Chanman's Blog


Andy Chan 2.0

Posted in Coaching,SHC Cross Country by Andy Chan on November 23, 2017
Tags: , ,

m

For most of my twenty years as the head cross country coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral, the week before the Section Championships (CCS Week we call it), has been filled with very specific race day preparations. My style and belief has been that to prepare the runners to be ready for the moment, we should do specific training and have specific conversations about how the race will probably play out. There has been a lot of talk about qualifying for State Meet. Tactically, we have discussed where to try to position oneself early in the race, a first mile time goal, when to surge, and what teams to be looking for. We’ve gone so far as to pass around pictures of the teams we are competing with, so our team would know what color uniforms to be looking for.

I felt this year’s Boys team, given their experience, would be able to run a solid race regardless of my coaching tactics. I had no regrets about their training. I felt confident they would go out and give everything they had. The question was, was their best going to be good enough to place in the top two to qualify for State. As it turned out, Aptos and Greenfield were just too fast for us. We ended up a solid fourth but we were a far distance from for second. I was at peace with that.

The Girls team on the other hand, was new to the sport, inexperienced at championship level racing; a very un-confident group. My usual CCS Week talks, workouts, and activities were not going to work. They would only serve to make the Girls more nervous. I needed to give them emotional support and mental confidence, much more than physical training and race information.

I am proud of myself because during CCS Week I basically re-invented myself as a coach. Andy Chan 2.0, one of the girls called it.

Tactics were replaced by focusing only on what is controllable (effort and attitude) and letting go of the un-controllable things, like how the other teams raced.

The usual overall race plan was replaced with just focusing on the next 30 seconds to one minute of the course.

Talk about State Meet was replaced by reminders that we love them, no matter the outcome.

On Monday, we held hands before the hill workout and I had everyone think of someone that loves them unconditionally. On Tuesday, we all shared who we had thought about who loves us unconditionally. A game of duck, duck, goose followed. Then I passed out index cards and pens and told them to write down anything that was stressing them; I then asked them to write down the worst thing that could happen at the meet. After some sharing, I told them to rip up their card into as many pieces as they wanted and then throw the scraps into the garbage can before starting their warm-up.

CCS Week had become Kumbaya Week.

We held hands a lot. We formed a lot of circles when we talked. I sat down with them for meetings rather than standing over them.

I heard later that the kids were talking about it outside of practice, “What do you think he’s going to do today?” No we didn’t write our names in blood or sacrifice Lawrence at the team dinner. But I had them guessing now and more importantly had them thinking about what I would do next instead of worrying about the upcoming race.

At the team dinner, we played some crazy games. Everyone brought a stuffed animal and shared a story about their stuffed animal. The only time I said the word “State” that night was during the meeting when I said, “Getting to State isn’t that big a deal. It’s getting to spend an extra two weeks with the team that’s special.”

I went to the school’s Academic Resource Specialist (Cally Salzman) for advice. I figured she works with students who get nervous and struggle in class. I hoped she could give me a tip or two to help at the meet. She suggested giving them some time to sit alone, breathe deeply, and listen to music.

Normally we just send the team out to warm-up on their own with a basic idea of what time they should be ready to go to the starting line. Not Andy Chan 2.0. We gave them a very structured warm-up schedule. There was no time to get nervous because they were constantly checking the schedule to stay on task. Everything was plotted out. Usually I don’t let kids use their phones once we get to the meet. But this time I made an exception so we could use Cally’s suggestion. We gave five minutes of “Alone Time” for anyone who thought it would help them to sit, breathe deeply and listen to music.

At the starting line during the team huddle, I reminded them to focus on effort and attitude only. They should only concern themselves with the next thirty seconds to one minute of the course. If their mind wandered at all, they should think about how much everyone loves them.

During the race, I only said things related to effort and attitude and I gave them short term goals, things they would focus on for only a few seconds to a minute. This wasn’t easy for me, as I am wired to shout out their position in the race or who we needed to catch in order to qualify for State. In fact, I had to rehearse this strategy the night before the race.

Halfway through the race, I could tell that Aptos was way out in front and was going to win. The top three girls teams would qualify for State and mid-race it was clearly North Monterey Country (NMC) and Sobrato in second and third. I heard the announcer say we were in fourth and that our San Francisco rival, St Ignatius (SI) was in fifth.

In the last mile, I noticed SI was making a strong move up and that NMC and Sobrato were falling back. But still, every time I cheered for our Girls, all I would say was “give me a good effort,” “focus on attitude,” and “pass one person between here and the turn.” I never once shouted to them about the other teams’ position.

At the finish, I was super pleased. We had run great races all around. The Girls looked pleased but also nervous. They were wondering if we had qualified for State. I remember running up to them and telling them that they ran great, that that was the race we wanted and that we didn’t need a results sheet to tell us it was a good day. As we walked to the start line for the Boys race, I wouldn’t let myself think about whether we qualified or not. I was happy with the race. I wanted to follow my own advice and not care (too much) about the result.

Then we heard an unofficial announcement that we were third. That made things difficult. It would be too painful to start thinking we made it, only to find out that we hadn’t when the official results came out. I didn’t want to go down that road and I didn’t want the Girls to either. So I kept telling them to wait…to not celebrate yet. I was having an internal fight in my head, on one side I wanted to consider what it would be like if we qualified for State. On the other side, I kept saying to myself, “don’t go there.”

IMG_9470Finally, on my fiftieth refresh of the results web page in the twenty minutes since the race had ended, I saw the official results. Only fifteen points separated second place from fifth place. We were a State Meet qualifying third place, only six points ahead of Sobrato and only eight points ahead of NMC!

Wow! A lot of things went into this achievement. Mostly the girls who ran. But also the support from the alternates, the other coaches and the rest of the team. And if the Andy Chan 2.0 coaching style contributed just a little, I’m proud of that, too.

Advertisements

Cheering for Amy

Cheering for Amy_after the race_photo by Paul Merca

Amy Cragg after her 3rd place finish. Photo by Paul Merca.

