Chanman's Blog


2010 WCAL Finals

Posted in Coaching,Race/Meet Report,SHC Track & Field by Andy Chan on May 13, 2020
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I started this re-cap back in May 2010. I wrote about 90% of it and saved it on May 21, 2010 but never went back to it to finish it. Now that we are coming up on the 10 year anniversary of this historic event, I decided I would finish the story, knowing that the final details (starting with the 4X4’s on, will be a little hazy in my mind given the ten years that have passed.

WCAL Finals, 2010

I have been involved in the sport of track & field for twenty-five years and from the coaching side of things for twenty years. Friday, May 14, 2010 at the West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) Finals may have been one of the most successful meets I have ever been associated with.

It was a close battle in the JV Girls division. Sacred Heart Cathedral was already assured of a share of the WCAL championship by virtue of our 6-0 dual meet record. But to win the championship outright we needed to beat Mitty at WCAL Finals. After WCAL Trials Day, thanks to first places by Kellie Redmond 1600 and 3200) and Juliette Alliaume (high jump), the Irish were leading Mitty 36-24.5 when the day started.  I made a dope sheet using the seed marks and everything suggested that the meet would be very close. In a championship meet like this, team scoring is: 10 points for first place, 8 points for second place, 6 points for third place, 4 points for fourth place, 2 points for fifth place, and 1 point for sixth place. Just one change in place can be a four point swing! 

Kellie Redmond (1st, 1600 & 3200) and Katherine Tse (3rd, 3200) picked up big points
Juliette Alliaume won the High Jump

In the Varsity divisions the Irish had six events with legitimate chances of qualifying for the Central Coast Section (CCS) Trials. It would take a top three finish for the boys or top two finish for the girls or achieving the CCS  at-large standard. In all six cases, I felt we had a chance but it would be close.

That was the backdrop heading into the meet. At most meets, some things go better than expected, some things worse, and in the end things pretty much even out. But not on this magical night where pretty much everything seemed to go the Irish way!

From the time we first arrived around 4:00 P.M. until we were celebrating on the field at the end of the meet after 9:00 P.M. it was non-stop action for me. I didn’t have time to eat anything, drink anything, sit down, or even go to the bathroom. Pretty much continuously for those five hours I had something that required my coaching attention…it was great!

It all got started with the 4:00 P.M. coaches’ meeting. There was a lot of tension in the air as we tried to resolve some conflicts over the seeding of some races. During the meeting I ate a muffin and the Bellarmine coach commented that I really wolfed down that muffin fast. I told him it was because I didn’t know when I would have time to eat again – and boy was I right!

The meet opened with the 4X100 meter relays. Our JV Girls were seeded second behind Mitty. We ran well and got second place as expected and I was happy to keep the score as projected. It wasn’t until the next day that it registered that their time of 51.37 was excellent, the third fastest time by any team (varsity or junior varsity) since I’ve been coach at SHC.

Next up was the Varsity Boys 4X100 relay. Five of the top seven teams in the CCS were in the race: us, Serra, St. Ignatius, Bellarmine, and St. Francis. The top three would qualify automatically for CCS. The fourth and fifth place teams had to run faster than the CCS at-large qualifying standard of 43.59 to make it to CCS. With our season best (and school record) of 43.36, we knew we had a chance. It was difficult to see much of the race from the middle of the field. At the finish line I noticed that four teams came by in pretty close succession but we weren’t one of them….but I kept the faith, yelling for Yra (sophomore Michael Munchua) to keep running hard and get the time. We were definitely fifth. Now we had to wait and see what the time was. I had us in 43.2 hand time so I knew we had a chance. Yra and I waited together staring at the scoreboard for what seemed like forever. St. Ignatius, 42.31; Serra, 42.51; Bellarmine, 42.52; St. Francis, 42.75. Then we waited….and finally: Sacred Heart Cathedral, 43.41! CCS, baby! Yra and I jumped up and down and then ran to find the other team members. The seniors, Marcus Del Bianco and Doug Parrish, now officially had a conflict between CCS and graduation. We had talked about it for the past couple weeks but now it was a reality. There were still more races to be run, so I told the boys we’d “sort all this out later, for now get ready for your next event.”

Marcus Del Bianco to Gary Moore, the 4X1 qualifies for CCS

In the JV Girls 100 Hurdles the Irish were seeded fourth and sixth with Mitty’s lone qualifier seeded ninth (last). If that held, the Irish could outscore Mitty 5-0. But Mitty had other plans. Mitty’s top hurdler, Clemence Couteau had one of the top times coming into WCAL Trials. But during the trials race she fell and by the time she got up and finished could only place a non-qualifying tenth (the top nine qualified for the final in this event because St. Francis’ track has nine lanes on the straightaway). Mitty strategically scratched their athlete who was seeded ninth, which allowed Couteau to move up into the race. Couteau took advantage of the second chance and raced to third place, while SHC’s Alliaume and Asia Satchell placed fifth and sixth. Mitty had scored some somewhat unexpected points. Instead of 5-0 for the Irish, the event went 6-3 for Mitty. Overall it was an eight point swing in Mitty’s favor. I felt we had fourteen points to play with so we were still okay but this definitely cut into our margin for error.

In the JV Girls 400 meter race, the Irish had three runners and Mitty had three runners. This was an opportunity for a lot of points for one of the schools. I figured the Mitty girl would win the race but as long as the Irish placed three runners ahead of the next Mitty girl, we would outscore Mitty for the event. It was important that we do this since we had lost those points in the 100 hurdles. Ebony McKeever (second), Kristina Hernandez (fourth) and Samantha Mairena (fifth) got the job done perfectly. Sam in particular did great. She was in the middle of the triple jump and had to come over for the 400. She got a slow start and a Mitty girl was ahead of her at the 200 meter mark. But in the last half lap of the race Sam did exactly what we needed her to do, surging past Mitty’s second runner to give us a 14-11 point advantage for this event.

In the Varsity Boys 400, Del Bianco ran a very nice race for sixth place. It would be his last individual race for the Irish and it was great to see him run a PR, 52.47. He only started running track last year as a junior but over the last year and a half he has worked very hard and done everything we could have asked to make himself into a top track runner. That time of 52.47 makes him the fourth fastest 400 meter open runner I have ever coached.

