Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Lost in a Lost World

A long time ago I started blogging about my career in television news.  After a hiatus of a year or so I decided to get back at it.  I held off on this because my job in Omaha was probably the toughest gig I ever had.

It was a bad fit.  I was brought in as the executive producer but I was the defacto number 2 in the news operation.  The newsroom was in trouble.  Top management was distracted and couldn't do the things needed to stop its slide from the number 2 spot in the ratings to 3rd.  A shakeup was needed.

I have to admit that I wasn't strong enough to make the changes.  But part of the problem is that I didn't have the support from my bosses to make the changes that needed to be made to stop the slide.  That fact was even articulated in a memo from our consultants.

They thought that new graphics, new music and a family friendly 5 p.m. newscast would go a long way to fixing their woes.  But the problems were rooted in a handful of backstabbing employees.  I won't name names because it won't fix anything and thankfully I'm pretty sure none of those folks work in television news anymore.  

KMTV was the long time number 1 in Omaha until the 1980's.  That started a long steady decline that the station has never recovered from.  It's a station with a proud history.  When I worked there it had a great staff of hardworking photographers.  Their star reporter was Steve Spriester who now anchors in San Antonio, Texas.  I felt lucky to get to know Steve and a handful of other folks like producer Dennis Sulsberger who taught me some important life lessons during my stay in Nebraska.

The world of television news is a very small one.  About six years after I left Omaha my former weekend sports anchor Ken Dudzik stepped into the news director's job at KMTV.  I had told Ken before I left Topeka that he would make a hell of a news director some day.  He did his best in difficult circumstances in Omaha.  But even with all his talents Ken couldn't turn the ship around.

My experience in Omaha nearly drove me out of television news.  It created a lot of doubt about my abilities in run a newsroom.  But it was an important stop in my life.  Despite the toxic environment at the station I built a personal foundation of inner strength that serves me to this day.  I wouldn't trade the experience for anything.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

This Bud's for You

Few things are as satisfying as beating your rival.  Doing it when bragging rights are on the line is out of this world.  Kansas accomplished the impossible on Saturday winning an overtime squeaker against Mizzou 87 to 86.  The magic of Allen Field House was loud and clear because the Jayhawks overcame a second half 19 point deficit to seal the deal and clinch the team's 8th straight conference title.

The win is meaningful to me because this may very well be the last time Kansas plays the Tigers at Allen Field House.  Missouri decided to abandon the Big 12 for the SEC.  I understand why the rascals from Columbia did it.  They were tired of Texas dominating the conference with its money, etc;  But now they want it both ways.  Mizzou still wants to play its biggest rival in football and basketball.  Kansas says to hell with you.

The train wreck that has become the Big 12 started coming apart at the seams all because Missouri started making overtures a couple of years ago about jumping ship to the Big 10.  It sent a shock wave through the Big 12 conference and before it all ended Mizzou found itself still on the inside looking out as Nebraska got the coveted Big 10 slot and Colorado headed off to the Pac 12.

Now Mizzou and Texas A&M are leaving for the SEC further weakening the conference which will add TCU and West Virginia.  My guess is the Big 12 will add two to four more schools in another year but the damage is done, all thanks to the Tigers who can't understand why K.U. wants nothing to do with them.

The warm fuzzy from Saturday afternoon brought back a flood of memories from another Saturday win in February over Mizzou at Allen Field House 40 years ago.  That KU team was awful.  Just one year removed from a trip to the Final 4 the 1972-73 Jayhawks had one standout player, All-American Bud Stallworth.  His surrounding cast was pitiful.

The Tigers came to Lawrence that Saturday looking to land a conference title.  K.U. was just trying to stay above .500.  Bud Stallworth lifted the outmanned Jayhawks onto his shoulders dumping an almost effortless 50 points on Mizzou.  Nothing the Tigers tried could stop Stallworth, who hit plenty of long jumpers at a time when there was no three point shot.

