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.

It seemed Leonard Korir’s WA ranking would send the marathon Trials 3rd-placer to Paris along with Clayton Young & Conner Mantz. Now a surprise WA announcement has his status in doubt. (ANDREW McCLANAHAN/PHOTO RUN)

Paris For Those On An Unlimited Budget

According to The Guardian, “Members of the global super-rich are spending as much as $500,000 on ‘ultra-exclusive’ packages for the Paris 2024 Olympics that promoters claim include meeting athletes, access to the athletes’ village and “the chance to be part of the Opening Ceremony.”

Behind the venture is GR8 Experience, an “international experience agency” part-owned by the business manager of LeBron James and the PR manager of Rafael Nadal. The group is selling Olympic packages that it claims include tickets to 14 events such as the men’s 100 final.

GR8 Experience chief exec Barnabas Carrega also told The Guardian that his company was offering the super-rich “access that is not available to the public, including time with athletes.”

The LOC has questioned whether or not the program is legal.

Details Still To Come From MJ

Naturally, there have been many questions about the new pro track league that Michael Johnson is promoting. Answers, he told T&FN at Pre, are going to have to wait until his organization holds a press conference before the Olympic Trials:

“I’ve been sort of head down just, you know, preparing for our 2025 launch. And starting a new league of any kind of sport, you know, is a ton of work. You gotta have a lot of people on board. So I’ve spent the last several months hiring, working with our investor groups, a ton of research, working through… television partners, deal points and all of that stuff.

He added, “Everything that everybody wants to know, we’ll reveal [at the press conference]. The structure of the league, where we’re going be having events, structure of the competition. We made a lot of decisions and we’re still working through all of those decisions, and the worst thing I can do right now is to start saying, ‘Hey, we’re gonna do this.’

“And then between now and when we announce in June that changes and it’s like, ‘But you said you’d do this…’ It’s not hard to make a stir in track. Everybody listens to everything everybody says and they are all about it. And the one thing that’s great is that everybody wants change in this sport. So you probably want to get that right before you go out there and start talking.”

Warholm Now A Super-Shoe Believer

Karsten Warholm complained at the Tokyo Olympics about athletes wearing super-spikes, particularly rival Rai Benjamin and his Nikes, which the Norwegian gold medalist called “bullshit.”

However, now that Puma has designed a custom pair of super-spikes with the WR holder’s input, his tune has changed. “I’m the biggest hypocrite in the whole world,” he admitted at Bislett.

“It’s always like when you take that leap forward, it’s impossible to go back. When you look at the world today, it’s impossible to avoid technology. I’m an old-school kind of guy, so it takes time. But there are also some good things about it.”

Warholm’s Berserker spikes are oversized with deep ridges and a toe extension. He says, “Puma has the best formula in making foam now. I’d be surprised if anyone has a better energy return. The carbon plate technology is better than it was in Tokyo and we’ve trained my body to run in these shoes. I’m struggling to see what we’re lacking.

“When you land, you want the foam to compress and you want your calf to move over the center of gravity and then release. The ridges are helping that movement. It shows me you can take the technology and make it even more extreme.”

Asinga’s Ban Confirmed

Last year’s brief prep sprint sensation, Issam Asinga, has been banned for 4 years, the result of a positive test for GW1516. An experimental drug that was initially designed to change how the body metabolizes fat, GW1516 is classified as a “selective androgen receptor modulator” and was pulled from clinical trials when it was found to cause cancer in animals. It’s never been tested on humans.

Asinga, a Florida prep in ’23, says that the substance came from Gatorade Recovery Gummies that were part of a gift pack he received when he was awarded Gatorade’s top prep honors. He says the containers for the gummies were tested by a WADA-accredited laboratory and shown to have traces of GW1516.

“The AIU’s decision says Pepsico must have a sealed container saved from the same lot they gave to me… Testing a sealed version from the same lot seems the only way I can clear my name. As the product is now ironically discontinued, there is no way for me to purchase it.” Pepsico is the corporate owner of the Gatorade brand, and Asinga says that the company has “refused” to provide samples from the same lot.

His ban will last until August 2027. In the meantime, his World U20 and High School Records have been erased.

Don’t Forget Your Bib

That piece of paper pinned to the front of almost every athlete at almost every meet doesn’t have a fan in Rai Benjamin. The world-leading 400 hurdler refused to wear one when he ran his 46.64 in Los Angeles, saying, “I’m not wearing that thing. It’s a waste of money and the uniform looks too good to wear a bib, so I’m continuing my no-bib campaign here today.”

He’s not alone. Last year, sprint great and commentator Michael Johnson said, “When an athlete is trying to focus on performing at their best, the bibs are a distraction. The fastest, most efficient athletes in the world are competing with a piece of paper safety-pinned on. It just reeks of amateurism.”

