LAST LAP — January

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.

Hellen Obiri waxed Letesenbet Gidey in the Monaco 5K, but the Ethiopian went on to break the WR in a Wavelight race. Obiri decidedly isn’t happy about it. (JIRO MOCHIZUKI/IMAGE OF SPORT)

New U.S. Outdoor Meet Circuit Formed

The myriad meet cancellations that came out of the pandemic—and continue to be announced—have put athletes, particularly those not based in Europe, searching for competition into a corner. Combine that the difficulties of traveling across the ocean and the lack of a coordinated circuit in the U.S. has become an even bigger challenge facing the sport stateside.

“It’s pathetic that all the best athletes in America go to a different continent for most of their racing,” Music City Distance Carnival meet director Dave Millner told Runner’s World.

Enter the Pro Track Series, a 7-meet sequence set to debut in ’21 where athletes will compete against each other for points and prize money:
•The Track Meet (Los Angeles, May 14)
•Portland Track Festival (May 29)
•Iowa High Performance (Des Moines, May 31)
•Music City Distance Carnival (Nashville, June 05)
•Under Armour Sunset Tour I (Los Angeles, July 10)
•Under Armour Sunset Tour II (Los Angeles, July 17)
•Ed Murphey Classic (Memphis, August 14)

We’ll have more on this exciting new concept in the February issue of T&FN.

Obiri Says Wavelight “Is Like You Are Doping”

She’s had some time to think over her stance on the Wavelight pacing system (in this space last month she said, “I think it is really unfair for us who did not compete”), but Hellen Obiri is still not a fan. Not even close. Not after the WR that she has chased umpteen times has gotten even farther away with the technology.

“It is like you are doping; I can compare those two. To me, they are the same,” she told BBC Sport Africa. “With Wavelight technology you don’t need to train 100% because you know there is something that’s going to boost you.

“I think it can be fair if all athletes are there, not one or two. More like 12 athletes where anybody can break the World Record… If it’s available, let it be available to all.”

The Kenyan star noted that she much prefers old-school rabbiting. “We use pacesetters because you know they reach a point then drop out so that you can push yourself. Wavelight technology can take you maybe up to the finish.”

Vaccine? Athletes Need To Get In Line, Says Coe

While professional athletes—at least in the U.S.—appear to have been getting some special treatment when it comes to C19 mitigation, WA head Seb Coe doesn’t see our sport’s athletes as deserving special consideration.

“We have to be sensitive here: there are many claims on that priority,” he said at a mid-December press conference. “Most of us are dependent on our frontline workers and our emergency services and we also recognise that there are vulnerable people in the community and we want to make sure that we look after them as much as possible. I’m not sure that it is for sport to be pressing the case for fit young people.”

As to whether or not athletes should vaccinate, he continued, “I would like… that when the vaccine does become available and that the athletes have the opportunity to make use of it that they do. I’m not mandating it and I don’t think it’s my job to tell people what they should or shouldn’t do in that area. I think that has to be a very personal and individualistic view.

“I hope they do avail themselves of it, I certainly would if I had the opportunity in the lead up to a Games like that, but it’s very much a personal decision.”

WA Amends New-Shoe Rules

With the latest products from the Shoe Wars swamping not just the yearly lists but also the all-time compilations, World Athletics has amended its rules on what shoes are acceptable in international competition.

The key change is that“development shoes” will be allowed in competition even before they are available to the public, as long as WA approves of the specifications in advance. This means such shoes are good to go for any international meets with the exception of the World Athletics Series and the Olympics.

An approved development shoe—there are now some 200 on the list—will only be legal for a year before it is either given a final approval or rejected. The onus is on the athlete (and representative) to notify WA of the competitions the shoe will be worn at; written approval needs to be obtained.

In WA’s eyes, all performances resulting from permitted use of developmental shoes will be considered valid, even if they include World Records, apparently.

Whether or not individual federations such as USATF opt to recognize such records themselves is a separate matter that would need to be resolved later.

In a related development, it was noted that multiple runners in those fast The Track Meet races were wearing 40mm “stack height” road flats, whereas the new WA guidelines consider the max stack for track distance races to be 25mm. WA will not consider any such marks as legitimate OG qualifiers, but USATF will accept them for OT purposes. However, USATF will not accept any such marks starting January 01.

Will Podium Demonstrations Become Accepted?

The movement to remove the punishments for athletes who protest on Olympic podiums got a big boost when the USOPC said it would not sanction athletes for raising their fists or kneeling on the podium at international events. Said CEO Sarah Hirshland, “When you sit in my seat, you have to make decisions that you think are on the right side of history.”

What will be the IOC’s response to the flouting of Rule 50?
WA head Seb Coe—a new IOC member—apparently supports the move, saying in a ceremony to honor the three men on the Mexico City 200 podium, “the bravery, dignity and morality of these three men continue to inspire athletes from all sports 50 years on.”

Not so fast, countered IOC chief Thomas Bach. In a press conference in early December he noted that such demonstrations continue to be prohibited under WA rules. “I have nothing more to add at this time,” he said.

Rudisha On The Fence About Tokyo

Nobody has ever won 3 Olympic golds in the 800, but David Rudisha has a shot for a trifecta in Japan. The WR holder, however, says it’s too soon for him to decide whether to go for gold No. 3 in Tokyo.