It was one of the great games I was actually on hand for at Phog Allen.  It certainly is one of the top three games I ever witnessed in person.  This Kansas crowd stormed the court when the horn sounded.  The pep band played endlessly the commercial jingle for Budweiser beer that was popular at the time.  This Bud was indeed for you.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Ryun Project - 12

1972 brought Jim Ryun some of his highest highs and lowest lows.  Ryun returned home to Kansas after brief stints in Eugene, Oregon and Santa Barbara, California.  Jim's homecoming showed that the wounds from 1968 and 69 that had put him at odds with his coach Bob Timmons had started to heal.

I was lucky to see Jim Ryun a lot that year.  I saw his final triumph in the Glenn Cunningham mile at the Kansas Relays.  I saw his triple during a meet at Memorial Stadium, held at the same time as my first league meet.  As Ryun cranked out a mile, 880 and 3 mile triple, I was busy breaking 10 minutes for the second time in my life as a high school sophomore placing 5th in the Sunflower League.

Inconsistency plagued Ryun just as it had in 1971.  But by the time the Olympic Trials had rolled around Jim was in great form.  But the meet was not without disappointment.  He moved too early in the 800 pulling the field through 600 meters at world record pace only to fade to 4th place missing the team by one spot.  Upstart Dave Wottle startled the running world with a blazing final 200 to tie the world record in 1:44.3.

So the skeptics howled and fans wondered if Ryun could overcome the disappointment of the 800 by making the team at 1500 meters.  Still the field was relatively thin.  Injuries had taken Marty Liquori out of the competition.  That left the relatively unknown Wottle as Ryun's biggest concern.  The finals led to the most iconic moment of Ryun's career.

The race turned out to be a tactical.  Sitting in dead last with 300 meters to go Ryun unleashed his patented kick sweeping by the field including Wottle.  Just yards from the finish line Ryun broke out into a broad grin, throwing his arms up in the air.  It seemed at that moment that the demons of Mexico City and Miami had been excised.  Ryun's victory put him on track for a rematch with Kip Keino in Munich.

The final weeks of training took place in Lawrence.  I can remember vaulting over the barbwire at Memorial Stadium to run stairs or goof around high jumping with my friend Dale Culver.  There we would spy Ryun running an intense workout.  We would both shake our heads knowing that our Olympic hero was risking his legs to scale the barbwire to get in a training session.

The third fastest mile in history at a meet in Canada confirmed Ryun's great conditioning.  His final meet before Munich took place in Lawrence.  A special twilight meet was to feature an attempt at the world record for 2 miles.  Word came that evening that the then obscure Finnish runner Lasse Viren had taken a big chunk off the record the night before running 8:14.  I think that news and a day filled with family moving preparations took the wind out of Jim Ryun's sails.

Canadian Grant McLaren pounded the field running in the low 8:30's beating American great George Young and Ryun.  After a mile with little motivation, Ryun was sprinting the straights and jogging the curve.  Despite the half-hearted effort the crowd cheered their hero on.

Munich was an unmitigated disaster.  Running off the back of the pack Ryun was tripped with 500 meters to go by an inexperienced runner costing a chance at making the semi-finals.  The rules committee refused to advance Ryun who in my opinion had been fouled.  At age 26 and with a family to support, Ryun decided to join the brand new  professional track circuit.  The Olympic dream was over.

