Sunday, December 30, 2018

Where It Lands

2018 Reunions with Three of the Sport's Finest:
Shalane Flanagan, Julius Yego, 
and Tshepang Makhethe

Copyright 2018. Mark Cullen/ All Rights Reserved.
Continental Cup Celebration
Ostrava, Czech Republic
"You never know where it lands," I said many times during my 41 year career in education. Students I thought might return vanish, and ones who surprise me  come back and repeat what I said in class one day 30 years ago. So it was in 2018 as I encountered Shalane Flanagan (13 years), Tshepang Makhethe (4), and Julius Yego (3) some considerable time after our first memorable meetings.

Julius Yego, Kenya
2015 World Javelin Champion; Africa Team Co-Captain, 2018 Continental Cup 
Africa Team Co-Captain Julius Yego
2018 Continental Cup
Ostrava, Czech Republic

photo credit: Mark Cullen/trackerati
My path had crossed in person with Julius Yego only twice. The first was when he won the World title in Beijing in 2015, notable for the fact that an African won the javelin for the first time. I ran some stats to put this historic event into a global and cultural context in Watching History:

Two years later, at the Prefontaine Classic, I ran into Yego in person - almost literally at first - as we were both leaving the athletes' hotel. I worried for him as he left at dusk for a nearby shopping mall.

It was - and remains - a time of intense concern for the safety of young black men in America, and I was deeply concerned for his; Dusk on America:

I waited for him to return to his hotel and would not leave until I was assured of his safety. Athlete and writer no more; instead, two people looking out for each other.

On Friday in Ostrava, at the captains' press conference the day before the competition began, I spoke with Yego for the first time since that evening.

He looked me in the eye and our eyes didn't budge.

"Yes, I remember."

Shalane Flanagan, United States
2017 New York City Marathon Champion, 2008 Olympic bronze medalist at 10,000m, 2011 World Cross Country bronze medalist
Shalane Flanagan
Winning the 2017 New York City Marathon
photo credit: New York Road Runners/TCS New York City Marathon
Flanagan was fresh off her memorable NYC Marathon victory when she ran the 3000m at the Husky Indoor in Seattle on January 13.

I had not interviewed her directly, but was part of many mixed zone interview scrums over the years. I very much wanted to talk with her now, yet it was not clear to athletes that they were to go to an interview area – much less where that interview area was – as soon as their competitions were complete. 

After a strong 3rd place in the 3000m, Flanagan disappeared to the other side of the arena. I watched a number of runners put on sweats and exit outside for a warm down run.

It was close to 5:00 pm and I had been on my feet much of the day. I was ready to eat and had nothing with me. A wave of fatigue came over me.

Flanagan was nowhere to be found, and suddenly it dawned on me.

"That’s it," I thought - Flanagan must have been with them. I couldn't have been more disappointed than to miss her. The reward of this long day was supposed to have been a minute with Flanagan – then I’d have the capper to my story.

I looked down, arranged my backpack and got ready to leave.

My inner voice. “Dude. Look up.”

“Hi, Shalane.”

She’s 5 feet in front of me.

It’s awkward. Her runner's duties are done. A child is climbing all over her.

“Do you have a minute, please?”

A gracious yes, but a minute would be a good idea.

“I remember the last time we spoke,” I said.

I have her attention.

“On the ferry from Talinn to Helsinki the day after the end of the 2005 World Championships.”


And the interview was on.

It took me awhile to realize just how valuable it is to build relationships with the athletes over time. Our Gulf of Finland meeting took place a full 8 years before I began Trackerati. I realize now that having been in and of this track and field world as a spectator and fan for over 40 years before I began Trackerati is its own reward, one I never expected.

The interview lasts 2:04.


I got double-time with Shalane.

Tshepang Makhethe, South Africa
Hammer Throw, 2018 Africa Continental Cup Team

Tshepang Makhethe
2014 World Junior Championships, Eugene
photo credit: Mark Cullen/trackerati
I didn't tell Tshepang Makhethe that I'd be at the Continental Cup. In fact, I didn't know for certain that he'd be there until final entries were confirmed.

