Sunday, July 10, 2016. Hayward Field. University of Oregon. Eugene, Oregon. Track Town USA.
It’s 3:00 P.M. Malinda and I have settled into our seats in Section C, Row 28. It’s the last day of the 2016 Olympic Trials. The race we’ve been waiting all week for, the Women’s 1500 meter Final is at 5:00 P.M. T-minus two hours to go. 120 minutes. How will we pass the time?
We’ve come to watch and cheer for Shannon Rowbury. Shannon arrived at Sacred Heart Cathedral as a freshman in the fall of 1998. It was also my first year as the head coach at Sacred Heart Cathedral. Eighteen years and hundreds of memories later, here we are.
You would think that after multiple USA Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games and this, our third Olympic Trials, we wouldn’t get nervous anymore. We do.
I decide to take a selfie and post the picture to social media. That will eat up some time. It should be noted that the sign Malinda is holding in the selfie was made earlier in the Fan Fest as a means of eating up time and alleviating nervousness.
It’s now 3:09 P.M. Down to 111 minutes.
I busy myself watching the pole vault and high jump. I spend some time looking up the heptathlon scores heading into the final event on my smartphone. I make some small talk but at times like this, I prefer to be just left alone – me and the thoughts screaming silently in my head. The women’s 5000 race starts and it’s pretty exciting. That distracts me for about fifteen minutes and five seconds.
Suddenly it dawns on me. Very few people among the 22,000 spectators in the stadium have such an emotional investment in the outcome of an event. For most, if your favorite athlete makes the Olympic team it’s, “woo-hoo” and high five the person sitting next to you. If they miss out on an Olympic spot it’s, “darn it, that’s too bad,” and on to the next event. I’m one of the lucky ones. I REALLY care if Shannon finishes in the top three or not. It’s that mystery of not knowing if it will be the thrill of victory of agony of defeat that makes sports so riveting. It’s why they run the race. This revelation, that I am blessed to be in my current stressful situation reminds me of a quote I often share with the Sacred Heart Cathedral teams, “pressure is a privilege.” If there’s no pressure, you either have no chance or you are such a sure thing that it isn’t challenging and thus not as much fun. You actually should want there to be pressure.
I decide this deserved another social media post.
Now it’s 4:49 P.M.
I look over and notice that Shannon’s friend Aysha is putting lipstick on Malinda. This hot pink or red lipstick has become Shannon’s signature look, an homage to her grandmother Nonie, who passed away five years ago. Aysha asks me if I want lipstick. I look at her questioningly. But then Shannon’s mom, Paula, says “Oh come on, Andy.” Hey, an Olympic spot is on the line. If I need to “lipstick up” to help get the job done, then I better pucker my lips. The timestamp on my phone says that by 4:53 P.M. I had done my part to get to Rio. Now it was all on Shannon.
Shannon and Jenny Simpson were the clear favorites in the race. Brenda Martinez, doubling back in the 1500 after a heartbreaking fall 150 meters from the finish line in last week’s 800 meters, was also someone to contend with. Morgan Uceny, the 2012 Olympic Trials champion, has been looking strong and should not be counted out. The field was deep and there could easily be a couple other runners from the pack who could make this challenging.
The first two laps were typically on the slow side with lots of bumping and pushing. All the contenders were bunched together and in position to make their run for Rio. With about 450 meters to go, right behind Shannon, Alexa Efraimson and Lauren Johnson made contact, with Johnson being bumped off-balance.
With 400 meters to go, Uceny passed and cut-off Shannon, causing Shannon to fall back to fifth place. Shannon was boxed in with Uceny in front of her and Efraimson to her right. There was nowhere to go. I remember hearing Malinda screaming in a very panicked voice. I kept thinking, “there’s still 45 seconds of running left. She’ll get out of the box and then she’ll kick.”
With 250 meters to go, Shannon passed Sara Vaughn to move into fourth place. But with 200 meters to go, there still wasn’t a whole lot of room for Shannon to start her kick. “Still 30 seconds of running. There’s time,” I said to myself, this time my rhetorical voice sounding a little more panicked. Shannon would tell me later at dinner that she stayed patient and she knew there would eventually be an opening and when it came, she’d take it and go.
Finally, with about 150 meters left, Shannon got past Efraimson and had a clear path to chase Uceny and Simpson. Martinez was closing hard as well and Amanda Eccleston was right there in the hunt, too. But Shannon shifted gears and easily pulled into second place where she safely remained until the finish line.