Winter/Spring & Summer 1972

Date       Event      Time       Place      Splits
1-22-72   Mile        4:06.8      1st            63.0-2:10.5-3:10.2-4:06.5
Sunkist Invitational            Los Angeles, CA
2-29-72   2 Mile     8:47.3      4th            4:19.0-8:47.3
Oregon Invitational             Portland, OR
2-11-72   Mile        4:13.2      6th            60.0-2:04.0-3:09.0-4:13.2                          
Los Angeles Invitational    Los Angeles, CA
2-19-72   Mile        4:06.9      1st            62.0-2:07.0-3:10.0-4:06.9      
                800          1:54.9      1st            60.5-1:54.9
All-Comers            UC Santa Barbara, CA
3-4-72     Mile        4:19.2      7th            NA
Los Angeles, CA
3-16-72   Mile        4:11.5      1st           NA
All-Comers            Memorial Stadium              Lawrence, KS
3-24-72   880          1:48.5      1st            (2 mile relay)        NA
3-25-72   1320        2:55.3      1st            (distance medley relays)   58.0-1:58.4-2:55.3
Florida Relays      Gainesville, FL
4-7-72     880          1:48.1      1st            27.0-54.0-1:21.0-1:48.1
Texas Relays         Austin, TX
4-22-72   Mile        3:57.1      1st            59.5-2:00.0-3:03.3-3:57.1
Kansas Relays      Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
4-29-72   Mile        4:08.5      1st            NA
Drake Relays        Des Moines, IA
5-6-72     Mile        4:07.7      1st            NA          
                880          1:51.1      1st            NA
                3 Mile     13:50.4    1st            NA
S.I.U. vs. K.U. Dual                Memorial Stadium              Lawrence, KS
5-14-72   Mile        4:14.1      7th            NA
King Games           Philadelphia, PA
5-20-72   5000        13:38.2    3rd            4:25.0-8:50.0-13:14.9-13:38.2
Bakersfield Classic             Bakersfield, CA
5-26-72   880          1:49.1      1st            prelim 55.3-1:49.1
USTFF     Wichita, KS
6-9-72     Mile        3:57.3      1st            28.4-59.0-1:30.7-2:02.6-2:33.5-3:03.2-3:29.8-3:57.3
Von’s Classic        Los Angeles, CA
6-29-72   800          1:48.7      1st            heats      25.5-55.0-2:23.3-1:48.7
6-30-72   800          1:47.3      1st            semi-finals25.5-54.9-1:47.3
7-1-72     800          1:45.1      4TH           25.5.-52.0-1:17.6-1:45.1
7-6-72     1500        3:45.1      1ST           heats      last 440 55.2
7-7-72     1500        3:42.3      1st            semi-finals  last 440 54.2
7-8-72     1500        3:42.5      1st            last 440 51.2
Olympic Trials      Hayward Field      Eugene, OR
7-29-72   Mile        3:52.8      1st            29.0-59.0-1:29.0-1:57.6-2:26.0-2:57.6-3:52.8
Police Meet           Toronto, Ontario Canada
8-16-72   2 Mile     9:13.4      3rd            NA
Jayhawk Twilight Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
9-7-72     1500        3:51.0      tripped
Olympic Games    Munich, Germany

Monday, February 20, 2012

The Ryun Project - 11

The comeback of America's greatest miler was major news in the winter of 1971.  Jim Ryun selected an indoor meet at San Francisco's Cow Palace to return to the world of competitive racing.  He did it with rather unremarkable 4:04.4.  But it was a win and it was a first step of putting the ghosts of 1969 behind him and a chance at Olympic redemption in Munich the following year.

A month later he ran another mile this time fast enough to tie the existing indoor world record hitting 3:56.4 on the boards in San Diego.  That race made it clear to the world that Ryun was back and ready to do battle with the world's best.

The 1971 Kansas Relays was the first time in my life that I would get to see Jim Ryun run the mile in person.  It was an unpressed, impressive 3:55.8.  It helped set the stage for one of the biggest races in Ryun's career and most importantly the greatest mile race ever run in the United States.  For this young 9th grader of dreamed of becoming a good high school miler it was an amazing Saturday afternoon.  Fortunately I would have a chance to see Jim run a few more times before he gave up his amateur status.

The KU Relays mile would build upon the drama for Ryun's next race against his top American nemesis, Villanova senior Marty Liquori.  The race on May 16th was ballyhooed as "The Mile of the Century."  It received about as much hype as the sporting press was capable of generating at that time.  And in this instance, the race lived up to the hype.  Liquori managed to take the sting out of Ryun's lethal kick by pushing the pace over the last half mile.  Marty would win by a couple of steps and it clearly stamped Liquori as the number 1 miler in the world.

Ryun wasn't the same after that race through the rest of that year.  Allergies were mainly to blame for his poor performances.  He cut short his season and began building a base phase of training to prepare him for the Olympic Games.  1971 showed that Jim Ryun was back and in a big way and clearly a serious contender for gold at the Munich Games.

