Friday, July 7, 2023

Giving It the College Try

 by Mark Cullen

Hayward Field has been doing just fine without me, thank you.

But it’s good to be back.


Well, there’s been this interlude.

Two weeks short of a year.

On July 24, 2022, a day track fans know as the last day - the epic two world record day - of the Eugene World Championships, I got Covid. Had a wicked bout for 19 days, and by fall, it was clear I was suffering from its aftereffects – the dreaded long Covid, more precisely named ‘post-Covid fatigue.’

‘Fatigue’ sounds a bit genteel and doesn’t do this condition justice. It’s disruptive, and when the fatigue approaches, it's like a tidal wave. You’re in its thrall and not it in yours. Surrender - sleep - is a good idea, no matter the time of day. 

But for watching two nighttime 10,000 meter runs at Hayward earlier this spring, this is my first track meet in almost a year. An experiment, to be, sure – can I manage all 4 days?

The return welcome from peers has been heartening, as a year away likely seems much longer to me than to them.

I’m sitting in the media tent surrounded by the current and next generations of track writers in the United States. It goes without saying that three of them are connected to class of the University of Oregon’s ground breaking sports journalism professor, Lori Shontz.

Behind me is a world class miler who is now a world class writer.

As I take my seat, a young man to my left says, “Hey, aren’t you the guy with the shoes?”

Guess I haven’t been away as long as I think.

Meanwhile, back at the meet…

Mark Cullen photo

*Olympic and World silver medalist Courtney Frerichs took a nasty fall early in the steeplechase qualifier but bounced back to qualify on time. “This year is about doing really well but also keeping an eye on next year,” she said. The stadium held its collective breath while, for a moment, that seemed in doubt. “The body is healthy,” she said, but for a scrape on her hand.

*Nothing says close like a silly little centimeter. Tori Franklin and Kenturah Orji continued their epic triple jump rivalry as Franklin won by a centimeter, 14.44 to 14.43 (47’-4.5 to 47’-4.25).

*Athing Mu 4:10.33 finished 3rd in her qualifying heat of the women’s 1500m.

The World and Olympic 800m champion is the focus of much intense discussion and speculation. As defending World Champion, she has a bye to Worlds. If she qualifies in the 1500m as well, will she run both?

*Maddie Harris (60.73/199-3) won the javelin, and after years of ascendency through Kara Winger’s memorable World Championships silver, the US is resetting in this event. Ariana Ince, however, has the only World Championships qualifier to date. Let the chasing of marks begin.

*Sam Mattis won the discus and has a Worlds qualifier.

*There are few things I’d rather do that watch a 10,000m race at Hayward Field.

How about two? Yesterday Elise Cranny and Woody Kincaid demonstrated their preternatural abilities to apply speed just when it’s needed most. When you think of speed demons, do you think of 10,000m runners?

Elise Cranny polished off her national title with her 62.16 closer to outdistance Alicia Monson by over 5 seconds on the final lap.

And Woody Kincaid relentlessly turned the screws on a distinguished field by closing over his last three laps in 60.59 – 60.40 and a withering 54.76.

“In a lot of ways I feel really, really strong,” said Kincaid. And, at the same time, he acknowledged feeling tired as well from increased training volume. He seems to be striking the right balance and it’s paying off.

It will be fascinating to see how he comes back in the 5,000m on Sunday evening.

“I think it’s more mental preparation than physical,” Kincaid said of the interval between the races. He reminds himself of when he’s had two hard workouts in a week. “You have to get as much rest as you can,” he said, “but you have to mentally re-engage for the 5k.”

*It’s not every day that the speed of the distance runners gets more press that the speed of the sprinters.

But the speed of sprinters did not go unnoticed. Sha’Carri Richardson blasted down the 100m straightaway in a personal best 10.71, which ties the meet record, is the world leader, and is an epic way to spend a Thursday evening in Eugene.


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