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.

Is that the real Bigfoot or is it the official World Championships mascot? (JOSH GURNICK/OREGON22)

Both of China’s DL Meets Canceled

COVID strikes again! In early May it was announced that Chinese travel restrictions and quarantine requirements had forced the cancellation of this year’s Wanda Diamond League meets in Shanghai (July 30) and Shenzen (August 06). Both are envisioned to return to the calendar in ’23.

For this year, the two meets will be replaced by the Skolimowska Memorial in Chorzów, Poland, on August 06. The Skolimowska meet was originally set as a Gold-level competition on WA’s Continental Tour.


Cranny Pulls Out Of USATF 10,000

She would have been favored to win the WC Trials 10,000 race, but the day before it was to go off she took to Instagram to announce her withdrawal.

She explained, “I haven’t been feeling like myself in training. I’d love nothing more than to be out there competing for a spot on Team USA, but I just don’t feel ready to compete right now.”

She also said, “I have made the decision to shift my focus to the 5K next month.”



Oregon’s World Champs Gets A Mascot

The focus groups have spoken. The official mascot of the ’22 World Championships will be Legend The Bigfoot (see photo).

“We started with many concepts — some fictional, some wildlife, others abstract — and then narrowed it down to a select few,” said AJ Gaulton, a Fan Experience Director with the LOC. “Besides being tall and bright yellow,” the figure “stood above the rest with a clear vision for meeting each key deliverable identified.”

Sarah Massey, CEO of Oregon22, is quite pleased: “Legend represents the region, appeals to a wide audience, is unique, and upholds the ‘big’ and ‘legendary’ monikers of the event. Additionally, the physicality of Bigfoot being powerful, swift, and nimble falls in line with the very nature of the sport.”


How Many Seats Available For WC?

Despite early statements that Hayward Field would be able to seat 30,000-plus fans in its WC configuration, the likely number of seats the event will be using will be little more than half that, according to The Sports Examiner.

This spring organizers installed their massive Visual Experience Board, a 5080-square foot screen that spans 160-feet. By some estimates that screen cost 2430 seats, or $1.82 million in ticket sales.

Altogether, in addition to the 12,650 permanent seats at Hayward, an additional 4571 seats have been added, for a total of 17,221. That includes roughly 2700 seats that aren’t available to the public, as they have been reserved for media, officials, sponsors and athletes, leaving 14,517 available to the public.

In contrast, the ’16 Olympic Trials had an average daily attendance of 22,122 (because of C19, no relevant data is available for last year’s OT).


The Usain Bolt Effect

Could the sport actually be in better shape since the retirement of Usain Bolt? That’s what Seb Coe recently told the Jamaica Observer, and some on the island took exception to the sentiment.

“We loved Usain,” said Coe. “Those years were extraordinary years, he is the Muhammad Ali of our sport, but I think the sport is healthier now, for not just necessarily focusing on one person. You know, meeting directors are not just building their meetings around one person. You’ve got a galaxy of stars that are really attracting the fans.”

“I am not necessarily in agreement,” said Jamaican coach Maurice Wilson. “The effects of Bolt not being around, in my opinion, and being around the sport before Bolt and after his retirement, it has been tremendous. It is as if you took out the heart of the sport with his absence and it will take a couple years to see a resolution to that.

“Bolt brought a special type of attitude to track & field, the entire sport itself and I don’t believe we will see that type of attention until we have another major superstar like Bolt and I don’t even know if we can find one.”


Enlist, Get A Scholarship In Return

Athletic scholarships in exchange for military service? That’s an idea that’s apparently floating around the Pentagon these days. The brainchild of Air Force contractor (and former Auburn runner) Dave Maloney, it would address a looming personnel shortage in the U.S. military.

Called the Scholar-Athlete Intelligence and Leadership Program (SAIL-P), the plan suggests the Department Of Defense offer athletic scholarships (in all sports but football and basketball) in exchange for an as-yet undetermined period of service after athletes are done with school.

Says Maloney, “The Department Of Defense just went to Congress with its initial budget for next year. It’s the largest budget ever, and yet we’re seeing a decrease in our technological capabilities, and we’re seeing a decrease in any interest in service… What does that tell you? Talented people don’t want to work at decaying institutions. You’ve got to gut-punch it.”

NCAA officials have not yet commented on the proposal.


The Future Of The Diamond League Final

Whither the DL’s annual climactic meet? This year, of course, the premium pro circuit will conclude with 2 days of action at Zürich’s Weltklasse (September 07-08).

