Are you looking for a darkhorse to cheer for at the US Olympic Marathon Trials on February 13, 2016 in Los Angeles? Perhaps a runner from the small town (less than 500 population) of Fawn Grove, PA, who will also be celebrating his 28th birthday when he makes his marathon debut in a couple weeks?
Jonathan Grey ran PR’s of 4:18 in the 1600m, 9:11 in the 3200m, and 15:41 in 5K cross country while at Kennard-Dale High School. He began his collegiate career at the University of Oklahoma before transferring to William & Mary after his freshman year. At William & Mary he was a 3-time All-American, with top finishes of seventeenth at the 2009 NCAA Cross Country Championships and fifth in the 5000 meters at the 2010 NCAA Indoor Track & Field Championships.
After graduating in the spring of 2011, he joined Team Minnesota. Although I didn’t know him or talk to him at the 2011 XC Club Nationals in Seattle, we both raced there. I came in 92nd in the Masters Men’s race with a time of 36:06. He was 1st in the Open Men’s race with a time of 29:38. We both had really good races that day.
Jon has been running some fast times of late. In the spring of 2015 he set PR’s on the track in back to back months at Stanford. In April he ran 13:37.79 in the 5000 meters and then in May he ran 27:59.88 in the 10,000 meters.
I first met Jon at the 2015 USA Championships. We ended up at the same table after the meet for dinner at the Wild Duck Café. He had just come in 14th in the men’s 10,000 meter race. It was really hot that night and the next day he tweeted a picture of the Hayward Field track, melted on the bottom of his spikes. After I was introduced to Jon, I made sure he quickly got a beer in his hands to re-hydrate. We then talked a little bit about the upcoming XC Club Nationals meet in San Francisco. As often happens after something like this, a couple weeks later we became Facebook friends.
Anyone who is friends with me on Facebook (and doesn’t hide me) was well aware that I was a tad bit excited about Club Nats. At Club Nationals, towards the end of the day, the Pamakids were hanging out at our tent. A young runner walks over and immediately starts talking to me – it’s Jon Grey! He has a big smile on his face and he says that he’s been following me on Facebook. He knew I would be here and just wanted to come over and say hi. We talked a little about our races. I think he told that he came in second. I may or may not have told him how proud I was of our open men’s team for coming in 57th and beating the Wednesday Night Laundry Runners. It was only later that I realized that I had seen him during the race because he was the runner leading the pack for most of the race, running with a white baseball cap on backwards. Garrett Heath passed him in the final 100 meters but it was still a pretty awesome race. And I think it shows what a cool person he is, that after this race, he wasn’t down and disappointed. Instead he decided to come find a friend he met once at a restaurant six months earlier just to say hi.
In the summer of 2015, Jon moved to Boulder, CO to be coached by Lee Troop and run for the Boulder Track Club. He has been racing very well including top 10 finishes at the October USATF 10 Mile Championships and the November .US National 12K Championships (both part of the USATF Running Circuit)
At the 2016 Jacksonville Bank Half Marathon, he not only ran under the Olympic Marathon Trials half marathon qualifying standard of 1:05, to qualify for the Marathon Trials, but he won the race in 1:02:47. He’ll be one of 168 runners toeing the line with their eyes on a top three finish and a trip to Rio for the 2016 Olympics.
This marathon on his 28th birthday will be his debut. But Jon seems ready to go. The team just got back from a three week sea-level camp in Tucson, AR. (I guess when you live at altitude, instead of an altitude camp, you go to a sea-level camp). He told me that they were able to get speed/turn-over work in at sea level that would not have been possible at altitude. Jon says his race plan is simply to be patient. Because it’s his debut he wants to focus on being tactically efficient. That being said, he also says his goal is to be top three. He will focus on running a smart race that gets him the highest possible place, whatever that may be.
So if you’re not sure who to look for or who to root for at the 2016 Men’s Olympic Marathon Trials, consider rooting for Jonathan Grey. I will be.
Breaking through barriers, both literally and figuratively, is an important part of life. My friend Mark Hermano teaches a lesson in his physics class where students literally break through a wood board with their hand. The lesson includes the physics of actually breaking a board with your hand and also the life lesson of how sometimes you can do more than you think and the importance of breaking through figurative barriers. The keys to this are focusing, planning, putting energy into it, following through, and believing. Click on this hyperlink for a video of Mark’s full explanation of the exercise.
For runners, breaking barriers usually involve beating a certain time. Usually, but not always, it’s a time with a zero in it. For example, 5:00 in the mile or 1:30:00 in the half marathon.
For Shannon Rowbury, breaking through the four minute barrier in the 1500 has been a goal of hers since she ran 4:00.33 at the Paris meet in 2008. From 2010 until this past weekend, Shannon had PR’s in the 800, 1500, and 5000 that are remarkably close to time barriers – 2:00.47, 4:00.33, and 15:00.51. That’s a total of 1.34 seconds away from three major barriers — sub-2 in the 800, sub-4 in the 1500, and sub-15 in the 5000.
