Wednesday, August 31, 2011

A Day of Rest

The World Track and Field Championships has reached its halfway point with Wednesday marking a day without any major competition.  The meet thus far has produced a mixed bag of results for the United States.  Gold medals by Trey Hardee in the Decathlon, Carmelita Jeter in the 100, and Brittney Reese in the Long Jump were hardly unexpected.  The surprises came from Jason Richardson's gold in the 110 Hurdles thanks to a miscue by Dayron Robles and the failure of LaShawn Merritt in the 400, the defending champion taken down by a precocious 18-year-old from Grenada. 

My love primarily is for the distance races.  I can hardly wait for Friday's final in the women's 5000.  Leavenworth High grad Amy Hastings continued her outstanding season of running making it into the finals as did another American favorite Lauren Fleshmann, who has resurrected her injury plagued career.  If the Kenyans and Ethiopians fail to push the pace in Daegu, Fleshmann could find herself in a position to put herself on the podium.  Regardless a top 5 finish would be a real coup.

Despite a lot of criticism I thought Galen Rupp acquitted himself well in the men's 10K.  His 7th place finish showed progress whereas 800 veteran Nick Symmonds ran like a rookie in last night's final.  He hesitated at a critical moment 200 meters from the finish letting a Polish runner rattle him in a fight for position and sprinted to a disappointing 5th place.  Symmonds should have been on the podium and the head slap that he gave himself as he crossed the finish line confirmed the costly mistake.  Hopefully it's a lesson he can take with him to London next year.

Also remaining to be decided are the men's and women's 1500 meters.  Leo Manzano and Matthew Centrowitz have outside shots to make the finals.  On the women's side Jenny Simpson and Morgan Uceny have both shown themselves capable of getting a medal when they line up for Thursday's final.

Finally the ageless Bernard Lagat will begin his quest for another medal on Thursday in the men's 5000.  Galen Rupp will join Lagat as both men along with another American Andrew Bumbalough will try to race their way into Sunday's final.  An American distance running medal should come from either Lagat, Uceny. or Simpson barring some bad luck.

Hopefully Universal Sports can talk the ignoramuses producing the televised feed for the IAAF into showing the complete races.  The televised coverage has been nonsensical when compared to what the Czarina and I enjoyed two years ago on the Internet from Berlin.  Here's to four more days of outstanding track and field.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Bolt a Dolt

Sprinting's mega-super star Usain Bolt shit the bed Sunday at the World Track and Field Championships in Daegu, South Korea.  The world record holder false started in the finals of the 100 meter.  A lot of so-called fans are bellyaching about it because of a new rule instituted this year by the sport's governning body, the IAAF.

For years the first false start of any race counted against the field.  It took a second false start to get you kicked out of the race.  But this led to a lot of game playing and false starts on purpose which wrecked meet schedules and more importantly made the sport almost unwatchable on television.  This year the IAAF woke up and finally instituted a no-false start rule, one that's been around in the United States at the high school and collegiate level for decades.

The outrage over Bolt's dismissal is palpable.  I could care a less.  I've gone to dozens of high school and college track meets in this country and watched with dismay when athletes got the boot for jumping the gun.  I hate it that the sport's biggest star blew it.  But I think the rule is a good rule.  For the last dozen years I hated watching the false start games being played at the world class level, especially by the hurdlers.

Television is the fuel that runs the engine that powers professional track and field.  The sport has been in its death throws for years because it had become almost unwatchable.  The false start rule will help alleviate the decline.

Now if the IAAF could only get a producer and director that understands how to cover the world championships.  So far the production of the 2011 Championships sucks compared to what we watched online from Berlin in 2009.  But that's another matter.  We've got seven days of world class track and field to go!

Editor's note:  Bolt had a big assist in his false start.  New video of the start shows that his fellow countryman Yohan Blake flinched before the gun and likely caused Bolt to jump.  The officials dropped the ball on that.  They have more than a dozen set of officials watching those athletes.  The IAAF is too blame for this calamity every bit as much as the great Usain Bolt.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Hello Irene

The first squall just blew through our neighborhood from Hurricane Irene.  Consider that Fort Myers is more than 300 miles away from the eye of this storm and it should give you an idea of the massive size of Irene.  In fact last night the local meteorologists suggested the rain wouldn't reach us at all but we would feel more wind.

Any kind of a breeze is a rare thing during the summer.  That was the first thing I noticed this morning.  The palm trees were rustling from the nice breeze produced because of Irene's approach.  I can only imagine what it's like along Florida's east coast and the battering that this big hurricane is delivering to the Bahamas.

It's been seven years since my colleagues at WINK TV and I endured a summer filled with hurricanes.  It started with the worst of it when Charley came ashore about 20 miles from my home on August 13th.  Then came Frances about two weeks later which clipped the northern edge of WINK's viewing area.  Ivan followed but skirted our coast before slamming into Florida's panhandle.  It's a good thing too because it came along the same week as a personal trip to Tampa to watch the Czarina take the oath to become a U.S. citizen.

