February 19, 2014

New Blogs and Old Tricks

You might have noticed that I haven't posted recently -- as in, for a couple of years. Sorry about that.

Since then, Newton North Track and Cross Country has won multiple team and individual state championships, adding all sorts of hardware to the already over-stuffed trophy cases in the new school. I've loved seeing this, even if it has been over seven years since I've had any involvement in the program. There's no way I can offer enough congratulations to the Newton North coaches and athletes for those accomplishments, but congratulations anyway!

For those few of you who still check this site from time to time to see if I've emerged from my long winter of hibernation, I want to say that it's unlikely that I'll ever be posting about Newton North and the Bay State League. However, if you are interested in the smaller world of the larger running community, I have started another blog to write about my adventures and thoughts as a runner, coach, and fan.

I don't intend to write much about High School Track and XC, although -- who knows? -- I might start doing that at some point. Mostly, I'm going to just write about what I'm thinking, which means using running as a jumping-off point for all sorts of digressions and flights of fancy. Consider yourself warned.

Anyway, the new blog is here: therunnereclectic.com

Thanks for being patient all these years.

August 12, 2012

Barnicle 14th (3rd American) at Falmouth

I'm going to take a short break from thinking about the Olympics to mention a welcome result from the world of Road Racing.

NNHS, Arkansas, and New Mexico alum Chris Barnicle finished 14th (3rd American) at the Falmouth Road Race on Sunday, running 33:29 (4:47 per mile). Barnicle was 15 seconds behind Luke Puskedra (first American), and 5 seconds ahead of old rival Sean Quigley. You can see Barnicle, in black New Balance singlet,  just to the left of Puskedra (Oregon) in the photo above.

Great to see Chris running well.

August 08, 2012

What's the Matter with Kenya?

"We are ready for this Olympics and we are going for a record medal haul. I have the best team ever in Kenya's Olympics history. That is what we are looking at. At least 12 gold medals, including the elusive 10,000m men's title. As for the overall medal tally, you can multiply that by three."

- Kenyan Coach Julius Kirwa, August 1, 2012

Only a week ago, Kenya looked forward to the start of Olympic Track & Field competition confident in their talent, their preparations, and their place as one of the dominant countries in the sport of middle and long distance running. Seven days later and halfway through the program of distance events, the Kenyan men and women are falling short of their (admittedly) ambitious goals. There is talk of gloom in the Kenyan camp. Is it fair to say that Kenya is struggling?

The Kenyan men were shut out in the both the 10K (5th, 12th, and a DNF) and the 1500 (7th, 11th, and last), events in which the U.S. got two silver medals. A gold and bronze in the steeple helped. It would have been a national tragedy not to win the steeple.

As for the Kenyan women, Priscah's Jeptoo's silver in the marathon and a silver and bronze in the 10,000m (behind the gold-medal efforts of Ethiopian runners in both events) have been better. However, I can't be the only one shocked that Mary Keitany failed to medal in the marathon, and it was disappointing that the Kenyan women were shut out in the steeple.

The bottom line is that after six distance events, Kenya still leads the distance medal count with one gold, two silvers, and two bronzes. Ethiopia has two golds and two bronzes. No other country has more than two medals in these events.

And Kenya certainly has great chances for medals in the men's 800 (Rudisha!), 5000, and marathon, and in the women's 800, 1500, and 5000. I wonder, though, whether the semi-malaise will affect the once invincible Kenyan men in the marathon. The selection process for the marathon was bizarre and of necessity eliminated potential medal winners from the Kenyan team. Will the three runners who made the cut redeem the country's reputation?

Meanwhile, after Leo Manzano's miracle silver in the 1500, the U.S. with two medals hungry for more. The men's marathon would be a long shot, but the U.S. seems to have decent chances for  medals in the men's 5000m and women's 1500 and 800.

Will the U.S. continue to exceed expectations? Will Kenya regain its form? Next up for the d/mid-d crowd is the men's 800 on Thursday. Does anyone doubt that Rudisha will get Kenya back on track?

