does that again on Saturday, he’ll be top-ten world ranked this year. And on a given day, could a medal be in store for him?

Three-time World and 2012 Olympic champ Robert Harting (Ger) threw his way back into the conversation with a 65.32/214-4 qualifier. Joined by veterans Gerd Kanter, World and Olympic champion from Estonia, Robert Urbanek of Poland, 2015 World bronze medalist, and defending champion Piotr Malachowski (Pol), Harting could well make the podium again. He failed to advance to the finals in Rio while his brother, Christoph, won gold. Christoph is absent here, so it is up to Robert to maintain the family reputation for greatness.

There were no major surprises in women’s 1500m qualifying as all the favorites advanced to Saturday’s semi-finals. Sara Vaughn (US) advanced based on time – a PB of 4:04.56 - no better place or time to run one’s best. A magnificent performance by the US veteran taking full advantage of her first World team experience.

Unfortunately, some of the news out of qualifying rounds is of the big names who do not advance. The US suffered two major losses when Olympic champs Jenn Suhr no-heighted in the pole vault and Jeff Henderson underperformed in the long jump; both will be watching their finals when most thought they’d finish their events on the podium.

The men’s 100m saw some drama as Usain Bolt (Jam) had an imperfect start, to put it politely. His acceleration over the last 20m remains remarkable, but he has never looked more vulnerable. The much anticipated final is Saturday night.

The most heart-rending moment of the day came when Francena McCorory (US) was in tears on the podium while receiving the 400m bronze that was stolen from her by a drug cheat. Then she was awarded gold as a member of the 2013 US 4x400m team which was similarly robbed.

On Saturday evening Jo Pavey (GB) and Kara Goucher (US) will receive their 2007 10,000m bronze and silver, respectively, 10 years overdue. Jessica Ennis-Hill (GB) will receive the heptathlon gold that should have been hung around her neck six years ago.

Kudos to IAAF for making these presentations so public. The sheer number of them – 11 individual and 5 team – speaks to the culture of cheating that has shaken our sport to its core. 

As the new gold medalists are celebrated with a complete flag and anthem ceremony, England is guaranteed to start the evening with another rousing rendition of “God Save the Queen”. 

Let's hope this saves our sport.


Sandi Morris, US, Pole Vault
copyright Getty Images/IAAF




Thursday, August 3, 2017

On the Cusp of Magic

by Mark Cullen

A still stadium morphs into a beehive of activity in anxious anticipation of the first night’s greatest event.

Not Mo Farah’s 10,000m swansong, but Usain Bolt’s opening round of the 100m dash. What better way to begin the 2017 London World Championships than with the unfolding of the four chapters of the men’s 100m story?

The four-round format is not a test of athletes’ pure speed; rather, it is a test of sprint endurance, a test of sprinters’ ability to withstand four withering rounds in just 26 hours and 45 minutes. The fortunate – and fastest – among them are seeded into the second round and run ‘only’ three in just over 24 hours.

Should Bolt win his final individual event at Worlds, the explosion of appreciation in London Olympic Stadium might match that of the night before should Mo Farah complete his World 10k career undefeated. Remember that the Portland, OR, US resident is British. For the most part, so is this crowd.

Much has been made of 2012’s Super Saturday when, in the space of 45 minutes, Jessica Ennis-Hill (heptathlon), Greg Rutherford (long jump), and Mo Farah (10,000m) won gold for the host nation.

If hope is in part effort, then much has gone into the wish for a repeat of that dusting of Olympic magic. But that can lead only to disappointment; 2012 was, like Cathy Freeman’s 400m win at home in Sydney in 2000, a moment unique to its own place and time.

We should, instead, look forward to our own magic.

Six times in the women’s hammer final I’ll hold my breath as Anita Wlodarczyk spins. She just became the first woman ever to throw over 80m 5 times in a 6 round series. Will she go 6/6? Will the 2016 Athlete of the Year break the world record again?

