Where Your Dreams Become Reality
The Week That Was June 22 - June 28, 2009
This week, our weekly recap looks exclusively at the 2009 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships. We start by saying, "I told you so" as we compare the success of these Trials to an Oregon basketball game. We then tell you where Alan Webb would have finished in the men's 1,500 final, take a look at all the big name pros that had flameouts, and give Barack Obama some unsolicited advice.
For More Info On The Meet: Video Archives/Results of All Races Here.
Too Much Track In Eugene? (We Told You So)
However, in our minds, the meet definitely shouldn't have been in Eugene this year. It was only going to totally pale in comparison to the Trials last year and seem like a bit of a letdown. That's not Eugene's fault, it's just fact. As George Schroeder of the Register-Guard wrote, "It was good stuff, it just wasn't Eugene '08. But there wasn't a chance it would be."
Last year, when everyone was going gaga over the huge success of the Trials in Eugene (when more than 20,000 people per session packed Hayward Field), we were one of the few voices of caution. It seemed like there was a rush to have every big meet in Eugene. The Olympic Trials last year, PAC-10s, Pre Classic, Regionals and USAs this year. NCAAs next year. That's just too much track in one place.
The Trials were special last year because it had been 30+ years since they'd been in Eugene. Eugene proved indeed that it is Track Town USA but track meets are normally all-day affairs (hell, 3- to 4-day affairs) and fans can only support so much. Plus for USAs, a lot of the fans who go to the meet are making a summer vacation out of it and fans aren't going to want to go to the same city in back-to-back years.
We realized all of this last year. Last year, we wrote way back on August 1st, "(We) are worried they are going to oversaturate Eugene with track. In our minds, they ought to have the Trials here every 4 years and NCAAs in one of the middle two years, so there is a championship meet in Eugene every two years."
Boy, were we right.
A championship meet in Eugene once every two years with the Pre Classic every year. That should be the formula in our minds. Instead, Eugene got a ton of track this year and attendance suffered (yes we understand attendance is going to drop a ton in a non-Olympic year).
Our fears of oversaturation came to fruition in 2009. The PAC-10 meet drew a total of 12,553, down from the 12,851 that attended it in 2006.
What about USAs? To Eugene's credit, USAs drew a record 38,000+ in Eugene this year - the most ever for a World Championships year USA nationals.
A record attendance sounds good, but that comes out to roughly 9,500 per day ... which brings us to our:
So the track nationals are barely more popular than an Oregon basketball game. Was Oregon even any good this year?
Schroeder also had the following line in his column, "Question: Is it possible we've come down with track fatigue?" The answer is, "Of course."
(Which reminds us, one industry insider (while a bit inebriated so take it for what it's worth) at the Villard Street Pub told us there is a deal in the works to keep the Trials in Eugene until 2024. If the Trials are there until then, then we'll give all the visitors some advice on what do do at night. If you want to see the who's who of the running world go to the Villard street pub. Galen Rupp, Kara Goucher, agents and more. (Of course now since some of you think Alan Webb's career is over beasue he had some fast-food, we're sure some of you will say Rupp and Goucher are done as well since they were spotted in a pub. (Actually Rupp's demise has already been predicted since he may have gone to Taco Bell). Which reminds of Scott Anderson's 2001 Article from the LRC archives, "The Party Scene in Eugene" (Recapping the Nightlife in Eugene at the 2001 USATF Nationals))
More: Register-Guard: "Track Town can't always top out its 'excellence meter'." *RG: Article On PAC--10 Attendance *Last Year: ESPN Columnist: "Why did we have to wait so long for the trials to return to Pre Country?"
MBoard: Attendance Record At Hayward Field
Get Rid Of The Byes For The Defending World Champs
Look at who didn't show up to compete.
Of the big races/matchups we would most like to see on the men's side of things, hardly any of them happened and a lot of this stemmed from the fact that the 2007 World champions were given byes into the 2009 Worlds. We understand why the byes exist but think they need to be abolished. At the very least, USATF needs to require an athlete to make the final in his or her specialty and compete in it instead of just saying all they have to do is show up, run one meaningless round and go home. Asking them to make the final isn't too much to ask. If they are a double World champion, we are more than willing to let them compete in just one event but it needs to be one of the events where they are the World champion.
