LAST LAP — March

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.

As noted in this month’s lead article, collegiate milers are having a field day. That includes Virginia Tech’s unique feat of pulling 4 men sub-4:00 in the same race (l–r): Benjamin Nibbelink (3:59.04), Bashir Mosavel-Lo (3:59.00), Ben Fleming (3:59.47) & Antonio López Segura (3:59.60). (DAVE KNACHEL/HOKIE SPORTS)

Has Nike Shelved Super Spikes?

In late February the London Times carried a story under the provocative headline, Nike “super shoe” shelved over fears they could have undermined Bolt’s legacy.

When Nike announced the introduction of its Zoom Air Viperfly in early ’20, it said it was “designed specifically for the 100 meters, the truest test of pure human speed… It follows deep study of the strategy and performance of the race, and focuses attention on what athletes need most in the last 20 meters of the sprint.”

But according to the Times, Nike has pulled the shoe, which like the brand’s recordbreaking road shoes (Vaporfly& Alphafly) incorporates a carbon plate “after rival manufacturers expressed fears that they would allow an inferior athlete to wipe out Usain Bolt’s World Records.”

There have been suggestions that a revised version is likely to find its way to the feet of elite sprinters during the Olympic year.

For more thoughts on the ongoing effects of super-shoe technology, check out this month’s Editor’s column, which includes a photo of the Viperfly.


Spokane’s New Indoor Facility To Host A Nationals

Spokane, a city of some 225,000 in eastern Washington, is in the process of building a new state-of-the-art indoor facility and USATF has chosen it to host the ’22 indoor nationals, which will be the selection meet for the World Indoor in Belgrade, Serbia.

Called The Podium, the $56 million indoor sports complex is owned by the city and was funded primarily through a public bond drive. The downtown location is close to hotels and restaurants.

It will feature a 6-lane, 200-meter oval that can be hydraulically banked up to 12 degrees. It is the first track of its kind in the Western U.S. The infield will feature an 8-lane straightaway. There will be 3000 permanent seats and room for 1000 portable seats. Completion date for the facility is set for this fall.

This will be the first USATF Indoor in the state of Washington, though Seattle hosted the outdoor version in 1909 and 1972.


Brisbane Has Inside Track For ’32 Olympics

Another Down Under Olympic Games appears to be in our future has the IOC has given Australia — particularly the state of Queensland — status as “preferred host,” a plum that accords it the inside track on hosting the ’32 edition.

With the approval of the Executive Board, the IOC will begin negotiations with Aussie officials and if all goes well in what’s being called a “targeted dialogue,” Brisbane and its environs will be on the fast track to final approval.

Said IOC head Thomas Bach, “This decision is not a decision against anybody. This is just a decision in favor of one interested party at this moment in time.’”

Left out in the cold: Doha, Qatar; Budapest, Hungary; the Rhine-Ruhr region of Germany; Chengdu & Chongqing in China; Jakarta, Indonesia; New Delhi, India; İstanbul, Turkey; and Saint Petersburg, Russia.

The new IOC process is an attempt to avoid having cities dump millions into Olympic bids that ultimately are fruitless, as well as the long-term animosity that can result from a contested vote, typically 7 years before the event.

The successful staging of the ’18 Commonwealth Games in Gold Coast was cited as an important factor in selecting the region.



NSAF Cancels Indoor Nationals, Creates New Meet

Pandemic considerations forced the National Scholastic Athletics Foundation to cancel its NSAF Indoor Nationals, originally scheduled for Staten Island, March 11–14.

But that led the organization to create a new HS event, the USA Meet Of Champions, to be held in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, March 25–28. The move will take the new event outdoors and spread it out over 4 days, making it much easier to organize safely.

The fledgling meet got its first big-name entrant when Hobbs Kessler, the Michigan prep who broke the national indoor record with his 3:57.66 mile, committed to run the 2M.

NSAF expects to bring its indoor nationals back in ’22 at the Ocean Breeze track in Staten Island, New York.

Meanwhile, adidas has stepped into the “indoor nationals” void for high schoolers and is staging the adidas Indoor Nationals in Virginia Beach on the last weekend in February.


Road 5K WR For Beatrice Chepkoech

Already the WR holder in the steeplechase, Beatrice Chepkoech took to the roads for Monaco’s Herculis 5K on Valentine’s Day and left the race with another standard to her name.

The 29-year-old Kenyan, running with a male pacer, built a solid early lead over Swede Meraf Bahta. With kilo splits of 2:57, 2:59 and 3:01 into a headwind, she hit 3K in 8:57. With the wind at her back for the return home, she blitzed closing kilos of 2:59 and 2:47 to clock 14:43.

That betters the mixed-race WR of 14:48 that Caroline Kipkirui ran in Prague in 2018. “It was cold and there was a lot of wind,” Chepkoech said after her first road 5K in 7 years, “but I tried to follow my pacemaker and everything was perfect.” She won by over a minute from Bahta (15:46).


A Significant Move From South Africa To Florida

After several years of injury troubles, 400 WR holder Wayde van Niekerk is taking the big step of leaving South Africa and his longtime coach Tannie Ans Botha to train in Florida with Lance Brauman and his high-powered sprint group.

Said van Niekerk, “As much as I have enjoyed my experience with Tannie Ans and her group, I am hoping to break my World Record and to do that I need to ensure I am training alongside the world’s best sprinters. So I feel a temporary move to the United States will be in my best interests for the immediate future.”