At this point in the meet I attempted to get some field event results. I checked at the triple jump pit to see what Mairena’s place was. They told me she jumped 30 feet something for fourth or fifth but I couldn’t get an official result. Then I went to the discus and shot put to see if I could get some throwing results but again nothing was available. It sounded like Emily Chug and Chelsea Bendebel placed fourth and fifth in the Varsity Girls discus and that Jennifer Java was fifth in the JV Girls discus but nothing was official.

I went back down towards the finish line to watch the end of the JV Girls 100 meter race. It was another race filled with SHC (three) and Mitty (four) runners. A lot of points were at stake. I figured Erica Hipp might win the race for us but Cecily Agu from Mitty was going to press her and Mitty had three other athletes who could score, while the Irish’s Allegra Bautista and Fue Tualaulelei were seeded in non-scoring positions, seventh and eighth. I wasn’t concerned about the times at all. All I wanted to see was the finishing places. As in most 100 meter races it was a blur at the finish line. I could see that Hipp won and Agu was second. The next thing I noticed was that Bautista was ahead of the other three Mitty girls. “Wow,” I thought to myself, “Allegra just stole us some points.” She sure did – fifth place ahead of Mitty in sixth, seventh, and eighth. Scoring for this event went 12-9 for the Irish, nine points better than the projection on the dope sheet. That made up for the points we lost in the 100 hurdles and I felt like we were back where we started, with a double digit cushion.

Erica Hipp wins the 100

While I didn’t care about times, just places in the JV Girls 100, in the Varsity Boys 100 I cared about the time. Gary Moore needed to run 11.17 or faster to hit the at-large standard for CCS. It wouldn’t matter what place he was if he got the time. With so many studs in the 100 meter race, I was more looking at his time. It was a blanket finish and Gary and I didn’t really say a word…we just looked up at the scoreboard. Coach Art Higgins and Coach Lloyd Wilson thought he might have been second or third but from my vantage point I thought he was fifth. We would know shortly. Marshall, Valley Christian, 10.94; Harvey, Serra, 10.94; Borel, St. Francis, 10.99; Kennedy, St. Ignatius, 10.99; and finally Moore, Sacred Heart Cathedral, 11.03. What a finish! Five guys within 0.09 seconds of each other. But more importantly, another CCS qualifying performance for SHC!

As I walked around the field, people had been telling me the St. Francis coach was looking for me. I was pretty sure it was because they were scratching a girl from the 800 and they wanted to know if our alternate wanted the spot. If it was JV, we for sure wanted it, as Tiffany Lam had come down and was warmed up and ready to go. Lam told me about twenty minutes earlier that she was still waiting to hear if there were any scratches. Unfortunately it was a varsity scratch and our alternate, Juliana Flynn, was not interested in racing the 800. Flynn was very sick. She missed school the day before and probably only came to school today because it was WCAL Finals. When we talked before the meet I could tell she felt horrible. She had four layers on (jacket, fleece, sweatshirt, and t-shirt) and was pretty pale. We agreed that she would not run the 1600 or the 800 even if there was a scratch. But she wanted to run the 3200 and felt that she could PR even under the circumstances. I told her that I trusted her and that I would let her run but if the race started going downhill she should just drop out, “You don’t have to prove anything. I’d rather you try and give up than push through and get mono,” I told her.

Before the JV Girls 800, I went over to Emily Hipp to give her some advice. A saying I’ve learned is “stick your nose in it” meaning get into position to contend in the middle of the race. I told Hipp to “stick her nose in the race.” I knew that if she was aggressive she could place pretty high. We needed big races from her and her teammates Hernandez and McKeever (both of whom were tired from the 400) to prevent a 1-2-3 Mitty sweep, which was entirely possible. On the dope sheet I had Mitty beating us 20-10 in this event. Anything better than that would be a plus. I saw in the first 100 meters that McKeever must have been hurt. She’s battled a hip injury all season and her form was way off as she went straight to last place. In the middle of the pack Hipp and Hernandez were battling. With 200 to go, they both made strong moves and although Mitty’s Amanda Guzikowski won the race, by getting second (Hipp) and third (Hernandez), and knocking Mitty’s Courtney Lisowski to fifth, the Irish scored big. It was 14-12 in favor of SHC, a twelve point swing from the dope sheet.

I was busy congratulating Hipp and Hernandez and checking on McKeever’s injury that I missed the starting gun for the Varsity Boys race. In the first 100 meters I felt good about Jarrett Moore’s chances. He was following the race plan we had discussed the day before, sitting back in the middle of the pack for the first 300 meters while Valley Christian’s Sean Davis took it out fast. Moore moved up over the in the middle of the race and passed St. Ignatius’ Mike Reher with 300 meters to go to move into second place. They started to build a gap on fourth place and I felt Moore’s chances for a top three finish and CCS were looking good. Reher passed Moore with 150 to go and would eventually overtake Davis for a narrow win. Moore had his usual tight form down the homestretch but he had enough heart to hold on to third place. A couple of Moore’s old teammates, Paul Rechsteiner and Daniel Koch, were there and they joined the mob that surrounded him at the finish line. We had to almost hold him up as he was pretty wobbly on his feet from sheer exhaustion. We knew he was third and thus had qualified for CCS so there was some celebrating. Since I didn’t start a watch I had no idea what the time was. We looked up at the scoreboard and it said, Reher, St. Ignatius, 1:56.02; Davis, Valley Christian, 1:56.03. Koch pointed to the scoreboard and told Moore, “Look at their times…and you weren’t that far behind them!” Then it flashed up there, Moore, Sacred Heart Cathedral, 1:57.94. Everyone around us starting screaming. Coach Andy Lee told me later that he could hear a roar from across the field at the triple jump pit. I didn’t even realize until we got on the bus to go home that this was a new school record.

Moore has been trying to break 2:00 for two years. He’s run 2:00.47, 2:01.16, 2:01.17 (three times), and 2:01.18. Even the Riordan coach commented to me the other day about how close he’s been without getting it yet. Back in cross country season Moore paid me for pizza in pennies. I told him I’d hold on to one of the pennies and give it back to him when he broke 2:00. I’ve been carrying that penny around with me since last November. When we saw the time on the scoreboard I immediately reached for my wallet and pulled out the lucky penny to give to him. At last!

