If you don’t count watching someone near and dear to me running in the women’s 1500 meter final, then I have two favorite memories from the 2012 Olympic track & field competition. My favorites will reflect the fact that I am American distance runner and coach.
The first happened on a night now being referred to in Great Britain as “Super Saturday.” The Brits are calling it Super Saturday because that was the night the UK won three gold medals in track & field within an hour. While all eyes were on Mo Farah on the final lap of the men’s 10,000 meters and while the majority of the cheering was for Mo, our eyes and cheers were for Galen Rupp. My wife Malinda yelled so loud for Rupp that she made herself hoarse and her voice was never the same the rest of the Games. Rupp stayed in contention the whole race and made a move to get a medal with 200 meters to go. He looked great, striding past runners from Ethiopia to claim the silver medal. It was the first medal in the 10,000 meters for the US men since Billy Mills in 1960.
I was very happy for Rupp. He’s been in the spotlight since his running prowess was first noticed on the soccer field at Central Catholic High School in Portland in 2000. I have a small connection to Rupp because although Rupp’s pretty much been coached by Alberto Salazar since 2000, the head coach at Central Catholic is a friend of mine, David Frank. David was the head coach at St. Francis High School in Mountain View, a rival West Catholic Athletic League (WCAL) school, when I first became the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. At the 2000 US Olympic Trails in Sacramento, David told me he was moving to Portland. One year later, one of his star athletes was Rupp and also one year later, my star athlete, Shannon Rowbury, won her first state championship. It’s funny how small the track & field world can be.
The second memorable moment took place on Tuesday, August 7. It was the final of the men’s 1500 meters. Shannon’s teammate, Leo Manzano was in the race. If you think that all the athletes’ coaches get first class treatment and a front row seat to watch their people compete at the Olympics, think again. Most coaches have to buy their own ticket to get into the Olympic Stadium. Leo’s coach in London, Ryan Ponsonby (Manzano’s main coach is John Cook but Cook often doesn’t travel overseas so in Cook’s absence Ryan is the coach on-site) was sitting two seats over from me in the second level of the stadium in row 69. All the seats have a great view but this was a long way away for the coach of an Olympic finalist to be sitting.
Ryan described the race in an interview with FloTrack. He said that he told Leo to conserve energy early to be ready for a hard and fast last 400 meters. Leo did just that. With 400 meters to go he was towards the back in tenth place but still in striking distance. With 300 to go there was still a sizeable gap between Leo and the first eight runners. As it turned out many of the runners ahead of him had gone too hard too early and would run out of gas the final 100. In an interview after the race Leo said his legs felt like bricks, which explained why he was still a ways back with 200 meters to go. But that’s when things started to change. “Keep going, keep going, keep pushing ,” Leo said he was telling himself. He started moving up. Ryan, after silently focusing on the race for the first 1400 meters, pumped his fists and started screaming as Leo hit the top of the final straightaway. We all could tell what was about to happen. Malinda was screaming herself hoarse again. Leo was going to medal! He passed all but one and ended up in second place to grab the silver medal. It was bedlam in row 69. Ryan gave a thumbs up and we (we being me, Malinda, Shannon’s parents, a few of Shannon’s friends who live in the UK, and Coach Cook’s team doctor Alan King) all started jumping up and down and hugging. It was the first medal in the 1500 meters for the US men since Jim Ryun in 1968.
What a moment! I was particularly proud that I could share in Ryan’s celebration before he rushed down to trackside to greet Leo on his victory lap. I thought back in September of 2011 in Daegu, South Korea. Leo and Shannon had failed to qualify for the 1500 final, both of them being eliminated in the semi-final. It meant they had some unexpected days off with no competition. They would have rather been preparing for their final race but instead we arranged to meet for a Korean lunch. I spend lots of time hanging out with Shannon but this was a new experience to spend the day with Leo. He is a down to earth, genuine, nice person and it was a thrill to just joke around and talk to him. Track & field is a crazy sport. Eleven months ago he was frustrated at his performance at the World Championships. But in London, he might have come in second but as Leo said, it “feels like I got first.”
Two noteworthy Olympic medal performances by American men, ending 52 and 48 year dry spells in their event. Coincidentally, I have a one or two degrees of separation connection with each. No wonder those are my two favorite Olympic memories from London 2012.
