LAST LAP — November

Here’s this month’s collection of generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed:

Former WR holder Willie Banks wants to represent the USATF in Monaco. (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Banks Challenges Hightower For IAAF Position

Attendees at USATF’s Annual Meeting (November 28–December 02 in Columbus) will have front row seats—and votes—in a battle for one of the sport’s most powerful positions.

Triple jump legend Willie Banks, now 62, is challenging incumbent Stephanie Hightower, 60, for a 4-year term as the U.S. representative on the IAAF Council. The clash is an echo of the meeting four years ago when meeting delegates chose longtime incumbent Bob Hersh to continue in that role by a 392–70 vote. The Board Of Directors then voted 11-1 to overrule the delegates and replaced Hersh with Hightower.

Banks condemned the move at the time, saying, “Making decisions that are not transparent and well-vetted leads to distrust and anger. This is totally unforgiveable for leaders of any organization.” New USATF by-laws allow the board to reject by a two-thirds vote a nominee selected by the delegates; however the rejected nominee then has the right of appeal with CAS.

Official statements of candidacy for both Banks and Hightower follow.

Budapest Closes In On ’23 World Champs Hosting

While it’s not engraved in stone that the Hungarian capital will host the ’23 Worlds, it’s almost a done deal for Budapest. In late October the national government pledged its financial support for the event’s $110 million budget.
That followed Seb Coe’s July announcement that the capital of Hungary would be the preferred candidate city.
“Just one more step to go,” said Márton Gyulai, who is CEO of Budapest’s LOC. That last step would be the final IAAF decision, expected to be announced at the Council meeting on December 4. The IAAF had previously approved the budget.

Both Barcelona and Nairobi had initially indicated interest in winning the next available hosting of the meet, which will be No. 19. Next year, of course, is in Doha, and the ’21 version is slated for Eugene.

Centrowitz Parts Ways With Salazar?

After competing in the USATF Road 5K Champs, Oregon alum Matthew Centrowitz told that he was no longer working with coach Alberto Salazar. A year ago, Centrowitz moved from Portland to Washington, D.C., and recently he has relocated to Seattle where he is working alongside his college coach, Andy Powell, as a volunteer assistant for the Washington team.

Salazar confirmed to Ken Goe of, “He has let us know he is not running with the Oregon Project. I’m not coaching him. It’s been an honor having Matthew in the Oregon Project. We wish him success going forward.” No word yet on who will guide the Olympic 1500 champ at this point.

More Flak For IAAF’s Proposed World Rankings

Last month in this space we noted that the NACAC Council is opposed to the IAAF’s implementation of a new method of qualification for the OG/WC, saying, “Understanding the system in the athletics community is limited, and on critical points, there are widely disparate views about fairness and viability of the system. Beyond the comments on many specific variables and factors, acute concern was expressed about the lack of genuine consultation with key stakeholders and limited communication.”

Meeting in Lisbon in early November, the Association of Athletics Managers (AAM) subsequently raised similar concern over the proposal. While there was broad consensus on the need for a world rankings system, there was significant unease about the use of the World Rankings as a qualification tool.

In a press release the organization said, “The AAM’s primary interest is to ensure that the athletes’ voice is heard, especially when major changes to our sport are discussed and ultimately to be implemented. As became clear during the presentations, consultation with athletes and their representatives had not taken place. There were numerous athlete interests with regard to the new world rankings that the AAM does not believe have been fully considered. On behalf of the athletes, the AAM asked for flexibility on the implementation timeline of the major championship qualification aspect of the new system. While the AAM and athletes fully support the concept of the World Rankings, it seems clear that a trial period for the validity of the rankings is required before they can be used as the primary means to qualify for major championships.”

Protests Over Championship Qualifying Succeed

Following significant criticism from both NACAC and the AAM (see the editor’s column for another critical assessment), the IAAF has announced that its world rankings will not be used for Doha qualifying. Instead, while the rankings will be introduced next season, stakeholders will be given more time to follow the rankings and give feedback.
For ’19, the IAAF will return to its existing process, planning to release entry standards at its December meeting.

Said president Seb Coe, “We believe strongly that the world rankings is the best way for athletes to qualify for our major championships in future. Implementing change takes time as it is important our athletes and federations fully understand what is a complex system. We want to give the sport the opportunity to see the world rankings in action and understand how they will work before we introduce the new system in full. We think sticking with the existing qualification system is the best solution for Doha because it gives our athletes, coaches and member federations the certainty they need at this point to prepare for the World Championships. We trust that once everyone understands the world rankings system they will be confident about its introduction as the qualification system for future championships.”

Does The World Cup Have A Future?

The Daily Mail has reported that losses for the 2-day Athletics World Cup in London in July may rise above $1.28 million. Much of that loss can be attributed to the meet’s scheduling, putting it head-to-head not only against Wimbledon but also the wrapup of soccer’s World Cup. In addition, organizers were unable to obtain a contractual dispensation from some of the shoe companies so that athletes could wear their Nike gear. Many adidas athletes, told they would not receive bonuses for the event, chose not to compete. All of which drove down ticket sales, which left the stadium nearly half empty.

Even though the meet was beset by a variety of problems and left with the 7-figure debt, Jamaica’s federation president urges that the sport find a way to continue the meet.
“It does have the potential to really fill a stadium,” Warren Blake told the Jamaica Gleaner. “I would hate to see it die after just one opportunity.”

