Friday, June 17, 2016

Russian Olympic Ban Solves Nothing

The IAAF, track and field's world governing body, said Russia should be barred from the 2016 Rio Olympics.  A new report from WADA, the world's doping organization, showed that systematic doping is ingrained across the board in sports in Russia.  So now the ball, so to speak, is in the hands of the International Olympic Committee.

The IOC can decide to ignore the indiscriminate cheating and allow Russian track and field athletes to compete in Rio.  I think that's the right move.  Doping is a worldwide problem.  It's just as out of control in Kenya as it is in Russia and yet it appears Kenya will be allowed to compete in Rio.  I suspect doping is supported in other countries like Turkey, Ethiopia and Jamaica.

What separates Russia from a lot of countries where doping is prevalent is that it appears the government had a hand in supporting efforts to gain the edge that performance enhancing drugs give athletes.  But if the IAAF is alone in a ban on Russian athletes, why should weightlifters, wrestlers and swimmers be allowed to compete?  Those respective governing bodies have remained silent on Russian doping and probably for good reason.
By punishing an entire country you punish the clean athletes competing under its flag.  This leaves me uneasy because it falls into the realm of politics and that has no place in the Olympics.  The boycotts of Moscow and Los Angeles could have derailed the Olympic movement.

The Olympics will implode on its own without the help of the various sporting bodies that rule the individual sports.  The corruption inside the IOC will be its undoing.  It's no longer economically feasible for countries to host the Olympic Games.  Rio has found this out the hard way and I won't be surprised if these games aren't an unmitigated disaster.

It takes a wealthy, economically strong country to host the Olympics.  Even Tokyo, which is hosting the 2020 games, is finding out that the costs may not be worth it anymore.  It's money, not drugs, that will be the undoing of the Olympic ideals.

Friday, June 10, 2016

50 years ago

A promising miler made history 50 years ago.  Jim Ryun ran a world record in the 880 on June 10, 1966 in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The world of track and field was anxiously waiting on Ryun to break the world record in the mile, but sometimes things don't happen the way you would expect.

Ryun traveled with his University of Kansas team to compete at the now defunct USTFF outdoor championships.  Only some grainy 8 mm film exists of the record run.  It shows the college sophomore destroying the field winning by more than 30 yards.  Ryun didn't expect the record, 1:44.9.

Coach Bob Timmons said he had no idea what his 19-year-old prodigy was capable of doing at the distance.  In a conversation with the great coach two decades ago he told me the race in Terre Haute came with a lot of criticism.  Reporters were questioning Timmons why he was running Ryun in the 880 when it was obvious his runner's destiny was in the mile.  Timmie told me he just wanted to see what Jim could do.

The mile world record would come a little more than a month later in Berkley, California.  Ryun would break Michael Jazy's record running 3:51.3, a mark he would lower by two-tenths of a second the following year.

Those who keep track of records gave Ryun the World Junior Record in the 800, grading the 1:44.9 for the longer 880 yards as equivalent to 1:44.3.  The math was sound as Peter Snell had clocked a then world record for 800 meters in 1:44.3 in route to a 1:45.1 for 880 yards. 

Tonight, on this 50th anniversary in ideal conditions in Eugene, Oregon another 19-year-old finally took the last of the standing records held by the great Jayhawk miler.  Texas A&M freshman Donovan Brazier ran an astounding 1:43.55 at historic Hayward Field to take down the ancient mark.  Needless to say, Brazier's potential is amazing.  In this age of instant reaction Ryun quickly congratulated Brazier over Twitter.

Ryun cast his shadow in the record book for 50 years.  He still stands as the greatest miler in American history with two world records in the mile, one at 1500 meters along with an Olympic silver medal at that distance.   Needless to say, he still holds the school records at the University of Kansas in the 800, 1500, mile, 5000 as well as a couple of relays.




Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Girls Run Wild

I love high school distance running.  If you follow the sport at all you're well aware that this has been an exceptional year across the United States for fast times.  Two boys have already broken 4 minutes in the mile, Drew Hunter and Michael Slagowski have both dipped under the magical barrier and another Austin Tamango is just a tick above that mark.

But that's not the point of this bit of writing, I want to revisit a subject I touched on about a year ago.  Southwest Florida remains a red hot when it comes to girl's distance running.  The cast of suspects didn't change much from 2015 to 2016 and the competition remains fierce.

The Oliveira sisters continue to make headlines for Evangelical Christian.  Twins Sierra and Moriah will only be in the 9th grade when the 2017 season rolls around.  The two finally laid claim to their first individual state titles this spring, Sierra in the 800 and Moriah in the 400.  But if you think of Moriah as just a sprinter think again because she runs the 800 just as well.

Sierra runs in the 2:15 range with Moriah just a tick or two slower.  My guess is their futures lie in the 1500/mile.  They've both got wonderful speed but neither is dazzling fast.  Their potential is mind blowing.

Estero's Megan Giovanniello carried on the tradition of stellar distance runners that continually rise from this program.  The shocking death of Coach Jeff Sommer last year hit the Wildcats hard.  Ben Pignatone stepped up ably to fill Sommer's considerable shoes and I'm sure he'll have Giovanniello ready to take on cross county rivals Kayla Easterly and Krissy Gear when cross country rolls around in three short months.

Easterly from North Fort Myers was the emerging star over the last year.  She backed up a strong cross country season by handing Gear a rare defeat at the county track and field championships over 3200 meters.  Another year of mileage could put Kayla in the sub-11 minute club along with Gear.

Fort Myers High senior to be Krissy Gear remains the class of the county.  She extended her range to the 3200 where she followed up her 1600 meter state title by running for gold over the longer distance in 10:50.55.  The fact that Gear can also run 2:15 for the 800 tells me that next spring could be a history making one.  If she stays healthy a 4:45 1600 and 10:30 3200 are not out of the question.
That would put her among the national elite.

Should it all come together, the Oliveira's, Gear and Giovanniello could all be sub 2:15 in the 800 next year.  Gear, Easterly and Giovanniello could all be sub-5 in the 1600 and sub-11 in the 3200.  Remember, most state's don't produce girls capable of running these kinds of times much less five girls from one county doing it.

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Olympic Nightmare

Get ready for an Olympic disaster.  I hope I'm wrong.  But all signs point to Rio being a complete abomination.  Yes, the same things were written before the Beijing Games of 2012.  But there's a big difference between China and Brazil.  Brazil is broke.

I must admit, I was shocked that the World Cup went off a lot better than I ever thought it would in Brazil.  But the fallout is still being felt.  Massive stadiums were built and the country can't economically support many of them.

I'm not even going to play the Zika card.  I think the bigger problem is all of the water reliant Olympic sports, sailing, rowing, kayaking, all of those athletes will be competing in unbelievably polluted waters.  I wouldn't want to be a triathlete competing in any swim in that country right now.  But athletes who dream of Olympic glory will risk almost anything.

Now the biggest scandal is the drug scandal that has enveloped the sport.  Kenya's drug testing program can't pass muster.  Russia is still on suspension.  My guts tell me if WADA had the guts to take a hard look Ethiopia, Jamaica or Turkey I'm guessing the list would grow. 

The worst of it is the International Olympic Committee seems intent on ignoring it all.  Zika, not a problem.  They know banning Russia weakens banner sports like gymnastics and track and field.  Kicking out the Kenyans while cause for celebration for Ethiopia, will have repercussions across the 3rd world.

Then there's the 141 pound 800 meter runner in the room.  Caster Semenya is going to make a mockery of women's track and field.  Biologically, she is a man.  The IAAF and IOC refused to deal with this festering issue head on when it first surfaced in 800 when Semenya burst on the world scene running like no other woman in the world.

