Saturday, February 16, 2013 was a record-setting night at the Armory for the 2013 Millrose Games.
- 1. Chris O’Hare of Tulsa set a new collegiate indoor mile record with a time of 3:52.98 in the Wannamaker Mile race. O’Hare, who placed fourth in the race behind winner Lopez Lomong was the 2012 NCAA Indoor mile champion. The previous record was set by BYU’s Miles Batty at the 2012 Millrose Games (3:54.54).
- 2. Mary Cain bettered her own high school indoor mile record, running 4:28.25, which bettered her mark from the New Balance Games (4:32.78). Cain came in second in the race behind Sheila Reid and ahead of several professional runners and All-American college runners. With Cain’s achievement the high school girls indoor mile record has dropped over ten seconds in 2013. Debbie Heald held the record with a 4:38.5 for over forty years, from 1972 until January 26, 2013.
- 3. Edward Cheserek, who just this week announced he would be attending the University of Oregon next year set a new high school boys indoor two mile record, running 8:39.15 to better Gerry Lindgren’s old record (8:40.0) from 1964.
- 4. Bernard Lagat (in the same race as Cheserek) ran 8:09.49 to re-claim the American record for the men’s indoor two mile from Galen Rupp (8:09.72 in 2012).
- 5. Alysia Montano, in the seldom run women’s indoor 600 meters, shattered the American record, running 1:23.59. The previous record was 1:26.56 by Delisa Walton-Floyd in 1981. Ajee Wilson, who recently decided to skip collegiate competition and signed a pro contract with Adidas, came in second and also bettered the previous American record time with a 1:26.45.
- 6. Erik Sowinski, not Olympians Nick Symmonds or Duane Solomon, set a new American record in the men’s indoor 600 meters with a time of 1:15.61. Solomon was the previous American record holder with a mark of 1:15.70 at a meet in Glasgow in January.
Upon reading about these record performances, one stood out as a little more shocking than any of the others. Wasn’t this 600 meter race supposed to be a battle between Solomon and Symmonds, who placed fourth and fifth respectively in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics?
Who is Erik Sowinski and how did he set an American record over Solomon and Symmonds? Perhaps Symmonds said it best in a post-race interview, “…that’s what’s great about track. You can fly right in, step on the track and get an American record.”
Even more amazing is that Sowinski was not even scheduled to be in the race. Three days before the meet, Kevin Borlee scratched so meet director Ray Flynn called Sowinski. Two days before the meet an excited Sowinski tweeted, “It’s official! I will be running the 600m at Millrose Games this Saturday!”
So who is this man who was a last minute addition to the race, who then went out and set an American Record?
Sowinski attended West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin where he was on the cross country, basketball, and track & field teams. In his senior year he set personal records (PR’s) and school records in the 400 meters (49.46) and 800 meters (1:54.29). He was state champion in the 800, anchored West to the state championship in the 4X800 relay, and also ran a leg on the fifth place 4X400 relay team.
From West, Sowinski moved on to the University of Iowa where he steadily improved each season.
|800 indoor||800 outdoor|
Freshman year he set a school record in the 600 meters indoors and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional as a member of the Iowa 4X400 relay team. Sophomore year he set a school record in the 800 meters indoors and earned All-American honors in the 4X400 relay (Iowa ran 3:05.61 to place seventh at the NCAA Championships). Junior year he earned All-American honors indoors in both the 800 (4th) and 4X400 relay (4th) and outdoors he qualified for the NCAA Championships in both the 800 (15th) and 4X400 relay (10th). Senior year he was the Big-10 Indoor champion for the 800 and placed third at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Outdoors as a senior he bettered the Iowa school record in the 800 meters three times. The previously school record was a 1:47.64 set by Bill Frazier in 1962. In front of a hometown crowd at the 2012 NCAA Championships, Sowinski ran his current PR of 1:45.90. Sowinski capped his 2012 season by running at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He advanced to the semi-finals but was unable to qualify for the final.
Sowinski, who was a five-time All-American while at Iowa, owns or shares seven school records including the indoor 600, indoor 800, and outdoor 800. He was the 2012 Big-10 conference champion in the indoor 800 meters and in 2011 helped Iowa to their first Big-10 conference championship since 1967. In addition he graduated with a degree in integrative physiology and was an academic All-American. In 2012 Sowinski was the recipient of a Big-10 Medal of Honor that recognizes student athletes who have “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.”
He had a very solid collegiate track career with some nice academic achievements to go along with his athletic achievements. I think most impressive is his steady improvement every season, both in terms of improving his 800 meter time (see chart above) and doing better each year at the NCAA Championships (not qualifying as a freshman, qualifying in the 4X4 but not the 800 as a sophomore, 15th as a junior, and 2nd as a senior).
Although his college career is now complete, Sowinski’s running career may be just taking off. He is now an American Record holder. He has now beaten Solomon and Symmonds, the two best 800 meter runners in the country. Only time will tell what stories will be added to Erik Sowinski’s storybook career.
Being sick stinks! There’s no two ways about it. I should know. I’ve been battling a scratchy throat and lingering cough since December 27, of last year. Those were my symptoms until last week when it turned into a full-on pneumonia. But just like I tell the runners that I coach, try to take away something positive from every experience. In this case, my illness reminded me (or taught me depending on who’s perspective you like to take) that I can’t and don’t have to do it all.