The next few hours are a bit of a blur. We waited for Shannon to come around on her victory lap to give her hugs. She seemed thrilled to see me wearing the lipstick and we of course took a picture together. From there we went out to the Fan Fest where we danced to the live music, drank a few beverages, and cheered wildly when they presented the awards for the women’s 1500 meters. As we left Hayward Field, we noticed they hadn’t added Shannon’s name to the “Who Made the Team” board. Taking out my Sharpie, I decided to help them out.
First there was Beijing. Then there was London.
And Rio makes it a Trio.
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:
|1||Asli CAKIR ALPTEKIN||TUR||4:10.23|
|3||Maryam yusuf JAMAL||BRN||4:10.74|
|12||Hellen Onsando OBIRI||KEN||4:16.57|
|Morgan UCENY||USA||Did not finish|
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.
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.
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
Shannon 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 first Olympics I ever watched were the 1984 Games in Los Angeles. I watched on my parent’s television as athletes, many of whom I would meet as a UCLA manager some years later, won medals. The first World Championships I ever watched were the 1991 World Championships in Tokyo. I was working at a running camp and we watched on a tiny television between our assignments as camp counselors.
By the mid-1990’s, running, coaching, and track & field were cemented as central aspects of my life. But I did not aspire to coach an Olympian or World Champion or to attend these global championship meets. Those were things for other people, not me. My loftiest goal was to coach a high school state champion. In 2001 and again in 2002, that dream came true.
Then 2008 happened. Shannon Rowbury, who I coached in high school at Sacred Heart Cathedral and won those aforementioned state championships, was entering the professional running scene. First she ran not just an Olympic “A” standard but one of the fastest times by a US woman in many years. Then she won the US Olympic Trials in the 1500 meters. Shannon was going to the Olympics!
One year removed from our wedding, Malinda and I got our visas, booked our flights, bought our tickets and jetted off to China for the 2008 Olympics. This was to be our honeymoon. Our once in a lifetime trip.
I was looking at pictures from that 2008 trip a couple of days ago. Seeing pictures from the first time we went to the Bird’s Nest, I can almost feel the emotions I felt that day. I was in awe of being at the Olympics. I was wide-eyed, taking in everything with all my senses. I couldn’t believe I was actually at the Bird’s Nest about to watch this girl that I coached in high school, compete at the Olympics. I was taking mental snapshots of the moment because in my mind, this was the one time I would ever be on such an adventure. I think Malinda could see all those emotions on my face, which is why she took a lot of pictures of me displaying this expression of excitement.
At that time in August 2008, I had no idea that Shannon would qualify to represent Team USA at every global championship from 2008-2015. I had no idea that Malinda and I would travel to Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow to watch Shannon compete on the world stage. I had no idea that this Go Shannon banner that we made in our hotel in Beijing, that we cleverly included a good luck message in Chinese, would become our traveling companion and would have German, Korean, and Russian added to it. I thought that this was my once in a lifetime trip to China and my once in a lifetime trip to watch Shannon and I was just fine with that.
Today, on August 21, 2015. Malinda and I were back at the Bird’s Nest picking up our tickets for the 2015 World Championships. Being back here has made a flood of emotions hit me. Many things have come together to allow us to be here, not the least of which is Shannon qualifying for the meet, my understanding bosses and administrators who allow me to vacation during a busy time-the start of the high school year, and Malinda using her own vacation to come with me.
It’s just unbelievable that we are here. But it also reminds you that you never know where life will take you. Who knows where you may go on your journey. Maybe you will go places and do things you never imagined you would do. And maybe seven years later, you’ll end up going back and doing it again.
It was 31 years, 11 months, 21 days between July 26, 1983 and July 17, 2015.
That’s how long Mary Decker Slaney’s time of 3:57.12 stood as the American record.
Shannon Rowbury, who would be the one to better that record, more than 31 years later, was born nearly 14 months AFTER Decker set that mark.
First, let’s go back to July 26, 1983. Decker (then known just as Mary Decker) was just a week shy of her 25th birthday. At the time, she was the queen of USA track and field. In 1982 she won the Sullivan Award as the outstanding amateur athlete in the US. In 1983 she was the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year and the recipient of the Jesse Owens Award, which is USA Track & Field’s highest honor. At one point in the mid-1980’s she held every American record from 800 meters to 10,000 meters.
July 26, 1983 was day one of a two-day dual meet between the US and a Scandinavian All-Star team. It was a tune-up meet for athletes in preparation for the inaugural Track & Field World Championships that would take place in Helsinki, Finland in August 1983. At those World Championships, Decker won gold in both the 1500 and 3000 meters, a feat that would become known as the “Decker Double” and the reason she won the Sports Illustrated Sportsperson of the Year award that year.