“Because of this difficult time with COVID and I have been up and down with injuries, I have been off, I have not been training,” he told BBC Sport Africa. “I am hoping maybe next year I will make my decision whether I will come back and see the level of my physical fitness. That’s when I will be able to assess my level and my standard and that will gauge if I will come back or I will make another decision, but I love sports.

It has been more than 3 years since the Kenyan ace, who turned 32 in early December, has raced. Of 2020 he says, “I had a bad injury at the beginning of the year and it is taking quite some time. Coming back you need to prepare yourself very well.”

No Cross Country In Paris In ’24

The IOC has handed down a pair of decisions on the event lineups for all sports to be contested at Paris 2024, making virtually no one in our sport particularly happy.

The long-hoped-for return of a cross country event to the Games—a pet idea of WA head Seb Coe—got shot down completely. And walk fans hoping to see women get a chance to race 50K in the Olympics were told that’s not happening either. Instead, a mixed sex race—apparently a relay of some sort—will be in the offing.

A WA statement on the matter read, “Cross country is an exciting and fast-growing sport around the world so we are clearly disappointed it will not feature at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games, even more so given the heritage of cross country in France at the Paris 1924 Olympic Games. However, we have developed what we believe is a really exciting mixed relay product and have been encouraged by the commitment from the IOC that they will continue to work with us to realise our vision of seeing cross country in a future Olympic Games.”

The overall IOC decisions bring men and women participants to a 50/50 split in Paris, while Tokyo will only feature 48.8% women.

WADA Wanted 4, Russia Gets 2

In mid-December CAS eased up on Russia’s punishment for operating a state-sponsored doping conspiracy, lopping 2 years off the ban on Russia’s flag and uniform, and also watered down other aspects of the original judgment, allowing neutral Russian athletes to wear uniforms with their country’s name.

Alexander Ivlev, supervisory board chairman of RUSADA, called it a win: “Our teams will be selected by the ROC and the RPC, athletes can wear uniforms with the colors of the national flag and the word ‘Russia.’ And fans will be able to attend competitions with paraphernalia and national flags.
“We were able to respond to WADA’s claims in a straightforward manner with concrete reasoning. What was published was significantly different from the original requirements. I think this is positive news.”

Outside of Moscow, the decision didn’t play so well. Argued USADA head Travis Tygart, “To once again escape a meaningful consequence proportional to the crimes, much less a real ban, is a catastrophic blow to clean athletes, the integrity of sport, and the rule of law.” He also called the verdict a “weak, watered-down outcome.”

WA, in a statement of begrudging acceptance, noted that it still controls which Russians will be allowed in as neutral athletes. However, a WA Council meeting ended on a positive note for the Russians, with new federation President Peter Ivanov saying he was hopeful for reinstatement by March.

Leeper Appeals CAS Decision

Paralympic sprinter Blake Leeper is taking his case to the last stop on the line, appealing to the Swiss Supreme Court the CAS decision (Last Lap, November/December) to ban him from competing against able-bodied athletes at the Olympics and in the World Athletic Series.

CAS, in backing WA’s original decision, found that the American’s prosthetic limbs make him 15cm taller than if he had his biological legs—as a result he has the legs and stride of a 6-8 (2.03) man. The court did uphold one part of the appeal, that it was unfair to put the burden of proof on the plaintiff.

WA originally used Maximum Allowable Standing Height (MASH) to make its decision. The rule is regularly used in Paralympic competition.

That is now at the heart of Leeper’s contention. His lawyers maintain that MASH—which was developed from studies done on whites and Asians—discriminates against Black athletes.

At the ’19 USATF, Leeper placed 5th in the 400 final after hitting 44.38 to win his semi, amazingly splitting an almost-even 22.0/22.4.

Tokyo Organizers Remain Optimistic

Right now, it’s full speed ahead for the Tokyo Olympics, with the city’s governor, Yuriko Koike, saying she can “see no circumstances” under which organizers would pull the plug. She added, “The best-case scenario would be when all athletes from all countries come here in safety and with peace of mind and the Olympics can, as in previous years, be held with full spectators present as well.”…

The Tokyo 2020 budget is now at version 5, and the overall budget has risen to $15.3B (yes, billion with a b)…

The Opening and Closing Ceremonies are set to see their budget increase by c$35M, to a total around $117M…

It’s also been reported that Japan is preparing for “large-scale” numbers of overseas visitors to come, without mandating vaccinations or quarantines. However, later reporting noted that the Japanese have endorsed an IOC proposal to accelerate the vaccination of athletes…

Athletes will be encouraged to limit their stay in the Athletes Village and return home when finished competing…

In December, Tokyo reached 10,000 C19 deaths in a month for the first time. “Tokyo’s health care system is approaching capacity,” said the governor…

So far the government has planned to spend an extra $960 million on additional COVID-19 countermeasures. That cost will be on top of the $1.9 billion figure tallied for the expense of the initial 1-year delay…

One idea that has emerged is the government might require visitors to pick up private health insurance to reduce the size of the tab the Japanese taxpayers could be left holding…

On the hook, though, may be the Olympic sponsors. Already they’ve ponied up a record $3.3B, but organizing committee CEO Toshiro Muto said, “We are in the process of asking for additional sponsorship from our partners.”…

One barometer to watch: in early December it was reported that around 18% of Japanese ticket buyers have asked for refunds, despite beating huge odds to win the chance to buy them in a national lottery. ◻︎

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