Last year the Court of Sports Arbitration ruled that Semenya no longer had to take estrogen to level the playing field with women.  Last month Semenya swept through South Africa's championships winning the 400, 800 and 1500 with ease.  The drug testing and gender fiasco threatens to make the track and field competition in Rio a joke.

The fuse has been lit and doing a slow burn to August when the Rio Games take center stage.  Mark my words, Rio could mark the end of the Olympic movement as we know it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

No Country For Old Marathoners

I watched as much of the Boston Marathon on Monday as I could.  It stirred something deep within me.  I thought to myself, I could do that.  I could run a Boston qualifier.  It's not impossible.

Just the Friday before, Richard Olitsky stopped by the store looking for words of encouragement before leaving town for what would be his 8th run at Boston.  He looked at me and asked, "When are you going to run another marathon?"

I chuckled at the question and responded, "I don't think that's going to happen."  I look back at what was and wonder why I would want to put myself through the hell that is marathon training.  Plus, what's the incentive of running a 3:55 marathon.  Actually it would probably have to be under 3:50 to get into the race.

I've run 20 marathons.  Of those 20 well more than half were under the Boston standard.  Yet, I've only run Boston once, back in 1994, before the field swelled to its now ridiculous size.

When I ran my first marathon in 1975 in 3:14:15.  I told myself then that if I ever ran a marathon slower than that I would quit running them.  That finally happened in marathon number 19 when I ran 3:16:13 in 2002.  I was finished.

Then something came up.  My friend and old training partner Craig Davidson was running his 150th marathon in 2010 at St. George.  I had run St. George in 1997 when Craig ran his 100th marathon, so I broke my promise to myself.

The training was half-hearted.  I think I had one long run of more than 16 miles.  I thought I had done enough to run a Boston qualifier but I had been fooling myself.  St. George was a hot death march and I ran 3:56:47.  I thought that stopping at number 20 was fitting.

Still, the urge remains.  Fort Myers is a horrible place to train for a marathon.  You need hills to build the core strength to run a decent marathon and all we have are a couple of bridges.  Then there's the weather.  The great training weather starts in November and ends in April.  The good qualifying races are in December and January.  That means starting your hardcore training in August when the weather is absolutely miserable.

I don't know how Richard Olitsky does it.  He forces himself out the door at 5 a.m. to beat the heat.  He's nine years older than me and he can hammer workouts that I can't even imagine attempting.  Yet despite all the hard work, Richard was sitting in my store before his big race full of self doubt and as it turned out, for good reason.

Richard was in shape for a 4:10 effort on a flat Florida course with good weather.  Unfortunately he was facing the hills of Boston, warm weather, and a strong headwind.  Richard finished in 4:31 meaning he's got to run a qualifier sometime in the next six months if he wants to run Boston number 9.

Fort Myers isn't a great place for older runners striving to run a Boston qualifier.  To all of my friends over the age of 50 who do it.  My congratulations, it's an amazing feat.  I just can't imagine it.  I don't think I can do it.  But the temptation remains, tugging gently at my competitive spirit that's buried somewhere within me.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Corrice


 
I first met him in January 1978.  I was beginning my internship at KMBC TV in Kansas City.  Corrice Collins was one of just a handful of African Americans who were working in television in KC at the time.  He took me under his wing and tried to teach me what he knew about working in TV news and more so, about dealing with life in TV news.  I had other great mentors in that newsroom, Jim Overbay, Gerry Roberts, Jerry Plantz, Larry Moore, Ridge Shannon and Pam Freund.  Each and every one of them contributed to my career.














   
Yet Corrice was my first newsroom buddy.  He was working as a night side reporter at the time.  Corrice had a massive smile and an infectious laugh.  I think he enjoyed egging on the young dummy from K.U.  




I can remember the first time I went out with him with a photographer in a live van to do some nonsense story at a nightclub.  I remember how foreign I felt roaming the unfamiliar streets of Kansas City and Corrice's frustration at doing a story that really deserve coverage.  Corrice had a very strong bullshit detector.