Jarrett Moore – CCS qualifier, first sub-2, gets the lucky penny back

Next up was the F/S Boys 800. As Ernest Lardizabal went to the starting line, I realized that I had been so busy I wasn’t even checking on athletes before their races. I was just expecting them to warm-up on their own and be where they needed to be. Lardizabal is one of the athletes that sometimes needs some handholding from a coach or a teammate. Today he was the only F/S boys competing. Yet, he looked warmed-up and ready for his race. That made me feel proud inside. I was also pretty proud when he finished the race with a new PR of 2:10.

I was finally able to get the JV Girls triple jump scores. Mitty picked up thirteen points on us but it was expected so I didn’t stress about it. We had a 89-87.5 lead with three running events (300H, 200, and 4X4) and three field events (discus, long jump, shot put) to go. Next, I found Coach Andy Lee and told him that right after the 300H he needed to tell Juliette Alliaume that she’s running the 4X4 for the injured McKeever.

We were getting down close to the end of the meet. We had three entrants in the JV Girls 300 hurdles to Mitty’s one. I felt like this was a real chance to put the meet away. And we were one hurdle away from going 1-2 and pretty much slamming the door on Mitty. But although Alliaume won the race pretty easily, Satchell, who was running a strong second, clipped the last hurdle and fell. Fortunately she had the presence of mind to get up and finish the race. We ended up outscoring Mitty 11-2 in this event, giving us a 100-89.5 lead. After the race I noticed Alliaume was mad about her time. I told her that she could run her hurdle race frustrations out in the 4X4.

The next race on the track was the Varsity Boys 300 hurdles. Junior Clint Lewis was a surprise finalist in this event. He started doing this event three weeks ago against Riordan when we just sort of threw him in the race to see if he could score a point in the dual meet. He looked pretty good so we ended up working on the hurdles the last three weeks and his time dropped all the way down to 44.25. Along the same lines was junior Brandon Donaldson in the Varsity Boys triple jump. We started teaching him how to triple jump two days before the Riordan meet just to get some points in the dual meet. Again he looked pretty good so we kept at it. Three weeks later Donaldson was sixth at WCAL Finals and had a PR of 39-9.75, the fifth best mark since I’ve been coach. I couldn’t be happier for two guys who just come to practice and work hard.

Next up was the JV Girls 200. Hipp (Erica) and Agu would go against each other again. This time Agu got the win and Mitty picked up a key point with sixth place. It was 11-8 for Mitty and the score was now 108-100.5. We were getting down real close to the end and the score was awfully close.

Erica and her rival from Mitty, Cecily Agu

The Varsity Boys 200 was another chance for Moore (Gary) to qualify for CCS. I had a bad vantage point for the race but a great view of the finish. Moore was clearly second place. Another CCS qualifying performance. This guy was only third in the F/S Boys 200 as a sophomore. One year later he’s taking second in the Varsity race.

After the meet, Mookie and I could celebrate him qualifying for CCS in the 100, 200, 4X1, and 4X4

I was finally able to get an official JV Girls discus score. Java was fifth and Mitty was third. Now it was 110-106.5. We were clinging to a 3.5 point lead with three events to go, the 4X4, long jump, and shot put.

I went to the start line for the Varsity Girls 3200. I noticed that St. Francis’ Morgan Healy and Valley Christian’s Emily Blaha had scratched. There were now four main players – Morgan Lira (second at WCAL Finals in XC) from Valley Christian, Mary Kriege (third at WCAL Finals in XC) from Mitty, Angie Korpusik (sixth at WCAL Finals in XC) from Presentation, and our Sophia Cannata-Bowman (fourth at WCAL Finals in XC). The top two would qualify for CCS unless they ran under 11:36.68, which at the time I didn’t think would happen. Also in the race was Flynn, who was still hoping to PR despite being sick. I gave some last minute instructions to Cannata-Bowman, just reminding her that she had already proven she can stay with these girls in cross country. Right before the gun went off I made eye contact with Flynn and then almost whispered so only she would hear to “be smart and make a good decision.” She nodded and then seconds later the race began.

Lira shot out to the lead with Kriege, Korpusik, and Cannata-Bowman forming a chase pack. Kriege’s mom, Becky, who I know from a run many years ago, was cheering for her daughter on the outside of the track at the 200 meter mark. I was on the inside of the track at the 200 meter mark. Every time after they came by she would talk to me about the race. The chase pack hit the mile mark at 5:47 – right on 11:36 pace. The Cannata-Bowman started moving up. She ran a couple laps at 86 and they were now two to three seconds ahead of 11:36 pace. Kriege’s mom pointed out that Lira was starting to come back to the pack and with about 600 meters to go Cannata-Bowman looked awesome. She was smooth, running fast, and most importantly had a look in her eyes that told me she was going to win this race. She overtook Lira and they were enough ahead of pace that I figured all four of them would run under 11:36. I moved to a different spot on the track to cheer so Mrs. Kriege and I weren’t shouting over each other. I was jumping up and down telling Cannata-Bowman to accelerate on the last lap. Her last lap was 79.9 seconds! And as a freshman she became the Varsity Girls WCAL 3200 meter champion with a :29 PR at 11:27.52. She was on the ground at the finish and when some of our girls started to go towards her the official told them to stay off the track. But he allowed me to go over to check on Cannata-Bowman. I didn’t do a lot of “checking”, I just told her what a great race she had run! Then I was up and cheering on Flynn, who was running a real courageous race given the circumstances. She battled a couple of St. Ignatius runners and came home with a :19 PR at 12:56.

An exhausted Sophia Cannata-Bowman, WCAL Champion in the 3200 as a freshman

The Varsity Boys 3200 represented the last race for EJ de Lara, Micki Hynson, and Brian Furney. Combined they have run for me for a total of 23 seasons. Right before the race I remind them (as if they didn’t know!) that it’s their last time wearing the Irish uniform. De Lara runs his first six 6 laps in eight minutes, which was one of our goals. For his freshman year cross country time trial he ran three laps in eight minutes. In his final race he was twice as fast. After the race I took a picture with the three of them and thanked them for allowing me to coach them for the last four years.