Malinda and I decided to go out on the marathon course at the 2017 World Championships and watch and cheer for the women’s race. By the time we got on to the course near St. Paul’s Cathedral, the race leaders were nearing the halfway point. Great Britain’s Alyson Dixon had built up an early thirty second lead but there was a large chase pack of runners including Amy Crag and Serena Burla. By the time we saw the runners again, they were at the 30K mark and we noticed that Cragg was leading the front pack of about fourteen runners.

cheering-for-amy_leading-the-front-pack-midrace.jpg

Amy Cragg (nee Hastings) has qualified to represent the USA at five global championships since 2011 in three different events. She was fifteenth in the 5,000 meters at the 2011 Daegu World Championships. She was eleventh and fourteenth in the 10,000 meters at the 2012 London Olympics and 2013 Moscow World Championships. She was ninth in the Marathon at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Cragg is no stranger to competing in these big races. She has made steady improvements but hadn’t yet truly contended for a spot on the podium. Going into this race her personal best in the marathon was 2:27:03, only the twenty-second fastest time out of all the competitors. But that’s why they run the race.

We decided to move closer to the finish line to cheer. Malinda picked a spot on a tough uphill section that we later estimated was about one kilometer from the finish. “This is where she’ll need cheering the most,” Malinda reasoned as we found a spot on a barricade to tie our USA flag. I found a wifi signal and started to monitor Twitter for race updates.

When these last two tweets came through, I told Malinda to get ready because from the time stamps I could tell they were only one or two minutes away.

cheering-for-amy_waiting-at-the-hill-with-1k-to-go.jpg

Here came the lead motorcycle, then the truck photographers, and, after a small gap, the Toyota with the Seiko clock displaying the running time of the race on top. Chelimo and Kiplagat ran by, but I hardly noticed them. I leaned over the barricade and craned my neck to try to see around the corner. There they were, Cheyech with Cragg a few steps back. “Come on, Amy!” we shouted, “Dig deep!” She had a determined look on her face as she attacked the hill. At that point a man in a blue Nike shirt sprinted by and yelled to Amy, “She’s slowing, Amy. She’s all yours.” I looked at Malinda and said, “That’s Amy’s husband.”

 

Cheering for Amy_still in 4th

We quickly untied our USA flag and took off running, trying to keep up with the husband (Alistair Cragg). Alistair is a former elite runner himself and I was trying not to spill my coffee, so we didn’t keep up. Then I saw a bar and thought that we should go in and see if they have a television. Right as I got to the door, Alistair came out. A man wearing a red Bowerman Track Club shirt was with him. Since they were leaving, we knew there was no television in that bar so we didn’t even go in to look. We all took off running in the direction of the finish line. I started putting it all together and realized Bowerman Track Club shirt guy was Cragg’s coach, Jerry Schumacher. Somehow Jerry and I got slowed down by some slow moving pedestrians and Alistair and Malinda got ahead of us and out of sight. We passed another bar. I looked all around and didn’t see Malinda. I thought to myself, “Do I go in the bar or keep running down the street?” As I contemplated my decision and the possible ramifications of each option, I heard a voice shout, “Jerry, they got one!” We turned and saw Alistair pointing inside. So, it was Jerry Schumacher. But more importantly, The Liberty Bounds had a TV!

Jerry and I raced inside. I glanced around trying to figure out if Malinda was there or not. Initially I didn’t spot her but then I heard her voice, “She’s got it!” We were all staring at the television and screaming for Amy. “Where’s the finish? How much farther?” Alistair asked. “It’s just on to the Bridge,” I shouted back. I did compose myself to take this wonderful picture of Jerry, Alistair, and Malinda gazing at the screen.

Cheering for Amy_Alistair and Jerry

After Amy crossed the line in third, Jerry and Alistair hugged. Malinda bear hugged Ailstair and told him congratulations. Jerry pointed at Alistair and shouted, “That’s the husband of third place.” And then Alistair shouted, “And this is the coach!” I patted them on the back as they took off running towards the finish to join Amy.

Malinda and I looked at each other and said to each other, “Wow!”

The end of the Bolt era, but not the moment track & field wanted

The end of the Bolt era_UslainSaturday August 5, 2017 was the 100 meter final at the 2017 World Championships. Usain Bolt had already announced that this would be his final individual race (he will still race in the 4X100 relay next week). With thirteen individual gold medals in the 100 and 200 meters from the Olympics and World Championships, this was a much anticipated finale for track & field’s biggest star.

If Bolt were to win, he would go out in style, doing what he has done almost without fail since 2008 – WIN. There would be loud cheering, perhaps as loud as it was when the Brit’s own Mo Farah won the night before. There would be throngs of photographers following him, imploring him to do his famous “Bolt Arms” pose. The Jamaican fans would cheer wildly. Bolt would take a long, circuitous lap around the track that would both be a victory lap and a farewell lap.

On the other hand, 21-year old American Christian Coleman, owner of a 9.82 personal record that makes him the fourth fastest American in history, seemed ready to beat Bolt. Perhaps a Coleman win at these World Championships would represent an official “changing of the guard” – Bolt passing the baton to his heir apparent as sprint king.

Either scenario would give track & field a signature moment.

But instead, track & field got an eyesore of a moment.

Justin Gatlin, an athlete mired with doping allegations and drug suspensions in his past, was the man who beat Bolt in Bolt’s last race. All meet long, whenever Gatlin was introduced, the knowledgeable London fans would boo. Not the most sportsmanlike thing to do but it is hard to be critical of the booing.

If you need a refresher course on Gatlin, here it is. In 2001, while in college at the University of Tennessee, Gatlin failed a drug test. The drug was an amphetamine that was in a medicine he was taking for attention deficit disorder (ADD). Gatlin’s initial two year suspension was shortened when the details about the medication were uncovered. But he was informed at that time that any subsequent positive drug test would be treated as a second offense (which comes with a lifetime ban).

He had a very successful 2004-2005, winning the gold in the 100 meters at the Athens Olympics and winning the gold in both the 100 and 200 meters the 2005 World Championships in Helsinki.

In May 2006, Gatlin ran a World Record tying time of 9.77. However that mark was annulled after he failed a drug test from a meet in April (the result did not come back until June). Gatlin and his coach Trevor Graham (himself linked to eleven athletes who tested positive on a drug test and/or served a drug suspension) claimed Gatlin was sabotaged by their massage therapist Chris Whetstine. They claimed Whetstine massaged testosterone cream into Gatlin’s legs and that’s what led to the positive drug test. This being his second offense, should have meant a lifetime ban. However, Gatlin cooperated with anti-doping officials and because of the “exceptional circumstances” of his first offense, Gatlin was given an eight year ban, rather than a lifetime ban. Gatlin appealed the suspension and it was eventually reduced to four years.

Thus Gatlin returned to competition in 2010. All this time, Gatlin has not apologized for any of his actions nor admitted to any wrongdoing. He has carried on as if nothing happened. Which has only increased the dislike for him by fans of the sport. There is also a strong feeling among experts and scientists that once an athlete uses performance enhancing drugs, their physiology is changed and the performance enhancing benefits will last beyond the time the drug was taken. That’s the rationale for lifetime bans on even a first or minor offense.

