Thursday, September 26, 2019

I'm Not Supposed to Be in the VIP Lounge

A Day in the Doha Writing Life
by Mark Cullen

From attending a press conference with some of the sport's biggest stars, to retrieving the swag bag I missed in the excitement of having Fahal the Falcon show up at registration, to meeting again with Mr. Ismail of 'selfie joy' fame, to facilitating a meeting of the University of Oregon School of Journalism's track writing class with the rock star crew from, to attending a sweltering practice for 4.5 hours that I had thought would last for 1.5, to orienting myself to the stadium and finding myself in places I'm really not supposed to be... there is much more to the writer's life than meets the eye.

USATF Team Press Conference
400m world record holder Delilah Muhammad, Olympic shot put champion Ryan Crouser, World steeplechase champion Emma Coburn, and Rai Benjamin, equal #3 400m hurdler all-time - tied with Edwin Moses! - represented the United States at the team press conference at Khalifa Stadium in Doha.
Crouser being interviewed by, among others, Brett Taylor, University of Oregon,
and Pat Graham, AP, 2nd and 3rd from right.

In 2014 Graham generously spent 45 minutes with me as we were checking out of our motel in Eugene; he gave me the lay of the track writing land and indicated where the opportunities were. I'm quite sure that in those 45 minutes he advanced my understanding of who is who and how this all works by light years. I like this picture because he is standing next to Brett Taylor; to whatever extent possible, I am trying to pass some of what I've learned in the last six years to the four members of Lori Shontz's University of Oregon School of Journalism who are here in Doha. See below for their meeting with writing and social media rock stars.
Emma Coburn on the stadium floor
For stars at her level, the team press conference was just the beginning.
Coburn's 2017 London Worlds win was one of the most shocking and unexpected I've ever seen. That teammate Courtney Frerichs was 2nd made the outcome border on the unbelievable. A day or two before, Track and Field News asked if I'd add an event to my coverage assignments. I was quite reluctant but they, too, had been quite supportive in my early days by linking repeatedly to my articles and giving my writing a visibility it could not otherwise have had. I agreed. The assignment? The women's steeple, arguably the highlight of the championships.
Dalilah Muhammad 

A classic 'writer's life' discussion is about tech disasters we have faced; it turns out that my cell phone will delete voice recordings when it pleases. Lost is my long interview with Muhammad minutes after she set the 400m hurdles record in Des Moines. The new backup system is automatic and not dependent on me in the heat of the moment. 
Rai Benjamin
One of track and field's best interviews.
Benjamin is a wonderfully thoughtful man who gives great respect to journalists by considering deeply every question we ask. He is also kind and funny and is not to be missed when the interview opportunity arises.
Pole Vaulter from Baton Rouge, Sweden
You do get used to running into the sport's greats when you least expect it; funny, they're just all over the place! Armand Duplantis, who attended Louisiana State University in his home state, represents Sweden through his mother's side of the family. Here he is at the far side of the stadium speaking with people who hug him a lot.
Wherever you go in Doha, you just can't miss the skyline.
The Torch
Looks suspiciously like the soccer World Cup.

I'm not supposed to be here.

It's important to get to the stadium at least a day early and get oriented.
As this photo attests.

I was trying to find my way to the upper level press tribune when the VIP Lounge got in the way. 

The LetsRun Guys
Weldon Johnson and Jonathan Gault (l-r) are rock stars in the track writing world. They graciously agreed to meet with journalism rock star in her own right, Lori Shontz, whose innovative University of Oregon School of Journalism track writing class is defining new standards, goals, and expectations for the teaching of track writing. They go where the action is and the action is here. 

Continuing, Shontz is next to Gault, with Nate Mann, Brooklynn Loiselle, Brett Taylor, and Alex Castle. How good is Shontz? 87% of the graduates of her class have jobs in the field. And here I thought we were losing print jobs in journalism. We are.

Via Twitter, one of Shontz's gradutes said about seeing his classmates in Doha, "The best class I've ever taken just got better."

The IAAF Social Media Stars
IAAF media rock stars Michelle Sammett and Bob Ramsak (in blue and white, center) join the journalism class at the USTAF Team practice at Qatar Sports Club

The Stars
JC Lambert and DeAnna Price
Who says you're not supposed to care? Of course you care about athletes you've been covering for years. The delicate balancing act is maintaining professional distance while inside you are thrilled at their success. 

I first covered DeAnna Price at US Nationals after her first NCAA hammer title in 2015. She qualified for Beijing Worlds and her star has been on the rise ever since. The two-time American record setter is the favorite going into Worlds this weekend; as I write this, her qualifying rounds begin in 7:47, but hey, who's counting? I am.

To clarify, it's all about me.


  1. Well done Mark. Thanks for your insights. Try a little harder to miss that VIP room.

    Did you the 5,000 meter race with Braime Surcar Dabo, talk about sportsmanship. Wow !


  2. Thanks for writing, Warren! Today I head out of the steambath and home to cooler climes. The 5,000 was interesting to say the least... we saw immediately that he was in trouble, but as the officiating now is almost always by video review and not people on the spot (note no on-the-track judges for the relays), there was no one there to ask medical personnel to intervene. Hope to see you soon!


  3. I wanted to inform you that you have people like me who appreciate your work. Definitely a great post. I would like to read this
    disposable mobile numbers