ANOTHER SAMPLING of what major players are up to in this year of the pandemic:
Surfing the club scene: ex-Penn 800 runner Nia Akins has joined the Brooks Beasts… Canadian 1500/5000 recordholder Gabriela Debues-Stafford will be joining the Bowerman TC in the fall… 800 star Raevyn Rogers is now in Portland training with Nike coach Pete Julian… Former Wisconsin star Morgan McDonald is joining Joe Bosshard’s training group in Colorado.
A Shamier Little tweet: “Touched the track and went over some hurdles for the first time in FOUR months. I felt like I just got out of jail from doing a 15-year [term] and came home to ride my childhood bike.”
Saying that the U.S. is “too dangerous,” Sifan Hassan will be training in St. Moritz, Switzerland, after spending 3 months in Ethiopia during the quarantine. “I did nothing for 3 weeks following that announcement,” she has revealed. “I was in top form, but I thought, ‘What should I do now?’ I had no motivation, nothing. I was not allowed to go outside to train. It was hard to accept, but I wasn’t angry. This was not my fault. I couldn’t help it.” Despite the distance gap, she confirms she is still working with Portland-based coach Mark Rowland.
Wayde van Niekerk says what he wants most out of his comeback is to run under 43-seconds. The 400 WR holder told the BBC, “I have this deep desire to be out of reach. After coming out of a period of somewhat suffering, it makes me more hungry.”
In July, Norway’s Sondre Nordstad Moen broke the European 25,000m record on the track, but he missed Jos Hermens’ 45-year-old old ER in the hour run en route. In August, he’s going after it again: “I was 241m short when 60 minutes were up. If I am honest, it’s a bit more meaningful to me than the 25,000m so I’m very motivated. I’m going to talk to my coach Renato Canova but it’s possible we might modify my tactics a little for this race. However, I will have pacemakers for the first 10–12 kilometers and hopefully they can take me a bit further.”
How high can Mondo Duplantis eventually jump? Renaud Lavillenie, who has been watching his protégé for a long time, says, “I think he will be able to break the record again in a few years. He could be in shape to jump around 6.20, 6.25 [20-4, 20-6]. He has the capacity for that. We just have to wait and see.”
Former German vaulter Tim Lobinger thinks 6.30 (20-8) is possible, revealing. “When I watch Duplantis, I always think to myself, He doesn’t do anything special, he just jumps incredibly high. That is the beautiful and fascinating thing about him…where can it end?”
World long jump champion Malaika Mihambo is planning a move to Texas to be coached by Carl Lewis. “Now is the time for such a big step,” she originally said—but later put a hold on the move. “The situation in the USA currently does not allow me optimal training conditions, so I will continue to plan my training in Germany.”
All-time sprint great Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce says she will retire after the ’22 Worlds in Eugene: “It would be nice to finish so close to home where my friends who’ve always found it difficult to travel far can visit. No one thought it would be possible for me to come back from a C-section and win a championship at 32 years old, but I did, so you never know.”
Botswana’s Nijel Amos says that his running form is greatly transformed: “If you look at my running style, it’s changed a lot. I always joke with my friends and say I used to run a Toyota Corolla. Now I’m trying to be more like a Bugatti and have everything going smooth!”
New father Usain Bolt says that he might consider returning to sprinting under one condition. “If my coach came back and told me, let’s do this, I will, because I believe so much in my coach, So I know if he says we’re going to do this, I know it’s possible. Give Glen Mills a call, and I’ll be back.” Responded longtime coach Mills, “It was not I who told him to retire.”
Decathlon legend Daley Thompson says he has no problem at all with athletes taking a knee to protest at the Games. “Athletes are people, they are not automatons,” said Thompson, the Olympic gold medalist in ’80 and ’84. “Some of them will clearly feel strongly enough to want to take a knee, to do whatever they feel is their responsibility to do. There should be, whether it’s on the podium or not, a forum for them to stand up and be counted if they want to. It’s an important cause. All lives matter. Nobody, whether you are white, black, any nationality, deserves to be killed for the color of your skin or for simple prejudice.”
The 61-year-old Briton’s prediction on how it will play out: “I think the IOC will try and curry favor with sponsors and allow the athlete some degree of choice in the matter.”
The CEO of the USOPC, Sarah Hirshland, has apologized to hammer thrower Gwen Berry, who was reprimanded after protesting on the Pan-Am podium last year. “I heard her. I apologized for how my decisions made her feel and also did my best to explain why I made them. Gwen has a powerful voice in this national conversation, and I am sure that together we can use the platform of Olympic and Paralympic sport to address and fight against systematic inequality and racism in our country.”
