Thursday, April 3, 2014

One Size Doesn't Fit All

The wreck of a track and field meet that USATF held in Albuquerque six weeks ago has created a sideshow that could very well change the sport in some very dramatic ways.  When I last blogged about this meet we had two controversial disqualifications that left athletes pissed off to the max and fans shaking their heads.  USATF stepped up last week and said it would form a committee to examine the disqualifications, more than a full month after the meet happened.

What's become all too clear is that USATF is for amateurs.  It has no business running the professional side of track and field.  An organization that handles youth track to masters track simply should not be dealing with a professional sport where potentially large sums of money hang in the balance.

Professional track and field athletes should expect and demand a professionally run organization.  The athletes and their coaches should have a clear understanding of the sports rules and regulations.  The shoe companies cannot impose their will on how the sport is run.  Favored shoe company status (Yes, I'm talking about NIKE) is unfair. 

There is rumbling that a boycott of this summer's outdoor national championship meet could come about should the Albuquerque committee's findings be less than satisfactory.  Given the fact there are no World Championship slots up for grabs a boycott by non-NIKE athletes wouldn't surprise me in the least.  I think it would be a good thing. 

A better thing would be for Max Siegel to sit down with the athletes, seriously, the top 20 in each event, and figure out a way to divorce the professional side of the sport from the amateur side.  Siegel needs to bring all the shoe companies to the table and figure out how to make it possible.

The biggest hurdle is money.  I'm guessing that a lot of USATF relies heavily from all those membership fees it sucks in from youth and masters athletes.  Although, I'm sure this is chump change when compared to the sponsorship money that is at stake.  The devil will be in the details.

Now I'm not saying USATF should go away altogether.  The athletes need the officials and judges that USATF has trained to run their meets.  The bulk of those folks work for free.  And therein lies the crux.  A professional sport in the hands of unpaid part-timers. 

It's easy to see why Albuquerque turned into such a cluster fuck.  That's why in the end, at the very biggest meets, where money and prestige is on the line, there has to be an unbiased panel making decisions on how gets in and who doesn't, who gets disqualified and how moves on.  But that won't happen until a house cleaning takes place at the highest reaches of USATF.  Too many coaches and too many officials have allegiances and enemies that have led to mess.  I'll be honest, I don't see an easy fix to this can of worms.      

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Play Us... Why Should We?

The cry from Wichita and its loyal Shocker fans to the University of Kansas is play us.  The answer for K.U. is easy.  Why should we?  Kansas has nothing to gain and everything to lose.  And the whining from Wichita State about the snub from Lawrence seems to take away from the luster of W.S.U.'s greatest season ever.

The Shockers finished the season 35 and 1.  They went down to the best 8 seed ever in NCAA history when a young, but tough Kentucky team took them out.  The Shockers were denied the impossible dream of a 40 win season and becoming the first undefeated champions since Bobby Knight's Indiana Hoosiers of 1976. 

Even if Wichita State had climbed that Mount Everest of NCAA basketball history, their program would have still lacked the luster of Kansas.  The Shockers don't belong in the conversation with K.U., Kentucky, Indiana, North Carolina and U.C.L.A.  Those schools are NCAA basketball history.  For example, W.S.U. has made the NCAA tournament only 9 times,  Kansas has been in the Final 4 more times than that.

Now with their glorious season at an end, I expect Shocker fans to whine endlessly about K.U.'s refusal to play a home and away series with the Gold and Black.  It's an issue that has some Kansas lawmakers threatening legislation to force K.U.'s hand on the matter.  Economics dictate that Kansas shouldn't do it.  It will cost K.U. a potential home game every other year.  That's a chunk of money and in college athletics we all know that in the end, it's about the money. 

A home and away series with W.S.U. puts the two schools on equal footing when it comes to the conversation of basketball in the Sunflower State.  Why would K.U. want to do that?  The answer is simple, because it makes for a good story.  It makes for a rivalry that Kansas could use with the absence of Missouri.  It would bring a little panache to the dullness of December or January college basketball. 

Saturday, March 15, 2014

I Need a Race

I've managed to stay healthy for a good six weeks now, slowly adding miles to the daily run.  I finally had a heart to heart with myself about my tendency to just run how I feel, which is generally pretty damn slow.  I've been going out day after day just lumbering along, barely scratching below 10 minute per mile pace.  I realized that just wouldn't cut it.

I am now allowing myself to just slug along for one mile and then I make myself ratchet up the pace.  It really isn't that hard to run under 9 minute per mile if one decides to do so.  Besides, I need to take advantage of the incredible weather we're having. 

But the missing ingredient is a race.  I skipped out on the Edison 5K in February because it was only a couple of weeks after I resumed my daily runs.  I had planned to run my favorite 4 mile race in Lehigh Acres this Saturday but I was super bummed out when they decided to switch the race from 4 miles to a 5K.  I can run a 5K every weekend around here on pancake flat courses from now until the weather is staggeringly hot in May.  So instead of racing, I slept in and actually took a day off from the roads altogether.

