Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Eating Crow

The high school cross country season involving Southwest Florida runners officially came to an end last weekend in North Carolina where a handful of runners participated in the Footlocker South Regional qualifier.  If you had told me four months ago that Stephy Ormsby would have stood alone as the best runner from Lee County, boy or girl, it would have left me dumbfounded.  Well, I'm dumbfounded.

Ormsby proved what hard work, eating right, sleeping right and purposeful cross training can do for an athlete.  Last spring Ormsby was a top flight 800 meter runner who certainly stood a chance at being a very good cross country runner.  But all that work over the summer made her a great cross country runner, certainly among dozen best in Lee County history.  It resulted in a surprising third place finish at State and leading her injury riddled team to a surprising fifth place finish.

What's even more amazing is her run at Footlocker.  Ormsby got off to a horrible start going through the first mile back in 85th place.  She worked her way up to the field and managed a very respectable finish in 26th place.  A better start and Stephy could have been knocking on the door for a trip to nationals which is reserved for those who finish in the top ten.

The Fort Myers senior surprised me by running much better than my preseason number one, Canterbury junior Jessica Edwards.  Coming off a stellar track season, Edwards appeared poised to have an outstanding cross country season.  Don't get me wrong, Edwards ran great for most of the season finishing sixth at State and leading her team to the championships.  But Edwards appeared to hit a wall early in the season and while consistent throughout the year, didn't enjoy a big improvement one would expect as an athlete peaks at the end of the season.

The boys season played out about as I expected.  Fort Myers junior Liam Holston was clearly the best runner in the county until a late season illness threw his season into turmoil.  Liam's misfortune opened the door to sophomore teammate Colsen Palmer to shine.  Colsen's 11th place finish at State puts him in position to join Holston next year as a couple of contenders for top five finishes.  A healthy Holston at State could have put the Fort Myers boys in the top five, a couple of notches better than the sterling seventh place finish the Green Wave managed.

The surprise on the boy's side came from Ida Baker, as a team and with senior Franklin Caceres leading the Bulldogs.  Caceres raced fearlessly from the front all season.  His front running tactics caught up to him at State where he finished a disappointing 22nd but he laid the ground work for what could be a superb track season.

The shock on the boys side came from Estero.  By seasons end they were step for step right with Fort Myers.  Academic issues buried what should have been an amazing season of running by the Wildcats.  Estero will have some scores to settle this spring which promises some outstanding distance performances from a slew of athletes across the county.

Tuesday, November 26, 2019

I Don't Know What to Think

I have usually spelled out my feelings about the latest edition of Kansas Jayhawk basketball well before Thanksgiving.  But ESPN's shakedown for viewers with ESPN+ has limited my viewing of K.U. thus keeping me from making any real assessment about this team.  Now I can share a few thoughts.

Kansas will be a formidable team as long as Doke Azubuike is healthy.  Doke is a double/double on paper every night.  Kansas is as deep in the interior as it has been since the Final 4 championship team of 2008, so deep in fact Bill Self opted to redshirt seasoned veteran Mitch Lightfoot.  Besides Azubuike, David McCormack is a load.  He has a soft jumper that's money from 15 feet in and all that's needed is for Silvio De Sousa to blow off the rust that accumulated from last year's suspension. 

The back court is a three headed threat of Devon Dotson, Ochai Agbaji and Marcus Garrett.  This will probably be Dotson's last year at Kansas.  He quite simply could be the best guard to have ever played at Kansas.  His speed, his ability to finish, his outside shot and his defense is all top notch.  He's every bit the player of Sherron Collins and Frank Mason.  He's as complete as JoJo White.

Ochai Agbaji runs hot and cold.  He is incredibly athletic and plays hard on the defensive end.  Kansas is unbeatable when Agbaji plays well.

Marcus Garrett is the lock down defender.  He can cover four spots on the floor.  He's more than adequate ball handler now and is fearless driving to the hoop.  If he had an outside shot he would be going to the NBA.

If transfer Isaiah Moss had played for Kansas last year the Jayhawks would have won their 15th straight conference title.  He was the extra outside shooter that the Jayhawks desperately needed to help spread the floor.  I have a feeling he will be streaky but he's a weapon that the Kansas offense sorely needs.

The two freshman, Tristan Enaruna and Christian Braun won't see much in the way of minutes by the time this team hits conference play.  Both players can shoot from the outside and Enaruna shows signs of being a first rate defender.  The great unknown among the freshman is forward Jalen Wilson.  Once he comes back from injury in January it will be interesting to see how he fits into the rotation but if the reports are true about his ability in early season practices, he will be a contributor.

