LAST LAP — May

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 New Balance All-Stars (l–r: Kendall Ellis, Elle Purrier St. Pierre, Heather MacLean, Roisin Willis) opened the new Boston indoor facility with the fastest distance medley ever run. (JOHN NEPOLITAN)

New Balance Facility Starts Out A Winner

The debut of “The TRACK At New Balance,” the Boston-based indoor facility created by one of the sport’s major shoe companies, certainly impressed, with a World Record in the women’s distance medley (see News Digest).

It was no accident. The 200-meter oval was designed with the intent of making it “the fastest in the world.”

The hydraulic banking was built to go as high as the rules allow, 12 degrees. The turns are gentler than most facilities, to reduce speed loss on the curves. The surface was laid by Beynon, and incorporates a suspension element that is designed to give it more bounce.

Former 800 great Don Paige was part of the design team. So far, athletes are excited. Says New Balance star Elle Purrier St. Pierre, “It’s awesome. It has all the bells and whistles.”

Says New Balance’s Jim Halliday, “It’s really been designed from that experience-level of the athlete to put them in the best frame of mind psychologically. Frankly, we’re putting it back on the athletes that there aren’t any excuses not to run fast here.”

The 400,000-square foot building also features seating for 5000 and dedicated warm-up and throwing areas, as well as room for other sports on its four levels (as many as 6–8 basketball courts, for instance).


Wanna Join Team USA? Better Get Jabbed

Just in case any athletes didn’t get the memo, anyone interested in competing for the U.S. at the World Championships this summer must be fully vaccinated against COVID by June 27.

No exemptions or appeals are available, per WA policy. Since WA is where the requirement originates, USATF has amended its selection criteria to include the vaccination rule.

The USATF website notes, “For consistency, World Athletics requires all those who wish to participate in the World Championships (whether as an athlete, coach, team official, Member Federation official, Technical official, supplier etc) who are already based in the USA to comply with the same vaccination and testing requirements as for travelers to the USA.

“World Athletics has advised they may introduce new or additional restrictive COVID-19 protocols which all participants will need to comply with, whether they are entering the USA for the Championships, or already in the USA as COVID-19 is an ever-changing landscape.”


Eugene Coaches: Stanley Redwine & LaTanya Sheffield

USATF has named its staffs for the World Championships, with both of the head coaches being past WC competitors themselves. Long Beach State’s LaTanya Sheffield will lead the women and Kansas’s Stanley Redwine the men.

The rest of the men’s staff: Dena Evans (distance), Allen Johnson (sprints/hurdles), Kevin Reid (jumps), Shawn Wilbourn (throws/multis); head manager Tim Weaver.

The rest of the women’s staff: Laura Bowerman (distance), Ashley Kovacs (throws), Petros Kyprianou (jumps/multis), Angela Williams (sprints/hurdles); head manager Kim Keenan-Kirkpatrick.

For the relays, Mike Marsh will be the head men’s coach, Mechelle Freeman the women’s.


Felix: Pregnancy “The Kiss Of Death”

In 2018, when she was 6 months pregnant, Allyson Felix had to begin training at 4 a.m. to avoid photographers and the eyes of curious fans. That’s because, she told a recent TED conference, getting pregnant in track & field is the “kiss of death.”

Felix was worried she might lose her sponsors if a photo got out of her being pregnant. “How could a 6-time Olympic champion, a 16-time world champion, a World Record holder, possibly think that her career might be over by doing something as natural as giving a baby?

“I feared I would have to choose between motherhood and being a competitive athlete. I feared the career I worked so hard to build would disappear just like that.”

After being presented with a 70% cut in support from longtime sponsor Nike, Felix spoke out publicly. She signed with Athleta the next year. Nike has since changed its policies for pregnant athletes.



Kenyan Team To Be Strong Despite Absences

The marathons at this summer’s World Championships will indeed be a prize plum, but some of the best runners will be missing. The experience of the Kenyan selectors in naming a team highlights the key reason: the big money available at the World Marathon Majors.

