Chanman's Blog


Cheering for Amy

Cheering for Amy_after the race_photo by Paul Merca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cheering for Amy_still in 4th

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

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

Cheering for Amy_Alistair and Jerry

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

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

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

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

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

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

Either scenario would give track & field a signature moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The end of the Bolt era_waving goodbye

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

The night I won the Internet

There we are on NBC!

There we are on NBC!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pucker up, it's time for the race.

Pucker up, it’s time for the race.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

Have to admit I teared up reading this.

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

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

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

Our banner's moment of glory on international television.

Our banner’s moment of glory on international television.

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

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

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

Thanks, Erin. #MadeMyDay

Being a fan of track & field can be tough

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

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

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

Being a fan of track_Shannon drug tests 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That 2012 London Olympic 1500 Meters

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

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

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

Immediately after the race, these were the results:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a subdued post-meet dinner in London.

It was a subdued post-meet dinner in London.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gold – Maryam Yusuf Jamal, BRN

Silver – Shannon Rowbury, USA

Bronze – Lucia Klocova, SVK

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

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

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

Celebration Flags

Mo Farah - 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

Mo Farah – 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

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?

I have.

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.

Celebratory Flags_Being Patriotic in Moscow

With our USA flag that’s been with us since 2008. Photo by Paul Merca.

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?

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track  moments later.

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track moments later.

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 Bird’s Nest Again

2015 - at the Bird's Nest again

2015 – at the Bird’s Nest again

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.

2008 - first time at the Bird's Nest

2008 – first time at the Bird’s Nest

2008 - watching the Olympics

2008 – watching the Olympics

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.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

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.

 

US Distance Results at Global Championships, 1983-2013

15th IAAF World Championships - Beijing

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.

1983-1997

US Distance Major Champs Results_1983-1997

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.

1999-2005

US Distance Major Champs Results_1999-2005

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.

2007-2013

US Distance Major Champs Results_2007-2013

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!

31 Years, 11 Months, 21 Days

2015 Monaco Women's 1500 meters

2015 Monaco Women’s 1500 meters

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.

31 years_newspaper clippings

News paper clippings – 1983 (courtesy of Mike Fanelli) and 2015 (SF Chronicle Reader)

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!

Comparing Splits

Mary Decker Shannon Rowbury
400 62.2 61.7
800 64.8/2:07.0 64.8/2:06.5
1200 61.5/3:08.5 63-64/3:09-3:10
1500 Finish 48.6/3:57.12 46-47/3:56.29

 

The Last Night

image

Tonight is our last night in Moscow at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Just like in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, and London, I have mixed emotions. I am both sad that this current adventure is about to end but also ready to be back home.

There is a little bit of a letdown when a global championship comes to its conclusion. Usually during the last month before an Olympics or World Championships, I spend a lot of time thinking about Shannon Rowbury’s race. I scout the competition, research splits from previous meets, and consider a variety of race strategies and tactics. On Shannon’s race days I feel nervous. And when she’s done competing, I feel pride. But also a little bit of emptiness as this goal race that has been on my mind for at least a month (often longer) is over. “What do I do with myself now?” is what I often end up thinking to myself.

Spending ten days at a global championship for me is like having Christmas ten days in a row. I have almost no concerns each day except what time do we need to get to the track and what event is happening tonight.

I love watching athletes competing in track & field at the highest level. There’s so much excitement, emotion, and drama. Just tonight in the span of one hour, I felt exhilaration for Matthew Centrowitz when he found an opening and sprinted to a silver medal in the 1500, I felt empathy for a courageous Alysia Montano, who just couldn’t hold on in the 800, and I felt frustration when the US women had a bad exchange in the 4X100 meter relay. Taking the kid on Christmas Day analogy one step further, I was a kid on Christmas Day opening presents when Centro saw me waving my US flag as he took his victory lap and he pointed at me. Yes, I am going to miss being at this meet every night.

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

Today, as often happens at the end of the meet, we got to spend some time with Shannon. We had lunch at Cafe Pushkin and grabbed some pies at Stolle. It’s nice to just spend time with her (and Pablo) and talk a little track, but mostly exchange stories about this current adventure. Like I said on Facebook, it really is a privilege to be at a World Championship meet and feel nervous before a race.

All that being said, I am also ready to get out of town.

Beijing Daegu, and Moscow were particularly challenging trips because of the language barrier (so many Germans speak English that Berlin was nowhere near the same challenge). Every outing, every meal, and every trip to the bathroom required mental thought and that can be draining. We also keep pretty long hours when on the road. The meet tends to be a night meet so we often do not get back to our room until midnight. E-mails and internet surfing tend to occupy another hour or more. Come seven the next morning, I am usually up and ready to do some sightseeting. After all, it’s a limited amount of time we’ll be in this foreign land. No point sleeping the time away. All of this hyperactivity, however, can leave one pretty tired by the end of ten days.

On top of all that, in Moscow, we had to do a lot of walking to get around. The subway was 0.75 miles from the hotel and the subway stop nearest the stadium was a 0.5 mile walk. Just getting from the hotel to the stadium and back required 2.5 miles of walking. Malinda and I estimate that we walked about 55 miles while here in Moscow, so over five miles a day. No wonder I am so tired.

Probably the main reason that I look forward to being back in San Francisco is to see the SHC team and start cross country season and to see my Pamakid teammates and tell them stories about Moscow. The official start of the cross country season is August 19. My assistant coaches will be running practice because I’ll spend most of the day in an airplane traveling home. But I’ll be there on August 20. There may or may not be another Shannon Rowbury on this year’s team, but I still plan to put all my heart into coaching this group and making them the best runners that they can be – just like I did with Shannon and everyone else that’s been on the team over the past fifteen years.

Good night and good bye, Moscow. Thanks for a memorable trip!

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