Four years ago, just a year after starting this website, I covered my first World Championships - the 2014 Juniors - in Eugene, OR. I met Makhethe when I was taking photos of athletes who were looking at their names on display boards in the fan zone.

I wrote one of my earliest stories, and my first of what are now many about hammer throwers, in As Good As Gold:

Four years later, as I was readying my "I hope you remember..." introduction in Ostrava, both Makhethe and Sean Donnelly (US) came into the Continental Cup's interview area at the same time. A welcome smile and handshake from Donnelly, while Makhethe was his exuberant self and almost flew over the barriers to greet me.

Donnelly looked quite surprised and, on a day that hadn't gone well for him, we had a brief interview in which he said how pleased he was with the entire season - "I rewrote my top ten list" - in spite of a disappointing day in Ostrava.

"You either win or you learn," he said, ruefully.

Donnelly and I were joined forever by an errant hammer throw of his at the 2018 US National Championships. My photo essay, such as it was, went crazy online and he shrugged his shoulders the next day at his sudden infamy; Scene of the Hammertime Crime:

I gestured to Makhethe and said to Donnelly, "In case you're wondering, Makhethe was my first hammer article."

"Ahhh..." A knowing nod and he leaves us to our reunion.

Replied Makhethe to me, "And you were my first international article."


We never know where it lands.

Thursday, December 27, 2018

Riff on a Friday Night Track Meet in Berlin

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

European Championships
Olympiastadion, Berlin
August 11, 2018

copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, all rights reserved

December 27 - Many thanks to my friends and colleagues at AIPSEurope, 
the European sportswriters association for all sports, for sending this out on Twitter on Boxing Day - what a present! This night was one of the highlights of the entire 2018 track and field season. 

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

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

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

They're grasping onto fellow competitors and teammates and looking for support, even when they're 6'7"/285 pounds. They're human, after all, even when we think their athletic wonders exceed anything we might have expected from such human superhuman heroes.

So it was for Germany on Friday night at the European Championships. So it was, at least in part, for a trio of accomplished brothers, each of whom has now won a European crown. It took the third one 17 years to win his title, though in his case, we count the 17 years since birth.

The Friday night crowd is much larger than prior weekday nights. A realistic estimate from the press tribune is that the stadium is filled to 70-80% of capacity. We can hear the full-throated difference.

As we head into this night, we have a number of intriguing questions that will be answered as the evening unfolds.

Will Norway’s Ingebrigsten brothers sweep the podium in the men’s 1500m?

Will Karsten Warholm pull off the historic 400m hurdles/400m double? Will his attempt at history be waylaid by a bevy of Belgian Borlees?

Will Christin Hussong win the javelin in front of the rabid home crowd?

Will the star studded men’s 110m high hurdles live up to its advance billing?

Most of all, which Germans will surprise and in which events? Who will do something so unexpected that it will release the energy of the sporting gods of this historic stadium?

With two days left in these championships, the defining performance has been given. 25 - no, 50 years from now - when people speak of these championships, they will always say: that’s when the 17 year old won the 1500m. Displaying a confidence and a maturity of athletes twice his age, Norway’s Jakob Ingebrigsten unleashed a powerful sustained finishing drive to win in 3:38.10.

It was a mesmerizing performance. 

Going to the lead with half the race left seemed like an exuberant youthful indiscretion. It was until it wasn’t when he crossed the white line into history.

Alas, his brothers did not share in the glory as Henrik finished 4th and Filip 12th. One can only wonder what it’s like to be an Ingebrigsten parent.

Meanwhile, surprise 2017 400m hurdles world champion Karsten Warholm ran a lap too far. Now 22, he won the hurdles title on Thursday in a stellar 47.64 – a European U23 record – and then doubled back in the 400m. But his 3rd round of 400m racing proved too much and his dream of a double lasted 240 meters. After a too-fast start he began to fade and he was jogging – if that – by the time he crossed the finish line.

Speaking of brothers, twins Kevin and Jonathan Borlee finished 2nd and 3rd, with Great Britain’s Matthew Hudson-Smith the victor in 44.78.