We won’t exhale during the short hurdles, which are never over until they’re over, as Gail Devers and Lolo Jones know all too well. Will the US repeat the Olympic sweep?

What happens when Ryan Crouser and Joe Kovacs duke it out in the shot put ring? A heavyweight championship in 6 rounds. Or Thomas Rohler and Johannes Vetter, German teammates in the javelin? Same.

Will this be the moment when Christian Taylor sets the triple jump world record at long last? In front of current record-holder Jonathan Edwards. Of England. On his turf. Noted Taylor at today’s press conference about the Thursday, 8/10, final, “It’s his son’s birthday. I’d love to give him this gift!”

We’ll marvel at the best moment our sport has to offer. It occurs when sprinters take their blocks and the crowd goes silent. 66,000 in the stadium and you’ll be able to hear a pin drop. That’s the respectful ethic of our sport. In spite of the deep-seated problems our sport faces, most especially the credibility gap created by drugs, that moment of gracious silence before the gun goes off gives me hope - and chills - every time.

So, no need to look back and impose an artificial standard on these Championships. They will have their own script, their own unexpected storylines, their own thunderclap moments. London hosted the Olympic Games in the same stadium 5 years ago. But this time, it’s just us track nuts, another gathering of the tribe.

Our long track and field vigil is over: the World Championships return on Friday.

We’re on the cusp of magic again.


Allyson Felix, Jenny Simpson, Tianna Bartoletta, Christian Coleman, Christian Taylor, Ryan Crouser
at the United States team press conference
London, August 3, 2017

correction: many thanks to Thomas Byrne of SpikesMag for clarifying the term of England's memorable 3-gold medal Olympic night: it's widely recognized as Super Saturday, not England Night.



Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Linda Prefontaine's Tour de Pre

 Coos Bay, Oregon
July 8, 2017

by Mark Cullen

Photos by Jordan Geller, Thomas McDaniel, Linda Prefontaine


“Excuse me, are you a big fan of Pre?”

“Yes, yes!” Marti Menz replied emphatically.

“This is his sister, Linda Prefontaine.”

I thought I was going to have to catch Marti.

Marti and Thomas McDaniel had spent the previous evening in Coos Bay, OR, looking for the statue of Steve Prefontaine, but it took until noon the following day to find it.

I was privileged to be in the company of Linda Prefontaine, Steve’s sister, and Jordan Geller, the famous shoe collector and founder of the Shoezeum.

Jordy and I were part of the second iteration of Linda Prefontaine’s Tour de Pre, and it was Jordy who introduced Marti to Linda.

Marti, it turns out, is exactly why Linda began this business.

“Steve is my inspiration,” she said. “I started running in 1975 because of him.”

Marti is a veteran distance runner who worked at The Athletic Department in Berkeley, CA, from 1978-80. She made her pilgrimage to Coos Bay to find the history and landmarks of the legendary US distance runner, but she, like so many before her, had difficulty finding them presented in an organized and unified way.

Linda to the rescue.

Linda is moving home to Coos Bay after many years in Eugene. She is launching a new business designed to bring together the highlights of the life and running career of her brother in an engaging day-long tour.

“This is a really good idea,” Marti said. “I’m a classic example of who this is for. I was all over town late last night looking for the statue. People want to come here and do their pilgrimage.”

The Tour de Pre includes stops at:
-          - the History Museum and its Prefontaine display case
-          - the memorial statue downtown
-          - the Prefontaine Memorial Gallery at the Coos Bay Art Museum
-          - Prefontaine Track at Marshfield High School
-          - Heritage Hall at Marshfield High School
-          - opportunities to run: on the 10th Avenue hill, the beaches, the high school track
-          - the Prefontaine home
-          - and a seafood lunch that can’t be beat at the Portside Restaurant in Charleston, OR.

