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.

The start is about to become a much more important part of Michael Norman’s new sprint focus. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Gotcha Covered! Lewis Still Leads

Usain Bolt broke another barrier with his appearance on this issue’s cover: he became only the second to have a double-digit total in that department. He’s now at 10, trailing only the 13 put up by Carl Lewis.

In all, a dozen athletes have a half-dozen appearances or more: 13—Lewis; 10—Bolt; 9—Michael Johnson; 8—Haile Gebrselassie, Marion Jones & Jim Ryun; 7—Mondo Duplantis & Ashton Eaton; 6—Justin Gatlin, Tyson Gay, Jackie Joyner-Kersee, Mary Slaney & Alan Webb.

At this point we would note that “covers” didn’t become a regular thing until the late ’60s. Before that, the magazine was laid out like a newspaper, with multiple smaller pictures and news copy leading off. If you count those, Jim Ryun leads with 15 appearances, followed by Ron Clarke’s 10 (only 1 of them a solo).

Cover trivia: the first full-page photo was Athlete Of The Year C.K. Yang (January ’64); the first non-AOY full-pager was I February ’68 (Dick Fosbury); the first prep was putter Sammy Walker (II April ’68); the first full-color was a 4-photo Olympic Preview collage (August ’72); the first woman was Kate Schmidt (April ’76); the first to have back-to-back cover was Michael Johnson (September–October ’96), who that December became the only one ever to have 3 in a calendar year; threatening to climb the all-time lists are Ryan Crouser & Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone, both at 5 covers and counting.

Norman Following Kerley’s 100 Lead

Having now won the world gold in the 400, Michael Norman says it’s time for something really fast, namely, the 100. Shades of reigning world century champ Fred Kerley, who in ’17 preceded Norman as NCAA 400 winner.

Now 25, Norman says that when he was being recruited out of high school he had prominent coaches such as Carl Lewis, Caryl Smith Gilbert and Quincy Watts all say, “We’re recruiting you for the 400, but looking at the way you run and your natural ability, we think you’re a 100-meter runner.”

He adds, “We’ve always had this idea that once I develop and accomplish the goals that I want to do in the 400, that the goal will be to drop down to the 100. I can comfortably say that I’ve achieved what I wanted to achieve in the 400 and I can start challenging myself and trying something new in attempting to medal and break records in the 100.”

In his lone race of ’20, Norman tried the 100 (with a near-ideal tailwind of 1.6) and recorded his PR 9.86. The next year, he ran centuries in 3 major invitationals (2 of them Diamond Leagues) and in Padua clocked 9.97 to beat a field that included Marvin Bracy, Ronnie Baker and Justin Gatlin.

“The plan for 2023 is more of a setup for 2024,” he says. “Everything I’m doing now is setting good habits in preparation for the Olympics. So when it comes to Olympic year, I can just keep building.”

NCAA Still Fighting Athlete Pay

College athletes, particularly in the “revenue” sports, bring billions of dollars nationwide into their program’s coffers. Should they be paid?

The NCAA, no surprise, is saying no, and is fighting in a federal appeals court against a lawsuit that seeks to have athletes compensated with an hourly wage as are students in work-study programs.

One of the NCAA’s lawyers, Steven Katz, said a ruling in favor of pay “launches you on the edge of a slippery slope that rapidly takes you to someplace that you don’t want to go.”

He noted that the value of many students’ full scholarships is more than the hourly wage they might be paid. Also, making pay distinction between scholarship athletes and walk-ons will be complicated.

One of the three judges in the case seemed sympathetic to the pay argument, but added that a ruling in that direction could create “so many practical problems.”

Allen’s Hurdle Career Not Over Yet

Can Devon Allen succeed at being both a professional football player and a professional hurdler? We’ll find out this season, as the 28-year-old Oregon alum has been re-signed by the Philadelphia Eagles, and says he has every intention of hurdling outdoors this season.

He says he expected to keep working with the Eagles. “Just to progress myself as an athlete, it was a lot of fun. This organization really helped me develop. I learned so much from all the great guys here.”

Allen plans to return to hurdle training in March. “It’s not like I’ve been sitting on a couch,” he told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s just about getting in shape over the next four to six weeks, then I’ll start competing again.”

So far, his schedule includes Mt. SAC and the Penn Relays.

Tough Paris Double For McLaughlin-Levrone

The Paris24 timetable has been released, and while it accommodates all the usual doubles, it doesn’t — at this point — make easy the combo that many fans have been hoping for, that of Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone competing in both the 400s, with and without hurdles.

Currently, the schedule is friendly to doublers at 100/200, 800/1500, 1500/5000, 5000/10,000, LJ/TJ. However, the 400H and 400 finals are on consecutive days, with the 4×4 the next day. That would mean McLaughlin-Levrone, or perhaps Femke Bol, would have to race, with prelims, 7 straight days.

An Athing Mu 400/800 double would also be difficult, with the 400 first round in the morning of August 05 and the 800 final that evening.

Flipping tradition, for the first time, the women’s marathon will be on the final day, with the men racing the day before.
Repechage rounds will be introduced in the 200, 400, 800, 1500 and 400H. In these, any athletes who don’t automatically advance from round 1 get another chance.

Competing On The Streets Of Budapest

The marathon and walk routes for the World Championships have been announced. The events will start and finish in Heroes Square and go through the UNESCO World Heritage sections of the city. The marathon will be on a 10K loop with two minor climbs per lap, when the runners cross the famed Chain Bridge over the Danube. Along the way they will run through a tunnel under Buda Castle.

“It’s a well-run course, where the best in the world will be able to deliver their top performance,” says the director. “Its World Record potential is slim, not because it’s not a fast course. But because the Berlin course, where the recent World Records were set, is so good. It was also an important aspect to show as many beautiful parts of Budapest as possible.”