A stellar lineup in the men’s 110m hurdles left one wondering how on earth they could separate themselves from one another. Russian Sergey Shubenkov is two-time European and 2015 World Champion; in fact, he owns a complete set of gold, silver, and bronze World medals. Spain’s Orlando Ortega won 2016 Olympic silver, and coming into tonight’s final, France’s Pascal Martinot-Lagarde had a treasure trove of bronze and silver medals.

He’ll now need to make room in his display case for gold.

It was no surprise that it was so close - but this close? Martinot-Lagarde and Shubenkov both ran 13.17, but M-L had the faster version of that time by two one-thousandths of a second.


It takes .30 to blink.

Meanwhile, the Germans. 

Carolin Schafer won heptathlon bronze, while Kristin Gierisch took home triple jump silver with a personal best 14.45 (47-5) – never a better stage for a PB than a major championship at home. She did so into a negative wind of .5 meters per second. After being a finalist in the 15-16-17 World and Olympic championships, this was her time at last to stand on the podium.

Laura Muller won her Friday morning 200m qualifying heat and then advanced to Saturday’s final as a time qualifier. Even Gregor Traber’s 5th place in the men’s high hurdles was plenty of reason for an ovation.

But no one received it more – or deserved it more – than Christin Hussong, who nailed a championship record 67.90 (222-9) on her first javelin throw to win by an astonishing 6.05 meters (19-10¼).

Now, before we move on to tonight’s many more opportunities for bedlam in the stadium, I’d like you to try something.

Feeling down? A little depressed?

Stand up.

Put your arms in the air.

Keep them there.

Walk around.

Start jumping up and down.

Start cheering.


It works, doesn’t it?

Plans for the evening?

Please come over to my house – we have room for 75,000.

Henrik, Jakob, and Filip Ingebrigsten
Three European Champions in the Same Family

Carolin Hussong
Germany's Javelin Champion

with her arms in the air

photo credits: Getty Images via Berlin European Championships

Saturday, December 1, 2018

1968 Echo Summit Color Photo Treasures

Joe Head's 
Historic Echo Summit Ektachrome Slides 
See the Light of Day

by Mark Cullen
with Joe Head

As young Joe Head toed the line of the 1968 US Olympic Trials Marathon, he said to himself, "I am in the presence of greatness." Near him was Billy Mills, who four years earlier had inspired him to run.

1968 was a landmark year in young Head's life. After running the Trials race in Alamosa, Colorado, he flew to Reno to join his parents on vacation. 

In the Reno airport he saw a flier for a track and field meet at the US Olympic High Altitude Training Camp (elevation 7,382ft/2,250m), and Head asked his host to drop him off at Echo Summit for the day.

Good thing - for us - that he did.

With his camera he created this unique record of a
remarkable place and time.

Head took these slides on August 31, 1968, at the last track meet preceding the Echo Summit Men's Olympic Trials.

Head is releasing these photos on December 1, 2018, in honor of and in conjunction with the celebration of the 1968 US Men's Olympic Team at the USATF convention in Columbus, Ohio.

This is the first widespread distribution of his archive, and trackerati could not be more honored than to be entrusted with bringing Head's collection to light. 

More on Head below; scroll down to see the slides and then read the story of how Head came to create
this record of an such an important slice of US track and field history.

Joe Head's comments are in italics.

(Hint: if you have a touch screen device, it helps, at times, to expand the picture.)

1. Jim Ryun
Head: I originally took this Ektachrome slide of Jim Ryun the day I visited the South Lake Tahoe Echo Summit Olympic Track and Field site back in late August 1968. 

2. Tracy Smith
3000 meter steeplechase water hazard. 

Tracy Smith,1968 10,000m AAU national champion and 11th place finisher in the Mexico City Olympics 10,000m event, is sitting in the foreground taking pictures with a Ushikamat camera.

Bob Price, Smith's roommate at Echo Summit, 
is at the top of the water jump directly above 
Tracy Smith's head.