The Tour can be tailored to the individual interests and preferences of each tour group. Runners will want to go on the runs, historians might spend more time in the extensive library display, and if you wish to pay your respects to Pre, that is optional and Linda will guide you to the cemetery at the end of the Tour.

Linda said that the Tour is about “…telling my brother’s story and teaching people that he was more than a great runner. He was a fierce competitor on the track and a friend moments later. I want to teach people about the whole person he was. There are so many facets to him; there’s not a better example of what it takes to be successful.”

The Tour began at the Coos County Museum where there is a display case featuring the achievements of Steve Prefontaine. From there, we took a beautiful walk along the waterfront to the Prefontaine statue, where we had our memorable encounter with Marti and Thomas.

The Tour became more personal at the Prefontaine home, which is viewed from the outside. The house was built by Steve and Linda’s father, Ray, and it gives a strong sense of the modest, middle class economic background of the family. Neighbors greeted us warmly, and the small-town nature of Coos Bay (population 16,000) was evident in their openness and their delight in seeing the Tour underway.

When we arrived at the Marshfield High School track named in Linda's brother’s honor, Jordy did what one does on a track: he ran. While he claims to have set the world record for the slowest 400m, his record lasted only until I jumped in and took even longer.

Marti and Thomas, to whom we had bid farewell at the statue, reappeared and, as Jordy said, it was like the scene from Forrest Gump when more and more people fall in behind the Gumpster
as he’s running.

Being at the track was an emotional experience for me as this was the first time I had been there since the day of Steve Prefontaine’s funeral 42 years before.

Linda read us the speech she gave at the dedication of the resurfaced track, a stirring piece called “Who Would Have Known?” Then she surprised me mightily by asking me to read the story that brought us together, a story I wrote of what happened between her brother and me on the day he won the Olympic Trials 5,000m in 1972. And so I read “Steve” to Linda, Jordy, Marti, and Thomas in the stands of the Marshfield High School stadium.

This unplanned experience still gives me pause when I realize where I read the story and to whom. Later, Thomas wrote, “I cannot tell you how much our encounter of you three meant to Marti and me. She is still very emotional and teary-eyed talking about her very special pilgrimage to Coos Bay… (a)n encounter that will forever be etched vividly in our memories.”

The memorial exhibit at the Art Museum is the most extensive of all the Prefontaine displays, and the collection of photographs on the walls is a reminder of how many iconic races just happen to include Pre. Charmingly, the museum director opened a closet door in the gallery to deal with cleaning equipment. No pretension at this museum, and that seemed somehow fitting for an exhibition space dedicated to Pre.

At lunch we were welcomed with open arms by Rosella Freeman at the Portside Restaurant in neighboring Charleston, OR. A public sign of welcome noted our anticipated arrival, and later we were joined by restaurant owner Joe Tang.

After we placed our orders, Linda asked Jordy to close his eyes and hold out his hands. In them she placed a beautiful pair of Pre’s shoes – 1972 blue Nike Finlands.

Time for me to catch someone else.

“I got up from the table and went on a date with the shoes!” said Jordy. He placed them on an adjacent table and began photographing them.

A customer complained to management that a pair of dirty old shoes was on the table and that the table needed to be cleaned.

Perspective is everything.

As I interviewed Linda about why she started the Tour, a young man approached Jordy and asked, “Are you the Shoezeum guy?”

When Jordy replied, “Yes,” the George Fox student's response matched that of Marti at the statue. He dashed to his car and came back with two pairs of Nike Air Jordans and asked Jordy to autograph them.

If only Nike had named them Air Jordys, perhaps they would have sold better.

The young man’s name?

Steven.

Heritage Hall at Marshfield High School was our final stop of the day. As a former longtime athletic director, I have been in more schools than I can count. It’s not hyperbole to say I have never seen one take such visible pride in its athletic heritage or display it more meaningfully. In a large room are exhibits of every sport as well as of the honored teams and individuals. They even took care to preserve the indoor pole vault box in the floor.