That brings us back to the bigs.  Bill Self desperately wants to play the hi-low with Doke, Silvio and McCormack.  The trio has struggled when they've shared the floor.  I think Self will continue to experiment through the pre-season but will ultimately go with just one big once conference play hits.

I don't know how Self keeps reloading.  He doesn't get all the top recruits but he does an amazing job of recruiting kids that fit together.  His athletes buy into the system and appear to believe in the approach to hard nose defense and an offense that demands the ball go into the interior.

Is this is Final 4 team.  Yes.  Will they make it to the first weekend in April, the odds say no.

Thursday, November 7, 2019

The Slow Death of Track and Field

Track and field has been dying a slow death for the last 40 years.  As shamerturism gave way to professional track and the spike of performance enhancing drugs, the public seemed to lose interest in the sport.  So the latest fix by the sports ruling body seems appear foolish and wrong headed.

The IAAF rebranded itself World Athletics today.  Just yesterday they decided to ax two field events, the discus and triple jump, plus two running events, the 200 and steeplechase from the Diamond League.  It is beyond head scratching.  Consider this, without the 200 meter dash, we may never have seen the likes of Usain Bolt.  That's right, no Bolt.

The Jamaican sprint made his name as a 200 meter runner.  The first time I became aware of him was when he started running stupendous times as a 17-year-old in the 200.  His fame as the world's fastest human wouldn't come for another five years.

Without the steeplechase we wouldn't have had the incredible 2017 magic of Emma Coburn and Courtney Frerichs turning the world on its head with their dramatic one-two finish at World Championships.  The steeplechase was where the great Jenny Simpson first made her name before turning to the 1,500.  It is one of the most entertaining track races alone simply because of the hazards of the water jump.

World Athletics banished the 5,000 meter this past Diamond League season and 10,000 meter races have gone almost extinct at major track meets around the world.  World Athletics says it is taking its lead from social media.  So let me get this straight, a handful of idiots on Twitter are determining what events are worth watching at major track meets.  Think about this, only 22 percent of Americans even use Twitter and that number mirrors use of the social media platform around the world.

Two of my greatest track and field memories are watching discus thrower Mac Wilkins blasting massive throws at Hayward Field forcing officials to add extra turf to the end of the throwing zone to handle his efforts.  The other was watching Willie Banks imploring the crowd to join him in clapping him down the runway to a massive triple jump.  The athletes need to band together and put a stop to this nonsense.  They have the power if they work together, otherwise their event may be next.

Track and field is at death's door and only its athletes can save it.





Monday, October 14, 2019

Appreciate This

The last two weeks of marathon racing has filled my heart with such joy and wonderment that I can't believe what we've all witnessed.  It's two weeks we may never see again and while I rejoice in these incredible accomplishments a small nagging part of me worries about how this happened.  I'm not talking about drugs, but about shoes.  But let's sink in what we saw.

Last weekend in Berlin, Kenenisa Bekele came back from the dead.  He'd been injured, gotten fat and seemed indifferent to trying to put himself on a par in the marathon with a man he owned on the track.  Bekele is in a pantheon of distance that puts him in the same sentence as Nurmi, Zatopek and Gebreselassiese.  His run in Berlin left many who follow the sport reaffirming his place as the greatest ever.  26 World Championship and Olympic medals leave little doubt about Bekele's place in the sport as the greatest ever... on the track.

But then Eliud Kipchoge put his stamp on the fact that he is the great marathoner in history, period.  If you haven't watched the sub-2 race effort that took place on Saturday in Vienna it's a must.  It was like watching the painting of a masterpiece.  The race that resulted in history's first sub-2 hour marathon was a work of superb planning and craftsmanship.  The course, the pacers, the technology, all combined for a brilliant piece of running by a man who has no peers in the event.  The time was a breath taking 1:59:40.

Except maybe, just maybe, Bekele could still have a say in all of this.  You see Kenenisa just missed Kipchoge's official world record in the marathon by just a couple of ticks of the clock in Berlin.  If you watched the race you saw a man overcome a rough spot about ten miles from the finish, regather himself and roar to an epic finish.  The world demands a rematch of these two greats.  London would be the idea spot for such a showdown but if that does happen, it will certainly rob the Tokyo Olympics of a great marathon duel.

