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.
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.
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.
First there was Beijing. Then there was London.
And Rio makes it a Trio.
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:
|1||Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN||TUR||4:10.23|
|3||Maryam yusuf JAMAL||BRN||4:10.74|
|12||Hellen Onsando OBIRI||KEN||4:16.57|
|Morgan UCENY||USA||Did not finish|
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.
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.
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
Shannon 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.
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.
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.
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.
As the Pamakid Open Men prepared for their third USATF Cross Country Club National Championship Meet (Club Nats), they were looking to improve on 50th (and last) in 2011 in Seattle and 45th (and last) in 2013 in Bend. Beating someone, anyone, was all we were asking for.
During the week leading up to the 2015 Club Nats, it was unclear if the Pamakids would be placed into the A race or the B race. While willing to run in whichever race we were placed in by USATF, deep inside, most wanted to compete against the best of the best in the A race. An invitation to run in the A race would also give us the opportunity to do what had alluded us in 2011 and 2013…to get out of last place. It turns out that we were initially placed in the B race but the Pacific Association Cross Country Chair, Carl Rose, argued on our behalf that it was wrong to have the Pamakids as the only club whose A team was being placed in the B race. Rose campaigned for meet officials to move us into the A race and when the start lists came out, the Pamakids were in the A race.
The next step was to find a team of similar speed that we could battle to get out of last place. I scanned the entry list and one team name couldn’t help but jump out at me, the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. I didn’t know much about them but I decided to get the Open Men fired up by issuing them a challenge via a group e-mail. The next few hours saw a furry of e-mails that included some predictable laundry jokes. Steve Holcombe did some scouting, also known as Facebook stalking. Before long we had the rundown on their team – one 2:30 marathon runner up front, some 39 minute 10K runners, and a super senior who jumped in to fill out their team. We had our rivals!
The key to victory (yes, that’s what we were calling not being in last place….victory), was for our #1 runner to get as close to their #1 as possible and for our #2 runner to hopefully beat their #2 runner by the same number of places that their #1 beat our #1. Then it would come down to our #3-4-5 runners winning their match-ups, and possibly making up a few more points for us if necessary.
At the starting line, our Open Men went looking for their rivals so we would know what uniform we were targeting. To no surprise, they wore nicely pressed and just laundered Kelly green uniforms. It was game on!
It was amazing how our back pack runners quickly found their rivals. Having not been at the starting line for this race, I didn’t yet know what the rival uniform looked like. My wife, Malinda, ironically carrying a white laundry
basket that the team was using to carry sweats back to our tent, started to describe the Kelly green uniforms to me. But then Ray “Tower” Yu ran by just before the one mile mark and he was pointing excitedly at the runner ahead of him. Now I knew what I was looking for.
Just before the 3K mark, I saw Adam Roach, the Launderer’s #1 runner. Malinda and I started counting the runners between him and our #1 runner, Steve Lloyd. But then Malinda saw Nick Symmonds and yelled, “Hey look, it’s Nick Symmonds!” “Where?” I asked. As we had this conversation we lost track of what number we were on. We cheered on our top two runners, Steve L and Justin Mikecz, and then I started counting the runners between Justin and their #2. But again, I got distracted as people started talking to me. My gut feeling was that it was close but we were probably behind. “The boys are going to have to go to work the second half of the race to make this happen,” I thought to myself. We would later learn that I was pretty much spot on. According to the chip split times, at the 3K mark we were losing to the Launderers by 20 points.
Malinda and I went back into the Polo Fields to cheer for them again. This time I tried to stay away from people I knew so I could stand alone and count undisturbed. I approximated that Steve L was losing his match-up by 90 points and that Justin was winning his match-up by 50 points. That meant we needed our 3-4-5 runners to pick up 40 points for us. Things were trending well. Steve H passed the Launderers #2 (David Erstad). Ryan Pletzke and Ray were not only pulling ahead of their #3 (Mark Moehling) but also closing the gap on Erstad. It was also helpful that our #6 and #7 runners Merick Dang and Jeff Huizinga were beating the Launderer’s #4 (the super senior, Jim Tiffany). Now was not the time to defer to your elders. Take him out! John Gieng running as our #8 runner was still helping the cause, displacing the Launderers #5, Ryan Dunham. We were gaining an important extra one point because at Club Nationals, they score eight runners.
