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|
It’s the week of the 2015 USA Track & Field Championships. It might as well be Christmas Week for this kid at heart.
Malinda and I have attended the USA Championships (or Olympic Trials as the meet is called in Olympic years) seven out of the last eight years – 2008 and 2012 in Eugene for Olympic Trials, 2009, 2011, and soon 2015 in Eugene for the USA Championships (qualifying meets for World Championships), 2010 (USA Champs in Iowa) and 2014 (USA Champs in Sacramento). It’s a thrill to watch the best in the country compete for spots on Team USA. It’s been an even greater thrill to watch someone that I coached in high school (Shannon Rowbury) compete at the national level.
As I write this, the meet is two days away. Shannon is one of the favorites to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing in the 1500 meters. Jenny Simpson has a bye into the World Championships by virtue of her winning last year’s Diamond League series. That means Jenny and three others will represent the US in China in August. Shannon has been in this position before, and knock on wood, has come through like the champion that she is every time to make the team.
- In 2008, she was the newcomer on the scene and she won the Olympic Trials 1500 to qualify for her first Olympic team.
- In 2009, she had very strong competition from Christin Wurth-Thomas and Anna Pierce. Wurth-Thomas surged out fast and had a huge lead but Shannon timed her kick and caught Wurth-Thomas in the final stretch to win the US 1500 title for the second year in a row.
- In 2011, Shannon was not at 100% due to an injury but she gamely fought for a spot on the World Championship team. It took an unbelievable final kick to out-lean Wurth-Thomas at the finish line to grab third place and a ticket to the World Championships in Daegu by one-hundredth of a second.
- In 2012, it seems almost wrong to say it, but it really was just business like usual as Shannon placed a solid 2nd at the Olympics Trials to qualify for her second Olympic team.
- In 2013, the one year Malinda and I didn’t go to the meet, Shannon finished a disappointing 4th in the 1500 meters on Saturday. Showing tremendous tenaciousness, she came back the next day and ran the 5000 meters. She hung around the main pack for most of the race but it still took a pretty amazing final 200 meters to move up to 3rd to secure her spot to the World Championships in Moscow.
All in all, it’s been a pretty good run of success and I have my fingers crossed for a new fond memory next weekend.
In addition to cheering for Shannon, going to the USA Championships also means hanging out and drinking an adult beverage with some fellow running nerds and coaches. Peanut Harms always hosts a fantastic party where running geeks can unite after the meet to re-hash what we just witnessed. I am looking forward to seeing some friends at the Wild Duck Café in a few days.
Just like last year, Malinda and I have been faithfully logging on to the USATF Rewards page every day to accumulate reward points. Last year we used points to hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I got to co-host the Cool-Down Show. This year, we will again be holding the finish line for one of the races (not confirmed yet but most likely the men’s 10,000 meters on Thursday night). We also used our points to claim the behind the scenes TV truck tour.
Fresh off of her We Go For Good – Circle the Bay for Breast Cancer ElliptiGo trip, Malinda has made plans to meet up with the ElliptiGo strategic marketing manager, Darren Brown while we are in Eugene. Instead of going for a run together, the plan is to go for an ElliptiGo ride together. Another example of the running community being really small, Darren’s wife, Sarah, is a national class 1500 meter runner who has her own crazy journey to the 2013 Moscow World Championships. Sarah will be competing against Shannon in the 1500 this week. How cool would it be if Shannon and Sarah make it and we can go ElliptiGo’ing with Darren on the Great Wall of China?!
And, as if cheering for Shannon, raising cold ones at the Wild Duck, holding the finish line, getting a TV truck tour, and riding an EllpitiGo weren’t enough, on Friday, I am looking forward to attending a screening of City Slickers – Can’t Stay With Me, a documentary film on former UCLA coach, Bob Larsen (most famous for being Meb’s coach). Bob was the UCLA coach when I was there and I got to be his manager my senior year. When they were putting this documentary together, I sent them some pictures from my era at UCLA which may or may not have made the final cut.
With all this on the horizon, how can I not feel like a little kid on Christmas week?
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
I have been quite fortunate in my life to have been part of numerous championship teams – league titles at Lowell in high school, a Pac-10 championship at UCLA as manager, CCS and league titles as the SHC coach. Not to mention other achievements that have been worthy of a celebration – qualifying the cross country team for state, Shannon winning two individual state championships and qualifying for the Olympics and World Championships. As the coach and president of Pamakids, we hadn’t won any championships….until last Sunday.
“I didn’t think it would ever happen.”