In the spring of 2012, Mark did the wood breaking exercise with me, Malinda, Shannon, and Pablo (Shannon’s fiancé). It was an opportunity to get together for dinner and have an activity that also related to the mental side of running. Part of Mark’s exercise is that you write a barrier that you want to break through on the piece of wood. Shannon wrote “:00” on her piece of wood, indicating her desire to break through the 2:00, 4:00, and 15:00 barriers. It took some time, some good coaching, and some perseverance but by the end of the evening, Shannon broke through her piece of wood.
Two years after breaking through that board, Shannon took care of breaking the 4:00 barrier in the 1500 at the 2014 Paris meet. Malinda and I watched the race on our computer and Shannon seemed to be perfectly positioned and paced it very well for a shot at breaking four minutes. There were a couple bumps with other runners but Shannon stayed on her feet and the chase was still on. As Shannon raced down the final straightaway, I counted the time off in my head – 3:56, 3:57, 3:58, 3:59, 4:00. The clock stopped for the winner at 3:57 so we would have to wait for the results to flash up on the screen. I knew it was either 3:59 or a real low 4:00. But which was it? It seemed to take forever as the broadcast shifted to the high jump to cover a Blanka Vlasic attempt. Then finally the results popped on the screen. 3:59.49! The barrier was broken. Shannon later told me that, “good things come to those who wait” and they sure did on this day.
Shannon breaking 4:00 for the 1500 got me thinking about her first sub-5 in the 1600 when she was in high school. I must admit I had to dig around to find it. It was March 16, 2001 at the Piedmont Distance Carnival. Shannon ran a negative split race: 78, 77 (2:35), 74 (3:49), 67 (4:56). Really pretty amazing that she went 2:35 for her first 800 and 2:21 for her final 800 including a blistering 67 for her last lap. All this as a high school junior. She needed every second that last lap as she narrowly beat her future Duke teammate Clara Horowitz, 4:56.7 to 4:58.7.
Looking at the results from the above hyperlink, the fifth place finisher in the Boys 1600 was a senior from De La Salle who dabbled in both track & field and soccer. I believe he had a high school PR of 4:15 but chose to focus on soccer after high school. It’s worked out for him pretty well. You may know the name. He plays for the San Jose Earthquakes and played in the World Cup this summer. He’s the one who had the ball on his foot just yards from the goal late in regulation time in the Belgium game and just couldn’t quite convert. He is Chris Wondolowski.
Advancing to the World Cup quarterfinals. Now that would have been a barrier breaker for the US Men’s team! Be patient, USA, good things come to those who wait.
When Shannon Rowbury graduated from high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral in 2002, she already had an impressive resume. She had won two state championships (800 and 1600), one national title (800), four consecutive Central Coast Section (CCS) championships in the 800 and seven total CCS individual championships (800-4, 1600-1, cross country-2).
From 2002-2007, she achieved more success as a collegiate runner at Duke. She won an NCAA championship in the Indoor Mile and she was a 6-time All-American.
Since 2007, Shannon has been a professional athlete, sponsored by Nike. 2014 is her seventh year of competing at the highest levels of national and international track and field competition. She is a two-time Olympian, three-time Outdoor World Championships qualifier, and two-time Indoor World Championship qualifier. She has placed 7th and 6th at the Olympics in the 1500 and earned a bronze medal at the 2009 World Championships in the 1500. She is a 4-time USA Champion (1500-2, indoor 3000-1, road mile-1).
Quite a resume! But on May 31, 2014, almost twelve years to the day after winning the state championship in her final high school race, , Shannon added something new to her resume. She is now an American Record holder!
At the Prefontaine Classic at Hayward Field in Eugene, Oregon, she ran the two mile race in 9:20.25 to better Amy Rudolph’s previous American record of 9:21.35 set in 1998. Rudolph placed second when she set the record in Cork, Ireland on June 27, 1998, trailing Sonia O’Sullivan of Ireland who ran a then world record of 9:18.56.
The morning before the Prefontaine race Shannon and I exchanged some text messages where I teased her that in high school, when I put her in the two mile (or 3200 meters) it was almost considered punishment. And now she was going to race that distance and go for a record!
I watched Shannon’s race on the NBC Sports live stream on my iPhone at Sports Basement. It took me awhile to get the app going and to get logged in with the proper password. By the time I got it going, the race had begun. The coverage was on the men’s shot put but it quickly went back to the women’s two mile. The race was about four minutes in. There was a lead pack of three (Mercy Cherono, Viola Kibiwott, Mimi Belete), with Sally Kipyego back a ways in fourth. It took a moment before Shannon was on the screen. She was in a pack that included Jordan Hasay, in about eighth place.
I knew an American record was a possibility and strained my neck to see Shannon and try to get an idea of what pace she was on. With around three laps to go, Shannon came through at 5:55. She would need to run the last three laps in 3:26 to get the record. Shannon started to pull away from the pack she had been running with and was moving up. I started seeing Shannon behind the leaders and with two laps to go. I estimated her split at 7:05. She needed a 2:16 last 800 to get the record. Even as the camera stayed on the front three, I could see that Shannon was moving up. It reminded me of some 3200 meter races she ran in high school when she closed amazingly fast. She went by Kipyego and now it was a race against the clock. My best guess was she split 8:14 or 8:15 with a lap to go. She needed a 66-67 last lap. As the top three finished, I started counting in my head 9:14, 9:15, 9:16, …I could see Shannon approaching the finish line…9:17, 9:18, 9:19, 9:20…as she crossed the line, ….or was it 9:21? The announcers said it was going to be close. I could hear a big cheer from the crowd. I was pretty sure she had it but I wanted to wait for confirmation before getting too excited. I looked around Sports Basement. Despite me banging my hand on the table and talking into my phone, no one seemed to be paying me any attention. I looked back at my phone and suddenly they were interviewing Shannon and congratulating her on the record. I started taking screen shots.