1. Conrad Nightingale, 8:59.2
2. Bob Price, 9:01.2
3. Pat Traynor, 9:09.6

3. Lee Evans, Larry James, Mark Winzenreid
Epic 600m
600m finish. 
Lee Evans 1st -1:14.3
Larry James 2nd - 1:14.5
Mark Winzenried 3rd - 1:14.8
Still the Jr. World Record for the 600m!.

This is the only known photograph 
of Winzenreid's World Junior Record.

When this was first posted on Facebook, 
Winzenreid said that it was the first time he had seen a photo of the race.

Note that Evans is setting foot on the finish line.
James is in the white shirt 
just to the inside of Winzenreid in red.

Evans' 1:14.3 shattered the world best by 2.2 seconds!

4. Pole Vault
At the 2014 Echo Summit dedication,
 Tommie Smith said of pole vaulter 
Bob Seagren clearing the bar
 during practice in the forest,
 "I thought he had fallen out of a tree!"

5. 1500m
1500m 1st heat back stretch, 3rd lap,
with Jim Ryun running in 3rd place. 
Jack Daniels is calling splits.

Runners in order:

1. John Mason
2. Roscoe Divine
3. Jim Ryun
4. Tracy Smith

Just behind Divine and leaning on the 
steeplechase barrier is Tom Von Ruden.

Said Mason, "I remember Jack yelling out times 
to me, Divine, and Ryun."

According to Kenny Moore's book, 

"The Men of Oregon," 
University of Oregon track coach 
Bill Bowerman was responsible 
for siting this track at almost exactly the same altitude as Mexico City.

6. 1500m
1500m 1st heat - back stretch

1. Barry Brown

2. Bob Day
3. Dave Wilborn
4. Tom Von Ruden
5. Sam Bair 

7. 800m
1. Ron Kuchinski (Michigan)
2. Ray Arrington (Wisconsin)
3. Dave Patrick (Villanova)

Said the late Steven Hoag of this 1-2, 

"Reppin' the Big 10!"

8. Shot Put
We agree with Track and Field News Editor 
Garry Hill that the shot putter is "almost certainly" 
Randy Matson.

9. Start of 400m
In this race Vince Matthews ran a world best 44.4,
but the time was not approved as a world record 
as he set it wearing 
the infamous Puma brush spikes.

10. 110m High Hurdles

11. Steeplechase

12. 3000m
1. Barry Brown - 8:24.2
2. Steve Stageberg - 8:25.0

13. Steeplechase Water Jump

14. High Jump Area

In the background are the
Discus, Javelin and Hammer Throw areas.

15. Backstretch
Back stretch of the Echo Summit Tartan track. 
Long Jump runway and trainer's tent can be seen at the edge of the infield.

16. Jim Ryun Autograph
Years later I would get to meet Jim and his family at the Cooper Clinic in Dallas, TX where I was working at the time. He graciously autographed this enlargement of the original shot for me.

Joe Head with the camera
he used at Echo Summit.
It is a Nikon Nikonos 35mm,
Nikon's original underwater camera.
Jacques Cousteau assisted in its design.

Head used Ektachrome slide film (ASA 64),
and took all of the Echo Summit images
using the tripod pictured above.
He estimates that the shutter speed was 1/250th of a second.

Head stored his historic slides in what were once ubiquitous yellow slide boxes for 30 years. He transferred them to plastic archival sheets, 
and they were stored at room temperature along with his other photos and slides. 
He then had them digitized.

Along the way, in 1997, they survived in a downstairs closet the rupture of a water pipe upstairs.

Head still has the originals and - archivist and historian to the core - 
he recorded race information on the white band of each slide.

These are the first known color images of the August 31, 1968 
Echo Summit meet to have emerged.

Photo taken in a Berlin, West Germany,
hotel room in 1967.

Joe Head Today
by Mark Cullen
Joe Head (l) with legendary coach Joe Vigil (r)
at the 1968 Olympic Marathon Trials Reunion
in Alamosa, CO, July 28, 2018
Joe Head sees himself as an unlikely runner. He says he was a 'chubby, nonathletic kid' who was inspired to run by Billy Mills as well as by a teacher who read a story about a Boston Marathon runner who became a World War II courier. 

