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.
<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ekXRpb0EuZA” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
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.
Now that we’re back from Eugene, Oregon, also known as Track Town, U.S.A., I thought I’d share what our typical day was like during the Olympic Trials.
My wife, Malinda Walker, was willing to make her ninth trip with me to a major track & field meet (2008-Olympic Trials, Beijing Olympics; 2009-Prefontaine, USA Champs, Berlin World Champs; 2010-USA Champs/Prefontaine (Des Moines & Eugene on the same trip!), 2011-USA Champs, Daegu World Champs; 2012-Olympic Trials). London will be our tenth trip. Joining us for the 2012 Olympic Trials was our friend John Gieng. Poor John had to put up with the antics that only an immature forty-one year old track coach and his going-on-five year bride can deliver.
Our typical day began with coffee from our Holiday Inn hotel room coffee maker with coffee bought at the Starbuck’s down the road. The capacity of the coffee maker was four cups. The caffeine requirements of the three of us combined was more than four cups. We had to empty the filter and make a fresh brew a couple times. Did I mention that at the Olympic Trials Fan Festival, official Olympic sponsor Chobani was handing out free samples of their Greek yogurt? I would frequent their booth multiple times every day and thus would have a good selection to pick from out of our refrigerator every morning.
After fueling up, we usually went for a run. Sometimes we would join one of the many group runs happening around town and sometimes we would go it alone. After the run, we needed more fuel so it was usually a stop to get brunch and more coffee then back to the hotel for a shower. Any time back at the hotel meant checking my e-mail, Facebook, blog stats, and LetsRun.com, to see what happened while we were out.
That usually brought us to one or two o’clock. At that time, we started planning when to head to the track for the meet. This year, getting ready to leave for the meet meant John checking the weather on his smartphone. What was the chance of rain? What was the expected temperature? This would lead us to the important decision of what to wear. Six out of the eight times we used our rental bikes to bike to the meet. Sometimes the chances of rain were so high that a glance out the window answered the question. We ended up taking the bus once and driving and taking a shuttle once. We don’t mind biking in the rain but it’s no fun to sit for four hours of a meet in wet clothes.
Biking to the track was always an adventure for me. While John and Malinda casually pedaled the five mile/25 minute ride to the track, I had to focus to keep up. If my mind wandered to Shannon’s upcoming race or I started writing my next blog in my head, I would look up and find myself a block (or more) behind them.
We had to go through security to get in. Plastic water bottles were allowed. Water in said plastic water bottles was not. No umbrellas. No outside food. Bags were inspected. We all had to walk through a metal detector. Once inside we would visit the Fan Festival for free stuff (did I mention the Chobani yogurt?), buy more coffee from Allann Bros., or visit the USATF appreciation tent. After the Chobani booth, the USATF appreciation tent, which offered USATF members free ice cream, coffee, and kettlecorn the last three days of the meet, was my favorite.
Our seats were in the west grandstand, Section F, row 19. We were on the final straightaway, with the long jump runways right in front of us. For the short sprints, directly in front of us was probably 60 meters to go. We did have an overhang above us but when it rained and the wind shifted we were close enough to the end of the overhang to get wet. At this point, I need to give a shout out to the Lake Merritt Joggers and Striders (LMJ&S) because the seat cushion they gave out to all participants of the Woodminster race, while at first seeming to be a silly giveaway, was a valued commodity on the wooden seats of Historic Hayward Field (my dry and comfortable rear end thanks you, LMJ&S!).
When Shannon wasn’t running, there was lively banter between the three of us – who had the A standard, what underdog was going to surprise everyone, who’s uniform was the dorkiest, etc. When Shannon was running, there was nervous tension in the air. The Olympic Trials is very well timed so every event gets its time in the spotlight. The announcer keeps you informed of what’s happening. The scoreboards on the field and the two jumbotrons help you keep track of the field event marks and who’s in what place. On the rare occasions when there was a break in the action, I reached into my backpack to pull out a snack from Chobani.
After the meet the main questions were: Where are we going to eat? and Are we going to have coffee or beer with dinner? Some nights we stopped by the local watering hole favored by Northern California coaches and track geeks, the Wild Duck Café. Other nights we ate healthy food somewhere else.
After biking back to the hotel, we had a pretty standard evening ritual. John would update the Pamakids Olympic Trials Game Standings and we’d have lively discussion about how various people were doing, who made good picks and who made horrible picks (horrible ones being the more entertaining of the two), and who Noe’s Moustache might be. I would formulate the next question to be sent out (with suggestions from the peanut gallery of Malinda and John). Once the Google Doc was updated, I would send out the nightly e-mail to the Pamakids Racing Team list serve.
Then we would have more discussion about the meet we just witnessed or what we were looking forward to seeing the next day. The night USATF released their dead heat procedures was by the far the most entertaining evening for discussion and comedy in Room 623 at the Holiday Inn in Springfield. When we’d had enough of LetsRun message boards, FloTrack interviews, RunningSpace videos, and USATF tweets, it was time to turn off the lights and go to sleep….so we could start this whole wonderful cycle all over again. Yes, it was Track Heaven.
