LAST LAP — June

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.

Remembering the great Lee Evans: at the ’68 OT he broke the 400 WR for the first time, his 43.86 beating Larry James in the woods at Lake Tahoe. (DON CHADEZ)

Backlash For IOC’s Protest Rules

The IOC’s decision to double down on its controversial Rule 50 banning protests at the Games (“Last Lap,” May) might generate even more tumult now that high-profile athletes are speaking out against it on bigger platforms.

HBO’s Real Sports featured Gwen Berry and Tianna Bartoletta in an exploration of the stricture. Said Bartoletta, “I am furious just by the wording, honestly, of the rule. ‘Racial propaganda.’ Championing equality is not racial propaganda, so before we even get to protesting, I’m just pissed at the language.”

Berry noted, “We know that money talks. [The IOC] will do anything and everything to make sure their sponsors are happy.”

The threat of permanent bans to anyone who knees during an anthem enraged Sha’Carri Richardson, who tweeted, “Let me make the team, I WILL REPRESENT MY PEOPLE!!”

British sprinter Adam Gemili said, “The IOC are so quick to use Tommie Smith, the picture of him, fist raised, but then they are saying, ‘actually, no one is allowed to do that.’
“It doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think you can ban an athlete for protesting and if they do all hell would break loose and it could go south and sour very quickly. They will be very naïve to even try to do that.”


Taylor Falls Victim To Serious Achilles Injury

The final attempt for Christian Taylor in Ostrava did not look right at all. It wasn’t a typical aborted jump followed by a runthrough. Instead, he landed strangely in one of his phases, then went off-balance and hobbled into the sand. There he stood for what looked like a long time, trying to make sense of it.

Doctors subsequently confirmed that the 2-time reigning Olympic champ had completely ruptured his Achilles. The following morning he had surgery.

That puts an end to his season and his hopes of defending in Tokyo. “I am disappointed to not be able to go for my third consecutive Olympic Gold in Tokyo, but I will be back,” he said. “I have had setbacks in my career before and although this one presents a big challenge. I am certainly not going to back away from it. I have 426 days until Triple Jump at Eugene 2022 and I am already setting my target on that podium.”

Taylor’s fiancée, Austrian hurdler Beate Schrott, posted, “‘When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.’ Considering the amount of lemons life has given us recently, Christian and I might be announcing the launch of our lemonade business soon. We’ll be taking orders shortly.”


New Post-Season Meets For High Schoolers

In a major coup for the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation, Nike has come on board as the name sponsor of its HS outdoor nationals. This year’s NSAF meet will be held the week after the Olympic Trials at Hayward Field, June 30–July 03.

Ohio’s SPIRE Academy is sponsoring what it is calling a “National Championship for Throwers,” with competitions for junior high, high school and Juniors (U20). The dates are June 18–20.

RunningLane, the Alabama-based coaching/event/timing company that pounced on the national prep XC scene last fall in the vacuum created by the cancellation of the Footlocker and NXN events, now has decided to create its own national track championship. The event is set for Huntsville, Alabama, on June 11-12 and will reportedly emphasize distance races.


Harrison’s Unique Jump Skills

With marks of 7-8¾ (2.36) and 27-8¾ (8.45), JuVaughn Harrison is the only earthling to ever surpass 2.30 (7-6½) in the high jump and 8.40 (27-6¾) in the long jump.

The LSU junior told World Athletics that he can’t pick a favorite, saying, “If you had asked me this question in my freshman or sophomore year, I would have said I liked the high jump more. But today I love them both equally. When it comes to the high jump, there is something about that feeling of clearing the bar. In the long jump, I love that feeling of getting out of the sand, knowing you have jumped a long way.”


It’s About That DL Field Experiment

One thing Harrison hasn’t faced yet is the Diamond League’s unique field-event protocol, now in its second year. This quote is from WA’s report on the Gateshead season opener: “The decision to trial a sixth-round decider for the top 3 in the horizontal jumps and throws proved an instant success in terms of distilling the drama into a showcase cum shootout.”

The response from British long jumper Jazmin Sawyers: “I’m really not sure, @WorldAthletics, that something that’s had an overwhelmingly negative response from both athletes and fans from the moment of its inception can be called an ‘instant success’… or a success at all.”


McGorty’s Memorable First Splash & Dash

Now the event’s AR holder, Evan Jager made a splash when he debuted in the steeple at 8:26.14 in ’12. That was the fastest first-timer ever for an American. No more, Sean McGorty now owning the honor after his 8:20.77 at Walnut.

“I can’t remember the last time I was that nervous,” he says, “but it was a brand-new event and there’s a little more uncertainty when you have 28 barriers to go over and 7 water jumps and the barriers aren’t like the hurdles in practice — they’re not going to move. It was my first time hurdling with more than one person and I’d only done that once.

“[Coach Jerry Schumacher’s] race plan of trying to keep relaxed, learn the event, then compete and try to win, that helped me be relaxed about time. He told me, ‘I don’t care what kind of race it is, we do not need to get any type of standard right now,’ and that helped me stay relaxed. The way the race played out, I was able to snag the standard.”