The announcers around here are calling Saturday August 4, 2012 the greatest day in United Kingdom (UK) Olympic history. At least from a track & field (or athletics, as it’s called over here) perspective.
Walking around the Olympic Park this afternoon I saw two British fans wearing specially made t-shirts in support of two of their favorite athletes. One’s shirt said “Yes Jess” on it. The other said “Go Mo.” The newspaper slipped under my hotel room door this morning, The Independent, had two articles each on this Jess (heptathlete Jessica Ennis) and this Mo (10,000 meter runner Mohammed Farah) and their prospects for bringing home the gold medal on their home turf. At the very beginning of the meet, the public address announcer informed the crowd that the last time a UK track & field athlete won a gold medal at an Olympics held in London was 1908. Well, that is a long time. But track & field at the 2012 Olympics just got underway so all the statistic really means is that the home team got shutout on the gold medal front when they hosted the Olympics in 1948.
Still, the pro-Great Britain/cheer wildly for every Great Britain athlete attitude was on display at the track on this night. This night that would turn into quite a special one for fans of athletics in the UK.
It all started around 9:02pm local time. Ennis had a strong lead in the women’s heptathlon and was more or less assured of the gold medal. In the final event of the heptathlon, the 800 meters, she went out hard for the first 400 meters and then slowed and was caught by a couple runners. With 200 meters to go, however, the crowd roared to life and this inspired Ennis to find re-take the lead down the final straightaway, much to the delight of the crowd. Her time of 2:08.65 earned her 984 points and brought her final score for the two-day, seven event competition to 6,955 points. She finished 306 points ahead of second place and broke her own UK record for the heptathlon. How dominant was Ennis in this event? Second place finisher Lilli Schwarzkopf of Germany finished with a score closer to eleventh place Brianne Theisen of Canada (who also happens to be Ashton Eaton’s fiancé) than to Ennis’ score.
Right as the heptathlon was winding down all eyes in the stadium shifted to the long jump runway. Great Britain had two athletes, neither of whom got much press in the newspaper today, unlike Ennis and Farah. Greg Rutherford and Christopher Tomlinson were trying to win Great Britain its second gold medal earned on home turf since 1908 as well as the second one of the hour. After one round of jumps, Tomlinson led with a jump of 8.06 meters. Rutherford took over the lead in the second round with a jump of 8.21 meters. For a short time, Great Britain was sitting in the gold and bronze medal positions in the long jump. Rutherford improved to 8.31 meters in the fourth round, a jump missed by many in the stands as when it happened the crowd was focused on another British athlete in the heptathlon, Katarina Johnson-Thompson, a nineteen year old athlete, who just may be the “next Jessica Ennis.” At 9:22pm, as Ennis finished her victory lap, Will Claye from the United States was on the runway. He was the penultimate jumper and the last jumper with a chance to knock Rutherford out of the gold medal spot. When Claye’s mark fell short, the crowd went wild as Rutherford celebrated winning a gold medal in the long jump.
Minutes later, the men’s 10,000 meter race was underway. Farah bided his time in the front pack, not concerning himself as runners from Eritrea and Kenya jockeyed for position, continually surging and slowing down. The lead group got smaller and smaller but there were still eight or so runners still in contention with a mile to go. Even over the last lap five or six runners were still in it with a chance to win. The stadium was going crazy cheering for Farah, who for his part, looked in control the whole way.
Over the last 300 meters, Farah looked strong with the lead but not all eyes in the stadium were strictly on him. Earlier in the race I had commented that maybe this wasn’t Galen Rupp’s day as he seemed to fall back from the lead pack for no apparent reason. But when it came time to really race, Rupp was there and Rupp was ready. He surged past a couple of runners at the 300 to go mark. With 200 to go, he was well positioned on the outside and appeared to be running faster than the runners just ahead of him. Just like at the 2011 World Championships when I started screaming, “She’s going to medal. She’s going to medal,” about Jenny Simpson in the women’s 1500 with about 150 meters to go (Simpson would not only medal but win the race), I started yelling that Rupp was going to medal. Down the final homestretch Farah held on to the lead and Rupp secured second place. It was a third gold medal for the UK in less than an hour. A medal for the USA in the men’s 10,000 meters, their first since the 1964 Tokyo Olympics when a kid named Billy Mills won the gold.