The next few minutes were a blur. I was posting to my social media and responding to some messages that had already come in to me (one from Galen Rupp’s high school head coach). I called Malinda to give her the great news!
Shannon’s running resume just got another addition. Her first American record. I am proud of Shannon for lots of things (both running and non-running related things). But I must say, American record holder does have a real nice ring to it. Congratulations!
You can watch the NBC coverage of her race (with a few minutes of men’s shot put re-cap in the middle) on usatf TV here:
Pre-race interview with LetsRun:
Post-race interview with LetsRun:
Congratulations are in order for Cory McGee, who by running under the IAAF B standard for the 1500 meters with a time of 4:06.67, stamped her ticket to the World Championships in Moscow later this summer. McGee’s time was well under the 4:09.00 that she needed and was more than a three second PR.
McGee’s previous best time of 4:09.85 came on July 6. On July 13, running at the KBC Night of Athletics meet in Heusden, Belgium, McGee shattered the 4:09 mark. She went out hard and was right behind the rabbit, coming through the 400 and 800 meter marks in 63 and 2:08. She hit the bell at 2:59 and the 1200 mark at 3:16 and was in second place. She faded somewhat over the last half lap to finish in seventh, but what was important was the time, which was easily under the B standard. She now joins Treniere Moser, Mary Cain, and Jenny Simpson as the US representatives in the 1500.
McGee’s 4:06.67 ties her for third fastest collegian in history, with some pretty illustrious company. The three women with her on the chart have all won medals at international championships. Two of them are foreigners who attended US colleges, so out of American collegians, McGee is number two behind only her 1500 meter Moscow teammate, Jenny (Barringer) Simpson.
|Jenny (Barringer) Simpson||Colorado||3:59.90||2009||2011 World Championship Gold in the 1500|
|Hannah England||Florida St||4:06.19||2008||2011 World Championship Silver in the 1500 for the UK|
|Sally Kipyego||Texas Tech||4:06.67||2008||2011 World Championship Silver and 2012 Olympic Silver in the 10,000 for Kenya|
I have been paying particular attention to McGee’s pursuit of the B standard because whether or not she got the time would have a direct effect on Shannon Rowbury. If McGee didn’t get the time by the July 20 deadline, Shannon would have been the final USA qualifier in the 1500. Having also qualified in the 5000 meters (and having been training for the 5000 for the last several weeks), Shannon would have had a tough decision to make. But now that decision has been made. The 5000 it is for Shannon!
I must admit that prior to June 22 of this year, I did not know who Cory McGee was. But on June 22, at the USA Championships, possibly acclimated to the hot and humid conditions from growing up in Mississippi and attending school in Florida, McGee placed third in the 1500 meters in a slow tactical race. Ahead of her were Moser and Cain. One place and less than half a second behind her was Shannon. It was a great accomplishment for the twenty-one year old from Florida University, who came into the USA Championships as the twelfth seed and out of the finalists had only the eighth fastest PR. Her third place finish did not ensure a birth on Team USA for Moscow, however. First she had to chase the B standard, which she successfully did.
Prior to all of this, McGee has had a very solid career that, in lieu of her recent 4:06, deserves some attention. Her dad, Jim, played football in the mid-70’s at Florida. Jim took a job as FBI security liaison for the 2004 Athens Olympics so the family moved to Greece temporarily. While there, as a sixth grader, she ran cross country for an American school and her first meet was in Egypt. Shortly after her family returned to the US, Hurricane Katrina devastated her town of Pass Christian, Mississippi (a beach town along the Gulf of Mexico between New Orleans and Mobile). The McGee’s temporarily lived in New Mexico with Cory’s great grandmother.
When they returned to Pass Christian, McGee’s running career really took off. This is all the more amazing when you consider that Pass Christian High School, with an enrollment of four hundred, did not have a cross country team when McGee first started there. In 2006, at the age of thirteen, McGee set a new world record in the indoor mile for her age (4:49.32). During her high school career she won 22 state championships (17 in track and five in cross country). She was the Gatorade Mississippi Runner of the Year three times in cross country and three times in track. She holds Mississippi state records in cross country and on the track in the 800, 1600, and 3200. In 2007, in cross country, she qualified for Foot Locker Nationals where she was 27thplace. Also running at the same 2007 Foot Locker Nationals meet were her future Moscow teammates Jordan Hasay, Chris Derrick, and Ryan Hill.
