I first heard of the Three Course Challenge in the fall of 1999. I read the article that appears below in a magazine. This cross country meet in Seaside, Oregon with muddy fields, overgrown fields, tall grass, and waist deep murky water sounded both challenging and interesting. The fact that a team’s varsity seven would have to draw poker chips to see on which course they would run (two on the easy course, two on the medium course, and three on the difficult course) added to the uniqueness of the meet.
Four years later I saw the magazine cover below and I was reminded of this meet. This time I did more than say it looked interesting; I started making plans to take the Sacred Heart Cathedral team to this meet, whose motto is, “Celebrating the sport of cross country.”
Seaside High School Coach Neil Branson has been the meet director since its inception in 1990. There’s a pasta dinner at the high school the night before and then teams can stay overnight in the barracks at Camp Rilea (where the meet takes place). Camp Rilea is an active national guard training area, thus it features a variety of terrain that provides the challenging courses that make up the Three Course Challenge special.
For me, one of the meet’s coolest things is to wake up, get out of bed, walk outside and already be at the meet. For the kids, the course is what is memorable. “Camp Rilea is a setting that screams CROSS COUNTRY,” says the welcome letter, “We are not talking a golf course, this is the REAL thing with dirt roads, animal trails, open grassy fields, sand hills, and with luck a good stretch of water for thrills and spills. The courses are NOT measured for two reasons. One, I change them often due to adjusting to new “obstacles.” Two, I want kids to just run, have fun, compete, and forget the clock.” The energy at the meet is palpable, with music and a drum corps creating a festive atmosphere.
What makes the course most memorable, however, is the mud pit that is usually in the middle of the moderate and difficult course. I spotted a national guard officer filling a big hole with water to create said mud pit. Over the years, and thanks to YouTube, the mud pit is the main attraction. Kids have been known to lose shoes and fall face first into the water. So of course everyone wants to see and capture the action on video! A crowd gathers around the mud pit early, with spectators hanging off of trees to get the best vantage point.
From humble beginnings (90 runners in 1990) the meet has grown. There were 1,778 runners at the 2004 meet. When I went to the meet a second time in 2007 there were 2,298 runners. This year, it seems even bigger with 90-95 teams registered to race. I seem to be going with my team every third year. At this rate I should be Oregon-bound again in 2013. To date, assistant coaches Tomas Palmero, Sherie Lo Giudice, and I are the only ones to have been on all three trips (me and Tomas as coaches, Sherie as an athlete in 2004 and as a coach in 2007 and this year). Another interesting note is that four of my current assistants who are going this year (Sherie, Rhiannon Cadelinia, Rachel Giovannetti, and Natalie Martinez) all raced at the 2004 meet where we came in fourth.
When we went in 2004 and 2007 we flew on Southwest Airlines from Oakland to Portland, took a bus to Seaside, and stayed Friday night at Camp Rilea. The meet was on Saturday and then we spent Saturday night at a hotel in the resort town of Seaside. Sunday morning we went to the beach, and then it was back to Portland on the bus, and from there we flew home.
This year, the cost of duplicating that itinerary would have been over $400 per athlete. Due to the economy I couldn’t justify charging our parents that much and I also feared that we would not get our usual traveling party of 36 (2004) to 45 (2007) at that price. Fortunately we came up with an alternative. More correctly, senior Geoffrey Yep came up with the idea. We are taking the train!
We leave on Thursday evening on the 10:12 P.M. Amtrak train. We arrive in Portland on Friday afternoon and will do our usual: bus to Seaside, dinner, overnight at Camp Rilea, run the meet, overnight in Seaside, go to the beach Sunday morning, and take the bus back to Portland. Then we’ll get on Amtrak again for a seventeen and a half hour ride back home, arriving at the Emeryville station Monday morning.
We leave on our five day, four night, eighty-four hour epic trip tomorrow. I can’t wait!
Last weekend Croatia hosted the inaugural IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup. It was a competition between four teams – the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Each team had two entries per event (except the 1500, 3000, 3000 Steeplechase, and 5000 where each team got three entries) with no more than one athlete from a country. In individual events, eight points were awarded for first place, seven points for second place on down to one point for eighth place. In the relays, it was fifteen points for first place, eleven points for second place, seven points for third place, and three points for fourth place. Points were combined for men and women, with a single team emerging as the Continental Cup Champion. In the end, Team Europe edged out the Americas for the win, 429-419.5, with Africa in third with 291 points, and Asia-Pacific in fourth with 286.5 points.