The guys at FloTrack have a great photo sequence of the final 100 meters.
I am not versed enough in Great Britain’s Olympic and track & field history to know if today should rank as the greatest day in their Olympic history. It was certainly a terrific day, though, but not just for the Brits. I am pretty sure that for Galen Rupp, he can say that today was his greatest day in his track & field career.
Almost lost in the drama of a new world record in the decathlon and a tie for third place in the women’s 100 meters were two compelling Olympic Trials 10,000 meter races on Friday, June 22. In the end, both races can be seen as lessons in perseverance, but I am getting ahead of myself. First the race re-caps.
The men’s 10,000 meter race included eight runners with the Olympic A standard (Galen Rupp, Robert Curtis, Tim Nelson, Matt Tegenkamp, Chris Derrick, Brent Vaughn, Ben True, and Joseph Chirlee). These eight runners probably wanted a slower paced race to keep anyone else from achieving the A standard. The other sixteen runners in the race, if they wanted to qualify for the London Olympics, had to not only place in the top three but also run under 27:45. Included in this group was two-time Olympian Dathan Ritzenhein. Ritz was a 2004 Olympian in the 10,000 and a 2008 Olympian in the marathon. But at the US Olympic Marathon Trials in Houston last January, he placed fourth, which left him off the marathon Olympic team. His only hope for a third Olympics would be the 10,000 meters, a race he still needed an A standard in.
Before the race I figured there were three possible scenarios for Ritz:
Scenario 1 – Ritz goes out on A pace alone and tries to run 27:45 all by himself. Pacing and leading a race for twenty-five laps is a pretty daunting feat. On June 9 at the Portland Track Festival he ran a 5000/5000 double in 13:19 and 13:58 with only a thirty minute rest between efforts, perhaps to practice running alone?
Scenario 2 – Ritz and some of the other runners without the A standard make an agreement before the race to take turns pacing so that they all have a shot at running under 27:45. To me this makes the most sense but it rarely happens and I don’t know why. It seems that runners without the A standard should band together to go for it. This is the Olympic Trials. Why not throw caution to the wind and go for a 27:45 rather than run conservatively and stay in the main pack?
Scenario 3 – Ritz’s teammate Galen Rupp will set a pace to help Ritz get the A standard. This would be a logical thing to happen since they are both coached by Alberto Salazar and train together all the time. However the precedent did not suggest this would happen. One, rarely have I seen Rupp take any risks, such as setting the early race pace, that could affect his own qualifying. Also, in 2008 Salazar coached runners Kara Goucher and Amy Yoder-Begley. Goucher did not work to help Yoder-Begley get the A standard (in the end Yoder-Begley got the A standard by running a hard last 5000 meters by herself).
With a steady rain falling on the runners, the gun went off to start the men’s 10,000 meters. Immediately we knew which scenario was taking place. Rupp sprinted to the front and Ritz settled in behind him. Rupp was going to help Ritz – scenario 3 was underway. After 64 for the first lap they settled into a metronome like pace with every lap falling between 66 and 67. Rupp led for two laps, and then Ritz led for two laps. Oregon’s Luke Pusekdra led laps five and six. Then it was Rupp for two more laps and then Ritz for two more laps. Although he said later he was not trying to help with the pacing, Puskedra made his way back towards the front of the pack for laps eleven and twelve. Ritz led the next mile and the splits suggested that, barring a total collapse, they were going to get the A standard.
With nine laps to go, Rupp dropped a 63 second lap and only Ritz and Tegenkamp went with this pace. Suddenly the three with the most experience (Rupp, Ritz, and Teg) were clear of the field. Derrick and Aaron Braun (who did not have the A standard) were ten to fifteen meters back in the chase pack. The drama was essentially gone. Rupp, Teg, and Ritz would easily hold on to the top three spots and secure their spots to London. Some would later criticize Teg for not sharing the pacing duties, instead just hanging off of the work done by Rupp and Ritz, but that’s the sport. Teg’s job was to get himself on to the Olympic team, not to help Ritz get on the Olympic team. In hindsight it wasn’t a surprise who the three that qualified were. Rupp (PR 12:58.90), Teg (PR 12:58.56), and Ritz (PR 12:56.27) are three of six men in US history to break 13 minutes in the 5000. Talent-wise, they were the class of the field.
