LAST LAP — September

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.

Raven Saunders caused a minor podium stir with her arms overhead in an X. She called it, “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.” (KIRBY LEE/IMAGE OF SPORT)

Warholm Concerned About Shoes & Credibility

After the race that made him an Olympic champion, Karsten Warholm vented his feelings on the new shoe technology, calling out Nike models sporting a thick layer of Pebax foam besides the carbon fiber: “If you want cushioning, you can put a mattress there. But if you put a trampoline, I think it’s bullshit, and I think it takes credibility away from our sport.”

The Puma-sponsored hurdler — who races in custom-made spikes with a carbon-fiber layer — later softened some of his vitriol, explaining, “To be honest I don’t know if that [Nike] shoe is the best shoe. My shoe is maybe just as good, but that’s not what it is about, necessarily. I haven’t done the science.

“When somebody does a great performance now, everybody will question if it’s the shoe, and that is the credibility problem. Hopefully somebody is doing the research and hopefully World Athletics is there to protect both athletes but also the audience.

“People sitting at home, I don’t want them to feel like they’ve been fooled or tricked. I want there to be credibility.
“And that’s what I feel the sport of track & field is all about. You can compare things.”

Do High-Tech Shoes Need To Be Reined In?

So will WA put the brakes on new shoe development? That’s what Dr. Stéphane Bermon, the federation’s Director Of Health & Science, is suggesting. He feels the current rules need to be adapted to address the complexity of the issue.

Before the Games he told the Daily Mail, “It seems what is mediating the highest performance-enhancing effect is likely the stiff plate. Regulating this would mean — and this is something we are likely going to move — just regulating on measuring the shoes and the number of plates is not enough. We should move to a system that is based on energy return.”

The WA working group on the issue is expected to make recommendations in the coming months, when the moratorium on shoe-rule changes expires. Said Bermon, “After the moratorium we will very likely have new rules governing these shoes. In the longer term, we will probably have new rules based on different characteristics other than a simple measurement.”

Another scientist, Yannis Pitsiladis, who is on the IOC’s Science & Medical Commission, says some of the gains with the new technology are far beyond what has been discussed: “The same shoe gives you a massive variability among different athletes — even greater than 10% in some cases.”

The most high-profile critic of the new technology might be sprint legend Usain Bolt, who says, “It’s weird and unfair for a lot of athletes because I know that in the past shoe companies actually tried and the governing body said, ‘No, you can’t change the spikes,’ so to know that now they are actually doing it, it’s laughable.”

Something Different About Tokyo Track?

The athletes — well, save for the javelin throwers — raved about the Tokyo surfacing. “That track is crazy,” enthused Karsten Warholm.

Since the ’76 Montréal Games, Mondo has done every Olympic installation. The latest incarnation is called Mondo WS-TY4. The process, according to company rep Andrea Vallauri, starts with prefabricated sheets of rubber. “It’s composed of two layers that are vulcanized together,” she explained to Cathal Dennehy of WA.

The lower layer includes air-filled honeycomb cells. The air is compressed when athletes step on it. “This provides exceptional shock absorption but at the same time this material provides push-back: a spring or trampoline effect.

“On the top part we have developed special three-dimensional micro-granules of rubber that we call TY: these have specific characteristics that are vulcanized together with the rest of the material and this shows reactivity, or push.”

Tests on the surface showed that the propulsion force was the same as previous incarnations, but the total contact time was shorter. “The granules ensure an optimized and uniform dynamic elastic response to the athletics track to help athletes maintain control over stride length, running pace and balance, essential for boosting speed and better reaching the correct take-off point in front of obstacles and before a jump.”

The company estimates that its 13mm-thick creation provides a boost of 1–2%.

X Marks The Spot For Saunders

After her shot silver, Raven Saunders created a stir on the podium by crossing her arms over her head in an X symbol (see photo). She said it represented “the intersection of where all people who are oppressed meet.”

That put the IOC and the USOPC on a collision course, as the international body had promised punishment for political displays and the USOPC had earlier said it wouldn’t penalize Americans on those grounds. WA was not expected to take any action because it doesn’t have any rules against demonstrations.

An IOC rep said, “We want to fully understand what is going on with the matter and take it from there.”

The USOPC’s Kate Hartman noted that the demonstration did not occur during the awarding of medals or the Chinese anthem, saying, “That is important to us.”

Saunders was not about to back down, tweeting, “Let them try and take this medal. I’m running across the border even though I can’t swim.”