An interesting comparison is the high school PR’s by McGee and Shannon.
|Cory McGee ‘10||Shannon Rowbury ‘02|
Currently a junior in college, McGee has accumulated numerous accolades at the NCAA level. She has earned All-American status seven times in her first three years at Florida. In 2011 she was the Southeast Conference (SEC) Freshman Indoor Runner of the Year. In her primary event, the 1500 meters, she has steadily improved each year, tenth as a freshman in 2011, sixth as a sophomore in 2012, and second as a junior this past June 2013.
Given her impressive past, it probably should come as no surprise that the latest addition to McGee’s running resume is Team USA for the 2013 World Championships. Good luck, Cory!
Saturday, February 16, 2013 was a record-setting night at the Armory for the 2013 Millrose Games.
- 1. Chris O’Hare of Tulsa set a new collegiate indoor mile record with a time of 3:52.98 in the Wannamaker Mile race. O’Hare, who placed fourth in the race behind winner Lopez Lomong was the 2012 NCAA Indoor mile champion. The previous record was set by BYU’s Miles Batty at the 2012 Millrose Games (3:54.54).
- 2. Mary Cain bettered her own high school indoor mile record, running 4:28.25, which bettered her mark from the New Balance Games (4:32.78). Cain came in second in the race behind Sheila Reid and ahead of several professional runners and All-American college runners. With Cain’s achievement the high school girls indoor mile record has dropped over ten seconds in 2013. Debbie Heald held the record with a 4:38.5 for over forty years, from 1972 until January 26, 2013.
- 3. Edward Cheserek, who just this week announced he would be attending the University of Oregon next year set a new high school boys indoor two mile record, running 8:39.15 to better Gerry Lindgren’s old record (8:40.0) from 1964.
- 4. Bernard Lagat (in the same race as Cheserek) ran 8:09.49 to re-claim the American record for the men’s indoor two mile from Galen Rupp (8:09.72 in 2012).
- 5. Alysia Montano, in the seldom run women’s indoor 600 meters, shattered the American record, running 1:23.59. The previous record was 1:26.56 by Delisa Walton-Floyd in 1981. Ajee Wilson, who recently decided to skip collegiate competition and signed a pro contract with Adidas, came in second and also bettered the previous American record time with a 1:26.45.
- 6. Erik Sowinski, not Olympians Nick Symmonds or Duane Solomon, set a new American record in the men’s indoor 600 meters with a time of 1:15.61. Solomon was the previous American record holder with a mark of 1:15.70 at a meet in Glasgow in January.
Upon reading about these record performances, one stood out as a little more shocking than any of the others. Wasn’t this 600 meter race supposed to be a battle between Solomon and Symmonds, who placed fourth and fifth respectively in the 800 meters at the 2012 London Olympics?
Who is Erik Sowinski and how did he set an American record over Solomon and Symmonds? Perhaps Symmonds said it best in a post-race interview, “…that’s what’s great about track. You can fly right in, step on the track and get an American record.”
Even more amazing is that Sowinski was not even scheduled to be in the race. Three days before the meet, Kevin Borlee scratched so meet director Ray Flynn called Sowinski. Two days before the meet an excited Sowinski tweeted, “It’s official! I will be running the 600m at Millrose Games this Saturday!”
So who is this man who was a last minute addition to the race, who then went out and set an American Record?
Sowinski attended West High School in Waukesha, Wisconsin where he was on the cross country, basketball, and track & field teams. In his senior year he set personal records (PR’s) and school records in the 400 meters (49.46) and 800 meters (1:54.29). He was state champion in the 800, anchored West to the state championship in the 4X800 relay, and also ran a leg on the fifth place 4X400 relay team.
From West, Sowinski moved on to the University of Iowa where he steadily improved each season.
|800 indoor||800 outdoor|
Freshman year he set a school record in the 600 meters indoors and advanced to the NCAA Midwest Regional as a member of the Iowa 4X400 relay team. Sophomore year he set a school record in the 800 meters indoors and earned All-American honors in the 4X400 relay (Iowa ran 3:05.61 to place seventh at the NCAA Championships). Junior year he earned All-American honors indoors in both the 800 (4th) and 4X400 relay (4th) and outdoors he qualified for the NCAA Championships in both the 800 (15th) and 4X400 relay (10th). Senior year he was the Big-10 Indoor champion for the 800 and placed third at the NCAA Indoor Championships. Outdoors as a senior he bettered the Iowa school record in the 800 meters three times. The previously school record was a 1:47.64 set by Bill Frazier in 1962. In front of a hometown crowd at the 2012 NCAA Championships, Sowinski ran his current PR of 1:45.90. Sowinski capped his 2012 season by running at the Olympic Trials in Eugene. He advanced to the semi-finals but was unable to qualify for the final.
Sowinski, who was a five-time All-American while at Iowa, owns or shares seven school records including the indoor 600, indoor 800, and outdoor 800. He was the 2012 Big-10 conference champion in the indoor 800 meters and in 2011 helped Iowa to their first Big-10 conference championship since 1967. In addition he graduated with a degree in integrative physiology and was an academic All-American. In 2012 Sowinski was the recipient of a Big-10 Medal of Honor that recognizes student athletes who have “attained the greatest proficiency in athletics and scholastic work.”