I can't blame either Bekele or Kipchoge if they pass at a chance at more Olympic gold.  Tokyo will be a death march of epic proportions, much like what we just witnessed in Doha at the World Championships.  It's such a dilemma.  The money for a London showdown would be unbelievable but the Olympics are the Olympics.  I suspect both men will go for the money.  But if Bekele wants to stake his claim as the best marathoner ever, it would take an Olympic win over Kipchoge for him to even enter the discussion.

And as an afterthought Bridget Kosgei basically one upped both men with a stunning world record Sunday at the Chicago Marathon.  Kosgei dismantled a record held by Paula Radcliffe that was once thought untouchable.  She destroyed the record by more than a minute running 2:14:04.  I've never seen an athlete cruise through 26.2 miles and look so in command, except maybe for what Kipchoge had done just the day before.

Regardless, the marathon has entered a new age and that's where it all gets a little fuzzy.  Kipchoge ran his historic race in a pair of shoes not yet available to the public.  It's a spin off of Nike's 4% and Next% that utilizes a carbon fiber plate that acts sort of like a spring.  Kosgei also at the last minute asked to run in the same shoes as Kipchoge and if you don't think a shoe can make a huge difference in how fast you can run then you understand very little about distance running.

So the shoes are making a dramatic difference.  I can't say if it's good or bad for the sport but I suspect the manufacturers have just about dialed in the perfect shoes between Nike's efforts, Adidas Boost and Hoka's Carbon Rockets.  At least that's what I want to believe because the alternative is that they've stumbled upon a super drug that can elude the biological passports that elite runners are subject.  Enjoy this era of distance, because we may never see another like it.

Monday, October 7, 2019

Dirt

The world of professional track and field is a world of doping.  But so is the world of professional football, baseball, cycling and soccer.  The problem is track and field gets a black eye because of the cheats while other sports, largely football, baseball and soccer get a pass.  As a fan of track and field the double standards frustrate me.

But what I find even more frustrating is track and field's reluctance to deal harshly with the cheaters who are caught.  Alberto Salazar has colored outside the lines for more than a quarter of a century.  USADA finally caught up him thanks in large part to Salazar coached athletes who didn't want to cheat and by a coach, Steve Magness, who Salazar used as a human guinea pig.

My first private coach had deep connections to the professional ranks.  I can remember our conversations from the mid-1980's about Salazar's questionable use of supplements and other performance enhancers while he was still a competitor.  Salazar was a win at all costs athlete.

Salazar's first high profile athlete to be busted was Mary Slaney in 1996 for steroids.  Slaney denies that Salazar was coaching her and claimed the positive was due to birth control.  USATF didn't buy it and the ban was upheld and Salazar somehow managed to escape punishment.

If you closely read the USADA report on Salazar's propensity to push the rules it's painfully clear that he was working hard at finding ways to use steroids in ways that were undetectable to testing.  It's called micro-dosing.

When the four year ban came out several high profile athletes including Olympic medalists Nick Willis and Jenny Simpson hailed his ban.  Simpson went so far as to call for a lifetime ban.

Meanwhile Salazar and the deep pockets of NIKE plan to fight the ban in the courts.  Remember NIKE was a major backer of doper Lance Armstrong until the mountain of evidence brought the biking legend down.  And the sport is heavily dependent on NIKE's support and dollars.

The worst of it is the money and medals that Salazar coached athletes have stolen from clean athletes.  What hurts the most is the string of championships and medals by the likes of Galen Rupp, Mo Farah and Matt Centrowitz, Jr. and most recently Sifan Hassan.  As a fan I want to think those medals were earned the right way.  Deep down inside I question their accomplishments.

We will likely never know how deep this scandal runs because unlike in Armstrong's case other cyclists came forward to tell his deepest, darkest secrets, those in the know will keep those secrets near and dear.  It's been that way in the sport since steroids first came on the scene in the 1960's.  And it will stay that way because somehow, some way, the science of cheating always manages to stay ahead of the tests to catch them.   

Monday, September 23, 2019

Stephy

Winning is what makes headlines.  But sometimes you have to look deeper in the results to pull out a gem, a story that brings with it an underlying achievement that might otherwise go unnoticed.  I didn't have to look too deep in the results from the North Port Invitational.  It stuck out like a sore thumb in the girl's elite race right there in second place.  Fort Myers High Senior Stephy Ormsby ran 17:56.77.

