Sunday, July 24, 2022

50 Meters Spans 50 Years

by Mark Cullen

Monday, September 27, 1971.

Bill Bowerman walked out of a Hayward Field West Grandstand tunnel and said to 40 startled beginning runners, “Hi, I’m your coach.”

Startled because we expected a graduate assistant to be teaching Bowerman’s famous beginning jogging class.

It's not every day that your beginning running teacher was selected Head Coach of the US Olympic Track and Field team just the week before.

Or that he ignited a running boom in his country.

Or that he transformed shoe technology and design.

Or that he co-founded a small sporting goods company (it was more than running shoes almost from the start).

Or that he was the key fund-raiser for rebuilding Hayward Field’s West Grandstand. Yes, we have been down this road before.

Without Bill Bowerman, we are not all gathered here today from around the world.

Below us, athletes' workouts were underway: Steve Prefontaine, Todd Lathers, Gary Barger, Mac Wilkins, Mike McClendon, Steve Bence, Craig Brigham, Patrick Tyson and many more. 

All men, as women's sports were then at the club level, if at all.

On that first afternoon of what would prove to be a lifetime in track and field, what did I do before class?

Went downtown to The Athletic Department and bought a pair of shoes. I would not have wanted to be underprepared for class – for Bill Bowerman’s least of all.

When I was finished with those shoes months later, I put them in my sister’s green Army duffel bag – the first I placed there, but by no means the last. 28 pairs of shoes and over 270 pieces of memorabilia later, I had what most call a collection, though ‘archive’ is more accurate. The archive of a college kid who was fascinated by wondrous things transpiring around him and kept a record of it all.

I was drawn to this class by my early interest in all things track and field, most notably the Olympic stars of 1964 and 1968. While I came to track and field from the dark side - that would be soccer - I had always liked to run, and six years of soccer provided me with a solid base.

Bowerman cared deeply about each and every one of his runners, and what he said mattered. He would greet us on campus, review race results, and make us beginners feel part of an Oregon track and field heritage and family. For years after I graduated in 1975, I would make the pilgrimage across the track to the Bowermans' seats in the East Grandstand at the end of a meet. He didn't always remember our names, but he remembered us.

"How are you?" he would ask earnestly and the update was on.

One benefit of being in Bowerman's class was people's general reluctance to take him on about administrative details.

He knew them well enough, thank you; his abilities as an administrator don't always get the attention or full credit they deserve. Bowerman was vocal and influential; his Olympic team head coaching gig was not the least of it.

Bowerman did not suffer fools lightly, and he took on sports entities like the NCAA and AAU and their sometimes arcane and archaic rules. Steve Prefontaine got more attention for doing the same, but it’s clear who set the example.

I started running in Bowerman's class just three years after Tommie Smith and John Carlos raised their fists in eloquent protest in Mexico City. In 1968, the United States established a high altitude training camp at Echo Summit, CA, where Olympic Trials were held as well.

When asked the question of who led a place that has left an enduring impact on US Civil Rights history, almost to a person contemporaries in age guess that it must have been a leading honcho of the AAU or the US Olympic Committee.

Nope. Bill Bowerman was in charge, and in fact, it was Bowerman who chose Echo Summit from among four candidate locations. He helped US track and field to navigate the churning waters of what was in many ways one of the most devastating years in US history.

Having a teacher with this much clout served his class members well, especially when we came, most reluctantly, to the end of the fall quarter.

"Just register under varsity track and I'll sign for it," Bowerman said, while trying to contain his delight that so many of us wanted to continue running.

This is how I came to have varsity track in my University of Oregon transcript - a status not well-supported by my beginner's times.

The tunnel Bowerman came through is replaced by tonier digs now, but that spot  is only 50 meters from where I’m now sitting in the press tribune, having realized in 2013 when I started my first website that the choice I made when I was 19 between journalism and history as majors need never have been a choice.

I am asked, often, if I “ran for Bowerman.”

“I need to answer that carefully,” I always reply.

“I began running in his class.”

I have taken a 10:25.5 two-mile about as far as I could!

And he’d be proud of that.

Bill Bowerman Statue at Hayward Field

Photo copyright Mark Cullen 2020. All Worldwide Rights Reserved.

Friday, July 22, 2022

Back to Back!

Shericka Jackson (Jam) and Noah Lyles (US) set the 200m world on fire at Hayward Field Thursday evening with two of the greatest 200m races ever run.

The women were up first and were treated to a deafening welcome by the Hayward Field denizens.