So I need to scan the calender and just pick out a race.  I just don't like the idea of not being able to run at least 7:30 pace for a 5K and as it looks now, that's just not going to happen anytime soon.  So I will swallow my pride and just go race for the hell of it.  It's the only way I'll get faster.  It's the only way to keep from getting completely stale.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

World Class My A##!

The city of Lawrence, Kansas got horns waggled by the University of Kansas.  The city put up a butt load of money to build some world class facilities for K.U.'s athletic teams including a brand new track and field facility.  Just recently an article graced the Lawrence Journal-World touting the fact that K.U.'s brand new track facility is one of only five facilities in the United States that is considered top tier.

You would think the University would be ready to roll out the new facility for this April's Kansas Relays with a whole roster of world class athletes ready to do battle on this super-duper track.  Think again.  K.U. decided the $200,000 it spends on bringing a handful of Olympic caliber athletes to the Relays is just too big a burden for its $70,000,000 athletics budget. 

That means K.U. has a world class facility that will now host a glorified high school track meet with a few dozen top caliber collegians thrown in for good measure.  Any pro that wants to run in Lawrence will do so on their own dime.

The K.U. Relays used to be one of the nation's premier track and field meets.  A long slide started after 1972 with Jim Ryun's last appearance and was accelerated when John McDonough got pissed at Bob Timmons and pulled Arkansas out of the meet in the late 70's that began an exodus of top collegiate teams that crippled the meet.

An appearance by a team from the Soviet Union in the early 1980's was about the only bright spot until the late 1990's when the Relays started luring some top flight runners to the meet.  Olympians like Maurice Greene, Alan Webb, Christian Cantwell and Bershawn Jackson helped bring some excitement to an otherwise flagging event.

A stroke of genius put the shot put smack dab in the middle of downtown Lawrence putting one of the U.S.A.'s strongest events center stage.  It was a great spectacle that helped draw people to downtown.  The money spent on pro athletes kept crowds at a reasonable levels and in turn helped put money into city coffers.

Now K.U.'s athletic department has pulled a nice bait and switch.  They got a new track facility, but heaven forbid it spends anything to bring in some athletes that might attract some crowds to the city and in turn generate tax revenue for the city that put up millions of dollars to build those new facilities.  The University of Kansas owes the city and the businessmen and politicians who supported this project a better explanation than the one that currently graces the pages of the Journal-World.  As a track and field fan and a graduate of Kansas, I'm outraged.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

And Then There's Brisbane

Bruce Springsteen's summer of fun is over.  He left New Zealand and returned to winter and New Jersey to rest up and get ready for another tour in the United States in about a month.  I know, I know, I just blogged about the Boss, but oh brother, the man has gone insane.

I'm still recovering from a download of his last show in Brisbane, Australia.  The date was February 26th to be exact.  It was an amazing display from a great songwriter.  He poured through a sensational hour of music which included a freaky opening song as a nod to The Bee Gees with "Stayin' Alive."  Then he suddenly began to second guess his next move, before sheepishly admitting he wanted to play perhaps his most under appreciated album, "The Wild, The Innocent and the E Street Shuffle." 

Before the audience knew what hit them, Bruce and his massive band was roaring through this masterpiece.   It came complete with Garry Tallent on the tuba for "Wild Billy's Circus Story."  But it was what was played before that tune, "Kitty's Back," that just shook me.  My buddy Chris Ronan sent me a YouTube link which you can click on above of this performance.  It was if Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band had channeled the Grateful Dead.  It rumbles for almost 15 minutes with some of Bruce's most searing guitar playing.  I can't stop thinking about it.

And to finish up hour number three Bruce and this unbelievable group of musicians ripped off another 12 tunes before calling it a night.  Tallent's bass playing particularly stood out for me as the show was rapping up.  30 songs in 3 plus hours.  It was a virtuoso performance.  The E Street Band is pretty damn good but when you add three extra horns, Tom Morello shredding on the guitar, and a trio of awesome backup singers and it just sticks to the ribs.

Finally, there is Jake Clemons.  He faced an impossible task of replacing his Uncle Clarence.  Listening to shows from a year ago you could just feel he was outmatched.  Not anymore, Jake can flat out wail.  His playing his stupendous.  I just pray I can get to one of their Florida stops in two months.  Download this one, it's money well spent on an incredible piece of musical history.

Monday, February 24, 2014

And the Stench from Albuquerque Is None Too Good

The big stink in Fort Myers aimed at a race that raises a ton of dough for sick kids by a selfish mom, is nothing compared to the shitfest delivered in Albuquerque by USATF.  I am mildly amused at the crazy crap that happened Saturday night during the women's 3000 meter.

Cancer survivor Gabe Grunewald steamrolled her way to victory, literally.  As I watched the race unfold live from the comfort of my couch, Grunewald first attempted to run up Jordan Hasay's backside on the final lap, and then nearly ran over Shannon Rowbury on the backstretch before finally sprinting to an easy victory.  I remember looking over to the Czarina and saying, she could be disqualified for all that nonsense.  She was, eventually, after a lot of monkey business, a lot of it by the 800 pound gorilla at the meet, NIKE.

