Chanman's Blog


Celebration Flags

Mo Farah - 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

Mo Farah – 2015 10,000 meter World Champion

Have you ever watched an Olympics or World Championships and seen the athletes who place in the top 3, celebrate with a flag from their country? They usually pose for pictures while holding the flag behind them.

Have you ever wondered where those flags come from?

I have.

Do the athletes pack a flag in their sweats bag and run to get it if they medal? Does someone from their federation have a stash trackside?

I distinctly remember in 2008 at the Beijing Olympics, going out and buying a USA flag. I didn’t know where these celebratory flags suddenly appeared from but I’d be damned if I wasn’t prepared. I e-mailed Shannon Rowbury and told her that if she needed one (and that I hoped she did), her old high school coach was prepared with a USA flag in his backpack.

Celebratory Flags_Being Patriotic in Moscow

With our USA flag that’s been with us since 2008. Photo by Paul Merca.

At the 2011 World Championships in Daegu, Malinda and I had very good seats by the finish line in about row fifteen. Bernard Lagat won the silver in the 5000 meters. I waved my USA flag proudly (the same flag I had purchased in Beijing in hopes that Shannon would need it). Lagat was right in front of me and looking up into the stands. He was looking for a USA flag for his celebration. I swear, we locked eyes for a split second. My mind raced, trying to figure out how I would get my flag down the fifteen rows and into Lagat’s hands. But before I could move, Lagat spotted someone with a USA flag sitting closer. He motioned for that flag. If only I had been a few rows closer to the track.

As we prepared for the 2015 World Championships back in Beijing, I noted that we were sitting pretty close to the track and in the middle of the first turn, near the photographers and not far from the finish line. I decided there was a chance US athletes could be asking for our flag. There was only a week left before we left. Luckily, Malinda’s friend has Amazon Prime. We left for Beijing with our original USA flag from 2008 and three new ones… just in case.

Malinda has listened to me talk about fans giving athletes their celebratory flags for seven years. She humored me by helping me acquire the three new flags for this trip… just in case. But all through this, we’ve never really known how this works. Do athletes really take flags from fans in the stands?

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track  moments later.

Mo doing the Mo-Bot and the fans (including us) cheering. That Union Jack would be tossed down to Mo on the track moments later.

On the first night of the 2015 World Championships, we got our answer. Mo Farah won the 10,000 meters with a great final 100 meter kick. He ran around to the middle of the first curve in celebration. Photographers followed him. He made the Mo-Bot gesture with his arms. The crowd cheered wildly. Now he needed a Union Jack flag. He looked up into the stands and the people right in front of us were waving their Union Jack. Mo locked eyes with them. They didn’t move. But I had been in this position before and I yelled to them, “Throw him your flag. Throw him your flag.” They did. The photographers helped relay it down to Mo and he started posing for pictures with the flag. Malinda high-fived the two guys who gave up their flag. I talked excitedly to them about how in every picture they see of Mo celebrating with the flag, they’ll know that it’s their flag! In my mind, they are famous!

Some people go to baseball games, dreaming of catching a home run or foul ball. Me? I go to track & field meets, dreaming that someday I’ll throw my USA flag down to a USA athlete for their celebration pictures.

The Bird’s Nest Again

2015 - at the Bird's Nest again

2015 – at the Bird’s Nest again

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.

2008 - first time at the Bird's Nest

2008 – first time at the Bird’s Nest

2008 - watching the Olympics

2008 – watching the Olympics

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.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

Our Go Shannon banner on display in Beijing, Berlin, Daegu, London, and Moscow.

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.

 

US Distance Results at Global Championships, 1983-2013

15th IAAF World Championships - Beijing

The fifteenth IAAF World Championships will get underway on August 22, 2015 in Beijing, China. The first World Championships were in 1983 in Helsinki. Since that year, in addition to the fourteen World Championships, there have also been eight Olympic Games, making for a total of 22 Global Championships from 1983-2013.

The World Championships were an every four year event, taking place one year before the Olympics, from 1983-1991. But beginning in 1993, the World Championships became an every odd number year affair.

I have gone through all 22 years of competition, and listed the American athletes who have placed in the top 8 in the distance events. I’ve logged stats like number of top 8 finishes, number of medals, and points earned (using a 10 point scoring system like the team scoring at the NCAA Championships – 10 for 1st, 8 for 2nd, 6 for 3rd, etc.)

