Chanman's Blog

Indoor Track and Field

Out here on the west coast, where the weather in January and February does not prevent you from training outside, indoor track & field seems more like an exhibition sport. But in other parts of the United States and internationally indoor track & field is a full-fledged championship sport.

This weekend is the USA Indoor Championships in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Competition will take place Saturday, February 27 and Sunday, February 28. Of note, Shannon Rowbury is entered in the 3000 meters (Saturday at 7:35 P.M. pacific time) and the 1500 meters (Sunday at 3:25 P.M. pacific time). Television coverage of the meet will be on ESPN2 on Sunday from 4:00-6:00 P.M. pacific time. This is not Shannon’s first time competing at the USA Indoor Championships. In 2008 in Boston she pulled what was then a bit of an upset by winning the 3000 meters.

The top two athletes in each event qualify to represent the USA at the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Indoor Championships. Some athletes choose to go and represent the USA and some choose to pass their qualifying spot. You may wonder why an athlete who qualifies would choose not to go to the World Championships. Athletes have to make a lot of tough decisions. Is the travel and consequent disruption in their training routine worth attending an international indoor meet? Some athletes may have very different goals than performing well at indoor meets. Other goals might be: outdoor races, a particular road race, or the upcoming IAAF World Cross Country Championships. In 2008, Shannon chose not to go the Indoor World Championships because she wanted to continue her training plan that was building towards achieving the Olympic “A” standard and preparing for the 2008 Olympic Trials.

The IAAF sanctions a World Indoor Track & Field Championship every even numbered year. The last one was in Valencia, Spain in 2008. The 13th annual championships will be in Doha, Qatar from March 12 to 14, 2010. The international indoor championships include sprints (60 and 400 meters), distance and middle distance (800, 1500 and 3000 meters), hurdles (60 meter hurdles), field events (high jump, long jump, triple jump, shot put and pole vault), relays (4X400 meter relay), and one combined event (heptathlon for men and pentathlon for women).

But back to the USA Championships. You can participate too, by playing the USATF’s Pick-N-Win Fantasy Game. You need to create a log-in but then you’ll have access to play. The deadline is Saturday at 1:55 P.M. The objective is to pick the winner for each event. There are drop down menus for each event with the most current list of entrants so you can easily make picks. You don’t have to be a track geek to do well – at the last meet Track Widow outpointed Chanman’s Irish 122 to 100!

The USA Indoor Championship is the third and final meet of the Visa Championship Series (the two previous meets were the Millrose Games and the Boston Indoor Games). The top American male finisher and top American female finisher in each event at Visa Championship Series meets have their performances assigned a point total based on the IAAF Scoring Tables of Athletics. At the conclusion of the USA Indoor Championships the top three men and top three women earn prize money (1st-$30,000; 2nd-$15,000; 3rd-$5,000). This competition is the Race for the Visa Championship. One caveat is that, although the winning performance can come from any one of the three meets, to be named the Visa Champion you must compete at the USA Indoor Championships. Heading into the final meet, sitting atop the women’s leaderboard is Ms. Rowbury with 1,172 points from her 8:47.14 performance in the 3,000 meters at the Boston Indoor Games.

A brewing controversy is the fact that Albuquerque is at nearly 5,000 feet of elevation, putting the distance runners at a decided disadvantage in terms of achieving a high score on the IAAF scoring tables. This has led to an outcry from many stating that this is unfair. Shannon’s chances of remaining the leader could very much be affected by the elevation. A sprinter or field event athlete, who actually benefits from the thin air, could put up a top mark and pass her in the standings. Even if Shannon wins her event, her mark is likely to score less points on the IAAF table than the sprinter’s or field event athlete’s mark because the altitude will cause her time to be slower than it would have been at sea level. Because of this very real possibility that Shannon could lose out on some prize money due to the altitude, her coach, John Cook, has been leading the charge to get the scoring to include an adjustment for altitude. In an interview with this week Cook said:

“At altitude, you aren’t going to run good times if you are a distance runner – that’s like breathing through a straw. But the sprinters are going to come to altitude and they are going to rock. It’s a huge advantage (to sprint at altitude).“

“Everyone I’ve talked to at USATF agrees with me and says we need to make changes, then they say don’t know how to do (the altitude adjustment). Well there are books out there. There is a green book out there. There is an IAAF book out there. I’m not the smartest guy in the world but I can figure this out. And if I can figure it out, everyone can.”

But on Tuesday, USATF CEO Doug Logan released a statement that said that there will be no altitude adjustment for the distance events.

How many of you don’t follow indoor track & field at all and didn’t even know the USA Championships were this weekend? After reading this, I hope I’ve sparked a little interest and you’ll play the Pick-N-Win game, watch the meet on television or follow it on the internet and look up the Visa Champion on Monday and see if the altitude made a difference. 

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