Seriously, if we asked you to name the 5 biggest male stars in US men's track and field, we bet the following people would make 90% of everyone's top 5:
2007 double World champ Tyson Gay
None of those guys really competed at the Trials. Sure all of them showed up and competed except for Clay, who scratched with an injury, but they didn't run their specialties.
In terms of distance running, three of the biggest US names out there - Andrew Wheating, Alan Webb and Bernard Lagat - didn't run finals. Without those big names and stories to follow, how could the meet not be a letdown?
When people asked us, "Did you have fun in Eugene?" Our response is, "Yes, we did, but imagine how much more fun would have happened if the following had happened:"
1. Tyson Gay competed in all of the rounds of the 100 or 200
None of those things happened. Part of it was a result of the stupid IAAF bye (or maybe we should say USATF's implementation of it) and part of it was bad luck (injuries), but we certainly think if this had been the Olympic Trials, some of the injured athletes would have competed.
There was a reason why the attendance wasn't all that great. The idea that this meet wasn't that important was coming from all sides. It was coming from the IAAF and USATF in their implementation of the byes and it was coming from the athletes themselves who didn't compete with injuries.
Tyson Gay summed up the situation perfectly himself when he said, "My mother didn't understand why I was running one round, and she said she's not coming."
Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
Thumbs Up to USATF and the Eugene crew for putting on a good show in Eugene. It's easy to complain about the somewhat disappointing attendance, but it still was a record crowd and everything was for the most part very well run. However, when you are used to basically perfection (last year), you notice the difference this year (no television screen in the fan park, which made sense since the meet wasn't a sellout, no food for the media, etc).
USATF also deserves a major Thumbs Up for streaming the non-televised races and allowing the videos of the races to appear online next to the results. Horse racing has video archives, so why not track and field? They already have a film crew filming it for the fans in the stadium, so why not put that content up on the web? We guess it might kill the attendance, so Logan, if you are looking for revenue sources, maybe make the archives available to only USATF members. Perhaps we shouldn't give the credit to USATF, but to the Eugene Organizing Committee. The videos of tv races weren't originally up on USATF (but now are), but on the local meet website tracktown.net. We're not sure why this was the case or why there were two different simultaneous streams of the non televised action (one on USATF/Flotrack one on Tracktown), but as long as fans can somehow watch the non-televised action and at least highlights of the televised races afterwards it is a win win. If the NBA lets game highlights be embedded on websites, then track and field and the networks can as well. If NBC wants to put up the races, fine, but if they're not going to put them up then let someone else do it (NBC isn't any worse off). Thankfully, tracktown.net/Nike, whoever it is, got it done. We say Nike because the same thing happened for the Pre Classic and it doesn't seem to happen for any other televised meet.
We were also pleased that we got to commentate for some of the distance races on tracktown.net, which is run by runnerspace.com. Hopefully, we accomplished our goal of being way better than Larry Rawson/Carol Lewis with less than a day's worth of prep work, no spotters or stats people, one mike, no binoculars, and no ear pieces (but we did have 7 camera I think). We were proud of ourselves for asking if the Schumacher sweep of the 5k was possible with 1k to go.
There were two embarrassing disasters from the 2009 USA meet however. Well, make that three.
1. The women's steeple water jump was set at the wrong height in the prelims. Unacceptable.
2. The qualification purposes were announced wrong for the semis of the women's 800 (the runners were apparently told top 4 automatically make it when in reality it was top three and two on time), so Brenda Martinez petitioned her way into the final as she finished 4th in her heat.
3. We went over this before but you simply can't have 51 people in a two-round men's 1,500. The 1,500 is not an event that is often run for time and 1/3rd of the qualifiers shouldn't come from time.
Our formula for the # of competitors for the 800 is simple: 8 per heat of the 800. If you have 3 rounds of the 800, that means 32 competitors. And you go from 32 to 16 to 8. The 800 at USAs should ALWAYS start in lanes.
The 1,500 is a bit more tricky. If you are going to have 3 rounds of the 1,500, we'd say start with 48 and go to 24 and 12. Very simple. Two rounds is a bit more tricky. Maybe start with a max of 36, but we don't like the concept of 3 heats going 3 auto / 3 time, so we might take 4 and 2 (which would make a 14-person final, which is still too big) or just 4 from each heat.