We ran back to the 7K mark. A lot of the runners had passed already and I missed Roach, so I couldn’t count what the lead over Steve L was. I did count that Justin was 50 or so placed ahead of Erstad. I had the same feeling that we needed to pick up some more points. The points were hard to come by for our 3-4-5 runners because there weren’t that many runners in striking range around them. I felt that Steve L and Justin were the key. With a good finish they could pick up ten places and that might be what we needed. We kept yelling to our guys, telling them where our rivals were and to fight for every place. The chip timing splits would later bear out that it was indeed close. We had made up the gap and pulled ahead by a mere two points at the 7K mark. A big part of this turnaround from 20 points down to two points ahead was Justin moving up 20 places while his match up #2 runner was in the same place.
The way we were passionately yelling for our guys, you’d think we were cheering on the Hoka One One guys fighting for the team championship. The guys were focused like never before, game faces on and laser stares with their eyes. We kept feeding them information about the Landerers. At one point when we were yelling at our team and pointing at one of the Launderers, saying, “That’s their #2! That’s their #2!” The Launderer made a weird expression on his face as if to say, “Are they talking about me? Why does anyone care that I’m the #2 runner on my team?” Didn’t he know this was Club Nats and the Pamakids were coming for them?!
With less than a half mile to go, the runners streamed by us again. It was going to be close so we just kept cheering on our guys. The Launderers #2 runner (it was now Moehling, who had passed Erstad due to an apparent shoelace issue on JFK Drive) was a few steps ahead of Ryan and Ray. This was huge. We could swing two to four points with a good finish. Ray nodded as he came by and I knew he was measuring his kick to pass Moehling and run us out of last place. Ray ended up passing Moehling to give us four runners ahead of their #2. Ryan, Merick, and Jeff all beat their #3. We were picking up “little” points that could be the “big” difference.
The rest was a bit of a blur. Knowing it would take time for the results to be announced, we took some team photos and went back to our tent for our Pamakid potluck picnic. At some point I looked at my phone and saw that the results were in. I called for everyone’s attention as I was about to read the Open Men team results. I held up my phone and dramatically scrolled down to the bottom of the results….this took several seconds and only helped build even greater anticipation. I checked last place, first. Hmm. The Mostly Bearded Track Club had supplanted us for the honor of last place (it turns out the Mostly Bearded #1 runner dropped out after the 7K mark which resulted in a 200 point swing in their team score). In 58th place, 13 points behind 57th place was….the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners! We were 57th place! A mere 13 points ahead of our new rivals! A big cheer went up in our team area. “They don’t just hand out 57th place, you know,” said Jeff. In the bleachers next to us, the Asics Aggies, who like us missed the podium – with their 4th place finish, seemed to get a kick out of seeing us cheer for our 57th place finish and joined in the whooping and hollering.
Our journey out of last place began in Seattle and included a road block known as Rolling Thunder. The journey continued in Bend. But before we could arrive at our final stop on this journey, we had to battle through a laundromat in Monterey Bay. Thanks for the great race, Wednesday Night Laundry Runners.
The place was Bend, Oregon.
The year was 2013. The same year that I had double bouts of pneumonia, once in February and again in May.
Thanks to the pneumonia, I knew the 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my fastest race. When I previewed the hilly five loop course on Friday, I hoped that 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my slowest race.
For him, 2013 was probably just another year. His third year as a masters runner. Another year removed from the PR’s and glory of the late 1990’s back when we were both in our late 20’s.
In between my bouts with pneumonia, we raced three times. At Sac Town 10 he beat me by a comfortable 7 minutes, 25 seconds. In the 5K, I closed that gap to 1:22.
In the fall at Martinez, it took one of my best races of the season to finish 11th in 23:57. He was 6th in 23:17. He must have gotten lost. Or he was injured. Maybe he had pneumonia.