Decker was looking to improve on her own American record of 3:59.43 which she had run in Zurich, Switzerland on August 13, 1980.
There is not a lot of information on Decker’s 1500 meter race but thanks to Mike Fanelli and the extensive track & field archives and memorabilia stored in his garage, I was able to see a newspaper clipping about the race.
She went to the front of the race immediately and came through the first 400 in 62.2. Her 800 meter split of 2:07.0 was still more than one second under American record pace. At 1200 meters her split was 3:08.50, which meant she needed to run the final 300 meters in 50.9 seconds to get the record. Decker kicked and ran the final 300 in 48.7 seconds to establish a new American record of 3:57.12. That time that would stand for more than 31 years. In addition, it still stands as the stadium record at the historic Stockholm Olympic Stadium.
Now we fast forward to July 17, 2015. The place is Monaco. The women’s 1500 meters was paced/rabbited by Chanelle Price to set-up a World record attempt by Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba.
Price led the first lap in 60.31 seconds. Dibaba came through right behind her, followed by Sifan Hassan of the Netherlands, a second pace maker (Tamara Tverdostup of the Ukraine), and then the Americans, Jenny Simpson and Shannon in fifth and sixth place. Shannon’s estimated first 400 was 61.7.
At 800 meters it was Price in 2:04.52, followed closely by Dibaba and Hassan. Tverdostup led Simpson and Shannon through the 800 in approximately 2:06. At this point, both pace setters dropped out.
Dibaba surged and Hassan stayed with her. The two of them opened up about a 2.5-3.0 second lead over Simpson and Shannon in third and fourth place. With 400 meters to go Dibaba was at 2:50.28 and needed a 60 second last lap for the World Record. It’s difficult to see on the video because they are not on the screen but I estimate that Simpson and Rowbury were around 2:55 at 1100 meters and needed a 61 second last lap for the American record.
At 1200 meters, Dibaba was at 3:04.61. Again, Shannon is not on the screen when she crosses the 1200 meter mark but I estimate that she came through in the 3:09-3:10 range.
Dibaba ran an incredible race and, cheered on by the crowd, ran the last lap all alone to set a new World record. Her time of 3:50.07 bettered China’s Qu Yunxia’s 3:50.46 from 1993). Hassan fell back a lot in the last lap and Simpson and Shannon were gaining on her. With 100 meters to go, Shannon shifted gears and went by Simpson, putting one second on Simpson in that last 100 and almost catching Hassan (who herself was running a Netherlands national record of 3:56.05). Shannon crossed the finish third in 3:56.29, with Simpson fourth in 3:57.30 (the second fastest time in her career).
Every since Shannon ran 4:00.33 in Paris in her first season as a professional runner in 2008, I knew that setting the American record in the 1500 was not out of the realm of possibility. Over the years, every now and then, I have given in to the temptation and thought about how proud I would feel if she ever broke the American record in the 1500. But on July 17, 2015, I was not thinking about records. I was looking for signs that Shannon was taking a step towards peaking for the World Championships next month in Beijing.
Instead, we were all treated to a race for the ages. In a matter of seconds a 21 year old World record went down and then the oldest American record in the books, 31 years, 11 months, and 26 days, became history! Congratulations, Shannon!
|Mary Decker||Shannon Rowbury|
It’s the week of the 2015 USA Track & Field Championships. It might as well be Christmas Week for this kid at heart.
Malinda and I have attended the USA Championships (or Olympic Trials as the meet is called in Olympic years) seven out of the last eight years – 2008 and 2012 in Eugene for Olympic Trials, 2009, 2011, and soon 2015 in Eugene for the USA Championships (qualifying meets for World Championships), 2010 (USA Champs in Iowa) and 2014 (USA Champs in Sacramento). It’s a thrill to watch the best in the country compete for spots on Team USA. It’s been an even greater thrill to watch someone that I coached in high school (Shannon Rowbury) compete at the national level.
As I write this, the meet is two days away. Shannon is one of the favorites to qualify for the 2015 World Championships in Beijing in the 1500 meters. Jenny Simpson has a bye into the World Championships by virtue of her winning last year’s Diamond League series. That means Jenny and three others will represent the US in China in August. Shannon has been in this position before, and knock on wood, has come through like the champion that she is every time to make the team.
- In 2008, she was the newcomer on the scene and she won the Olympic Trials 1500 to qualify for her first Olympic team.