We’ve come a long ways since 2007 when the only Pamakid presence in the Pacific Association (PA) was a women’s cross country team. It’s been five years since the announcer at the cross country championships saw a Pamakid cross the finish line and exclaimed, “Pamakids? Wow, I didn’t know they were still around.” We didn’t revive the Pamakid racing team for the glory of winning championships. That was probably the farthest thing from our mind. The only thing father back was our pack of runners behind the race leaders. We definitely owned the middle and back of the pack for several years.
However, our philosophy of welcoming everyone to the club and showing appreciation for all runners, no matter their speed, has paid off. We have great team depth. Our team spirit, which is evident at races, motivated new runners to join and inspired current runners to become faster. All of a sudden, we were a team in the top half of the results.
“At least, I didn’t have it on my radar for this year. That’s why when the opportunity presented itself this last week, and it became apparent the Pamakids were going to win our first PA team championship in club history, I was beside myself with excitement.”
I realized on Saturday morning that it was pretty inevitable that we were going to win the PA Women’s 40+ Grand Prix title. It was important to me that everyone in the club feel excitement and pride in the achievement, not just the 40+ women. My philosophy is that it’s about the whole team, not individual groups within the team. A good example is the SHC track & field team in 2010. When the JV Girls won the league title, the whole team celebrated together – girls and boys; JV and varsity. It was a team achievement and we all felt pride in it. It’s the same philosophy with the Pamakids.
I wanted to do something special to commemorate this championship. I already had a big pre-race motivational speech planned. I needed something tangible that people would get to keep as a souvenir from the day. It would be another reminder that this was a Pamakid championship, not just a women’s 40+ championship.
Championship hats in 24 hours? Uh, no.
Championship shirts from the mall? What am I, made of money?
Homemade championship pennants? Now we’re talking. Usually Malinda gets sucked into my last minute projects. This time, she put her foot down. She would help figure out the process. But if I wanted to make 50 of these pennants, I was on my own. I’m not the most confident person when it comes to being artsy and crafty. My wife usually handles those jobs. But not this time. So off to Lowe’s I went on a mission to buy dowels. Then it was time to print out the pennants, cut them into triangles with the papercutter, and glue them to the dowel. Being the runner/coach geek that I am, I timed it. It took me on average three minutes to glue each one. My PR was 2:38. I made 50 of them. Yes, a significant portion of my Saturday was spent on this project. It was all worthwhile.
“Hopefully we will win more. But I will always remember this first one.”
Making the accomplishment even sweeter, it would be the first PA team championship in club history. You always remember the first one. Five of my most memorable coaching days of my life are the day Shannon won her first state championship, my first dual meet win at SHC, the first time the boys team qualified for state, the day the SHC JV girls won the league title, and the first time both the boys and girls qualified for state. I think about those days often and it always brings a smile to my face. I now have a sixth “first time” memory.
I will never forget opening the bottle of champagne and pouring it into cups for our celebratory post-race toast. I will never forget walking around from person to person, to clink our plastic cups of champagne. I will never forget the sight of the pennants and the smiles and hearing the laughter and cheers.
As the celebration wound down, I went over to Betty’s memorial bench with two pennants and had Thang take a picture of the pennants next to the bench. I later posted the picture on social media and sent Betty, the club’s first president a message:
Hi Betty. You would have been so proud of us today. We won our first PA club championship in club history. And appropriately we clinched the title about 100 meters from your bench. Thanks for getting us started back in 1970. Proud to be carrying on your legacy today.
Everyday is a great day to be a Pamakid. But Sunday, December 14, 2014 was a particularly great one.
To read an account of the race from one of the runner’s perspectives, checkout Heather Johnson’s blog: http://heatherraejohnson.com/2014/12/15/teamwork-can-stop-the-unstoppable/
I have known about and thought about attending the Manhattan Cross Country Invitational for quite a few years. The annual meet is held at Van Cortlandt Park in the Bronx in New York. It is the second largest high school cross country meet in the country (behind only the Mt. Sac Invitational in Southern California) and it is the largest one-day high school cross country meet.
After taking the SHC team to the Mt. Sac Invitational in 2011 and the Woodbridge Invitational (the third largest meet in the country) in 2012, it was natural to think about making a trip to New York for the Manhattan Invitational. In fact several members of the class of 2015 asked me if we could go in 2014, so that over their four year career they would attend the three largest meets in the country. In between this year and the two trips to Southern California, in 2013, our overnight trip was to perhaps the most unique cross country meet in the country, the Three Course Challenge in Seaside, Oregon. I have taken the team to this meet every third year since 2004 and the last two times, we travelled by train.