Fate kept the matter from being resolved. Two days after the demonstration came news that Saunders’ mother had died. “Given these circumstances,” the IOC said, “the process at the moment is fully suspended.”

Whither The ’25 Worlds?

Next year’s World Championships in Eugene will be followed by Budapest in ’23. Back in ’19, when Kenya expressed an interest in the ’25 version, Seb Coe responded in a positive tone. But what about Tokyo?

As the Games came to a close the WA head told the Asahi Shimbun, “It is my earnest hope that this stadium will play host to the World Championships in the years to come. It is a truly first-rate stadium and state-or-the-art in its equipment.”

But two significant problems stand in the way. The biggest is that the current plans for the Olympic stadium seem to indicate it will have been turned into a soccer facility by ’25. Second is that the warmup track was a temporary facility on rented land. Its ultimate fate is unknown.

In another development Coe has indicated a possibly big change could happen with regard to scheduling championships, with heat and humidity hitting hard during this summer because of climate change: “This is the challenge we are all going to confront now and it will probably need a global discourse around the calendar and how we stage events.”

Belarusian Sprinter Seeks Asylum

One of the biggest general-interest stories of the Games came not on the field of play but during an international standoff at the airport. Belarus’s 11.04/22.78 sprinter Krystsina Tsimanouskaya, who competed in the 100 heats and was set to run the 200, complained on social media about her coaches putting her in the 4×4, an event she has never run.

The coaches pulled her from the competition and tried to force her to board a flight home. Tsimanouskaya said that she and her family were threatened and at the airport she summoned Japanese police and asked for protection. Leaked audio confirmed the threats, with one of the coaches implying that she was risking “suicide.”

The IOC canceled the credentials of the two coaches and they were expelled from Japan. Tsimanouskaya and her husband/coach are now in Poland, which issued them humanitarian visas and offered assurances that she would still be able to compete.

IOC head Thomas Bach called the actions of the Belarus federation “deplorable.” The IOC had already banned various Belarusian political leaders from the Games because they had imprisoned athletes for participating in anti-government protests.

Salazar Draws Permanent SafeSport Ban

Embattled former Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar has been ruled permanently ineligible by the U.S. Center For SafeSport for “sexual misconduct and emotional misconduct” violations.

The independent body’s decision means that the former marathon star is barred for life from any sort of participation in any Olympic sport, including all USATF programs and events. It is subject to appeal.

Salazar had been temporarily banned in January ’20 after allegations of various abuses became public, most notably by former protégé Mary Cain. In his public statements, he has steadfastly denied all the charges.

Following the decision, Nike removed its former employee’s name from the building on its Beaverton campus that had been dedicated in his honor. It is now known as the “Next%” building.

What Happened To Dina Asher-Smith

British fans had high hopes for our formchart 200 favorite, Dina Asher-Smith. After failing to make the 100 final and pulling out of the 200, the event where she is the reigning world champion, she revealed that she had been dealing with a hamstring tear and had secretly traveled to Germany to have it treated.

“In the trials final, I actually pulled my hamstring at 60m,” she told The Guardian. “I tore it pretty bad and I was initially told in Manchester that it was a rupture and that I would require surgery and it would take 3–4 months to get back.

“With that diagnosis, I just can’t go to Tokyo, so we had this whole statement ready to go but then I thankfully went and got a second opinion and it was a slight misdiagnosis. Even though there was still a tear, it wasn’t a rupture, my hamstring was still attached, so we turned over every single stone to make sure I can stand on the line.”

By the end of the Games, Asher-Smith was able to join the British 4×1, running third leg for the bronze medalists.

A Modification Of Testo Research?

The testosterone debate is flaring up anew with the news that the medical journal that published the key study that World Athletics used to establish its DSD rules has now issued a correction, saying that the ’17 study might be misleading.

The new report, authored in part by the director of WA’s Health & Science Department, Dr. Stéphane Bermon, says, “To be explicit, there is no confirmatory evidence for causality in the observed relationships reported. We acknowledge that our 2017 study was exploratory.”

Critics — including the lawyers for Caster Semenya — quickly called upon WA to drop its policy. The Semenya camp is currently engaged litigating her case with the European Court Of Human Rights, with her lawyers saying they are discussing “how to introduce the information into the proceedings.”

According to Seb Coe, WA will not be budging. “There is 10 years of solid science that underpins the regulations… I am sorry if there are athletes who have been misled by self-interested and conflicted observations often by lawyers. The reality is that the rules are here to stay.” ◻︎

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