That’s the man that won Bolt’s last race. That’s the man the London crowd has been booing non-stop. That’s why this was the worst case scenario for track & field.

The end of the Bolt era_embracing GatlinAfter the race, the crowd was stunned and didn’t know what to do. They booed Gatlin. They cheered with appreciation for Bolt. Bolt, showing class and sportsmanship in defeat, a situation he has not often faced, embraced Gatlin. Bolt took a somewhat subdued farewell lap, waving and thanking the fans. He was interviewed on the stadium big screen, where he showed nothing but class. Gatlin did not take a victory lap and was not interviewed on the stadium big screen. The medal ceremony has not happened yet. I have to wonder what will happen when it does.

The end of the Bolt era_waving goodbye

Thus, on the same night that four athletes received re-allocated medals from previous World Championships due to doping disqualifications, a person that most track fans consider a two-time drug cheat, won what was perhaps the most anticipated and watched race of all-time. Track & field has created this situation by not coming down on drug cheats as strongly as many call for. And so now they have to live with these results – Gatlin winning the race and no signature farewell moment for Bolt.

The night I won the Internet

There we are on NBC!

There we are on NBC!

I consider myself an active social media user, mostly using Facebook. The majority of my posts are about running (coaching at Sacred Heart Cathedral or running races for Pamakids) or food. When I travel to Olympics and World Championships, I also use social media to “bring my friends” with me to the meet.

The night of Shannon Rowbury’s 1500 Final, I experienced something on social media that I had never experienced before. My smartphone was blowing up with likes, comments, and tags. It was a fun experience – feeling popular and cool and loved. But don’t get me wrong, I would trade all of that for 0.53 seconds off of Shannon’s time.

It's just about Game Time...well, in 3.5 more hours.

It’s just about Game Time…well, in 3.5 more hours.

We arrived at our seats close to four hours before Shannon’s race and two hours before the meet started. There was nothing else to do, really, but be social on social media. I posted a picture of our group holding the Go Shannon banner and said “It’s just about game time.” People living vicariously through us started liking it. Shannon’s former SHC teammate, Michelle, questioned me about my timing, pointing out that it really wasn’t that close to game time….I still had three and a half hours. We bantered a little bit about what I should do to kill some time. She suggested dancing and eating.

A bit later, Jane and David Monti, who were working for NBC came to our seats. They wanted to make sure they knew where Shannon’s mom, Paula, and dad, Gary, were sitting so that the cameraman could find them when Shannon got introduced. I got introduced to Jane and David and they thought it was cool that Shannon’s high school coach was in the stands with her parents. They liked that we all had on the same “Rio makes it a trio” shirts that I had made for everyone. They liked that we had this cool “Go Shannon” banner with good luck wishes for Shannon in English, Chinese, German, Korean, Russian, and Portuguese (representing all the languages of the countries we’ve gone to, to cheer for Shannon). Malinda and I had seats in another section but it became apparent that if we stayed where we were with the Rowburys we would probably get on NBC. I decided to give up our closer seats first to sit with friends and second to become an internet star. The Monti’s took some pictures of us and wrote down some notes about us and checked the exact spelling of our names.

We tied the Go Shannon banner to the railing and some cameramen came by to see what we looked like and to check out the banner. Apparently the banner was a godsend to them because they were having troubles finding parents in the stands. But not us. We had a banner to mark our spot!

We shared with a few people via social media that we were probably going to be on NBC for Shannon’s race. I also texted my mother so she would make sure to look for me. Malinda’s mom happened to text me, so I told her too.

Shortly after, they started playing samba music in the stadium and encouraged the crowd to dance along. Never ones to be shy in these situations, Malinda and I got up and danced in the aisle. Apparently NBC was checking their cameras then because we got a text that they just saw us dancing on their cameras! I sent a message to Michelle that I had now danced so next I was going to eat something. We also talked about what color lipstick I was going to wear for the race. (Shannon wears colored lipstick for her races and at this year’s Olympic Trials I got talked into wearing lipstick for Shannon’s final. Shannon was so happy when she saw me with the lipstick on, that me wearing lipstick for her final is now a new ritual.)

Even with all this excitement and distractions, time was moving slowly. I had to force myself to find things to do. I decided that I would go to the bathroom at 8:00. At 9:00 I planned to eat my sandwich. In between I must have checked my phone every two minutes. Amazingly there were usually a handful of new notifications to look at. I told Malinda that when the men’s 200 semi-finals started (the event before Shannon’s) we would put on our lipstick.

Finally the 200’s started. Out came the lipstick. Malinda put it on herself first and then I puckered up and she began putting the lipstick on me. As she did, I could see out of the corner of my eye, ALL the other men in our group (Pablo, Gary, Alan, and even our driver Leandro) got up and went to get a beer. Not in touch with their feminine side, I guess. Wimps!

Pucker up, it's time for the race.

Pucker up, it’s time for the race.

Of course now that the lipstick was on, that meant pictures. And if you don’t post it to Facebook, it didn’t happen. So up go some pictures of me and the women (Malinda, Paula, Chin, and Christy), puckering up and showing off the lipstick in support of Shannon. That started generating more likes and comments than little ol’ me has ever seen before.

Finally the race was about to begin. We knew the NBC camera was on us now. We cheered wildly when Shannon was introduced. I knew we must have been on the live stream feed because my phone buzzed with a Facebook Messenger message that someone had seen us on TV. I got a text message but didn’t read it. I glanced at my phone and I had ten new notifications since I looked at it last about 30 seconds ago.

Several people have said that I got introduced as Shannon’s father. I think the announcer said, “That’s Shannon’s mother Paula, on the right there applauding and her father with the camera.” In the shot at the moment, I am holding up my phone taking a picture. Shannon’s dad, Gary, is actually in that same shot, hiding behind the bars with a real camera (Nikon strap around his neck) with a large lens. So the announcers may not have erred. But based on a couple of Google searches that found their way to my blog (including “is shannon rowbury half asian american”), I think many people were confused.

