LAST LAP — August

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone/will go a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed.

American JavFest: Curtis Thompson moves to No. 3 on the all-time U.S. list with his PR 287-9. (JOHN NEPOLITAN)

Coe Bullish On Track’s Future In U.S.

Can Eugene’s World Championships jumpstart a revival of track & field interest in the United States? That’s the hope of WA head Seb Coe, who says he sees the U.S. as “an emerging market” for the sport.

Right now, according to a Nielsen survey in 2018-19 that was commissioned by WA, track & field ranks No. 8 among sports followed by U.S. fans, after football, baseball, basketball, soccer, swimming, tennis and motor sports.

“To get into the top 5, the metrics are pretty clear to us,” Coe told the Wall Street Journal. “It’s about viewership; it’s about attendance in stadiums. It’s the engagement of fans. It’s also the commercial revenue.

“So, you know, if you said to me, what is it that I really want out of Eugene? I would love to start building a portfolio of U.S. sponsors for the sport — domestically and globally.”

As part of the effort, WA is giving a boost to USATF to sponsor a 5-city series of international meets next summer, says USATF head Max Siegel.

Johnson Out At Oregon, Schumacher In

On the first day of the USATF meet, the Oregon athletic department dropped news that shook the local track community: head track coach Robert Johnson would not have his contract renewed.

That was followed, on July 11, with the announcement that the Ducks had hired Jerry Schumacher, head coach of the Nike Bowerman club, to guide the collegiate powerhouse.

Schumacher had previously been head coach of Wisconsin for 10 years. The coaching future of the Bowerman program, and the various world-class runners in it, remains unclear.

Oregon had no comment on the reason for Johnson’s departure. For a decade he had guided the Ducks after serving as an assistant for 7 years under Vin Lananna. His tenure was the most successful ever by an Oregon track coach, if measured by the 14 national titles the Ducks won.

Speculation pointed to the charges made last fall by multiple female athletes that the track program’s emphasis on precise weight and body fat percentages caused body shaming and emotional distress.

Vetter Felled By Bad Shoulder

The top-ranked javelin thrower last year, Johannes Vetter has bowed out of the Worlds. In a statement on Instagram, the 29-year-old German star said, “As you probably have noticed, I haven’t shared much content over the past months. I have been fighting with shoulder problems since the beginning of the season. Therefore, we decided to not compete at the World Championships in Oregon.

“It’s tough to say when I will be able to compete again and I will need the following weeks to digest this decision.”

In his sole competition of the season (May 10), the ’17 world champion reached 281-0 (85.64) to rank No. 10 on the year list. His PR 320-9 (97.76) came in ’20. The overwhelming favorite at the Tokyo Olympics after an undefeated season, he finished only 9th, one of multiple throwers to have problems with the surface of the runway.

Steiner’s Non-Standard Money Woes

Online reports that Abby Steiner had signed a huge $2 million contract with Puma set the track world a-talkin’ in early July, but the sprinter herself says not so fast.

The reports — a rumor spread on social media that Steiner had turned down a $1 million Nike offer before accepting the Puma bid — remain unsubstantiated.

Steiner, who post-USATF announced that she would not be returning to Kentucky for her remaining eligibility, tweeted a long response, saying, “People trying to leak my deal and contract have been some of the most invasive and bothersome narratives I have seen.

“This information is between my sponsor and me… It is common knowledge that contracts are not public. My income is not on public record, nor should it be reported as such. Any reporter should know this, and reporting otherwise is extremely harmful in a time period of life that is already stressful.”

Bednarek Wants More Openness In Contracts

While most pro sports make contract details public, track & field athletes and sponsors typically do not.

One athlete who is outspoken on the subject is Kenny Bednarek, who recently tweeted, “Shoe companies should reveal their athletes’ contracts because it opens doors to fair negotiations and better knowledge signing contracts out of college. It will bring in more money to our sport. Basketball, football, golf, etc are open about it, so why not track & field?”

Suhr Exits The Vault Wars

As announced in last month’s “Status Quo,” Jenn Suhr has retired following a vault career that spanned 17 seasons. She won Olympic gold in ’12, the World Indoors in ’16, with silvers in the ’08 Olympics and the ’13 Worlds. Along the way she captured 17 national titles indoors and out.

In her Facebook announcement, the 40-year-old Suhr said, “It is official. The words will come to me soon but my heart and soul are ready for the next phase of my life. Pole vault unlocked more than I could have wished for and let me experience more than I could have dreamed of.

“I started pole vaulting as a senior in college, unaware of where this life would lead and provide for me. I will forever be grateful. I say goodbye, not with a heavy heart, but with an enthusiasm I haven’t felt in some time. Thank you for your endless support and uplifting comments. This small town girl is ready for just that, some small-town living.”

