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.

If you’re into the mascot thing, Legend the Sasquatch did a good job of entertaining. (CLAUS ANDERSEN)

USA Wins Team Scoring Title

It didn’t get a lot of play, but in Eugene for the first time WA handed out official team-scoring trophies to the first 3 teams. The U.S. accumulated just a few points shy of tripling the total of runner-up Jamaica.

In all, 76 nations scored. Here’s the Top 10: 1. United States 328; 2. Jamaica 110; 3. Ethiopia 106; 4. Kenya 104; 5. Great Britain 68; 6. tie, Canada & China 63; 8. Poland 49; 9. tie, Australia & Netherlands 47.

WA scored the first 8 places in each event on an 8-7-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. The U.S. had 13 firsts, 9 seconds, 11 thirds, 5 fourths, 6 fifths, 12 sixths, 1 seventh and 8 eighths.


From The Fans’ Point Of View

The spectator experience at Hayward Field was definitely a mixed bag. Crowds were bigger than those forecast after the anemically-attended USATF meet, which topped out at 3664 on its biggest day.

WC officials cited a “ticketed persons total,” which on days with 2 sessions, included both. Their numbers: 13,646/19,543/21,065/13,511/11,865/10,881/11,253/ 2,054/17,044/15,171 — 146,033. With stadium capacity of 12,650, a number of the evening sessions looked to be sellouts.

Empty seats on the east side were somewhat a result of the pounding sun and heat some days, with many seeking out cooler areas of the stadium.

Perhaps not to everyone’s liking, the mascot, Legend, provided plenty of entertainment in the often-big gaps between running events. Fans likewise got no shortage of “dancing baby cam” moments, though the announcers failed abysmally in their few attempts to get a Wave going.

The announcers did cater to U.S. fans by giving frequent English measures in the field events, and referencing U.S. college affiliations when possible. However, with such a spaced-out schedule, they were forced to banter as comedians to fill the many gaps.

The huge Visual Experience Board at the north end of the field provided standings, results, and constant videos, whereas the older board at the south end was typically used to field event standings.

Some of the features of the VEB could surely be tweaked to good effect. Often when it showed results, it gave athletes’ names as 3-letter abbreviations that left many scratching their heads. After a lifetime of seeing “FRA” signify “France,” it was hard to make the adjustment to its meaning “Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.”

Many who attended both USATF and the WC complained that overall results presentation on the scoreboards in the latter was vastly inferior from a fan perspective


Getting Your Medal Twice

Niels de Vos, the Executive Director of Oregon22 was struck at the Rio Olympics by athletes receiving their medals the next day before an almost-empty stadium.

His solution for Eugene was simple but effective: hand out the medals to the winners on the spot. The formal ceremony was held later on, outside the competition window. Not only instant gratification for the medal winners but also no interruption of live competition.

Pat Graham of the AP noted one wrinkle: athletes sometimes reluctant to give up their placeholder award. Laura Muir told organizers she wanted the exact medal engraved, since it had gone with her victory lap.

“I was feeling quite attached to it already,” she explained.


Boosting The Sport’s Popularity In The U.S.

One of the best ways to increase track’s footprint in the U.S. is to have more big meets and that’s just what USATF — with WA’s support — has in the works in the “critical 6-year window” leading into LA’s hosting of the ’28 Olympics.

Accordingly, USATF has in the works a circuit of meets to be staged in 5 U.S. cities next summer. Los Angeles will be one of the cities, USATF head Max Siegel told the LA Times during the WC. The goal is to make track the country’s fifth-most-followed sport by the time of the Games.

“Whether you think we’re crazy or not,” Siegel said, “it gives us something to shoot for in terms of how they measure where track & field is in the ecosystem.”

To make the top 5, track would have to pass swimming, tennis and motor racing. For its part, WA is planning on a series of initiatives called “Project America.”


’25 World Champs Awarded To Tokyo

Japan has been chosen to host the World Championships for the third time, the ’25 honor going to Tokyo. Tokyo also hosted in ’91 and Osaka was the ’07 site.

The Japanese capital beat out Nairobi, Silesia and Singapore. In announcing the choice, WA said, “Tokyo scored the highest of the four candidates in the bid evaluation across the four focused areas: the potential for a powerful narrative; revenue generating opportunities for World Athletics; a destination that will enhance the international profile of the sport; and appropriate climate.” We’d say the jury is still out on that last.

WA also announced the sites for the ’24 and ’26 World XC Champs. The Croatian cities of Medulin and Pula will host the former, Tallahassee the latter. The U.S. has previously staged the ’84 (New York City) and ’92 (Boston) races.


Modern Facilities Key To Winning WA Bids

Nairobi was one of the losers in the ’25 WC bidding and Seb Coe explained why to a Kenyan journalist. Said the WA head, “Kenya has a stadium which has to be refurbished, or a new one has to be constructed and the Council was concerned due to the timeframe, and the resources that would be needed and thus Tokyo was awarded because they have ready facilities.”

