Tonight is our last night in Moscow at the 2013 IAAF World Championships. Just like in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, and London, I have mixed emotions. I am both sad that this current adventure is about to end but also ready to be back home.
There is a little bit of a letdown when a global championship comes to its conclusion. Usually during the last month before an Olympics or World Championships, I spend a lot of time thinking about Shannon Rowbury’s race. I scout the competition, research splits from previous meets, and consider a variety of race strategies and tactics. On Shannon’s race days I feel nervous. And when she’s done competing, I feel pride. But also a little bit of emptiness as this goal race that has been on my mind for at least a month (often longer) is over. “What do I do with myself now?” is what I often end up thinking to myself.
Spending ten days at a global championship for me is like having Christmas ten days in a row. I have almost no concerns each day except what time do we need to get to the track and what event is happening tonight.
I love watching athletes competing in track & field at the highest level. There’s so much excitement, emotion, and drama. Just tonight in the span of one hour, I felt exhilaration for Matthew Centrowitz when he found an opening and sprinted to a silver medal in the 1500, I felt empathy for a courageous Alysia Montano, who just couldn’t hold on in the 800, and I felt frustration when the US women had a bad exchange in the 4X100 meter relay. Taking the kid on Christmas Day analogy one step further, I was a kid on Christmas Day opening presents when Centro saw me waving my US flag as he took his victory lap and he pointed at me. Yes, I am going to miss being at this meet every night.
Today, as often happens at the end of the meet, we got to spend some time with Shannon. We had lunch at Cafe Pushkin and grabbed some pies at Stolle. It’s nice to just spend time with her (and Pablo) and talk a little track, but mostly exchange stories about this current adventure. Like I said on Facebook, it really is a privilege to be at a World Championship meet and feel nervous before a race.
All that being said, I am also ready to get out of town.
Beijing Daegu, and Moscow were particularly challenging trips because of the language barrier (so many Germans speak English that Berlin was nowhere near the same challenge). Every outing, every meal, and every trip to the bathroom required mental thought and that can be draining. We also keep pretty long hours when on the road. The meet tends to be a night meet so we often do not get back to our room until midnight. E-mails and internet surfing tend to occupy another hour or more. Come seven the next morning, I am usually up and ready to do some sightseeting. After all, it’s a limited amount of time we’ll be in this foreign land. No point sleeping the time away. All of this hyperactivity, however, can leave one pretty tired by the end of ten days.
On top of all that, in Moscow, we had to do a lot of walking to get around. The subway was 0.75 miles from the hotel and the subway stop nearest the stadium was a 0.5 mile walk. Just getting from the hotel to the stadium and back required 2.5 miles of walking. Malinda and I estimate that we walked about 55 miles while here in Moscow, so over five miles a day. No wonder I am so tired.
Probably the main reason that I look forward to being back in San Francisco is to see the SHC team and start cross country season and to see my Pamakid teammates and tell them stories about Moscow. The official start of the cross country season is August 19. My assistant coaches will be running practice because I’ll spend most of the day in an airplane traveling home. But I’ll be there on August 20. There may or may not be another Shannon Rowbury on this year’s team, but I still plan to put all my heart into coaching this group and making them the best runners that they can be – just like I did with Shannon and everyone else that’s been on the team over the past fifteen years.
Good night and good bye, Moscow. Thanks for a memorable trip!
As everyone who follows my coaching style knows, I hate Trial Days. If you are one of the favorites then nothing real good can happen, only something bad. If you qualify on, it’s no big deal because you were supposed to. If you don’t qualify on, it’s a disaster. I often use the phrase, “live to run again,” when giving instructions to my athletes at trials.
Today (Wednesday, August 14) was a Trials Day.
On most of Shannon’s trials days at global championships in the past I have been quite nervous – usually indicated by me not talking much (so only Malinda really knows that I am nervous). Interestingly, neither Malinda or I were as nervous as usual today. Last night I was super tired from all the walking we’ve been doing and the less than six hours of sleep we’ve been getting. Upon waking this morning, I was more tired than nervous.
There’s also something to be said about the 5000 trials being less stressful than 1500 trials. In the 5000, Shannon could control more variables and there would be more time to deal with problems during the race (getting boxed in, not the pace desired, etc.). I really felt like Shannon should cruise to the 5000 final….and she did.
After a super slow first 800, the pace picked up in such a way that with about six laps to go, it was apparent who the top five would be because there was a sizeable gap back to sixth place. That’s when I started yelling to Shannon that she was clear. In high school, I told Shannon she was never to look back in a race except in a trials race when it was okay to look back to check your position. I think she may still employ this strategy. Over the last lap she checked behind her several times and definitely jogged in the last half lap when she knew she was going to place in the top five and qualify on.