My excellent assistant coaches (and one emergency volunteer) at Sacred Heart Cathedral ran track practices on Friday, Saturday, Monday, and Tuesday. The athletes may have missed my witty banter but they still got their workouts completed. We took positive steps towards our more immediate goal of having people in shape for the tryout trials next week and our longer term goal of having people prepared to compete at their best come championship time in May.
The week leading up to the Kaiser Permanente San Francisco Half Marathon is one of my favorites of the year. There are the countdown blog posts on this site, the data collecting of Pamakids’ projected time, and constant race tips and motivational words delivered both in person and via e-mails. On Friday night I send out the much anticipated meet sheet. Saturday I lead a pre-race run and striders, followed by Goodie Bag stuffing. Sunday morning we all gather in Golden Gate Park. Fifteen minutes before the race we take a Pamakids group photo. Then everyone gathers around me and I lead our Go Green cheer. It’s a moment I look forward to all year long.
This pneumonia thing really put a damper on things. Living in the digital age I was able to do many of the usual things. Others stepped up to fill in where I was missing. Notably, my wife Malinda, who led this year’s Go Green cheer, delivering my motto for this year’s race: “The running starts here at 8:00 A.M. But the racing starts on the Great Highway!”
The day after the race, all things Pamakids continued to roll right along even with me still lying in bed. Monica ran the Board of Directors meeting while I “attended” via speaker phone only.
The 2013 KP Half itself was a great success. Although, perhaps due to the same bug that hit me, and also due to the 49ers playing in the Super Bowl, we had a higher than normal no-show count. But the race sold 10,200 bibs and nearly 8,300 runners crossed the finish line in either the half marathon or the 5K fun run.
I was particularly proud of our Pamakids. First of all, we had ten runners race at the Jed Smith 50K on Saturday – that’s a 31.1 mile race. Of those ten, eight of them were out on the course volunteering at the KP Half on Sunday, no doubt reporting to their station sometime around 6:45 A.M. or earlier. That’s bleeding green! I’ve been recording in great detail all the finishing times and places of all the Pamakids at the KP Half since 2008. Over those six races, three people have run all six races in Pamakid uniform – Denis Glenn, Danielle Bisho Jones, and Monica Zhuang. Congrats, you three! Also, congratulations to our five medal winners. The medalists were: Adam Lucas-2nd, M45-49, Mike Axinn-3rd, M50-54, Roy Clarke-2nd, M55-59, Theo Jones-2nd, M70-74, and Patrick Lee-3rd, M60-99 in the 5K. Our Pamakid masters men continue to defy age with their outstanding races.
However, the last three runners I particularly want to highlight are three Pamakid women. First is Sarah Goins, who two years ago ran this race in 2:38:23, which is 12:05 per mile. On Sunday she was 28 minutes faster at 2:10:00, 9:55 per mile. Kudos to Sarah who knocked over two minutes per mile off her time from two years ago!
Marlyss Bird last ran this race in the rain in 2008. Since that time she has been beset with injury after injury. She saw therapists, did exercises, took a patient approach, and after five long years made her return to the half marathon on Sunday, running only 21 seconds off what she did in 2008. Well done, Marlyss!
Jodi Thirtyacre was featured before the 2011 race in the San Francisco Examiner. This year, the Kaiser employee, was even more active than usual in the lead-up to the race, arranging for guest speakers at the Saturday Sports Basement Training Runs and writing a blog to help Kaiser employees get ready for the race. Jodi’s enthusiasm for this race was rewarded this year. She’s been knocking on the door of breaking 2 hours for the last four years – 2:02 in 2009 and 2010, 2:05 in 2011, and 2:00 last year. Her goal this year was to go sub-2. And she did it! Chip time: 1:59:49. Gun time: 1:59:59. Either way you look at it, Jodi joined the ranks of the sub-2 hour half marathoners!
The Olympic Men’s 800 meters was one of the greatest races I have ever seen. Not only did the winner, David Rudisha set a World Record, but there was a world junior record and an Ethiopian national record set as well.
Moments before the race on August 9, 2012, I leaned over and told Malinda, “If there was ever a distance event where we could see a World Record in the Olympic Final, this is it.” A few minutes later, Rudisha made me look like a psychic.
As soon as the gun sounded to start the race, Rudisha sprinted out hard. He managed to hold off Abubaker Kaki to claim the inside position and the lead after they cut in. Rudisha came through the first 200 meters in 24 seconds and hit the halfway mark at 49 seconds. He was definitely on World Record pace. What was interesting, however, was that the field was not getting left in his jetstream. Rudisha was running really really fast but the other seven runners were getting pulled along to some fast times, too. When Rudisha hit 600 meters at 1:14, my head almost exploded as I tried to calculate what kind of time he was on pace to run.
