LAST LAP — December

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.

After 9 years as an Olympic silver medalist high jumper Erik Kynard will finally get a gold. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Meet The New 2012 Olympic Gold Medalist

It has taken nearly a decade, but American high jumper Erik Kynard is finally getting the gold medal from the London Olympics. Second at the time to Ivan Ukhov, Kynard got the promotion upon the finalization of the Russian’s 4-year ban for doping.

News that Ukhov’s London sample was problematic didn’t emerge until ’18, when the AIU indicated that it was among 13 cases that had been uncovered by WADA investigator Richard McLaren’s investigation into Russian coverups.

Ukhov’s ban was announced in February ’19, and it erased all of his performances from July ’12 to December ’14. His appeal to CAS failed last year and the IOC finally approved Kynard’s promotion this month. The trio of original bronze medalists — Mutaz Barshim, Derek Drouin & Robbie Grabarz — will all move up to silvers.


Coe Sees Eugene As A Vital Cog

Revitalizing the marketing of elite track & field in the United States is a key goal of World Athletics, Seb Coe said at November’s WA Council meeting.

“We don’t want to come out of the World Championships in Oregon without a very defined footprint for our sport in that country,” he said.

“This is a very important market place for us, it’s the largest sports market in the world and we need to be there in higher profile.

“The extended relationship with NBC is a huge start in that direction and we need to make sure that these championships, as important as they are to Oregon, are also absorbed on screens and ideally by visiting fans from other parts of the United Sates.”

“We are very excited about it,” echoed WA’s CEO, Jon Ridgeon. “We have great live slots every evening on NBC and the U.S. team should perform spectacularly and I think that alone will really help grow audiences and our fan base in America.

“We are also putting a lot of time into the show and the presentation so that athletics puts its best foot forward in terms of trying to grab the attention of the more generalist sports fan.”


An Easing Of On-The-Line Violations

It has been a bit since the disqualification controversy at the ’18 World Indoor in Birmingham, England, when zealous officials DQed no fewer than 21 runners for lane violations.

Years of discussion have led to some changes in the latest edition of the WA Book Of Rules, which became effective on November 01.

Now some lane infringements are permitted at the international level so long as they are not repeated by the same athlete or relay team during the rounds of the same event.

Specifically, if an athlete racing in lanes touches the line or curb, that is forgiven once. If they go completely over the line or curb, that remains a DQ.

For athletes not racing in lanes, a first step completely over the line or curb may be forgiven. A second occurrence is not.



More WA Rule Changes

In the horizontal jumps, any breaking of the vertical plane of the takeoff line is now to be called foul.

A plasticine board may still be used to assist judges in the horizontal jumps, but it must be set at an angle for 90° (instead of the previous 45°).

Absolute World Records may now be set on oversized tracks indoors, provided the circumference is not bigger than 400m. Such oversized marks, however, cannot be considered for World Indoor Records.

The 35,000m walk (track) and the 35K and road walk have been added to the World Record list for men and women, with the men’s 30,000m track event slated to be dropped once the first men’s 35,000 mark is established.


Mondo Working To Make Even Faster Tracks

Some hailed the track that Mondo built for the Olympics as the fastest ever. The Italian-based company has made it clear that it is not going to stop its efforts to make tracks faster than Tokyo’s unique Mondotrack WS TY installation.

The company is still assessing the Tokyo data, says Mondo’s Andrea Vallauri. “It’s going to be difficult to be specific about how much the track was aiding athletes over what went before. It could be 1%, 1.5%, 2%.”

For Paris ’24, Vallauri says that Mondo is looking at building different surfaces for different events—a possible response to the complaints by some javelin throwers that their spikes tore up that runway.

“One thing we have also discovered is that it may be possible to have different surfaces for different events, so the main track can be one material but then we can change it slightly so that the pole vault or the javelin can be another one,” says Vallauri.

“All the materials will be very similar but there can be specific designs for each event, especially with the field events, because clearly an athlete running on the main track is looking for different things from the surface than someone competing in the high jump or javelin.” Guidelines would need to change for that to happen: “At the moment, the rules are that the material must be the same in all areas.”


Choosing Team USA For The WC Marathon

Who will represent the United States in the World Championships 26-milers in Eugene next summer? That’s a question that many have been asking and Indy belatedly answered.

USATF decided to switch up the process a bit, no longer simply going down the list of time qualifiers as it had for recent Worlds. According to the announcement, one spot on the team would go to the highest U.S. finisher in last summer’s Olympic marathons. That would be Galen Rupp and Molly Seidel.