But back to the race, it was time to cheer for Shannon. Our whole section caught on as to who we were rooting for and chanted “Shannon! Shannon! Shannon!” on every lap. It all happened so quickly. We were all talking to each other but probably none of us listening to any of us. The nervousness was incredible. I remember Pablo telling everyone that it was okay, when Genzebe Dibaba, Faith Kipyegon, and Laura Muir pulled away, “they’ll come back to them.” With 300 to go, I remember yelling, “It is okay there’s still plenty of time left in the race. She only needs twenty seconds to catch them.” With 200 to go, I remember saying “She’s still got 30 seconds left.” That’s when she really started moving up. It was hard for me to really identify anyone else in the race but I could tell that Jenny Simpson was one place in front of Shannon and they were both moving up with about 150 to go. With 100 to go, I think they were in fourth and fifth but looking like it would only be a matter of time until they passed Sifan Hassan, which they did with about 75 meters to go. Right then I think we all thought Shannon had the bronze. With about 50 meters to go, I had to make a decision – our seats were beyond the finish line and it was going to be hard to see who was ahead of who if the finish was close. Should I keep watching the track or should I turn and look at the big jumbotron screen. I saw others in our group turn to look at the screen so I did, too. With 25 meter to go, all of a sudden it looked like Simpson was matching Shannon’s speed. Shannon wasn’t gaining ground anymore. She was going to be fourth.

After the race, we all felt the same thing. We knew she had given it her all. She was fourth in the world, which is pretty darn amazing. But we knew she was going to be bitterly disappointed.

I knew I needed to post something on social media. You can’t be jabbering all night in anticipation of a race and then just because the race isn’t what you dreamed it would be, not post something. But I needed to say the right thing. A lot of details weren’t necessary. But it needed to be from the heart. Then it came to me. “So close. And oh so proud.” I showed it to Malinda to make sure she thought it was OK, and then I posted it.

It was around that time, that things started getting crazy. The post itself generated a lot of likes, loves, and comments. Then I noticed that people  that

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

had seen us on NBC were posting screenshots and even video of us on television. E-mails and texts were flying in. The kids on the SHC team were communicating with me via something called “Schoology.” One thing was clear, we had generated a lot of excitement and interest among our friends and that made me really happy. It was as if all of them were in the stadium with us and it felt great to be with so many friends at that moment.

One thread on Facebook from Jenny H that Christine B commented on made me tear up in the stands – Christine B said that I would probably go to Mars to cheer for Shannon (I would….and like Gary said, I would find space on the banner to write Go Shannon in Martian).

When we got home, the notifications kept coming. One screenshot in particular moved us both. It was our banner. This banner that has traveled everywhere with us and has come to represent cheering for Shannon to us. “After all these years, it made it onto international television tonight for the world to see,” Malinda said.

Our banner's moment of glory on international television.

Our banner’s moment of glory on international television.

Malinda and I responded to a few messages and then finally around 2:30am, she said, this isn’t going to slow down, I think we just need to go to sleep. Of course the next morning I awoke to an all-time record for me, 35 Facebook notifications.

I think Erin K said it best in one of her comments. Andy Chan: you totally WON the internet! Maybe I did. It sure was an unforgettable night. I need to go charge my phone.

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

2016 Olympic Trials – What I Wasn’t Expecting

Posted in Race/Meet Report,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on August 12, 2016
Tags: ,
The age-less Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

The ageless Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

The beauty of the Olympic Trials is that you never know what’s going to happen. Between July 1 and July 10, 2016, I saw plenty of things that I was not expecting to see.

  • I did not expect to see two high school boys make the men’s 200 meter final, be seeded in lanes four and six for that final, and come in fourth and fifth in the race. Remember the names Noah Lyles and Michael Norman.
  • I did not expect a high school junior to make the Olympic team in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. Sydney McLaughlin is only 16 years old. Look for her in Rio.
  • I did not expect the age difference between the first and second place finishers in the women’s high jump to be fourteen years – Chaunte Lowe is 32 and Vashti Cunningham is 18.
  • I was not expecting_Richards-Ross

    Sanya Richards-Ross giving an interview on NBC and then waving to the fans

    I was not expecting_Wariner

    Jeremy Wariner acknowledging the fans

  • I did not expect to see both Sanya Richard-Ross and Jeremy Wariner pull up injured in their 400 meter races (Richards-Ross in the first round, Wariner in the semi-final). Both athletes stopped about 200 meters into their race and then slowly made their way around the track towards the finish line, in order to exit the track. In both cases, the Hayward Field crowd gave them nice ovations out of respect for all that they have accomplished during their careers. In both cases, the athletes waved back to the crowd.
  • I did not expect to see Gil Roberts false start in the men’s 400 meter semi-finals and then file a protest that allowed him to run the race and come in second despite the disqualification. When his appeal was upheld (he claimed that his false start was due to noise from the speaker in his starting block), Roberts was into the final. He got out hard and led for much of the final before tying up badly; he barely held on for second place and a spot to compete in the Olympics.
  • After watching Allyson Felix struggle in the opening rounds of the 400 meters due to injury, I did not expect to see her move from fifth place to first place with a furious final kick in the women’s 400 meter final.
  • Felix way back with 100 to go

    Felix way back with 100 to go

    Then after seeing Felix’s great 400 meter race, I did not expect to see her finish off the team in the women’s 200 meter final.