- In 2009, she had very strong competition from Christin Wurth-Thomas and Anna Pierce. Wurth-Thomas surged out fast and had a huge lead but Shannon timed her kick and caught Wurth-Thomas in the final stretch to win the US 1500 title for the second year in a row.
- In 2011, Shannon was not at 100% due to an injury but she gamely fought for a spot on the World Championship team. It took an unbelievable final kick to out-lean Wurth-Thomas at the finish line to grab third place and a ticket to the World Championships in Daegu by one-hundredth of a second.
- In 2012, it seems almost wrong to say it, but it really was just business like usual as Shannon placed a solid 2nd at the Olympics Trials to qualify for her second Olympic team.
- In 2013, the one year Malinda and I didn’t go to the meet, Shannon finished a disappointing 4th in the 1500 meters on Saturday. Showing tremendous tenaciousness, she came back the next day and ran the 5000 meters. She hung around the main pack for most of the race but it still took a pretty amazing final 200 meters to move up to 3rd to secure her spot to the World Championships in Moscow.
All in all, it’s been a pretty good run of success and I have my fingers crossed for a new fond memory next weekend.
In addition to cheering for Shannon, going to the USA Championships also means hanging out and drinking an adult beverage with some fellow running nerds and coaches. Peanut Harms always hosts a fantastic party where running geeks can unite after the meet to re-hash what we just witnessed. I am looking forward to seeing some friends at the Wild Duck Café in a few days.
Just like last year, Malinda and I have been faithfully logging on to the USATF Rewards page every day to accumulate reward points. Last year we used points to hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I got to co-host the Cool-Down Show. This year, we will again be holding the finish line for one of the races (not confirmed yet but most likely the men’s 10,000 meters on Thursday night). We also used our points to claim the behind the scenes TV truck tour.
Fresh off of her We Go For Good – Circle the Bay for Breast Cancer ElliptiGo trip, Malinda has made plans to meet up with the ElliptiGo strategic marketing manager, Darren Brown while we are in Eugene. Instead of going for a run together, the plan is to go for an ElliptiGo ride together. Another example of the running community being really small, Darren’s wife, Sarah, is a national class 1500 meter runner who has her own crazy journey to the 2013 Moscow World Championships. Sarah will be competing against Shannon in the 1500 this week. How cool would it be if Shannon and Sarah make it and we can go ElliptiGo’ing with Darren on the Great Wall of China?!
And, as if cheering for Shannon, raising cold ones at the Wild Duck, holding the finish line, getting a TV truck tour, and riding an EllpitiGo weren’t enough, on Friday, I am looking forward to attending a screening of City Slickers – Can’t Stay With Me, a documentary film on former UCLA coach, Bob Larsen (most famous for being Meb’s coach). Bob was the UCLA coach when I was there and I got to be his manager my senior year. When they were putting this documentary together, I sent them some pictures from my era at UCLA which may or may not have made the final cut.
With all this on the horizon, how can I not feel like a little kid on Christmas week?
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.
As a passionate track & field fan, I was excited when United States of America Track & Field (USATF), the governing body of the sport in the US, started a fan rewards program in January 2014. The idea was for fans to log-in to their rewards account daily to receive “wings” and to use social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram) to promote USATF and also earn wings. With these wings, fans could buy different reward items such as USATF gloves, signed merchandise, and USATF experiences.
When I reached 25,000 wings, I quickly bought a pair of USATF gloves. My wife, Malinda (a.k.a. the Track Widow), also accumulated points but she strategically held on to hers waiting for something “bigger and better” than gloves. As the USA Outdoor Championships, which were taking place in Sacramento, approached a new reward became available for 25,000 wings – the chance to present an award at USA’s. I didn’t have enough wings but Malinda did! By the time we got Malinda logged in and ready to pull the trigger, the reward was sold out. However, the next day, something even better was available – the chance to hold the finish line for one of the races. We logged in and Malinda got it! Woo-hoo! Malinda was the perfect person for this job because three years ago she wrote a blog about the challenges of holding the finish line for a race. (It’s not as easy as you might think.)
We spent the next day strategizing about her options. Should she choose Shannon Rowbury’s race and risk missing getting to watch the race? I suggested a sprint race which increased her likelihood of a close finish and thus some TV time. Malinda put it to her Facebook friends as well as discussing it with her work colleagues. She decided that it was a non-qualifying year (i.e. no Olympics or World Championship qualifying berths were on the line) and thus there was less pressure and it would be okay to hold the finish line for Shannon’s race.