In the end, the times were very slow in Shannon’s heat 1. That led to all the time qualifiers coming from heat 2, where ten out of the eleven runners qualified for the final.
After the race we met up with Shannon, her parents, coach, and boyfriend and went to the Nike House with them for some food and relaxation. With the trials behind us, there was no need to talk track. Instead, we could focus on swapping Russia travel stories. But unspoken throughout the afternoon was the fact that Shannon’s in a great spot. It should be an exciting 5000 meter final and with her speed, if she can hang around with the leaders until it’s time to kick…..well, you just never know.
I’ve been to a lot of track & field meets in my lifetime. Often things happen at meets that stick in my mind – sometimes something big and sometimes something small. Tonight, on the opening night of the fourteenth IAAF World Championships in Moscow, two things, both small, occurred that stuck in out in my mind.
First, after the men’s 10,000 meters, Mo Farah was beginning his celebratory victory lap surrounded by photographers. I noticed some British fans in front of us waving their UK flags. I told Malinda to have her camera ready because Mo might stop in front of our section, because of these UK fans, and do the “Mobot.” Sure enough, he did (photo coming when we can get to a computer with a USB port). After that, Mo motioned to one of the UK fans for his Union Jack flag – Mo needed a flag for the traditional photos and victory lap. The man tossed his flag to a photographer, who was gracious enough to take it to Mo. “Wow!” I thought to myself….what an honor to have Mo take YOUR flag for all these photos and the victory lap! “That guy is going to have a story to tell his running buddies when he gets home,” I told Malinda.
This reminds me of a story from the 2011 World Championships in Daegu. We had great seats, right by the finish line in around row fifteen. After the men’s 5000, I was on my feet waving a US flag and cheering for Lagat. Suddenly, “Kip” looked up into the stands. He was looking for a US flag for the victory lap that all three medalists take. I swear Lagat looked at my flag and our eyes locked for a moment. Then someone closer (maybe around row eight) got his attention and Lagat ended up taking that person’s flag. I was THAT close to having my own, “my flag went on a victory lap” story.
But I digress…
The second small thing from tonight happened with Usain Bolt. As Bolt came out for his heat of the 100 meter rounds, the somewhat sparse crowd in Luzhniki Stadium went wild. It was the loudest the crowd was all night. Malinda and I had a short discussion about whether or not track & field has ever had an icon like Usain Bolt. I think the answer is no. Bolt is the first, the current, and possibly the greatest most recognizable athlete that the sport has and will ever see. Bolt is a world record holder, he competes in multiple events and is thus a multiple time champion, and he knows how to play to the crowd.
In the final moments before the race, Bolt removed his sweats and placed them into the sweats basket. I was thinking to myself, will Bolt interact with the volunteer who is in charge of carrying his sweats. In Berlin at the 2009 World Championships, Bolt was always playful with the volunteers. But Russians are known to be quite serious and maybe he would resist the temptation. But luckily, Usain Bolt is Usain Bolt. He fist pumped the volunteer and then made his way to his starting blocks. I loved it! That young volunteer will have a story for the rest of his life about giving Usain Bolt a fist pump before his race.
The first day of ten days at the 2013 World Championships is in the books. It was a great night of small things.
For the fifth time, Malinda and I are off to an international destination to watch a global track & field championship. In 2008 it was Beijing, 2009 it was Berlin, 2011 it was Daegu, 2012 it was London, and now in 2013 it’s Moscow. Thanks to good timing, Shannon Rowbury and I both arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral fifteen years ago, in the fall of 1998. The next four years were filled with fun times as I experienced coaching a state champion. The last five years have been equally fun, traveling the world to cheer for her at the Olympics and the World Championships. Each year has been slightly different.
2008 – Everything was brand new to us (and Shannon) in 2008 and it all happened so fast. In May she was chasing the Olympic A standard. By July she was the US Olympic Trials champion and the owner of a new 1500 PR of 4:00. By August, we were in the Bird’s Nest cheering her on to a seventh place finish.
2009 – Things were different in Berlin for the 2009 World Championships. Shannon was one of the favorites and the expectations and pressure were a lot higher. We rode an emotional rollercoaster watching her fall in the first round and move on only because of a successful protest. Then in the final, she was in the front pack, then someone fell and Shannon dropped back and crossed the line fourth. But there was a protest and after an hour of nervous waiting the winner was disqualified and Shannon was a World Championship bronze medalist.
2011 – Unbeknown to most, Shannon was battling an Achilles injury for much of the 2011 season. It took everything she had to kick by Christin Wurth-Thomas by one-hundredth of a second to get the third and final qualifying spot for the Daegu World Championships. Her parents didn’t make the trip to South Korea, so we were Shannon’s surrogate family on that trip and were there to cheer her up when she failed to qualify for the final.