Speaking on the final day in Eugene, Coe also addressed questions about Jamaica’s hosting possibilities, saying, “[The Sports Minister] was talking to me about the program that sits behind the refurbishing of the National Stadium and when and if that is achieved, that will be a world-class facility and I am sure that Jamaica is ambitious enough to want to stage our events.”


USATF Foundation Largesse Continues

The nation’s elite athletes once again have reason to say thank you to the USATF Foundation. Two rounds of grants were announced by the support group in mid-July.

First came the news of this year’s Stephen A. Schwarzman grants, totalling $2.65M, up $700,000 over last year. The funds will benefit 100 high-end U.S. athletes; 65 will receive $30,000, 35 will get $20,000.

“It is an honor to support these athletes as they train for the highest levels of competition,” said Schwarzman. “Their determination is an inspiration to me and so many others across the country.”

The Foundation also announced that another 50 athletes would be receiving $8000 apiece in Elite Grant Awards. For a list of all the recipients, go to usatffoundation.org.


A Living Wage For U.S. Athletes?

A revolutionary plan for USATF to support athletes is reportedly being discussed, says BOD member Willie Banks, who cautions, “I am not at liberty to give you the plan right now.”

Triple jump legend Banks made the comments to San Diego reporters just before the World Championships. He said that the USATF board is considering “making a… direct investment in our athletes, meaning payments — a living wage to our athletes.”

The funding, he explained, would come from USATF revenues, corporate sponsors and USATF Foundation grants. “We have got to make that investment. If we don’t get our athletes to a level, then we will never grow the sport.”


WA Adds More Russians To The ANA List

All dressed up and no place to go. That’s pretty much the situation for Russians who have been placed on the Authorized Neutral Athletes list. On the cusp of the World Championships, WA’s Doping Review Board added 18 more to the ’22 roster, bringing the total for the year to 73.

Athletes on the ANA list are allowed to compete internationally, but not as representatives of Russia. There’s another hitch, however. With the advent of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, WA ruled that its athletes, ANA or not, would be ineligible for the WC. Further, the Diamond League and Continental Tour said they wouldn’t be allowed in their meets. That doesn’t leave a lot of significant competition available.


Meet The Real Mo Farah

British distance legend Mo Farah dropped a bombshell on his fans in the weeks leading up to the Worlds: he’s not Mo Farah. Rather, the 4-time Olympic champion, who was knighted in ’17, was born Hussein Abdi Kahin’ in Somaliland. In fact, many of the details in the origin story that he has recited to interviewers over the years were faked.

Supposedly, Farah came to Britain from Somalia at the age of 8 when his parents sent him and two siblings to London to join their father. However, in a new documentary called The Real Mo Farah, he revealed that his father was killed in the civil war when he was 4. He was trafficked to London by a stranger to be a domestic servant.

Treated badly by the married couple he lived with, he was finally rescued by his PE teacher, who helped him apply for UK citizenship and eventually got him back to his mother in Djibouti.

Farah, now 39, said, “I’ve been keeping it for so long, it’s been difficult because you don’t want to face it and often my kids ask questions: ‘Dad, how come this?’ And you’ve always got an answer for everything, but you haven’t got an answer for that.”

Despite fears he expressed in the interview, the British government confirmed that Farah’s status was safe, saying, “No action whatsoever will be taken against Sir Mo and to suggest otherwise is wrong.”


A Second Chance In Qualifying

If you had to grab a dictionary to sort out WA’s newest innovation, you’re not alone. Starting with the ’24 Olympics, a “repechage” (second-chance round) will be introduced for running events from 200-1500.

In effect, it will give athletes who do not qualify out of the first round another chance to advance to the semis. The concept is already used in several other sports, including judo, rowing and wrestling.

It replaces the use of additional time qualifiers in those heats, and gives every athlete in the affected events a minimum of two races. Says Seb Coe, “We believe this is an innovation which will make progression in these events more straightforward for athletes and will build anticipation for fans and broadcasters.”


Thorpe Finally Stands Alone

It took 109 years, but Jim Thorpe has finally been given full credit for this decathlon and pentathlon gold medal performances in the 1912 Olympics. The Native American legend shattered the existing World Records in both events (his decathlon performance worth 6564 on today’s tables), but a year later was stripped of his honors when it was revealed that he had spent two seasons playing minor league baseball and earning $2 a game.

After decades of lobbying, supporters finally got the IOC to relent a little bit in 1982, when the organization named Thorpe “co-champion” in both events with the second-placer.

With this July decision — on the 110th anniversary of his original decathlon medal ceremony — Thorpe is finally recognized again as the sole champion.

“We are so grateful his nearly 110-year-old injustice has finally been corrected, and there is no confusion about the most remarkable athlete in history,” said Nedra Darling, co-founder of the Native American group Bright Path Strong. ◻︎

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