My eyes then shifted to the rest of the pack. American Duane Solomon was positioned in sixth place but appeared ready to make a move for a medal. The other American, Nick Symmonds, had been in last place for most of the race and was still there with 100 meters to go but then seemed to come alive and he, too, was making a sprint to get a medal. I screamed for Solomon. I screamed for Symmonds. Then I heard the crowd, that had already been deafening loud, get even louder. I looked to the left to see that Rudisha had finished and then I checked the time on the scoreboard. It initially read “unofficial 1:41.0.” Rudisha owned the previous World Record of 1:41.01 so if the time held, he would have World Record by .01 seconds. A few seconds later the official time flashed on the scoreboard and it was even faster. 1:40.91! Rudisha had become the first runner to ever break 1:41 in the 800 meters. To put that in perspective, prior to this race, besides Rudisha, only three other runners had ever broken 1:42 (Wilson Kipketer, Sebastian Coe, and Joaquim Cruz).
The others in this field were also amazingly fast. Seven of the eight runners ran a personal record (PR), with the eighth running a season best.
Eighteen year-old Nijel Amos of Botswana won the silver medal with a 1:41.73. That time made Amos the fifth runner to ever break 1:42, earned him a new world junior record (for athletes who do not turn twenty at any time during the calendar year in which the mark is made) and tied Amos for the eighth fastest 800 time in history. All this from an athlete who entered the Olympics with a PR of 1:43.11
Kenyan Timoth Kitum, who had only the seventh best PR out of the field before the race started, ran a 1.41 second PR to win the bronze, holding off four other runners who all finished within 0.79 seconds of each other.
The Americans, Solomon and Symmonds, came up just short in their bid for a medal. But they could hardly be disappointed with their times. Solomon’s 1:42.82 and Symmonds” 1:42.95 make them the second and third fastest American 800 runners of all-time, behind only Solomon’s coach, Johnny Gray (1:42.60 set in 1985). Obviously these were PR’s for both Solomon and Symmonds and they are just the second and third Americans (along with Gray) to dip under the 1:43 mark.
Sixth placer Mohammed Aman of Ethiopia, who is only nineteen years-old set a national record with his 1:43.20. Aman improved on his own national record, which was 1:43.37. Aman has steadily been lowering the Ethiopian record over the last two years. The last person before Aman to hold the Ethiopian national record in the 800 meters was Berhanu Alemu, who ran 1:45.28 in 2004.
Abubaker Kaki of Sudan was the only runner in the field not to run a PR (his PR is 1:42.23). However, it was a season best for Kaki, who ran 1:43.32. It was Kaki’s junior world record of 1:42.69 that Amos broke.
The last place finisher, Andrew Osagie of Great Britain, ran 1:43.77, which was a PR. That time would have won gold at the 2000, 2004, and 2008 Olympics. The only Olympic 800 meters in history where 1:43.77 would not have medaled was 1996. For Osagie, 1:43.77 got him a personal record but also last place!
Often in a World Record setting race, at least in a distance race, the record setter has pace setters or rabbits and the record setting runner tends to finish far ahead of the rest of the field. The lack of both rabbits and a gap is what made this race so special. The depth of this 800 race was like no other 800 in history. From first place to eighth place, the runners put up incredible times. Records and PR’s were the norm in this race, the greatest 800 race of all-time.
1 David Lekuta Rudisha KEN 1:40.91 (WR)
2 Nijel Amos BOT 1:41.73 (WJ)
3 Timothy Kitum KEN 1:42.53 (PB)
4 Duane Solomon USA 1:42.82 (PB)
5 Nick Symmonds USA 1:42.95 (PB)
6 Mohammed Aman ETH 1:43.20 (NR)
7 Abubaker Kaki SUD 1:43.32 (SB)
8 Andrew Osagie GBR 1:43.77 (PB)
If you don’t count watching someone near and dear to me running in the women’s 1500 meter final, then I have two favorite memories from the 2012 Olympic track & field competition. My favorites will reflect the fact that I am American distance runner and coach.
The first happened on a night now being referred to in Great Britain as “Super Saturday.” The Brits are calling it Super Saturday because that was the night the UK won three gold medals in track & field within an hour. While all eyes were on Mo Farah on the final lap of the men’s 10,000 meters and while the majority of the cheering was for Mo, our eyes and cheers were for Galen Rupp. My wife Malinda yelled so loud for Rupp that she made herself hoarse and her voice was never the same the rest of the Games. Rupp stayed in contention the whole race and made a move to get a medal with 200 meters to go. He looked great, striding past runners from Ethiopia to claim the silver medal. It was the first medal in the 10,000 meters for the US men since Billy Mills in 1960.
I was very happy for Rupp. He’s been in the spotlight since his running prowess was first noticed on the soccer field at Central Catholic High School in Portland in 2000. I have a small connection to Rupp because although Rupp’s pretty much been coached by Alberto Salazar since 2000, the head coach at Central Catholic is a friend of mine, David Frank. David was the head coach at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, a rival West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) school, when I first became the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. At the 2000 US Olympic Trails in Sacramento, David told me he was moving to Portland. One year later, one of his star athletes was Rupp and also one year later, my star athlete, Shannon Rowbury, won her first state championship. It’s funny how small the track & field world can be.