However, it’s been pointed out that athletes may not have a vote when the big meets roll around. In WA’s technical competition rules is 5.8-9, which says, “No athlete shall be allowed to take part in any competition without displaying the appropriate bib(s) and/or identification. These bibs must be worn as issued and may not be cut, folded or obscured in any way. If any aspect of Rule 5 of the technical rules is not followed, a disqualification may follow.”

Given that big-money sponsors pay to have their name on bibs, one can assume USATF, WA and the Diamond League may be inclined to enforce the rule.

Frerichs Felled By Knee

One of the best hopes for the U.S. in the distances in Paris would have been Courtney Frerichs, who won steeple silvers both at the Tokyo Olympics and the London Worlds. In April, while practicing water jumps, she hyperextended her knee “resulting in a complete tear of my ACL and tears in both my medial and lateral menisci,” she posted.

The injury necessitated surgery to reconstruct her ACL and repair the torn meniscus. “My brain has tried to make sense of all this and what went wrong. As runners we tend to view things systematically, but truth is this was a freak accident that comes with the inherent risk of being a steeplechaser combined with my hyper-mobile body. I am absolutely heartbroken to be missing this season — especially it being an Olympic year, but I keep reminding myself that a single season doesn’t define me or my running career. I hold hope that I will be back out there again as a healthier and stronger version of myself.”

She added in a later post, “Every day, things get a little better. This journey is going to be one of the toughest I have ever taken on, but I truly believe something wonderful will come on the other side of it.”

Korir’s Road To Paris Takes A Twist

U.S. marathoner Leonard Korir, 3rd in the OT race, knew that without the Olympic standard, his chances of racing in Paris depended on the World Athletics rankings.

The rankings game took a surprise turn, however, on May 08 when WA indicated it is now allotting 11 of those spots on the men’s side, and 9 on the women’s, to “universality” athletes. These athletes come from typically small nations where no one has made the Olympic standard in any events. In track & field, the “universality” events are the 100, 800, and marathon.

“I was shocked because I thought I was in,” said Korir. “It’s so unfair… They should try to make rules and stick to the rules and not change them at the last minute.” He added, “My coach and I might use a U.S. Army lawyer to help us so that we can explain to them how they were supposed to do it.”

In the meantime, USATF and other federations such as Australia’s are seeking clarification from WA as to whether the universality athletes might be added in addition to the 80-runner cap per race instead of replacing athletes who thought they were in.

Drug (testing) Wars: USADA vs. WADA

The battle between anti-doping agencies started with the Chinese, though perhaps it was simmering for longer. After the news in April that 23 Chinese swimmers had tested positive for trimetazidine prior to the ’21 Olympics and still were allowed by WADA to compete, USADA head Travis Tygart called it a “potential coverup.”

WADA president Witold Bańka then attacked USADA by pointing out 3 U.S. cases where there was environmental contamination of sample, similar to the Chinese case. He also said there was “inconsistent enforcement in the U.S.” and that 90% of American athletes aren’t covered by the World Anti-Doping Code.

USADA noted that the three contamination cases in the U.S. all were made public and the athletes disqualified. The organization then released a statement which said, in part, “It is painful to see the credibility of the global anti-doping system diminished by the day due to WADA leadership’s refusal to publish the China file for a fair, transparent, and unbiased review of how 23 Chinese swimmers tested positive for a drug known worldwide for enhancing performance.

“We once again call on WADA to produce the full China file for the world to evaluate. This is a simple request and could be done today if WADA has nothing to hide.”

Lewis Doesn’t See Long Jumps In The Future

It has been more than 30 years since Mike Powell set the long jump WR of 29-4½ (8.95) in his Tokyo duel with Carl Lewis, the greatest battle the event has ever seen.

Lewis, for one, doesn’t think we’re going to see a return to those levels anytime soon, and fan interest has suffered.

“Why is the long jump not popular? Because no one’s jumping far,” Lewis said recently. “It’s not rocket science. When you have a generation that got used to people that were jumping 8.60 (28-2¾) and competition was there, people were excited.”

The 4-time gold medalist in the event says no one out there is willing to commit to the rigorous training necessary to challenge 29-feet. “I just don’t think our culture is raising kids to do that anymore” he said. “It’s just not in the culture to work that hard, to not be distracted. It’s just not there. And in our culture, I’m not talking about just athletes but I’m talking about kids.”

He doesn’t think the WA proposal to change the rules on fouling will help. “The reason the rate of fouling is high is because the event’s difficult. The beauty of the long jump is the challenge. When you take away that challenge… all of a sudden, you’ve created a new event. They’re doing testing [on the new rules] and I think testing is going to show that people are not going to jump farther.” ◻︎

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