The conversation about going to New York became more serious on the train ride home from Oregon in September 2013. Before I knew it, I was talking to the SHC choir director about how he plans the choir trips to New York and Europe. Before I knew it, I was e-mailing back and forth with a travel agent to put together a potential itinerary and get an approximate idea of the price.
It would be a five day, four night trip and cost in the neighborhood of $1,200-$1,400 per athlete. For this to happen I wanted at least twenty athletes to commit to going. The trip was approved by the administration in the spring of 2014. In May I began polling people to see if there really was interest. The interest was there. Now I had to see if people were going to back up their interest with a financial commitment. The “no turning back” deposit day came and I had checks from twenty-two families. A few weeks later, I was able to add three more travelers but those three had to pay an additional $100 to cover the late fees. In total we had 29 people going, 25 athletes and four coaches.
My assistant coaches that were going, Tomas Palermo, Rachel Giovannetti, and Sherie Lo Giudice, were critical to ensuring a safe and successful trip. They are all experienced coaches in our program. To have them with me was invaluable, as the four of us work seamlessly in terms of always seeing what needs to be done and thinking about everyone’s safety and well-being.
Even as I filled out rooming lists, made decisions about the itinerary, and filled out purchase orders to pay the travel agent, the trip seemed far far away. In September we had a team meeting to go over some of the team policies for the trip. That’s when it hit me, “we really are going to New York.” We were down to a group of 28 because of illness. We were about to fly 2,560 miles, to attend a meet with more than 5,000 runners, and we would be spending 107 straight hours together.
It was amazing how calm and at ease I was. I had a general idea of what I wanted to do and how I planned to handle certain situations like study hall, free time around New York, and getting the team around on the subway. But I also trusted my own experience in that I would have to wait until I got there to make some of these decisions. Thanks to the high usage of smartphones, I didn’t even feel the need to print out maps for the kids. I knew they would be able to use their phones to figure things out.
I did go out of my way to explain to the teachers at school why I was taking students out of class for such a lengthy amount of time right at the end of the grading period. I also felt it was important that we attend Sunday Mass and that the kids dress nicely for the plane ride and church. We had a long debate during a meeting, and in the end, the kids voted and decided to dress up in more than their polos and khakis for the plane ride to New York and church, if in exchange, I would let them change into “more comfortable” clothes for the plane ride home and the sightseeing on Sunday after Mass. When I was the team manager at UCLA we always dressed up for plane rides, so it warmed my heart and reminded me of my college days when I arrived at the airport to leave San Francisco and the boys were in dress shirts and ties and the girls were in dresses or blouses.
One moment that will stay with me forever was in the bus that brought us from the Newark airport to our hotel in Manhattan. The kids started playing music on a speaker, and while I usually require them to use headphones, it was a special occasion so I let it go. As we drove through the streets of Manhattan, the Jay-Z/Alicia Keys song, “Empire State of Mind” came on and everyone cheered. We were here!
We had some challenges throughout the trip, but each time the kids stepped up to meet my expectations. Everyone was focused and followed directions when we had only 33 minutes in Detroit to get off our first flight and board and be seated on our second flight. When we had to move quickly to and from subways and keep the group together, everyone stayed within earshot and was ready to do what we told them. It was an impressive showing. As we lined up for a ferry to the Statue of Liberty, the security guard, who heard me give instructions to the kids and then saw the kids immediately go do what they were told, said to me, “nice job.”
Meet morning, my heart was racing. We gathered in the lobby and then started walking to the subway. It would be our first subway ride of the trip. What a rush to get on the NYC subway to go to a meet. Unfortunately, it was raining and we had no tent and no tarp. When we got to Van Cortlandt Park there were thousands of people everywhere and we didn’t really know where to go. Finally I found the check-in tent and then we found a tree that would at least provide us with a little shelter. The kids put their bags into the garbage bags we had bought at Walgreen’s the night before.
I gave each of the kids four Sacred Heart Cathedral rubber bracelets and told the kids to give them to people they met during the meet. I also cancelled our usual no phone policy for the meet, because I knew kids would want their phones to take pictures to remember the experience and share with others. We even had our own hashtag for the trip (#SHCXCinNY). Thanks to the bracelets, Carolyn made friends with Kellenberg Memorial High School, which was the team near us. They offered for us to put our bags under their tent.
My next unforgettable moment occurred as I was getting ready to take the starting line photo of our first race, the JV Boys. Blossom took the camera from me and said that she thought that I should be in all the starting line photos today because this was New York. It also warmed my heart to see the kids running the race with their bracelets and then taking it off in the finish chute and giving it to a runner next to them.