At Club Nationals, on the first of the five loops, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me – long hair, black jersey. Could it be? I knew I wasn’t tearing it up, so I concluded he was having an off day, probably running despite an injury. I passed him. But he would re-pass me. I kept hoping I would be ahead of him when we ran by people I knew who had a camera. Maybe a picture would be taken showing me ahead of him. That would make this race memorable, I thought, because certainly neither the speed in which I was running nor place I was in in the race were memorable. I was so “not in the zone” and un-focused that this is what I thought about for most of the second, third, and fourth laps.
On the fifth lap he passed me on the final uphill. Normalcy had returned, I thought to myself. Even injured he has so much talent that he beats me. But as we approached the downhill sprint to the finish, I noticed I was catching up to that black jersey. At least I thought it was him. You see, I had never been this close to him in a race before, so I wasn’t familiar with what he looked like from such close range.
The last 200 meters. I may never have a chance to beat him again in my life I thought. And so I gave it my all out kick on the uneven terrain. I passed him in the final glorious meters, edging him out 40:22 (144th) to 40:25 (148th).
But it gets better. My Pamakid teammate, Monica Zhuang, was right by the finish line. And she was taking pictures. She captured the moment.
For him, it was a race that’s probably been long forgotten.
For me, it was the day I beat the 1998 USA 1500 meter champion, Jamey Harris. I have the picture to prove it and a story for the ages.
Have you ever watched an Olympics or World Championships and seen the athletes who place in the top 3, celebrate with a flag from their country? They usually pose for pictures while holding the flag behind them.
Have you ever wondered where those flags come from?
Do the athletes pack a flag in their sweats bag and run to get it if they medal? Does someone from their federation have a stash trackside?
I distinctly remember in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, going out and buying a USA flag. I didn’t know where these celebratory flags suddenly appeared from but I’d be damned if I wasn’t prepared. I e-mailed Shannon Rowbury and told her that if she needed one (and that I hoped she did), her old high school coach was prepared with a USA flag in his backpack.
At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, Malinda and I had very good seats by the finish line in about row fifteen. Bernard Lagat won the silver in the 5000 meters. I waved my USA flag proudly (the same flag I had purchased in Beijing in hopes that Shannon would need it). Lagat was right in front of me and looking up into the stands. He was looking for a USA flag for his celebration. I swear, we locked eyes for a split second. My mind raced, trying to figure out how I would get my flag down the fifteen rows and into Lagat’s hands. But before I could move, Lagat spotted someone with a USA flag sitting closer. He motioned for that flag. If only I had been a few rows closer to the track.
As we prepared for the 2015 World Championships back in Beijing, I noted that we were sitting pretty close to the track and in the middle of the first turn, near the photographers and not far from the finish line. I decided there was a chance US athletes could be asking for our flag. There was only a week left before we left. Luckily, Malinda’s friend has Amazon Prime. We left for Beijing with our original USA flag from 2008 and three new ones… just in case.
Malinda has listened to me talk about fans giving athletes their celebratory flags for seven years. She humored me by helping me acquire the three new flags for this trip… just in case. But all through this, we’ve never really known how this works. Do athletes really take flags from fans in the stands?
On the first night of the 2015 World Championships, we got our answer. Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters with a great final 100 meter kick. He ran around to the middle of the first curve in celebration. Photographers followed him. He made the Mo-Bot gesture with his arms. The crowd cheered wildly. Now he needed a Union Jack flag. He looked up into the stands and the people right in front of us were waving their Union Jack. Mo locked eyes with them. They didn’t move. But I had been in this position before and I yelled to them, “Throw him your flag. Throw him your flag.” They did. The photographers helped relay it down to Mo and he started posing for pictures with the flag. Malinda high-fived the two guys who gave up their flag. I talked excitedly to them about how in every picture they see of Mo celebrating with the flag, they’ll know that it’s their flag! In my mind, they are famous!
Some people go to baseball games, dreaming of catching a home run or foul ball. Me? I go to track & field meets, dreaming that someday I’ll throw my USA flag down to a USA athlete for their celebration pictures.
The first Olympics I ever watched were the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. I watched on my parent’s television as athletes, many of whom I would meet as a UCLA manager some years later, won medals. The first World Championships I ever watched were the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. I was working at a running camp and we watched on a tiny television between our assignments as camp counselors.