He had a very solid collegiate track career with some nice academic achievements to go along with his athletic achievements. I think most impressive is his steady improvement every season, both in terms of improving his 800 meter time (see chart above) and doing better each year at the NCAA Championships (not qualifying as a freshman, qualifying in the 4X4 but not the 800 as a sophomore, 15th as a junior, and 2nd as a senior).
Although his college career is now complete, Sowinski’s running career may be just taking off. He is now an American Record holder. He has now beaten Solomon and Symmonds, the two best 800 meter runners in the country. Only time will tell what stories will be added to Erik Sowinski’s storybook career.
Lost in the sea of Nike swooshes, obscured by an ocean of adidas stripes, far below the airplane pulling the Brooks run happy banner, there was a single athlete in the men’s 800 meter final at the US Olympic Trials, with no sponsor. He wore a blue and green striped t-shirt that he bought at American Eagle and a matching blue headband. He looked somewhat out of place next to athletes in state of the art competition uniforms, made to be lightweight, sweat wicking, and aerodynamic. Who was this unattached runner and what was he doing in the 800 final?
This story really began on Friday June 22 during the first round of the men’s 800. A runner dressed in the above described attire came out on to the track to run in heat two. I immediately started making fun of him, thinking he was someone who just barely made it to the Olympic Trials. I yelled “Go Stripes!” as he did his warm-up striders. When I stopped making jokes about his shirt, I finally checked my program to find out that his name was Mark Wieczorek. Less than two minutes later, lo’ and behold, Wieczorek placed third in his heat and qualified on to the semi-final.
The semi-final was on Saturday June 23, and out came “Stripes,” dressed the same. I made a couple jokes about doing laundry to wash his striped shirt and then we settled in to watch the race. Stripes placed fifth in the first heat and was on the bubble to make it to the final. Heat two was slower than the first heat and Stripes was qualified for the final as the last time qualifier!
Now that he was one of only eight American men still competing for a shot at the London Olympics in the 800 meters, I started doing more research on Wieczorek. He attended MidAmerica Nazarene University in Olathe, Kansas, where he was a five-time National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) All-American and the 2006 NAIA national champion in the 800 meters. He has run for Team XO and the Oregon Track Club Elite. Between training sessions, he did some work for RunnerSpace.com. At the 2011 US Championships he placed fifth. In addition to racing the 800 at a pretty high level, Wieczorek is also a high school coach and in the fall of 2011 he was named Washington cross country coach of the year after leading Gig Harbor to the 4A state championship, a number 10 ranking in the US, and a berth at the Nike Team Nationals meet. Not bad for a first year coach. Despite a fair amount of internet attention, including a story by David Monti for RaceResultsWeekly (RRW), winning a contest on LetsRun.com, and being the topic of a LetsRun.com message board thread, Wieczorek remained unsponsored entering the 2012 Olympic Trials.
<iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”http://www.youtube.com/embed/ekXRpb0EuZA” frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>
There was no shortage of information about Stripes and I immediately became a fan, even making him the centerpiece of the Pamakids Olympic Trials Question of the Day game. Instead of doing that, maybe I should have been offering him a sponsorship deal to race in the Pamakids uniform. Seriously, the night before the Final, Malinda, John and I speculated whether or not one of the shoe companies would jump on the opportunity to sponsor Wieczorek. What a marketing opportunity – put him in your company’s logo but make the uniform resemble the blue and green stripes that he’s been wearing. Offer him a some up front money with a huge bonus if he makes the Olympic team. The running geeks on LetsRun and RunnerSpace would go crazy and the company would reap the benefit of supporting “the little guy.”
Alas this sponsorship conversation was not being had anywhere but our hotel room. Wieczorek came out for the 800 final in his now trademark shirt and headband. He was still unattached. That didn’t stop him from running a personal record, 1:45.62 and placing seventh.
Wieczorek’s story doesn’t even end here. He’s gotten a bit of a cult following, with his own webpage hosted on the RunningSpace website, a staring role in the Party Run Anthem video, and paparazzi who dress up just like him.
Currently he’s racing in Europe. His familiar striped shirt showed up in a finishlynx photo in Belgium, where he came in second in 1:47.59. On July 17 he ran what I believe is his second fastest time ever, 1:45.96 at a meet in Italy.
I really should have tried to track Stripes down and offered him a Pamakid sponsorship. I would have even thrown in extra singlets so that he doesn’t have to wash his blue and green striped shirt every night between cities.
On July 19, 2011, at a meet in Lignano, Italy, Oscar Pistorius won the 400 meters in a new personal record (PR) of 45.07 seconds. What made this significant is that it was Pistorius’ first time running under the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) World Championship and Olympic “A” standard of 45.25. In fact, it was a PR of over half a second (his previous best was 45.61). Now with a World Championship and Olympic “A” qualifier under his belt, Pistorius has taken another step towards competing at the 2011 World Championships in Daegu and the 2012 Olympics in London.
Pistorius is a double ampute, running on a prosthetic or carbon-fiber blade called the Flex-Foot® Cheetah® from Össur. Both of his legs were amputated when he was eleven months old because he was born without shin bones. He took up running seven years ago to rehabilitate from a rugby injury. Nicknamed the Blade Runner, he is currently the world record holder in the 100, 200, and 400 meters for disabled athletes and is a multiple gold medal winner at the Paralympics. But his goal has been to compete against able-bodied athletes at the IAAF World Championships and Olympics.