The whole trip was filled with moments that brought a smile to my face. We had a nice balance between time all together (bus tour of New York, team dinner at Angelo’s Pizza, Sunday Mass), activities we did as a group but where people could break into smaller groups for certain parts (sightseeing at the Statue of Liberty and the 9/11 Memorial Museum), and free time when the kids were on their own and had to meet me at a specific time and place (a somewhat nerve racking time period for me). The kids had earned my trust by working with me, not against me, throughout the trip. They deserved some time on their own to explore and make their own decisions. That’s when they really learn some life lessons. I reminded them to stay in groups and to make good decisions. Then I crossed my fingers. Fortunately, they did not disappoint. Ironically, I kept getting lost around New York such that I was the one a little tardy to the meet up spots.
One thing about these trips that always brings a smile to my face is when I see two people, who I didn’t think were particularly close, have a long conversation or joke around about something. During a trip of this length, the coaches really get to learn more about each student on a more personal level, too. And the beauty of a group this size, it was small enough to be manageable for the coaches but large enough that if someone started to get on your nerves you could easily just go hang out with someone else for a few hours.
All in all, I really enjoyed this trip. Before dismissing the kids when we got back to SFO, I told them: “I enjoyed this trip a lot. And without all of you there would be no trip. So from the bottom of my heart, thank you for coming to New York with me.”
When the World Cup began a month ago, my main interest in the event was how well Brazil could host an international sporting event. Whether Brazil could successfully put on the World Cup safely for the spectators would go a long ways towards Malinda and me deciding to go to the 2016 Rio Olympics. Over the last four weeks, however, my interest in soccer (futbol) has grown tremendously. I’ve loved following the games and reading up on the nuances and intricacies of this “beautiful” game.
Being just four time zones from Brazil made viewing games very easy – one game at 9:00 A.M. and a second one at 1:00 P.M. Our maintenance staff had all the games on the plasma screen in the school dining hall. I even met friends at a sports bar to watch a game and watched another in a hotel lobby with family. The convenience and social aspect of following the World Cup were winning me over.
Of course I was cheering for the USA team but all the pre-World Cup hype of being in the “group of death” made me think it was going to be a short lived run at this year’s World Cup for the Americans. That all changed after watching the Portugal game. It was an exciting game and as a soccer rube, I have to admit, the increased scoring at this year’s World Cup (thanks to the new ball, the Brazuca) has helped keep me interested. The agony of Portugal’s tying goal in the fourth minute of injury time only increased my passion.
Soon I was downloading the IAAF and Watch ESPN apps. I was studying up on the Group Play tie-breaking rules (goal differential BEFORE head-to-head). I watched more “I Believe That We Will Win” videos than I care to admit. I participated in social media, using the hashtag #USMNT and posting things in anticipation of the Germany game.
Even the loss to Germany did not dampen my excitement. The USA was on to the knockout stage! I started reading futbol websites in between my visits to LetsRun and the USATF Rewards page. The Five Thirty Eight website is chalk full of statistical analysis. Stats and numbers? Like track? I believe that you should sign me up! I was not and still am not an expert on the sport, but I was enjoying pretending to be one.
The USA-Belgium game was such a rollercoaster. The drama reminded me of the Olympic Trials 5000 meter race when Kim Conley came from behind to grab the last qualifying spot to London. And that Tim Howard guy?! Sixteen saves! I didn’t need a website to tell me it was a performance for the ages. Then reading more about Tim Howard and how he’s battled Tourette’s syndrome made me respect him and his performance even more.
Although the USA was eliminated, my interest did not wane. With each passing game bringing us closer to crowning the champion, the tension for the teams grew as did my excitement for the drama that was about to unfold.
The quarterfinal game between the Netherlands and Costa Rica was a great battle between two teams that didn’t want to lose. In the final minute of extra time, the Netherlands coach Louis van Gaal replaced his goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen with Tim Krul. It seemed like a strange substitution to me. The announcers said that Krul was two inches taller than Cillessen and thus had a larger arm span to block penalty kicks. This fascinated me. What a great idea…if it works. And it did!
I have grown up following baseball, where the “closer” is the relief pitcher specialist used only to protect a lead in the ninth inning. World, meet Tim Krul, the first penalty kick goalie specialist. Maybe in a few years, every team will have a goalie specialist for penalty kicks. I can see how it is a slightly different skill set to defend the goal in the course of the game when you have to track multiple players (including your own team) and the ball; versus defending the goal against a single player taking a penalty kick from a known location. The fact that Krul “talked a little trash” to get in the heads of his opponents only made this more interesting. Yes, my Google searches for Tim Krul approached my Google searches for “I Believe That We Will Win” videos.