By the mid-1990’s, running, coaching, and track & field were cemented as central aspects of my life. But I did not aspire to coach an Olympian or World Champion or to attend these global championship meets. Those were things for other people, not me. My loftiest goal was to coach a high school state champion. In 2001 and again in 2002, that dream came true.
Then 2008 happened. Shannon Rowbury, who I coached in high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral and won those aforementioned state championships, was entering the professional running scene. First she ran not just an Olympic “A” standard but one of the fastest times by a US woman in many years. Then she won the US Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters. Shannon was going to the Olympics!
One year removed from our wedding, Malinda and I got our visas, booked our flights, bought our tickets and jetted off to China for the 2008 Olympics. This was to be our honeymoon. Our once in a lifetime trip.
I was looking at pictures from that 2008 trip a couple of days ago. Seeing pictures from the first time we went to the Bird’s Nest, I can almost feel the emotions I felt that day. I was in awe of being at the Olympics. I was wide-eyed, taking in everything with all my senses. I couldn’t believe I was actually at the Bird’s Nest about to watch this girl that I coached in high school, compete at the Olympics. I was taking mental snapshots of the moment because in my mind, this was the one time I would ever be on such an adventure. I think Malinda could see all those emotions on my face, which is why she took a lot of pictures of me displaying this expression of excitement.
At that time in August 2008, I had no idea that Shannon would qualify to represent Team USA at every global championship from 2008-2015. I had no idea that Malinda and I would travel to Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow to watch Shannon compete on the world stage. I had no idea that this Go Shannon banner that we made in our hotel in Beijing, that we cleverly included a good luck message in Chinese, would become our traveling companion and would have German, Korean, and Russian added to it. I thought that this was my once in a lifetime trip to China and my once in a lifetime trip to watch Shannon and I was just fine with that.
Today, on August 21, 2015. Malinda and I were back at the Bird’s Nest picking up our tickets for the 2015 World Championships. Being back here has made a flood of emotions hit me. Many things have come together to allow us to be here, not the least of which is Shannon qualifying for the meet, my understanding bosses and administrators who allow me to vacation during a busy time-the start of the high school year, and Malinda using her own vacation to come with me.
It’s just unbelievable that we are here. But it also reminds you that you never know where life will take you. Who knows where you may go on your journey. Maybe you will go places and do things you never imagined you would do. And maybe seven years later, you’ll end up going back and doing it again.
The fifteenth IAAF World Championships will get underway on August 22, 2015 in Beijing, China. The first World Championships were in 1983 in Helsinki. Since that year, in addition to the fourteen World Championships, there have also been eight Olympic Games, making for a total of 22 Global Championships from 1983-2013.
The World Championships were an every four year event, taking place one year before the Olympics, from 1983-1991. But beginning in 1993, the World Championships became an every odd number year affair.
I have gone through all 22 years of competition, and listed the American athletes who have placed in the top 8 in the distance events. I’ve logged stats like number of top 8 finishes, number of medals, and points earned (using a 10 point scoring system like the team scoring at the NCAA Championships – 10 for 1st, 8 for 2nd, 6 for 3rd, etc.)
Being a distance runner and coach and not having unlimited time, I have limited this fact gathering to the distance races (800, 1500, 5000, 10,000 and 3000 steeplechase). Those are the current “distance event.” At the beginning of this era, women only ran the 800, 1500, and 3000. The 3000 changed to the 5000 in 1995. The 10,000 (1987) and 3000 steeplechase (2005) are new events since 1983. I do not consider the marathon in this chart because although the USA sends its top marathoners to the Olympics, that is not the case with the World Championships, where there is a little less glory for winning the marathon.
What my charts show, is that there have been three very distinct periods of US distance running and we are currently enjoying a period of never before seen success.
The first fifteen years of this period included ten global championships. Keeping in mind that there have been a changing number of events per meet, the US averaged 1.3 medals/meet, 6.8 top 8 finishes/meet, and scored an average of 24.1 points.
