LAST LAP — December

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed. See also news of the reinstatement of Vin Lananna as USATF president.

After a couple of years as a roadie, 4-time Olympic gold medalist Mo Farah is getting that old track itch again. (MARK SHEARMAN)

More Track Mo To Come

The grass isn’t always greener on the other side of the fence. Mo Farah has announced that for now his marathon dreams are on hold as he is planning a return to the track for another Olympics. After a season that gave him a best of “only” 2:05:39 in the long run—good for just No. 27 on the unreal ’19 world list—Farah said, “It has been really exciting to compete in the marathon for the past couple of years. To win the Chicago Marathon, a major marathon, was nice. To finish 3rd at the London Marathon was good. It’s been a great learning curve for me. Doing a marathon and to run 2:05, a European Record, it was very exciting. The training for it was totally different to the track.”

Farah, who twice won an Olympic 5/10 double, added, “I have decided that next year at the Tokyo 2020 Olympic Games I’m going to be back on the track. I’m really excited to be competing back on the track and to give it a go in the 10,000m. Hopefully I haven’t lost my speed, but I’ll train hard for it and see what I can do. It’s exciting.” The 36-year-old Briton also has 6 world titles to his credit. He hasn’t raced on the track since the ’17 season. He will be 37 at the time of Tokyo. No man that old has ever finished in the top 10 of an Olympic 10.

When Will Coe Make It To The Top?

Ever since Seb Coe became head of track’s international governing body (call it what you may) many have wondered when he would become a member of the IOC, as traditionally has been the case for our sport’s chiefs in the past. Notably, he and soccer head Gianni Infantini have been snubbed on multiple occasions, but in December the FIFA boss finally got a nomination. IOC head Thomas Bach noted that Coe would likely have been on the most recent list of proposed members, but he has been put on hold. “We had too look into a possible conflict of interest,” said Bach.

That conflict has to do with Coe’s position as chairman of CMS Sports & Entertainment, a sports agency that works with the IOC, among other clients. The relationship was identified as problematic by the IOC Ethics Commission. “We wanted him to become an IOC member as president of one of our most important Olympic sports,” said Bach, who noted that the door remains open and he is hopeful of a resolution in the coming months. There are those who think that track’s hard stance on Russia has been a sticking point with the Lausanne overlords.

Xmas Presents From The USATF Foundation

Santa came early for some elite American athletes when the USATF Foundation announced more developmental grants from two of its prime benefactors. The new Pitch Johnson Grants have gone to 50 athletes, each getting $1500 to help with out-of-pocket travel costs. Franklin “Pitch” Johnson was a ’24 Olympic hurdler and coach at Drake and Stanford whose venture-capitalist son Pitch has long been a great contributor to the sport. Speaking of Johnson père, foundation chair Bob Greifeld said, “Nearly 100 years later, he is still having an impact on the sport.”

Another $400,000 has been distributed in Stephen A. Schwarzman Grants. Earlier in the year, 25 athletes received grants for $25,000. They will receive $10,000 more now, and 15 new athletes to the list will also receive $10K. Said Schwarzman, the CEO and cofounder of private equity firm Blackstone, “It is a privilege to be able to support these athletes during the critical period leading up to the 2020 Olympics. I’ve enjoyed getting to know many of the grantees and hearing their incredible personal stories, and I look forward to watching them compete in Tokyo. They are a source of inspiration for me and so many others.”

You may not believe in Santa Claus, but you definitely need to believe in the USATF Foundation and all the good work that it is doing.

Where Will Eugene 2021’s Money Come From?

Less than 2 years away from the Opening Ceremony for the ’21 World Championships, Oregon officials admit that they have only rounded up about half of the state’s $40 million commitment to the Eugene event. Oregon21, the local organizer, is receiving $10 million in hotel tax proceeds from the state’s tourism commission. Another $10 million will come from a different budget at the commission.

Oregon Governor Kate Brown promised an additional $5 million last spring, but legislators shot that down. She is reportedly in talks with legislators to secure more funding in February. Brown’s promise came in response to an e-mail from WA CEO Jon Ridgeon that stated in part, “It is important that the IAAF Council fully understand [the public funds situation], so that it has confidence that [Oregon21] have both the cash flow and the total cash sums necessary to stage a global event of the magnitude required.”

Reportedly one major fail safe is back in place. Originally the University of Oregon Foundation pledged to financially guarantee the event. That pledge was withdrawn last year with no public explanation. However the Portland Oregonian is reporting that the Foundation is back in.

One more issue remains to be solved. Current U.S. and Oregon law says that the $7.2 million in prize money at the event will be taxed—an unprecedented development for the Worlds.

Is The Vaporfly Even Faster Than Thought?

The anecdotal evidence continues to pile up that Nike’s family of Vaporfly shoes is more than living up to its hype as a game changer in the sport. Now a New York Times analysis based on Strava data is showing that the shoe offers a 4–5% speed improvement over average shoes, and 2–3% faster than the next-fastest popular shoe.

