Moscow Diary Entry #1: LetsRun.com Travels To Moscow With Banned Agent Mark Block

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LRC Pre-Meet Photo Album

by Robert Johnson, LetsRun.com
August 9, 2013

Moscow, Russia – We thought we’d try to give you a little bit of behind the scenes look as to what the action is like away from the track at the 2013 IAAF World Championships by doing a little diary. Well we guess in this day and age, it’s called a blog.

Here is our first entry on day 1 which covers our flight over, our first visit to the track and practice track and a little bit on Moscow the city.

We’ve also got a photo album up with more than 160 pictures that shows some of Moscow, the stadium, the practice track and a ton of athletes: LRC Pre-Meet Photo Album

The LetsRun.com staff is coming to Moscow from various locations. We won’t bore you with all of the staff’s travel descriptions but will tell you the most interesting one by far. LetsRun.com co-founder Robert Johnson flew over on the Wednesday overnight flight on Delta from JFK. You won’t believe who was on his flight.

Joining Rojo on his trip were the following.

1) The entire Somalia team for the 2013 Worlds.

Omar Abdi – the one man team from Somalia

The birth-place of Olympic champion Mo Farah is likely full of distance talent but the civil unrest and the country’s obsession with soccer hasn’t led them to doing much in track and field.

The entire Somalia team consists of just one person and he lives and trains in the US. Omar Abdi, who is going to be a fifth year senior at UMass-Lowell and has a 3:44 1500 pb, will be running the 1500 in Moscow. We recognized him because he was wearing an NCAA sweatshirt. Abdi went to Arkansas for three years before transferring to Lowell.

Rojo chatted him up for a bit on the planet. Abdi moved to the US in ninth grade (he went to Charlestown, HS in Massachusetts), not knowing English but somehow now speaks it with basically zero accent. He also was on the honor roll at Arkansas. Very impressive. He said he was hoping to run in the World University Games earlier this summer but there was a problem with the Visa so the Somalians said they’d support him to be their one wild-card to Moscow. What a pleasant surprise that was for him.

The local Somalia community in Massachusetts helped pay for the trip.

2) The flo-track crew for Moscow – Ryan Fenton and Alex Lohr.

Lohr is the good-looking one on the right

Rojo and Fenton spent much of the flight sharing the latest track gossip before Fenton convinced Rojo to not take the official IAAF shuttle (which was going to go the hotel first and then to the stadium (so it would take more than two hours) and just take the train with them from the airport to the city center where two friends of flowrestling.com (yes there is such a thing – it’s actually bigger than flotrack) would pick us up and take us to the stadium to get their credentials.
Rojo was glad he did as it was an adventure.

After a stop at a coffee shop, where Rojo ordered a beer at 11:45 am to try to prove he is more manly than the guys from flotrack, they hopped on the train and had quite a day. Their Russian wrestling hosts were quite the characters and dressed more American than the Americans as shown here. The Russians are the two guys decked out in LA Clippers and BC gear.

3) Banned Agent Mark Block

Mark Block, after enjoying Nike’s VIP treatment last year in Eugene

Yes that’s right. Rojo and Block, who supposedly is banned from the sport for ten years, were on the same flight to Moscow as was Block’s former business partner Chris Layne. Not familiar with Block? Read our exposé on him last year here: Why Was A Man With A 10-Year Doping Ban Enjoying The 2012 US Olympic Track & Field Trials From The Nike Sky Box?

Up top, we were going to label block as a “disgraced agent” but that’s clearly not the case. The guy continues to travel the glove with immunity. We had already been told that this year he also decided to vacation in Eugene during the time of the Prefontaine Classic as well as in London at the same time as the London Anniversary Games. And now Moscow when Worlds are going on. He must have an amazing job with lots of vacation time.

Last night, a source emailed us and said he’d been told a fellow coach saw him having dinner last night with US athletes Jason Richardson and Carmelita Jeter, who probably because of her association with Block is often referred to as Pharmelita Jeter on the messageboard. Do we think it’s fair that someone who has never failed a drug test has that nick-name? Yes we do. Associate with someone banned from the sport, and people are going to draw their own conclusions, fairly or not.

