LAST LAP — April

Here’s this month’s collection of generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed

Carl Lewis had plenty to say about the state of the sport at the Mt. SAC Relays. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

“We’re Getting To A Clown Show,” Says Carl Lewis

King Carl held court at the Mt. SAC Relays, addressing a variety of issues generally aimed at the sport’s presentation. The Olympic legend, now an assistant coach at Houston, has never been shy about speaking his mind and he let fly. Among the thoughts he shared with Scott Reid of the Orange County Register:

On IAAF innovations including mixed relays. “I think we’re getting to a clown show point with these silly relays and mixed relays and 2-plus-2s.” On the Diamond League trimming the 5000 from the roster. “I’m a sprinter, but I think cutting the distance races is a mistake—because you have 50 million runners in the world. We should be finding ways to get them in the stadium.” On the timing of the World Championships. “I think that whole thing—Doha is too late—is overblown. Everyone freaks out about that. And ‘Oh my God, it’s too early’. It’s just not a big deal. You train. You prepare.” On the sport’s financial woes: “We need to realize the sport needs a meal. Not fighting over crumbs. There are some great athletes that can do some great things. So I hope that there’s a way that people can come and say, ‘Ya know, we need to start coming together, working with promoters, saying: We need more meets.’

“We shouldn’t be fighting over things. We’ve gone through this 10 or 12 years where the sport contracted, but we just had this false narrative that it was great.”

TIME Recognizes Caster Semenya

One doesn’t normally look for tracksters on TIME magazine’s list of the 100 most influential people of the year, but South Africa’s Caster Semenya made the cut this year. Hurdle legend Edwin Moses wrote the description:

“A world and Olympic track & field champion several times over, Caster Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary, and caused us to question the justness of distributing societal benefits according to ‘male’ and ‘female’ classifications. Semenya identifies as a woman, but has testosterone levels higher than the typical female. Her success has brought controversy in elite sport, with many arguing that her biological traits give her an unfair advantage in women’s competition. But Semenya is fighting that. Sport eligibility, she and others say, should not be based on hormone levels or other differences of sex development. If successful, Semenya’s effort could open the door for all who identify as women to compete in track events without having to first medically lower their testosterone levels below a proposed limit.

“Ultimately, this incredibly difficult issue is a political one for sport to resolve. But however it is addressed, Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.”

No USATF Indoor In Staten Island Next Year

After what seemed to be a successful debut of the USATF Indoor Championships at the Ocean Breeze Athletic Center on Staten Island—the first of a contracted 2-year run—USATF has announced that the second year of the arrangement will be deferred to a later date. The 3-day meet produced sellout crowds and some exciting performances, but in early April, USATF CEO Max Siegel said in a press release, “February’s USATF Toyota Indoor Championships was successful. We look forward to resuming the event at Ocean Breeze in the near future.”

The Staten Island Advance reported that a source “with knowledge of the situation” said, “USATF made beyond-exorbitant money demands from Ocean Breeze and the local organizing committee with a date ultimatum to comply by and the [organizing authority] said that was unacceptable. It’s ridiculous. The attendance was on a scale not seen in recent years at any other USATF Indoor Championships in other places and the athletes loved the place.”

No further comment has come from USATF. A new site for ’20—when the Nationals will again act as the selection meet for the World Indoor—is scheduled to be announced later this year.

Boston Becoming Indoor-Facility Central

Greater Boston will be getting its fourth world class indoor track facility as New Balance has broken ground on (sic) “The TRACK at new balance,” which will feature a 200m hydraulically banked oval, a separate warmup track, and seating for 5000 fans. The site will also be the training base of Boston Team NB, the company’s new club, coached by Mark Coogan.

The facility goes beyond track & field, with an attached concert venue as well as retail and food services. New Balance is also planning a sports research lab to focus on human performance and biomechanics, in addition to product testing. Expected completion of the project is summer ’21. There has been speculation that with an East Coast site of its own, New Balance might consider moving the indoor version of its New Balance Nationals for high schoolers to the new facility eventually. The current contract with the Armory runs through ’20.

Said company chair Jim Davis, “The TRACK at new balance will set a new performance standard in professional and amateur sports due to its innovative design, location and amenities. Its incomparable level of sports excellence and competitive spirit will inspire athletes to perform at levels they have only dreamed of attaining, with one of the fastest and most technical tracks in the world, if not the fastest.”

More U.S. Summer Opportunities This Year?

With tighter World and Olympic qualifying standards giving American athletes a bit of anxiety, it’s only natural that new events might emerge to provide more opportunities for fast times. There are new fixtures in the wind for both sides of the country this summer.

East Coasters will see the Adam Sanford NYC Invitational in Icahn Stadium on July 13. The schedule will feature a nearly full state of events—though the steeple will be the longest race. Organizers have indicated they plan to make this an international event. On the West Coast, former Portland State coach Jonathan Marcus is organizing high-performance meets under the banner of the Sunset Tour. These events will cater to distance runners, with races from 800 to 10,000. Rabbits are planned to help athletes hit the qualifying standards. The 3 LA-area meets are set for July 2 in Azusa and July 5 and 7 in Eagle Rock.