That Coos Bay cares deeply about its history was evident at every stop. I imagined myself as a freshman in Heritage Hall, new to Marshfield High School. I would know I’m part of a heritage that goes far beyond its most famous icon.

Fran Auer Sichting (now Worthen) twice set the national high school long jump record and won the 1973 220 yard senior AAU outdoor title. How many high schools have had both male and female national record holders? Mel Counts was a two-time NBA champion with the Boston Celtics. Linda Prefontaine came within one point of winning the US amateur racquetball championship in 1978.

Prominent, too, are Walt McClure, Prefontaine’s high school coach, as well as Pete Susick, the legendary football coach after whom the stadium is named.

We were greeted by Superintendent Brian Trendell and Mary Paczesniak, curator of Heritage Hall. Kind of them to leave home to join us late on a Saturday afternoon, another symbol of the deep community support the Tour already enjoys. That Coos Bay is enthusiastically behind Linda and the Tour de Pre and is invested in having it succeed can only be good for those who make the trek to Coos Bay.

“I can't tell you how happy I am to come back to the community I was born and raised in and see the residents come together and embrace what I'm doing to help make it successful. It means everything to me,” said Linda.

“To see Jordan speechless when he got to hold a pair of Steve's shoes was worth a million bucks. To watch both of them running around Prefontaine Track (slow but it's the effort that counts!) made me smile, and to share so much history between us was pure joy.”

Each tour has its own identity. On each one differing nuggets emerge.

Who knew that Pre liked tomato juice but disliked tomatoes?

Or that when he started running in the mornings, he got stopped by the police because they thought he must be running away from a crime scene?

Or that a possible explanation for Steve and Linda’s closeness would emerge: Linda liked the frosting and Steve liked the cake. A sibling match made in heaven.

I found my own hero on this tour. I salute our server, Gabe, at the Portside Restaurant. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen anyone work with more grace under more challenging circumstances. After all, he delivered mounds of delicious seafood without getting any of it on Steve Prefontaine’s 1972 Nike Finland blues.

Talk about pressure.


       *                                                                   *                                                              *                                                  

The first of Pre’s pilgrims to take the Tour de Pre - on May 23 of this year - were Blake Preece and his mothers, Tina Preece and Carrie Fleming, of Ohio. Blake and his family share a painful point of connection with the Prefontaine family. Blake’s twin brother, Brandon, died in a car accident a year and a half ago. I share the same, as my older sister, Laura, died in a single car accident when she was 30, six years after Pre’s passing.

Rather remarkably, on each of the first two tours, four of the five initial guests had suffered the loss of a family member in an automobile accident.

“It was a healing experience to connect with another person who has had the same experience,” said Blake. “It made the Tour even deeper.”

With Blake’s gracious permission, I am reproducing here his Facebook post after he completed the tour. As you read this, I’ll let you guess how old he is.

“When my moms, Carrie Fleming and Tina Preece, first told me that they had scheduled for us to take a tour through Coos Bay with Steve Prefontaine's sister, Linda Prefontaine, I was in a state of disbelief. It was unfathomable that I was going to have the opportunity to visit the place where my idol was molded into the legend that he became. Taking a tour with his sister? Get outta here!

“The Tour de Pre was without a doubt, one of the best experiences of my entire life. Linda is such a wonderful person that is filled with charisma and love. Her passion to share her brother's TRUE story and show off the town that her family grew up in was more than admirable. I can never thank her enough for opening up her heart to share personal stories and provide a human element to the dynamic track star that everyone knows. It was an absolute pleasure to spend time with her and make new memories. Thanks Pre! 😊

“I had the opportunity to literally run all over the Coos Bay region. When Linda Prefontaine tells you to run, you run. From running laps at the Marshfield High School, to running along an ocean beach, and to sprinting up a hill that puts all others to shame. I was able to run the paths of my idol, not just the record setting athlete, but the loving brother and son.