As For The Athletes, Where To Begin? Nicole Bush - Tough & Classy
Bush injured herself on the water jump that was too high. Of course, there is no way to know if the extra height caused the injury because we'd heard Bush had been having issues with her foot all spring, but in this day and age of lawsuits at the drop of a bucket, it was refreshing to see Bush and her coach Walt Drenth not complain about things. Bush called it "kind of a bummer." Bush had an excellent chance for the World Championships team, which would have made the senior a lot more marketable to the shoe companies.
But as more and more time has passed and nothing else has come out from Bush and/or Drenth, we wonder if USATF and Doug Logan have already offered her compensation to avoid bad PR. Seems like a reasonable hunch doesn't it?
Regardless of whether she has already been compensated (she should be), we also thought USATF head Doug Logan came across very well in this fiasco. He didn't make excuses or try to hide. He called the mistake "deplorable" and "disturbing" and met Bush himself to apologize. As he told the Register-Guard, "It was important to look her in the eye."
More: Mboard: Bush's foot would have broke anyway
We also think Allyson Felix deserves major, major props for showing up and running all the rounds in the 200 even though she didn't have to. We also want to praise Andrew Wheating for really wanting to run in Eugene. He warmed up for his race before getting shot down by coach Vin Lananna. We want to give Alan Webb a guarded Thumbs Down for not trying to toe the line in the final, but injuries are a tough thing to criticize and you can never tell from afar how truly injured somebody is.
So instead of criticizing Webb for not racing, which may not be entirely fair, we decided rather to analyze:
Let's compare Webb's splits in the prelims to Manzano's and Lomong's splits in the final. They are remarkably similar up until the last lap:
Lomong: 46.23 (46.23), 1:49.08 (1:02.85), 2:48.55 (59.48), 3:41.68 (53.13)
Ulrey's close (53.53) was actually way better than Webb's in the prelims. So by that thinking, Webb theoretically finishes 4th.
Webb fans might point out that Webb's splits were slightly faster than Lomong's and Manzano's at 1,100, so off of a slightly slower pace, he might close a tiny bit faster. Webb haters would likely point out that Webb was no match for Will Leer in the prelim and Leer ended up a well-beaten 5th in the final - although any rational observer would have to admit Leer didn't have his A game in the final.
Don't Go Pro Early
Anyone remember Kevin Hicks? In 2005, he made the Worlds team as a college sophomore and ran 1:44.94. His best since going pro? 1:46.55.
Anyone remember Chris Lukezic? Despite never having won an NCAA title, Reebok gave him a ton of dough back in 2005 to go pro as the supposed future rival of Alan Webb. He was only 6th at NCAAs that year but was the runner-up at USAs that year after finishing 4th at the Trials the year before. The next year, things went well for Lukezic, as he ran a stellar 3:33.28. His best since then? A 3:36.95. At USAs, he was a disappointing 8th the final.
All of these big-name men not doing well made us wonder, "Where is Tiffany McWilliams?" We're assuming she is hurt. No results for her at all in 2009. She ran 4:06.75 back in 2003 as a college sophomore. She won NCAAs in the 1,500 that year and in 2004 before going pro. We actually should start a thread "Where is XXX(insert name of prominent runner here)?" as we can think of a ton of prominent names that were missing at USAs. One of the problems with track and field is there are so many athletes, it's hard to keep track of them. Again, just off the top of our heads, but runners MIA this year at nationals included Olympians Ian Dobson and Alice Schmidt as well as almost-Olympian Lauren Fleshman. (Fleshman was coming off an injury and almost ran the meet).
If you know what is up with these people or other prominent elites, please contribute to our thread which we actually did just start: Big Names MIA at USAs? Where are they?
One guy who didn't bomb at USAs but who did fail to make a World Championships team (unless he ends up on the 4 x 400) was the X Man, Xavier Carter. When he went pro after winning the 100 and 400 at the NCAA champs in 2006, the sky was the limit of for the guy. Three years later, he's yet to make a WC or Olympic team despite his PRs of 10.00, 19.63 and 44.53.
Speaking of not going pro early, Jenny Barringer could have easily jumped ship last year after setting the American record in the summer and competing in the Olympics. But think about how much more money she is worth now than last year? A TON.
Barringer is a sub-4:00 1,500 meter runner who is super-articulate and clearly not a one-year wonder like many top women. And it looks like she'll go back to Colorado to take down the NCAA XC crown.