Irby Goes Pro Early

Georgia lost another big name when star long sprinter Lynna Irby decided to go pro after an indoor season that wasn’t up to snuff by her standards of the year before. The Bulldog soph made the announcement on Instagram, posting, “After much discussion with my family and prayers, we feel like this is the appropriate time for me to pursue my personal goals of competing professionally in track & field. With that being said, I will forgo the remainder of my eligibility at UGA and will sign with an agent so I can begin training for my professional career.”

In ’18, Irby finished 3rd in both the 200 and 400 at the NCAA Indoor. Outdoors she won the 400 in 49.80 and took 3rd in the 200. This year indoors she finished 5th in the 400 and anchored the 4th place 4×4. She had competed once for Georgia outdoors before the announcement, an 11.40 century PR at the Florida Relays.

NCAA To Bump Regionals By A Day?

The NCAA is looking at adding a day to its “preliminary round” (what T&FN throwbackishly calls Regionals) to make it a 4-day event, so it can mimic the schedule at the finals. According to the rationale of the actual proposal, “Spreading out the competition and having genders alternate competition days helps alleviate heavy congestion and safety concerns that occur on both practice days and during warm-up on competition days since both genders, with 48 student-athletes per event, are trying to share the same space and facilities.”

The proposal also notes that an expanded schedule opens a window for morning practice, as well as more flexibility in dealing with the inevitable weather delays. Plus, since so many men’s and women’s programs are combined, “By adjusting to a 4-day format, coaches can now focus on one gender each day, providing a higher level of coaching since they are able to focus on one specific gender each day.”

Nothing is free, and the expected cost of the change would be more than $50,000. The proposal from the Competition Oversight Committee now goes to the full Track & Field Committee for approval, with implementation set for ’21.

On the first weekend of April Texas A&M unveiled its new facility, hosting its first outdoor meet on campus since ’04. The state-of-the-art layout features a 9-lane oval, plus an almost-unique 9-lane straightaway in the middle of the infield (long throws are held on an adjacent field). Should the wind conditions demand it, the pole vault has an angled runway in addition to the regular north-south one.

Tuohy To Be True To Her School

In this space last month we passed along comments by her coach that distance superstar Katelyn Tuohy (North Rockland, Thiells, New York) might be well served to start going up against pro competition. Tuohy, however, has shot down suggestions that that means she might not compete for her high school in her senior year of track. “I want to run for the team,” she confirms, noting that she would likely add a few races against pros. She is hoping to qualify for the Olympics Trials in the 5000, where she has a PR of 15:37.12, set indoors last year. While she probably will miss the occasional school competition, the 17-year-old says, “I just like running with my team and having fun with my teammates. I think that’s best for me.”

Kenya Mollified On DL 5000 Situation

IAAF officials met with the president of Athletics Kenya during the World Cross to try to mollify African concerns that the coming changes in the Diamond League format (Last Lap, March) would work against distance runners. Jackson Tuwei had sought reassurance that competitive opportunities for 5000m runners would not disappear.

IAAF president Seb Coe, along with CEO Jon Ridgeon, assured Tuwei that reducing the broadcast window to 90 minutes would not preclude organizers from offering a 5000 outside of that window. They added that several meets had already expressed interest in doing so. Said Coe, “We believe that ultimately these changes will be beneficial not only to Kenyan and East African distance runners, but to our leading athletes around the globe, because it will result in a stronger, higher-profile, commercially-successful annual showcase series for our sport.”

Tuwei responded, “I am satisfied that our athletes will receive sufficient opportunities to compete internationally in 2020 and I am reassured by the IAAF’s undertaking that the impact of these decisions will be considered again at the end of each season and member federations consulted about any changes that might be needed.”

Kebenei Gets, Loses U.S. 10-Mile Record

First came the big news that Stanley Kebenei had taken down Greg Meyer’s ancient U.S. 10M record at the Cherry Blossom Run in Washington, D.C. on April 7. Meyer set his 46:13 mark in ’83, in the weeks leading up to his historic Boston Marathon win. Kebenei, it was reported, blistered 46:00 on the same course 36 years later. Then came the news that a turn-around point between mile 3 and 4 had been mismarked because of recent road construction, and the cones that Kebenei went around were in the wrong place. In actuality, the course was 240 feet short. Possibly, Kebenei would have gotten the record anyway.

Race organizers (“profoundly regret this unfortunate error”) did the right thing and gave Kebenei the $10,000 record bonus anyway. Arkansas alum Kebenei, 29, tweeted, “I will come back for it!”