The remaining spots would go to the Americans who finished highest in the top 10 in the big Chicago, Boston and New York races this fall.

Not unreasonable, per se, except that the announcement of these criteria did not come out until October 26 — after both Chicago and Boston had been run.

Rupp and Seidel have said that they would take their berths. The remaining men’s spots are set to go to Elkanah Kibet (4th in New York) and Colin Mickow (6th in Chicago). The other women’s spots would go to Emma Bates (2nd in Chicago) and Sara Hall (3rd in Chicago).

The late announcement irked a number of athletes who might have been considered under the previous USATF policy. Marty Hehir, the No. 2 American in the qualifying period at 2:08:59, had decided not to run a fall marathon long before the announcement. He told LetsRun, “Had I known that these criteria were going to be different, I think that absolutely would have changed my decision-making process.”


No Testosterone-Lowering For Trans Women?

What to do with the new IOC guidelines on trans women? That’s what World Athletics will have to wrestle with after the Olympic bosses released a new framework for the issue, replacing its ’15 position.

The IOC is no longer suggesting the suppression of testosterone levels as a fix. Instead it now says there is no presumption that trans women have an automatic advantage over natal women.

The 10-point document, prepared after consulting with more than 250 athletes and stakeholders, also applies to DSD (differences of sex development) athletes such as Caster Semenya.

World Athletics has responded by saying it will not be changing its rules. Said a spokesperson for the IOC, “But this guidance is not an absolute rule. So we can’t say that the framework in any particular sport, such as World Athletics, is actually wrong. They need to make it right for their sport and this framework gives them a process by which they can do it, thinking about inclusion and then seeing what produces disproportionate advantage.”

American Joanna Harper, now a visiting fellow for transgender athletic performance at Britain’s Loughborough University as well as a trans athlete herself, says, “It is important that the IOC has come out in favour of inclusion of trans and intersex athletes, but I think sections… of the framework are problematic.

“Transgender women are on average, taller, bigger and stronger than cis women and these are advantages in many sports. It is also unreasonable to ask the sports federations to have robust and peer reviewed research before placing restrictions on trans athletes in elite sport. Such research will take years if not decades.”


Who’s Going To Run The U.S. Relay Program?

It’s time to put up or shut up for critics of the U.S. relay efforts at recent major championships. USATF has put out a request for applications for both a men’s and women’s head relay coach for the National Relay Program.

The coaches are expected to provide athlete recruitment and coaching for the domestic relay program as well as for international teams.

The salary is negotiable, according to USATF, depending on the duties and the days of work agreed to.

One hitch for many contenders is that the job description rules out anyone who is currently coaching any athlete who may be considered for a relay pool.

The deadline for applications is December 08, with a decision due before Christmas.


Bolt Muses On A Tokyo Appearance

Could Usain Bolt at age 34 have won sprint gold in Tokyo? Maybe, he thinks.

“I really missed it,” he said in a recent interview. “I wish I was there. Because for me, I live for those moments. So it was hard to watch. My coach said something to me at the end of my career. He said, ‘People are not getting faster.’ I was getting slower. I never looked at it that way.

“And it’s the facts because a lot of guys don’t really get faster. Because I have pushed the barrier so far and then I started going backwards timewise, so for me 9.80 was possible to get done.”

Are his World Records safe? “I don’t think I’ve seen anybody in this generation right now which I personally feel will break the records. So I think I have a couple more years before somebody will actually break my World Records.”


Flanagan Finishes Her Marathon Of Marathons

“We did it. 6 marathons in 42 days all under 2:47. I can’t believe it’s already over. This has been the experience of a lifetime – one that has left my heart fuller than ever.” That’s how marathon legend Shalane Flanagan summed up her fall adventure.

As noted last month in this space, the 40-year-old Flanagan had one more race to go in the sequence, the New York City Marathon. That she managed in her fastest time of the fall, 2:33:32, a mark that would have been good for 12th woman overall, had she started with the elite field.


Noted U.S. Coach Under Investigation?

The Guardian has reported that the U.S.-based coach Rana Reider, mentor to some of the world’s top track athletes, is being investigated by SafeSport after multiple complaints of sexual misconduct.

But according to Reider’s lawyer, “SafeSport hasn’t issued a notice of allegations to Rana. The suspicious timing and motives attached to these unproven attacks on Rana’s reputation need to be fully investigated and vetted, and they haven’t been.”

Nonetheless, the news prompted UK Athletics to warn its athletes to stay clear of Reider; two of them, sprinters Daryll Neita and Adam Gemili, have so far stuck with Reider. They have been warned that they may lose their place in Britain’s World Class Programme as well as their lottery funding.