In 2007, the IAAF, which is the international governing body for the sport of track & field, banned “any device that incorporates springs, wheels, or any other element that provides a user with an advantage over another athlete not using such a device.” This in essence barred Pistorius from competing against able-bodied athletes, notably in competitions like the World Championships and the Olympics. Pistorius appealed the ruling to the Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS) and in 2008 he won the right to compete against able-bodied athletes.
The next hurdle for Pistorius was to qualify for the South African team for the World Championships or Olympics. In order to do that, he would need to run a qualifying time. For the 2008 Olympics he needed a time of 45.55 but his best that year was only 46.25 so he was not selected to represent South Africa at the Olympics. For the 2009 World Championships in Berlin he needed a time of 45.95 but that season could only run a best of 47.07.
It appeared that despite the ruling, Pistorius might not ever compete at the World Championships or Olympics because he could not run the qualifying standard to be able to represent South Africa. Needing a time of 45.25 for the 2011 World Championships, Pistorius ran 45.61 at a meet in March. But he failed to improve on that time at meets in the Czech Republic, France, New York, and Eugene during the spring and early summer. In Padova, Italy, two days before the Lignano meet, he ran 46.65. Time was running out for him to run the time standard in order to be selected for the South African team. However, with his 45.07 at Lignano, Pistorius is all but assured a spot on the team (three South African runners would have to run faster than 45.07 between now and the end of the qualifying window for Pistorius to not make the team).
Pistorius is now in position to become the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes at the track & field World Championships. In order to qualify for the South African Olympic team in 2012 to become the first amputee to compete against able-bodied athletes in track & field at the Olympics, he will need to run under 45.25 two times during the 2012 season to satisfy the South African Olympic Committee’s selection criteria.
The initial scientific research on the Pistorius’ blades was done by the IAAF in 2007 and it concluded that Pistorius gained an unfair advantage and thus ruled that he could not compete against able-bodied athletes. The CAS reversed this ruling based on evidence that the IAAF research was not scientifically supported. They did not base their decision on scientific evidence that the blades were not an advantage.
The best scientific explanation of the findings I’ve seen appeared on The Science of Sport website by Ross Tucker, PhD and Jonathan Dugas, PhD in 2009. These two scientists were strongly of the opinion that Pistorius gains an advantage from the carbon-fiber blades. Their opinion is based primarily on the finding that Pistorius uses 17% less oxygen than elite 400 meter runners.
In late 2009, Peter Weyland and Matthew Bundle published an argument that Pistorius runs the 400 meters ten seconds faster with the carbon-fiber blades than he would if he had his own legs. Ironically Weyland and Bundle provided the evidence that led to CAS’ reversal of the ban in the first place. One year later they reversed their position, saying that they made their initial conclusions based on incomplete evidence at the time. Their claim that the blades are worth ten seconds in the 400 meters is based on the facts that Pistorius can reach a speed using 20% less ground force, and that his blades are lighter and springier than real limbs, allowing him to have a faster stride rate during the race.
Now that Pistorius is qualified for the World Championships, the debate over whether or not he gains an advantage from his carbon-fiber blades is raging once again. The above research suggests that he does gain an advantage. However, there is a counterpoint.
Geoff Turner of the Pamakid Runners in San Francisco also uses a carbon-fiber blade made by Ossur. Turner’s are made for distance running and Pistorius’ are made for sprinting. Turner states that although the prosthetic can “return ninety plus percent of stored energy while your tendons return twenty percent,” what is missed in the research is the fact that “your ankles, feet, and calves return anything from 250 to 400 plus percent in active force.” The implication being that without ankles, feet, and calves, Pistorius is not gaining active force that an able-bodied runner is gaining. In the end, Turner may sum it up best, “all of that said, Oscar would take his unborn feet over blades.”
Two apparently unrelated high profile track & field job openings were reported on the week following the 2011 USA Championships. Despite knowing nothing more than what I’ve read on the internet, I will suggest that maybe these two items are more related than one might think.
First, the governing body of United States of America Track & Field (USATF) announced that it would not hire a new CEO until after the 2012 London Olympics. Mike McNees will continue as the interim CEO. You may recall that in September 2010, USATF’s board of directors relieved then CEO Doug Logan of his position. This led to a lawsuit for wrongful termination by Logan that eventually settled out of court in May 2011.
The CEO search committee has apparently had trouble finding the right candidate for the job. Vin Lananna, the Director of Track & Field at the University of Oregon, was apparently a candidate but did not want the job. Lananna stated that he preferred to remain at Oregon. Initially the search committee said it would not consider a USATF board member for the CEO position, but there have been reports that suggest that the committee is considering current USATF Board President Stephanie Hightower for the CEO job. In September 2010, Hightower indicated that she was not pursuing the job but now seems to be reconsidering.
If nothing else, this announcement takes the pressure to identify and hire the right candidate off of USATF until after the next Olympics.
