Last weekend Croatia hosted the inaugural IAAF/VTB Bank Continental Cup. It was a competition between four teams – the Americas, Europe, Africa, and Asia-Pacific. Each team had two entries per event (except the 1500, 3000, 3000 Steeplechase, and 5000 where each team got three entries) with no more than one athlete from a country. In individual events, eight points were awarded for first place, seven points for second place on down to one point for eighth place. In the relays, it was fifteen points for first place, eleven points for second place, seven points for third place, and three points for fourth place. Points were combined for men and women, with a single team emerging as the Continental Cup Champion. In the end, Team Europe edged out the Americas for the win, 429-419.5, with Africa in third with 291 points, and Asia-Pacific in fourth with 286.5 points.
It was nice to see a meet with a team aspect and team scoring. The $2.9 million in prize money insured that the top athletes were there to compete for their team. But the way the teams were made presented the problem that athletes often had no real allegiance to their team. Athletes think of themselves as being from a particular country and usually have national allegiance, not a continental allegiance. Also, putting athletes onto teams based on continents created teammates out of some athletes who are normally rivals. For example, Nancy Langat (Kenya) and Geleta Burka (Ethiopia) are bitter rivals in the women’s 1500 meters but they were supposed teammates at this meet. Neither athlete was hoping for a 1-2 finish in their race. It was also somewhat strange to see sprint rivals, Jamaica and the United States of America, teaming up in the relay events together. That being said, David Oliver, one of Team America’s team captains, found himself being very team oriented. He cheered on his teammates and talked to and supported athletes from events that he does not normally follow.
A meet that really gets the passions of a country and its citizens going is a dual meet between rival countries. That’s the case at the Finland vs. Sweden track & field dual meet. This meet, called “Finnkampen” by the Swedes, has been taking place annually since 1925. Team scoring is separate for the men and the women at this meet and, in addition to the elite athletes, the meet also hosts a competition between junior athletes from the rival nations. The 2010 meet, held in Helsinki, Finland drew over 54,000 spectators for the two days of competition. Finland was victorious in the men’s competition and both junior competitions, with the Swedes winning the women’s competition. How important is this meet to the athletes? Three Finish javelin throwers arrived at the meet after competing in the Brussels Diamond League meet the day before, just four hours before their dual meet competition began. They went to a lot of trouble to be able to throw at this dual meet. They also swept the javelin for Finland!
A dual meet between rival countries can stir up a lot of interest. The USA took on the USSR in a dual meet, that was held almost every non-Olympic year between 1958 and 1985. The dual meet in 1962 took place at Stanford Stadium and drew a crowd of 72,500 on day one and 81,000 on day two. At the time, It was the largest two day crowd to ever witness a non-Olympic track & field meet. A reporter from the San Francisco Examiner called it the “greatest track (& field) meet of all-time.” Two world records were set: American Harold Connolly (who passed away on August 18) threw the hammer 231 feet, 10 inches and Soviet Valery Brumel cleared seven feet, five inches in the high jump. Among the star athletes from the USA who competed at this meet were, Wilma Rudolph, Al Oerter, Ralph Boston, and future football stars Bob Hayes and Paul Warfield. The final score had the USA winning the men’s competition, 128-107, and the USSR winning the women’s competition, 66-41.
The sport of track & field, at least in the United States, could use more dual meets. A dual meet between rivals like the USA and USSR, with easy to follow team scoring and some political intrigue, has the potential to win over the casual sports fan. People get excited to see a battle between two rivals. Most people may not know the difference between a good time and a mediocre time in the 800 meters, but everyone can certainly follow who beat whom in a head-to-head competition.
At the high school level the dual meet is the main type of competition. Star athletes compete at Arcadia and Mt. Sac, but for all the other high school athletes, the dual meet is the meet to get pumped up for. One of my best coaching memories is from a dual meet in 2002 when Sacred Heart Cathedral ended a long drought of losing dual meets by beating Mitty in dramatic fashion – winning the last event, the 4X400 relay.
In college, although most of the season emphasis is on conference, regional, and national meets, teams get excited to compete against their rival in a dual meet. Some examples: Cal vs. Stanford (116 year history), UCLA vs. USC (as a Bruin alum, this was a painful hyperlink to include), and Harvard vs. Yale (a meet that dates back to 1891). These dual meet rivalries are flamed by the schools’ proximity and long history of competition.