Jeanne hit a couple of weeks after that on September 25th following roughly the same path as Hurricane Frances.  Jeanne came as something of a surprise.  The storm was expected to take a turn to the north.  The staff was pretty much used up by that point.  Something in my guts made me stop by the newsroom that Saturday afternoon.  Within an hour of intense study of the weather data and talking to our meteorologists it became painfully clear that Jeanne wasn't going to cooperate.

I spent the next couple of hours calling in weary anchors, reporters, photographers and producers.  If Jeanne cut across Florida it would have rolled right through Fort Myers.  Again like Frances, it staggered to the north a bit and dealt a glancing blow to the northern part of our viewing area.

The worst part of that night was calling a worn out Jim McLaughlin at 2:30 in the morning to beg him to come in and help out on the anchor desk.  A sleep-deprived Jim crashed his vehicle about two blocks away from the station.  I felt terrible.  I don't doubt that it played a role in his decision to retire from WINK the following year. It certainly played a role in my decision to take a news director's job in Kansas 11 months later.

18 hours after I arrived in the newsroom on a whim I was allowed to go home.  Our news team which was running on empty had done a remarkable job on its third hurricane in six weeks.  Those six weeks will stay with me forever.  

Monday, August 15, 2011


Other than our parents, coaches and teachers create the biggest imprints on our lives.  I've had four coaches as a runner.  First there was Steve Sublett in high school, who kept running as fun as possible.  During my short stint as a runner at Kansas, Bob Timmons while a legend, didn't do me any favors.  Tom Dowling came along when I turned 30 and broke down training barriers I never thought possible, plus he made each and every one of his athletes feel special.  I also ran for a short time for Fred Moore in Phoenix and he taught me how to train and race by teaching me not to try so hard.

But the coach I may have learned the most from never coached me.  I met Ben Meseke in the summer of 1991 just before the start of the cross country season.  I went to Hayden High School hoping to volunteer as a coach.  It was a match made in heaven.

Meseke was better known as one of the best high school basketball coaches in the state of Kansas. His best known player, Mark Turgeon, started at Kansas and now coaches at Maryland.  Ben just happened to also be one of the best cross country coaches in Kansas too.  I knew Hayden had enjoyed success in cross country but never realized that their great hoops coach had built both programs.

Ben was pleasantly surprised when I showed up in his math classroom.  He needed my help, confiding to me that he had just been diagnosed with a heart ailment that would prevent him from hitting the road with his runners.  I was the perfect substitute.  He was also a disciple of the legendary running coach Arthur Lydiard which was a major plus in my book.

I got to spend the next two falls watching Coach Meseke in action.  He had an uncanny talent for taking a small group of boys and turn them into world beaters.  He endlessly recruited kids to the program hoping to get 20 or so out for the team, knowing he needed some depth because of the mileage he would pour onto these young men right from the start would undoubtedly leave a few hobbled.  Mileage and pace work made up the first two-thirds of the season with speed getting added into the mix over the last third.

He kept a treasure trove of statistics, something that was a holdover from his time as a basketball coach, which allowed him to carefully measure each boy's progress, or the team's, against previous meets or seasons.  This love of numbers allowed Coach Meseke to immediately grasp the strengths and weaknesses of his teams.  He was a big believer of having his squads run off the pace and pouring it on over the last mile.  Meseke even had a designated pacer who worked to keep the Hayden pack together.

After 30 years at Hayden which included six state championships in basketball and six more in cross country, Meseke went looking for a bigger challenge signing on as head basketball coach at Shawnee Mission Northwest.  Cross country was out of the question as Northwest is led by the most successful coach in Kansas history, Van Rose.  Northwest's basketball fortunes improved considerably under Meseke's guidance although he never claimed a title for the Cougars.

A year ago his heart conditioned forced a transplant and a year away from hoops.  Coach Meseke made it back for the 2010-2011 campaign but that would be it for Ben.  He announced this summer his retirement from coaching.

Ben Meseke filled in the missing pieces about running that I hadn't learned from Tom Dowling and Fred Moore.  He showed me that you didn't need a pack of kids running all summer to be a successful coach.  Most of all he showed me how much fun you can have in training, whether it was his crow flight runs or the bike runs, workouts with Coach Meseke always offered something different, something to keep this old runner interested in what's coming next.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Stop Making Sense

Rarely does USATF, this country's governing body for track and field, make decisions that make sense.  So when USATF released its roster for the upcoming World Championships in Daegu I just about fell over.  One of my personal favorites Lauren Fleshman ran her way onto the team.

USATF, much to my surprise, decided that Fleshman deserved the spot over Desiree Davila who had beaten her at nationals.  Davila's had a great season but lacks Lauren's credentials when it comes to championship racing.

A rough spring left Fleshman short on conditioning when she ran nationals in July.  She finished only 8th.  But Fleshman headed to Europe for six weeks of stellar training and it paid off with her best race on Saturday in London where she won the 5000 where she handily beat Davila.

