LAST LAP — February

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.

The USATF Foundation’s Operation Hammer Sweep re-up hopes to foment medalist moments like Budapest’s in Paris. (GIANCARLO COLOMBO/PHOTO RUN)

3 Golds Is Good, But 4 Is Even Better

Noah Lyles became a media darling when he captured a trio of gold medals in Budapest, winning the 100 and 200 and anchoring the victorious 4×1.

For Paris this summer, how about adding another visit to the podium’s top step in the 4×4?

At a WA function at year’s end the colorful sprinter said, “I was talking to a close friend and he’s like: ‘I already know you’re going to win 3 golds at the Olympics. I want you to win 4. I remember when you were in high school, I watched you at Penn Relays go from 2nd-to-last to 1st in the 4 x 400, chasing down all those Jamaicans — there’s your fourth medal.’”

Lyles continued, “I’ve never had somebody tell me something that has thrown my out-of-the-box thinking to inside-the-box, but that was like: ‘OK, I’m not going to say no to that.’ Because after what I did at Budapest and seeing what my body could handle, if I train for it, OK, let’s take a shot. If they allow me, if they need me and they are willing, let’s go, let’s take it.”

His 1-lap PR is a modest 47.04, set when he was 18. At the ’23 Florida Relays Lyles anchored a 4×4 in 47.60. But disregard that; his squad won by nearly 8 seconds.

The timetable for such a quad isn’t overly taxing: the 100 final is on Sunday, the 200 on Thursday, 4×1 on Friday and 4×4 on Saturday.

Hassan A Glutton For Punishment

Track legend Sifan Hassan hasn’t yet announced what distance(s) she’ll be running in Paris, but with a burgeoning marathon career she will first be running the Tokyo 26-miler in March.

Her thoughts about the pain that comes with the marathon? “After the first 5km in Chicago [her second marathon ever] I told myself, ‘I’m never gonna run the marathon again.’ But 10 minutes later I thought to myself, ‘I think I’m addicted to the pain!’

“Now I don’t have any doubt. I’m really excited. I’m now curious and I’m telling myself that I need to be in shape. That I’m running in the Tokyo Marathon has nothing to do with the Paris Olympics. I think I’m addicted to the marathon.”

An Olympic Toast Anyone?

The IOC has announced it will be partnering with a beer company, AB InBev (the Belgian-based giant whose brands include Budweiser, Corona, Michelob and Modelo). Alcohol-free Corona Cero will be the specific brew linked to the Games.

“Beer and sports are better together. This partnership illustrates the opportunity for the beer category to positively impact and engage with billions of fans around the world, ushering in a new era of Olympic spirit as we cheer for our favorite national teams as they go for gold,” said AB InBev CEO Michel Doukeris.

The deal will not include LA28, as it was subsequently announced that Michelob ULTRA, a light beer, would be the official beer sponsor of Team USA.

Penn To Stage International Baton Events

WA has partnered up with the Penn Relays to add the Global Relays to this year’s big baton-fest in Philadelphia the last weekend of April. There will be both 4×1 and 4×4 races for each sex.

“Providing a top-level competition opportunity at Penn for many of the national relay teams, one week before the World Athletics Relays in the Bahamas — which is the Olympic Trials for the teams in 2024 — is a win-win for everyone,” says Pierce O’Callaghan, Head of Competition Management for World Athletics.

“The teams get to fine tune their baton changing and teamwork at the oldest relay meeting in the world in a high-pressure environment.”

Previously, Penn has hosted “USA vs The World” events, but those were last staged in ’19.

No Anna Hall At The World Indoor

As the No. 1 World Ranker in the heptathlon, Anna Hall would have been among the favorites at the World Indoor pentathlon in March, but she won’t be in Glasgow.

The 22-year-old American posted in January, “Earlier this month I had a small knee procedure… everything went smoothly, I am already well on the mend, and should be back on the track in a bit!

“It breaks my heart to be passing, but this was something we needed to do now in order to focus on the Olympics… leaning extra hard on my people and couldn’t feel more loved, supported, and ready to fight.”