Micki, Brian, EJ, and I commemorate the end of their era

Before the Varsity Boys 3200 started I asked Coach Rachel Giovannetti to try to go get some field event scores from the pressbox. She confirmed that what I had for the discus and triple jump were correct but she wasn’t able to find the long jump or shot put scores. We were pretty sure those events were done so I just needed to go figure out where the scoresheets were. But the 4X4’s were about to start. I figured we just needed to do as well as possible and between races I would try to find the scoresheets.

This is there my story ended in May 2010. Ten year later, using notes I wrote back then, the results sheet, and the scoresheet I was writing on that night back in 2010, I have completed the story.

The JV Girls 4X4 is first. I am hoping we beat Mitty as any point advantage at this point is good and since I don’t know what happened at shot put or long jump. We were seeded to do well in both events but it would take just one upset by a Mitty athlete to swing our 3.5 lead into a deficit.

As the race unfolds, I end up forgetting all about Mitty, because our girls are in a tight battle with St Francis for the win. Erica Hipp anchors us with a 61.7 split and we take second. Mitty is well back in third place. 8-6 for SHC. The score is now 118-112.5. We now lead by 5.5 points. I need to find the elusive shot put and long jump results.

I hear from someone that Steve Filios picked up the shot put and long jump results. I intercept Filios on his way to the press box and ask to see the results. He reads it to me. Shot Put. Tyhana Cooper (SHC)-second. Mitty-first. Long Jump. Mitty first and third. SHC-Allegra Bautista-second, Fue Tualauleilei-fourth, Gabby Vitug-fifth. I don’t even write down the marks. I don’t care.

I have all the results. The JV Girls meet is done. I just need to add up the scores. I run to the middle of the field where I can be alone and kneel down and start writing and adding. I’m breathing hard and my hands are shaking. The shot put was 8 points for us and 10 for Mitty. Long jump was 14-16. So we net lost four points in these two events. That means the 5.5 point lead after the 4X4 will shrink down to 1.5 but we’ll still win!

Checking the numbers with Coach Rachel Giovannetti

Rachel probably sees me writing hurriedly and knows what I am doing. She comes over and I tell her that it was close but we did it….but to not say anything yet. Coach Tony Tran finds me and says he’s been looking all over for me to give me results….that he has good news and bad news. I tell him that I got the results and that we’re good.

Varsity Boys 4X4 getting ready to close out the meet

By this time the last race is about to start, the Varsity Boys 4X4. Another chance to qualify athletes for CCS. We do a quick team cheer before the race and I send the boys out on to the track. They run terrific. 52 for Del Bianco, 52 for Jarrett Moore, 51 for Parrish, and Gary Moore anchors us with a 50.8 and we finish third in 3:27. We mob Gary at the finish line. Doug Parrish is so tired, I end up having to hold him up so he can stand.

The meet is now over and we’re just waiting for the official final score to be announced. I go double check my calculations in the press box. The official confirm it and tell me to take the JV Girls championship plaque. I hide it in my backpack as I walk back down to the field where the team is lingering. We are the only team left. Everyone else has left. Nathalie Hechinger asks if I know the result. I must smile in some way giving it away even though I shrug, because she smiles back at me and says, “yeah, you know,” and walks away. Finally the announcer gets on the PA (perhaps realizing SHC is waiting on the field specifically to hear the JV Girls score read) and starts reading the scores. At some point he says that Mitty is second, which means SHC is first. The team starts cheering. Everyone. Not just the JV Girls. Because this is an overall team success for all of us to relish and celebrate. We’re so busy cheering, I don’t think anyone hears how close the final score is. SHC over Mitty, 140-138.5. A WCAL Championship by 1.5 points.

The dope sheet I used at the meet to keep track of the scoring. 140-138.5!
2010 JV Girls WCAL Champions!
Celebrating an almost perfect 2010 WCAL Finals – one team champion, six CCS qualifiers

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

2016 Olympic Trials – What I Wasn’t Expecting

Posted in Race/Meet Report,USA Track & FIeld by Andy Chan on August 12, 2016
Tags: ,

The age-less Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

The ageless Bernard Lagat makes his fifth Olympic team

The beauty of the Olympic Trials is that you never know what’s going to happen. Between July 1 and July 10, 2016, I saw plenty of things that I was not expecting to see.

  • I did not expect to see two high school boys make the men’s 200 meter final, be seeded in lanes four and six for that final, and come in fourth and fifth in the race. Remember the names Noah Lyles and Michael Norman.
  • I did not expect a high school junior to make the Olympic team in the women’s 400 meter hurdles. Sydney McLaughlin is only 16 years old. Look for her in Rio.
  • I did not expect the age difference between the first and second place finishers in the women’s high jump to be fourteen years – Chaunte Lowe is 32 and Vashti Cunningham is 18.
  • I was not expecting_Richards-Ross

    Sanya Richards-Ross giving an interview on NBC and then waving to the fans

    I was not expecting_Wariner

    Jeremy Wariner acknowledging the fans

  • I did not expect to see both Sanya Richard-Ross and Jeremy Wariner pull up injured in their 400 meter races (Richards-Ross in the first round, Wariner in the semi-final). Both athletes stopped about 200 meters into their race and then slowly made their way around the track towards the finish line, in order to exit the track. In both cases, the Hayward Field crowd gave them nice ovations out of respect for all that they have accomplished during their careers. In both cases, the athletes waved back to the crowd.
  • I did not expect to see Gil Roberts false start in the men’s 400 meter semi-finals and then file a protest that allowed him to run the race and come in second despite the disqualification. When his appeal was upheld (he claimed that his false start was due to noise from the speaker in his starting block), Roberts was into the final. He got out hard and led for much of the final before tying up badly; he barely held on for second place and a spot to compete in the Olympics.
  • After watching Allyson Felix struggle in the opening rounds of the 400 meters due to injury, I did not expect to see her move from fifth place to first place with a furious final kick in the women’s 400 meter final.
  • Felix way back with 100 to go

    Felix way back with 100 to go

    Then after seeing Felix’s great 400 meter race, I did not expect to see her finish off the team in the women’s 200 meter final.