The unique coaching relationship between van Niekerk, 28, and his 79-year-old female coach have been a charming staple of coverage on the reigning Olympic champ’s career. However, in fall ’17 after winning WC gold in London, he tore the ACL and meniscus in his right knee playing a celebrity rugby match. Since then he has only raced 6 times at various distances and not bettered 45.58 in his flagship event.

He tweeted, “I can’t express the gratitude I have for everything she has done to help me get to this point in my career. I’m really going to miss Tannie but she will always be my mentor!”

For her part, Ans was graceful, saying, “I can only say that there is no ill-feeling between me and Wayde. I wish him all the best and happiness in the future. I am happy that I have contributed something to his professional and personal life.”


A Pair Of Very Fast Track 10,000s

Some might call it “just” a time trial, but what a time trial. Sound Running’s The TEN (San Juan, Capistrano, February 20) rewrote both U.S. all-time lists while simultaneously reconfiguring the Olympic prospects of some of Nike Bowerman’s best.

The women’s race kicked off with Courtney Frerichs taking the field through halfway in a smooth 15:36.9. In the final laps, Karissa Schweizer and Elise Cranny (running her debut 10K) broke away from Britain’s Eilish McColgan. Schweizer drove hard over the final kilo but in the last stretch Cranny used her 1500 speed to finish a 65.11 final lap for a 30:47.42–30:47.99 win. The two move to Nos. 3 and 4 on the all-time list. McColgan just missed her mother’s Scottish Record with a 30:58.94. Also making the Olympic standard were Emily Infeld in 31:08.57 (No.10 U.S.) and Marielle Hall in 31:21.78.

Said Cranny, “At first I was adding up how many 1500s this was, and I was like, ‘Wow, this is a long way!’ I tried not to look at the lap counter for the longest time possible.”

The men’s race ran like clockwork. Evan Jager and Sean McGorty paced the field past half in 13:44.9. With 600 left, Britain’s Marc Scott made a break, followed by Grant Fisher (another 10K debutant). At the end, Scott had the better kick (57.13–57.80) to win in 27:10.41.

“I didn’t know what to expect,” said Scott. “But it was a good showing for all the guys, a good showing for BTC.”
Fisher’s 27:11.29 made him No. 5 American ever. Woody Kincaid made up ground on the final lap to run 27:12.78 (No. 6 U.S.). Also making the Olympic standard was Ben True (27:14.95, No. 8 U.S.).


Tuliamuk Gets New USATF Foundation Grant

News of the contract difficulties elite female athletes have experienced when pregnant hit the airwaves last year. This year the USATF Foundation has done something about it, with the creation of its Maternity Grants.

Designed to assist elite women during their pregnancy and while recovering postpartum, the fund will, the Foundation hopes, alleviate some of the financial stress that hits elite athletes who are building families.

The new program’s first recipient is OT Marathon winner Aliphine Tuliamuk, who gave birth to a daughter in January. Said Tuliamuk, “Being a new mom is challenging enough, let alone being a new mom who’s representing her country in the summer Olympics 6½ months postpartum. This grant will go a long way as it will cover our babysitting needs so that I can rest and get back to training soon.”


Schwazer Gains A Victory In Court

WADA is decidedly not happy that an Italian court has cleared ’08 Olympic 50K walk champion Alex Schwazer of doping charges. The case seemed to be settled for good in May ’20 when a Swiss federal court upheld CAS’s decision to accept WADA’s original findings.

But Schwazer wasn’t through, taking his case to further adjudication, in which Italian judge Walter Pelino wrote that he believed “with a high degree of credibility that the urine samples… had been altered to obtain a positive result in order to obtain the disqualification and discredit the athlete.”

In a blistering response, WADA said it “has noted with grave concern comments made earlier today by a court judge… While the decision is lengthy and will need to be assessed in full, WADA is appalled by the multiple reckless and groundless allegations made by the judge against the organization and other parties in this case… Once the full judgment has been analyzed WADA will consider all options available, including what legal actions it may initiate.”


Tokyo Notebook…

In a phrase reminiscent of the much-maligned “too big to fail,” one Olympic expert says that the Tokyo has too much money at stake to cancel. “Canceling the Games outright is completely out of the question for the Olympic movement,” said Canadian professor Michael Narainea. “I would hazard to say the biggest reason why they would never get canceled is because of the money that’s on the table.”…

Veteran British journalist Alan Hubbard posits that downsizing might make sense. “Half the Olympics means half the risk,” he analyzes…

The leadership of the Olympic movement is in full-speed ahead mode, at least publicly. IOC president Thomas Bach said in late February that there “is a clear commitment of the IOC, of the Japanese Government, of the Organizing Committee, of Tokyo Metropolitan Government, that these Games will provide a safe environment for all the participants.”…

Japanese prime minister Yoshihide Suga says that the leaders of the G7 nations have given their unanimous support that the Games go ahead this summer…

Organizers have released a “playbook” of C19 measures that place strict limits on the activities of Olympic athletes and other visitors. A more specific plan for spectators will be released in late March…

A survey of 11,000 Japanese firms by a Tokyo think tank found that more than half of them are in favor of further postponement or cancellation…

*The organizing committee was rocked by charges of sexism after then-head Yoshiro Mori made insulting comments about women. He was forced to resign, replaced by a woman, Olympian Seiko Hashimoto. Some 1000 volunteers (out of 80,000) quit in February because of the sexism controversy as well as C19 concerns.

Microsoft founder Bill Gates, who has donated $1.75 billion to C19 efforts, says that the vaccine rollout will determine if the Games can be held…

Japan’s vaccine chief says the Olympics aren’t “on my schedule at all,” implying that no special measures will be made by his team to prioritize the Games. ◻︎

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