To be continued in Part 2.
I have watched hundreds of track & field meets in person, on television, and on the computer over the years. But I have never seen some of the things that I saw at the Diamond League meet in Monaco on Friday, July 22, 2011. For a brief moment at the end of the men’s 1500 meters I thought I was watching a hockey game instead of a track & field meet. Then less than an hour later, the action during the men’s 5000 meter race looked strangely similar to roller derby.
The men’s 1500 meters was an exciting race won by Silas Kiplagat in a 2011 world-leading time of 3:30.47. However, it turns out that the real excitement would happen after the race. France’s Mehdi Baala and Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad, who finished ninth and eleventh in the race got into an altercation right at the finish line. This was not just a shouting match or some shoving. There was a head butt and some wild punches thrown.
As a result of their “brawl” as the BBC is calling it, both athletes did not receive their appearance fees and the French Athletics Federation has provisionally suspended them pending further investigation. A disciplinary hearing should take place within the next week. After that, the International Association of Athletics Federation (IAAF) will determine if they will take action, such as not allowing these two French athletes to compete at the World Championships in Daegu. If you are to believe the quotes from the athletes, it was all just a misunderstanding.
Forty minutes later, the men’s 5000 meter race was underway. The rabbit set a strong pace early and the race was on 12:50 pace through 2000 meters. Even though it slowed down a bit after that, the leaders came through 3000 meters still on sub-13 minute pace. As the race slowed down even more the lead pack started to get bunched together.
The live streaming video on universalsports.com that I was watching then broke away to cover the triple jump. When the camera returned to the track, the race clock read 10:41 and there were about 900 meters left in the race. The announcers started to explain that less than a lap ago there was a fall by the finish line and Galen Rupp went down and was out of the race.
What a shame! Rupp was certainly on pace to better his PR of 13:06.86. Later Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar would text a picture of Rupp’s shoulder to TrackFocus reporter Doug Binder, with the message, “Scratched up and sore but upbeat, ran good hard workout after, not tired. Has to learn to stay out of trouble.”
Back to the actual race. The announcers had not yet given all the details about Rupp’s fall when there was more pushing as the runners neared the 800 meter to go mark. The announcers stated that Imane Merga of Ethiopia was responsible for a lot of the shoving. The video feed then cut to a shot from a track level camera situated right next to finish line. All of a sudden there was a green jersey coming right at the camera. It was Chris Solinsky! He had been pushed, lost his balance and stepped over the inner rail and off the track. Solinsky angrily pumped his fists at the pack as they continued on without him in the race. The race clock now read 11:02. In the span of twenty seconds, I learned that two top Americans were out of the race.
Later Solinsky would tweet that he let his emotions get the better of him and that he should have gotten back on the track and finished the race. Even if his chances of winning the race, breaking the American record, and setting a new PR were gone, he probably still could have achieved an Olympic A standard for next year if he had completed the race. Kimbia.net has a great sequence of photos of Solinsky being pushed.
The race continued and thanks to a sixty second penultimate lap and a final lap of 53.7 seconds (the last 200 was run in 26.4 seconds), Great Britain’s Mo Farah won the race over America’s Bernard Lagat, 12:53.11 to 12:53.60. Both Farah and Lagat set their respective national records.
There was one final thing at the Monaco meet that I almost witnessed that would have been unique – Usain Bolt getting beat in the 100 meters. However a fantastic final twenty meters and a well timed lean gave Bolt the win over fellow Jamaican Nesta Carter, 9.88 to 9.90.
Saturday’s Payton Jordan Invitational at Stanford University featured a lot of great action. You can find results and race coverage online. I write about the two races that stood out the most to me. In both these races the race winner was wearing compression socks.
