Monday, September 30, 2019

King Carl and King Tajay

by Mark Cullen
Copyright 2019 Mark Cullen and All rights Reserved.
Tajay Gayle
Jamaica's Newly Crowned Long Jump King
Photo credit: Alexander Hassenstein/Getty Images for IAAF
The men's long jump demonstrated the ebb and flow of being 'on' one day and 'off' the next - or in this case, the reverse. Jamaica's engaging young star, Tajay Gayle, had difficulty finding his form in Friday's qualifying. He was last to make finals, at 7.89 (25-10 3/4), far behind favorite Juan Miguel Echevarria, who led at 8.40 (27-6 3/4).

Not exactly the person you might choose to jump into the all-time top 10 performers list with his astonishing and unexpected 8.69 (28' 6 1/4") the next day. For reference, Bob Beamon's legendary 1968 Mexico City jump was 29' 2 1/2".

Rarefied air indeed: post-event reflection has focused on Mexico City's thin air and the heavy, dense, fine-sand laden air of Doha. In other words, Gayle's jump is even better than it looks. Gayle defeated an Olympic champion, a World champion, and the heavy favorite to win a totally unexpected gold for Jamaica.

What's the air like here? If you washed your car before sundown (about 17:30 here), and parked it outside overnight, you'd be able to write your name in the accumulated air pollution residue by morning. Reading what's written on your car in the morning is a sport of its own here in Doha.

Monday afternoon I attended a function sponsored by our international press organization, AIPS. Pronounce it as you may, it's actually Association Internationale de la Presse Sportive - impressive, what?
King Carl still draws a crowd.
Carl Lewis and Leroy Burrell - two former 100m world record holders and now coaches at the University of Houston - can you imagine them as your coaches?! - held court for over an hour with 150+ journalists from around the world. Burrell has two Olympic relay golds; legend Lewis has 9, including 4 in the long jump.

Lewis was his loquacious self, and he had some thoughtful observations to get off his chest regarding the state of the sport and the powers that be.

*As the rest of the sporting world has become entertainment, track and field has been left behind.

"We just don't get it," he said. "We have changed nothing. It's the same old track and field." He asked with some humor, "Why do we still have bibs and numbers?"

*Doubling in the long jump and the sprints was once a staple of international track and field. The current major meet schedule template makes it impossible to attempt the classic 100/200/long jump/relay.

Bringing the opportunity back would focus public attention on the few gifted athletes able to make the attempt, as it once did on Lewis, who pulled off the quadruple win at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. We are in the post-Usain Bolt era, he said, and we need star athletes to give the sport credibility and visibility.

Note, too, that the men's long and triple jump finals were held on consecutive nights in Doha. Add in qualifying and a natural double becomes impossible. Out the window goes a chance of, say, triple jump legend Christian Taylor - who just won his fourth outdoor TJ crown to go along with two Olympic golds - adding to his stature with a long jump title.

*Compensation has gone backwards, Lewis said, as the $60,000 he used to earn for winning a major meet gold medal in the '90s is the same as today - but worth much less (about half, according to his calculation). Worse, he said, an athlete finishing 8th in Worlds (a finalist) earns less than survival income. Where's the incentive?

To put a finer point on it, a colleague and I rode the bus back to the hotel early this morning and she relayed a conversation she had with a Scandinavian discus thrower, who earned around $10,000 in the Diamond League circuit this year.

His results here would determine whether or not he and his wife would continue to live with his parents. A poor showing and they would have to stay. A great showing and they could move out.

Talk about incentive.
From The Torch, the 50-story structure next to Khalifa Stadium, on Monday afternoon.

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