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.
No Olympics For Christian Coleman
Sprinter Christian Coleman caught a break, but it wasn’t the one he was looking for. CAS reduced his ban for breaking whereabouts rules from 2 years to 18 months, but the U.S. star, now 25, will still miss the Olympics. Originally set to conclude May 13, 2022, the ban will now expire November 14 of this year.
The CAS panel agreed that Coleman, the reigning world 100 champion, had committed a violation but found his “degree of negligence to be lower than that established in the challenge decision.”
Said Coleman, “While I appreciate the arbitrators correctly found that I am a clean athlete, I am obviously disappointed that I will miss the Olympic Game this summer. I look forward to representing the United States at both World Championships in 2022, especially the first-ever World Championships held in the United States next summer where I plan to defend my world title against a new Olympic champion in the 100m.”
On a related note, at the end of April CAS held a 2-day hearing on the matter of Salwa Eid Naser’s whereabouts case. No timeline was given for resolution of the matter.
London’s Diamond League Hosting In Doubt
As if the sport isn’t having enough trouble getting its big meets off on time and in the right place, the London DL set for July 13 is the focus of a battle brewing over its home in the Olympic Stadium. The corporation that runs the facility has balked on this year’s hosting because of the $4.1 million cost of reconfiguring the seats from its normal soccer setup to the 20,000-seat layout used for track and other events.
Normally that cost is spread among a number of events, but many usual summer events have been canceled because of the pandemic.
Said a stadium rep, “For the stadium, and ultimately the taxpayer, to face costs of around £3 million [c$4.2M] to prepare for just one evening of athletics… seems disproportionate in these extraordinary times.”
The corporation has offered to cover the costs of the Anniversary Games being held elsewhere, presumably Manchester, with Gateshead already having picked up the Rabat meet (see sidebar).
UK Athletics and the DL aren’t having any of it. The response from UKA: “This would be an unacceptable breach of a longstanding agreement that forms an important part of the 2012 Olympic legacy plans…
“We expect the contract to be honored and the event to take place at the Olympic Stadium as do the athletes, broadcasters, sponsors and most importantly the fans…
“It would be a travesty for the sport after such a long wait for world-class athletics to return to the Olympic Stadium if our athletes and fans are denied a crucial sendoff to Tokyo.”
The Shoes Are Indeed Super
In a case of science proving what we already know, a group of researchers have determined that “super-shoes” incorporating a carbon-fiber plate give elite runners faster times.
The study analyzed times from the 10K, half marathon and marathon and found a significant drop in times began in ’17, the year that the Nike Vaporfly 4% premiered.
The lead author of the paper, Dr. Stéphane Bermon, is director of the WA Health & Science Department. He said, “As far as chronometric performance is concerned, it is in our opinion a major advancement.”
Interestingly, women benefitted more than men, with times dropping from 1.7 to 2.3%, compared to men’s improvements of 0.6 to 1.5%.
Explained Bermon, “Women are lighter and could possibly benefit more from the enhanced rebound effect achieved by the foam/stiff plate combination. Their slightly different running pattern, compared to men, could represent a more favorable condition for this footwear technology to play its ergogenic role.”
Are The Shoes Skewing World Records?
Should WA reset the World Records for the super-shoe era? That’s what British commentator Tim Hutchings thinks.
Hutchings, himself an Olympic 4th-placer (’84 5000), maintains that high-tech carbon-fiber shoes have so dramatically sped up performance times that it’s only fair to the athletes to distinguish this as a new era so that great performances of the past don’t get lost in this explosion.
“People from many quarters are saying, ‘Stop fussing about the shoes, just move on and enjoy the racing.’ To which I’d respond, ‘I’ve always enjoyed the racing and will continue to,’” Hutchings told the London Times.
“But I want to enjoy and respect times as well, not just cast aside that element. A reset would enable this. The shoes are here to stay, sadly the genie is out of the bottle.”
“Let folk race and record new era personal bests… A date needs to be identified retrospectively, then everyone would respect times in the right context. Athletes deserve that.”