A good dual meet also occurs when the two teams are evenly matched. The men’s coaches from UCLA and Oregon got together in 2008 and decided to renew the rivalry between these two venerable track & field programs by having an annual UCLA-Oregon dual meet at Eugene’s Hayward Field. The 2009 meet was particularly close and exciting; the winner was not decided until the 4X400 relay. I won’t give away the result (you’ll have to watch the video of the race), but let me assure you, it was a dramatic race. The race leader changed several times during the race. UCLA Bruin and Oregon Duck athletes can be seen on the infield cheering on their respective teams. It was track & field dual meet action at its best!
At the elite level of track & field there are very few opportunities to compete in dual meets. With an emphasis on not over-racing and over-competing, and on achieving fast times and big marks, winning head-to-head competitions takes a backseat on most elite athletes’ competition calendar. These are reasons the dual meet is becoming a thing of the past. The Finns and Swedes are lucky, they get to enjoy a dual meet with the drama and excitement of their national pride on the line every year.
I think I will remember this decade as the decade I established myself as a successful coach. In the 90’s, I was still pretty competitive myself as a runner and I was a little more focused on my own running and racing than coaching. During the 90’s, I ran three marathons and set most of my PR’s. I also laid the groundwork for my coaching career (team manager at UCLA, asst. coach at Lowell, started Thursday night track workouts for the DSE), but it has been in the last ten years that I have made a bigger impact as a coach.
When the decade began I was 29 years old and had been a head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) for just one and a half years. Although I had been coaching the Thursday night track workouts for five years, it was quite different – there was no Pamakid Runners club involvement and on average just eight to ten people were at each track workout.
Now as the decade ends, I am 39 years old and am in my twelfth year as head coach at SHCP. Thursday night track workouts have been going for fifteen years and we average 15-20 people at each workout. I am both President and Coach of the Pamakids and also coach many people privately.
I won’t rank my top ten coaching memories from this decade, but instead will list them in chronological order. If you are reading this as a word file, you can click on the hyperlinks for more details about the event.
I’d never really followed the discus much as a coach. Before 2000, a high schooler throwing the discus 140 feet was pretty darn good to me. That all changed with Tony. When Tony threw, the discus just soared and soared like a Frisbee. All season long meet officials didn’t believe me when I warned them that we had a kid who could throw the discus over their boundary flags. This was most apparent on an April evening at UC Davis. Tony nearly hit the official with his 182-11 toss (fourth best in the state at that point in the season). We had to help the official mark the throw because he was more focused on getting out of the way than spotting the landing of the throw. Tony went on to throw a best of 194-4 (I missed this throw because Shannon Rowbury had an 800 race at the same time) and placed sixth at the State Meet.
June 2001 – Shannon Rowbury winning the State Meet 800.
Shannon and I shared a lot of great moments when she was in high school (Arcadia 800 win, Outdoor Nationals win, State Champion in the 1600) but her first State Championship stands out in my mind as special above the others.
April 2002 – The Varsity Boys beating Mitty in a dual meet.
It had been at least ten years since SHCP’s Varsity Boys had won a dual meet. We targeted April 17, 2002 as our chance to end the streak. It was a back and forth battle and it all came down to our victory in the 4X400 Relay.
The dream of getting the boy’s team to State Meet started two years earlier. It was a tight battle between six schools for the four qualifying spots. Our theme was “Be a hero and let’s get to that big dance in Fresno.”
A week before the race I announced that I would run 7:20 pace for the first seven miles of the race to help people hit their goal of a 1:36 half marathon. I had a good-sized group of runners and I was really proud when everyone came in at or under their goal time. It was during this run, from mile four to six, that Sara Saba and I discussed how to go about fielding a Pamakid women’s cross country team in the near future. Less than three short years later, the Pamakids cross country team grew to include men and women, open and masters.
May 2007/May 2009 – Coaching the whole kid, not just the athlete.
A high school coach is tasked with more than making someone successful in sport. I am proud to have played a role in the development of two special people: James Mabrey (2007) and Tammia Hubbard (2009). Both of these individuals came to SHCP thinking that they were basketball players. They faced numerous challenges but through our hard work they were successful in school and ended their high school careers as league champions.
I was coaching Michelle in her first year after finishing college. After she ran a fast time at the San Jose Rock ‘n Roll half marathon, her goal changed from just running a marathon to going for a sub-2:47.
Everything happened fast from early-May to early-July. Shannon was home in San Francisco training for the Olympic Trials and I volunteered to help her in any way that I could. For the most part that meant meeting her at the track to help her do Coach John Cook’s workouts and talking to her about anything and everything. There was a bit of a media blitz as Shannon went from chasing the “A” standard to being the favorite to win. It was all a brand new experience for me – especially the priceless moment: watching the kids you coached in high school make the Olympics!