Athletics Canada has said that it is suspending any payment to Reider for working with Andre De Grasse until the outcome of the investigation.


Body-Shaming At Oregon?

A half-dozen women who departed the Oregon track & field team have charged coaches and athletic department employees with creating a dangerous climate of body shaming, according to reporting by Ken Goe of the Portland Oregonian.

Of the 6, who have remained anonymous, 5 left Eugene with remaining eligibility.

One of the points in the report is that Oregon is using DEXA scans, a medical imaging test to measure bone density and body fat percentage. Coach Robert Johnson defends the scans, saying, “When we get the numbers from our DEXA scans, we have an Excel spreadsheet that we can plug the numbers into, hit a button and it gives us a starting value for a training program. It allows us to be cutting edge and innovative in our approach to performance.”

However, one of the athletes e-mailed the deputy athletic director to say that athletes would go on crash diets before the scans. “I have seen and experienced an absolutely disgusting amount of disordered eating on the women’s track team, all because the coaches believe body fat percentage is a key performance indicator,” she wrote.

The role of the athletic department’s nutritionists also came under fire.

Johnson responded, “If these things were happening, such as binge-eating, or they were going down this road of unhealthy behaviors, hopefully we would catch it, and then give them resources to get better.”


XC Question: Same Distance For Men & Women?

The same distance for all genders at the NCAA XC Championships? A petition drive being pushed by some of the sport’s big names is looking for just that.

Advocating for an 8K championship race for both men and women at the Div. I, II, and III meets, the petition has nearly 2000 signers at this writing.

Calling themselves the “RunEqual2023 Team,” the initial petitioners include Molly Peters, the XC coach at St. Michael’s College as well as notable athletes past and present: Lynn Jennings, Kara Goucher, Ben True, Molly Huddle and mountain runner Kasie Enman.

Across the pond there are similar moves already farther down the line, with European Athletics having accepted a proposal to make the distances equal in its championship events starting in ’23.


Russia’s Suspension From WA Extended

The federation that came in from the cold? Not yet, as the WA Congress has once again extended the suspension of the Russia federation, until the terms of the reinstatement plan are fulfilled.

The acting president of RusAF, former sprint/hurdle great Irina Privalova, assured delegates that there would be “no return to the past,” and that the federation is “working hard — but there is still a lot to do.”

The Russian sports minister, Oleg Matytsin, agreed work still needed to be done but said that he hopes reinstatement happens in ’22.

Rune Andersen, chair of the WA taskforce, expressed optimism that true change is happening in Russia. “There are still people in Russian athletics who have not embraced this new culture, and there is still much work for RusAF to do to ensure that they do not exercise influence, and instead it is the new generation of athletes and coaches that push Russian athletics forward,” he said.

“But the new RusAF leadership has shown what seems to be a genuine commitment to lead this change and ensure it becomes deep-rooted in Russian athletics.”

WA head Seb Coe noted that the uncertainties about Russia’s anti-doping arm may slow the process: “That as an element is slightly beyond our control.”

In one of the high-profile Russian suspensions, high jumper Danil Lysenko says it was federation officials that faked documents to try to get him off the hook on a whereabouts failure, but he took the blame for going along with the plan. “I could have said no, but I didn’t,” he said.


Double-And-A Half Jumping?

Armchair coaches had a field day watching Yulimar Rojas break the triple jump World Record in her gold medal performance in Tokyo. The rap was that if the Venezuelan could fly 51-5 (15.67) with such a short middle segment, what can she do once she learns to jump properly?

Not so fast, says Catherine Tucker, a British expert in biomechanics who has produced reports for World Athletics. While Rojas had the shortest relative step phase of the top 8 that day at 24% (the others ranged from 27-30%), it may not be accurate to call the step phase the limiting factor on her distance.

Rojas hit a top speed of 11.17mps (24.98mph) on the approach, far faster than anyone else, and indeed, at world-class sprinter levels. Silver medalist Patricia Mamona was next at 10.06 (22.49mph).

Tucker suggests that Rojas’s step phase may be more of a transition between very effective hop and jump phases, rather than a “significant contributor to overall distance.”

She concludes that if Rojas improves her own WR, it may well be by “reaching as high a run-up speed as possible with accurate placement on the board meaning she can optimize her hop and jump phases.”

With segments of 19-2¾/12-6¼/19-8 (5.86/3.82/5.99), some like to joke that Rojas has taken the event backwards, to the days when it was known as the “hop, step and jump.” ◻︎

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