How Old Did You Say You Were?

Luguelín Santos is no longer the winner of the ’12 World Junior 400 gold medal. The Dominican Republic star, now 31, has been discovered to have been using a falsified passport at that time and was a year older than was permitted under U20 rules.

Several weeks later the precocious Santos went on to claim Olympic silver in London. But that medal he can keep. “Unlike with sanctions for doping violations… there is no basis on which to annul his Olympic result as that was not an age-group event and no violation was committed there,” explains Brett Clothier, head of the AIU.

He didn’t exactly escape unscathed, however as in addition to the medal loss he has been banned for 3 years. With a PR of 44.11 in ’15, he hasn’t broken 45 since ’18.

Betrayed By A Knee Again

Devon Allen has been trying to balance a hurdling career with competing in the NFL, but he currently can’t do either, having torn his left ACL in late December. The Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver previously tore the same piece of connective tissue in ’16; that after doing the right in ’15.

“It really just comes down to the way my body is built,” Allen told Jonathan Gault of “What makes me me is that I apply a lot of force to the ground and sometimes I can’t stop that force as well as I can apply it. And I couldn’t really tell you. The play I that injured my knee on, I’ve done probably 100 times this season; the same route, the same kind of movements.”

The 29-year-old Oregon alum continues,“It’s not a death sentence anymore, and every time I’ve come back, I’ve come back faster and stronger. So that’s kind of what I’m hoping for with this next recovery. Obviously, it’s not ideal. I would prefer not to have to go through rehab again. But hey, that’s sports.”

Increased Freedom Of Posting From Paris

The IOC has announced eased restrictions on social media this summer, saying athletes will be “given more opportunities to share their Olympic journey with fans and peers across their personal digital platforms.”

Athletes participating in the Games will be able to post on their personal social media accounts audio and video recordings of up to 2:00 per post from:

•The Opening and Closing Ceremonies and/or at the Champions Park;
•The Olympic Village;
•Competition venues up to 1 hour before the start of their competition, and after they have left the mixed zone/doping control station;
•Their training venues and practice areas.

These Guidelines will apply to all accredited athletes at the Olympic Games, who will be able to benefit from the Guidelines from when the Olympic Village opens on July 18 until it closes on August 13.

Doping Issues In Spain

At year’s end Spanish media sources charged that the country’s anti-doping agency, CELAD, had allowed athletes to go unpunished on several occasions between ’17 and ’22.

There were also suggestions that WADA hadn’t followed up properly, leading the international body to say, “WADA strongly rejects the implication that it would ever turn a blind eye to any valid cases. The Agency confirms that all cases have been repeatedly followed up through the results management process and some are still pending.”

For its part, CELAD said, “All these news items are untrue and are merely interested and biased conjectures as a result of sensationalist interpretations that are far removed from the regulations in force and from the right of every athlete.”

In early February Spanish star Mohamed Katir, last year’s WC 5000 silver medalist was provisionally suspended for a trio of whereabouts failures. The 25-year-old Katir denied doping, claiming, “It is a simple case arising from the completion of the location data in the ADAMS platform.”

Meanwhile, As Paris Draws Nearer

It might go with the job, but Olympic organizers have plenty of headaches these days. The audience for the Opening Ceremony on the River Seine, for instance, has now been cut in half. The French interior minister now says there will be around 300,000 ticketed spectators, compared with his earlier references to 600,000. The driving factor is security…

Security is also what inspired President Emmanuel Macron to say the government has backup plans to move the festivities from the river to a more secure site if global events and safety concerns threaten Plan A. “Given we’re professionals, there obviously is a Plan B, Plan C, etc.,” he said…

Another threat to the Games comes from the climate. French scientists studied the risks of a repeat of the ’03 heat wave that caused an estimated 15,000 deaths in France. “In 20 years, the climate has changed and the idea was to warn the authorities that something significantly much worse than 2003 could happen, which is possible,” said the study’s lead author…