  • I did not expect the American record holder in the women’s 100 hurdles, Kendra Harrison (12.24), to not make the Olympic team (she finished in sixth place).
  • I did not expect the US leader in the 400 meter hurdles, Shamier Little, who had a 53.51 coming into the Trials, to run two seconds slower (55.64) and not qualify for the women’s 400 meter hurdle final.
  • I did not expect 2012 London fourth place finisher Duane Solomon or the newly minted NCAA Champion and junior record holder (1:43.55) Donovan Brazier to both get eliminated in the first round of the men’s 800 meters.
  • I did not expect to see a massive pile up 150 meters from the finish of the women’s 800 meters causing race favorites Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez to fall to the track (and out of contention) or Molly Ludlow to stutter-step and then miss the top three by .04 seconds.
  • I did not expect to see a woman who only started running the 800 meter race seriously two years ago make the Olympic team. As recently as 2014, Chrishuna Williams ran a lot of 400 and 200 meter races for the University of Arkansas. Her two 800 races in 2014 were 2:09 and 2:06. In 2015, she focused on the 800 and brought her PR down to 2:01. Now, one year later she is an Olympian after surviving the crash described above and finishing in third place.
  • Here is a time out from the “I did not expect” list for me to brag that I DID EXPECT Kate Grace and Clayton Murphy to win the women’s and men’s 800 meters. Only Malinda really knows this is true because I was jabbering about them all through the early rounds of the 800. You’ll just have to believe me. Also, after the 800 meter fall, I did expect Brenda Martinez to bounce back and make the team in the 1500 meters. OK, back to the list.
  • I did not expect the US to send three women to the Olympics in the women’s triple jump, for the first time since 1996. For this to happen Christina Epps jumped 14.17 meters on her fifth attempt, to leap (pardon the pun) from fifth place to second place and to also achieve the needed Olympic standard of 14.15 meters.
  • I did not expect to see total domination in the women’s javelin by Maggie Malone. She not only won the event with a throw of 60.84 meters but also had the second and third best throws of the meet and she would have made the team with any of her four best throws.
  • Although before the race I expected both Courtney Frerichs and Donn Cabral to make the Olympic team in the women’s and men’s steeplechase, when during the race they both fell off the pack with a lap to go, I did not expect either of them to make it into the top three. But, both had very strong last laps that booked their tickets to Rio.
  • I did not expect to see Kim Conley, one of the favorites to make the Olympic team in the women’s 10,000 meters, lose a shoe during lap nine and then spend eleven laps trying to catch the pack. She moved from thirteenth to sixth before packing it in and dropping out with five laps to go to save her legs for the 5000 meters. And then eight days later she came back and made the team in the 5000 meters.
  • I did not expect to see the carnage that took place in the men’s 10,000 meters. After 18 laps (at 7200 meters), the top six runners in the race were Galen Rupp (20:14), Shadrack Kipchichir (20:15), Bernard Lagat (20:18), Hassan Mead (20:22), Leonard Korir (20:27), and Eric Jenkins (20:31). Then things got crazy. A half lap later, Lagat pulled out of the race. Then less than two minutes later, Mead slowed down to a jog and Jenkins completed lap twenty and kept running right off the track. All of a sudden the only runners really left up front were Rupp, Kipchirchir, and Korir, as they had about a :15 gap on fourth place with five laps to go. Other than wondering if another front runner would succumb to the heat and humid conditions, the drama of the race was over.
  • After seeing him drop out of the 10,000 with six and a half laps to go, after seeing him finish in a well beaten tenth at the 2015 USA Championships in the 5000 meters, and knowing that the man is 41 years old, I did not expect Bernard Lagat to not only make his fifth Olympic team, but to win the men’s 5000 meters. A side surprise would be that, after seeing Mead’s race go awry in the 10,000 meters, I did not expect him to be leading the men’s 5000 meters down the final homestretch (only to be caught by Lagat) and qualify for his first Olympic team with a second place finish.

The beauty of the US Olympic Trials is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen. The difference between making the team with jubilation versus missing the team with utter devastation can be measured in hundredths of seconds and in centimeters. That’s what makes it so exciting. Because you never know what you are going to see. But you do know that what you will see will be pretty amazing.

An Exciting Long Jump Competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

The long jump competition at the US Olympic Trials on July 3, 2016 was full of drama and excitement. At one time or another, six different men were sitting in the coveted top three spot to qualify for the Olympics. The Olympic standard, second best jumps, and the wind were all major factors.

The Olympic standard in the men’s long jump is 8.15 meters. This mark must not be wind aided (the wind cannot exceed 2.0 meters per seconds). Coming into the final, all the main contenders for the Olympic team except Will Claye had the Olympic standard. Claye missed the standard by one centimeter in the preliminaries with an 8.14 jump. The general sense was that in order to place in the top three, a jumper would need to exceed 8.15 meters anyway so there wasn’t a lot of speculation about Claye not having the standard. But no one took the wind into consideration.

After the first round of jumping, Jeffery Henderson was in first place with a jump of 8.41 meters. Jarrion Lawson, who was also competing in the 100 meters on this day was in second place with a jump of 8.20 meters. Damarcus Simpson was in third place with a jump of 8.12 meters.

After the second round jumps, Henderson was still first, Lawson improved to 8.32 meters to remain second. Mike Hartfield jumped into third place at 8.23 meters.

Round three saw Maquis Dendy, who was in eleventh place and needed to move into the top eight to receive three additional jumps, temporarily take the lead with a jump of 8.42 meters. Henderson then leapt 8.59 meters to take back first place. That 8.59 would end up being the winning jump. Hartfield improved to 8.34 to remain in third. KeAndre Bates was right there in the hunt, too, two centimeters back with an 8.32, although, he, too, lacked the Olympic standard on a legal jump (non-wind aided).

Somewhere in here, Lawson checked out from the long jump to run the 100 meter semi-finals, where he ran 10.01 to qualify for the 100 meter final.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

In the fourth round, Henderson remained first. Lawson had his best jump of 8.58 to move into second place, one centimeter behind Henderson, where he would remain for the rest of the competition. Lawson’s jump made him just the ninth American to ever jump over 28 feet (28 feet, 1.75 inches) with legal wind. Feeling secure that his spot to Rio in the long jump was safe, Lawson would pass his last two jumps to rest for the 100 meter final. Denby, already hobbled from an injury suffered at the Prefontaine Classic, re-injured himself, pulling up on his fourth attempt. His mark remained 8.42 and he was now third. Also during this fourth round, Hartfield improved to 8.39 to be fourth, three centimeters back. Claye jumped 8.38 but it was wind-aided so did not count as an Olympic standard. So Claye was fifth, just four centimeters out of third but still lacking the standard.

In the fifth round, Henderson and Lawson remained in first and second place with their 8.59 and 8.58 respectively. Claye tied Dendy with a jump of 8.42 meters. The good news for Claye was he owned the tie-breaker with Dendy by virtue of the better second best jump 8.38 vs 7.75.The bad news for Claye was that this 8.42 was very much wind aided (+5.0 m/s) so he still lacked the Olympic standard.

With one round of jumping remaining, this was already a historically good long jump competition with six jumpers over 8.30 meters. This is what the scoreboard looked like:

  1. Henderson – 8.59
  2. Lawson – 8.58
  3. Claye – 8.42 (ahead with better second best jump of 8.38; no Olympic Standard)
  4. Dendy – 8.42 (behind on worse second best jump of 7.75; injured and unlikely able to jump anymore)
  5. Hartfield – 8.39
  6. Bates – 8.32

Somewhat unceremoniously, no one improved on their jumps in the last round. Claye, more needing the wind to die down so he could jump 8.15 legal (i.e. NOT wind-aided), jumped 7.93 meters and it was again wind-aided anyway. Lawson passed to save energy for the 100. Hartfield was not able to improve to move into the top three. Dendy passed due to the injury. Henderson did not improve on his mark.

Henderson, Lawson, and Claye would be the three medal winners.

Henderson, Lawson, and Dendy would be the three qualifiers for the Olympic long jump.

