LAST LAP — September/October

HERE’S THIS MONTH’S collection of short takes on generally off-track activities that have gone a long way towards shaping the way the sport is headed in these trying times, as the C19 pandemic continues to dominate everyday life on a worldwide basis.

Financial improprieties have landed former IAAF head Lamine Diack a jail sentence. (GLADYS CHAI/ASVOM AGENCY)

Mondo’s Poles Take A Wild Ride

Airlines and vaulting poles have long had an adversarial relationship (we’ve all heard stories about poles being sawn in half to fit into a cargo hold): cue this summer’s Mondo Duplantis story. In this summer of discontent, he was unable to find an airline that could transport his sticks from his base in Sweden to Monaco.

The solution? Mom Helena and her sister, and a friend, volunteered to transport the implements by car. What’s a mere 25-hour drive among friends? Said Mondo after they arrived safe and sound, “I have three angels by my side and I don’t know what I would do without them.” The angels weren’t done, however. The Monaco meet was on a Friday night and Mondo needed the poles in Uppsala for the Swedish Champs on Sunday. Back in the car for another jaunt of some 2500km (c1500M). It turned out to be a nice double for the poles, who won twice.

French Court Finds Diack Guilty

He’s appealing the verdict of course, but Lamine Diack has been sentenced to 2 years in jail (prosecutors had sought 4) and fined €500,000 (c$600,000). The former IAAF head was found guilty of multiple corruption charges and breach of trust but acquitted of a money laundering charge. “You violated the rules of the game,” said the judge.

The 87-year-old Diack was the big fish in the trial, but the court also handed guilty verdicts to 5 others: Diack’s marketing consultant son Papa Massata Diack (5 years, c$1.2M), former IAAF treasurer Valentin Balakhnichev (3 years, c$2.2M), former IAAF testing head Dr. Gabriel Dollé (2 years suspended, c$160,000), Diack’s legal counsel Habib Cissé and Russian coach Aleksey Melnikov.

One of Lamine Diack’s lawyers described the verdict as “unjust and inhuman.”

Papa Massata Diack was more colorful in his condemnation, even before the verdict’s coming down, calling the whole thing a “conspiracy” by the “Anglo-Saxons.” Junior, who has remained at home in Senegal, resisting extradition throughout the proceedings, subsequently upped the ante, saying that if they wanted to arrest him, “They can send special forces to pick me up.”

WA’s Statement On The Diack Verdict

“This has been a long 5 years and we would like to thank the French Prosecutors and the Paris Criminal Court for their time, detailed work and deliberations in to this case.

“Whilst we are disappointed this happened in our sport, we are grateful for the strong and clear decisions that have been taken against the individuals involved and charged with these crimes, and we would like to reassure everyone that the reforms our Congress approved in 2016 will ensure that similar actions by individuals can never happen again in our sport.

“We are grateful for the damages awarded by the Paris Criminal Court totalling €16 million [c$19M] for embezzled funds and for reputational damage suffered as a direct consequence of these crimes and the resulting media coverage. As the Court acknowledged, this damage has impacted World Athletics’ finances and had a negative impact on World Athletics’ image and reputation in a deep and lasting way. We will do everything we can to recover the monies awarded, and return them to the organization for the development of athletics globally.”

NCAA’s XC Nationals Move To March

A mid-September decision somewhat clarified the collegiate cross country picture amid the pandemic. The NCAA Championships, held in late November since its inception in ’38, has seen the “2020” meet pushed back to March 15, 2021. That’s a Monday, just 2 days after the NCAA Indoor is currently set to conclude. (Divisions II & III earlier canceled all fall championships, including cross country.)

As it forges ahead with a winter post-season, the schedule will forego the usual 9 Regional races; instead, the XC Subcommittee will select Nationals fields of normal size: 31 teams and 38 individuals for both men and women.

A subject of lively speculation is how the Indoor’s schedule might be adjusted to accommodate 3000/5000/distance medley types facing a tight turnaround before they race over hill and dale.

A few major conferences—including the ACC, Big 12 and SEC—will run fall XC championships preceded by a couple of “regular season” meets for each member school. The first set of the latter were staged on September’s third weekend. See Schedule for a brief overview of what’s being staged when.

Pound Against Taking A Knee On The Podium

Always outspoken, IOC member Dick Pound isn’t against athletes protesting in general, he just doesn’t want to see it on the victory stand.

“I think athletes who start to think about these things get it,’’ Pound told the Around The Rings website. “Your right to protest and draw attention to social issues is not abrogated. It just means you have to wait 5 minutes until the end of the ceremony and go to the press conference and say whatever you want. If somebody takes a knee, you’ll never know if you’re watching on TV or from the stands if it’s actually about racial discrimination or about fluoride in the water. It’s inarticulate.”