Empty seats? Some are worried that the most expensive Olympic ticket prices ever could lead to some. As of January, 55 medal session still had tickets available. One who is worried is track chief Seb Coe: “We have made the point that these prices are lumpy… it is important that our stadiums are full of people that love our sport, not people that can afford to get to an Olympics. Our sport cannot afford to look marginal in big championships. It really is unacceptable.”…

The National Financial Prosecutor’s office is investigating the salary of the president of the organizing committee, Tony Estanguet (an Olympic canoe gold medalist). His pay was originally set at $290,000, with possible bonuses that wouldn’t exceed 20% of that. The investigation is the latest step as prosecutors investigate favoritism, conflicts of interest and possible misuse of funds relating to the Games…

Legal Action In Indy

Jim Estes, the long distance running representative on the USATF Board Of Directors, has resigned, the latest development in a story that goes back to the federation’s throwing out Chattanooga‘s bid to host the OT Marathon because of Estes’s involvement (“On Your Marks,” September). That action involved representatives of USATF saying that Estes committed ethical transgressions with his role in Chattanooga’s bid.

In September, Estes filed a defamation lawsuit against USATF. Last month, USATF responded with its counterclaims. Then, in early February, USATF held a board meeting in Orlando and didn’t officially give Estes an advance notice. His resignation came on February 4.

He wrote, “I sadly do this, because as I defend my name in court, I have also been put in a position, due to circumstances outside of my control, where representing my constituents is no longer possible. During the last two years, there have been continued efforts to remove me from my position on the board.

“I believe that the LDR community deserves a voice that will be embraced and not silenced… I believe stepping down and allowing someone else to represent LDR on the Board is the best move for the constituents I promised to represent.”

More Hammer Help Is On The Way

Operation Hammer Sweep is back for 2024. The USATF Foundation has continued its support of the ball-and-chain for the Olympic year, to the tune of $100,000. The money provides additional support to the top 3 Americans at the USATF Championships, as well as additional monies to the people in places 4–6.

This year, that means grants of $10,000 each to Brooke Andersen, DeAnna Price, Janee’ Kassanavoid, Rudy Winkler, Daniel Haugh and Alex Young. Grants of $5000 will go to Brock Eager, Jordan Geist, Justin Stafford, Jillian Shippee, Annette Echikunwoke and Erin Reese. Also, the top 3 finishers at the Olympic Trials will get $5000.

The program was spearheaded by 2-time Olympian Ken Flax and funded by anonymous donors. Says Flax, “My friend and I created Operation Hammer Sweep to give America’s top hammer throwers the extra resources to help accomplish a podium sweep at the World Championships and/or Olympics. An American Podium sweep has not been achieved since the 1904 Olympic Games.”

So far the program seems to be helping American hammerers continue their resurgence. Launched after the U.S. won women’s gold and silver at the ’22 Worlds, the program saw U.S. women win two more medals in Budapest, with the men scoring 6th and 8th.

The sometimes shocking difference between a marathon’s prerace hype and the actual results came under scrutiny in reporting by Canadian Running. In the case of China’s Xiamen Marathon last month, the WA publicity on the Platinum Label race talked about “the fastest marathon pack ever assembled,” but none of the names mentioned even finished the race.

A Race Or A Photo Op?

Chinese media criticized the fact that Kenya’s Kibiwot Kandie and defending women’s champion Goytatom Gebreselassie stopped together after 20K and then smiled and posed for photos. It was later revealed that they had to run at least 20K to collect their appearance fees. On the surface that would appear to be a violation of the WA rule against intentional arrangements “aimed at an improper alteration of a result.”

WA requires its Platinum and Gold level races to have a certain number of athletes with gold or platinum status to start. Xiamen had 22 of such athletes and 15 of those failed to finish. What can’t be stated definitively is how many simply made the trip for easy money (said to be $10-15,000 each), never intending to finish. A WA representative told Canadian Running, “Whether due to injury, personal reasons or other, we are never able to predict with certainty who will start or finish a race.” ◻︎

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