The second memorable moment took place on Tuesday, August 7. It was the final of the men’s 1500 meters. Shannon’s teammate, Leo Manzano was in the race. If you think that all the athletes’ coaches get first class treatment and a front row seat to watch their people compete at the Olympics, think again. Most coaches have to buy their own ticket to get into the Olympic Stadium. Leo’s coach in London, Ryan Ponsonby (Manzano’s main coach is John Cook but Cook often doesn’t travel overseas so in Cook’s absence Ryan is the coach on-site) was sitting two seats over from me in the second level of the stadium in row 69. All the seats have a great view but this was a long way away for the coach of an Olympic finalist to be sitting.
Ryan described the race in an interview with FloTrack. He said that he told Leo to conserve energy early to be ready for a hard and fast last 400 meters. Leo did just that. With 400 meters to go he was towards the back in tenth place but still in striking distance. With 300 to go there was still a sizeable gap between Leo and the first eight runners. As it turned out many of the runners ahead of him had gone too hard too early and would run out of gas the final 100. In an interview after the race Leo said his legs felt like bricks, which explained why he was still a ways back with 200 meters to go. But that’s when things started to change. “Keep going, keep going, keep pushing ,” Leo said he was telling himself. He started moving up. Ryan, after silently focusing on the race for the first 1400 meters, pumped his fists and started screaming as Leo hit the top of the final straightaway. We all could tell what was about to happen. Malinda was screaming herself hoarse again. Leo was going to medal! He passed all but one and ended up in second place to grab the silver medal. It was bedlam in row 69. Ryan gave a thumbs up and we (we being me, Malinda, Shannon’s parents, a few of Shannon’s friends who live in the UK, and Coach Cook’s team doctor Alan King) all started jumping up and down and hugging. It was the first medal in the 1500 meters for the US men since Jim Ryun in 1968.
What a moment! I was particularly proud that I could share in Ryan’s celebration before he rushed down to trackside to greet Leo on his victory lap. I thought back in September of 2011 in Daegu, South Korea. Leo and Shannon had failed to qualify for the 1500 final, both of them being eliminated in the semi-final. It meant they had some unexpected days off with no competition. They would have rather been preparing for their final race but instead we arranged to meet for a Korean lunch. I spend lots of time hanging out with Shannon but this was a new experience to spend the day with Leo. He is a down to earth, genuine, nice person and it was a thrill to just joke around and talk to him. Track & field is a crazy sport. Eleven months ago he was frustrated at his performance at the World Championships. But in London, he might have come in second but as Leo said, it “feels like I got first.”
Two noteworthy Olympic medal performances by American men, ending 52 and 48 year dry spells in their event. Coincidentally, I have a one or two degrees of separation connection with each. No wonder those are my two favorite Olympic memories from London 2012.
Keep calm and carry on. You hear that a lot here in London. I believe the track & field distance race equivalent is “Keep Calm and Kick”.
The women’s 1500 meter final will take place Friday at 8:55pm London time (12:55pm on the west coast). Shannon Rowbury will be running in her second Olympic final and she’ll be looking to improve on her seventh place finish from Beijing (which as of now is the highest finish by an American woman in the Olympic 1500 meters in history).
Shannon gave us some anxious moments during the qualifying races. On Monday in the first round she finished seventh and we had to sit through the next two heats to see if her time would qualify to the next round. As the Brits like to say, Shannon’s 4:06.03 was the “fastest loser” and she moved on to the semi-final. On Wednesday, Shannon was well positioned throughout the race and inspired by her teammate Leo Manzano’s patient race tactics (more on that in a later post) hung out patiently around seventh place for most of the race. Only the top five would automatically qualify for the final and with 100 meters to go Shannon still had some work to do to move into the top five. She surged down the final homestretch passing two runners to secure the fifth and final automatic qualifying spot by one tenth of a second (4:05.47 to 4:05.57). The times in the second semi-final heat were much faster and it turns out that that one tenth of a second was huge because it was the difference between making the final and being eliminated (as all the time qualifiers came from the second heat).
In many ways, the stress is off. The goal in these first two races was simply to qualify on and Shannon has done that. She’s in the final along with eleven other women – the best female 1500 meter runners in the world. Previous championship meet credentials, PR’s, and season bests are immaterial. Everyone will line up even at the starting line and attempt to run three and three quarter laps around the track and get to the finish line first.
The final is simple and straightforward. You go for it. You leave it all out there. In most of the other distance finals that I’ve seen at these Olympic Games, the top finishers have been very patient early in the race, letting others set the pace and deal with the pushing and shoving that occurs in the middle of the pack of races of this nature. Then at some point later in the race, there comes a moment when it’s time to make your play for the medal. A moment when it is time to put four years of training and dreaming to work.
It is an honor and a privilege to be in London sitting in my hotel room and preparing to watch someone I know and care about run in an Olympic final in less than twenty-four hours time. What a wild journey cheering on Shannon Rowbury has been.
For Shannon, it’s time to Keep Calm and KICK!
For me, it’s time to Keep Calm and wave my banner!
I have now been in the London Olympic Stadium four times. Even though we are sitting high in the second deck, the sight lines are great. We can see all the action. My only minor complaints are that the scoreboard is hard to read (it’s not my fault I have bad eyesight, the London Olympic Committee should be taking care of my needs!) and that when the UK fans cheer loudly (which they do a lot), I can’t hear what the announcer is saying. Pretty minor things to be fussing about, huh?