Davis Went All In On Technique Fix

Tara Davis has emerged as one of the world’s top long jumpers. Texas coach Edrick Floréal describes how: “Changes had been made to her technique and she was not very comfortable with it. She was coming off the long jump board so fast that she was a little scared. And so I told her, ‘If you give me two weeks of complete commitment to the process, I promise you that none of these people will ever beat you again.’

“She mulled it over and said, ‘I don’t think I have any choice anyway.’ I said, ‘Well, with commitment, you do have a choice to commit your soul to doing it.’ And she said, ‘Ah, well, I’ll commit.’

“It was amazing. Starting from that Monday, it was a completely different person. She just stuck to the technical adjustment. It was, like, ‘If I’m going to die trying, I’m just going to keep doing it.’”


Tuliamuk Wants Her Baby In Tokyo

OT Marathon winner Aliphine Tuliamuk is trying to get permission from Japanese authorities to bring her 4-month-old daughter, Zoe, to the Games. She is still nursing the infant. “If I’m going to perform my best, she’s going to have to be there with me — and I hope she will be,” she told the Washington Post. But that would require the government to make an exception to the no-foreign-spectators policy.

“I’m grateful to know everyone is working really hard to help make this work. I’m just not ready to leave her behind.” Other mothers, including Allyson Felix, have raised similar concerns.


Can You Run Well Without A Contract?

Steepler Mason Ferlic, running without a major sponsor while working, recently shared this advice: “The biggest lie you’re made to believe is that to maximize success in this sport you have to put on hold all other aspirations and opportunities. I’ve worked a full-time job since 2018 and just completed a first-year PhD program [Applied Statistics, after getting his first two degrees in Aerospace Engineering] and am now running better than ever.

“My advice to young pros: that contract really isn’t that valuable in the long run. T&F athletes are too educated to be apparel models. Demand to be a part of the company and learn from the marketing, product, operations teams, etc.”


Bach Remains Upbeat On Tokyo Prospects

IOC head Thomas Bach says there is no turning back now from a Tokyo Olympics, although he admits that, “Everyone in the Olympic community has to make sacrifices” to pull it off. The IOC later denied that its head had implied the Japanese public would have to make sacrifices.

Opposition to hosting the Games has grown dramatically in Japan in the face of a fourth C19 wave that swamped hospital capacities in Osaka and Tokyo, putting much of the nation under an extended state of emergency.

Less than 3% of the Japanese public has been vaccinated, and only about half of the healthcare workers. That’s why the Tokyo Medical Practitioners Association, representing 6000 doctors, called on the government to cancel the Games.

Bach, who postponed his own May trip to Japan because of the spike in cases there, insisted the mega-event poses no significant risk, saying that 70–80% in the Olympic Village will be vaccinated.

In a recorded message to the international federations, he said, “In this final stretch our top priority continues to remain the organizing of safe and secure Olympic Games for everyone — the athletes, and all participants as well as our gracious hosts, the Japanese people. This is why, together with all our Japanese friends and partners we have put in place comprehensive COVID-19 countermeasures to ensure that the athletes of the world can come together in a safe environment for everyone.”

Not everyone is convinced. In late May the U.S. State Department raised its travel warnings for Japan to the highest level, 4: “Do Not Travel.” While American athletes, coaches and key personnel can still go to the Games, the advisory does have some major implications: travel insurance is now impossible, flights may be more restricted, and travelers from certain states face additional quarantines. (The states that the Japanese say have confirmed spread of C19 variants are currently identified as Florida, Michigan, Minnesota & Tennessee; that list may grow in coming weeks.


More Tokyo Developments…

WHO has put its stamp of approval on the IOC’s COVID plan, saying it had “confidence” that the various organizations involved “will make the right decisions regarding how best to manage the risks, and are working extremely hard right now to ensure that those risks are well managed.”…

Japan’s prime minister, Yoshihide Suga, responded to the pressure to cancel by saying that it was the IOC’s decision to make; the government’s job is to ensure a safe environment for the Games. “I’ve never put Olympics first,” he said. “My priority has been to protect the lives and health of the Japanese population. We must first prevent the spread of the virus.”…

The state of emergency in Japan has been extended to the northern city of Sapporo, where the road events are to be held…

Organizers are expected to announce more cuts to the number of foreign media, officials and staff allowed to attend…

As of the end of May nearly 400,000 Japanese had signed an online petition calling for the Games to be canceled. That’s a relatively small number, given the 37 million residents of greater Tokyo. However, various opinion polls show that 59–80% of the citizenry are opposed to the Games. The CEO of the top Japanese e-commerce company called the Games a “suicide mission.”…

The governors of several districts near Tokyo have refused Olympic requests to help provide medical backup for the Games and its staff, saying that precious beds for C19 patients would not be reserved for the Games…

The IOC inked a deal with Pfizer to donate doses to Olympians headed to Tokyo…

The Japanese are expected to announce in June whether any local spectators will be allowed (a ban on foreign fans was announced back in March). Seb Coe has warned, “Athletes need to get used to competing in stadiums where there are not any crowds.”…

An economic analyst affiliated with the Bank of Japan estimated that a Games with no spectators would create $1.35 billion in losses for the Japanese. A cancellation would cost $16.5 billion…

The Asahi Shimbun, the world’s second-biggest paper in terms of circulation — and more importantly, a major Olympic sponsor — in late May called on the prime minister to cancel the Games. ◻︎

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