Being a distance runner and coach and not having unlimited time, I have limited this fact gathering to the distance races (800, 1500, 5000, 10,000 and 3000 steeplechase). Those are the current “distance event.” At the beginning of this era, women only ran the 800, 1500, and 3000. The 3000 changed to the 5000 in 1995. The 10,000 (1987) and 3000 steeplechase (2005) are new events since 1983. I do not consider the marathon in this chart because although the USA sends its top marathoners to the Olympics, that is not the case with the World Championships, where there is a little less glory for winning the marathon.

What my charts show, is that there have been three very distinct periods of US distance running and we are currently enjoying a period of never before seen success.

1983-1997

US Distance Major Champs Results_1983-1997

The first fifteen years of this period included ten global championships. Keeping in mind that there have been a changing number of events per meet, the US averaged 1.3 medals/meet, 6.8 top 8 finishes/meet, and scored an average of 24.1 points.

1999-2005

US Distance Major Champs Results_1999-2005

These seven years that spanned six global championships, were the dark days of US distance running. The US won one medal in this era (0.2 medals/meet), averaged 1.0 top 8 finishers/meet, and scored a paltry 3.2 points/meet. The lone medal was Regina Jacobs’ silver in the women’s 1500 at the 1999 World Championships in Seville. In 2001 and 2003, at the World Championships in Edmonton and Paris, respectively, the US had zero top 8 finishers.

It should be noted that although this was a dry spell for the US on the track in the distance races, it was at the 2004 Olympics in the marathon, with Meb Keflezighi (silver) and Deena Kastor (bronze) medaling that helped re-energize distance running in America. Read more on Meb and Deena here: Meb and Deena_Athens 10 year anniversary

It was because of this lack of success, that the US began to put more emphasis on team training sites at altitude and that led to the re-birth that started with the marathon success in 2004 and continued on the track beginning in 2007.

2007-2013

US Distance Major Champs Results_2007-2013

The seven years between 2007 and 2013, which included six meets, has seen America’s greatest success in the distance races. The US is averaging 2.7 medals/meet, 9.5 top 8 finishers/meet, and scoring 39.3 points/meet during this period….and the hope is that the success will continue at the 2015 World Championships in Beijing.

Many of the runners who have already won medals for the US at global championships like Nick Symmonds, Matt Centrowitz, Leo Manzano, Galen Rupp, Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson, Shannon Rowbury, and Shalane Flanagan, are back and looking for more hardware. These are the current athletes, who along with Bernard Lagat, deserve kudos for making the US the distance powerhouse that it is today.

Go Team USA!

The Last Night

image

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.

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

Lunch at Cafe Pushkin the day after Shannon finished 7th at the 2013 World Championships

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!

Trials Day

 

Cheering Shannon at the 2013 World Championships. Photo by Paul Merca.

Cheering Shannon at the 2013 World Championships. Photo by Paul Merca.

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.

Opening Night in Moscow

The view from our seats at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

The view from our seats at the 2013 World Championships in Moscow.

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.

The opening ceremonies were not small at all.

The opening ceremonies were not small at all.

For the Fifth Time

We made our Go Shannon banner in our hotel room in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics after an adventure buying the necessary art supplies.

We made our Go Shannon banner in our hotel room in Beijing at the 2008 Olympics after an adventure buying the necessary art supplies.

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.

We added some German to the banner in Berlin in 2009 and took a photo with Shannon and Sherie. Notice the bronze medal Shannon is wearing.

We added some German to the banner in Berlin in 2009 and took a photo with Shannon and Sherie. Notice the bronze medal Shannon is wearing.

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!

Good luck wishes in Korean were added for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.

Good luck wishes in Korean were added for the 2011 World Championships in Daegu.

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

No new language needed in 2012 in London. And there's still some space left to add some Russian in 2013.

No new language needed in 2012 in London. And there’s still some space left to add some Russian in 2013.

Post-2012 Olympics and Pre-2013 World Championships

The 2012 track & field season is just about over. The London Olympics came to an end over a month ago and the final Diamond League meet of the season took place in Brussels last week. Two news items that serve to close out the 2012 season and get us thinking about 2013 recently caught my attention.