Namibia Uncovers Young Women 400 Talents
One of the big finds of the U.S. domestic season is quartermiler Johnny Blockburger. But as surprising as his breakthrough has been, eyebrows have been raised even more by two Namibian teenagers who are now the Nos. 1 & 3 on the all-time women’s World Junior (U20) list in the 400.
Christine Mboma, just 17, has twice broken the WJR, running 49.24 (taking down German Grit Breuer’s longstanding 49.42 from ’91) and 49.22. Both times were altitude-aided. Mboma began the year with a PR of 51.57(A) and chopped that to 50.97(A) in her second race this year before getting the first WJR in her third.
Teammate Beatrice Masilingi was runner-up in both the record races, her PR 49.53 in the first coming on the day before her 18th birthday. Masilingi was already a known quantity, having run 50.42(A) last year.
Both of the breakout stars are coached by Henk Botha, who said after the first of the WJRs, “The race was unbelievable — the start, everything was just textbook stuff. Over the last 20m anyone could still win, but Christine was the hungriest to win it on the day.”
Vault Star Lightfoot To Jump For Cash
The NCAA lost its top men’s vaulter when Baylor’s KC Lightfoot surprisingly opted to turn pro with only 2 months to go in the collegiate outdoor season. Indoors, he had won the NCAA title and broke the CR 3 times, ultimately at 19-8¼ (6.00). Counting this year, he would have been eligible for 3 NCAA Outdoor meets.
“I feel the best situation will be back in my hometown [Lees Summit, Missouri] where I would like to return to working with my previous coach who taught me how to vault when I started,” the 21-year-old Lightfoot said. “He has continued to be a guiding force in my development.
“Many will ask why I don’t stay in Waco and finish the remainder of the season with Baylor, but in light of the strength of the American pole vault right now, I feel that the timing of finishing this year and then moving on may not provide the best opportunity for preparation for the summer season, Olympic Trials and hopefully the Olympic Games.”
Two weeks later came the announcement that he had signed with Puma, which is building quite the vaulting corps.
When Your Closet Doesn’t Have The Right Shoes
Stories about athletes competing in “disguised” high-performance shoes made by another manufacturer so as not to offend their sponsors are becoming common. But it’s rare for the story to go public as it did in Britain, where the winner of the marathon trials has admitted to painting a pair of Nikes black with the blessing of his shoe sponsor, On.
Chris Thompson, 39, surprised many with his clutch 2:10:52 race. He was wearing a disguised pair of Nike Vaporfly Next% shoes.
A spokesperson for On admitted that while the company makes carbon-fiber shoes, “it has taken our research and development team a little longer than expected to perfect…
“Chris therefore had to compete in an alternative running shoe that isn’t our own that still enabled him to perform in the latest-generation shoes.”
Said Thompson, “I’m proud to work with a company who care about the athletes they work with. I can’t thank them enough.”
The Oly Protest Question Still Much Alive
In late March the USOPC issued new guidelines on athlete protests that condoned protests related to racial and social justice while forbidding anything that might “advocate against people”; i.e., hate speech.
The IOC did not follow suit, and has made it clear that any forms of protest on the Olympic stage will be punished.
The IOC Athletes’ Commission polled athletes and came out in support of the ban. The survey, it should be noted, had heavy participation from China, which came in overwhelmingly opposed to protests or even sanctioned moments of support for human rights.
The EU Athletes federation, representing 25,000 athletes from a variety of sports, was not pleased. “We are deeply concerned by the decision taken by the IOC and believe that the consultation process and the rule 50 itself are not compatible with the human rights of athletes.
“The IOC’s approach to freedom of speech and expression consists of an attempt to restrict, redefine and control the way that the athletes exercise their fundamental human right.
“Threatening to sanction athletes who peacefully protest on issues such as racism is not only inconsistent with human rights, but also goes against the values that the IOC claims to support.”