A couple days later a new reward came up on the USATF rewards page – for 25,000 wings you could co-host The Cool Down show on USATFtv. Now that is something I would love to do… but I didn’t have enough wings. A few days went by and I noticed that the reward was still available. I decided to go for it. I started tweeting with the USATF hashtag to get extra wings. Finally one night at 1:00 A.M. I had 25,000 wings and I bought the reward. I was in heaven! The chance to go on internet and talk about my favorite subject – track & field!
The week leading up to USAs was full of excitement. We communicated with Caleb Bailey, the strategic programs manager with USATF. He set things up for us and confirmed that Malinda would hold the finish line for the women’s 5000 and I would do The Cool-Down show Friday night after the women’s 5000. I was beyond excited. I was going to get to talk to Dan O’Brien and tell him how he gave up his seat on the train one night on the way home from the London Olympic Stadium, which allowed Malinda and me to sit together. I rehearsed in my mind what questions I would ask the 5000 meter race winner, preparing for both Shannon and the other favorite, Molly Huddle. Every night, I would say to Malinda, “Pretend you’re Dan O’Brien; ask me a question!”
When we got to Sacramento, Caleb had a couple more surprises for us. I was going to get to join Malinda and hold the finish line and we would both get to be down on the track to watch the race.
About thirty minutes before the women’s 5000 we were taken down to the finish line area. We got to see behind the scenes for the men’s and women’s 100 meters. Then we were taken onto the track where we watched the women’s 5000 meter race unfold. We were given instructions to stay out of the camera sight lines and to not block any of the sponsor’s signs. We cheered quietly for Shannon, not wanting to create a scene. At one point, some of my friends sitting on the backstretch in the ‘Aggies section’ saw me and started heckling and yelling at me. To their delight, I took their picture as they all waved and cheered. On the track, as expected, Molly was leading and Shannon was right behind her. Being on the track, instead of in my usual seat in the stands, I had a hard time getting a sense of what kind of time they were on pace to run. As the race reached the final laps the small pack of runners who had initially stayed with Molly and Shannon fell back. It became a two woman race.
By this point we were near the finish line and receivinga tutorial about what to do. “Make sure you don’t block the finish line timing camera,” we were reminded. Malinda would be on the infield holding one end of the finish line. She was to let go as soon as the runner hit it. I would be in lane three holding the rolled up end of the finish line and I was not supposed to let go. I remember hearing someone tell me, “After Treniere comes by go on to the track.” It was something I would say at Kezar Stadium at the Tuesday night track workout, “after the guy in the black shorts comes by, let’s get on,” only we were at the USA Championships, not Kezar!
After I got situated on the track I looked up and Shannon had taken the lead with about 200 to go. I felt myself jumping up and down despite knowing I should stay calm. A runner was close to getting lapped so we had to wait until she passed before we handed the end of the finish line to Malinda. Once that was done I looked up and Molly was moving up on Shannon. They were both drifting out. For a split second, Molly was running right towards me. I instinctively backed up into lane four but had the foresight to know that I needed to unspool the finish line tape from the roll or else I would rip it out of Malinda’s hands. Just in time I backed out of the way and Molly crossed the finish line and broke the tape, just 0.15 seconds ahead of Shannon.
It was a great race and a dramatic finish between two of the US’s top runners (they were 6th and 7th place at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow). It would have been a dream situation for me and Malinda had Shannon won, but that’s the drama of sports… you don’t know how it’s going to turn out.
We waited awhile for Shannon and then got to give her a hug before she went for interviews and drug testing. Then we were whisked off to the set of The Cool Down show. We got to talk to Dan O’Brien and told him our London train story. I quickly changed into the red USATF polo shirt they wanted me to wear for the show and the next thing I knew I was sitting on the set with a microphone in my hand. The producers were all very nice as they made some small talk to put me at ease. Running friends and fellow coaches saw me and started gathering around the set hooting and hollering and taking my picture. Molly Huddle sat down next to me and put on a headset. We had to wait thirteen minutes for a segment on Kirani James to finish and then the red light went on… we were on the air. After some introductions and opening questions by Paul Swangard, I got to ask Molly a question, and then to close the segment I got asked a question. And then it was all over. Molly and I came off the stage and in our place came Dan O’Brien and Bernard Lagat.
All in all it was one of the most amazing experiences I’ve ever had at a track meet… and I’ve been to a lot of meets. At one point last week, Malinda had remarked, “I hope this lives up to our expectations.” Not only did it live up to expectations, it exceeded them. Thanks #USATFrewards!
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:
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.