Shortly after winning the Olympic shot put competition, Nadezhda Ostapchuk of Belarus was stripped of her gold medal because she failed a drug test. Ostapchuk was tested for drugs sixteen times between April and the start of the Olympics and passed every test. Her last test that showed no drugs was on July 30. She was tested when she arrived in the Olympic village in London and again after the shot put competition on August 6. Both these tests showed she had an anabolic steroid in her system. Ostapchuk denied using steroids but was disqualified nonetheless.

After some investigating, it is now being reported that Ostapchuk’s coach, Alexander Yefimov, has admitted that without her knowledge he “spiked” her food with the banned drug metenolone after the July 30 test because he was worried that she was not performing well.

Athletes are responsible for anything they ingest or that is found in their bodies so Ostapchuk is still disqualified from the Olympics, but her drug ban has been reduced from two years to one year. The coach, Yefimov, has been suspended for four years.

Who knows how much of the story of the “spiked” food without her knowledge is true. If the reported facts are true it seems that the penalty for Ostapchuk is fair, but if so, I think Yefimov should be banned for life for such an unsportsmanlike act. It’s certainly interesting final news from the Olympics.

Now we turn our attention towards the 2013 World Championships in Moscow. Countries will have the usual allotment of sending up to three athletes, with the required standard per event, to compete. An exception is that 2011 World Champions and 2012 Diamond League winners are granted a wild card entry into the 2013 World Championships. That means countries could have a fourth athlete in an event. For example in the women’s 1500 meters, Jenny Simpson of the USA, gets a wild card entry into the World Championships so the USA can send Simpson and three other runners in the women’s 1500 meters. Another example is in the men’s shot put where USA thrower Reese Hoffa won the 2012 Diamond League competition. The USA can send Hoffa and three others to the 2013 World Championships in the shot put.

However, countries cannot send five entries in an event. In the rare instance that the 2011 World Champion and 2012 Diamond League winner is from the same country but are a different person, each country’s national federation will have to decide who gets the automatic wild card entry. There are five instances where this happened, all in men’s events.

  Country 2011 World Champ 2012 Diamond League Winner
100 meters Jamaica Yohan Blake Usain Bolt
200 meters Jamaica Usain Bolt Nickel Ashmeade
110 hurdles USA Jason Richardson Aries Merritt
1500 meters Kenya Asbel Kiprop Silas Kiplagat
3000 steeplechase Kenya Ezekiel Kemboi Paul Koech

Bolt (standing behind the others) is the 2012 Diamond League Champion in the 100 and Blake (furthest to the left) is the 2011 World Champion in the 100.

It will be interesting to see how the three national track & field federations, Jamaica Athletics Administrative Association (JAAA), United States of America Track & Field (USATF), and Athletics Kenyan (AK), handle this unique situation. Usain Bolt has already stated that in the 100 meters he will give up his wild card spot to Yohan Blake but in the 200 meters he will await a decision from the JAAA. The coach for both Bolt and Blake, Glen Mills, has recently criticized the IAAF for limiting the wild cards. Mills complains that athletes who have fulfilled the requirements to earn a wild card entry by either winning the 2011 World Championship or the 2012 Diamond League competition are being punished because someone from their own country was successful.

In four of these events, the national federations could use the 2012 Olympics as the tie-breaker. If that were the case, Bolt (100 and 200), Merritt (110H), and Kemboi (steeplechase) would get the wild card as the Olympic champion in that event. AK would still have to use a different tie-breaker in the men’s 1500 meters.

Will Kemboi (in 5th place in this photo) get the wild card spot for Kenya in the steeplechase?

Four athletes won both the 2011 World Championship and 2012 Diamond League. Those double winners are Amantle Montsho (BOT) in the women’s 400, Vivian Cheruiyot (KEN) in the women’s 5000, Valerie Adams (NZL) in the women’s shot put (Adams was awarded the gold after Ostapchuk failed a post-competition drug test  – see above), and Christian Taylor (USA) in the men’s triple jump. If you add the 2012 Olympic results to the 2011 World Championships and 2012 Diamond League results, only Adams and Taylor made a clean sweep of all three competitions.