August 07, 2012

Suhr Beats Isinbayeva at Last

Four years earlier in Beijing conditions had been ideal for the women's pole vault final. It had been warm with a slight tailwind -- perfect conditions for the most technically perfect vaulter in history. On that evening, Elena Isinbayeava had won her second Olympic gold medal, clearing 5.05 (16-6.75).

American Jenn Stuczynski couldn't match Isinbayeva's vault and settled for the silver medal. At that point, the American public probably expected a happy Stuczynski to smile and wave and enjoy finishing second to the world record holder. But instead of celebrating, Stuczynski and her coach Rick Suhr allowed the media and the American public to see their disappointment. The coach, in particular, looked less than thrilled. To viewers, it looked and sounded like Suhr was callously criticizing Stuczynski in a vulnerable moment.

Stuczynski grew up in Fedonia, NY, and excelled at multiple sports, including softball, basketball, soccer, and track and field. She attended Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, NY, and graduated in 2004 as the team's all-time leading scorer. It was also in 2004 -- the year in which Isinbayeva won her first gold medal at the Athens Olympics -- that Stuczynski was introduced to pole vaulting, under the guidance of coach Rick Suhr.

Ten months after taking up the event, Stuczynski won the U.S. Indoor champiponships, vaulting 4.35 (14-3). In the next eight years, she would win four more U.S. indoor championships and six U.S. outdoor championships. She dominated vaulting in the U.S., but always came up just short at the world level, with a world indoor championships silver  to go along with that Olympic silver medal from Beijing.

In 2010, Stuczynski and Suhr were married. In spite of injuries and health setbacks, the two of them continued to prepare for another shot at the sport's greatest prize. Suhr trained in a rough facility at her home where, she says, it was drafty and cold most of the time and where the runway was uphill. Before leaving for the London Games she had some of the best training of her life, clearing 16-1, uphill runway and all. All that she needed was crappy weather in London.

On Monday night in London. it was cool and the wind was swirling. After the competition was over, Isinbayeva would say, "The conditions were terrible... As the competition went on, it became more of a mess, so difficult. I was sitting there thinking, 'I wanted this to be over with as soon as possible.'"

Of the twelve finalists, seven failed to clear 4.55 and were done. Suhr entered at that height and cleared it on her first attempt. The only others to clear 4.55 were Germany's Silke Spiegelburg and Martina Stritz, and Cuba's Yarisley Silva, although both Silva and Strutz had misses at a lower height, putting them behind. Isinbayeva missed her first attempt at 4.55 and passed to the next height..

At 4.65, Isinbaeva, Silva, and Spiegelburg cleared. Suhr decided to pass to 4.70, meaning that as the bar was raised, she was only in fourth, out of the medals with conditions deteriorating. 

As a light rain began to fall and the winds continued to swirl, Suhr, Silva, and Isinbayeva all cleared 4.70 on their first attempts. Strutz went out, and Spiegelburg missed her first attempt and elected to pass to 4.75, the height that would decide the medals.With Isinbayeva trying to stay warm by hiding under a blanket, Suhr and Silva both cleared 4.75 on their second attempts. Spiegelburg and Isinbayeva would fail, with Isinbayeva getting the bronze.

It only remained to see whether Suhr or Silva could clear 4.80. None of the attempts from either vaulter were close.

After an eight year journey, the tough woman from Fredonia had won the gold medal. It seems that all those training sessions in a rude Quonset hut that Suhr calls "Rocky's Meat Locker" had prepared her for the hardships of London. Isinbayeva summed it up: "Psychologically, I was completely empty and didn’t want to jump anymore. Jenn wasn’t like that. She was like, 'Grrrrr!' She deserved to win."

August 04, 2012

Olympic 10K: Farah, Rupp get Gold, Silver

There are a lot of great races that hum with drama and excitement, but that leave the established world order firmly in place. The 2012 Olympic 10,000m in London was not one of them.

Instead, in the final flat-out 400 meters, most of what we had come to expect as inevitable in the realm of championship distance running was overturned. Mo Farah, one of Britain's great hope in the Games, endured the bumps and changes of pace throughout the unevenly paced run, took the lead with about 500m to go, closed in 53-something for the final lap, and became the first-ever runner from Great Britain to win 10K gold.