It was nice to see a meet with a team aspect and team scoring. The $2.9 million in prize money insured that the top athletes were there to compete for their team. But the way the teams were made presented the problem that athletes often had no real allegiance to their team. Athletes think of themselves as being from a particular country and usually have national allegiance, not a continental allegiance. Also, putting athletes onto teams based on continents created teammates out of some athletes who are normally rivals. For example, Nancy Langat (Kenya) and Geleta Burka (Ethiopia) are bitter rivals in the women’s 1500 meters but they were supposed teammates at this meet. Neither athlete was hoping for a 1-2 finish in their race. It was also somewhat strange to see sprint rivals, Jamaica and the United States of America, teaming up in the relay events together. That being said, David Oliver, one of Team America’s team captains, found himself being very team oriented. He cheered on his teammates and talked to and supported athletes from events that he does not normally follow.
A meet that really gets the passions of a country and its citizens going is a dual meet between rival countries. That’s the case at the Finland vs. Sweden track & field dual meet. This meet, called “Finnkampen” by the Swedes, has been taking place annually since 1925. Team scoring is separate for the men and the women at this meet and, in addition to the elite athletes, the meet also hosts a competition between junior athletes from the rival nations. The 2010 meet, held in Helsinki, Finland drew over 54,000 spectators for the two days of competition. Finland was victorious in the men’s competition and both junior competitions, with the Swedes winning the women’s competition. How important is this meet to the athletes? Three Finish javelin throwers arrived at the meet after competing in the Brussels Diamond League meet the day before, just four hours before their dual meet competition began. They went to a lot of trouble to be able to throw at this dual meet. They also swept the javelin for Finland!
A dual meet between rival countries can stir up a lot of interest. The USA took on the USSR in a dual meet, that was held almost every non-Olympic year between 1958 and 1985. The dual meet in 1962 took place at Stanford Stadium and drew a crowd of 72,500 on day one and 81,000 on day two. At the time, It was the largest two day crowd to ever witness a non-Olympic track & field meet. A reporter from the San Francisco Examiner called it the “greatest track (& field) meet of all-time.” Two world records were set: American Harold Connolly (who passed away on August 18) threw the hammer 231 feet, 10 inches and Soviet Valery Brumel cleared seven feet, five inches in the high jump. Among the star athletes from the USA who competed at this meet were, Wilma Rudolph, Al Oerter, Ralph Boston, and future football stars Bob Hayes and Paul Warfield. The final score had the USA winning the men’s competition, 128-107, and the USSR winning the women’s competition, 66-41.
The sport of track & field, at least in the United States, could use more dual meets. A dual meet between rivals like the USA and USSR, with easy to follow team scoring and some political intrigue, has the potential to win over the casual sports fan. People get excited to see a battle between two rivals. Most people may not know the difference between a good time and a mediocre time in the 800 meters, but everyone can certainly follow who beat whom in a head-to-head competition.
At the high school level the dual meet is the main type of competition. Star athletes compete at Arcadia and Mt. Sac, but for all the other high school athletes, the dual meet is the meet to get pumped up for. One of my best coaching memories is from a dual meet in 2002 when Sacred Heart Cathedral ended a long drought of losing dual meets by beating Mitty in dramatic fashion – winning the last event, the 4X400 relay.
In college, although most of the season emphasis is on conference, regional, and national meets, teams get excited to compete against their rival in a dual meet. Some examples: Cal vs. Stanford (116 year history), UCLA vs. USC (as a Bruin alum, this was a painful hyperlink to include), and Harvard vs. Yale (a meet that dates back to 1891). These dual meet rivalries are flamed by the schools’ proximity and long history of competition.
A good dual meet also occurs when the two teams are evenly matched. The men’s coaches from UCLA and Oregon got together in 2008 and decided to renew the rivalry between these two venerable track & field programs by having an annual UCLA-Oregon dual meet at Eugene’s Hayward Field. The 2009 meet was particularly close and exciting; the winner was not decided until the 4X400 relay. I won’t give away the result (you’ll have to watch the video of the race), but let me assure you, it was a dramatic race. The race leader changed several times during the race. UCLA Bruin and Oregon Duck athletes can be seen on the infield cheering on their respective teams. It was track & field dual meet action at its best!
At the elite level of track & field there are very few opportunities to compete in dual meets. With an emphasis on not over-racing and over-competing, and on achieving fast times and big marks, winning head-to-head competitions takes a backseat on most elite athletes’ competition calendar. These are reasons the dual meet is becoming a thing of the past. The Finns and Swedes are lucky, they get to enjoy a dual meet with the drama and excitement of their national pride on the line every year.
The University of Oregon’s Hayward Field will host the 2010 NCAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships from June 9-12. That means that for the third year in a row a major track & field championship meet will take place in the city known as “Track Town USA”; that city would be Eugene, Oregon. The previous meets were the 2008 USA Olympic Trials and the 2009 USA Championships. There will be plenty of exciting competition at this year’s NCAA Championship meet – there always is.