Last year Fleshman surprised just about everybody when she won nationals at 5000 meters.  She was coming off a two year injury grind that nearly forced her out of the sport.  Her memorable post-race interview was unvarnished and refreshing when she proudly proclaimed her bold move at the end to take the race was just balls.

Even more shocking was Fleshman's announcement today that she will run this fall's New York City Marathon.  She's hoping preparing for New York will make her even stronger as a 5000 runner going into the 2012 Olympic Trials.  Given her fragility over the last three years it's a big gamble but if she can survive NYC she could put herself in a position to make it to the Olympic finals in London.

So when August 30th rolls around Lauren and another personal favorite Amy Hastings who trained in high school under the watchful eye of one of my best buddies Mike Bloemker will toe the line in Daegu for the 5000 meter heats.  It all goes to show that good things do happen to good people who put in the work and persevere.  Lauren and Amy are both shining examples of that.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

A Tale of Two Runners

This weekend offered a two day fest of track and field with the Diamond League meet in London, the last major competition before the World Championships which start at the end of August in Daegu, South Korea.  Of special interest to me was a mini-drama playing out in the women's 5000 meter race.

I was watching two American runners, both with a lot hanging in the balance, one hoping against hope to make it to the World Championships.  First, there's Lauren Fleshman, a young woman I had the privilege of meeting five years ago at the wedding of one of my best friends.  Lauren was good friends with the bride, also a friend of mine.

Lauren was the quintessential hippie girl, talking about yoga, good nutrition and a beautiful smile that would light up the whole room.  You'll notice that Lauren's blog is one that I follow on my blog wall and it's a no holds barred look at what it takes to be a world class runner.

Lauren's had an amazing run of bad luck.  She got injured just before the Olympic Trials in 2008 and then staged a shocking comeback win in 2010 at US Nationals.  The injury bug left her short of conditioning at nationals this year leaving her a distant 8th and in a near impossible position to make it to Daegu.

Then there's Leavenworth High School grad Amy Hastings, a protege of the same best friend at whose wedding I met Lauren.  Hastings had a great collegiate career at Arizona State but stunned everyone in her marathon debut in Los Angeles this March running 2:27:03 making her a candidate for the U.S. Olympic Team in the marathon.  Amy then ran a brilliant 5000 meters at nationals placing second winning a spot to represent the United States at the World Championships.

Going into Saturday's London race Amy was hoping to run 15:14 and meet the "A" standard for Daegu as was Lauren who had run a horrible race the week before in Oslo.  Two other Americans also figured into the "A" standard chase, Desiree Davila and Jen Rhines.  The pecking order was Davila, Rhines, and Fleshman.  Lauren would need her all three fellow Americans to fail and she would need to run 14 seconds faster than she had the week before to make the team, a pretty tall order.

Confused, you should be!  Angela Bizzari finished 3rd at nationals and also failed to run the "A" standard.  If Hastings ran the "A" standard than Bizzari would make the team regardless of what anything Davila, Fleshman or Rhines did in London.  In the end I hoped that Hastings would get her qualifier and make the team and that Lauren would run a fast race.

Unfortunately only half of what I wanted came to fruition.  Amy was in the mix until about a mile to go.  It looked like the pressure of the race simply got to her.  Meanwhile, Lauren had stayed at the back of the pack and worked her way to the front with three laps to go. 500 meters from the finish Fleshman hit the accelerator and gapped the field ending any doubt and grabbing one of her biggest victories to date.  She ran 15:00.57 smashing through the "A" standard.  Hastings struggled home in a respectable 15:17 leaving her off the team.  Unfortunately for Lauren, both Davila and Rhines also ran under 15:14, both women had finished ahead of her at nationals. 

USATF in the end will decide which of those three will go to Daegu.  Lauren's clearly faster than Desiree but in the political craziness of USATF there's no telling who will go.  Rhines is already running the 10000 so I doubt she would want to double.  Here's hoping for a miracle and some redemption for Lauren Fleshman in the form of a trip to Daegu.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Large and in Charge

Is there any doubt about who rules the roost when it comes to the Riga branch of the family?  In case you haven't seen her lately this is Masha.  She's granddaughter #1.  The baby carriage in her grasp contains Maryanne, tucked away in the other carriage is Dasha, granddaughter #2.  I don't know the name of her friend at the end of the leash.

Masha and Dasha are enjoying a few weeks of R and R at a coastal retreat along the Baltic.  Fashionable Riga residents like Masha always escape the summer heat of the big city for a little quality time at the beach.  The vacation getaway is the town of Saulkrasti, which sits about 25 miles east of Riga.  The family settled down in a cozy dacha.  The dacha came with the four-legged friend but this sobachka (that's Russian for dog) won't be making the trip back to Riga.

Grandpa and grandma know that Masha's birthday is just a month away.  A sobachka might make the perfect present.  But it better be a stuffed one, otherwise we would be disowned by mom and dad!