Perhaps stretching the metaphor a little, he continued, “There’s a time and a place for everything. You have all kinds of human rights and you don’t go shouting about those things at a church service or at a funeral. If you’re asked to wait 5 or 10 minutes out of respect for your fellow athletes, your human rights really are not infringed.”

NCAA Updates Video Technology Rules

In a move that aligns collegiate competition with other national and international governing bodies, a rule regarding the use of technology to view video during competition has been approved by the NCAA.

An NCAA press release explained, “Under the new rule, which is effective for the 2020–21 academic year, coaches can use hand-held technology devices for reviewing video in field events and for timing in running events.

“Competitors can view the video with their coaches provided they do so in a specific area designated by meet management. The area will have to be in a location that does not interfere with other ongoing competition.

“If video is viewed outside the designated area, it will result in a warning, and a second violation will result in a disqualification for the coach and competitor.”

Semenya Loses Appeal Of CAS Verdict

Switzerland’s Supreme Court has rejected Caster Semenya’s appeal against the WA restrictions on DSD athletes competing in events 400–Mile. “I am very disappointed,” the 29-year-old South African middle distance standout said of the latest setback in her quest to resume international competition. “I refuse to let World Athletics drug me or stop me from being who I am.”

The Swiss court upheld a CAS decision in support of the WA regulation, writing in part, “Fairness in sport is a legitimate concern and forms a central principle of sporting competition. It is one of the pillars on which competition is based.”

South Africa’s government indicated it will continue to fight for Semenya, with Sports Minister Nathi Mthethwa calling the court ruling “very unfortunate and offensive to the fundamental human rights of female athletes classified hyperandrogenic.” South African activists plan to petition the UN and the African Union for relief.

Russia On The Road To Redemption?

In early August, the suspended Russian Federation (RusAF) took a step towards getting back into WA’s good graces by coming up with a $6.31M fine. The sum was originally due on July 01, but the Russians pleaded poverty and failed to pay. WA then extended the deadline, which was met on August 12 with funds provided by the Sports Ministry.

That was just part one of the reinstatement equation. Also required was a new reform plan by the end of the month, and on August 31 WA said, “World Athletics can confirm that the Independent Taskforce has received a draft Reinstatement Plan from the Russian Athletic Federation, as required under the conditions imposed by the World Athletics Council on 30 July 2020. The Taskforce will now review the plan and advise RusAF of any improvements it requires, which must be incorporated to the Taskforce’s satisfaction by 30 September 2020.”

But a few days before the deadline WA announced that it had granted a 5-month extension (til March 01) for the new Russian plan, saying that the failure to meet the deadline “…appears to be due not to a lack of willingness but rather a lack of knowhow and resources. There is currently a void at RusAF—they have no board, no senior management, and very few experienced staff. They need to fill that void urgently with people who share the vision to change the culture of the organization and the sport, and who have the skills to do so.”

WA Clarifies New Shoe Rules

As technology marches (sprints?) on in the making of running footwear, WA has had to come up with rules keeping pace. The most crucial of the specs is sole height, and that varies depending on the event in question. By event grouping here’s the max permitted:

Track events (including hurdles) shorter than the 800——20mm.
Track events from the 800 and above——25mm
Road events (including walks)——40mm
Cross country——25mm
All field events except the TJ——20mm
Triple jump——25mm

The rules also provide for maximal availability of new shoes with this codicil: “… the manufacturer commits to making the new shoe available via a scheme to provide shoes to unsponsored elite athletes for free and/or for purchase depending on whether they are qualified or an unqualified athlete who benefits from a place at World Athletics Series events or Olympic Games.”

John Capriotti Steps Down At Nike

The average fan may not be familiar with his name, but Jeff Manning of the Portland Oregonian once called John Capriotti “track & field’s biggest dealmaker and ultimate sugar daddy.” In mid-September “Cap” left his position as leader of Nike’s track & field marketing group after more than three decades with the shoe giant. Nike said he “will consult and continue to play an important role in our relationship with athletes.”

About a month earlier former USATF head Craig Masback, who has been serving as a sports marketing VP for Nike, also retired. Nike, which lost about $790 million last quarter, is cutting costs and laying off employees. It remains to be seen what kind of ramifications all this might have for Nike’s support for the sport, both domestically and internationally.

Athletes Fulfilling Their Contracts?

If you’re the kind of results-crazy fan who peruses results at great depths, over the summer you might have noticed some big-name athletes running in multiple races in one meet, frequently with times that didn’t appear to be much more than jogging. Why? They were apparently fulfilling shoe-contract requirements to run in a minimum number of races per year.