Shericka Jackson became the second fastest 200m runner in history with her mind-boggling 21.45. Her decisive stretch run put any doubt about who is #1 in Jamaica - much less the world - to rest. 

Jackson is the #2 performer all-time with the #2 performance. Only Florence Griffith Joyner's controversial (there are questions about the wind gauge) 1988 21.34 is faster.

Teammate Shelley-Anne Fraser-Pryce (SAFP) was second in 21.81 with Great Britain's defending world champion Dina Asher-Smith third in 22.02.

Next, Noah Lyles led a US sweep with a stunning 19.31 which makes him the #3 performer ever with the #4 performance. 

Kenny Bednarek, who suffered a broken toe earlier this season, completed a resounding comeback for silver in 19.77. 18-year-old Erriyon Knighton won bronze in 19.80.

To put this in context: remember Michael Johnson with his golden spikes in Atlanta in 1996 when he set the world record?

This is faster than that, and makes Lyles the new 200m American record holder.

It gets better.

In the audience were Tommie Smith and John Carlos. They were introduced before the 200m races and received a warm, lengthy, and sustained standing ovation from the appreciative Hayward Field crowd.

Shericka Jackson

Noah Lyles

John Carlos and Tommie Smith

All three photos courtesy Getty Images for World Athletics

Tuesday, July 19, 2022

Sonia's Bouquet

Sonia O’Sullivan’s 1500m race at the 1993 Stuttgart World Championships remains one of my favorite races I've seen in person.

In a brief window of history, China was the dominant distance running nation under the tutelage of the very controversial coach, Ma Junren; his runners’ spectacular results came under much suspicion.

Ireland’s O'Sullivan was one of the few to take on his crew of distance runners, even though their spectacular results made any efforts to dethrone them daunting.

During the meet, O'Sullivan's parents were sitting just behind me and to the right. We had some pleasant exchanges about the competitions and greeted each other every day.

In the 1500m final, O'Sullivan charged down the straightaway and crossed the finish line.

As if counting to a beat - 2-3-4-5 - after O'Sullivan had crossed the finish line, Mrs. O'Sullivan said, "Can I open my eyes now?"

Open she could, as her daughter had just won silver.

Mr. and Mrs. O'Sullivan left for the victory ceremony and were gone a long time.

When they returned, Mrs. O'Sullivan was carrying Sonia's bouquet of flowers.

I have told this story many times over the years, and long hoped to meet O’Sullivan and tell it to her myself. I even recounted it this morning when I compared Laura Muir’s hard-charging style to that of O’Sullivan.

This afternoon, 29 years after the race, I was at a track and field display on the University of Oregon campus.

“Excuse me,” I said to the woman standing next to me, “Are you Sonia O’Sullivan?”

I now have told my story twice today.

~Mark Cullen

Sonia O'Sullivan
1993 World Championships
Stuttgart, Germany

Allstar Picture Library Ltd.

Saturday, July 16, 2022

Day 1 Reflections

 First Day Reflections

by Mark Cullen

US 1st, 2nd, and 5th, with Canada 4th and 9th.

US 2nd, 5th, and 12th.

Looks like North America is dominating the downhill again.

There has never, ever been a hammer throw performance like this for the United States.

All three men made the final.

All three women made the final.

In World Championships history, never had more than two men and women combined made their finals. Today’s performance shattered that record by 4.

Add Canada’s two women’s finalists and you have North American domination of the women’s hammer throw qualifying.

Not so fast I hear you say, and you’re right: the recent US history has been of throwing well in qualifying, getting tight in the finals, and not executing to pre-meet potential.

And yes, Daniel Haugh in 2nd is surrounded in 1st and 3rd by the defending World and Olympic champions from Poland. Duly noted.

Nonetheless, the US throwers are performing as a team in a way that has been unheard of until now.

But it’s not a team competition, I hear you say.

Right again. Yet the opportunity for changing the face of an event lies in the hands of these six.

US men’s hammer finals qualifiers: Daniel Haugh, Rudy Winkler, and Alex Young.

US women’s hammer finals qualifiers: Brooke Andersen, Janee Kassanavoid, and Annette Echikunwoke.

(At the conclusion of this post are quotes from Janee Kassanavoid and Daniel Haugh.)

Meanwhile, the qualifying rounds of the men’s 100m showed once again that while we are welcoming the world… well, not everyone who cannot get a visa for this meet would agree.

In rather dramatic fashion – would lane 3 of the 100m be occupied or not? – Kenya’s Ferdinand Omanyala did indeed fill lane 3 after a tense week that saw him landing in Eugene only a few short hours before his race. He advanced to the semi-finals and has less than a day to prepare.