2012 – We were fortunate to be able to buy Olympic tickets through Shannon and USATF back in December of 2010 because it’s become almost impossible for the average person to buy Olympic tickets, even if you’re willing to pay scalpers’ prices. Watching the women’s 1500 in London, I have to admit, was frustrating because so many of the top contenders were shrouded in doping allegations. Shannon placed sixth but we couldn’t help but feel she was probably much higher among the clean athletes.
2013 – Shannon is competing in a different event. At the US Championships she came in fourth in the 1500, which was not good enough to qualify. She came back the very next day and tenaciously ran the 5000 and qualified for the World Championships in a new event!
I know that I am lucky and blessed to be going on these trips to cheer for Shannon. First and foremost, I am lucky to have a wife who despite the moniker “Track Widow,” doesn’t leave me alone every summer. She is willing to go with me on all these trips, which is a good thing because I don’t know if I am adventurous enough to go alone. Five out of the last six summers our summer vacation was to an international locale for a track meet. The one summer we didn’t travel to another continent, we drove halfway across the country to Iowa and then back via Eugene to watch track meets!
The second way in which I am quite lucky is to have been Shannon’s high school coach. It’s pretty rare to coach someone who goes on to compete in college. It’s rarer still to coach someone who goes on to compete at the national level. And rarer still to coach someone who goes on to compete at an international championship. Well, not only has Shannon competed for Team USA at an international championship, she’s done it five times! Since football season is just about to begin, to put this in football terms, not only did the kid I coach play in college, get drafted by an NFL team, and earn a starting job for an NFL team – they’re a five-time All-Pro player, to boot!
Over the last eleven years going back to 2003, there have been nine global championships (either an Olympics or a World Championships). The only years without one were 2006 and 2010. I looked up the roster of US distance runners over this time span (see chart: US Distance Teams_2003 to 2013). During this period there were 321 slots on the USA team in the men’s and women’s 800, 1500, 5000, 10,000, 3000 steeplechase, and marathon. Those spots were filled by 156 different people. Out of those 156 people, 16 in particular have been the dominant distance runners of this era, qualifying for USA teams five or more times. That’s the company that Shannon is in.
The most dominant USA distance runner of this era is Shalane Flanagan. She has qualified for every US team since the 2004 Athens Olympics, a string of eight straight global championships. Right behind her with seven is 800 meter runner Khadevis Robinson. There are seven runners tied with six global championships: Nick Symmonds, Bernard Lagat, Leo Manzano, Galen Rupp, Dathan Ritzenheim, Jenny Simpson, and Jen Rhines. Of those, Symmonds, Lagat, Manzano, Rupp, and Simpson have a current streak of making six straight USA national teams. There seven more runners tied with five global championships during this era: Abdi Abdirahman, Matt Tengenkamp, Hazel Clark, Kara Goucher, Deena Kastor, Alice Schmidt and Shannon. Out of these, only Shannon has a current streak going with five straight teams made. Of note, if my chart went back further it would be seen that Abdirahman has qualified for seven national teams, including four Olympics (2000, 2004, 2008, and 2012).
My list is somewhat skewed because while the Olympic Marathon is quite glamorous, the World Championships Marathon is not seen as a must-try-to-make team. The top USA marathon runners will often forego the World Championships Marathon in favor of competing at a big city fall marathon like Chicago or New York. Thus, names like Ryan Hall and Meb Keflezighi appear less on my chart than they would if the World Championships Marathon was more highly regarded.
In any case, these sixteen runners, who I consider the dominant USA distance runners of this era, have earned twelve out of the fourteen medals won by distance runners since 2003. Lagat is the only one with multiple medals, winning the gold in the 1500 and 5000 in 2007 in Osaka, a silver (5000) and bronze (1500) in 2009 in Berlin, and a silver (5000) in 2011 in Daegu. Those with one medal in their collection are: Kastor (bronze, 2004 marathon), Goucher (bronze, 2007 10,000), Flanagan (bronze, 2008 10,000), Simpson (gold, 2011 1500), Rupp (silver, 2012 10,000), Manzano (silver, 2012 10,000), and Shannon (bronze, 2009 1500). The only two medalists who aren’t among this “dominant fraternity of this era” are Meb (silver; 2004 marathon) and Matt Centrowitz (bronze, 2011 1500).
What does all that mean? I don’t know but it was a fun chart to make instead of doing what I was supposed to be doing, which was packing.
You’d think that after five trips we’d have this packing thing down. But, no. The last couple days have been filled with laundry and picking out what to bring with an occasional break to check letsrun or study Ken Nakamura’s World Championship stats on the women’s 5000. I think we’re ready now, though.
USA flag? Check!
Go Shannon banner? Check!
Talk to you from Moscow! Время разговора для вас из Москвы