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.
I think I will remember this decade as the decade I established myself as a successful coach. In the 90’s, I was still pretty competitive myself as a runner and I was a little more focused on my own running and racing than coaching. During the 90’s, I ran three marathons and set most of my PR’s. I also laid the groundwork for my coaching career (team manager at UCLA, asst. coach at Lowell, started Thursday night track workouts for the DSE), but it has been in the last ten years that I have made a bigger impact as a coach.
When the decade began I was 29 years old and had been a head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) for just one and a half years. Although I had been coaching the Thursday night track workouts for five years, it was quite different – there was no Pamakid Runners club involvement and on average just eight to ten people were at each track workout.
Now as the decade ends, I am 39 years old and am in my twelfth year as head coach at SHCP. Thursday night track workouts have been going for fifteen years and we average 15-20 people at each workout. I am both President and Coach of the Pamakids and also coach many people privately.
I won’t rank my top ten coaching memories from this decade, but instead will list them in chronological order. If you are reading this as a word file, you can click on the hyperlinks for more details about the event.
I’d never really followed the discus much as a coach. Before 2000, a high schooler throwing the discus 140 feet was pretty darn good to me. That all changed with Tony. When Tony threw, the discus just soared and soared like a Frisbee. All season long meet officials didn’t believe me when I warned them that we had a kid who could throw the discus over their boundary flags. This was most apparent on an April evening at UC Davis. Tony nearly hit the official with his 182-11 toss (fourth best in the state at that point in the season). We had to help the official mark the throw because he was more focused on getting out of the way than spotting the landing of the throw. Tony went on to throw a best of 194-4 (I missed this throw because Shannon Rowbury had an 800 race at the same time) and placed sixth at the State Meet.
June 2001 – Shannon Rowbury winning the State Meet 800.
Shannon and I shared a lot of great moments when she was in high school (Arcadia 800 win, Outdoor Nationals win, State Champion in the 1600) but her first State Championship stands out in my mind as special above the others.
April 2002 – The Varsity Boys beating Mitty in a dual meet.
It had been at least ten years since SHCP’s Varsity Boys had won a dual meet. We targeted April 17, 2002 as our chance to end the streak. It was a back and forth battle and it all came down to our victory in the 4X400 Relay.
The dream of getting the boy’s team to State Meet started two years earlier. It was a tight battle between six schools for the four qualifying spots. Our theme was “Be a hero and let’s get to that big dance in Fresno.”
A week before the race I announced that I would run 7:20 pace for the first seven miles of the race to help people hit their goal of a 1:36 half marathon. I had a good-sized group of runners and I was really proud when everyone came in at or under their goal time. It was during this run, from mile four to six, that Sara Saba and I discussed how to go about fielding a Pamakid women’s cross country team in the near future. Less than three short years later, the Pamakids cross country team grew to include men and women, open and masters.
May 2007/May 2009 – Coaching the whole kid, not just the athlete.
A high school coach is tasked with more than making someone successful in sport. I am proud to have played a role in the development of two special people: James Mabrey (2007) and Tammia Hubbard (2009). Both of these individuals came to SHCP thinking that they were basketball players. They faced numerous challenges but through our hard work they were successful in school and ended their high school careers as league champions.
I was coaching Michelle in her first year after finishing college. After she ran a fast time at the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll half marathon, her goal changed from just running a marathon to going for a sub-2:47.
Everything happened fast from early-May to early-July. Shannon was home in San Francisco training for the Olympic Trials and I volunteered to help her in any way that I could. For the most part that meant meeting her at the track to help her do Coach John Cook’s workouts and talking to her about anything and everything. There was a bit of a media blitz as Shannon went from chasing the “A” standard to being the favorite to win. It was all a brand new experience for me – especially the priceless moment: watching the kids you coached in high school make the Olympics!
December 2009 – Seeing Pamakids succeed at CIM.
It was a wildly successful day for the Pamakids at CIM – all three relay teams placed second in their division (thanks in part to the now famous meet sheet). In addition there were numerous PR’s among the thirteen Pamakid marathoners and all four people that I was coaching achieved their goal of a Boston qualifier.