Second, Mike Reilly, the Associate Athletic Director at the University of Oregon accepted a position with the London Olympic Committee as Training Venue Manager. Reilly has been well known as Lananna’s right-hand man for the last nineteen years. The two first met when Lananna arrived as the new head coach at Stanford University in 1992 and Reilly was a redshirt senior. After that season, Reilly remained at Stanford as an assistant coach for Lananna. Later at Stanford Reilly became the administrator and director of track & field operations. When Lananna became the Athletic Director at Oberlin College in 2003, Reilly moved to Ohio with him where he held various jobs, including associate athletic director, chief financial officer, chief operations officer, and head of NCAA compliance for all twenty-two of Oberlin’s sports. When Lananna accepted a position at the University of Oregon in 2005, Reilly followed Lananna back to the west coast. Lananna has praised Reilly for his work as competition director for such things at the 2008 Olympic Trials, 2009 USA Championships, and the 2010 NCAA Championships. One of Reilly’s nicknames is the “Answer Man” because he comes up with all the solution for Lananna’s problems.
Given the timing of these two announcements, I speculate that after the 2012 London Olympics Lananna and Reilly will change jobs again. I wager that Lananna will leave the University of Oregon to become the CEO of USATF. This would be a great move for USATF as Lananna has the vision and skills necessary to make track & field more popular among the public, more financially lucrative for the athletes, and to insure the highest possible level of performance by the athletes at the international level. Lananna’s departure to take on the challenges of CEO of USATF would create a big hole at the University of Oregon, where Lananna has worked for the last seven years building up the program and marketing Eugene as Track Town USA. Who could fill that void? Mike Reilly.
I may be way off base. I may be looking for a conspiracy theory that isn’t there. I have absolutely no insider knowledge. But if all this happens sometime in the late summer or early fall of 2012, remember you read it here first.
With Father’s Day right around the corner, I thought of two young men who are making their fathers proud – Aric Van Halen and Russell Hornsby.
Aric is the son of Alex Van Halen, drummer and co-founder of the band Van Halen. As the story goes, originally Alex played the guitar and
his brother Eddie, played the drums. Over time the two switched instruments. In 1974 they partnered with David Lee Roth and Michael Anthony to form Van Halen. Alex has been married three times and Aric is the son of his second ex-wife Kelly Danniels.
Aric Van Halen attended Oakwood High School in Los Angeles. In 2007 he was the California Division V State Champion in cross country, running 15:59 for the 5K course at Fresno’s Woodward Park. Interestingly in 2005, Van Halen led Oakwood to their first ever team qualification for the state meet, the same year that Sacred Heart Cathedral’s (SHC) boys had their first ever team qualification for the state meet. Although Oakwood and SHC ran in different races, when all the results are combined, out of the 113 total teams at state, Oakwood was eighty-eighth (88:47 team time) one place ahead of SHC in eighty-ninth (88:38). In track & field, Van Halen set school records of 2:00 (800), 4:22 (1600), and 9:19 (3200).
After high school, Van Halen went to the University of Colorado, where he has been a very successful cross country runner for the Buffalos. In 2009 he was the team’s number seven runner for most of the season, saved his best race of the season for the NCAA Championships where he was fifth man, helping the Buffalos come in sixth. Van Halen followed that up in 2010 by earning all-conference and all-regional honors and again placing as Colorado’s fifth man at NCAA’s. In track & field he has developed into Colorado’s top steeplechaser. He ran 9:12 in the 2010 season, but improved his time to a best of 8:52 in 2011.
Russell is the son of Bruce Hornsby, a three-time Grammy Award winner known for songs such as “The Way It Is” and “Mandolin Rain,” and also for playing in more than 100 shows with the Grateful Dead from 1988-95. Bruce was a very good athlete himself, earning a basketball scholarship offer to Division II Randolph-Macon. Russell is named after rock ‘n’ roll legend Leon Russell. His twin brother Keith, who will attend North Carolina-Asheville on a basketball scholarship was named after jazz legend Keith Jarrett.
Russell Hornsby began his high school career at Jamestown High School where he was part of their 2008 cross country team that won the Virginia state championship and went on to qualify for Nike Team Nationals. His teammates at Jamestown included Andrew Colley, who beat Alan Webb’s state meet course record, and Colin Mearns, who would go on to be the 2010 national indoor mile champion.
More of a middle distance runner, Hornsby decided to transfer to Georgetown Prep in Maryland, where he felt he would get better training for his specialty, the 800 meters. He ran 1:54 in his first 800 race for Georgetown, a six second improvement. In the fall of 2010, with a then personal best of 1:53 in the 800, he signed a letter of intent to attend the University of Oregon. With his college plans already secured, Hornsby has been
able to relax and run some fast times this spring during the track & field season. First he helped Georgetown set a school record in the 4X800 meter relay at Penn Relays by running a 1:50.6 split. One week later he ran 1:50.82 against collegiate runners at the Liberty Twilight Qualifier. That time currently ranks him as the sixteenth fastest 800 runner in the nation, according to Dyestat.
With Colorado joining Oregon in the new Pac-12 Conference, it’s quite possible that Van Halen and Hornsby will compete head-to-head against each other. When that day comes, perhaps their famous musician fathers, Alex and Bruce, will be in the stands cheering.