Lawson would place seventh in the 100 meters shortly after the long jump ended. Six days later Claye would win the triple jump competition to earn a spot to Rio in a different event.

But the story was not over. On July 29, Dendy pulled out of the Olympics due to the injury and Hartfield was named as his replacement.

This long jump competition that began on July 3, had at one time or another six different athletes in the Olympic-qualifying spots. Finally, on July 29, the US Olympic long jump team was set. Henderson, Lawson, and Hartfield will be the three Americans jumping in Rio.

Being a fan of track & field can be tough

Adam Nelson receives his 2004 gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Trials

Adam Nelson receives his 2004 gold medal at the 2016 Olympic Trials

I love track and field. But being a fan of the sport can be tough at times. The sport is shrouded in allegations of performance enhancing drug use. The professional runner most near and dear to my heart, Shannon Rowbury, quite possibly was robbed of a podium finish at the 2012 Olympics. Shannon faces constant random drug tests by the United States Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). The number of tests she has taken is public record, she was tested eleven times in 2015 and four times so far in 2016.

Being a fan of track_Shannon drug tests 2015

Shannon’s training group, coached by Alberto Salazar, has not escaped allegations either. I know Shannon better than most people and I am very confident that Shannon competes clean.

The most frustrating part about being a track & field fan are the questions about cheating. Was the record I just witnessed legit or the result of performance enhancing drugs? Did the clean athletes place or were they pushed out of the medals by athletes who are doping? The fact of the matter is that in the sport of track & field, there seem to be constant questions about athletes and even whole countries and federations cheating (e.g. Russia, Kenya, and a group of athletes coached by Jama Aden).

All I can do is stay positive and be optimistic in my hope for a clean sport.

It’s because of this feeling that the “bad guys” are stealing medals from the “good guys” and getting away with it, that I found the special ceremony before the start of the 2016 Olympic Trials competition to be quite meaningful. It was a medal ceremony for Adam Nelson. Nelson was receiving his gold medal for the shot put competition….from the 2004 Athens Olympics!

In Athens in 2004, the final results were Ukraine’s Yuriy Bilonoh winning the gold and Nelson the silver. The competition itself was quite dramatic. Nelson threw 21.16 meters on his first throw and that mark had him in the lead until the last round of the competition. Bilonoh was in second with a mark of 21.15 (just one centimeter behind Nelson), which he threw on both his first and second attempts. Nelson, meanwhile, fouled all of his remaining throws after the opening 21.16. And in the sixth round, Bilonoh improved that one centimeter to 21.16 to tie Nelson. With the tie-breaker being best second-best throw, Bilonoh won the gold.

However, over eight years later, in December 2012, a re-test of Bilonoh’s urine sample turned up positive for performance enhancing drugs and he was stripped of the gold medal. In the spring of 2013, Nelson was named the gold medalist. USATF recognized him at the 2013 USA Championships. He received a wreath, they played the national anthem, and he took a victory lap. All that was missing was the actual gold medal. That didn’t get into his hands until later that summer and when he received it, it was without much fanfare, at a Burger King in the Atlanta airport.

Fast forward another three years, to July 1, 2016, almost twelve years since the men’s shot put competition on August 18, 2004 in Athens. Nelson, now 40 years old, finally gets the whole package – a medal ceremony with the gold medal presented to him and the playing of the Star Spangled Banner in front of an appreciative audience. The same day as this medal ceremony, Nelson, now 40 years old, competed in the 2016 Olympic Trials. In the morning he placed in the top 12 to qualify for the men’s shot put final. Then came the medal ceremony. Shortly after that, he was down on the track competing, where he came in seventh with a throw of 20.17 meters.

Nelson is one of the good guys in the sport. He has been a big advocate for a clean sport and for athletes’ rights. He takes on the persona of a madman when he throws, screaming and throwing down his shirt when he gets into the shot put ring to throw. But outside of the ring, I am told, he is one of the nicest guys around. His warm-up shirt at the Trials said “World’s Greatest Dad” on it with a unicorn and rainbow. This must be a man that doesn’t take himself too seriously and can have fun even while competing at the Olympic Trials. The crowd at the Olympic Trials recognized Nelson with a big ovation as he got ready for his final throw.

Like I said, being a fan of track & field can be challenging. It can be hard not to throw up your hands in despair with all that seems wrong in the sport, especially in regards to doping. But moments like this one with Adam Nelson do restore my faith that, at least sometimes, the bad guys get caught and the good guys get their proper due.

And Rio makes it a Trio

Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hayward Field. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Track Town USA.

It’s 3:00 P.M. Malinda and I have settled into our seats in Section C, Row 28. It’s the last day of the 2016 Olympic Trials. The race we’ve been waiting all week for, the Women’s 1500 meter Final is at 5:00 P.M. T-minus two hours to go. 120 minutes. How will we pass the time?

We’ve come to watch and cheer for Shannon Rowbury. Shannon arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral as a freshman in the fall of 1998. It was also my first year as the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Eighteen years and hundreds of memories later, here we are.

You would think that after multiple USA Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games and this, our third Olympic Trials, we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. We do.

I decide to take a selfie and post the picture to social media. That will eat up some time. It should be noted that the sign Malinda is holding in the selfie was made earlier in the Fan Fest as a means of eating up time and alleviating nervousness.

And Rio makes it a Trio_309 post

It’s now 3:09 P.M. Down to 111 minutes.

I busy myself watching the pole vault and high jump. I spend some time looking up the heptathlon scores heading into the final event on my smartphone. I make some small talk but at times like this, I prefer to be just left alone – me and the thoughts screaming silently in my head. The women’s 5000 race starts and it’s pretty exciting. That distracts me for about fifteen minutes and five seconds.

Suddenly it dawns on me. Very few people among the 22,000 spectators in the stadium have such an emotional investment in the outcome of an event. For most, if your favorite athlete makes the Olympic team it’s, “woo-hoo” and high five the person sitting next to you. If they miss out on an Olympic spot it’s, “darn it, that’s too bad,” and on to the next event. I’m one of the lucky ones. I REALLY care if Shannon finishes in the top three or not. It’s that mystery of not knowing if it will be the thrill of victory of agony of defeat that makes sports so riveting. It’s why they run the race. This revelation, that I am blessed to be in my current stressful situation reminds me of a quote I often share with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, “pressure is a privilege.” If there’s no pressure, you either have no chance or you are such a sure thing that it isn’t challenging and thus not as much fun. You actually should want there to be pressure.

I decide this deserved another social media post.

And Rio makes it a Trio_449 post

Now it’s 4:49 P.M.