There are twelve Olympic champions who are not receiving a wild card entry into the 2013 World Championships because they neither won the 2011 World Championship nor the 2012 Diamond League competition. They are:

  1. 1.       Taoufik Makhloufi (ALG), men’s 1500
  2. 2.       Felix Sanchez (DOM), men’s 400H
  3. 3.       Greg Rutherford (GBR), men’s long jump
  4. 4.       Ivan Ukhov (RUS), men’s high jump
  5. 5.       Tomasz Majewski (POL), men’s shot put
  6. 6.       Keshorn Walcott (TRI), men’s javelin
  7. 7.       Allyson Felix, (USA), women’s 200
  8. 8.       Sanya Richards-Ross (USA), women’s 400
  9. 9.       Asli Cakir (TUR), women’s 1500
  10. 10.   Meseret Defar (ETH), women’s 5000
  11. 11.   Natalya Antyukh (RUS), women’s 400H
  12. 12.   Jenn Suhr (USA), women’s pole vault

These are some quality athletes, who will have to fight for their spot in Moscow via their national governing body’s qualifying procedures. Not included in this list are the hammer throwers, decathletes/heptathletes, and 10,000 meter and marathon runners, whose event are not part of the Diamond League series.

Click below on “Wild Card Entries_13” for a full list of winners by event from the 2011 World Championships, 2012 Diamond League series, and 2012 Olympics.

Wild Card Entries_13

The 2013 track & field season is still a long way away but there are some interesting stories developing already.

Underdogs at the World Championships

Taylor and Claye pulled off a surprise in the triple jump taking gold and bronze

Now that the 2011 World Championships are complete, I would characterize this championship meet as one full of surprises and unexpected results. The underdogs seem to have come through with big performances at the right time, while the pre-meet favorites seemed to have come up short. In fact, at one point there was a daily program cover jinx. Athletes featured on the cover of the program (usually a pre-meet favorite) failed to win their event on six of the first seven days of the meet, with only race walker Olga Kaniskina breaking the jinx. Finally some of the favorites came through on the final two days of the meet with Sally Pearson winning the 100 meter hurdles and Usain Bolt anchoring the Jamaica 4X100 meter relay team to a world record.

The first surprise took place on day two of the meet, when in the 100 meter final Usain Bolt false started, thus the world record holder and defending champion was eliminated from the race. Yohan Blake of Jamaica seized the opportunity to win gold in a time of 9.92 seconds. Blake’s accomplishment is somewhat tempered by the fact that the three men readily acknowledged as fastest men in the world (Bolt, Asafa Powell, and Tyson Gay) were not in the race.

On day three of the meet, the favorites in the men’s hammer included Primoz Kozmus of Slovenia and Krisztian Pars of Hungary. Way down on the season best list with a mark of 78.10 meters was Koji Murofushi of Japan. Murofushi was the 2004 Olympic Champion and his PR of 84.86 meters was set eight year ago. The thirty-six year old who has battled a back injury was not expected to contend for a medal at this year’s championships. In the third round he threw 81.24 meters and matched that mark again in the fifth round. A final throw of 81.18 meters by Pars in the last round was six centimeters short. Murofushi became the oldest hammer throw World Champion in history. This year’s gold came one decade after winning his first World Championship medal and gives him a complete set of medals; he won the silver in 2001 and the bronze in 2003.

The three favorites in the 110 hurdles - none of whom won the gold

Much of the World Championships hype centered on the day three showdown in the men’s 110 hurdles between David Oliver (USA), Dayron Robles (Cuba), and Liu Xiang (China). All over Korea there were banners and posters of these three under the heading, “Who’s the Fastest?” But that is why they run the race. Oliver has been in a slump all summer and was never in contention. Xiang looked like he was going to make a move for the win over the last couple hurdles but chopped his steps. It turns out that the reason he chopped his steps was contact by Robles. This contact led to Robles being disqualified. That made the somewhat unheralded and certainly overlooked Jason Richardson (USA) the gold medal winner.

Both the men’s and women’s 400 meter races came down to the final strides. In both races the USA had one of their superstars competing. Also in both races, the prime competition came from a runner from a country without a rich 400 meter tradition.

In the women’s 400 on day three of the meet, it was Amantle Montsho from Botswana who held off a late charge by the USA’s Allyson Felix to win Bostwana’s first World Championship gold medal. Montsho ran a PR 49.56 to beat Felix, who also ran a PR of 49.59. Montsho has been dominant in the Diamond League this summer, but her previous record of finishing eight at both the 2009 World Championships and the 2008 Olympics made many skeptical that she could win in Daegu…but she did!