Winter/Spring/Summer&Fall 1971

Date       Event      Time       Place      Splits
1-22-71   Mile        4:04.4      1st            62.0-2:07.0-3:08.3-4:04.4
Examiner Invitational         Cow Palace            San Francisco, CA
2-19-71   Mile       3:56.4      1st            60.0-2:00.0-3:00.0-3:56.4  World Indoor Record
San Diego Invitational       San Diego, CA
3-28-71   2 Mile     8:37.0      3rd            4:12.0-8:37.0 3000 8:07.0                         
Auckland International      Auckland, New Zealand
4-17-71   Mile        3:55.8      1st            62.5-2:01.9-3:01.1-3:55.8
Kansas Relays      Memorial Stadium              Lawrence, KS
5-1-71     5000        13:59.4    1st            4:32.0-9:05.0-13:33.0-13:59.4
Vancouver Invitational       Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
5-16-71   Mile        3:54.8      2nd           61.1-2:02.5-3:00.0-3:54.8
Freedom Games  Philadelphia, PA
6-7-71     Mile        4:07.6      10th          61.1-2:01.5-3:02.4-4:07.6
Oregon Twlight     Hayward Field      Eugene, OR
6-12-71   800          1:49.3      1st            26.5-55.0-1:23.0-1:49.3
Area AAU                               Hayward, CA
7-6-71     Mile        4:17.5      10th          NA
Stockholm, Sweden
7-14-71   880          1:49.0      5th           
Oslo, Norway
10-2-71   4.5 Mile  22:24       1st
All-Comers USCB Campus
10-16-71 4.9 Mile  24L54.5   1st           
All-Comers UCSB Campus
11-6-71   6 Mile     29:57       2nd
All-Comers UCSB Campus
11-27-71 10,000 meters       DNF

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Neighbor

I've got a neighbor who took up running in the last 9 months or so.  Chris King is a hard working entrepreneur who would readily admit he had gotten a little chubby.  Now I'm the first to admit that my body is soft and I could stand to lose about 10 more pounds.  Chris needed to lose about 30 when I left for California in 2010.

When I got back last summer I noticed that Chris had slimmed down considerably.  He was fit and getting fitter, downright ripped as a matter of fact.  Not bad for a guy approaching his 50th birthday.

So this Saturday night happens to be when they put on the biggest local 5K right before the Edison Festival of Lights parade.  It's a lot of fun because it's run right before dusk, usually in great weather and in front of an appreciative crowd along the entire out and back course.

I wasn't sure if I would run Edison this year.  I lost nearly a month of training with a hamstring problem that plagued me in January.  But I knew I needed a rust buster if I'm going to tackle a big local half marathon in another couple of weeks.  I went to the race hoping to run faster than I did the last time two years ago even though I had fewer miles under my belt for the year.

Then there was the Czarina egging me on.  She wanted me to race because Chris was running as well.  I think she is trying to stir up a little rivalry with the neighbor.  Far be it for me to disappoint her.

When the gun went off I felt out of sorts.  I thought I got off pretty well but then a guy in my age group rolled by me after the first quarter, a guy I normally beat and I knew I had to get moving.  I never felt quite right and when I hit the mile in just a touch over 7 minutes I thought maybe I can hang on and run low 22's which wouldn't be half bad.  But it wasn't to be.
I didn't die but I certainly started doing the slow fade.  A group of guys my age caught me about 3/4's of a mile from the finish.  Shortly after that Chris rolled up on me with a hello.  He hesitated so I tried to push a little to see what he would do.  It took him about one block to regather himself and fire on by me.  He put a good 20 seconds on me over the last half mile.
I ran 22:41 by the chip... 22:45 by the gun.  In 2010 I ran 22:58 so I was pleased.  Given the fact I have done 1 hard run in the last month and nothing longer than 10 miles I can't complain.
Chris should feel good about his progress.  I know I feel good about mine.  The half marathon in two weeks should be an even more interesting test.  My strength against his speed.  He's never run a half.  It could be interesting, the doughboy against the lean mean running machine.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Ryun Project - 10 Bring Back the Mile/Bring Back the Miler

Timing is everything.  An article appeared today quoting Jim Ryun about the importance of the mile run.  A little more than a month ago a new Facebook page began to generate some buzz in the running world.  "Bring Back the Mile" received some love from the Associated Press today.