The good news is that an agent emailed us in June and said the following, “The updated USADA code will ban anyone from working with someone who’s served such a ban (I assume it’s the Mark Block rule). Granted, that new code won’t go into effect until 2015.”

Post-Flight Activities – Get Credentials, Check into Apartment, Go to Practice Track

After some crazy driving by the Russian wrestlers, Rojo went to the stadium to pick up the credentials. The Worlds track and field stadium is right by the Moscow river and is part of a huge sports complex that dates to the Soviet Union days when they have a powerhouse athletic program in a ton of sports .There are quite a few smaller stadiums next to the humongous track as well as tennis courts and what not. The Soviets liked to get everyone together and produce champions. You can see what we are talking about in our photo album. Unfortunately, we mistakenly seemed to have deleted the photo of the huge Lenin statue outside the stadium.

We got our credentials and then went to check out the track. The track is pretty spectacular:


The track back in 1980 (we assume that’s when this was taken)


The Track today


The inside. A space theme for the opening ceremony?

We got to walk around wherever we wanted. We went down on the actual track and had a race. You be the judge:

Too close to call. Where’s Roger Jennings when you need him?

Moscow is booming and thus expensive

We then decided to experience the post-race maze that the athletes must go through to get to the press interviews with us after the races. It’s set up brilliantly so the athletes have to go up and round every television crew in Moscow. They can’t leave the track without walking by probably 20 television interviewers. By the time a star who did really well gets to us in the bowels of the stadium, they are often giving out cliché answers.

Next off, we checked into our apartment. In honor of former Georgetown star Chris Lukezic, who ran 3:33 for 1500 meters at age 23 but retired at age 25 to get rich by working for Airbnb, LetsRun.com booked a place on Airbnb. We figure that’s the closest the huge talent Lukezic will ever get again to a major track meet.

Hotels and apartments in Moscow are very expensive. You’d think for nearly $200 a night the power wouldn’t be off when we checked in but it was. The place is actually nice and all is well now (We forgot to take photos of the apartment and will do so later in the week).

Once the power was on, we checked our email and realized the Jamaicans were having a press gathering at the practice track from 5-6 pm. We didn’t expect Usain Bolt to show up but went anyways to see what the practice track was like.

Sheila Reid getting lots of love

Boy are we glad we did. We got an exclusive one on one with Bolt and Galen Rupp who said he may not be running the 10,000 due to a stress reaction. Well not really but that’s what we told the flotrack guys happened when they later emailed wanting to hang out. The bought it – hook, line and sinker.

We took a lot of photos at the track of mainly of Kenyans, Canadians and Jamaicans who were out in full-force. But there are few from the US (Ryan Hill and DeSean Turner), Japan, China, Netherlands and Russia as well. Former Villanova star Sheila Reid was the star of the off the track and on-track action. A slew of volunteers posed with pictures with her and then she was one of the few that did a semi-legitimate workout on the track. We also saw Javier Culson doing a workout as well on the men’s side.

At night, we went walking along the Moscow river to find something to eat and there were tons of people just out for an evening stroll. It was really very pleasant and enjoyable to just walk around for fun. We had a great dinner overlooking the water front. This place seems pretty awesome from what we can tell.

We end this entry with three things we’ve learned in Russia so far.

1) The Russians seem much less uptight about stuff than in the US.
Want to get a beer and just drink it outside enjoying the beautiful, near perfect, 80 degree, sunny day. Go right ahead. Want to park your car without feeding a meter? Go right ahead.

Want to climb up to the top and sit on the edge of this big bridge?

No problem whatsoever as well.

2) Warren Weir looks like he’s about 15 years old.

The 2012 Olympic 200 bronze medallist is actually 23. We’ve always felt young-looking people improve a lot so we’ll see how much faster the 19.79 man goes.

3) Size matters to some and it doesn’t matter to others.
Compare the size of the camera the flotrack guys were using to do their work yesterday as compared to the Japanese.


Flotrack’s Camera


The Japanese’s Camera

And with that. We’ll sign off before our jet-lagged brains get us in trouble.

More: LRC Pre-Meet Photo Album


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