By the late spring I had actually been hired by KMBC and I remember spending countless summer night's after working with Corrice bending an elbow at The Prospect in Westport.  We enjoyed baiting each other.  The put downs could be incendiary.  

  
One of my favorite moments came when Corrice was getting to a chance to anchor weekends.  The station was going through musical chairs on the weekend sports desk after John Sanders escaped to Pittsburgh.  Bill McAtee, of CBS Sports fame, was his replacement.  But as Billy Bob (as we called him) promised, he was off to the big time in less than six months.  The parade of fill-in replacements followed until the station finally hired Craig Sager.  Maybe you've heard of him too.



Anyway, Corrice was getting his big chance to fill-in on the anchor desk one weekend, when one of the "replacements" was in to do sports.  I don't even remember the guy's name and evidently neither did Corrice.  As the cross pitch to sports started a dumbfounded Corrice looked over to the dude and said, "Jesus, I forgot your name!"  I was sitting in the control room running chyron and about lost it.  Corrice immediately realized his sin.



After the show poor Corrice was truly panicked.  He expected phone calls and a full dress down on Monday from news director Ridge Shannon.  As I recall the newsroom phones never rang and I'm not even sure Ridge was ever aware of the faux pax.



My other strong memory is sitting with Corrice on the front porch of a house in Lawrence renewing our friendship.  I had just gotten back from a month long stint of job hunting in Eugene, Oregon.  I had purchased a couple of Oregon Duck track t-shirts.  These were special.  The shirt featured an African-American duck with a huge fro clearing a high hurdle.  I gave one to Corrice.  His smile told it all.



I left for a job in Minneapolis three months later.  By the time I made it back to Kansas City to work at WDAF about two years later, Corrice had moved on.  I had no idea where he landed until several years later when I found out he was working in Mississippi at a station in Jackson.  I can only imagine all of the young journalists he mentored there.

I'm sad because today I learned that Corrice died after a battle with cancer.  He was a pioneer for Black journalists.  It never even crossed my mind when I worked with him the barriers he had overcome to achieve his success.  He was just so full of life and gave compassion to those who had the joy of working with him.

His passing reminds me of all the newsrooms I've worked in and all of the friends I left behind through the years.  Some of them too have passed.  I didn't do a very good job of staying connected with those friends until Facebook came along.  My prayers go out to Corrice's family and colleagues.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Into the Tournament

Sitting in Florida looking across the vast expanse of the NCAA men's basketball tournament Kansas once again has laid claim to a number one seed and expectations are running high for a run, at the very least into the Final 4.  Just three months ago I wrote about the comparisons between this team and the one that made its run to a title in 2008.  Guard play wins national championships.  Kansas has the best back court in the country and the most depth.

Yet as I suggested before, the lack of interior toughness could be the Jayhawks undoing.  The lone light in the front court came from an unsuspecting source.  Landon Lucas has stepped into the shoes that Sasha Kahn once inhabited on that championship team at Kansas.  The man can flat out rebound.  I wouldn't have believed it if you would have told me that someone other than Cheick Diallo or even Jamari Traylor would step up and show some intestinal fortitude.

The three things I know are this if Kansas is going to make it to the Final 4.  1. Wayne Seldon can't pull a disappearing act as he has shown a propensity to do for major stretches of this season. 2,  The Jayhawks will need a nice dose of Carlton Bragg when Lucas gets into foul trouble.  Bragg's offensive game is far beyond anything any of K.U.'s other interior players can offer outside of the team's MVP, Perry Ellis. 3. Kansas will live and die by the 3 point shot.  That means Devonte Graham, Frank Mason III, Seldon and Ellis will have to hit at least 45% of their long shots because defensively this team is just so-so.

Kansas can win it all.  Kansas should win it all.  They will lose only if they run into a team that shots out of its mind from behind the arch or if an individual talent like Michigan State's Denzel Valentine takes the Jayhawks apart.