Jim Ryun was interviewed for the article backing the efforts to bring the mile back to American track meets.  The mile disappeared in the late 1970's starting at the high school scene because the United States had decided to go to the metric system.  Americans revolted and the switch from English to metric died. 

But unfortunately the ruling body of high school sports went metric and did so in a weird way.  Instead of going to the 1500 and 3000 meter runs, the metric equivalent of the mile and 2 mile, the powers that be decided to go with the 1600 and 3200 meter runs.  Two made up distances that are not run anywhere else in the world.

The college scene did the same doing away with races in yards and going completely metric.  Gone were the 100 yard dash and the 3 mile run and in its place is 100 meters and 5000 meters.  But the NCAA wasn't stupid enough to go with the 1600 and 3200 like their high school counterparts.  Unfortunately the mile disappeared from most track meets except for the NCAA indoor season where the mile still prevails.

The mile has a symmetry about it that the 1600 or 1500 lacks.  Running a sub-4 minute mile has cache.  Since Jim Ryun first did it four other American high school boys have broken that magical barrier.  I attribute that small number to the fact that the mile disappeared from high school track meets in the late 1970's.  It was 34 years between Marty Liquori's sub-4 and Alan Webb's sub-4 in 2001.  Lukas Verzbicas became number 5 last year. 

In 1970 high school boys were training to break 4 minutes.  They were also launching an all out assault on the 2 mile record to boot.  The number of fast 2 miles between 1969 and 1979 dwarfs all other decades.  Boys were running lots of miles and running a lot of intervals on the track. 

Except for Jim Ryun, he wasn't running at all to start 1970.  He was married and working at the Topeka Capital-Journal.  He had finished a degree in photography.  His wife Ann was pregnant with their first child.  But sometime around May the running bug bit and Jim returned to running.  The hasty exit in Miami had left a bad taste in his mouth.  The 1972 Olympics were just a couple of years away and their was some unfinished business with rivals Kip Keino and the young upstart Marty Liquori.

By the fall the training had taken on a serious nature.  The comeback was on but it wasn't until November that a Sports Illustrated article surfaced announcing Jim Ryun's return to running.  I had gotten a subscription to the magazine three years before so when that issued arrived I think my heart skipped a beat when I saw the news.

It was about this time that I ran into Jim and Anne for the very first time at Allen Field House.  I can't remember if Jim was just finishing up a workout or it was after an indoor track meet.  I just remember how approachable both were and how sweet Anne was.  I was awestruck, it was like standing with rock stars.  Indeed, the mile was getting its biggest star back.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Ryun Project - 9

An entire book could be written about the psychological meltdown that 1969 produced in the life of James Ronald Ryun.  His world had been altered dramatically.  Now married and entering his senior year of college his priorities were changing.   The dream of ever winning Olympic gold was quite probably dead and buried in his mind.  The world records that mattered most were already his.   Being the first man under 3:50, a nice goal, but how am I going to support my wife when I graduate college?

Running had to be an afterthought in the new life that lay ahead for Jim Ryun.  He now had a home life.  Graduation was rapidly approaching.  Ryun contemplated a career in photojournalism.  His friendship with ace photographer Rich Clarkson had sparked a desire in Ryun to follow that career path.  Take a look at some of Jim's photography and you'll know instantly that he was very talented with a camera.

Everyone wanted a piece of Jim Ryun.  The meet promoters wanted him to draw crowds.  His coach wanted him to score points.  And there in lies the rub.  Jim Ryun needed a break.  Look back at the tremendous total of quality races he ran from 1966 to 1968.  The numbers are jaw dropping.  A top miler in this day and age would run half to a third of the number of races Jim Ryun did over that same span.