Allyson Felix told the website Sportico, “What a lot of athletes feel forced to do right now is like the equivalent of LeBron James going out and playing 3-on-3 basketball at a park in his Lakers jersey and hoping that the Lakers will see that as valuable and still pay him his full salary—it just doesn’t make sense. But a lot of track athletes are scared, desperate and don’t have a lot of clarity from brands on what is going to happen to their income.”

Long Jump Experiment Not Exactly Popular

In attempt to gin up enthusiasm for the event, the DL did away with normal procedure in Stockholm (men and women) and Doha (women only). What it came down to was the top 3 after 5 rounds each getting one more jump, with that jump deciding the order. In all three competitions the official order didn’t match reality, even though only one winner was changed.

Some big-name athletes were outspoken in their opposition to the methodology. “It’s not innovation, but it is a mess,” Olympic gold medalist Tianna Bartoletta told the BBC.

“I hope this idea will stop after this season,” tweeted triple jump star Christian Taylor. “I would like to understand how this could be better than the traditional format.” According to Agence France-Presse, Taylor’s athlete group, The Athletics Association, surveyed dozens of athletes and claimed that 87% were against the new way of doing things.

Reigning world LJ champ Tajay Gayle of Jamaica told the Jamaica Gleaner he believes that competitors will advocate against the change’s being permanent, saying, “I’m pretty sure this won’t be a thing really because I don’t think any jumper will accept this. Stuff like that wouldn’t make any sense to me.” (See From The Editor for some thoughts on this contentious topic.)

Question Marks Continue To Surround Tokyo

John Coates, the IOC’s Tokyo 2020 Coordination Commission chair, insisted in early September that the Games “will take place with or without COVID.”…

The next day, Olympic Minister Seiko Hashimoto echoed those sentiments, saying, “I think we have to hold the Games at any cost. “I want to concentrate all our efforts on measures against the coronavirus.”…

Agreement has proven more elusive in other quarters. A July poll by Kyodo News had found that just 24% of Japanese favor a ’21 hosting, and an August survey of 12,857 local companies found opposition in that quarter at 53.6%—with close to half of the naysayer corporations favoring further postponement. Contract extension negotiations with sponsors who have ponied up $3.1 billion are incomplete and expected to be contentious.…

Under consideration is a “simplified Games” with considerably fewer than the originally anticipated 600,000 visitors but an athletes/staff/officials head count of some 15,400…

Japan (population 126 million) has contracts with multiple companies to secure 521 million doses of five different coronavirus vaccines in ’21… With COVID transmission trending downward, Japan has lifted sports arena attendance limits to 20,000 or 20% of capacity, whichever is less… An athlete exemption for international entry restrictions is being discussed…

Although one Tokyo advisor has cautioned that the Japanese capital’s weather could be a “nightmare” next year, we note that during the Olympic period this year things were atypically less than torrid. On the day of what would have been the Opening Ceremony the high was only 81 (27F), and it rained.

National Scholastic Indoor Gets New Home

Looks like the ’21 indoor season—if it comes off—will apparently climax with dueling “nationals.” The National Scholastic Indoor Nationals has announced it will land at Staten Island’s Ocean Breeze facility on March 11-14. “We’re thrilled to be able to partner with Ocean Breeze,” said Jim Spier, executive director of the National Scholastic Athletic Foundation.

The move comes after the cancellation of the ’20 edition because of the pandemic. Shortly after that, the NSAF contract with 10-year sponsor New Balance expired and the two organizations parted ways.

In May, New Balance announced that it would be hosting its own indoor nationals March 12-14 at the NYC Armory, the site of the combined New Balance/NSAF meet for the last 10 years.

Starting in ’22, the New Balance affair may move to the state-of-the-art facility the company is building in Brighton, Massachusetts, called The TRACK.

The NSAF affair is becoming a 4-day meet for the first time to facilitate the addition of a day devoted to frosh and middle school events.

Bolt Gets A Bad Birthday Present

A surprise 34th birthday party for sprint legend Usain Bolt caught the eye of the police in Jamaica, who launched an investigation after reports that the gathering violated the island’s C19 rules.

In the days following, the WR holder himself tested positive and went into lockdown. The new father apparently had not worn a mask during the party. “Just to be safe I quarantined myself and am taking it easy,” he tweeted.

While the investigation still has to run its course, it has been reported that the party had a government permit. In recent months, more than 1000 people have been charged with breaking government restrictions on gatherings.

Bolt is perhaps losing patience with the investigation, also tweeting, “SCAPE-‘GOAT’.” ◻︎

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