On day four of the meet, in the men’s 400 meters it was 2009 defending World Champion Lashawn Merritt against eighteen year old Kirani James of Grenada. Merritt had the lead down the final homestretch, but in the final strides James overtook him to win Grenada’s first ever World Championship gold medal. Similar to the women’s race the winner ran a PR (44.60) to win by the slim margin of 0.03 seconds over a USA superstar.

The final steps of the men's 400 - James beats Merritt

On day four of the meet, the women’s steeplechase was expected to be dominated by the Kenyan trio of Micah Chemos Cheywa, Mecy Njoroge,

Zaripova wins the 3000 steeplechase

and Lydia Rotich. Cheywa, having won eight steeplechases in a row this year, was the heavy favorite. But instead it was Russia’s Yuliya Zaripova and Tunisia’s Habiba Ghribi who not only went 1-2 in the race but became the third fastest and ninth fastest steeplechasers of all-time. Zaripova’s 9:07.03 is the 2011 world leading mark. Ghribi’s 9:11.97 was a Tunisian national record. She and her supporters were the happiest people in the stadium. Ghribi jumped up and down – and after handing her a Tunisia flag, three ecstatic Tunisian fans could be seen sobbing. Why? Ghribi was Tunisia’s first woman to ever win a medal at the World Championships.

Ghribi celebrates

Ghribi's supporters weep and call home to share the good news

Simpson came from behind in the final homestretch to pull off the upset win

On day six of the meet, the women’s 1500 meters produced an upset for the ages. Most of the focus was on the two-time defending champion, Maryam Yusuf Jamal of Bahrain. American Jenny Barringer Simpson was hardly mentioned, and when she was it usually centered on the fact that she was fifth at the 2009 World Championships….in the steeplechase; but for some reason known only to her and her coach she was competing in the 1500 meters at these championships. Simpson’s 2011 season best in the 1500 ranked her ninth out of the twelve women who started the race. It was a typically tight race but with 300 meters to go, Simpson moved into contention. With 150 meters to go she looked poised to move into the top three to secure a medal. With 50 meters to go she had the same look that she had at the 2009 Prefontaine Classic when she shocked the world by running a new collegiate record of 3:59.90. After seeing that look, I knew she was going to win it…and she did. That’s why she was in the 1500 instead of the steeplechase…to win a gold medal!

Day seven featured the men’s shot put, which was a who’s who of past champions: 2009 World Champion, Christian Cantwell (USA), 2008 Olympic Champion Tomasz Majewski (Poland), 2007 World Champion Resse Hoffa (USA), 2005 World Champion Adam Nelson (USA), and 2003 World Champion Andrei Mikhnevich (Belarus). Despite the presence of these five throwers, the pre-meet favorite was Dylan Armstrong of Canada, who had the 2011 world leading mark (and Canadian national record) of 22.21 meters. Lost in this crowd was twenty-one year old German, David Storl, who had only the eighth best mark in 2011 among the twelve finalists. Storl took the early lead with a throw of 21.60 meters (a PR) in the second round. Armstrong pushed him back to second with a throw of 21.64 meters in the fourth round. In the final round, on the second to last throw of the competition, Storl launched the shot 21.78 meters (another PR, giving him 28 centimeters of improvement in one day, which is just short of one foot). On the last throw of the competition Armstrong could not re-take the lead and Storl was the champion. Among the historic oddities from this event were Storl wining Germany’s first ever gold medal in the shot put and the USA getting shutout of the medals for the first time in twenty years.

The final upset winner came on day nine in one of the last events of the meet, the men’s triple jump. The field included three former World or Olympic Champions: Phillip Idowu of Great Britain (2009 World Champion), Nelson Evora of Cuba (2007 World Champion and 2008 Olympic Champion), and Christian Olsson of Sweden (2003 World Champion and 2004 Olympic Champion).  With Teddy Tamgho, the 2011 world leader, out with an injury Idowu wore the hat as the favorite. After one round of jumping the three former world champions held the three medal spots. However, it was the young American jumpers who leaped to glory. In round three twenty year old American Will Claye leaped a PR of 17.50 meters to take the lead. Idowu responded with a 17.70 meter jump to re-take the lead. Twenty-one year old American Christian Taylor then jumped 17.40 meters to move into third. Taylor followed that up in the next round with a jump of 17.96 meters, making him the fifth best triple jumper of all-time. Idowu would improve to 17.77 meters but that was only good enough for silver. The gold went to Taylor, the youngest triple jump gold medalist in history, with bronze to Claye, the youngest triple jump medalist in history.