The 20K walks will be on a 1K loop, the 35Ks on a 2K loop. Both distances will also start and finish in Heroes Square, with the course on Andrássy Avenue, a tree-lined boulevard that is one of the most scenic in the city.

WADA Seeking To Battle Gene-Doping

The next battleground in sport’s war against doping may be genetics, or rather, the insertion of genetic material into an athlete to give them physical advantages they wouldn’t normally have.

WADA is taking the first steps in preparing for this, urging scientists to apply for funding to devise research projects that will create analytical tools to detect the nucleic acids that are used for gene doping. The organization says it is prepared to invest up to $500,000 per project for promising research.

According to the WADA announcement, “Science is key to driving advances in anti-doping… Innovative research leads to the identification of new doping trends, new substances, new doping methods and new detection approaches.”

While the application of gene doping in the athletic world is still considered hypothetical, back in ’04 scientists reportedly used the concept to create a mouse with far greater endurance than other mice; the scientists involved reported that they were all then contacted by coaches and athletes interested in trying the technology themselves.

Coe Muses On Climate Change & Distances

Is it time to “decouple” long-distance events from major summer championships? Climate change could force the issue, Seb Coe says, indicating there may be more instances of organizers rescheduling their distance races or, as in the case of the Tokyo Olympics, moving them to cooler climes.

Speaking before the World XC in Australia, which itself was affected by extreme heat, the WA head said, “It’s a really important question because the fact is we now live in a world that is changing very fast, and climate change is in so many ways impacting on things that we do.

“I think we’re going to have to look at the calendar in a very different way in the years to come. I can’t see how any of the immediate challenges are going to be resolved in the foreseeable future.”

Referring to the heat that badly affected the ’21 Olympic Trials, he added, ““Had the Paris Olympic Games been last summer or the summer before, you would have been in exactly the same situation.

“I think we are going to have to spend a great deal of time thinking about what the calendar looks like and maybe… uncoupling some of the tougher endurance events from our World Championships in the summer months.”

Nairobi Eager To Host ’29 Worlds

At one point, it seemed that Kenya might have an inside track on hosting the ’25 Worlds, but that went to Tokyo because of, among other reasons, the assessment that the East African powerhouse’s facilities lagged far behind what other nations had to offer.

Now, says Athletics Kenya president Jack Tuwei, he will be working to make a ’29 Worlds in Kenya happen.

“I’m not thinking of hosting another World XC Championships before we do the World Championships. We are going to try again but I don’t think we can do the 2027 event. The reason why we lost 2025 is because of lack of infrastructure and we, therefore, have to take our time and ensure we meet all the requirements.”

Tuwei admitted that Kenya’s recent doping epidemic is also an impediment. “We better fight doping and come out of it successfully as opposed to asking to host the World Championships in 2027. That’s why my executive and I are looking at 2029, which we will certainly bid for.”

WA’s XC Tour Fit To Be Tied

The 2022–23 World Cross Country Tour wrapped up at the end of February but even after 23 races (16 Gold, 5 Silver, 2 Bronze) there were no clear-cut overall winners.

Two women tied for the lead with a perfect 3720 points, Rahel Daniel (Ethiopia) and Lucy Mawia (Kenya). With the prize money combined and divided, they get $9000 each.

On the men’s side, 3 were knotted: Rodrigue Kwizéra (Burundi), Thierry Ndikumwenayo (Burundi) & Yann Schrub (France). Their share is $8000 each.

Note that the top 8 in the XC rankings were also credited with an automatic qualifying mark for the Budapest track 10,000.

Wild Cards For The ’24 World Indoor Champs

There were 11 disciplines on WA’s World Indoor Tour this winter, the overall winners getting a $10,000 bonus plus a potential Wild Card entry into the ’24 World Indoor. The winners:

Women: 60—Aleia Hobbs (US), 800—Keely Hodgkinson (Great Britain), 3000—Lemlem Hailu (Ethiopia), PV—Alysha Newman (Canada), TJ—Liadagmis Povea (Cuba), SP—Sarah Mitton (Canada). Men: 400—Jereem Richards (Trinidad), 1500—Neil Gourley (Great Britain), 60H—Grant Holloway (US), HJ—Hamish Kerr (New Zealand), LJ—Thobias Montler (Sweden).

The other 11 events will comprise the ’24 WIT, with those winners also becoming eligible for Glasgow Wild Cards.

What’s Up With Russia?…

As usual, Russia is creating a plethora of headlines in the sporting world, and as usual, none of them are very good;

The IOC says it is looking to “explore a pathway” for Russians and Belarusians to compete in the Paris Olympics. While that has created serious opposition from many nations, and with Ukraine calling for an Olympic boycott, IOC leader Thomas Bach continues pushing in that direction…

The Olympic Council of Asia has confirmed that it has invited eligible Russian and Belarusian athletes — persona non grata in Europe — to compete in the Asian Games, following a suggestion from the IOC…

Valeriy Borzov, the double Olympic sprint champ for the Soviets in ’72 — and now a Ukrainian member of the IOC — says that “human values” means that Russians should miss Paris…

Lithuania’s suggestion of an international summit to hash out Russia’s participation has met with strong protests from Russia…

Poland has suggested a “refugee team” made up of Russian dissidents to represent the country…

World Athletics, says Seb Coe, is staying out of the fray, wanting to deal with the Russian doping ban first: “The Council will discuss the roadmap for reinstatement but specifically around the egregious attack on the integrity of our sport through doping.”…

The director of Russia’s Anti-Doping Agency (RUSADA), says it will soon be given the OK from the government to establish regulations that fit with the World Anti-Doping Code. She also claimed that doping is on the decline in Russia, saying, “Testing is flawless.” ◻︎

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