The Tokyo 2020 Watch…

The organizers of Japan’s upcoming Olympic Games (July 29–August 04, 2020) continue to grapple with their two biggest challenges: managing the crowds and keeping fans and athletes safe in the heat & humidity.

Already more than 20 million riders a day use public transport in the greater Tokyo area, with the subway system already operating beyond desirable occupancy levels. Factor in the expected 600,000 Olympic visitors, and the Japanese expect that some subways will be faced with trying to operate at up to 300% capacity. The government is encouraging businesses to adjust employee hours and open satellite offices to relieve transportation demand. An earlier plan to move to Daylight Savings Time was shot down by business groups…

Compounding the 2020 challenge will be the summer heat, and the Japanese Medical Association has warned that starting marathon events at 07:00 will lead to an increased heatstroke and fatality risk for athletes. Joining in the call for an 05:30 start is the Tokyo Medical Association, whose chief says, “We fear the current plan could lead to deaths.”
Last summer a record 133 were killed by the heat in Japan—96 of them in Tokyo in July. In late November the LOC suggested an 06:00 start. The ’64 Tokyo Games didn’t face this problem, having been held in October…

In a move to enhance security, Tokyo is banning the use of drones near its Olympic sites. The drone industry is bigger in Japan than in the U.S., and the prime minister is a vocal supporter of it…

Reportedly, the USATF contingent to the Games will use a site near Tokyo’s Narita Airport as its training base.

The IOC Is Pulling Out Old Test Tubes

Any dirty athletes who escaped the IOC’s first round of retests on the London ’12 Olympic samples aren’t sleeping well this holiday season, as Lausanne has announced that it will continue pulling samples for retest throughout ’19.
The initial round of retests was conducted prior to the Rio Games and 48 violations were found among the 500+ samples analyzed. A total of 41 athletes were suspended—far more than the 9 who were caught doping during the competition itself.

With the statute of limitations on the ’12 samples set to expire in ’20, the IOC has assigned the job of selecting and testing samples to the new International Testing Agency (ITA), which will be overseeing testing at future Olympics. It is claimed that the retest program will use the latest scientific-analysis methods available. Any athletes notified of positive tests will be able to choose whether to have their case adjudicated through CAS or the IOC Disciplinary Commission.

Is Russia’s Check In The Mail?

In addition to all the technical aspects required, one of the IAAF’s requirements to letting the Russian federation back into the track fold is that the Russians pay all the expenses involved in investigation and litigation of the doping scandal that erupted in ’15.

The Russians have agreed to do so, at least in principle.
“The exact sum of ARAF’s debt to the IAAF stands at $2.76 million,” said Dmitry Shlyakhtin, federation president. “I have asked the IAAF Taskforce Group to give us half a year to repay the debt and they are thinking about it now.”

While WADA has already reinstated the Russians in a controversial move, as reported in the September issue, the IAAF has held out. The IAAF is also waiting for the Russians to accept the findings of the McLaren and Schmid Commissions that their government was complicit in the doping program, and to provide access to the data from the Moscow lab 2011–15.

An Anti-Doping Summit In D.C.

An emergency meeting at the White House to discuss the state of the international anti-doping movement brought together athletes past and present, along with sport administrators and anti-doping officials. The focus fell on what many attendees feel is WADA’s being too soft on doping.

Said USADA head Travis Tygart, “The time of it being business as usual with WADA being a puppet of the IOC has to stop. The athletes have come together, along with many governments and anti-doping agencies, to ‘say enough is enough.” He added that “nothing is off the table” in terms of USADA’s relationship with WADA.

Much of the anger was directed at WADA for lifting its suspension of Russia’s testing agency. Said steepler Emma Coburn, “WADA has failed us. It has bullied and disheartened athlete voices.”

WADA responded with a statement saying, “We welcome debate on this issue and we promote people’s right to discuss and promote reforms. But unfortunately it would seem as though only one side of the story was heard in Washington.”

Tygart responded to that by saying, “There is nothing remotely one-sided about having the world’s athletes, national anti-doping leaders, government ministers and other clean-sport champions at an emergency summit to drive reform of WADA. WADA leadership, along with the IOC, are increasingly isolated with athletes and public opinion. Athletes are demanding change and change is coming.”

WADA Prez Battle Starts To Bubble

An emergency meeting at the White House to discuss the state of the international anti-doping movement brought together athletes past and present, along with sport administrators and anti-doping officials. The focus fell on what many attendees feel is WADA’s being too soft on doping.

So who will succeed Craig Reedie as the next head of WADA? The battle between the two leading candidates is heating up, with the decision to be made by the 38-person board. Norwegian Linda Helleland, the agency’s current VP, is backed by her own country’s government. She has been critical of WADA’s move to reinstate Russia and voted against it.

However, challenger Witold Bańka, Poland’s sports minister, has called for Helleland to step down from her current WADA position. He has said that her involvement in the anti-doping summit in Washington, D.C., “has the appearance of further political manipulation.”

Helleland responded in writing: “I fully support good governance, and good governance promotes openness and transparency. To suggest otherwise is offensive… I am entitled to attend any gathering I wish in the interest of clean sport.”

A suggestion by African representatives that presidential candidates be at least 45 years old is apparently not going to fly, according to a WADA official. Helleland is 41, Bańka 33. □

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