Long-Sprint Double Still On For van Niekerk
While a woman’s doing the 200/400 double in Tokyo is virtually impossible because of the schedule — as Shaunae Miller-Uibo has found — the road remains viable for a man, and 400 WR holder Wayde van Niekerk has not ruled it out.
That’s not to say that doubling wouldn’t be challenging for the 28-year-old South African, or anybody else who might try it. The timetable would call for 5 straight days of racing, with 400 heats/semis on August 01/02, the 200 heats/semis of the 200 on August 03, the 200 final on August 04, and the 400 final on August 05.
van Niekerk, who recently won the South African half-lap crown with a 20.38(A), was asked if he will try both in Japan. “I’ll most likely focus on the 400 when it comes to the Olympic Games, but we’ll see,” he responded with a laugh.
For now, he’s heading to Florida, where he will be training with coach Lance Brauman and a crew that includes 200 gold medalist Noah Lyles. van Niekerk’s 200 PR of 19.84 dates from ’17, the year after he set his 400 WR of 43.03.
WA Says No To Leeper’s Latest Prosthetics
Blake Leeper’s hopes of running in the Olympics have been shut down, for now at least, as World Athletics has rejected the double amputee’s application to use his latest running specific prosthesis (RSP).
The WA panel said that the MASH rule (Maximum Allowable Standing Height) is designed to prevent athletes from “overcompensating for the absence of a missing limb” and that it applied to Leeper’s prosthetics, which give him a leg length of 41 inches (104cm) and a standing height of 6-½ (184cm).
“The only conclusion that is open is that Mr. Leeper is running unnaturally tall in using his new RSPs,” said the WA report.
He is banned from competing in the Olympics or any World Athletics Series events. Last October, Leeper, 31, lost a CAS appeal on the case involving his prior prosthetics.
Now he plans to immediately appeal the latest WA decision to CAS, while concurrently pursing a challenge to the October CAS ruling in the Swiss Supreme Court.
Said Leeper, “It’s not right that World Athletics continues to discriminate against disabled Black athletes, and that the Panel they appointed has again sanctioned this discriminatory treatment. Basing this decision on standards and studies that completely excluded Black athletes goes against common sense and has no scientific basis.”
In ’19, Leeper finished 5th in the 400 (44.48 after a 44.38 semi) at the USATF Championships but wasn’t able to be part of the relay pool for Doha.
While all signs are that the Olympics are a go, it would be a mistake to confuse that with “smooth sailing.” Japanese authorities have applied new restrictions in the Tokyo area as C19 cases rise in a nation where only 1.3% have received the first vaccine dose. Set to run through May 11, the new restrictions limit large events to 5000 people. Many businesses including restaurants must close early…
A Japanese infectious disease expert said, “Japan is dangerous, not a safe place at all.” He added that an Olympics would not be safe for Japan until 50–70% of the general public is vaccinated…
The chair of the Tokyo Medical Association has said that staging the Games will be “really difficult.”…
A row erupted about a story that the Japanese would prioritize athlete vaccinations, making many in the public furious because the general population rollout of vaccines has been so slow. Days later, a health expert urged the vaccine be made available to athletes…
Organizers are looking at the threat of false positive tests derailing competitions in entire sports. The problem occurred at the European Indoor, and IOC chief Thomas Bach said lessons had been learned from that event. For one thing, all athletes will now be tested daily…
Olympic organizers are considering using a hotel near the Olympic Village to isolate athletes testing positive…
An official from the International Monetary Fund has declared that the economic impact of a fanless Games would be minor for the Japanese economy. A decision on domestic spectators will come in June…
A number of cities that were set to host various Olympic teams—including some that have already invested millions of dollars into facilities, are withdrawing from the program because of the anticipated cost of providing safe C19 bubbles, testing and medical care…
In a meeting with the Japanese prime minister, U.S. president Joe Biden declared U.S. support for a “safe and secure” Games…
A leading Japanese ruling party official said canceling the Games is still an option, to which the IOC responded, “We do not speculate. We are fully concentrated and committed to the successful delivery of the Olympic Games.”
As they say, stay tuned. ◻︎