Let that sink in. A 4% improvement in a 28-minute 10K is 67 seconds; in a 2:10 marathon, it’s 5:12. Of course, actual improvements will vary by runner and what type of shoes they wore before. However, we already see evidence that the shoes are playing havoc with marathon standards for the Olympic Trials and Games. There has been much talk about the springboard effect of the carbon fiber plate in the shoe, but some sports scientists are pointing to the ultra-light foam dramatically reducing vibration on impact as a crucial factor in reducing late-race leg fatigue.

WA confirmed in December that a working group of experts and former athletes is studying whether the shoes provide an unfair advantage. The group’s report is due by the end of the year but a WA official told FOX Business, “We will need to absorb their report and work out the way forward… Any announcement is likely to be in the new year.”

Perhaps it is too late for the IAAF to put the genie back into the bottle. The shoes are retailing now for a hefty $250, but are still permeating the sport at all levels. According to the NYT analysis, fully 41% of athletes running sub-3:00 marathons in the latter months of 2019 are wearing Vaporflys.

Taylor’s Union Gets Coe’s Blessing

WA head Seb Coe says he is in full support of the athlete union that triple jumper Christian Taylor is organizing. “Within 20 minutes of Christian Taylor talking about this, I was on the phone to him,” said the head of World Athletics.

“I said, ‘Christian, I absolutely encourage you to do this and if you need any help in setting this up, anything that allows us another bridgehead to communicate with the athletes is really welcome.’

“I encourage athletes because it actually makes us a better federation if we have athletes having a central focus and actually being able to speak their mind.

“One of the centerpieces of my reforms was that we now have two athletes on the council. Not just sitting there making observations—they have full voting rights.”

Salazar Building Rededicated In Beaverton

Tone deaf? After major renovations to a structure on its campus, Nike decided to stick with its original name, the Alberto Salazar Building. The interior of the office building contains plentiful images of the banned coach of the now-disbanded Nike Oregon Project, who has also been charged by Mary Cain with encouraging dangerous weight loss for female athletes. Prior to the building’s rededication in December some 400 Nike employees marched in protest, carrying signs, some of which read, “Just Do Better” and “We Believe Mary.”

While Nike did not stop the protest, flyers were handed out warning participants not to talk to the media; any “leaks” could be punished by firing. Another flyer recharacterized the event as a “celebration” of women and equality, as opposed to a protest. A Nike rep later said the flyers were not “officially distributed” by the corporation.

Cain and Kara Goucher, both former Oregon Project athletes, tweeted encouragement to the protesters. Said Goucher, “Thank you, you are the change!”

This Season’s WA Indoor Tour

World Athletics (you may remember them as the IAAF) has announced details on edition No. 5 of its indoor circuit, a 7-stop circuit of 1-day meetings that will offer prize money, as well as Wild Card berths to the World Indoors in Nanjing.
Boston kicks off the action on January 25, followed by Karlsruhe (1/31), Düsseldorf (2/4), Toruń (2/8), Glasgow (2/15), Liévin (2/19) and Madrid (2/21). Athletes’ best three results will count toward their point scores.

Top scores in each of the 11 disciplines—men’s 60, 800, 3000/5000, PV, TJ, SP; women’s 400, 1500, 60H, HJ, LJ—will win $20,000 and a ticket to Nanjing. Not all events will be contested at all of the meets.

Says WA head Seb Coe, “The Indoor Tour continues to gain in popularity. Some of next year’s events are already sold out and we will welcome Liévin into the fold as a new meeting host.”

Tokyo 2020 Update…

With the new Olympic Stadium now completed, the Tokyo Games are coming together. The $1.4 billion structure is on the site of the National Stadium that hosted the ’64 Olympics and the ’91 Worlds…

The IOC and local organizers have finally settled on a course for the marathons in Sapporo. Starting and finishing at Odori Park, they will be one 20K loop followed by two loops of roughly 10K each. The LOC and the IOC are still dickering over who is going to pay for the Sapporo relocation…

Organizers are processing refunds for those who bought men’s marathon tickets before the event was moved north. Still unresolved is how to handle tickets to the womens’ race, which were sold as part of a track package…

Overall, tickets are going to be hard to come by. The most recent lottery for local residents offered up a million tickets but left 22 million entrants empty-handed. About 70% of the tickets are reserved for the Japanese public…

Another area of concern: hotel rooms. Currently the potential shortage is in the range of 14,000 rooms during the Games period, with cruise ships planning to dock in the harbor to provide more space…

One aspect of the Games that is going to plan—indeed, surpassing expectations—is that advertisers want a piece of the action. NBC reports that television advertising commits for the Games have topped $1 billion…

While the Olympic road events have moved to Sapporo, the Paralympics is planning to keep its September 6 race on the original 26M course in Tokyo. ◻︎

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