A group of nine Pamakids sat together in the stands with Shannon Rowbury’s parents, Gary and Paula, and other assorted Rowbury supporters. We took over a whole section in the stands just off the finish line at Angell Field. The Women’s 5000 meters was expected to be a great race, featuring the American record holder and World Championship 10,000 meter bronze medalist (Shalane Flanagan), the World Championship 1500 meter medalist (Shannon Rowbury), two other World Championship qualifiers (Amy Begley and Julie Culley), the reigning USATF Indoor 3000 meter champion (Renee Baillie), the 2009 NCAA 5000 meter and cross country champion (Angela Bizzarri), and the collegiate 10,000 meter record holder (Lisa Koll).
Flanagan and Baillie, sitting behind the rabbit Megan Metcalfe, took off at American record pace (14:44). Even after the rabbit dropped out and Baillie dropped back, Flanagan, running alone, looked determined to run a record time. I didn’t think this pace made sense since I presumed that Flanagan was in training for longer road races (an upcoming marathon is rumored), so was she really in 5000 meter PR form? But, who am I to know or question Flanagan’s tactics? I was more focused on the two women in second and third place who were taking turns leading into the wind – Shannon, wearing black compression socks, and Begley. I don’t know if they agreed to work together before the race or if it just happened when they found themselves together six to nine seconds behind Flanagan, but it worked. I knew for sure they were working together when, at one point, Shannon moved out to lane two to let Begley pass on the inside.
Flanagan’s chances of bettering her own record time were done when she fell off pace around mile two. At this point she was still leading Shannon and Begley by nine seconds, but I also knew that Shannon planned to run 72 second laps until this point and then was going to try to pick it up. With one mile to go, it appeared to me that Shannon had a lot left, but she still trailed Flanagan by seven seconds. With three laps to go Shannon and Begley still had a six second deficit but Flanagan had slowed down so much that she was now on pace to run only 15:00. That told me that Shannon still had a chance to win the race. With two laps to go Shannon and Begley were still six seconds behind. Amid a chorus of cheers from our section I yelled to Shannon to “compete.” There was no point in pacing or holding back anymore. It was time to race. Shannon probably didn’t hear me but she was probably thinking the same thing herself anyway. After three laps at 73, Shannon ran a 71 with two laps to go. The deficit was down to four seconds. This was still a lot of ground to make up, but I’ve seen Shannon come from a long way behind on the last lap and something inside told me she would do it again. With 300 meters to go she was gaining. By 200 meters to go Shannon’s turnover was much faster than Flanagan’s and I knew it was game over. Shannon accelerated past Flanagan with about 120 meters to go, running her last lap in 67.4 and her last 200 in 32.7, to win the race in 15:00.51.
Our section in the stands went crazy! Shannon’s mom, Paula, is pretty well known in the track world for her loud screaming for Shannon. I think Malinda may have earned number two billing as the next loudest in the stands on Saturday. I thought she was going to fall off the stands the way she was jumping up and down and screaming in those last 100 meters.
The next big race was the Men’s 10,000 meters. All week long there was scuttle from Galen Rupp’s camp that he would make an attempt at Meb Keflezighi’s American record of 27:13.98 (set at the 2001 Payton Jordan Invitational). First Rupp said he’d race at the Oregon Relays on Friday. But if it was too windy, he would fly down to Stanford for the record attempt. Then Rupp’s coach Alberto Salazar said that the pollen count in Palo Alto was too high and that maybe they would instead stage a 10,000 meter race in Eugene on Saturday instead of Friday. Finally on Friday at noon they said Rupp would be racing at Stanford on Saturday night. The Nike PR department was so confident that Rupp would set the record that they made plans for Rupp to appear at the Nike Store in Palo Alto Sunday morning should he set the record.
That was the backdrop to what turned out to be an epic race. And what a race it was. Not a time trial record attempt with the outcome of the race a foregone conclusion; not the only drama about the time on the clock. I had made a print out so I could monitor if they were on record pace or not. If I were more of a businessman I would have printed extras, because I could have sold them in the stands. Instead everyone was peering over my shoulder to check my paper. Finally I just started announcing if the pace was on or not to the people sitting around me.