“Smiles were shared, laughs were had, and tears were shed. It was an amazing day filled with healing and growth. In life, we often are faced with unbelievably challenging trials that test our limits. It is so easy to let ourselves crumble underneath these difficulties. This is not the way. Life is a beautiful thing. Every moment that we are able to share with those around us should never be taken for granted. Live without limits; I know that Steve did.”

Blake is 20.

As Blake and Marti’s experience shows, we most certainly need our heroes, perhaps now more than ever. Coos Bay and the Tour de Pre are outposts of hope in these deeply cynical times. The Tour reminds us not only of who and what inspires us, but of our better selves and
of who and what we aspire to be.

The Tour de Pre earns an enthusiastic recommendation from trackerati. Kudos to Linda Prefontaine for creating an experience that inspires and changes. Kudos to Linda for creating the newest must-do experience for track and field fans from home and abroad. It is, in the truest sense, a service to the international track and field community.

Coos Bay is a small town with a huge heart. Come to Coos Bay for a welcome dose of small town reality - for a day of re-centering - and see if you don’t emerge the better for it. See if you don’t find Linda Prefontaine, a certified life coach, to be one of the most focused, encouraging, and inspiring people you’ve met. The memory of Steve Prefontaine will draw you here; when you leave, it’s Linda you will hold in your heart.

Blake’s mothers report that their trip, which included the Prefontaine Classic, was deeply comforting for their son. “Linda went out of her way to make sure we were having a good time,” said Tina Preece. “The Tour was more than I ever could have imagined. The joy she brought to my family that day will never be forgotten.”

Said Carrie Fleming, “I know this trip has changed me personally. So many laughs and tears were shared from us all that day. Best part was I made a new friend... Thank you Linda Prefontaine.”

I’ll leave the last word to Blake. “The Tour is a testament to what kind of person Linda Prefontaine is,” he said. “She is what made the Tour de Pre the Tour de Pre.”


Links:

Linda Prefontaine’s Prefontaine Productions; make your tour arrangements here:

Coos History Museum

Coos Bay/North Bend Visitor Center

Heritage Hall at Marshfield High School

Portside Restaurant

Jordan Geller’s Shoezeum

Steve – 1972 US Olympic Trials Story


Thanks

Heartfelt thanks to ever-gracious Linda Prefontaine for entrusting me with this story. Linda was helpful at every turn before, during, and after the Tour. To Jordan Geller - team photographer, professor of social media, and shoe maven to the world. To Superintendent Bryan Trendell and Mary Paczesniak at Marshfield High School and Heritage Hall; Rosella Freeman, Joe Tang, and Gabe at the Portside Restaurant; Barbara at the Visitor Center and Suzy at the Gallery; all at the Coos History Museum. To Marti Menz, Thomas McDaniel, Blake Preece, Tina Preece, and Carrie Fleming for letting me tell your very personal stories here. Note that it's only 15 years before we can vote for Blake for President. It took a village. Heartfelt thanks to you all.


Honoring Two



Saturday, June 24, 2017

High Heat and Green Cards

The USATF Outdoor National Championships have featured veterans' swansongs, huge upsets in the distance races, the weather, and the greatest men's distance running team in the nation... the US Army? Read on, skeptics, read on.

High Heat - a term usually reserved for baseball came into play during the men's hammer on Thursday, especially in the first three rounds. Throws were flying noticeable higher than usual; streamlined arcs were few and far between.

Eric Werskey, former Auburn shot put standout and now assistant coach at meet host Sacramento State, observed that it was not only the heat that was a factor. While athletes may have been just a bit slower in the ring due to the 111F temperatures, he noted that the single flight of 16 (rather than two of 8) in the first three rounds may have had a bigger impact.

Imagine waiting - desperate for shade - under a small awning while 15 other throwers take their turns. It's beastly hot. That would slow anyone down, and did.

It was clear in the finals that form improved, as did the distances thrown. But still it wasn't pretty, as half of the final 24 throws were fouls.