At the 2009 NCAA Championships, before the final event – the men’s 4X400 meter relay – no less than four schools had a chance to be crowned team champion depending on the outcome of the 4X4. One scenario had four teams tying for first place with forty-six points. Heading into the 4X4 this was the situation:
- Oregon, 46 points – no 4X4 team
- Florida, 41 points
- Texas A&M, 40 points
- Florida State, 36 points
Florida State dominated the race, running sub-3:00 claiming ten points to tie with Oregon at 46 points. Florida battled hard and ended up in fourth place for five points so they, too, ended the day with 46 points. Texas A&M was in second place on the final exchange and they needed to stay in second for eight points and a national championship at 48 points. If Baylor were to catch them on the final lap and knock Texas A&M down to third place, Texas A&M would only get six points and they would be the fourth team tied with 46 points. This was some of the highest drama imaginable for an NCAA Championship meet. What a happened? Watch the video and remember to stay focused on whether Texas A&M gets second place (thus winning the championship outright) or third place (creating a four-way tie for the title).
Included in this year’s drama will be the host school, the Oregon Ducks, contending for both the men’s and women’s team championship. Track & Field News’ pre-meet predictions have the Oregon women in a near dead heat with Texas A&M. On the men’s side, Florida and Texas A&M are predicted to battle for the title with Oregon holding down third place. But there is a reason they actually have the meet and don’t crown the champion based on seed times. You can be sure that Oregon’s coach Vin Lananna will pull out all the stops to try to win a championships or two on their home track. The home crowd at Hayward Field has been known to cheer on local athletes to incredible performances (Remember the 2008 USA Olympic Trials Men’s 800 race?).
In truth, the NCAA Championships began the weekend of May 27-29 at the regional qualifying meets. For the first time, and somewhat controversially, qualification for the NCAA Championship meet began with qualifying rounds at two regional meets (the western regional meet in Austin, TX and the eastern regional meet in Greensboro, NC). The top forty-eight athletes in each event and the top twenty-four relay teams in each region qualified for regionals. The top twelve athletes and relay teams in each event at the regional meet then qualified to what’s called the NCAA Championships. The only exceptions made to this protocol of qualifying from regionals to the championship meet are for the heptathlon and decathlon. The top twenty-four athletes in each of these events qualify straight to the championship in Eugene.
Since there were preliminary rounds of competition at regionals, and there will be semi-finals and then finals for most events at the championships in Eugene, I consider what started on May 27 and will finish on June 12 to be one big and long NCAA Championship meet. This seventeen day meet began with the qualifying rounds in Austin and Greensboro, took a ten day break, and will end with the semi-finals and finals in Eugene.
Track & field isn’t the only thing happening at the University of Oregon. It’s also graduation time. After Eugene was named the host school for the 2010 NCAA Championships the University of Oregon had an issue to resolve, when would they hold their commencement exercises? Based on the University of Oregon’s traditional calendar commencement should be on Saturday, June 12, the first day following final exams. But Saturday, June 12 will be the last day of the NCAA Championship meet, and there was concern that there would not be enough hotel rooms in Eugene and its vicinity to house both the track & field fans and the graduates’ families. A number of ideas were bantered about, including: holding graduation either two weeks after finals (i.e. June 19) or after dead week but before finals (June 5). Both ideas had major drawbacks. With the first, students would have to wait around for a week after finals for graduation. With the second, could there be a graduation before final exams? Isn’t it mandatory for a student to pass those exams before they can achieve the necessary credits to graduate? The decision was finally made to hold the University of Oregon’s class of 2010 graduation ceremony on Monday, June 14. Throughout the debate there was criticism from those who felt that the university placed athletics ahead of academics. In fairness to the current Oregon administration, it was a previous regime that agreed to host the NCAA Championships.
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention one final news item connected to the University of Oregon. On Saturday, May 29, 2010, after ninety-six years on this earth, and exactly two weeks before the 2010 NCAA Championships will be decided at Hayward Field, Barbara Bowerman passed away. She was the widow of famed Oregon coach Bill Bowerman (if you haven’t read Kenny Moore’s book, Bowerman and the Men of Oregon, I highly recommend it). This year’s Oregon teams are hoping to repeat a feat that two of Bowerman’s Oregon teams achieved: winning an NCAA Championship at home (1962 and 1984). There have been some touching articles written about this gracious woman. On behalf of all runners, I hope you rest in peace and I thank you, Mrs. Bowerman, for sacrificing your waffle iron for the sake of future runners’ shoes.
FOR NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP COVERAGE:
There are plenty of places on the web to get NCAA Championship meet coverage. CBS will have live television coverage from 10:00 A.M. to noon pacific time on Saturday, June 12 (check your local listings).