In a press release she added, “I feel very lucky to be ending my career with the support and guidance from the same people I had around me when it began. First and foremost, I owe so much to my husband and coach, Rick, whose love and energy were essential to me clearing every bar in front of me these last 18 years.

“I’m very proud to have represented adidas from the start and beyond grateful for the foundation and support they’ve given me throughout my career. And of course, I want to thank my family, friends and everyone who was there for me on this unforgettable journey.”

Kendricks Can’t Play His Wild Card

Sam Kendricks had a bye to the WC as reigning champion in the vault, but a necessary repair to his meniscus made the defense impossible.

The May 02 knee surgery, was relatively minor. “We thought his recovery would have been much quicker but he’s had a few setbacks,” said agent Paul Doyle. “Sam didn’t feel he was in a position to compete for the medals.”

In an e-mail to Reuters Doyle added, “Sam felt his time would be better spent rehabbing to get [ready] for meets post-World Championships.”

The 29-year-old Kendricks, whose last competition was in April, thought he was ready in mid-June, flying to Oslo for the Diamond League meeting there. However, he withdrew after testing his knee.

This is the second global championship the AR holder has missed; a positive COVID test after he made the Olympic team kept him out of the Games last summer.

Rojas Puts On Her High Heel Sneakers

In Eugene we’ll see Yulimar Rojas at her best — just not in the long jump, the event she was hoping to challenge herself with following her usual triple jump brilliance.

The Venezuelan, who won Tokyo gold in the triple with her WR 51-7¾ (15.74), had only one long jump competition over the WC standard during the qualifying period. World Athletics has rejected that mark, pointing out that she did it in her triple jump shoes.

WA guidelines state that while triple jumpers are allowed 25mm soles — to allow for more cushioning in an event that can be hard on the heels — the maximum thickness for all other field event shoes is 20mm (a difference of just under a quarter-inch).

The regulations have been in place since the start of the year, and were announced in July ’20 to give manufacturers time to adapt. Note that prior to ’22, the regulations limited long jump shoes to 13mm of sole thickness. New regulations are coming in the fall of ’24 which will limit triple jump shoes to 20mm.

WA acknowledged that Rojas had planned further long jump competitions to qualify, but “injury prevented this.” Rojas’s 22-9 (6.93) would have put her at No. 4 on the world list this season.

Felix Doing Her Part For Child Care

“I felt like I had to win all the medals, do all the things, before I could even think about starting a family, and that’s something that I don’t want my daughter to feel,” is how Allyson Felix describes the challenge facing female athletes.

As a result, she has teamed up with Athleta and the nonprofit &Mother that she founded with Alysia Montaño to provide free child care for athletes, coaches and staff at the USATF meet.

Beyond that, Felix, Athleta and the Women’s Sports Foundation are on their third round of child care grants to help women train and compete. The individual grants are $10,000 and so far over $200,000 has been awarded.

“It’s just a way really to… say we can show up and support women, and they don’t have to choose between motherhood and anything else,” Felix says.

Replay No Help For Darrell Hill

At the USATF Championships, shot put officials called Darrell Hill’s first throw, measured at 70-4¼ (21.44), a foul. He protested, but officials said he had fouled off the toeboard at the front of the ring. When they reviewed the video, however, Hill says they agreed there was no foul in the front, but then insisted he had a heel foul in the back of the ring.

During the competition Hill says he saw several others commit the same offense; when he protested those throws (by Ryan Crouser and Jordan Geist), officials reviewed the videos and denied they were fouls.

An appeal went nowhere, as according to Hill, the official in charge of deciding the appeal did not look at the videos, and simply accepted the head shot official’s call.

Hill ended up in 9th at 66-4½ (20.23); the disputed throw, if counted, would have put him on the team.

At USTAF’s grievance hearing, Hill was denied. “My hearing was never about if what I was fighting was right or wrong, if there were mistakes, if the officials lied, it was only about proving that they followed their extremely vague procedures.”

In an Instagram statement, Hill later called out the official, saying, “He lied directly to my face continuously as he insulted my eyesight and intelligence by denying what was clear and obvious on film although it was his job to officiate ‘fairly’ (lol)… [The Instagram photo of the video review during the competition] is relevant because, under oath, according to him this period of time never happened, we never reviewed any videos at the protest table… not mine, not Ryan Crouser’s, not Jordan Geist’s etc. If you were there you know.”

Seidel Out, D’Amato Takes Her Place

Olympic bronze medalist Molly Seidel has withdrawn from the WC marathon team because of a stress reaction in her sacrum.