There have been some complaints regarding the Olympic flame. The only people who can see the flame burning inside the cauldron are people who have tickets to attend an event (i.e. track & field or athletics as they call it here) in the Olympic Stadium. Since I am one of the lucky ones who has tickets to the Olympic Stadium, this has not been a complaint of mine.
On the flight over to London, Virgin Atlantic offered a documentary about the construction of the stadium. It was very insightful and easier to understand than the technical article my dad showed me from Civil Engineering magazine.
The London Olympic stadium seats 80,000 people and was built in east London at a cost of 486 million pounds. One of the cornerstones of the London Olympic bid was the eco-friendly and flexible nature of the Olympic Stadium. The stadium was built in such a way that it can be partially dismantled after the Games leaving the lower bowl, comprised of the track and 25,000 seats.
There were many challenges the architects and engineers faced when designing and constructing the stadium. Over two hundred building were demolished in east London to create space for the stadium. Some of these buildings produced toxic waste so the soil needed to be decontaminated. In the end some of the soil was re-used for landscaping and another 800,000 tons of soil were removed from the area. There was believed to be over two hundred un-exploded bombs from World War II buried in the ground that had to be considered during the construction to prevent an unplanned explosion. The land allotted for the stadium is surrounded by rivers on three sides and the area was not large enough for the traditional footprint of an 80,000 stadium. Designers got around this by “pulling” out food preparation areas and moving them to outside the stadium.
The upper bowl of the stadium is comprised of steel components that are bolted together and can be un-bolted and removed after the Olympics. The roof, too, is a stand-alone feature of the stadium, weighing 450 tons. The roof is not connected to the lower bowl of the stadium. The roof has four components: an outer ring, an inner ring, 12,000 meters of cable, and 25,000 square meters of fabric. The roof is designed to shelter the fans as well as block wind for the athletes so that any marks run are not wind-aided or wind-hindered.
There are fourteen light towers, weighing 500 tons, attached to the roof. Each tower provides 14,000 watts. The lights are all angled properly to illuminate the track but to not create any shadows or glare for the spectators.
The grass on the field was grown off-site and then cut into rolls and brought to the stadium. Three hundred and sixty rolls of the turf were brought in. The transfer of the grass from its off-site location into the stadium needed to be done in less than twenty-four hours for the grass to stay alive.
Throughout the construction, workers had to deal with typical London weather issues. In the winter of 2010, work stopped for two weeks during a freeze. High winds were often a concern when working with the cranes and lifting heavy steel components into the air.
In the end, over 5,000 workers helped to build the stadium. The circumference around the outside of the stadium is one kilometer (anyone for 5 X 1000 meter intervals?). There are 338 kilometers of cable, twelve kilometers of ventilation ducts, and eleven kilometers of drainage.
Number of days to build the London Olympic Stadium: 1,000
Number of toilets in the London Olympic Stadium: 1,387
Number of memories for the athletes and spectators inside the London Olympic Stadium: infinite
There is something about being inside an Olympic Stadium and seeing the Olympic flame burning that is indescribably special. Knowing a little more about the construction of said stadium adds to the experience. Thanks, London! I’ll consider my poor vision and hearing to be my own problem and give you an A for your stadium!
The announcers around here are calling Saturday August 4, 2012 the greatest day in United Kingdom (UK) Olympic history. At least from a track & field (or athletics, as it’s called over here) perspective.
Walking around the Olympic Park this afternoon I saw two British fans wearing specially made t-shirts in support of two of their favorite athletes. One’s shirt said “Yes Jess” on it. The other said “Go Mo.” The newspaper slipped under my hotel room door this morning, The Independent, had two articles each on this Jess (heptathlete Jessica Ennis) and this Mo (10,000 meter runner Mohammed Farah) and their prospects for bringing home the gold medal on their home turf. At the very beginning of the meet, the public address announcer informed the crowd that the last time a UK track & field athlete won a gold medal at an Olympics held in London was 1908. Well, that is a long time. But track & field at the 2012 Olympics just got underway so all the statistic really means is that the home team got shutout on the gold medal front when they hosted the Olympics in 1948.
Still, the pro-Great Britain/cheer wildly for every Great Britain athlete attitude was on display at the track on this night. This night that would turn into quite a special one for fans of athletics in the UK.
It all started around 9:02pm local time. Ennis had a strong lead in the women’s heptathlon and was more or less assured of the gold medal. In the final event of the heptathlon, the 800 meters, she went out hard for the first 400 meters and then slowed and was caught by a couple runners. With 200 meters to go, however, the crowd roared to life and this inspired Ennis to find re-take the lead down the final straightaway, much to the delight of the crowd. Her time of 2:08.65 earned her 984 points and brought her final score for the two-day, seven event competition to 6,955 points. She finished 306 points ahead of second place and broke her own UK record for the heptathlon. How dominant was Ennis in this event? Second place finisher Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany finished with a score closer to eleventh place Brianne Theisen of Canada (who also happens to be Ashton Eaton’s fiancé) than to Ennis’ score.