- Runnerspace – http://www.runnerspace.com/NCAAOutdoorChampionships
- Letsrun - http://www.letsrun.com/2010/ncaapreviews2010.php
- Track & Field News – http://www.trackandfieldnews.com/
- US Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association – http://www.ustfccca.org/division-i
The 2010 Penn Relay Carnival lived up to the hype. It was a great meet filled with dramatic race finishes and memorable performances. Writers at LetsRun.com and OregonLive.com have already done some nice write-ups on the meet so there’s no point in me re-telling the whole story of the 2010 Penn Relays. I’ll hit on the highlights and then list some links, should you want to read more.
The University of Tennessee Women pulled off the distance relay sweep for the second year in a row. Phoebe Wright ran key legs on all three winning relay teams and now has six Penn Relay championship watches, one for each of the six winning relay teams she has been a part of last year and this year.
The University of Oregon made their presence felt at the meet. The women had three top three finishes (2nd in the DMR, 3rd in the 4X1500 relay, and 3rd in the 4X800 relay). The men won the DMR and 4Xmile relay, and came in 2nd in the 4X800 relay – one of the most talked about races of the meet.
The men’s 4X800 relay was highly anticipated because Oregon was anchored by 2008 Olympian Andrew Wheating and the University of Virginia was anchored by freshman sensation Robby Andrews. Wheating is known for his big kick at the end of races, so it was a bit of a surprise when Andrews beat Wheating at the NCAA Indoor Championships in March. The two would have a rematch on the anchor leg of the 4X800 relay; Andrews beat Wheating to give Virginia the win. OregonLive.com has a nice story about the Wheating-Andrews rivalry with links to more stories about it.
Usain Bolt electrified the crowd during the 4X100 relay. You can see in the ESPN television coverage of the race that the public address announcer had to plead with the crowd to be quiet for the start of the race so that they could have a fair start. Cameras were set-up to get a computer time for Bolt’s 100 meter split. It doesn’t really mean anything because he had a running start, but it sure sounds cool and fast to hear that he ran an 8.79 split (much faster than his world record 9.58).
Athletes who either train with Shannon Rowbury or are coached by Shannon’s coach, John Cook, were in action in the USA vs. the World relays. Alysia Johnson anchored the USA Blue team to 2nd place in the sprint medley relay. Jacob Hernandez ran an 800 leg on the USA Blue DMR team. David Torrance (1600 meter split: 4:00.46) and Leo Manzano (1600 split: 4:00.03) were part of a blanket finish that had three teams finish within 0.07 seconds of each other (1st Kenya-9:24.97, 2nd USA Blue (Torrance’s team)-9:25.02, 3rd USA White (Manzano’s team)-9:25.04). Speaking of Shannon, she is scheduled to race the 5,000 meters at the Payton Jordan Invitational on Saturday, May 1 at Stanford.
The excitement of the Penn Relays was on display in the high school boys 4X400 relay championship. I won’t give away the end, but some things to look for as you watch the video of the race:
- Note how the runner in the green and yellow uniform (Vere Tech from Clarendon, Jamaica) on the second leg “cuts out” to lane five.
- The team in the yellow and red uniform (Wolmer’s Boys from Kingston, Jamaica) had quite a day. Three of the four boys who ran in the 4X400 championship also ran on the 4X100 relay team that set a new Penn Relays record of 39.78 earlier in the day.
- Notice how the crowd goes crazy when Cheltenham from Pennsylvania goes by the Jamaicans to take a short lived lead. What a thrill for that team!
- Three teams finish within 0.38 seconds. Two of the teams are from Jamaica and the third one is Junipero Serra from Gardena, CA. Several California high school teams were in the finals, showing once again that California has some of the fastest runners in the world.
My final note about Penn Relays is something that makes me very proud. An athlete I coached at Sacred Heart Cathedral, who eleven months ago was winning her league championship in the 300 hurdles, got to run in the 4X200 and 4X400 relays for Ithaca College. Tammia Hubbard worked very hard to develop from a somewhat awkward freshman into a JV champion, and then into a varsity champion. Now she is a college athlete who ran at the Penn Relays in her freshman year. You can read more about Tammia in an Examiner article from March 2009.
LetsRun.com Friday Recap (Tennessee women win the 4X1500 relay. Oregon men win the DMR.): http://www.letsrun.com/2010/pennday20423.php
LetsRun.com Saturday Recap (Tennessee women win the 4X800 relay to sweep the distance relay for the second year in a row. Oregon wins the 4Xmile, but Robby Andrews leads Virginia over Oregon in the 4X800 to prevent an Oregon distance relay sweep. USA vs the World coverage.): http://www.letsrun.com/2010/pennrelays0424.php
Flotrack Coverage (videos of virtually every race): http://www.flotrack.org/videos/coverage/view/236836-2010-penn-relays
Complete Results (with embedded videos from the Penn Relays website): http://pennrelaysonline.com/Results/schedule.aspx