December 2009 – Seeing Pamakids succeed at CIM.
It was a wildly successful day for the Pamakids at CIM – all three relay teams placed second in their division (thanks in part to the now famous meet sheet). In addition there were numerous PR’s among the thirteen Pamakid marathoners and all four people that I was coaching achieved their goal of a Boston qualifier.
CATHEDRAL HILL, SAN FRANCISCO Former Fightin’ Irish stand-out athlete at Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory (SHCP) and recent inductee into the San Francisco Hall of Fame, Shannon Rowbury ’02 qualified for the 2008 Olympic Track and Field Team by winning the Olympic Trials 1500 meters on Sunday, July 6, in 4 minutes, 5.48 seconds.
This victory is just the latest in what has been a year of terrific racing. Rowbury has gone from ‘off-the radar’ to a USA Indoor National title, followed by achieving a time (4:01.61) that ranks her as the fifth fastest American woman for 1500 meter in history. And now, she’s on to the Summer Games in Beijing.
“The last two months have been just amazing,” says Andy Chan, her high school coach at SHCP. “I feel blessed that Shannon and I crossed paths back in 1998 and developed a great athlete-coach relationship. What Shannon accomplished in high school was enough to make any coach proud. But the fact that she has continued to achieve even greater things is just off the charts.”
Coach Chan, who attended the Olympic Trials in Eugene, Oregon to cheer on Rowbury admits that he was quite nervous the day of the race. “I’ve had July 6 circled on my calendar for a long time. My wife, Malinda Walker, and I got married last summer but didn’t take a honeymoon. We were saving money and vacation time to take a big international trip if Shannon were to qualify. Then we realized we couldn’t just pick-up and go to China for the Olympics at the last minute. It would take time to get a visa, to figure out our travel plans, and to get Olympic tickets. So we pulled the trigger in January of this year and committed to traveling to Beijing for the Summer Games. I guess it all worked out.” Coach Chan’s feelings were expressed on a sign he held up after the race:
Hotel in Beijing – 10,875 Yen
Tickets to the Olympic Track Meet – $520
WATCHING THE KID YOU COACHED IN HIGH SCHOOL RUN IN THE OLYMPICS – PRICELESS
While many may be surprised by this 23-year olds’ rapid accent, we at SHCP are proud and excited to witness such success from an alumnus of our school. In August, Beijing and the world will get to see this athlete who we were lucky enough to know up close and personal for her four years (1998-2002) of high school.
When Rowbury entered SHCP as a freshman, she had no previous running experience. She had broken her leg in kindergarten and had taken up dancing to strengthen her leg. She started off with ballet but switched to Irish Step Dancing, which she became quite accomplished in. “I still remember her first day of school,” recalls SHCP Athletic Director and PE teacher Jo Ann Momono, “She told me she was planning on trying out for soccer and asked me if she should try-out for cross country.” Fortunately, Momono directed Rowbury to Coach Chan, the school’s then first-year head coach.
Her first training runs were nothing out of the ordinary and Coach Chan was pleasantly surprised when Rowbury’s first race was a 14:22 for second place in a 2-mile junior varsity girl’s race. She kept improving and eventually moved up from junior varsity to varsity, won the league championship, and helped the team qualify for the California state meet for the first time in school history.
During her freshman year of track, Coach Chan raced her at all different distances (800, 1600, 3200, and 4X400). “I changed my mind almost weekly as to what her best event was,” said Chan, “In the end, we decided to have her focus on the 800 because the time it would take her to run the 800 was about the same length of time as an Irish Dance routine.” In May of 1999, Rowbury emerged on the Central Coast Section (CCS) scene, winning the section championship in the 800 with a :05 PR of 2:13.30. It was the first of many tactically sound races. She hung back for the first lap and then, with 300 meters to go, ‘powered up’ and took the lead. The crowd and the announcer literally gasped when this relatively unknown athlete surged to the lead on her way to what would be the first of four consecutive section championships at 800 meters.
Rowbury continued to develop as a runner, improving her PR’s every season. After her sophomore year, she gave up Irish Dancing (she never did play soccer at SHCP) to be able to focus more on running. She attended the United States of America Track & Field (USATF) Junior Elite Camp twice, where she met other junior athletes and received tips from high level coaches like Tom Heinonen (then the University of Oregon coach) and Patrick Shane (BYU coach). Among the people she met at these camps were would-be future peers including: Clara (Horowitz) Peterson, Alice Schmidt, and Sara (Gorton) Slattery. One of the messages the college coaches gave all the young ladies at this camp was “to see themselves as elite.”