Right as the heptathlon was winding down all eyes in the stadium shifted to the long jump runway. Great Britain had two athletes, neither of whom got much press in the newspaper today, unlike Ennis and Farah. Greg Rutherford and Christopher Tomlinson were trying to win Great Britain its second gold medal earned on home turf since 1908 as well as the second one of the hour. After one round of jumps, Tomlinson led with a jump of 8.06 meters. Rutherford took over the lead in the second round with a jump of 8.21 meters. For a short time, Great Britain was sitting in the gold and bronze medal positions in the long jump. Rutherford improved to 8.31 meters in the fourth round, a jump missed by many in the stands as when it happened the crowd was focused on another British athlete in the heptathlon, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a nineteen year old athlete, who just may be the “next Jessica Ennis.” At 9:22pm, as Ennis finished her victory lap, Will Claye from the United States was on the runway. He was the penultimate jumper and the last jumper with a chance to knock Rutherford out of the gold medal spot. When Claye’s mark fell short, the crowd went wild as Rutherford celebrated winning a gold medal in the long jump.
Minutes later, the men’s 10,000 meter race was underway. Farah bided his time in the front pack, not concerning himself as runners from Eritrea and Kenya jockeyed for position, continually surging and slowing down. The lead group got smaller and smaller but there were still eight or so runners still in contention with a mile to go. Even over the last lap five or six runners were still in it with a chance to win. The stadium was going crazy cheering for Farah, who for his part, looked in control the whole way.
Over the last 300 meters, Farah looked strong with the lead but not all eyes in the stadium were strictly on him. Earlier in the race I had commented that maybe this wasn’t Galen Rupp’s day as he seemed to fall back from the lead pack for no apparent reason. But when it came time to really race, Rupp was there and Rupp was ready. He surged past a couple of runners at the 300 to go mark. With 200 to go, he was well positioned on the outside and appeared to be running faster than the runners just ahead of him. Just like at the 2011 World Championships when I started screaming, “She’s going to medal. She’s going to medal,” about Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 with about 150 meters to go (Simpson would not only medal but win the race), I started yelling that Rupp was going to medal. Down the final homestretch Farah held on to the lead and Rupp secured second place. It was a third gold medal for the UK in less than an hour. A medal for the USA in the men’s 10,000 meters, their first since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a kid named Billy Mills won the gold.
The guys at FloTrack have a great photo sequence of the final 100 meters.
I am not versed enough in Great Britain’s Olympic and track & field history to know if today should rank as the greatest day in their Olympic history. It was certainly a terrific day, though, but not just for the Brits. I am pretty sure that for Galen Rupp, he can say that today was his greatest day in his track & field career.
Sacred Heart Cathedral (SHC), a Catholic school in San Francisco founded over 150 years ago and with a current enrollment of 1,257 students, can make a claim that very few other schools around the country can make. SHC has two alumni going to the 2012 London Olympics in track & field – Tina Kefalas, class of 1995 in the marathon for Greece, and Shannon Rowbury, class of 2002 in the 1500 meters for the USA. Even more amazing is the fact that the school does not have a home track.
As the current head cross country and track & field coach I can say that I’ve never seen not having a home track as a detriment to our program. The kids in our program are blessed because there is a lot of variety in their training schedule. It isn’t meet out at the track after school every day at 3:30. In fact, I think the time the kids spend taking the bus together to practice is part of their experience that makes being on the SHC track & field team special and unique. It also helps weed out who is really dedicated to the sport. It takes a great deal of commitment to get yourself to practice off-campus via public transportation day after day.
Kefalas was the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters when she graduated from SHC in 1995. She was the first runner in school history to qualify for the cross country state meet. She remembers going on a road trip to Colorado Springs with her coach, Mr. Denis Mohun (also a graduate of the school in 1979) and some other runners from the team. “It was the turning point for me. My first two years I was playing volleyball and track and after that trip, I finally decided to run cross country,” recalls Keflas. She also is proud to have won the school’s Vincent Contrero Award for excellence in both academics and athletics.
In the fall of 1998, SHC hired a new coach to head both the cross country and track & field
program. That person was me. I had the good timing to arrive at SHC the same season as a freshman who would change my life, a freshman named Shannon Rowbury.
Rowbury would go on to win two state championships and seven section champions during her SHC career. She was nationally ranked in the 800, 1600, 3200 meters and cross country and supplanted Kefalas as the school record holder in the 1600 and 3200 meters.
One of my fondest times during Rowbury’s high school career was her whole senior year of track & field. We both knew that this was the eighth and final season together at SHC. We took time to really soak it all up and enjoy the ride. She set numerous meet records, would sign autographs at meets, and together we would be interviewed for both television and newspaper articles. It was just a lot of fun and we made a point to have fun and enjoy every moment of it.
John Scudder (class of 1972), has been around SHC for thirty-two years and he recalls both students fondly. “I remember Tina and Shannon well. During Tina’s time at SHC, I was the Dean of Students; she was a model student who never found it necessary to take a trip to the Dean’s office. While Shannon attended SHC, I was the Principal. She too was active at school well beyond athletics. It is amazing to think she was so successful on the track, while all the time focusing on her work in the classroom,” said Scudder. Now serving the school as President, Scudder said, “I am so proud of their accomplishments. I know I speak for the entire SHC community in wishing Tina and Shannon the best of luck during the upcoming competition. Go Irish!”