Recovering from a back injury, South African javelin thrower Sunette Viljoen is excited for Tokyo: “I hate it when someone speaks to me and says, ‘You are probably now focused on ending your career.’ I am nowhere near ending it,” she told the Olympic Channel. “I always get mentioned in newspapers, I am the 35-year-old javelin thrower or whatever, the veteran. I don’t know why my age has to be mentioned every time; if you are good you are good, healthy, strong, it doesn’t matter how old or how young you are. You can do it until you are 100.”
When Nick Symmonds put on two track meets at South Eugene HS, the reviews were mixed. Fans loved the opportunity to run 5K on the track. Critics, however, were aghast at the image of 42 runners jammed together on the starting line. “Apparently coronavirus ain’t a thing no more,” said one on Twitter.
Said Symmonds, “We are practicing social distancing and we are being smart about it. I’m not trying to get anyone sick. I love this community. In Lane County, we have very low cases and we are trying to keep it that way
Matthew Centrowitz has been missing from the recent races by the Nike Bowerman TC . On Instagram he addressed rumors of his leaving the group by saying, “No. I appreciate everyone’s concerns. Jerry [Schumacher] & I are equally excited about my future and what I’ve been able to accomplish with the group under minimal training… I look forward to logging many more miles with my Bowerman bros.”
An oversight was corrected last year when it was discovered that Peter Snell had never received official WR plaques for two of his global standards from late ’64: 2:16.6 for 1000 and his 3:54.1 mile. WA’s Heritage Department was able to find two blank original plaques from the era and have them inscribed for the Kiwi great.
Chris Derrick describes his biggest weakness: “My speed is, and always has been, pathetic. The women’s team often works out before us and on speed days I’m usually anxiously listening for their splits and hoping I can go faster. I do not always succeed.”
The cancellation of most major marathons means that professional road runners are taking a big financial hit with the pandemic. Says Ben Rosario, coach of NAZ Elite, “These runners, this is their job and when they miss out on one of the paydays from one of these world majors, that’s a big chunk of their yearly income. The major marathons pay appearance fees to the top Americans in the race, and those appearance fees are pretty hefty, so it’s a big hit for these folks.”
Clayton Murphy, for one, is not happy that Akron has cut its men’s cross country program. At the end of a scathing statement, the Olympic 800 bronze medalist concluded, “I can no longer stand with a university which continues to stand behind a publicity stunt and refuses to support a track and field/cross country program that has done nothing but continually produce successful men and women on and off the track: a program that just 4 years ago was used as a highlight of your public image. I will no longer allow the university to use my image and likeness for marketing or as a promotional asset.”
Reigning World/Olympic 400H champion Dalilah Muhammad says that the pandemic has changed her training calendar: “Normally I would run until September, but because this year is so different we’re going to take the month of August off and get back to it in September. We will start hitting it hard in November, but now it’s just about getting my body ready. November is when we’ll start getting ready to run some races in January.”
Are all events created equal? Not financially, says British sprint star Dina Asher-Smith. “Even if I was the same ability in another discipline, say a thrower, they don’t get the same opportunities. That’s why we have to say ‘the throwers count, too’ because there is a bias within in our sport. It should be fair for all the other disciplines, the people who do 10Ks, marathons, if you’re a road runner—everybody could have a market. That’s something I hope we’re going to get better at.”
Forty years after the Moscow Olympics, Seb Coe revisited his middle-distance rivalry with Steve Ovett and the era when they were the world’s top two runners. “In the back of our minds we knew that in order to come home with at least something, we were probably going to have to demolish 10 years of hard, unremitting slog in each other’s lives. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
Sandi Morris raved about Renaud Lavillenie’s 19-¾ (5.81) in the Impossible Games. “For those who don’t know much about pole vault, this is REALLY impressive. He’s running from less than half the number of strides he normally competes from (this is all the runway allows for in his backyard…) This height has won Olympic medals before. From
Chaunté Lowe is back in training after a double mastectomy. She says her own personal recovery from cancer, plus what the nation is going through during the pandemic are what motivates her to focus on Tokyo: “I hope that it can mark a closing of the COVID-19 chapter. If we are able to be together, then it would mean dramatic improvements in testing, treatment and vaccination. There’s going to be a greater understanding of one another. We are going to heal together, and I want to be a part of that.” ◻︎