In early April federation president Jack Tuwei said, “We had written to all the top athletes but we only settled for those who were willing to compete. It has taken us almost four months to come up with the teams. We can’t force them.

“Some of their reasons are genuine considering that most have competed in few races for the last two years owing to COVID-19. Remember, running is a livelihood to most of them.”

As frequently happens, many of the top Kenyan names are instead focusing on WMM races in the fall. Among those who declined: Olympic champions Peres Jepchirchir and Eliud Kipchoge, silver medalist Brigid Koskei and World bronze medalist Amos Kipruto.

Not that the East African powerhouse will be sending a squad of scrubs to Eugene: the men’s squad will include Olympic 4th-placer Lawrence Cherono (2:03:04 PR), 2-time World Half-Marathon champ Geoffrey Kamworor (2:05:23) and 2:04:17 performer Barnabas Kiptum. For the women it will be reigning champion Ruth Chepngetich (2:17:08), Judith Jeptum (2:26:52) and Angela Tanui (2:17:57).


A Bowerman TC Departure Explained

Canadian star Gabriela DeBues-Stafford has left the Nike Bowerman TC, but unlike other departures, has gone public with her reasons, saying it mostly revolves around the club’s handling of the Shelby Houlihan doping ban last year.

She didn’t learn about the case until mid-June, and says it “almost derailed my Olympics. It was a small miracle that I showed up in Tokyo in shape to run sub-4 twice in 48 hours and place 5th.

“Going into the fall, I did my best to put this event behind me, and focus on all of the positives this group has to offer, as I truly did and do love this team. However, this event and its ongoing aftermath continued to be a major distraction and stress for me. For the sake of my athletic performance and mental health, I needed to move on.”

In an e-mail to LetsRun, she explained she had concerns about Houlihan’s continued involvement in the group and coach Jerry Schumacher’s work with her: “This absence of clarity surrounding the boundaries between BTC and a banned athlete is the critical reason for my departure.”

She added that she was stressed by the workout setup during their time at altitude in Flagstaff. She asked that Houlihan workout on different days than the others. “When that suggestion for different workout days was rejected, I asked for morning/afternoon, and when that was rejected, I asked for a 30min to 1 hour window between when Shelby finished her cool down and when we arrived at the track. Still, that suggestion was dismissed.”


Privalova Upset With Russian Bans

Feeling picked on after seeing some of the consequences of her country’s invasion of Ukraine, Russian federation acting president Irina Privalova complained that Russian athletes had been barred from road races in Tajikistan and Uzbekistan.

“I am very sad that their organizers did this to the Russians,” she said. “I can only guess why, reasons were made. “Perhaps people decided to play it safe in this difficult political situation and did not allow our athletes to avoid some possible unpleasant consequences. But it cannot be ruled out that this was a certain position of certain people.”

Other consequences came when Boston Marathon organizers banned Russians and Belarusians who had already been accepted into this year’s race.

In related news Switzerland — hoping to make a bigger statement — demanded that the IOC ban officials from the two countries from top positions in all international sports federations.

The IOC response was not quite what the Swiss had hoped for, saying that “According to the Olympic Charter, the IOC members are not representatives of their country. They are in the contrary elected as individuals by the IOC… And in any case, there are no IOC meetings being organized right now that include Russian IOC members.”


Meanwhile, In Eugene…

As we inch closer to the first World Outdoor Championships on U.S. soil, preparations in Eugene are going into overdrive…

From temporary seating being erected in the stadium to the building of a broadcast compound, the area around Hayward Field is starting to look different…

Security plans for the championships — the bill to be paid by WA — involve the use of more than 300 law enforcement officers from local agencies as well as the state police, with the University of Oregon police coordinating…

A major historical exhibit from the Museum Of World Athletics is being prepared for the student union…

A mass-participation 5K race will be held during the men’s marathon, with 2000 runners expected…

The city will also be hosting a free festival during the championships, with $1.2 million budgeted for the event. It will be held at the soon-to-open Downtown Riverfront Park. ◻︎

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