After high school, Keflas went on to run at the University of Southern California. She then moved to Greece, where she continued to run at a high level. In 2008, in her first 3000 steeplechase of the season she ran 9:55.96, less than one second off the Olympic “B” standard, which would have been enough to qualify to represent Greece at the Beijing Olympics. Unfortunately she was injured in her second race and that ended her season and thus her 2008 Olympic dreams. Kefalas then decided to run the 2010 Athens Marathon, which also happened to be the 2500th anniversary of the historic run by the messenger Pheidippides from Marathon to Athens in 490 B.C. that gave the marathon race distance its name. She completed the marathon in two hours, 40 minutes, and 36 seconds, well under the Olympic “B” standard but unfortunately before the qualifying period for the 2012 Olympic marathon began. Kefalas would need to run another marathon closer to the Olympics in sub-2:43 to qualify for the 2012 Olympics. On April 22, 2012 at the Enschede Marathon in the Netherlands she ran 2:41:00 to stamp her ticket to London.
Rowbury competed for Duke University after high school and since college has been a professional runner, sponsored by Nike. Her breakthrough season was 2008, when she lowered her 1500 meter personal record from 4:12.31 to 4:00.33. She qualified for the 2008 Olympic team in Beijing and has also represented the USA at the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. She’s finished in the top three at the US Championships in the 1500 each of the last five years, has been ranked as high third as in the world (2009), and is the eighth fastest women’s 1500 meter runner in US history.
Kefalas will race in the women’s marathon in London, which is Sunday, August 5. She said that her goal is to break 2:40.
Rowbury will race in the women’s 1500 meters in London. The first round race is Monday, August 6, the semi-final race is Wednesday, August 8, and the final is Friday, August 10. In an interview after the Olympic Trials, Rowbury stated that her goal is to “get on the podium,” which means placing in the top three to earn one of the coveted Olympic medals.
As you watch the 2012 London Olympics, almost every athlete you see will have some sort of backstory. They competed in high school, they had a high school coach, at some point making the Olympics became, first a dream, and then reality. But when you’re watching the track & field portion of the Olympics, remember that two of the athletes attended the same Catholic school in downtown San Francisco. The one without a home track.
Lost in the sea of Nike swooshes, obscured by an ocean of adidas stripes, far below the airplane pulling the Brooks run happy banner, there was a single athlete in the men’s 800 meter final at the US Olympic Trials, with no sponsor. He wore a blue and green striped t-shirt that he bought at American Eagle and a matching blue headband. He looked somewhat out of place next to athletes in state of the art competition uniforms, made to be lightweight, sweat wicking, and aerodynamic. Who was this unattached runner and what was he doing in the 800 final?
This story really began on Friday June 22 during the first round of the men’s 800. A runner dressed in the above described attire came out on to the track to run in heat two. I immediately started making fun of him, thinking he was someone who just barely made it to the Olympic Trials. I yelled “Go Stripes!” as he did his warm-up striders. When I stopped making jokes about his shirt, I finally checked my program to find out that his name was Mark Wieczorek. Less than two minutes later, lo’ and behold, Wieczorek placed third in his heat and qualified on to the semi-final.
The semi-final was on Saturday June 23, and out came “Stripes,” dressed the same. I made a couple jokes about doing laundry to wash his striped shirt and then we settled in to watch the race. Stripes placed fifth in the first heat and was on the bubble to make it to the final. Heat two was slower than the first heat and Stripes was qualified for the final as the last time qualifier!
Now that he was one of only eight American men still competing for a shot at the London Olympics in the 800 meters, I started doing more research on Wieczorek. He attended MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he was a five-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American and the 2006 NAIA national champion in the 800 meters. He has run for Team XO and the Oregon Track Club Elite. Between training sessions, he did some work for RunnerSpace.com. At the 2011 US Championships he placed fifth. In addition to racing the 800 at a pretty high level, Wieczorek is also a high school coach and in the fall of 2011 he was named Washington cross country coach of the year after leading Gig Harbor to the 4A state championship, a number 10 ranking in the US, and a berth at the Nike Team Nationals meet. Not bad for a first year coach. Despite a fair amount of internet attention, including a story by David Monti for RaceResultsWeekly (RRW), winning a contest on LetsRun.com, and being the topic of a LetsRun.com message board thread, Wieczorek remained unsponsored entering the 2012 Olympic Trials.
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There was no shortage of information about Stripes and I immediately became a fan, even making him the centerpiece of the Pamakids Olympic Trials Question of the Day game. Instead of doing that, maybe I should have been offering him a sponsorship deal to race in the Pamakids uniform. Seriously, the night before the Final, Malinda, John and I speculated whether or not one of the shoe companies would jump on the opportunity to sponsor Wieczorek. What a marketing opportunity – put him in your company’s logo but make the uniform resemble the blue and green stripes that he’s been wearing. Offer him a some up front money with a huge bonus if he makes the Olympic team. The running geeks on LetsRun and RunnerSpace would go crazy and the company would reap the benefit of supporting “the little guy.”
Alas this sponsorship conversation was not being had anywhere but our hotel room. Wieczorek came out for the 800 final in his now trademark shirt and headband. He was still unattached. That didn’t stop him from running a personal record, 1:45.62 and placing seventh.