Green Cards All Around - Jerome Young's non-false start in the men's 100m Friday evening must have our European counterparts seeing red - again. He clearly jumped the gun but was reinstated. Same in men's 400m final on Saturday. A false start was called but no one was DQed.

When is a false start a false start? When, at US Nationals, does a false start stick?

Notable Exits - Tyson Gay and Nick Symmonds brought their notable careers to an end. Symmonds did not advance out of the preliminaries of the men's 800m, and Gay was a first-round 100m exit as well.

Notable Upsets - All of you who predicted that Shalane Flanagan and Galen Rupp would not make the US 10k team, please step to the front. No one? That appears to be accurate. Flanagan took the early - and middle and late - lead, but could not hang on against veteran Molly Huddle in the women's 10,000m final. Rupp fell victim to the stellar team tactics of the US Army racers and found himself unable to respond to their collective charge over the last 200m.

Here Comes the US Army - Flotrack is keeping team scores for the various teams represented here. Leading the men's distances going into tomorrow's steeplechase final? Let's see... the Nike Oregon Project? Nope. Bowerman Track Club? Nope. NAZ (Northern Arizona) Elite? Keep going. US Army? Why yes, and by far. In the 5k and 10k they have three of the six qualifiers. Two on the men's marathon team. And with Hilary Bor and Haron Lagat in tomorrow's 3,000m steeplechase final, expect their roster for Worlds to grow even more.

Cannot move on without noting one of the greatest 5,000m races ever run by an American: Olympic silver medalist Paul Chelimo's Prefontaine-esque demolition of the 5000m field while smashing the meet record by over 4 seconds.

13:08.62.

Solo.

Mo?

Highlight of the Meet - Gabe Grunewald being surrounded by her heat-mates after the opening round of the women's 1500. The 1500m star, the American Cancer Society, and USATF announced a joint fund-raising partnership on Thursday. Grunewald left the meet after the race to resume chemotherapy for a rare type of cancer that has now returned for the 4th time.

I'm working to obtain permission to use a magnificent photo of this moment, and it's my fond hope that this will work out and I'll be able to post it on Sunday.

Working in the Heat - On Thursday I covered three field events for Track and Field News: the men's hammer at 1:45, the women's javelin at 5:00, and the women's discus at 6:50 - and then, mysteriously, at 8:00, for no announced reason.

The highest recorded temperature was 111F in the stadium, and I took all the usual precautions: relentless hydration, spending most of the day in shade, and wearing a broad-rimmed sun hat and dark shades to deflect the impact of the sun. There was quite some camaraderie in the press corps about being in this together.

It all worked out rather well, I thought, and I felt quite good at the end of the 10,000m races late in the evening. Then I went back to my hotel - and slept for 12 hours. It took me 65 years to figure out how to get that much sleep in one night - duly noted! But I don't think I'll be trying it again anytime soon...









Monday, June 19, 2017

If You Can't Stand the Heat...

It's been a wild few weeks since the Prefontaine Classic.

Most unexpectedly, an opportunity to go from full-time to part-time teaching was created when a veteran teacher decided he was veteran enough. I blew through that door and will be teaching 3/4 time next year.

If that sounds like a modest change, it is, but the bigger change is with reduced duties, such as no advisory, no overnight camping trips, no lunchroom cleanup. I'm pretty sure I gave up 25% of my income to avoid lunchroom cleanup! I am very excited to have such a clear focus on teaching itself.

Meanwhile, two welcome emails came, one with a media credential for the USATF Outdoor Nationals and the other for credentials to the IAAF World Championships in London.

USATF Nationals begin on Thursday in Sacramento, CA, and the forecast is for 109F on Thursday and 97F for Sunday. Of considerable interest is how meet management will respond, especially with Thursday evening's 10,000m races and Friday evening's 5,000m runs.