One of the best performances at the Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University on Sunday May 1, 2011 was turned in by Sally Kipyego in the women’s 10,000 meters. Twenty-five year old Kipyego edged out Shalane Flanagan, 30:38.35 to 30:39.57.
To some it may be a surprise that Flanagan, the 10,000 meter Olympic bronze medalist and American record holder (30:22.22) coming off a bronze medal performance at the 2011 World Cross Country Championships, was beaten. But Kipyego has plenty of strong credentials as well.
Kipyego, who hails from Kenya, had a storied NCAA career for Texas Tech University from 2006-2009. She won nine individual national championships during her collegiate career (three in cross country, four in indoor track & field, and two in outdoor track & field). In May 2009, Kipyego graduated from Texas Tech with a degree in nursing.
She has put off a career in nursing to pursue a career as a professional runner. She is currently coached by Mark Rowland and runs
for the Oregon Track Club. Last summer she ran a 14:38.64 for 5000 meters at a meet in Brussels. That was six seconds ahead of Molly Huddle, who set the American record in that race with a 14:44.76 (Flanagan held the previous American record of 14:44.80).
The race at Stanford was not the first time Kipyego and Flanagan have raced over 10,000 meters at Payon Jordan. At the 2008 Payton Jordan, Flanagan placed first with a new American Record of 30:34.49 while Kipyego set a then collegiate record, placing third in 31:25.45. Kipyego’s record has since been beaten by Lisa Koll, who ran 31:18.07 in 2010 while a senior at Iowa State.
Kipyego’s PR’s put her with the current to American runners, people like Flanagan and Huddle. Her current goals are to represent
Kenya at the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Olympics. However, Kipyego has indicated she is applying for American citizenship. Down the road she could be a Team USA teammate of Flanagan’s and Huddle’s and a possible American record holder. After becoming a citizen she would need to wait one year before she could represent her new country in international competition if her old country agrees to the change, and three years if her old country does not agree to the change.
She is hoping to avoid the controversy that occurred when Bernard Lagat became an American citizen. Lagat was born in Kenya and came to the United States in 1996 at the age of twenty-one. He attended and graduated from Washington State University. While in college he met Gladys Tom, who he eventually married. He and his wife now live in Tucson, Arizona with their two children. Lagat technically became an American citizen on May 7, 2004, more than three months before the 2004 Olympics in Athens. At those Olympic Games, while wearing the Kenya uniform, Lagat won the silver medal in the 1500 meters. In March of 2005, Philip Hersh of the Chicago Tribune broke the story that Lagat had become an American citizen before the Athens Olympics. Kenyan federation rules do not allow dual citizenship, so as soon as Lagat became an American citizen he lost his Kenyan citizenship. Despite this controversy, Lagat was allowed to keep his silver medal from the 2004 Olympics. He was declared ineligible for the 2005 World Championships as part of the three years he was required to wait before competing for his new country. Lagat made his debut representing the USA in international competition at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka, where he won gold in both the 1500 meters and the 5000 meters.
Unlike some Kenyan athletes who have been lured by money to become a citizen of an oil-rich Gulf state (like Qatar), Lagat’s desire to become an
American citizen was genuine. He said in an article by Cool Running that, “I want to settle (in the United States) and I want to be able to bring up my family here. I want to live here and work here,” It appears Lagat started the process of becoming an American citizen in late 2003, thinking it would take over a year. However things happened fast and he ended up being sworn in as a US citizen before the 2004 Olympics.
An interesting note due to his citizenship history is Lagat’s records. His 1500 meter personal record of 3:26.34, run in 2001 when he was a Kenyan citizen, still stands as the Kenyan record. The United State of America Track & Field (USATF) rules state that an athlete has to be a US citizen competing in a sanctioned competition to be eligible to set a national record. However, at the 2005 USATF annual meeting, Lagat’s 3:27.40 in the 1500 meters, run on August 6, 2004 in Zurich, was not ratified as an American record. It’s unclear why it was not ratified since the race took place after Lagat was sworn in as an American citizen, even though hardly anyone knew it. The USATF did however ratify three American records for
Lagat from races in 2005. First was the indoor mile (3:49.89) run on February 11, 2005. En route to that 3:49.89, his 1500 meter split was 3:33.34, which also was ratified as an American record. This performance also took place before it became public knowledge that Lagat was an American citizen so it’s unclear why the indoor marks were counted as records but not the 3:27.40 from Zurich. Then in Rieti on August 28, 2005, after publically announcing his citizenship change, he ran 3:29.30 for the 1500 meters outdoors. This mark was ratified by USATF and currently stands as the American record. Since 2005, Lagat has set more American records (with less controversy), including the outdoor 5000 meters record (12:54.12) in Bislett on June 4, 2010.
While his citizenship was controversial at first and it is somewhat confusing as to which of his performances count as American records and why,
six years after becoming a citizen, Bernard Lagat is generally well accepted as an American citizen. Like Lagat, Kipyego was born in Kenya but attended college in the United States and is making the US her post-collegiate home and training base. The next step for Kipyego will be to become an American citizen. Then she can attempt to set records and win medals for Team USA like Lagat has.