Wieczorek’s story doesn’t even end here. He’s gotten a bit of a cult following, with his own webpage hosted on the RunningSpace website, a staring role in the Party Run Anthem video, and paparazzi who dress up just like him.
Currently he’s racing in Europe. His familiar striped shirt showed up in a finishlynx photo in Belgium, where he came in second in 1:47.59. On July 17 he ran what I believe is his second fastest time ever, 1:45.96 at a meet in Italy.
I really should have tried to track Stripes down and offered him a Pamakid sponsorship. I would have even thrown in extra singlets so that he doesn’t have to wash his blue and green striped shirt every night between cities.
Lost in the excitement of the final days of the Olympic Trials was a minor feud involving Brooks.
Brooks Running Company, of #runhappy fame, are not one of the title sponsors of United States of America Track & Field (USATF) or the United States Olympic Committee (USOC). Nike, of swoosh fame, is an official sponsor of the USATF and a domestic sponsor for the USOC. The Olympic Trials are hosted by USATF which means, Nike gets to have their logo up all over the place and other shoe companies do not. When you fork out big sponsorship money, you get what’s called exclusivity, which means not only do you get to advertise at the meet, your direct competitors do not.
The Nike sponsorship was evident all over the meet with signs and banners reminding me to “Just Do It” and to “Find My Greatness.” A gigantic poster of Bill Bowerman looked down on me as I ate my Chobani yogurt. On the sides of buses Nike told me that this was Galen Rupp’s Track, Galen Rupp’s Town, and Galen Rupp’s Time and that Allyson Felix was London bound in 22 seconds. You couldn’t escape the Nike marketing scheme.
While seeing the swoosh everywhere can get old after awhile, I don’t really have a problem with the concept of Nike being the exclusive shoe company sponsor for USATF. I think that Nike does a lot of great things for the sport of track & field including financial support.
I’ll digress a little to mention that the marketing game in track & field is a high stakes game with large sums of money involved. No wonder non-Nike sponsors were upset when meet officials tried to get athletes to put on the red (Nike) USA jacket for the awards ceremony. After awhile the athletes caught on. Nike athletes sported the red jacket for the award ceremonies and the non-Nike athletes politely declined. When it comes time to compete at the Olympics, the USA uniform is Nike and whether you are a Nike athlete or not, you will have to wear the Nike USA gear for official
Team USA functions (warm-ups, press conferences, competition, medal ceremonies, etc.). Non-Nike aAthletes have gotten very creative in showing off their sponsors even when they are in Nike USA gear. Jenny Simpson did one of the best I’ve ever seen, taking off her New Balance spikes and draping them around her neck after winning the World Championship 1500 meters in 2011. Almost every picture of her after the race has her with the USA flag around her shoulders, a Nike USA uniform on her body, and her bright yellow New Balance spikes hanging around her neck. Jenny is brilliant or someone at New Balance gives some good lessons on what to do after the race.
The other shoe companies were present in Eugene but they had to be creative to gain visibility. Adidas rented out a frat house but I didn’t hear too much about anything they did. New Balance and Saucony sponsored some of the nights at the Wild Duck Café which resulted in the wait staff wearing Saucony shirts or my beer arriving in a New Balance logoed pint glass. Asics rented out a lot on the corner of Agate and East 19th Street for the first weekend only and had some games for kids. The company that fought the most to get some of the market was Brooks.
Brooks rented out a frat house on 18th Street that overlooked the track. They had daily morning runs that attracted 200-300 runners, they had a gait analysis booth, and passed out all kinds of Brooks swag – beannies, water bottles, shirts, a giant hand with a number one finger. Malinda, John, and I did the best we could to make sure Brooks didn’t have to cart any of this stuff back to Bothell, Washington.
Brooks’ most daring move, however was hiring a small airplane to fly above the stadium pulling a banner with their familiar run happy motto on it. I noticed the airplane above the stadium on the final Saturday of the meet. Apparently so did someone from either the USATF, USOC, or Nike. FloTrack reported that it was an oversight on the part of meet management to not reserve the airspace above the track and Brooks took advantage of this. Brooks was warned on Sunday morning with a letter and when the airplane appeared above Hayward Field again Sunday during the meet, three high level Brooks employees had their credentials revoked and were escorted from the stadium. It was the USATF and USOC that did this, not Nike. USATF sited in a press release that the advertising rules had previously been outlined and Brooks was in violation of them.
I did not know any of this as I watched the run happy banner fly overhead both Saturday and Sunday. But I do re-call thinking that that was a pretty clever guerilla marketing move on Brooks’ part. I figured Nike would not be happy but after reading Geoff Hollister’s book, Out of Nowhere, I couldn’t help but laugh to myself that Brooks was doing what Nike used to do. Back in the mid-1970’s when adidas had exclusive sponsorship and ruled the US track & field scene, Nike would look for any creative way to gain visibility.
Geoff Hollister passed away earlier this year. Nike lost one of their original employees with his passing. Hollister loved Nike so he couldn’t be too happy with another company trying to steal some of the marketing share from Nike. But I can’t help but feel like he’d also smile to himself a little at seeing Brooks’ guerilla marketing tactics at the Olympic Trials. It was something right out of the Nike book.