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.
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.
Somewhere in Bahrain, Maryam Jamal’s high school coach may be writing a blog about how Jamal deserves the gold medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500. But I was not Jamal’s high school coach. I was Shannon Rowbury’s; and therefore this blog is from the point of view that Shannon deserves the silver medal from the 2012 London Olympic 1500.
First, I want to go back to August 2012 in London. On August 9, the day before the women’s 1500 final, I wrote a blog entitled, “Keep Calm and Kick.” I was both nervous and excited to be watching Shannon run in an Olympic Final for the second time.
Immediately after the race, these were the results:
|1||Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN||TUR||4:10.23|
|3||Maryam yusuf JAMAL||BRN||4:10.74|
|12||Hellen Onsando OBIRI||KEN||4:16.57|
|Morgan UCENY||USA||Did not finish|
Shannon’s sixth place finish gave me mixed emotions. Of course sixth at the Olympics is pretty amazing and it was one place higher than in 2008 in Beijing. But there was also a feeling of frustration that maybe not all the women in the race were playing on a level playing field.
The top two runners from Turkey, Asli Cakir Alptekin and Gamze Bulut, had come out of nowhere. Cakir had served a two-year ban from 2004-06 for a drug infraction while she was a junior athlete. Tatyana Tomasheva of Russia who placed fourth served a two year suspension from 2008-10 for “fraudulent substitution of urine” – she basically tried to cheat on a drug urine test.
It was also suspicious that these two runners from Turkey and Russia, did not compete at the 2011 World Championships and were not regular competitors in the Diamond League meets, meets where there would likely be drug testing. Cakir, a former steeplechaser, had never made an international championship final before 2012 and had improved her 1500 meter time 7 seconds that summer. In 2011, Bulut’s best time in the 1500 was 4:18. In 2012 she suddenly ran 4:01 and qualified for an international championship meet for what would be her first and only time. Tomasheva competed almost exclusively at home in Russia.
But thinking like this, felt like sour grapes. So instead we went for dinner in the mall by the Olympic Stadium and waited to meet up with Shannon and her family. In a recent Unscriptd interview, Shannon revealed that she was in tears on the practice track during her cool-down because she felt robbed by these dopers. She worked hard to put on a brave face for her family.
Usually dinner with Shannon after her finals race is a fun dinner with lots of laughs and toasts. Thinking back to that night now, that was by far the least celebratory after the meet dinner we’ve all experienced. In the group picture we took that night, we may all be smiling but deep inside we were all pretty upset at the circumstances. I didn’t even blog about this race because I didn’t know what to say that didn’t sound accusatory and controversial.
In late 2013 I saw a picture of the 2012 London Olympic 1500 Final. It was a nice head on shot of the runners as they approached the finish line. Almost every runner’s face was clearly visible. I decided to make a scan of the picture and I saved the file on my computer with the filename “2012 London 1500 Final_x out the druggies as they get caught.”
For a year and a half, that jpg just sat there untouched. But in August 2015, Cakir failed a drug test. She is currently serving an eight year ban and her Olympic gold was striped. I got to make my first X on the picture.
I now realize that there were a few bans in 2014 of runners who finished behind Shannon. The initial ninth place finisher Ekaterina Kostetskaya of Russia was given a two-year ban for a drug violation from a test at the 2011 World Championships. Her ninth place finish has been nullified by the IAAF. The initial seventh place finisher Natallia Kareiva of Belarus had her finish nullified and received a two-year ban for doping after her biological passport showed abnormalities.
Going back to the runners who finished ahead of Shannon, with the Cakir suspension and voiding of her results, the feeling most of us had was that Shannon was rightfully fifth. In the summer of 2015, all hell broke out regarding Russian athletes. First it was rumored that many, Tomashova included, would be named as dopers and have their results expunged. Next, came news that Russia’s anti-doping agency lacked adequate and proper drug testing and would be suspended by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) for non-compliance. Russia’s infractions are severe enough that it is still unclear if any of athletes from the Russian Federation will be allowed to compete in Rio at the 2016 Olympics. This obviously shrouds Tomashova and her fourth place finish in London even more.
On February 29, 2016, it was announced that fifth place finisher Abeba Aregawi of Sweden by way of Ethiopia had tested positive for meldonium. A week later on March 7, 2016, after a drug test showed irregularities in her biological passport, Bulut was suspended pending further investigation.
In many ways, this is vindication for Shannon. What we were all feeling that night in London was not sour grapes but justified. It remains unclear what will happen with the official results and medals from the 2012 London Ollympic 1500 race. To date five of the first eight finishers have been busted for drugs. If you believe that they should not be in the results, then the final results should now stand as:
Gold – Maryam Yusuf Jamal, BRN
Silver – Shannon Rowbury, USA
Bronze – Lucia Klocova, SVK
Shannon may or may not ever get a medal from the London Olympic Games. She and her fans will never have the moment back in the Olympic Stadium in front of 80,000 fans, taking a victory lap and being on the podium to receive a medal. That’s what makes me mad and frustrated.
Maybe the best thing to come of this is in Shannon’s mindset. You couldn’t help but wonder back in 2012 if Shannon’s best as a clean athlete would always leave her around sixth place and the dopers would continue to win the medals. But thanks to increased testing, the cheaters are getting caught. What’s left, hopefully, are only clean athletes.
Shannon’s best is good enough to compete against the other clean athletes.
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!
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|
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.
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!
As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.
Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.
On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.
There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.
After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.
In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.
After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.
I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.
First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.
This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.
But I digress…
The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.
In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.
The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.