The rabbits were a little slow in the first mile and Rupp was already a few seconds down. I immediately started looking around for his coach Salazar to see what he would tell Rupp. Salazar was on the high jump apron just after the start line so he had an easy time yelling instructions to Rupp after every lap. After the first mile the rabbits, Rupp, and a pack of eight others started hitting the 65.3 pace needed for the American record. I assumed that the plan was to just run that pace and not to try to make up the two or three seconds they lost in the early laps until later in the race. Rupp ran some 64’s during the second mile and when he ran a couple 63’s around lap ten, he was actually ahead of record pace. The split at halfway was 13:34, 27:08 pace.
Once the second rabbit dropped out after sixteen laps, Rupp assumed the lead. However, he was not alone. This was, after all, a race and: the Oregon Track Club’s Chris Solinsky (making his 10,000 meter race debut) and Simon Bairu (hoping to better the Canadian record of 27:36), Liberty University’s Sam Chelanga (the collegiate 10,000 meter record holder at 27:28), and Kenya’s Daniel Salel, were not going to just step aside and let Rupp run into the record books. With five or so laps to go many of us in the stands started to comment on how smooth Solinsky, in his white compression socks, looked. I thought to myself, maybe it’s Solinsky’s day…and wouldn’t that be funny to sort of crash Rupp’s American record party! Based on seeing Rupp run in the past, I felt confident that he could run 2:00 for the final two laps. So even though the pace had slowed to 66 and the lead pack went from three seconds ahead of pace to only right on pace with three laps to go, I felt the record was going to be broken. The question was, by who?
With just over two laps to go Solinsky bolted to the front. Rupp, Chelanga, and Salel chased after him so he didn’t build a huge lead, but Solinsky had definitely thrown down the gauntlet, challenging the others to stay with him. Solinsky’s penultimate lap was a 60. Meb’s record would stand for less than one minute longer. Solinsky, “Socks” as I have been known to call him over the years, wasn’t close to being done. He pulled away from the other three as he lapped runners on this twenty fifth lap. The crowd was incredibly loud cheering him on for a 56 second last lap (1:56 for his final 800) and a new American Record of 26:59.60. Salel would grab second, Chelanga would set a new collegiate record with a 27:08 for third, and Rupp would finish fourth in 27:10, three seconds faster than Meb’s old mark and a twenty-three second PR. Further back in the pack people were still running incredibly fast. Bairu in fifth set a new Canadian record of 27:23. In seventh and eighth place Tim Nelson and Bobby Curtis became the tenth and eleventh fastest Americans over 10,000 meters in history.
But, the main story was at the front of the race. Rupp did what he came to do, he ran faster than 27:13, but “Socks” stole the show.
Well, since I highlighted some races from this past weekend, I feel I should also give you the results. I pointed out four athletes in particular who were running either the full or half marathon at either Houston or Rock ‘n Roll Arizona, and I would say three of them did well.
Although Shalane Flanagan’s 69:41 debut half marathon (making her the 5th fastest in US history) is getting most of the publicity, I think the best performance of the weekend was Brett Gotcher’s 2:10:35 debut marathon (4th fastest US debut marathon time).
In Arizona, Deena Kastor ran 69:43 to win the half marathon and more importantly show she may be over the hump after over a year of fighting injuries. The men’s race saw Ryan Hall come in 2nd (you know you are good when it’s news that you didn’t win) with a rather lackluster (for him) time of 1:04:08, over a minute behind winner Simon Bairu’s 1:02:47. We probably won’t know if this was just a bump in the road for Hall or if this is a sign of not-so-good things to come until the Boston Marathon in April.
There was some indoor track action of note as well. In New Mexico, Shannon Rowbury won the mile in 4:34. She called this a “rust buster” race, as it was her first competitive race since the 5th Avenue Mile in New York last September. Look for Shannon in an indoor meet in Boston and then back in New Mexico for the USA Indoor Championships later this season.
Also getting some news from New Mexico is Galen Rupp. Much like Hall, Rupp has superstart status so that it’s a big deal if he doesn’t win. In Rupp’s case, it was an 800 meter race (not Rupp’s specialty) and rumor is that he was sick. Rupp went out in 54 for the first lap but could only muster a 60 for the second lap and was beat by Raffi Cotte, 1:54.25 to 1:54.71. Who is Raffi Cotte? He’s apparently a freshman walk-on for the University of New Mexico, who now has a great story to one day tell his grandkids, “one day back in 2010 your grandpa beat this guy named Galen Rupp!”