Said Seidel on Instagram, “It’s been the most challenging marathon build I’ve had, and from a physical & mental standpoint a complete struggle since Boston. My hip impingement never fully resolved yet I kept pushing it, and an MRI late this week showed I have a stress reaction in my sacrum. Continuing to train and race on it would lead to a full fracture, and I’d waste a team spot being unable to race to a level Team USA expects of their athletes.

“As well, TUE process for my ADHD meds is still ongoing, and frankly my mental health hasn’t been in a great spot for a while. I’m going to be taking some time to step back and work on getting myself fully healthy, and thanks to the amazing mental health resources through USOPC I’m finally getting to understand my diagnosis and fully address the many issues it leads to.”

The resulting vacancy will be filled by AR holder Keira D’Amato, leading Seidel to say, “I couldn’t think of anyone better to take my place than the American Record holder herself.”

D’Amato has been in good form since her AR 2:19:12 in January. In May she finished 2nd in the USATF 25K championship in a PR 1:24:05 (2:22 marathon pace). In late June, she won the BAA 10K in 31:17, beating Emily Sisson and Edna Kiplagat.

Track To Follow Swimming On Transgenders?

FINA, the international swimming federation, has taken a hard line against transgender athletes competing in elite women’s events, and Seb Coe has dropped hints that he wants WA to follow that lead.

Swimming’s new policy, already in effect, says that male-to-female transgender athletes can only compete if they transition before age 12 or before they reach stage 2 on the Tanner Scale (a measure used since ’69 to assess physical development).

FINA says it is creating a working group to develop open-category events for athletes who do not meet the criteria for men’s or women’s groups.

Coe told the BBC, “We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport. This is as it should be. We have always believed that biology trumps gender and we will continue to review our regulations in line with this. We will follow the science.

“We continue to study, research and contribute to the growing body of evidence that testosterone is a key determinant in performance, and have scheduled a discussion on our regulations with our Council at the end of the year.”

WA Accepts Some Russians… Sort Of

The Russians are back—but they won’t be in Eugene. The WA Doping Review Board has approved 18 applications for Russians to compete as authorized neutral athletes (ANA) again this season.

Exactly what doors this will open to athletes from the ostracized nation remains unclear. The Ukraine-related ban on Russians in all World Athletics Series events remains in force. The Diamond League also has an existing ban on Russians at its events.

The WA statement adds, “In addition, the Doping Review Board understands that individual organizers of the Continental Tour are not inviting Russian athletes to their meetings.”

That doesn’t leave much, unless a Continental Tour meet director chooses to break with the others and let the Russians in. At this point, it’s hard to imagine a move like that playing well in Europe.

A Record Of Sorts For Okagbare

It’s a rather dubious honor, but Nigerian sprinter Blessing Okagbare can now claim the longest suspension — short of a lifetime ban — ever slapped on a track athlete. Her doping-related ban has been raised from 10 years to 11. The extension was levied after an additional charge popped up: she evaded sample collection on June 13, 2021.

That led to a scare for Nigeria. When all Okagbare marks back to that date would be declared invalid, the West African nation lost the 4×1 qualifying time it was using to get into the Worlds. But in the end, a 43.25 run on June 25 of this year sufficed to get the team to Eugene.

COVID Fells Hammer Champ Price

DeAnna Price, the reigning world champion in the hammer, announced just days before this year’s edition that she would not be able to compete.

“This year has been a rough one for Team Price-Lambert,” she posted on Instagram. “Total ankle reconstruction in August and hip labrum surgery in September. But with hard work we went 73.07 [239-8] at USAs placing fourth! We were excited about the next coming weeks to prep for Worlds.

“Unfortunately, July 1st I woke up with vomiting, diarrhea, and 103 fever. What we were hoping for a 24hr stomach bug turned into DAYS of being extremely sick and sleeping by the toilet. It wasn’t till day 4 of my sickness that I lost my sense of smell, developed a cough, body aches and headache got worse. We took a test and discovered we got COVID…

“I was down 12lbs and still couldn’t eat anything other than chicken broth. We kept our hopes up during this time and tried to stay mentally strong.

“Luckily, today [July 08] is the first day I feel a step closer to normal. But still feel weak and drained, physically and mentally. I tried to throw to see where I was, and I was nowhere close to where I felt like I needed to be competitive on a world stage, even in a qualifying round.

“It was a tough and heart-breaking decision, but I felt like it was the right decision for myself both physically and mentally. I have only been able to train normally and pain free for 4 weeks leading up to USAs, so every day of training hard counted. I don’t believe I would be able to bounce back by next week after how the illness affected me mixed with the limited training I’ve had this year…

“We knew this year was going to be rough. I’m gonna let myself be devastated for a couple days and then realign my thoughts for the long run! 2023 World Championships and 2024 Olympics!” ◻︎

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