Seeing all of the struggles of so many big-name "can't miss" prospects, we think Galen Rupp's advice to newly-crowned US junior 5k record holder German Fernandez (who deserves his own Thumbs Up) is right on the money:
Rupp: "I wish him the best and hope he doesn't get caught up in the hype. When I look at people that I ran against (at 19), there were people who were supposed to be the next big thing and some of them fell off. I hope it doesn't happen to German. He's one of the best guys at his age. I'm looking forward to running against him."
Speaking of making a lot of money by staying in school, Rupp is another guy who has to be worth a ton more this year than last year.
Of course, if one were doing an objective analysis of the going pro debate, one would need to point out that if people like Kevin Hicks and Chris Lukezic knew they were going to struggle as pros, then they did the right thing in going pro. They went pro when they were valuable. If they were trying to go pro now, they'd be lucky to get much more than an equipment deal.
We don't like seeing men and women go pro early and since President Obama is so interested in reforming college football and adding a playoff, we think he might as well reform all of college sports - not just football. We therefore urge President Obama to get the following new national law passed - You can't leave college to go pro in track and field until you win an NCAA title.
Maybe They Should Go Pro Early?
A thumbs up to Evan, his coach and his OTC teammates Chris Solinsky and Matt Tegenkamp for sweeping the 5k. And to think Schumacher didn't even have the best meet of any coach based in Portland. That honor belonged of course to marathon legend Alberto Salazar. We raved about the Salazar clan during our 10k and 5k broadcasts as the crew of Kara Goucher, Galen Rupp and Amy Yoder Begley won three events.
A Repeat Of 2008?
Looking at the men's side of things in terms of the 800, 1,500, steeple, 5k and 10k, there was only one repeat winner from 2008 - Nick Symmonds at 800 - but that was because 2008 double champ Bernard Lagat wasn't competing. The other winners were all guys that were in top three last year.
Last year, 1,500 meter winner Lopez Lomong was 3rd, 5k winner Matt Tegenkamp was 2nd in the 5k, and steeple Josh McAdams was 3rd in the steeple and Galen Rupp was 2nd in the 10k.
Someone Call The Justice Department - Anti-Trust Violations By Nike
So kudos to them for sponsoring so many athletes ... (We're sure some agent will write us and say they have a lot more money because they aren't sponsoring the two biggest men in the sport Tyson Gay and Usain Bolt)
A Few More Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down
We've got to give a Thumbs Up to KD for coming back from the crushing disappointment of last year's Olympic Trials to get 2nd in the 800 this year and push Symmonds to the limit.
How about both a Thumbs Down and a Thumbs Up to Maggie Vessey? A Thumbs Down to her for running like an absolute amateur in the women's 800. If you win the Pre Classic, you have to be one of the top three 800 runners in this country, then you misjudge the opening pace and your come-from-behind tactics cost you in the final.
But we've also got to give Vessey a Thumbs Up for making her races the most entertaining track races we may have ever seen. Both in the prelims and final, we were totally mesmerized by her tactics and watched only her. Seriously, we've never seen anything like it. We hope she keeps up the crazy tactics as we will literally pay a meet promoter to have a Vessey-cam (you'd need a separate camera as she is so far back she wouldn't show up in a shot of the main field). The Pre Classic winner routinely put herself 20 meters behind the field at 600 before storming to the front. She did it both in her prelim and in the final. It cost her in the final as, despite her 28-second last 200, she only finished 4th. The following message board thread title sums up Vessey's tactics perfectly: "Is Maggie Vessey Serious?"
We've also got to give a Thumbs Down to Abdi Abdirahman for raving about his fitness prior to getting his butt whipped in the 10k. Being confident in your abilities before a race is fine, but not publicly saying as much if sources tell us they saw you in Flagstaff so injured less than two weeks before the Trials that you could barely walk.
Finally, congrats to Jenny Barringer and Galen Rupp for getting some nice bling and a nice new ride, respectively. Jenny apparently has a sweet new engagement ring and Rupp a brand new Lexus. You run that fast - you deserve it.
Recommended Reads From Last Week
1) Former CU, Army, Colorado State Coach Jerry Quiller Fighting Cancer With The Help Of His Former Athletes
Remembering The Last Week With The Quotes of the Day - Day By Day:
Monday: "I run to race. And I race for championship win."
Saturday: "Coming around that corner, I looked up at the JumboTron and saw that we
(training partners Chris Solinsky, Matt Tegenkamp, and Evan Jager) had separation. It was basically the three of us. So
the pressure kind of came off. It was just having fun, racing."