  • I did not expect the American record holder in the women’s 100 hurdles, Kendra Harrison (12.24), to not make the Olympic team (she finished in sixth place).
  • I did not expect the US leader in the 400 meter hurdles, Shamier Little, who had a 53.51 coming into the Trials, to run two seconds slower (55.64) and not qualify for the women’s 400 meter hurdle final.
  • I did not expect 2012 London fourth place finisher Duane Solomon or the newly minted NCAA Champion and junior record holder (1:43.55) Donovan Brazier to both get eliminated in the first round of the men’s 800 meters.
  • I did not expect to see a massive pile up 150 meters from the finish of the women’s 800 meters causing race favorites Alysia Montano and Brenda Martinez to fall to the track (and out of contention) or Molly Ludlow to stutter-step and then miss the top three by .04 seconds.
  • I did not expect to see a woman who only started running the 800 meter race seriously two years ago make the Olympic team. As recently as 2014, Chrishuna Williams ran a lot of 400 and 200 meter races for the University of Arkansas. Her two 800 races in 2014 were 2:09 and 2:06. In 2015, she focused on the 800 and brought her PR down to 2:01. Now, one year later she is an Olympian after surviving the crash described above and finishing in third place.
  • Here is a time out from the “I did not expect” list for me to brag that I DID EXPECT Kate Grace and Clayton Murphy to win the women’s and men’s 800 meters. Only Malinda really knows this is true because I was jabbering about them all through the early rounds of the 800. You’ll just have to believe me. Also, after the 800 meter fall, I did expect Brenda Martinez to bounce back and make the team in the 1500 meters. OK, back to the list.
  • I did not expect the US to send three women to the Olympics in the women’s triple jump, for the first time since 1996. For this to happen Christina Epps jumped 14.17 meters on her fifth attempt, to leap (pardon the pun) from fifth place to second place and to also achieve the needed Olympic standard of 14.15 meters.
  • I did not expect to see total domination in the women’s javelin by Maggie Malone. She not only won the event with a throw of 60.84 meters but also had the second and third best throws of the meet and she would have made the team with any of her four best throws.
  • Although before the race I expected both Courtney Frerichs and Donn Cabral to make the Olympic team in the women’s and men’s steeplechase, when during the race they both fell off the pack with a lap to go, I did not expect either of them to make it into the top three. But, both had very strong last laps that booked their tickets to Rio.
  • I did not expect to see Kim Conley, one of the favorites to make the Olympic team in the women’s 10,000 meters, lose a shoe during lap nine and then spend eleven laps trying to catch the pack. She moved from thirteenth to sixth before packing it in and dropping out with five laps to go to save her legs for the 5000 meters. And then eight days later she came back and made the team in the 5000 meters.
  • I did not expect to see the carnage that took place in the men’s 10,000 meters. After 18 laps (at 7200 meters), the top six runners in the race were Galen Rupp (20:14), Shadrack Kipchichir (20:15), Bernard Lagat (20:18), Hassan Mead (20:22), Leonard Korir (20:27), and Eric Jenkins (20:31). Then things got crazy. A half lap later, Lagat pulled out of the race. Then less than two minutes later, Mead slowed down to a jog and Jenkins completed lap twenty and kept running right off the track. All of a sudden the only runners really left up front were Rupp, Kipchirchir, and Korir, as they had about a :15 gap on fourth place with five laps to go. Other than wondering if another front runner would succumb to the heat and humid conditions, the drama of the race was over.
  • After seeing him drop out of the 10,000 with six and a half laps to go, after seeing him finish in a well beaten tenth at the 2015 USA Championships in the 5000 meters, and knowing that the man is 41 years old, I did not expect Bernard Lagat to not only make his fifth Olympic team, but to win the men’s 5000 meters. A side surprise would be that, after seeing Mead’s race go awry in the 10,000 meters, I did not expect him to be leading the men’s 5000 meters down the final homestretch (only to be caught by Lagat) and qualify for his first Olympic team with a second place finish.

The beauty of the US Olympic Trials is that you really don’t know what’s going to happen. The difference between making the team with jubilation versus missing the team with utter devastation can be measured in hundredths of seconds and in centimeters. That’s what makes it so exciting. Because you never know what you are going to see. But you do know that what you will see will be pretty amazing.

An Exciting Long Jump Competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

Jeffery Henderson was in 1st place for almost the entire long jump competition

The long jump competition at the US Olympic Trials on July 3, 2016 was full of drama and excitement. At one time or another, six different men were sitting in the coveted top three spot to qualify for the Olympics. The Olympic standard, second best jumps, and the wind were all major factors.

The Olympic standard in the men’s long jump is 8.15 meters. This mark must not be wind aided (the wind cannot exceed 2.0 meters per seconds). Coming into the final, all the main contenders for the Olympic team except Will Claye had the Olympic standard. Claye missed the standard by one centimeter in the preliminaries with an 8.14 jump. The general sense was that in order to place in the top three, a jumper would need to exceed 8.15 meters anyway so there wasn’t a lot of speculation about Claye not having the standard. But no one took the wind into consideration.

After the first round of jumping, Jeffery Henderson was in first place with a jump of 8.41 meters. Jarrion Lawson, who was also competing in the 100 meters on this day was in second place with a jump of 8.20 meters. Damarcus Simpson was in third place with a jump of 8.12 meters.

After the second round jumps, Henderson was still first, Lawson improved to 8.32 meters to remain second. Mike Hartfield jumped into third place at 8.23 meters.

Round three saw Maquis Dendy, who was in eleventh place and needed to move into the top eight to receive three additional jumps, temporarily take the lead with a jump of 8.42 meters. Henderson then leapt 8.59 meters to take back first place. That 8.59 would end up being the winning jump. Hartfield improved to 8.34 to remain in third. KeAndre Bates was right there in the hunt, too, two centimeters back with an 8.32, although, he, too, lacked the Olympic standard on a legal jump (non-wind aided).