Via Track and Field News, the BBC’s article on marathoner Chris Thompson depicts the human cost of this situation:

One of the more engaging aspects of World Championships is often the 100m preliminary round in which single athletes are entered as the only representatives of their countries - in the entire meet. 

The whole world is watching as they run times in the 10.50 – 12.00 range. Today, Bhutan’s Mipham Yoezer Curung ran a personal best of 11.86, while equaling his PB of 12.22 was Tonga’s Nehumi Tuihalamaka.

But the saddest sight of all on this first day was seeing Fiji’s Ratu Benuve Tabakaucord walk away from his blocks, disconsolate at having false started. And the margin by which he missed a fair start?

4/1000 of a second.

That will be one long plane ride home.

Meanwhile, all of you who picked the Dominican Republic to win the 4x400m mixed relay with the Dutch 2nd and US 3rd, well, step right up – there’s room on the pickers’ podium for you!

Of the many statistics provided us by World Athletics about Allyson Felix’s stellar career, this one struck me the most: she won World medals over a span of 17 years.

If you think this photo needs a caption,
you just haven't been paying attention.
Photo credit: Getty Images for World Athletics

Daniel Haugh

If you have the right intensity, you’ll produce a large throw. You have to have a good plan and execute it. If you execute a bad plan, it’s not going to turn out well.

I really wanted to open up with the standard and go home. I think it ended up working well… at the end of the day I got 5 throws up there: 2 warmups and 3 competitions, so it’s 5 throws now in the circle and now I’ve got my physical and my visual Q points and I feel comfortable and ready to put some big throws tomorrow in the final.

Haugh on Japan’s Olympic gold medal hammer legend, Koji Mirofushi:

I look up to him, he has beautiful technique, and he was a guy - in high school I’d bring my lunch into the library and I’d watch him throw on You Tube. He’s a guy I’ve always looked up to and studied his technique. I’d love to meet him one day.

I’m in personal best shape – training has indicated that… I’d love to open up right in that 77-80 meter range and then just build it and keep improving like I did today. If I can leave here with a personal best it’s hard to be upset. Just want to execute and get a throw I’m proud of.

The field is absolutely stacked. There are some big guys and they’re older, they’re veterans. I kind of like the baby in this!

I need to focus on me, on my throw, and I believe I’ll be on the podium.

Janee Kassanavoid (courtesy USATF)

In her comments today, Kassanavoid echoed what she said at US Nationals: that she needs to pause and focus and take a deep breath.

I am ready to go, just had to take a deep breath when I got in. Then I just did what I have been doing every day. Got the Q with the first round and now ready for the next one. I think the hammer throw is open no matter who is number one or the last person to make it to the meet. 

I know that I am capable of making great things, PR, WR and things like that. So it is about who wants it the most. My personal coach is here and I got couple of my friends coming here to support me. 

I love my journey.

Tuesday, July 12, 2022

The Barbers of Brisbane

by Mark Cullen

Mike and Kelsey-Lee Barber

The 7th in my series of memorable World Championships experiences wrote itself at the University of Washington track this morning, where Australia, Greece, and Poland were holding practice.

After Kelsey-Lee Barber's epic last-round Worlds javelin win in Doha in 2019, I struck up an online correspondence with her husband and coach, Mike, about my track and field collection. I promised him it would be on display in Eugene and that I'd give him a personal tour. Alas, it's not on display, and yet I wanted to keep my promise to Mike, at least in part. So on what was really a last-minute inspiration, I went to my bank on my way to the track and checked out the Bowerman waffle iron shoes.

I arrived to hear that 'the Australian team had left 15 minutes ago.' Gut punch! I was really disappointed to have missed them. Not that the Polish hammer throwers didn't give me a lot to observe (3 athletes respresenting 5 World/Olympic golds were here), or the Greek Olympic champion in the long jump... you get the idea.

I waited for my track and field friend and guru Paul Merca to return, but by 11:00 it was hot and I needed to get ready for Eugene. I was on my way out when two Australians (identifiable by their green and yellow outfits, which ought to get them far in Eugene!) walked across the track.

The Barbers.

I was astonished and delighted; 30 seconds either way and we would have missed each other. Turns out only part of the team had left. I am very appreciative of their keen interest in this part of track and field history, and a terrifically engaging conversation was had by all. Then off we went with good wishes both ways for a successful time in Eugene.

 (The first 6 experiences can be found on my facebook page at