London Worlds run from Friday, August 4 through Sunday, August 13. The meet is a sellout and over 1,000,000 tickets have been sold.

I'm off to Sacramento on Wednesday for the USATF press conference at 2:00pm and I'll post any heat-related updates here and on twitter: @trackerati.



Saturday, May 27, 2017

How It's Done

On a night dedicated to Olympic marathon legend and women’s distance running pioneer Joan Benoit Samuelson, the distance runners upheld her tradition with pride.

“I ran my own race and continue to do so to this day,” said the inaugural women’s marathon gold medalist. “I’m a ‘has been’ who still has a passion for the sport.”

She marveled at the athletes around her and their stories.

“It’s all about the story. I hope we don’t lose sight of the storytelling.”

In 1984, she showed the world how it's done.

Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba ran a stellar 14:25.22 5,000m, and while she came short of her announced world record attempt on her sister Tirunesh’s 14:11.15, she gave an impressive display of mental toughness as she ran unheaded most of the way.

Kenya’s Celliphine Chespol upset world record holder Ruth Chebet in the 3,000m steeplechase and ran 8:58.78, the fastest-ever on US soil. Just missing the sub-9:00 mark was compatriot Beatrice Chepkoech in 9:00.70. Chespol lost her shoe on the penultimate water jump, put it back on, and sprinted back over the last 500m to win. She is 18.

Emma Coburn missed her US steeplechase record by .33 seconds with her 9:07.96. “I should have leaned,” she said, “and I would have had the record.”

Teenage sensation Tamari Davis ran 23.21 from lane 2 to upset a distinguished field of high school sprinters.

And what defines teenage?

She is 14.

In 8th grade.

Charlene Lipsey broke 2:00 minutes for the first time in winning the women’s USATF High Performance 800m run, while Brittney Reese jumped 7.01m in the long jump to edge rival Tianna Bartoletta by 18 cm.

Tomorrow is a packed day with some of the deepest fields ever assembled outside the World and Olympic championships. 9 events in this meet have the gold, silver, and bronze medalists from Rio.

Meanwhile, I learned much from two interview experiences.

Tatsiana Khaladovich threw the javelin 66.30 to win by more than a meter over China’s emerging star Shiying Liu.

I had looked forward to interviewing Khaladovich after not having had the opportunity in Rio.

Today it went something like this:

“I don’t speak English, sorry. “

As I’m a little rusty on my Belarussian, that interview went up in smoke.

I’m going to print verbatim what I wrote in the media tent; read on for what happened next.

From the media tent:

China’s Shiying Liu was prepared for the interviews, even though she doesn’t speak a word of English. She had a translator with her (unclear if this was her coach), and she answered every question with aplomb. Her translator was equally gracious and patient, and I left wondering if there were any better ambassadors of their country’s sport in the house this evening – and that’s saying a lot given the plethora of athletes who fit that bill so well.

It was impressive to see the Chinese so well-prepared for the important aspects of the meet beyond the competition venues.

Some mark China’s rise in track and field from the Beijing Olympics; others mark their arrival at the 2015 World Championships.

Either way, this country knows what it’s doing.

And then:

I packed up my tech gear and walked straight into the Chinese translator!

Turns out he is Yujia “Tony” Dou and he is a reporter for the Chinese national team. He is the Founder and Chief Editor of Top Athletics We-Media of China, and he also runs a track and field camp. He travels with the team and supports them especially, he said, when the team sends only a few athletes to a meet.

He handed me his card after I had given him mine, and the exchange reminded me that I am off my card presentation game.

I certainly should have remembered the etiquette from Beijing: thumbs on top, two fingers below, and always - always - presented with a bow.

Together, Liu and Dou showed every delegation how it's done.



Correction: I said on twitter tonight that Chespol was the first under 9:00 in the steeplechase in a US race. Not so. Ruth Jebet ducked under by .03 last year at the Pre Meet. Chespol is indeed now the fastest ever on US soil.