A geology major at Penn State, Head started running marathons in college. Head credits Penn State Coach John Lucas' tough physical conditioning class - which he took four times - for challenging him to challenge himself, and he quickly improved to indoor times of 2:12.3 (880y) and 4:53.1 (mile). Head has run 22 marathons, two 50-mile ultras, and has completed the Pike's Peak marathon five times. 

Head's interest in physiology led to his current career as a physician assistant. His arrival at Penn State was "serendipitous," he says.

"My freshman year (1966) was the same year that Penn State's human performance lab - Noll Laboratory - became involved in cooperative high altitude studies" with several other universities. Head is something of a hero in Penn State alumni circles, as multiple articles about the 50th anniversary of the Olympic Trials marathon on their website attest.

Before becoming a physician assistant, Head  completed a masters degree in exercise physiology while working as a "treadmill tech" in the practice of none other than Dr. Kenneth Cooper - of Aerobics fame - where Head tested many of the world's greatest athletes, including Jim Ryun, who signed the photo (above) many years after Head took it at Echo Summit.

Head finds it remarkable that he was able to enter the 1968 Olympic Trials marathon at all. He and Bill Lamb drove from Cimarron, New Mexico, where Head had a summer job as Program Counselor for the Philmont Scout Ranch, to Alamosa, Colorado, site of the Trials marathon, the day before the race. They did so thinking they could register on the day of the race, as that was the information Track and Field News had published in the April magazine.

But they encountered race co-director Joe Vigil, who would have none of a late entry. Head and Lamb, quite discouraged, spent the night in a dormitory lounge, and tried again the next morning. This time they encountered US distance legend Buddy Edelen - first US under 30:00, first under 2:20, and marathon world record holder - who welcomed the pair with open arms. Still, chastened by the previous day's experience, they really didn't believe they were in the race until the gun went off and they were running. Later they learned that another runner was attempting to enter late as well - some guy named Shorter.

He got in, too.

Head says he went out too fast, and during the 3rd of
5, 5.2 mile loops, he began walking. He got his stride back and completed the race, quite an accomplishment at altitude (7543'/2299m), and this on a day when men named Mills, Burfoot, Shorter, and Higdon comprised one of the most impressive DNF (did not finish) lists in US history, with two Olympic gold medalists (one past - Mills, and one future - Shorter) among them.

Head grew up in Gouverneur, New York, and now lives in North Carolina with his wife and daughter. Who is Head in his community, the man who for so long was a keeper of the Echo Summit flame? When word broke this past October that it was National Physician Assistant Week, Facebook lit up, cakes appeared, and tributes flowed from loyal, grateful clients. 

Joe Head (R) and Steve Wilkerson (L) are celebrated during
National Physician Assistant Week
"The best PAs in McDowell County... proud of you... awesome... blessed to have them both... thank you for all you do for this community." 

Still keeping the flame.

We are posting this knowing that it is a work in progress. If you have information relevant to these photos - most especially if you can identify one or more of the athletes not yet identified - please contact Joe Head and Mark Cullen (please copy us both):

Joe Head:
Mark Cullen:

Thank you.

Personal note: It's been my great personal privilege and pleasure to have worked on this project for the last several months with Joe Head. I'm very grateful for this opportunity and look forward to our continued association as we unravel the mysteries of the identities of all of the athletes in his treasured images. 

Joe and I would like to thank Chris Allison for his kind assistance with placing watermarks on the photos.

Thanks, too, to Mike Fanelli, for extricating the results of this meet from his famous Track and Field Garage and sending them to us. Solid.

Highly recommended reading
Bob Burns' Track in the Forest is the definitive work on the 1968 Echo Summit High Altitude Training Camp. Burns does an outstanding job of placing the Echo Summit experience into the broader cultural and political context of a turbulent time. Available from the Chicago Review Press and on Amazon.

Photos/Ektachrome slides 
Copyright 1968 and 2018, Joe Head, All Rights Reserved.

Photos may be reproduced only with the express written consent of Joe Head.

Text in italics
Copyright 2018, Joe Head, All Rights Reserved.

Copyright 2018, Mark Cullen/, All Rights Reserved.