Next year, the affair moves out of Europe for the first time, when it will be at the Prefontaine Classic in Eugene. At the time of that announcement last June, Diamond League CEO Petr Stastny said, “It will rotate annually as we intend to give more member meetings of the Wanda Diamond League the opportunity to host the final.”

Or maybe not. Now comes word that traditional hosts Brussels and Zürich are going to be alternating the hosting duties through ’27. Brussels will stage ’24 & ’26, Zürich ’25 & ’27.


A New Host For The NCAA Indoor

For at least 1 year the NCAA Indoor is returning to the Snow Belt. The ’24 edition, originally slated to be held in College Station, Texas, will instead be at New Balance’s new TRACK facility in the Boston area, on March 08-09.

UMass Lowell will be the institutional host. Said coach Gary Gardner, “We are happy beyond words to have it become a reality. We can’t wait to continue building on our relationship with New Balance, as we prepare to host the NCAA National Championships at what may truly be the best indoor track facility in the United States.”

Texas A&M became unavailable with the recent announcement that the school will be building a new indoor facility, which will not be ready on time.

Only once since ’99 has the event been held in a snowy weather state, that being ’12 in Nampa, Idaho. It has never been held in the Northeast.


Duane Ross To Take Over Vol Program

The SEC coaching scene continues to be competitive. Tennessee has now hired ’99 Worlds 110H medalist Duane Ross to lead its program. For the last 10 years Ross has worked at making North Carolina A&T a powerhouse and last year was recognized as co-national coach of the year by the USTFCCCA. In March, he guided the Aggies to 2nd at the NCAA Indoor, the highest finish ever by an HBCU.

Tennessee AD Danny White introduced Ross to the team the day before the NCAA Regionals, though Ross has confirmed he will finish the season with his Aggies.

He has agreed to a 5-year contract, reportedly worth $450K a year. That puts him close to the top for SEC track coaches. Georgia’s Caryl Smith Gilbert reportedly gets $500K a year; Florida’s Mike Holloway $462K. One of Ross’s first missions, he said, would be to search for an elite distance coach to oversee the cross country program.

Said White, “Fitting for a hurdler, Duane has a unique personal journey marked by adversity, accountability and inspiring bounce-back. His experience and empathy resonate with young people, and the results speak for themselves.”

The hiring came several days after White announced that Beth Alford-Sullivan, who had guided the Volunteers for 8 years, would not get an extension of her contract, which expires in June.


Houlihan Loses In Court Again

Shelby Houlihan’s appeal of her 4-year drug ban got a thumbs-down from the Swiss Federal Supreme Court. That has exhausted her legal options and she will not be eligible to compete again until January 13, 2025.

The 3-time World Ranker said on Instagram, “No reason has been given yet for why they were dismissed. I was told from the start that it was a long shot; it’s extremely hard to overturn these cases and I shouldn’t get my hopes up. I had to try anyway.”

In an interview with Runner’s World, she confirmed that she is no longer sponsored by Nike or working with coach Jerry Schumacher. She says she is looking for a job but intends to keep training, with an eye toward competing again when her ban is up.

She added: “I believe that the system is more focused on banning athletes rather than figuring out and valuing the truth. I do not believe they are protecting clean athletes.”


Russia Remains In The News…

Despite widespread condemnation and sanctions of Russia for its invasion of Ukraine, the IOC has dragged its feet, allowing Russian members to participate in its May meetings and refusing to apply sanctions beyond advising that sporting events should be moved from Russia…

Former world heavyweight champion Wladimir Klitschko of Ukraine has called upon the IOC to completely ban Russia from the next Olympics, saying, “Actions speak louder than words. Isolation, and this isolation speaks louder than any word or any line because isolation is painful. It will be painful for the athletes, for the economy, and for everyone involved with Russia.”…

Latvia, which borders both Russia and its ally, Belarus, has banned its athletes from competitions in both countries…

USOPC head Sarah Hirschland voiced her support for stricter sports sanctions against Russia, referencing the nation’s long history of state-sponsored doping as well as its invasion of Ukraine, adding, “It’s telling to me how quickly everyone was aligned around everyone saying they’re out. I don’t think that’s entirely driven by the invasion of Ukraine.”…

At the end of May, IOC head Thomas Bach reiterated his stance, saying, “Our task is, whenever it comes to political circumstances interfering in our mission, in our work, is to do everything we can to keep the Olympic Games, and to keep sport, beyond politics as much as possible.” ◻︎

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