The semi-final games were certainly a contrast. One history making blowout and one scoreless draw that came down to penalty kicks. All I can say about the Germany-Brazil game is this graphic sums it up pretty well (and humorously, too).
As for the Argentina-Netherlands game, I don’t understand why van Gaal didn’t save a substitution so he could put in Krul. I’ve been looking for the message board on WhoScored so I can post a critical comment about this (anonymously, of course).
But now it’s all over (congratulations, Germany!). And I am left wondering, what to do with myself? What will I do with the this extra time now that I’m not watching games in the middle of the day? Not listening to podcasts and reading blogs about the World Cup? Fortunately, cross country season is right around the corner and there’s a Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday.
Breaking through barriers, both literally and figuratively, is an important part of life. My friend Mark Hermano teaches a lesson in his physics class where students literally break through a wood board with their hand. The lesson includes the physics of actually breaking a board with your hand and also the life lesson of how sometimes you can do more than you think and the importance of breaking through figurative barriers. The keys to this are focusing, planning, putting energy into it, following through, and believing. Click on this hyperlink for a video of Mark’s full explanation of the exercise.
For runners, breaking barriers usually involve beating a certain time. Usually, but not always, it’s a time with a zero in it. For example, 5:00 in the mile or 1:30:00 in the half marathon.
For Shannon Rowbury, breaking through the four minute barrier in the 1500 has been a goal of hers since she ran 4:00.33 at the Paris meet in 2008. From 2010 until this past weekend, Shannon had PR’s in the 800, 1500, and 5000 that are remarkably close to time barriers – 2:00.47, 4:00.33, and 15:00.51. That’s a total of 1.34 seconds away from three major barriers — sub-2 in the 800, sub-4 in the 1500, and sub-15 in the 5000.
In the spring of 2012, Mark did the wood breaking exercise with me, Malinda, Shannon, and Pablo (Shannon’s fiancé). It was an opportunity to get together for dinner and have an activity that also related to the mental side of running. Part of Mark’s exercise is that you write a barrier that you want to break through on the piece of wood. Shannon wrote “:00” on her piece of wood, indicating her desire to break through the 2:00, 4:00, and 15:00 barriers. It took some time, some good coaching, and some perseverance but by the end of the evening, Shannon broke through her piece of wood.
Two years after breaking through that board, Shannon took care of breaking the 4:00 barrier in the 1500 at the 2014 Paris meet. Malinda and I watched the race on our computer and Shannon seemed to be perfectly positioned and paced it very well for a shot at breaking four minutes. There were a couple bumps with other runners but Shannon stayed on her feet and the chase was still on. As Shannon raced down the final straightaway, I counted the time off in my head – 3:56, 3:57, 3:58, 3:59, 4:00. The clock stopped for the winner at 3:57 so we would have to wait for the results to flash up on the screen. I knew it was either 3:59 or a real low 4:00. But which was it? It seemed to take forever as the broadcast shifted to the high jump to cover a Blanka Vlasic attempt. Then finally the results popped on the screen. 3:59.49! The barrier was broken. Shannon later told me that, “good things come to those who wait” and they sure did on this day.
Shannon breaking 4:00 for the 1500 got me thinking about her first sub-5 in the 1600 when she was in high school. I must admit I had to dig around to find it. It was March 16, 2001 at the Piedmont Distance Carnival. Shannon ran a negative split race: 78, 77 (2:35), 74 (3:49), 67 (4:56). Really pretty amazing that she went 2:35 for her first 800 and 2:21 for her final 800 including a blistering 67 for her last lap. All this as a high school junior. She needed every second that last lap as she narrowly beat her future Duke teammate Clara Horowitz, 4:56.7 to 4:58.7.
Looking at the results from the above hyperlink, the fifth place finisher in the Boys 1600 was a senior from De La Salle who dabbled in both track & field and soccer. I believe he had a high school PR of 4:15 but chose to focus on soccer after high school. It’s worked out for him pretty well. You may know the name. He plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and played in the World Cup this summer. He’s the one who had the ball on his foot just yards from the goal late in regulation time in the Belgium game and just couldn’t quite convert. He is Chris Wondolowski.
Advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals. Now that would have been a barrier breaker for the US Men’s team! Be patient, USA, good things come to those who wait.