Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Doing Des Moines

The Czarina and I have been dying to go on a track and field adventure.  We thought long and hard about going to the World Championships this year in Moscow.  But for a variety of reasons we settled on heading to Des Moines, Iowa for the USATF National Championships.  The Czarina would be breaking her big meet cherry at the best meet in the world outside of The Olympics and the World Championships.

We skipped Wednesday which kicked off the junior portion of the meet.  We fe lew into Kansas City for a little family time and kick taste of barbeque before driving north to Des Moines.  We hit the stadium just as the men's 1500 prelims were wrapping up.  We went Thursday night wanting to take in the men's and women's 10000 meters.  Unfortunately we had brought the weather in Fort Myers with us.

The 10K wars started with Shalane Flanaghan throwing down and daring anyone to brave the heat and humidity to stay with her for 25 laps.  Kara Goucher tried and lasted about 3 kilometers before going into a slow fade.  A pack of 3 led by Amy Hastings reeled Kara in but in the end Jordan Hasay and Tara Erdmann would finish 2nd and 3rd.  Hastings was 4th but she has the "A" standard needed to punch a ticket to Moscow, the other two girls don't. 

The Czarina soon realized that watching 10K's require a lot of patience, especially when it's a jogfest like the men's race.  I told her to look for fireworks with a mile to go and sure enough Dathan Ritzenheim delivered ramping up the tempo and running the field off its feet all except for Olympic silver medalist Galen Rupp.

The weather consigned the distance races to the wait and kick category the rest of the meet.  But it certainly made for some hot sprinting with Tyson Gay showing the world and Usain Bolt he's still got some zip in his old legs with a dazzling 100 and 200 meter double.  Then there was a stellar American record from women's hurdling newcomer Brianna Rollins.  It marked the Czarina's first American record and my 6th to go along with 3 world marks I've seen set.

The best racing came in the men's 800 meters.  Duane Soloman ran with guts from the git-go and dared Nick Symmonds to run him down.  He produced a stunning 1:43.27 in taking his first national title while confirming his spot as America's premier middle distance runner. 

The other distance racers were all hampered by the heat.  Getting to witness high school phenom Mary Cain make the 1500 team was certainly an unforgettable highlight.  She let out a primal scream on her way to the victory stand.

The Czarina's favorite, Leo Manzano, managed to sneak out of a box and thread his way to a 2nd place finish behind Matt Centrowitz to confirm his status as one of America's great mile talents following his silver medal in London.
We took a ton of pictures.  But the above is one of my favorites.  Following the men's 5000 champion Bernard Lagat and 2nd place finisher Galen Rupp stopped for a chat with Rupp's coach Alberto Salazar.  Next thing you know the Czarina is sitting at Alberto's feet begging me to take her picture.  I missed when Alberto glanced down wondering who the hell was listening in on his conversation. 

A few moments later we got and up close and personal shot with Bernard Lagat.  He gets a boat load a crap on the Let's Run message born for not being a native born American but Lagat is a class act.  He is one of the greatest distance runners, ever, period.  His longevity in the sport is simply amazing and at age 38, he's got a chance to make the podium in Moscow.

Despite the heat, all in all it was a great meet with three American records all set by the women.  We saw old friends from Kansas City and enjoyed a great competition.

Unfortunately, Des Moines failed the test as a host for nationals.  The crowds were pretty sparse and the facilities don't seem up to snuff.  In fact I've seen other college venues better suited for hosting nationals.  It's hard to compete with places like Hayward Field in Eugene.  It's simply the best place in the world to watch a track and field meet.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Rock Chalk What?

The University of Kansas enjoyed the status of being a national power in track and field for about 30 years.  The Jayhawks were a force in the 50's, 60's and 70's.  It all started falling apart for several reasons. Bob Timmons refused to recruit foreign athletes. Timmons also lost his best recruiters to other schools, men like Thad Talley, Stan Narewski and Gary Pepin, who turned Nebraska into a national track and field power. The final blow was Title 9. Leveling the playing field for women came at the expense of men's track and field programs across the nation. I'm not complaining about it, it's just a fact.

So K.U., which was as good as Oregon, or Florida, or Texas A&M or L.S.U. or any top tier program, started a very slow fade in the 70's culminating with Timmon's departure in the 80's.  The program had a few bright spots in the 80's and 90's under Gary Schwartz with the likes of Scott Huffman, Pat Manson, Michael Cox, Kristi Kloster and Candace Mason, sprinkled through the years, but both the men's and women's program were moribund.  The women's program was particularly anemic and there was a lot of speculation over the last half dozen years how long Stanley Redwine, the man brought in to replace Schwartz, could keep his job.

But then something strange happened. Redwine managed to recruit some good sprinters and a few good field event athletes and the program started to gain some traction. The biggest addition came 3 years ago when Diamond Dixon signed on to become a Jayhawk. Dixon was like icing to the cake.

Last year the women's team stumbled its way to a 4th place finish at outdoor nationals but I honestly didn't think much of it, even though the team had been slotted for the podium. At the NCAA meet if you have a handful of high placers you can crawl into the top 5. But Dixon made me take notice. Especially when she made the U.S. Olympic team and won a gold medal as part of the U.S.A.'s winning 4 x 400 relay team.

Suddenly, I realized that Redwine's team was a force to be reckoned with, boasting a well rounded squad. A 2nd place finish at the NCAA indoor nationals was refreshing. But winning the outdoor title over Oregon, at historic Hayward Field was breathtaking. And they did it without Dixon making it to the finals in the 400. If you had told me that was possible, I would have laughed.

Yet here was Andrea Geubelle scoring in the long jump and triple jump. Paris Daniels scoring in the 200 and helping 2 relays squads earn All-American status along with Dixon running on both squads. Mix in a good Russian pole vaulter Natalia Bartnovskaya, three pretty good throwers and a national champion in heptathlete Lindsay Vollmer and Rock Chalk Jayhawk, Stanley has a national championship.

Redwine will lose a ton of points off this year's amazing squad.  But Kansas will be pretty good next year.  The question is whether he can build on this and compete on a yearly basis with the likes of Oregon, L.S.U. and Texas A&M.  The other question is whether he can breathe some life into the men's program as well.  I saw glimmers of hope even on the men's squad in the last few years but losing a stud like Mason Finley didn't help. 

Is Kansas track back?  I'd say so.  Even though it's not there yet with the men's program, the building of a new track and field only facility will go a long way to making it happen.  Now if we can only get Adidas to give the team neon pink and powder blue uniforms...