Shannon Rowbury became a two-time Olympian with her second place finish in the 1500 meters on July 1 at the 2012 US Olympic Trials. In 2008, Shannon was the US Olympic Trials champion and went on to place seventh at the Beijing Olympic Games. That seventh place finish is the highest finish by an American woman in the 1500 meters in Olympic history. This is Shannon’s fourth consecutive national team qualification. In addition to these two Olympic team berths, she was also a member of Team USA for the 2009 and 2011 World Championships. At the 2009 World Championships she earned the bronze medal in the 1500.
The three qualifiers for the London Olympics were Shannon (4:05.11), the number one ranked runner in the world in 2011 Morgan Uceny (4:04.59), and the 2011 World Champion Jenny Simpson (4:05.17). The fact that all the experts were saying that these three were the clear favorites to qualify, didn’t make my race day morning have any less butterflies.
After two laps that were led by Treniere Moser and Brenda Martinez, the big three made their way to the front of the pack. With 500 meters to go there began to be some separation between these three and the chase pack. In reality, the drama of who was going to make the team was gone. The three battled it over the last lap before the final order was settled.
After screaming our heads off from the stands during the race, we hustled down to the fence to give Shannon a hug as she took the traditional Hayward Field victory lap. After the meet we headed to the Wild Duck Café. Tamalpan Mike Fanelli insisted on buying us a pitcher that we drank while watching NBC’s west coast broadcast of the meet (it was almost as exciting watching Shannon qualify for the Olympics this second time). Another highlight was taking a picture with Dave Frank, a coaching friend who used to coach at St. Francis and run for the Aggies. He now coaches in Portland and was the head coach at Cathedral Catholic when one Galen Rupp attended school there. I feel that Dave and I share some common emotions. Then we headed for some coffee and dessert. Finally Shannon finished her Olympic processing so we met up with her, her parents, her boyfriend (Pablo) and others in her core support group to raise a glass of champagne in celebration.
We got back to our hotel room just shortly before midnight. I was still pretty excited and couldn’t pull myself away from the computer to go to sleep. I read every e-mail, text, and Facebook comment. I re-lived the race and conversations with people at the meet. I watched a FloTrack interview where Shannon even gave me a shout out.
When I woke up this morning, I checked to make sure this wasn’t all a dream. Nope, it wasn’t. It all really happened. Shannon Rowbury is now a two-time Olympian! Congratulations!
Four years ago today, Shannon Rowbury qualified for her first Olympic Team by winning the 2008 Olympic Trials 1500. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And yet here we are again. Same place (Eugene, Oregon). Same butterflies.
Yes, I’ve got some butterflies flying around in my stomach this morning but not nearly the swarm that Shannon probably has. Her first round race last Thursday and her semi-final race last Friday both went very well. She has looked smooth, in control, and FAST in both races. She won her heat on Thursday in 4:16.17 and won her heat on Friday in 4:09.96. I’m not surprised that she looked good in those races but it was still nice to see.
There has been some controversy in the women’s 1500 over the last two days. None of it has involved Shannon. After Friday’s semi-final the twelve women who qualified for the final were announced. However, late Friday night we read on a message board that Gabrielle Anderson, who took second place in Shannon’s heat, had been disqualified for illegal contact with another runner. It was rumored that the disqualification was due to a protest by Amy Mortimer. By Saturday morning the list of entrants for the 1500 final had been changed. Anderson was out and as a result Alice Schmidt moved into the final qualifying spot. Mortimer was not added to the field.
There was also a lot of energy on social media suggesting that Anderson would protest her disqualification and sure enough she did. By mid-day on Saturday, Anderson had been reinstated into the Friday results and back into the entry list for the final (“un-disqualified” if you will). Schmidt was back to being a “did not qualify.” However this changed again a few hours later. When we got to the track a friend informed us that Schmidt was back in the final and that there would be thirteen women in the final instead of twelve.
This is all very bizarre but hopefully will not affect the outcome of the 1500 final. Schmidt’s status is of particular interest because she is already qualified for the Olympics in the 800 meters and she is one of five runners with the Olympic A standard of 4:06.00 or better. The others are Shannon, Morgan Uceny, Jenny Simpson, and Anna Pierce. If history is any indicator, the race will go out slow on Sunday and few if any runners will be under the 4:06 mark. If that’s the case, then the London-bound athletes will be the top three finishers who already have the A standard. You can see how Schmidt’s presence or lack of presence is significant. If Schmidt is out of the race there will only be four runners with the A standard and the battle for three spots will likely be between those four. With Schmidt in the mix there would be another legitimate contender for one of the three spots.
Those are the circumstances leading up to this afternoon’s race. It really is an honor and privilege to be so emotionally invested in such a high level race. I’m just a high school track & field coach with some great timing. I never imagined when I started my first season at Sacred Heart Cathedral in the summer of 1998 that I was about to meet a young girl who would change how closely I follow elite distance running and that fourteen years later I would have butterflies in my stomach all day in anticipation of watching her race. Go get’em Shannon!