A tug of war was going on between coach and athlete.  Bob Timmons needed Jim Ryun to compete.  He expected his athlete to do what he had done over his first three years at Kansas.  Ryun knew that the demands of collegiate competition was draining his talent.  He had started to listen to the likes of Dr. Jack Daniels and then there was the specter of Mexico City.  Timmie's methods hadn't produced Olympic gold.  The injuries, illness and failures in Mexico City had all but destroyed the once symbiotic relationship between athlete and coach.

Jim Ryun was burned out.  The punishing work to prepare for Mexico City had exacted an incredible toll.  The media bashing for bringing home only a silver medal left deep scars.  The demands of a no-nonsense coach were simply more than he could bare.  It finally showed itself to the public itself at the Drake Relays when Ryun stepped off the track while anchoring the sprint medley relay.
Despite that Ryun produced two victories at the Big 8 Outdoor before turning in a stellar 3:55.9 heading into the NCAA outdoor championships.  Then along came the precocious Marty Liquori who became the first American to hand Ryun a defeat at the mile distance in four years.  Jim Ryun was no longer invincible.  I can remember feeling confused as I watched the race.  The fearsome kick Ryun was known for simply wasn't there.  I think Jim Ryun was the most confused of all.

As if to put an exclamation point on it Ryun stepped off the track 2 laps into the mile at the AAU National Championship in Miami.  After the race he talked of staleness.  I think the Sports Illustrated writer who chronicled the disastrous events in South Florida put it best.  Jim Ryun needed to learn the most difficult lesson every runner must learn, how to lose.

It was heartbreaking as a huge fan of Jim Ryun to witness the events from the Olympics the previous fall to the summer meltdown in Miami.  It appeared he was ready to get on with the rest of his life.  Running was a thing a past.  Professional track did not exist and a life away from intervals and grueling tempo runs awaited.

Winter/Spring & Summer 1969

Date        Event       Time        Place       Splits
2-8-69     Mile         4:06.2      1st            NA
Michigan State Relays            East Lansing, MI
3-14-69   2 Mile      DNF
                Mile         ?              ?              ?
3-15-69   Mile         4:02.6      1st            60.0-2:03.5-3:06.2-4:02.6
NCAA Indoor Championships Cobo Arena             Detroit, MI
3-29-69   Mile         4:07.8      1st            NA
                880          1:51.0      1st            NA
K.U. vs. U.C.L.A. Dual              Los Angeles, CA
4-11-69   880          1:46.8      3rd            (anchor/sprint medley relay)
4-12-69   880          1:47.4      3rd            (anchor/2 mile relay)
Texas Relays           Austin, TX
4-18-69   Mile         4:01.2      1st            (4 mile relay)
4-19-69   Mile         3:57.6      1st            (anchor/distance medley relay) 57.8-1:58.7-3:02.0-3:57.6 World Record           
Kansas Relays         Memorial Stadium Lawrence, KS
4-25-69   Mile         4:11.0      2nd           (4 mile relay)
4-26-69   880          DNF                         (anchor/sprint medley relay)
Drake Relays           Des Moines, IA
5-3-69     3 Mile      13:29.3    1st
K.U. vs. S.I.U           Carbondale, IL
5-16-69   880          NA           1st            prelim NA
5-17-69   Mile         408.9       1st            63.0-2:06.0-3:09.0-4:08.9
880          1:48.7      1st            55.5-1:48.7
Big 8 Outdoors        Ames, IA
6-7-69     Mile         3:55.9      1st            62.3-2:010-3:00.7-3:55.9
Coliseum Relays     Olympic Coliseum Los Angeles, CA
6-19-69   Mile         4:03.4      1st            prelim 62.2-2:04.0-3:06.0-4:03.4
6-21-69   Mile         3:59.3      2nd           60.5-2:02.8-3:03.5-3:59.3
              3 Mile      DNF
NCAA Outdoor Championships               Knoxville, TN
6-28-69   Mile         2nd           4:07.7      prelim NA
6-29-69   Mile         DNF
AAU National Championships                Miami, FL