These seven years that spanned six global championships, were the dark days of US distance running. The US won one medal in this era (0.2 medals/meet), averaged 1.0 top 8 finishers/meet, and scored a paltry 3.2 points/meet. The lone medal was Regina Jacobs’ silver in the women’s 1500 at the 1999 World Championships in Seville. In 2001 and 2003, at the World Championships in Edmonton and Paris, respectively, the US had zero top 8 finishers.
It should be noted that although this was a dry spell for the US on the track in the distance races, it was at the 2004 Olympics in the marathon, with Meb Keflezighi (silver) and Deena Kastor (bronze) medaling that helped re-energize distance running in America. Read more on Meb and Deena here: Meb and Deena_Athens 10 year anniversary
It was because of this lack of success, that the US began to put more emphasis on team training sites at altitude and that led to the re-birth that started with the marathon success in 2004 and continued on the track beginning in 2007.
The seven years between 2007 and 2013, which included six meets, has seen America’s greatest success in the distance races. The US is averaging 2.7 medals/meet, 9.5 top 8 finishers/meet, and scoring 39.3 points/meet during this period….and the hope is that the success will continue at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.
Many of the runners who have already won medals for the US at global championships like Nick Symmonds, Matt Centrowitz, Leo Manzano, Galen Rupp, Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury, and Shalane Flanagan, are back and looking for more hardware. These are the current athletes, who along with Bernard Lagat, deserve kudos for making the US the distance powerhouse that it is today.
Go Team USA!
Brie Felnagle, the athlete, is a professional runner, currently coached by Danny Mackey. At the 2015 USA Championships she placed ninth in the 5000 meters. Her 1500 PR is 4:05.64 and her 5000 PR is 15:14.33. She was an outstanding high school athlete at Bellarmine Prep in Tacoma. She went to North Carolina for college, graduating in 2010. Her college highlight was winning the 2007 NCAA Championship in the 1500 meters. She struggled for a few years right after college, but seems to have found a good training set-up. She lives in the Seattle area, is coached by Danny Mackey, and trains with the Brooks Beasts Track Club (Beasts TC). Felnagle is sponsored by Adidas so she is not an official Brooks Beast TC team member.
Felnagle ran at the 2011 and 2013 Club Cross Country Championships, which means a few Pamakids have had the honor of lining up and running against her. In 2011, Felnagle won the Open Women’s race. In 2013, she came in seventh and helped the Brooks TC win the team title. This title was not without controversy because Felnagle’s aforementioned Adidas sponsorship required her to wear an Adidas uniform. That meant her uniform was not 100% matching with her Brooks TC teammates.
Brie Felnagle, the workout, is a challenging track interval workout that I highly recommend. Felnagle shared the workout in a Running Times article in September 2013. Warning, it’s a long workout – six miles of running (24.5 laps total). You will run a variety of paces (all of which are fast). You will be challenged both mentally and physically. Delayed onset muscle soreness will kick in around 24-48 hours after the workout. But that soreness will eventually clear and you will feel good about getting the workout in, and hopefully, your race fitness will be much improved. I recommend this workout for people running at least 30-40 miles/week and training for either a 10K or cross country race of 8K to 12K. I like to do the workout at the tail end of my base training phase, just before the racing season. I use it as a benchmark of my fitness.
The full workout is:
- 3K – 5 minutes rest
- 2K – 5 minutes rest
- 2 sets of 6X400 with 5 minutes between sets and 1:00-1:15 between 400s.
The 2K is run at my 5K pace. I aim to be 10-12 seconds faster at 1600 meters than I was for the 3K.The 3K is run a little faster than tempo speed. I’ve been running it at approximately my 10K pace.
The first set of 6 X 400 are run four seconds faster than the 400 pace of the 2K. My goal is to only take 1:00 rest between these 400s. This is probably run at my two mile race pace.
The second set of 6X400 are run four seconds faster than the first set of 400s. Due to the increase in intensity, I have found that I need to take 1:15 rest between these 400s. This probably ends up being my one mile race pace.
Here are some example workout times in table format:
The next time you are at a big meet or watching one on the internet, check and see if Brie Felnagle is in the 1500 or 5000 and maybe give her a little cheer. It’s the least we can do to thank her for sharing this challenging but highly useful workout.