You can count on one hand in the last decade the number of girls from Lee County under 18 minutes for 5000 meters in cross country.  Estero's Bona Jones and Katy Solis along with Emily Edwards and Sara Spann from Fort Myers.  Not even Fort Myers distance ace Krissy Gear broke 18 minutes in high school.  In case you were wondering the only Southwest Florida area runner to break 17 minutes is Kathryn Fluehr from Community School of Naples.

Stephy's come a long way from when I first met her as a fresh faced freshman intermediate hurdler for the Green Wave.  Then head coach Rob Strong said to keep an eye on her because he believed she could be turned into a distance runner. Slowly but surely Ormsby has transitioned her body from the square, stocky gymnast that she used to be to a hard body, running machine that has steadily improved  through her sophomore and junior years. 

Ormsby has shaved more than two minutes off her cross country personal best.  What makes her achievement even more surprising is she has spent most of her running career as a middle distance specialist, running the 800 and 1600.  The progress Stephy Ormsby has made since last fall shows what a summer of consistent training can bring when cross country rolls around. With the guidance of coach Yancey Palmer, Ormsby has done the work to put herself in a position to be a contender at the Class 3A State Cross Country Championships.

Monday, September 2, 2019

Why Support Cross Country

I own a run specialty shop.  It's a misnomer because I probably sell more shoes to walker or people looking for a shoe that is comfortable to stand in work in than I do to actual runners.  I'm happy to serve those customer because they deserve the best in footwear.  Buying a pair of leather upper New Balance shoes to walk in or a cheap pair of Nike's is just an insult to your feet.

But that's not the point of this blog.  The point is to talk about why I do as much as I can to support high school cross country and track.  It's not because that's where the money is.  In fact, it's quite the opposite.  Most kids and parents will shop for the cheapest shoes they can find on line and forsake their locally owned retailers to save ten dollars here and there.  I can live with that.

In white left to right, Glenn Lemesany, Dave Rousch, John Rinkenbaugh, Tom Schittendort, Clay Kappleman, Barney McCoy and Jack Moorhead, Lawrence High XC 1972, winners of this meet, the Seaman Invitational, where I finished 8th.
I support high school cross country and track because the sport gave me a life long passion for running.  I was blessed to have a high school coach who's mission in life was to create a love for running that would carry to a point in life where I could physically run no more.  I'm about to hit my 50th year as a runner.

I was lucky to meet athletes and coaches who fueled my passion.  Men like, Steve Sublett, Tom Dowling, Fred Moore, Kent McDonald, Steve Riley, Mike Bloemker and Chris Ronan and the posse of men I trained with at Health Plus in Kansas City only deepened my love and respect for runners of all abilities.  They motivated me to hit goals in my running life that I am proud to have achieved.

So my support of young runners is one that I hope that I inspire the same life long passion that I have enjoyed.  I did it as a high school coach, a career that produced a fair share of state champions.  I do that through Run Florida On McGregor.

We stepped up our commitment this year by sponsoring the first three major cross country meets in Southwest Florida of the season, the Lehigh Acres Invitational, DDD Invitational and Fort Myers Invitational.  I loss money doing it and I doubt that the vast majority of parents or runners realize the commitment of time and money that the store puts forth to support their sport.

I am tooting my own horn.  I look around at the leading run specialty stops and asked why am I alone in doing this?  Besides the financial investment I make in these meets I offer discounts to student athletes to make it easier for them to afford the best in footwear.  I look around and ask myself why am I alone in doing this?

Cross country is an incredible team support.  You see 100 plus athletes line up in difficult conditions racing for 5,000 meters.  It is colorful, crazy, and competitive in ways you can't imagine.  There's even team strategy in the sport if you take the time to study it.  You can do that by joining me Friday night at the Kelly Road soccer fields for what may well be the first night cross country meet in Southwest Florida history.

The 40th annual Fort Myers Invitational brought to you by Run Florida On McGregor and Saucony will feature the top local teams.  You will see the greatest 800 meter runner in Southwest Florida history trying to make her mark at the longer distances.  You will see the three Southwest Florida cross country powers, Estero, Naples and Fort Myers laying it on the line, trying to show which squad is top dog in the area.  Oh... and the ladies at upstart Bishop Verot are doing their best to join the party.

The best part of it is the camaraderie and respect that these young athletes have for one another.  They run hard and then have the grace and humility to shake hands, congratulate each other and really mean it.  Best of all, it's free. All it will cost you is a small slice of your Friday night.  I'll see you there!