Rowbury took that message to heart and during her junior year, she moved from being a section-level athlete to a state and national-level prep runner. In cross country, she ran 17:52 on a 5K course, to place second at the state meet. Then in April 2001, Rowbury made a name for herself by winning the 800 meters at the prestigious Arcadia Invitational, in what was, at that point in the season, the fastest time in the nation for a high school girl (2:08.52). She would go on to finish the season undefeated at 800 meters, winning the California State Meet and the Adidas National Outdoor Championships.
Rowbury’s senior year included national level marks in three events, the 800-2:08, 1600-4:51, and 3000-9:38. After weeks of thinking about it, Rowbury decided not to defend her state title in the 800 and instead would move up to the 1600. “As Shannon developed as a runner, her ability to focus for longer periods of time improved, and she evolved into what I considered a natural miler,” said Chan, “At that distance she had time to strategize, and her finishing speed was an even greater asset.” In her final high school race, Rowbury would win the 1600 meters at the California state meet.
Rowbury was certainly more than just an athlete at SHCP. Richard Sansoe, her AP U.S. History teachers recalls, “She was always determined, and focused. She handled the class as well as she performed as an athlete.” Her grades were so good that her French teacher, Don Moe recalls, “She did not miss, was never even late on, a single homework assignment all year. She had a B on one quiz during second quarter. Every other grade all year was an A or A-.” Dr. Ken Hogarty, now the Principal of SHCP, worked with Rowbury in the DePaul Scholar program. “Shannon, was an excellent writer who loved literature,” says Hogarty. In junior English honors class she, “interacted wonderfully with her classmates, and wrote thought-provoking essays about the literature. Additionally, she showed excellent creativity, composing her own poems and stories.” With the academic background and encouragement provided by the teachers at SHCP, it was no wonder she would go on to graduate Magnum Cum Laude in English and Theater Studies, earn a Certificate in Film/Video/Digital Studies, and a Masters in Humanities with a Film Studies and Women Studies emphasis from Duke University.
Shannon’s mother, Paula Rowbury, recalls being approached by different people during Shannon’s high school career wanting to know why Shannon chose SHCP. “One of the people that I talked to believed that any coach could have molded Shannon into the athlete that she has become,” says Paula, “I adamantly pointed out how wrong she was. I knew that it took a selfless coach, a person of character, to work patiently in developing an athlete’s talents. Andy’s main focus was on helping her develop a love and passion for her sport.”
Chan, who just finished his 10th season as the head track & field and cross country coach at SHCP, still maintains a close friendship with Rowbury. “Fate brought us to SHCP at the same time, so we started our journey together in 1998,” says Rowbury, “I was new to running and he was new to being a head coach.” Looking back, Rowbury says, “I was very fortunate with my high school experience. Andy recognized that I might have a future in running, and he made sure to think of my development in the long term. He was conservative in my training, taught me the value of recovery, and above all made sure running was fun. While I may not have as many records as a result, I feel I owe a lot to Andy for creating in me a healthy and positive outlook towards running.”
“Shannon was incredibly coachable,” says Chan, “She asked lots of questions, and we always had detailed race plans. Her strength was her ability to find the finish line. Numerous times she found a way to kick just enough to pass a runner in the final meters of the race.”
“We always focused on improving each year and doing things that gave her the best possible chance for success. I felt that if this was done, winning championships and running fast times would take care of themselves. I preached that if it came down to the last 200 meters and she was in the race with a chance to win, neither she nor I could ask for anything more.”
As Rowbury went through high school, the goals kept changing to bigger things but her training stayed more or less the same. She averaged 25-30 miles a week. An interesting note about Rowbury’s high school training is that she had all this success at a school that has no track facility or nearby place to run (SHCP is located in the heart of San Francisco, less than a mile from downtown and City Hall).
For two years, the common question around SHCP has been, ‘Is Shannon Rowbury going to make the Olympics?’ “I can’t tell you how many times I was asked that question,” says Chan. Now, amazingly, the hot question around the SHCP community is “Can Shannon Rowbury win a medal at the Olympics?” Only time will tell, but we members of the SHCP community will be following the Olympic women’s 1500 meters (August 19, 21, and 23) very closely, rooting for Shannon! Go Shannon and Go Irish!