Somewhere in here, Lawson checked out from the long jump to run the 100 meter semi-finals, where he ran 10.01 to qualify for the 100 meter final.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

Jarrion Lawson had a busy day, long jumping and running the 100 meters.

In the fourth round, Henderson remained first. Lawson had his best jump of 8.58 to move into second place, one centimeter behind Henderson, where he would remain for the rest of the competition. Lawson’s jump made him just the ninth American to ever jump over 28 feet (28 feet, 1.75 inches) with legal wind. Feeling secure that his spot to Rio in the long jump was safe, Lawson would pass his last two jumps to rest for the 100 meter final. Denby, already hobbled from an injury suffered at the Prefontaine Classic, re-injured himself, pulling up on his fourth attempt. His mark remained 8.42 and he was now third. Also during this fourth round, Hartfield improved to 8.39 to be fourth, three centimeters back. Claye jumped 8.38 but it was wind-aided so did not count as an Olympic standard. So Claye was fifth, just four centimeters out of third but still lacking the standard.

In the fifth round, Henderson and Lawson remained in first and second place with their 8.59 and 8.58 respectively. Claye tied Dendy with a jump of 8.42 meters. The good news for Claye was he owned the tie-breaker with Dendy by virtue of the better second best jump 8.38 vs 7.75.The bad news for Claye was that this 8.42 was very much wind aided (+5.0 m/s) so he still lacked the Olympic standard.

With one round of jumping remaining, this was already a historically good long jump competition with six jumpers over 8.30 meters. This is what the scoreboard looked like:

  1. Henderson – 8.59
  2. Lawson – 8.58
  3. Claye – 8.42 (ahead with better second best jump of 8.38; no Olympic Standard)
  4. Dendy – 8.42 (behind on worse second best jump of 7.75; injured and unlikely able to jump anymore)
  5. Hartfield – 8.39
  6. Bates – 8.32

Somewhat unceremoniously, no one improved on their jumps in the last round. Claye, more needing the wind to die down so he could jump 8.15 legal (i.e. NOT wind-aided), jumped 7.93 meters and it was again wind-aided anyway. Lawson passed to save energy for the 100. Hartfield was not able to improve to move into the top three. Dendy passed due to the injury. Henderson did not improve on his mark.

Henderson, Lawson, and Claye would be the three medal winners.

Henderson, Lawson, and Dendy would be the three qualifiers for the Olympic long jump.

Lawson would place seventh in the 100 meters shortly after the long jump ended. Six days later Claye would win the triple jump competition to earn a spot to Rio in a different event.

But the story was not over. On July 29, Dendy pulled out of the Olympics due to the injury and Hartfield was named as his replacement.

This long jump competition that began on July 3, had at one time or another six different athletes in the Olympic-qualifying spots. Finally, on July 29, the US Olympic long jump team was set. Henderson, Lawson, and Hartfield will be the three Americans jumping in Rio.

And Rio makes it a Trio

Photo by Michael Scott

Photo by Michael Scott

Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hayward Field. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Track Town USA.

It’s 3:00 P.M. Malinda and I have settled into our seats in Section C, Row 28. It’s the last day of the 2016 Olympic Trials. The race we’ve been waiting all week for, the Women’s 1500 meter Final is at 5:00 P.M. T-minus two hours to go. 120 minutes. How will we pass the time?

We’ve come to watch and cheer for Shannon Rowbury. Shannon arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral as a freshman in the fall of 1998. It was also my first year as the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Eighteen years and hundreds of memories later, here we are.

You would think that after multiple USA Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games and this, our third Olympic Trials, we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. We do.

I decide to take a selfie and post the picture to social media. That will eat up some time. It should be noted that the sign Malinda is holding in the selfie was made earlier in the Fan Fest as a means of eating up time and alleviating nervousness.

And Rio makes it a Trio_309 post

It’s now 3:09 P.M. Down to 111 minutes.

I busy myself watching the pole vault and high jump. I spend some time looking up the heptathlon scores heading into the final event on my smartphone. I make some small talk but at times like this, I prefer to be just left alone – me and the thoughts screaming silently in my head. The women’s 5000 race starts and it’s pretty exciting. That distracts me for about fifteen minutes and five seconds.

Suddenly it dawns on me. Very few people among the 22,000 spectators in the stadium have such an emotional investment in the outcome of an event. For most, if your favorite athlete makes the Olympic team it’s, “woo-hoo” and high five the person sitting next to you. If they miss out on an Olympic spot it’s, “darn it, that’s too bad,” and on to the next event. I’m one of the lucky ones. I REALLY care if Shannon finishes in the top three or not. It’s that mystery of not knowing if it will be the thrill of victory of agony of defeat that makes sports so riveting. It’s why they run the race. This revelation, that I am blessed to be in my current stressful situation reminds me of a quote I often share with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, “pressure is a privilege.” If there’s no pressure, you either have no chance or you are such a sure thing that it isn’t challenging and thus not as much fun. You actually should want there to be pressure.

I decide this deserved another social media post.

And Rio makes it a Trio_449 post

Now it’s 4:49 P.M.

I look over and notice that Shannon’s friend Aysha is putting lipstick on Malinda. This hot pink or red lipstick has become Shannon’s signature look, an homage to her grandmother Nonie, who passed away five years ago. Aysha asks me if I want lipstick. I look at her questioningly. But then Shannon’s mom, Paula, says “Oh come on, Andy.” Hey, an Olympic spot is on the line. If I need to “lipstick up” to help get the job done, then I better pucker my lips. The timestamp on my phone says that by 4:53 P.M. I had done my part to get to Rio. Now it was all on Shannon.

Shannon and Jenny Simpson were the clear favorites in the race. Brenda Martinez, doubling back in the 1500 after a heartbreaking fall 150 meters from the finish line in last week’s 800 meters, was also someone to contend with. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Olympic Trials champion, has been looking strong and should not be counted out. The field was deep and there could easily be a couple other runners from the pack who could make this challenging.

The first two laps were typically on the slow side with lots of bumping and pushing. All the contenders were bunched together and in position to make their run for Rio. With about 450 meters to go, right behind Shannon, Alexa Efraimson and Lauren Johnson made contact, with Johnson being bumped off-balance.

