Chanman's Blog


Cheering for Amy

Cheering for Amy_after the race_photo by Paul Merca

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Cheering for Amy_still in 4th

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

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

Cheering for Amy_Alistair and Jerry

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

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

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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.

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 London Olympic Stadium

Welcome to the London Olympic Stadium!

I have now been in the London Olympic Stadium four times. Even though we are sitting high in the second deck, the sight lines are great. We can see all the action. My only minor complaints are that the scoreboard is hard to read (it’s not my fault I have bad eyesight, the London Olympic Committee should be taking care of my needs!) and that when the UK fans cheer loudly (which they do a lot), I can’t hear what the announcer is saying. Pretty minor things to be fussing about, huh?

We’re lucky, we can see the Olympic flame from our seat inside the Stadium.

There have been some complaints regarding the Olympic flame. The only people who can see the flame burning inside the cauldron are people who have tickets to attend an event (i.e. track & field or athletics as they call it here) in the Olympic Stadium. Since I am one of the lucky ones who has tickets to the Olympic Stadium, this has not been a complaint of mine.

On the flight over to London, Virgin Atlantic offered a documentary about the construction of the stadium. It was very insightful and easier to understand than the technical article my dad showed me from Civil Engineering magazine.

The London Olympic stadium seats 80,000 people and was built in east London at a cost of 486 million pounds. One of the cornerstones of the London Olympic bid was the eco-friendly and flexible nature of the Olympic Stadium. The stadium was built in such a way that it can be partially dismantled after the Games leaving the lower bowl, comprised of the track and 25,000 seats.

There were many challenges the architects and engineers faced when designing and constructing the stadium. Over two hundred building were demolished in east London to create space for the stadium. Some of these buildings produced toxic waste so the soil needed to be decontaminated. In the end some of the soil was re-used for landscaping and another 800,000 tons of soil were removed from the area. There was believed to be over two hundred un-exploded bombs from World War II buried in the ground that had to be considered during the construction  to prevent an unplanned explosion. The land allotted for the stadium is surrounded by rivers on three sides and the area was not large enough for the traditional footprint of an 80,000 stadium. Designers got around this by “pulling” out food preparation areas and moving them to outside the stadium.

Some of the steel girders that support the upper bowl.

The upper bowl of the stadium is comprised of steel components that are bolted together and can be un-bolted and removed after the Olympics. The roof, too, is a stand-alone feature of the stadium, weighing 450 tons. The roof is not connected to the lower bowl of the stadium. The roof has four components: an outer ring, an inner ring, 12,000 meters of cable, and 25,000 square meters of fabric. The roof is designed to shelter the fans as well as block wind for the athletes so that any marks run are not wind-aided or wind-hindered.

There are fourteen light towers, weighing 500 tons, attached to the roof. Each tower provides 14,000 watts. The lights are all angled properly to illuminate the track but to not create any shadows or glare for the spectators.

You can see the light towers attached to the roof from this shot inside the Stadium.

The grass on the field was grown off-site and then cut into rolls and brought to the stadium. Three hundred and sixty rolls of the turf were brought in. The transfer of the grass from its off-site location into the stadium needed to be done in less than twenty-four hours for the grass to stay alive.

Throughout the construction, workers had to deal with typical London weather issues. In the winter of 2010, work stopped for two weeks during a freeze. High winds were often a concern when working with the cranes and lifting heavy steel components into the air.

In the end, over 5,000 workers helped to build the stadium. The circumference around the outside of the stadium is one kilometer (anyone for 5 X 1000 meter intervals?). There are 338 kilometers of cable, twelve kilometers of ventilation ducts, and eleven kilometers of drainage.

Number of days to build the London Olympic Stadium: 1,000

Number of toilets in the London Olympic Stadium: 1,387

Number of memories for the athletes and spectators inside the London Olympic Stadium: infinite

There is something about being inside an Olympic Stadium and seeing the Olympic flame burning that is indescribably special. Knowing a little more about the construction of said stadium adds to the experience. Thanks, London! I’ll consider my poor vision and hearing to be my own problem and give you an A for your stadium!

The London Olympic Stadium gets an A from me.