I look over and notice that Shannon’s friend Aysha is putting lipstick on Malinda. This hot pink or red lipstick has become Shannon’s signature look, an homage to her grandmother Nonie, who passed away five years ago. Aysha asks me if I want lipstick. I look at her questioningly. But then Shannon’s mom, Paula, says “Oh come on, Andy.” Hey, an Olympic spot is on the line. If I need to “lipstick up” to help get the job done, then I better pucker my lips. The timestamp on my phone says that by 4:53 P.M. I had done my part to get to Rio. Now it was all on Shannon.

Shannon and Jenny Simpson were the clear favorites in the race. Brenda Martinez, doubling back in the 1500 after a heartbreaking fall 150 meters from the finish line in last week’s 800 meters, was also someone to contend with. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Olympic Trials champion, has been looking strong and should not be counted out. The field was deep and there could easily be a couple other runners from the pack who could make this challenging.

The first two laps were typically on the slow side with lots of bumping and pushing. All the contenders were bunched together and in position to make their run for Rio. With about 450 meters to go, right behind Shannon, Alexa Efraimson and Lauren Johnson made contact, with Johnson being bumped off-balance.

With 400 meters to go, Uceny passed and cut-off Shannon, causing Shannon to fall back to fifth place. Shannon was boxed in with Uceny in front of her and Efraimson to her right. There was nowhere to go. I remember hearing Malinda screaming in a very panicked voice. I kept thinking, “there’s still 45 seconds of running left. She’ll get out of the box and then she’ll kick.”

With 250 meters to go, Shannon passed Sara Vaughn to move into fourth place. But with 200 meters to go, there still wasn’t a whole lot of room for Shannon to start her kick. “Still 30 seconds of running. There’s time,” I said to myself, this time my rhetorical voice sounding a little more panicked. Shannon would tell me later at dinner that she stayed patient and she knew there would eventually be an opening and when it came, she’d take it and go.

Finally, with about 150 meters left, Shannon got past Efraimson and had a clear path to chase Uceny and Simpson. Martinez was closing hard as well and Amanda Eccleston was right there in the hunt, too. But Shannon shifted gears and easily pulled into second place where she safely remained until the finish line.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur. We waited for Shannon to come around on her victory lap to give her hugs. She seemed thrilled to see me wearing the lipstick and we of course took a picture together. From there we went out to the Fan Fest where we danced to the live music, drank a few beverages, and cheered wildly when they presented the awards for the women’s 1500 meters. As we left Hayward Field, we noticed they hadn’t added Shannon’s name to the “Who Made the Team” board. Taking out my Sharpie, I decided to help them out.

 

Put on your lipstick and let's celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

Put on your lipstick and let’s celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

First there was Beijing. Then there was London.

And Rio makes it a Trio.

 

That 2012 London Olympic 1500 Meters

That 2012 London 1500 Final_x out the druggies as they get caught_MW

Somewhere in Bahrain, Maryam Jamal’s high school coach may be writing a blog about how Jamal deserves the gold medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500. But I was not Jamal’s high school coach. I was Shannon Rowbury’s; and therefore this blog is from the point of view that Shannon deserves the silver medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500.

First, I want to go back to August 2012 in London. On August 9, the day before the women’s 1500 final, I wrote a blog entitled, “Keep Calm and Kick.” I was both nervous and excited to be watching Shannon run in an Olympic Final for the second time.

Immediately after the race, these were the results:

Rank Athlete NOC Result Notes
1 Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN TUR 4:10.23
2 Gamze BULUT TUR 4:10.40
3 Maryam yusuf JAMAL BRN 4:10.74
4 Tatyana TOMASHEVA RUS 4:10.90
5 Abeba AREGAWI ETH 4:11.03
6 Shannon ROWBURY USA 4:11.26
7 Natallia KAREIVA BLR 4:11.58
8 Lucia KLOCOVA SVK 4:12.64
9 Ekaterina KOSTETSKAYA RUS 4:12.90
10 Lisa DOBRISKEY GBR 4:13.02
11 Laura WEIGHTMAN GBR 4:15.60
12 Hellen Onsando OBIRI KEN 4:16.57
Morgan UCENY USA Did not finish
The 2012 London 1500 final as seen from our seats at the Olympic Stadium

The 2012 London 1500 final as seen from our seats at the Olympic Stadium

Shannon’s sixth place finish gave me mixed emotions. Of course sixth at the Olympics is pretty amazing and it was one place higher than in 2008 in Beijing. But there was also a feeling of frustration that maybe not all the women in the race were playing on a level playing field.

The top two runners from Turkey, Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, had come out of nowhere. Cakir had served a two-year ban from 2004-06 for a drug infraction while she was a junior athlete. Tatyana Tomasheva of Russia who placed fourth served a two year suspension from 2008-10 for “fraudulent substitution of urine” – she basically tried to cheat on a drug urine test.

It was also suspicious that these two runners from Turkey and Russia, did not compete at the 2011 World Championships and were not regular competitors in the Diamond League meets, meets where there would likely be drug testing. Cakir, a former steeplechaser, had never made an international championship final before 2012 and had improved her 1500 meter time 7 seconds that summer. In 2011, Bulut’s best time in the 1500 was 4:18. In 2012 she suddenly ran 4:01 and qualified for an international championship meet for what would be her first and only time. Tomasheva competed almost exclusively at home in Russia.

But thinking like this, felt like sour grapes. So instead we went for dinner in the mall by the Olympic Stadium and waited to meet up with Shannon and her family. In a recent Unscriptd interview, Shannon revealed that she was in tears on the practice track during her cool-down because she felt robbed by these dopers. She worked hard to put on a brave face for her family.

It was a subdued post-meet dinner in London.

It was a subdued post-meet dinner in London.

Usually dinner with Shannon after her finals race is a fun dinner with lots of laughs and toasts. Thinking back to that night now, that was by far the least celebratory after the meet dinner we’ve all experienced.  In the group picture we took that night, we may all be smiling but deep inside we were all pretty upset at the circumstances. I didn’t even blog about this race because I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound accusatory and controversial.

In late 2013 I saw a picture of the 2012 London Olympic 1500 Final. It was a nice head on shot of the runners as they approached the finish line. Almost every runner’s face was clearly visible. I decided to make a scan of the picture and I saved the file on my computer with the filename “2012 London 1500 Final_x out the druggies as they get caught.”

For a year and a half, that jpg just sat there untouched. But in August 2015, Cakir failed a drug test. She is currently serving an eight year ban and her Olympic gold was striped. I got to make my first X on the picture.