USATF Announces ’19 Coaching Staffs

We now know who will be in charge of Team USA squads this year. Indy’s announced staffs for 5 national-team meets:

World Championships
Men—Robert Gary. Assistants—Damon Martin, Ashley Muffet, Nic Petersen, Maurice Pierce. Manager—Ken Brauman. Women—Bonnie Edmondson. Assistants—Dena Evans, Sandra Fowler, Chris Johnson, Delethea Quarles. Manager—Cathleen Cawley. Combined—Orin Richburg (relays). Event managers—David Watkins, Melinda Withrow.

World Relays
Head coach—Orin Richburg. Assistants—Mechelle Freeman, Linda Lanker, Angela Williams. Managers—Manny Bautista (men), Kristin Heaston-Bell (women). Event managers—Kenny Banks, Lauryn Williams.

Europe vs. USA
Men—Mike Ford. Assistants—Joel Brown, Mark Coogan, Justin St. Clair, James Thomas. Manager—Gary Morgan. Women—Dena Evans. Assistants—Michele Curcio, Chris Johnson, Cristy Snellgroves, Ryan Wilson. Manager—Wendy Truvillion. Combined—Orin Richburg (relays). Event managers—Jennifer Nanista-Stephens, Byron Turner.

Pan-Am Juniors
Men—Michael Lawson. Assistants—Chris Coleman, Kevin Jermyn, Mike Judge. Manager—Kim Dismuke. Women—Pamela Marquez. Assistants—Jebrah Harris, Richard Mercado, Angela Williams. Manager—Wendy Truvillion.
Relays—Mechelle Freeman, Wallace Spearmon. Event managers—Kevin Ankrom, Martin Palavicini.

Men—Rod Staggs. Assistants—Gary Aldrich, Damon Martin, Shawn Wilbourn. Manager—Veronica Rodriguez-Butler. Women—Easter Gabriel. Assistants—Shayla Houlihan, Lucais MacKay, Connie Teaberry. Manager—Mary Wineburg. Relays—Mechelle Freeman, Wallace Spearmon. Event managers—Michael Murphy, Danielle Siebert.

How Will USATF Choose Pan-Am Team?

Obviously, the late date of the World Championships is what caused the USATF Championships to be moved to late July (25–28 to be precise). However, that has made the selection process for the shortly thereafter Pan-Am Championships (August 06–10 in Lima, Peru) more challenging than usual.

Since the team has to be named before the USATF meet, officials have gone with their only alternative: selecting the two athletes in each event from the top of the U.S. lists as of June 10. The marathons and race walks will be selected from the April 21 compilations. Wind-aided marks in the affected events will not be considered. Athletes will be contacted via e-mail. With athletes being given 3 business days to accept or decline the invitation, it might take a few weeks before the team roster becomes public.

Oly Champ Kiprop’s Positive Test Upheld

In the end, one might say, Asbel Kiprop fought as hard to win his battle against a doping ban as he did in his ’08 Olympic 1500 win or any of his three World titles. This time, though, his efforts failed, and in April he was handed a 4-year ban for the presence of EPO in his system during a 2017 out-of-competition test. The news first broke in early May of ’18 and the Kenyan star has been fighting a running battle since.

The Athletics Integrity Unit described the defenses mounted by Kiprop’s lawyers as an “à la carte menu of reasons why the charges should be dismissed.” Among the proposed cases: training at altitude naturally produces EPO, legal medication did it, the test/analysis was flawed, or perhaps the sample was spiked. The AIU panel concluded: “None of the various reasons proposed… when subject to strict scrutiny had any plausibility.”

“I am totally innocent,” Kiprop said last year, and at every opportunity since. He will be 32 when the ban runs its course.

IAAF Clarifies Testo Waiting Period

One thing the delay in the CAS proceedings on the Caster Semenya case (Last Lap, March) theoretically meant was that the South African—and any other female athletes with naturally-heightened testosterone—might not be eligible in time for Doha, should the proposed IAAF rule prevail. The rule mandates that testosterone levels in such athletes be reduced for a full 6 months prior to competing. Since we’re already into that window, any ruling in favor of the IAAF might have rendered Semenya and similar athletes immediately ineligible for Doha. However, the IAAF has told the Sports Integrity Initiative, “Assuming the regulations are upheld, the IAAF will introduce a special transitional provision by which affected athletes who comply with the 5nmol/L limit, starting one week after the release of the award, will be eligible for the IAAF World Athletics Championships in September, 2019.’”

While we wait for the decision, Burundi’s Francine Niyonsaba, the Olympic silver medalist in the 800, has revealed that she also has hyperandrogenism. She told the Olympic Channel, “I didn’t choose to be born like this. What am I? I’m created by God. So, (if) someone has more questions about it, maybe (they) can ask God. I love myself. I will still be Francine. I will not change.”

Meanwhile, the international reaction that this case is drawing looms as a PR debacle of the worst sort for the IAAF. In March, the United Nations Human Rights Council—which doesn’t typically opine on sports matters—passed a resolution against the IAAF stance, saying sports bodies should “refrain from developing and enforcing policies and practices that force, coerce or otherwise pressure women and girl athletes into undergoing unnecessary, humiliating and harmful medical procedures.” □

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