The fact is an official did flag Grunewald for a foul.  The fact is the meet judge discussed it with the official and they agreed the bump didn't rise to the level of disqualification.  The fact is, a protest was filed, again and apparently again and the a jury decided to leave Grunewald as champion.  Then sometime in the murky minutes following the end of Saturday's session somebody, whether it was Alberto Salazar, or a big name at NIKE, someone obviously yanked the right chain at USATF and Grunewald was disqualified.

That meant Salazar's athletes, Shannon Rowbury who finished 2nd and Jordan Hasay who ended up in 4th, would go to the world championships.  The 3rd place finisher, Sara Vaughn, didn't have the necessary qualifying time for the trip to Poland.  Hasay remained remarkably mute about all that was unfolding through the weekend.  Rowbury didn't mention the controversy at the post race news conference.

By Saturday night social media was on fire and USATF was pulling up its drawbridge around the its shit-filled mote.  It got even more interesting during Sunday's final sessions.  After the women's 1500, a group of non-NIKE affiliated women joined hands and walked down the homestretch in a show of solidarity for Grunewald.  Then after the men's 1500, race runner-up Will Leer threw USATF back into the shit-filled mote and champion Lopez Lomong wholeheartedly agreed with Will's takedown right on national television. 

I give credit to Jordan Hasay.  She did the classy thing on Monday and withdrew her (Salazar's) protest.  All the while USATF hasn't explained the debacle of Saturday night.  Salazar has laid low, while the catcalls continue over his outrageous behavior at the meet.  I won't go into all of the BS but the women's 3000 disaster was only part of the outrage on parade. 

I think Salazar is a great coach.  But I think he's ego is out of control.  NIKE is out of control.  USATF needs to find financing that doesn't leave it so reliant on NIKE support to stay afloat.  You can smell the shit in the air, the athletes are ready to revolt.

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Sitting Atop BS Mountain

No matter how much good you can do in a community.  No matter how much money you raise for those in "need", there are always people who want to take a big shit all over it when they can't get their way.  It's happening right now in Fort Myers, where a mom is having a hissy fit about where she gets to start in a road race with her disabled daughter that she pushes along in the stroller.

Charyse Smith is a very fast runner.  She has a 7-year-old daughter with cerebral palsy.  Recently she's started pushing her little girl Kayla at area road races.  Charyse asked a few months back if she could push Kayla at the biggest half marathon in Fort Myers which goes off in a week.  She was told yes, but it sounds like there was mis-communication.  Charyse wants to start up front.  The race organizers told her she has to start in the back, as a safety precaution.

I've run a ton of races.  As most runners know, the wheelchair athletes usually get a head start, to avoid any dangerous situations.  That usually includes anyone pushing a competitive stroller.  I've caught up to wheelchairs and people pushing strollers that are normally start with the wheelchairs.  It can get pretty damn tricky.  I've seen wipe outs.  I've nearly been hit.  It's a huge liability issue.

One runner decided to go to the web and post some half truths about the situation on one of the local running clubs Facebook page.  The post started a slew of moronic responses from idiots who never take the time to think there are two sides to every story.  I love hobby joggers who don't have a clue about what it takes to put on a first class road race like Hooters to Hooters.

Regardless, the damage is done.  The Fort Myers Track Club has had its reputation damaged and I think it's largely because of folks like John Biffar and Rachel Lee in particular, don't like the stranglehold FMTC has on the top local running events.  You see Lee owns a running store and along with Biffar, they have worked with The Speedsters and a group called 3D Running to make inroads into the Fort Myers racing scene.

It's great to have a variety of road races to choose from over the course of a racing season but I've been racing for 40 plus years and the trouble is their races simply aren't at the level of the FMTC events.  They may get there and I say good for them.  But it's painfully obvious for anyone with a tiny bit knowledge, to know that this isn't so much about get Charyse Smith a fair shake, it's about throwing as much shit on FMTC as possible.

Charyse could have taken the high road and stopped it.  I would ask her, if it's so freaking safe for her to start at the front of the Hooter's race next weekend, why she didn't do it last week at the Edison 5K?  Charyse knows damn well why she didn't run in front of the tremendous crowds that line the Edison course, it wasn't safe.  What makes her think Hooter's would be any safer?  Yep, not as many runners, but you've got a course with a curb jump about a mile and a half in and then there's the up and down on the bridge. 

If she runs her normal pace of between 7 minute to 7:30 pace for the race she'll be surrounded by dozens of runners having to dodge her and her stroller.  Trust me, coming down that bridge it will be a nightmare.  I know because I've nearly been clipped by one before.

Look at me, look at me, I'm getting screwed.  Who cares that Hooters to Hooters raises money to help save ICU children, like the one you want to push through the streets of Fort Myers?  Life's not fair, and the damage you've done can't be undone.  You've set a fine example for your daughter.