With 400 meters to go, Uceny passed and cut-off Shannon, causing Shannon to fall back to fifth place. Shannon was boxed in with Uceny in front of her and Efraimson to her right. There was nowhere to go. I remember hearing Malinda screaming in a very panicked voice. I kept thinking, “there’s still 45 seconds of running left. She’ll get out of the box and then she’ll kick.”

With 250 meters to go, Shannon passed Sara Vaughn to move into fourth place. But with 200 meters to go, there still wasn’t a whole lot of room for Shannon to start her kick. “Still 30 seconds of running. There’s time,” I said to myself, this time my rhetorical voice sounding a little more panicked. Shannon would tell me later at dinner that she stayed patient and she knew there would eventually be an opening and when it came, she’d take it and go.

Finally, with about 150 meters left, Shannon got past Efraimson and had a clear path to chase Uceny and Simpson. Martinez was closing hard as well and Amanda Eccleston was right there in the hunt, too. But Shannon shifted gears and easily pulled into second place where she safely remained until the finish line.

The next few hours are a bit of a blur. We waited for Shannon to come around on her victory lap to give her hugs. She seemed thrilled to see me wearing the lipstick and we of course took a picture together. From there we went out to the Fan Fest where we danced to the live music, drank a few beverages, and cheered wildly when they presented the awards for the women’s 1500 meters. As we left Hayward Field, we noticed they hadn’t added Shannon’s name to the “Who Made the Team” board. Taking out my Sharpie, I decided to help them out.

 

Put on your lipstick and let's celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

Put on your lipstick and let’s celebrate 3 Olympic teams!

First there was Beijing. Then there was London.

And Rio makes it a Trio.

 

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.

The Battle with the Launderers

The Battle_the 57th place team

2015 Club Nationals – 57th place team

As the Pamakid Open Men prepared for their third USATF Cross Country Club National Championship Meet (Club Nats), they were looking to improve on 50th (and last) in 2011 in Seattle and 45th (and last) in 2013 in Bend. Beating someone, anyone, was all we were asking for.

During the week leading up to the 2015 Club Nats, it was unclear if the Pamakids would be placed into the A race or the B race. While willing to run in whichever race we were placed in by USATF, deep inside, most wanted to compete against the best of the best in the A race. An invitation to run in the A race would also give us the opportunity to do what had alluded us in 2011 and 2013…to get out of last place. It turns out that we were initially placed in the B race but the Pacific Association Cross Country Chair, Carl Rose, argued on our behalf that it was wrong to have the Pamakids as the only club whose A team was being placed in the B race. Rose campaigned for meet officials to move us into the A race and when the start lists came out, the Pamakids were in the A race.

The next step was to find a team of similar speed that we could battle to get out of last place. I scanned the entry list and one team name couldn’t help but jump out at me, the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. I didn’t know much about them but I decided to get the Open Men fired up by issuing them a challenge via a group e-mail. The next few hours saw a furry of e-mails that included some predictable laundry jokes. Steve Holcombe did some scouting, also known as Facebook stalking. Before long we had the rundown on their team – one 2:30 marathon runner up front, some 39 minute 10K runners, and a super senior who jumped in to fill out their team. We had our rivals!

The key to victory (yes, that’s what we were calling not being in last place….victory), was for our #1 runner to get as close to their #1 as possible and for our #2 runner to hopefully beat their #2 runner by the same number of places that their #1 beat our #1. Then it would come down to our #3-4-5 runners winning their match-ups, and possibly making up a few more points for us if necessary.

At the starting line, our Open Men went looking for their rivals so we would know what uniform we were targeting. To no surprise, they wore nicely pressed and just laundered Kelly green uniforms. It was game on!

The Battle_start3

Early on, the Launderers and Pamakids easily found each other .

The Battle_start1

It would be a battle between two teams in green.

It was amazing how our back pack runners quickly found their rivals. Having not been at the starting line for this race, I didn’t yet know what the rival uniform looked like. My wife, Malinda, ironically carrying a white laundry
basket that the team was using to carry sweats back to our tent, started to describe the Kelly green uniforms to me. But then Ray “Tower” Yu ran by just before the one mile mark and he was pointing excitedly at the runner ahead of him. Now I knew what I was looking for.

The Battle_1K_1

Ray knew who he was going for and was excited about it.

The Battle_1K_2

Merick and Jeff brought their game faces.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Battle_Steve L with Symmonds

Nick Symmonds just a step ahead of Steve L.

Just before the 3K mark, I saw Adam Roach, the Launderer’s #1 runner. Malinda and I started counting the runners between him and our #1 runner, Steve Lloyd. But then Malinda saw Nick Symmonds and yelled, “Hey look, it’s Nick Symmonds!” “Where?” I asked. As we had this conversation we lost track of what number we were on. We cheered on our top two runners, Steve L and Justin Mikecz, and then I started counting the runners between Justin and their #2. But again, I got distracted as people started talking to me. My gut feeling was that it was close but we were probably behind. “The boys are going to have to go to work the second half of the race to make this happen,” I thought to myself. We would later learn that I was pretty much spot on. According to the chip split times, at the 3K mark we were losing to the Launderers by 20 points.

The Battle_3K_1

The Pamakids cheer on Ryan near the 3K mark.

The Battle_3K_2

Merick and Ray, putting some distance on their rival.

The Battle_3K_3

John was our #8 runner but it was close and his displacement point was going to matter.

Malinda and I went back into the Polo Fields to cheer for them again. This time I tried to stay away from people I knew so I could stand alone and count undisturbed. I approximated that Steve L was losing his match-up by 90 points and that Justin was winning his match-up by 50 points. That meant we needed our 3-4-5 runners to pick up 40 points for us. Things were trending well. Steve H passed the Launderers #2 (David Erstad). Ryan Pletzke and Ray were not only pulling ahead of their #3 (Mark Moehling) but also closing the gap on Erstad. It was also helpful that our #6 and #7 runners Merick Dang and Jeff Huizinga were beating the Launderer’s #4 (the super senior, Jim Tiffany). Now was not the time to defer to your elders. Take him out! John Gieng running as our #8 runner was still helping the cause, displacing the Launderers #5, Ryan Dunham. We were gaining an important extra one point because at Club Nationals, they score eight runners.