Farah's training partner, Galen Rupp, ran brilliantly and only a few tenths slower over that final lap, moving from fourth to second and taking the Silver. Rupp, the Oregon kid who somehow has never been taken entirely seriously as a great runner, became the first U.S. man to medal in the 10K since Billy Mills in 1964, and the first non-African-born man to medal since Salvatore Antibo in 1988.

Behind Rupp and Farah, a trail of disappointment. Keninisa Bekele, the four-time world champion, two-time defending Olympic champion, and perhaps the greatest 10K runner teh world has ever seen, finished a beaten fourth and out of the medals. Not only was it the first time he had ever lost a 10,000m race he had finished, he also surrendered the bronze to his younger brother, Tariku, who looked absolutely crestfallen to make the podium ahead of Keninisa.

The Kenyan men also looked well-beaten, with Bedan Micheri 5th, Moses Ndiema Masai 12th, and pre-race medal hope Wilson Kiprop a DNF.

With that last lap, American distance running (and coaching!) suddenly seemed to become world-class again. All of a sudden anything seemed the possible. A medal in the 5000m? Yes! ...maybe two!! A medal in the steeplechase or 1500? Why not?!

As the final 200 of the race was unfolding, I was screaming for Rupp to go past Mucheri and then Bekele -- and when, incredibly, he did that, then I was just screaming. Afterwards, the phone started ringing and I found myself talking deliriously to family and friends who had also spent the last few minutes screaming at their TVs. It reminded me of what it was like when the Red Sox won the World Series in 2004; we all couldn't wait to talk to other people about how we had just seen the world change before our eyes.

July 27, 2012

Pat Porter: 1959-2012

 In 1984 the U.S. Cross Country Championships were held at Franklin Park in Boston. Several runners from my club were volunteers, helping to set up and then monitor parts of the course. There are two things I remember clearly about that day: before the races, everyone was talking about Saturday's football game and how BC's Doug Flutie had beaten Miami with a Hail Mary pass as time ran out. After the races, everyone was talking about the dominant running of Pat Porter.

Yesterday I read the sad news that Porter, along with two others, had been killed when their small plane crashed shortly after taking off from an airport in Sedona, Arizona. Porter was 53.
Pat Porter was one of the most impressive cross-country runners I have ever seen. The normal challenges of maintaining pace over rugged terrain didn't seem to apply to him. He was tall and thin, with immensely powerful strides that created the illusion of barely touching the ground.

Porter was known as one of the toughest competitors in U.S. distance running history. He attended attended Div II Adams State in Alamosa, Colorado, where he trained with Coach Joe Vigil. He graduated in 1982 and in the fall of that year, won the first of what would be eight consecutive U.S. cross-country championships.

At the World Cross Country Championships, Porter finished in the top ten five separate times, including a 4th place in 1984.

Porter made two Olympic teams (1984 and 1988), but his most memorable "Olympic" experience might well have been playing the great Finnish runner Lasse Viren in the film "Without Limits." The film depicts the final of the 5000m at the 1972 Munich Olympics, where Viren (Porter) outkicks Steve Prefontaine (Billy Crudup) and the rest of the field to win the Gold Medal. As I watched the clip below, it seemed to me that Porter's most difficult acting challenge was not making that winning kick look too easy.

July 19, 2012

Jampol on the 10 Most Memorable Moments in (Recent) Olympic History

NNHS alum and featured columnist Noah Jampol does a fantastic job giving us his Most Memorable Moments in Olympic History on Bleacher Report this week.

From Michael Johnson's WR in the 200m at the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta to Derek Redmond's heartbreaking completion of his 400 semi-final on a shredded hamstring in the 1992 Games, Noah captures the drama and the lasting impact of these indelible moments.

Among these stories, none dates from before 1968, but that's not a criticism. There are too many stories to tell, and it must have been hard to pick only ten from the last 44 years.

We'll have to wait to read Noah's retelling of how barefooted Abebe Bikila outran the world's best marathoners through the streets of Rome in 1960, how Billy Mills pulled the upset of the century in the Tokyo 10,000m, and how Jesse Owens demolished the myth of Aryan supremacy in Berlin in 1936. 

We'll try to be patient.