I now realize that there were a few bans in 2014 of runners who finished behind Shannon. The initial ninth place finisher Ekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia was given a two-year ban for a drug violation from a test at the 2011 World Championships. Her ninth place finish has been nullified by the IAAF. The initial seventh place finisher Natallia Kareiva of Belarus had her finish nullified and received a two-year ban for doping after her biological passport showed abnormalities.

Going back to the runners who finished ahead of Shannon, with the Cakir suspension and voiding of her results, the feeling most of us had was that Shannon was rightfully fifth. In the summer of 2015, all hell broke out regarding Russian athletes. First it was rumored that many, Tomashova included, would be named as dopers and have their results expunged. Next, came news that Russia’s anti-doping agency lacked adequate and proper drug testing and would be suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for non-compliance. Russia’s infractions are severe enough that it is still unclear if any of athletes from the Russian Federation will be allowed to compete in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. This obviously shrouds Tomashova and her fourth place finish in London even more.

On February 29, 2016, it was announced that fifth place finisher Abeba Aregawi of Sweden by way of Ethiopia had tested positive for meldonium. A week later on March 7, 2016, after a drug test showed irregularities in her biological passport, Bulut was suspended pending further investigation.

That 2012 London 1500 Final_dopers ex'ed outSuddenly my jpg looked like this. Runner’s World and the Wikepedia page on the 2012 London Olympic 1500 have a nice summary of what exactly each one tested positive for.

In many ways, this is vindication for Shannon. What we were all feeling that night in London was not sour grapes but justified. It remains unclear what will happen with the official results and medals from the 2012 London Ollympic 1500 race. To date five of the first eight finishers have been busted for drugs. If you believe that they should not be in the results, then the final results should now stand as:

Gold – Maryam Yusuf Jamal, BRN

Silver – Shannon Rowbury, USA

Bronze – Lucia Klocova, SVK

That 2012 London_results with red linesShannon may or may not ever get a medal from the London Olympic Games. She and her fans will never have the moment back in the Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, taking a victory lap and being on the podium to receive a medal. That’s what makes me mad and frustrated.

Maybe the best thing to come of this is in Shannon’s mindset. You couldn’t help but wonder back in 2012 if Shannon’s best as a clean athlete would always leave her around sixth place and the dopers would continue to win the medals. But thanks to increased testing, the cheaters are getting caught. What’s left, hopefully, are only clean athletes.

Shannon’s best is good enough to compete against the other clean athletes.

Who Is Jonathan Grey?

Jon Grey leading the pack at the 2015 XC Club Nationals

Jon Grey leading the pack at the 2015 XC Club Nationals

Are you looking for a darkhorse to cheer for at the US Olympic Marathon Trials on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles? Perhaps a runner from the small town (less than 500 population) of Fawn Grove, PA, who will also be celebrating his 28th birthday when he makes his marathon debut in a couple weeks?

Jonathan Grey ran PR’s of  4:18 in the 1600m, 9:11 in the 3200m, and 15:41 in 5K cross country while at Kennard-Dale High School. He began his collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to William & Mary after his freshman year. At William & Mary he was a 3-time All-American, with top finishes of seventeenth at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships and fifth in the 5000 meters at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.

After graduating in the spring of 2011, he joined Team Minnesota. Although I didn’t know him or talk to him at the 2011 XC Club Nationals in Seattle, we both raced there. I came in 92nd in the Masters Men’s race with a time of 36:06. He was 1st in the Open Men’s race with a time of 29:38. We both had really good races that day.

Jon has been running some fast times of late. In the spring of 2015 he set PR’s on the track in back to back months at Stanford. In April he ran 13:37.79 in the 5000 meters and then in May he ran 27:59.88 in the 10,000 meters.

Jon Grey racing the 10,000 meters at the 2015 USATF Championships

Jon Grey racing the 10,000 meters at the 2015 USATF Championships

I first met Jon at the 2015 USA Championships. We ended up at the same table after the meet for dinner at the Wild Duck Café. He had just come in 14th in the men’s 10,000 meter race. It was really hot that night and the next day he tweeted a picture of the Hayward Field track, melted on the bottom of his spikes. After I was introduced to Jon, I made sure he quickly got a beer in his hands to re-hydrate. We then talked a little bit about the upcoming XC Club Nationals meet in San Francisco. As often happens after something like this, a couple weeks later we became Facebook friends.

Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook (and doesn’t hide me) was well aware that I was a tad bit excited about Club Nats. At Club Nationals, towards the end of the day, the Pamakids were hanging out at our tent. A young runner walks over and immediately starts talking to me – it’s Jon Grey! He has a big smile on his face and he says that he’s been following me on Facebook. He knew I would be here and just wanted to come over and say hi. We talked a little about our races. I think he told that he came in second. I may or may not have told him how proud I was of our open men’s team for coming in 57th and beating the Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. It was only later that I realized that I had seen him during the race because he was the runner leading the pack for most of the race, running with a white baseball cap on backwards. Garrett Heath passed him in the final 100 meters but it was still a pretty awesome race. And I think it shows what a cool person he is, that after this race, he wasn’t down and disappointed. Instead he decided to come find a friend he met once at a restaurant six months earlier just to say hi.

In the summer of 2015, Jon moved to Boulder, CO to be coached by Lee Troop and run for the Boulder Track Club. He has been racing very well including top 10 finishes at the October USATF 10 Mile Championships and the November .US National 12K Championships (both part of the USATF Running Circuit)

At the 2016 Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon, he not only ran under the Olympic Marathon Trials half marathon qualifying standard of 1:05, to qualify for the Marathon Trials, but he won the race in 1:02:47. He’ll be one of 168 runners toeing the line with their eyes on a top three finish and a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.

Jon Grey and others on the track at sea level camp in Arizona (January 2016).

Jon Grey and others on the track at sea level camp in Arizona (January 2016).

This marathon on his 28th birthday will be his debut. But Jon seems ready to go. The team just got back from a three week sea-level camp in Tucson, AR. (I guess when you live at altitude, instead of an altitude camp, you go to a sea-level camp). He told me that they were able to get speed/turn-over work in at sea level that would not have been possible at altitude. Jon says his race plan is simply to be patient. Because it’s his debut he wants to focus on being tactically efficient. That being said, he also says his goal is to be top three. He will focus on running a smart race that gets him the highest possible place, whatever that may be.

So if you’re not sure who to look for or who to root for at the 2016 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, consider rooting for Jonathan Grey. I will be.

Next Page »