The Battle_Justin halfway

A key was going to be how many people could Justin pass in the second half of the race.

We ran back to the 7K mark. A lot of the runners had passed already and I missed Roach, so I couldn’t count what the lead over Steve L was. I did count that Justin was 50 or so placed ahead of Erstad. I had the same feeling that we needed to pick up some more points. The points were hard to come by for our 3-4-5 runners because there weren’t that many runners in striking range around them. I felt that Steve L and Justin were the key. With a good finish they could pick up ten places and that might be what we needed. We kept yelling to our guys, telling them where our rivals were and to fight for every place. The chip timing splits would later bear out that it was indeed close. We had made up the gap and pulled ahead by a mere two points at the 7K mark.  A big part of this turnaround from 20 points down to two points ahead was Justin moving up 20 places while his match up #2 runner was in the same place.

The Battle_Steve H halfway

We were passionately cheering for everyone, like here cheering for Steve H.

The way we were passionately yelling for our guys, you’d think we were cheering on the Hoka One One guys fighting for the team championship. The guys were focused like never before, game faces on and laser stares with their eyes. We kept feeding them information about the Landerers. At one point when we were yelling at our team and pointing at one of the Launderers, saying, “That’s their #2! That’s their #2!” The Launderer made a weird expression on his face as if to say, “Are they talking about me? Why does anyone care that I’m the #2 runner on my team?” Didn’t he know this was Club Nats and the Pamakids were coming for them?!

 

 

 

With less than a half mile to go, the runners streamed by us again. It was going to be close so we just kept cheering on our guys. The Launderers #2 runner (it was now Moehling, who had passed Erstad due to an apparent shoelace issue on JFK Drive) was a few steps ahead of Ryan and Ray. This was huge. We could swing two to four points with a good finish. Ray nodded as he came by and I knew he was measuring his kick to pass Moehling and run us out of last place. Ray ended up passing Moehling to give us four runners ahead of their #2. Ryan, Merick, and Jeff all beat their #3. We were picking up “little” points that could be the “big” difference.

 

The Battle_last 800_4

Less than 800 to go. We were all yelling and screaming to see a big kick.

The Battle_last 800_2

It was time to kick our way out of last place.

The Battle_last 800_3

Jeff bringing it home. Pamakids in the background trying to count the points.

The rest was a bit of a blur. Knowing it would take time for the results to be announced, we took some team photos and went back to our tent for our Pamakid potluck picnic. At some point I looked at my phone and saw that the results were in. I called for everyone’s attention as I was about to read the Open Men team results. I held up my phone and dramatically scrolled down to the bottom of the results….this took several seconds and only helped build even greater anticipation. I checked last place, first. Hmm. The Mostly Bearded Track Club had supplanted us for the honor of last place (it turns out the Mostly Bearded #1 runner dropped out after the 7K mark which resulted in a 200 point swing in their team score). In 58th place, 13 points behind 57th place was….the Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundry Runners! We were 57th place! A mere 13 points ahead of our new rivals! A big cheer went up in our team area. “They don’t just hand out 57th place, you know,” said Jeff. In the bleachers next to us, the Asics Aggies, who like us missed the podium – with their 4th place finish, seemed to get a kick out of seeing us cheer for our 57th place finish and joined in the whooping and hollering.

Our journey out of last place began in Seattle and included a road block known as Rolling Thunder. The journey continued in Bend. But before we could arrive at our final stop on this journey, we had to battle through a laundromat in Monterey Bay. Thanks for the great race, Wednesday Night Laundry Runners.

The Battle_the WNLR team

The Monterey Bay Wednesday Night Laundy Runners at 2015 Club Nationals.

Beating Him

2013 Club Nationals. Bend, Oregon.

2013 Club Nationals. Bend, Oregon.

The place was Bend, Oregon.

The year was 2013. The same year that I had double bouts of pneumonia, once in February and again in May.

Thanks to the pneumonia, I knew the 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my fastest race. When I previewed the hilly five loop course on Friday, I hoped that 2013 Club Nationals was not going to be my slowest race.

For him, 2013 was probably just another year. His third year as a masters runner. Another year removed from the PR’s and glory of the late 1990’s back when we were both in our late 20’s.

In between my bouts with pneumonia, we raced three times. At Sac Town 10 he beat me by a comfortable 7 minutes, 25 seconds. In the 5K, I closed that gap to 1:22.

In the fall at Martinez, it took one of my best races of the season to finish 11th in 23:57. He was 6th in 23:17. He must have gotten lost. Or he was injured. Maybe he had pneumonia.

At Club Nationals, on the first of the five loops, I noticed a familiar figure ahead of me – long hair, black jersey. Could it be? I knew I wasn’t tearing it up, so I concluded he was having an off day, probably running despite an injury. I passed him. But he would re-pass me. I kept hoping I would be ahead of him when we ran by people I knew who had a camera. Maybe a picture would be taken showing me ahead of him. That would make this race memorable, I thought, because certainly neither the speed in which I was running nor place I was in in the race were memorable. I was so “not in the zone” and un-focused that this is what I thought about for most of the second, third, and fourth laps.

On the fifth lap he passed me on the final uphill. Normalcy had returned, I thought to myself. Even injured he has so much talent that he beats me. But as we approached the downhill sprint to the finish, I noticed I was catching up to that black jersey. At least I thought it was him. You see, I had never been this close to him in a race before, so I wasn’t familiar with what he looked like from such close range.

The last 200 meters. I may never have a chance to beat him again in my life I thought. And so I gave it my all out kick on the uneven terrain. I passed him in the final glorious meters, edging him out 40:22 (144th) to 40:25 (148th).

The kick I will always remember.

The kick I will always remember.

But it gets better. My Pamakid teammate, Monica Zhuang, was right by the finish line. And she was taking pictures. She captured the moment.

For him, it was a race that’s probably been long forgotten.

For me, it was the day I beat the 1998 USA 1500 meter champion, Jamey Harris. I have the picture to prove it and a story for the ages.

Winning the 1998 USA Championships in the 1500 meters - Jamey Harris

Winning the 1998 USA Championships in the 1500 meters – Jamey Harris

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