It was 31 years, 11 months, 21 days between July 26, 1983 and July 17, 2015.
That’s how long Mary Decker Slaney’s time of 3:57.12 stood as the American record.
Shannon Rowbury, who would be the one to better that record, more than 31 years later, was born nearly 14 months AFTER Decker set that mark.
First, let’s go back to July 26, 1983. Decker (then known just as Mary Decker) was just a week shy of her 25th birthday. At the time, she was the queen of USA track and field. In 1982 she won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the US. In 1983 she was the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and the recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, which is USA Track & Field’s highest honor. At one point in the mid-1980’s she held every American record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters.
July 26, 1983 was day one of a two-day dual meet between the US and a Scandinavian All-Star team. It was a tune-up meet for athletes in preparation for the inaugural Track & Field World Championships that would take place in Helsinki, Finland in August 1983. At those World Championships, Decker won gold in both the 1500 and 3000 meters, a feat that would become known as the “Decker Double” and the reason she won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award that year.
Decker was looking to improve on her own American record of 3:59.43 which she had run in Zurich, Switzerland on August 13, 1980.
There is not a lot of information on Decker’s 1500 meter race but thanks to Mike Fanelli and the extensive track & field archives and memorabilia stored in his garage, I was able to see a newspaper clipping about the race.
She went to the front of the race immediately and came through the first 400 in 62.2. Her 800 meter split of 2:07.0 was still more than one second under American record pace. At 1200 meters her split was 3:08.50, which meant she needed to run the final 300 meters in 50.9 seconds to get the record. Decker kicked and ran the final 300 in 48.7 seconds to establish a new American record of 3:57.12. That time that would stand for more than 31 years. In addition, it still stands as the stadium record at the historic Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
Now we fast forward to July 17, 2015. The place is Monaco. The women’s 1500 meters was paced/rabbited by Chanelle Price to set-up a World record attempt by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Price led the first lap in 60.31 seconds. Dibaba came through right behind her, followed by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, a second pace maker (Tamara Tverdostup of the Ukraine), and then the Americans, Jenny Simpson and Shannon in fifth and sixth place. Shannon’s estimated first 400 was 61.7.
At 800 meters it was Price in 2:04.52, followed closely by Dibaba and Hassan. Tverdostup led Simpson and Shannon through the 800 in approximately 2:06. At this point, both pace setters dropped out.
Dibaba surged and Hassan stayed with her. The two of them opened up about a 2.5-3.0 second lead over Simpson and Shannon in third and fourth place. With 400 meters to go Dibaba was at 2:50.28 and needed a 60 second last lap for the World Record. It’s difficult to see on the video because they are not on the screen but I estimate that Simpson and Rowbury were around 2:55 at 1100 meters and needed a 61 second last lap for the American record.
At 1200 meters, Dibaba was at 3:04.61. Again, Shannon is not on the screen when she crosses the 1200 meter mark but I estimate that she came through in the 3:09-3:10 range.
Dibaba ran an incredible race and, cheered on by the crowd, ran the last lap all alone to set a new World record. Her time of 3:50.07 bettered China’s Qu Yunxia’s 3:50.46 from 1993). Hassan fell back a lot in the last lap and Simpson and Shannon were gaining on her. With 100 meters to go, Shannon shifted gears and went by Simpson, putting one second on Simpson in that last 100 and almost catching Hassan (who herself was running a Netherlands national record of 3:56.05). Shannon crossed the finish third in 3:56.29, with Simpson fourth in 3:57.30 (the second fastest time in her career).
Every since Shannon ran 4:00.33 in Paris in her first season as a professional runner in 2008, I knew that setting the American record in the 1500 was not out of the realm of possibility. Over the years, every now and then, I have given in to the temptation and thought about how proud I would feel if she ever broke the American record in the 1500. But on July 17, 2015, I was not thinking about records. I was looking for signs that Shannon was taking a step towards peaking for the World Championships next month in Beijing.
Instead, we were all treated to a race for the ages. In a matter of seconds a 21 year old World record went down and then the oldest American record in the books, 31 years, 11 months, and 26 days, became history! Congratulations, Shannon!
|Mary Decker||Shannon Rowbury|