The difference between winning a world championship and coming up short is a fine line. That fine line is often measured in milliseconds and millimeters. That’s why an underdog can pull off the upset. The unpredictable nature of track & field is what makes watching a World Championship meet so very exciting.

Note: All the great photos in this blog entry were taken by the Track Widow from our fantastic seats in row ten right by the finish line.

The Best Track & Field Team in the World

Maybe we aren't the best track & field team in the World. But in 2010, we were the best JV Girls track & field team in the WCAL - undefeated in dual meets and invitationals and league champions!

Team USA’s strong performance at the 2011 IAAF World Championships cements America’s claim that we have the best overall track & field team in the world. There were some disappointments, like the fall in the men’s 4X100, getting no one on the medal stand in the men’s shot put for the first time in twenty years, and despite high expectations, having a best finish of only sixth place in the men’s 400 hurdles.

In terms of the medal count, Team USA won 25 medals, twelve of them gold. That bettered the 2009 performance in Berlin that saw the USA win 22 medals, ten of them gold and was just a tad behind the 2007 performance in Osaka that saw the USA win 26 medals, fourteen of them gold.

However, as any coach will tell you, the strength of an overall team is based on not just your athletes who win medals, but also those who make the final. Using a scoring system like the NCAA Championships, with 10 points for first, 8 points for second, 6 for third, 5 for fourth, 4 for fifth, 3 for sixth, 2 for seventh, and 1 for eight, I scored the 2011 World Championships. The top eight countries were:

1. USA, 282.5 points

2. Russia, 223

3. Kenya, 194

4. Jamaica, 113

5. Germany, 89

6. Great Britain, 71.5

7. Ethiopia, 69

8. China, 65.5

Again, Team USA lives up to the billing as the best team in the world. See scoring table for all the statistics (2011 World Champs Results Table_country scoring).

Some countries are strong in certain subsections of the sport but are not strong in others. Jamaica, for example scored 111 out of their 113 points in the sprints events (100, 200, 400, 110/100 hurdles, 400 hurdles, 4X100, and 4X400). Germany scored all of their 89 points in the field events (high jump, pole vault, long jump, triple jump, shot put, discus, hammer, javelin, decathlon/heptathlon). Kenya was actually the best team in the distance events (800, 1500, 5000, 10,000, 3000 steeplechase, and marathon) by a wide margin. But those were almost the only events they scored in (191 out of their 194 points came in the distance events). Ethiopia’s 69 points were good to make them the second best distance nation in the world. But again, those were the only events Ethiopia scored in. I am a little biased against race walking because it’s not a particularly high profile sport in the US. Despite scoring no points in race walking, Team USA won the scoring competition. Russia and China, meanwhile, improved their point totals with big points in the race walking. Russia scored 56 points (25% of their points) in race walking and China got 23 points (35%). Russia is the country closest to the USA in terms of being good in many different events. However, it’s worth noting that the Russian women outscore the Russian men almost two-to-one and eleven of their thirteen non-race walking medals came from the women.

Team USA had strong numbers of medal winners and point scorers in all event subsections except race walking. The point balance between USA men and USA women was virtually fifty-fifty. Team USA was particularly strong in the sprint, outscoring all other countries in these events, including the Jamaicans. There is a lot of talk that the Jamaicans are a better sprint country than the USA, but at the 2011 World Championships the USA sprinters won 14 medals (six gold) compared to Jamaica’s 9 medals (four gold). Team USA even outscored the German men in the men’s field events. USA men’s distance held their own behind Kenya and Ethiopia. And the USA women’s distance and women’s field, although not scoring a lot of points, did not get shut out either.

One reason for this is that the USA has strong athletes in almost all of the events. Team USA had 129 athletes (66 men and 63 women) entered in the meet, by far the largest team. Russia was second with 83. Even Great Britain, the only other country besides the USA and Russia to have athletes score in all the event subsections (not counting race walking), had 67 athletes, 62 less than Team USA. Some countries are only able to get one or two athletes to achieve the necessary standards to qualify for the meet. It certainly speaks to the strength and depth in USA track & field that our country can qualify so many quality athletes for the World Championships. Before a team can be the best in the world, you first have to get athletes in all the events qualified for the World Championships.

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