From The Editor — May 2010: Why aren’t Americans peaking at the Olympics and World Champs?

USATF MANAGEMENT basked in the glow a little bit at the World Indoor Championships (see p. 38). CEO Doug Logan was rightfully happy to note the total of 167medals, outstripping the five previous editions of the meet (13-13-10-15-16). Not quite up to the high water mark of Maebashi ’99 and its 19, but nonetheless a good marker on the road to the organization’s ambitious public goal of 30 medals in London at the 2012 Olympics. The Project 30 “promise” which could make or break Logan’s stewardship of the national governing body.

Personally, I’m taking a more cautious view. The World Indoor in the one down year in the Olympic quadrennium (i.e., the one year with neither an Olympics nor an outdoor World Championships) isn’t remotely the same as the other three.

The U.S. as medal-grabbing machine remains far from what it was in the glory years. Realistically, of course, one can’t expect to return to the days when the world was a much smaller place, with only a privileged few practicing field & track and its highest level. We need to be content with a smaller piece of the pie. But not as small as it has gotten in recent years.

As noted in our Beijing Olympic issue, far too much was made of the U.S. 4×1 catastrophes. Yes, it was horrible to lose medals in traditional strongholds, but what seemed to be going right over the heads of USATF leadership, as I detailed in my column in that very same issue, was that the bottom has fallen out of American jumping and throwing production.

This is a subject Sieg Lindstrom explores in great detail in this issue, in an article titled Can The U.S. Right Its Field-Event Ship? (see p. 14). In that article there is a hint that the light has finally come on in Indianapolis, with High Performance Director Benita Fitzgerald-Mosley calling London field-event medals “low-hanging fruit,” ready to be picked.

Fixing a broken technical culture is certainly a step on the road towards increasing the medal total, but I keep coming back to the question of peaking. In all events. In past columns I’ve detailed how OG/WC medals go to those who are ready to go on the big day.

It’s easy to read things into numbers that aren’t there, but let me bounce these figures off you: at the Worlds in Berlin last year, a total of 30 Americans out of 121 scored seasonal bests (to that point). That’s 24.8%. On the other side of the coin, non-American medalists got seasonal bests 57.1% of the time. Does not compute!

I don’t claim to be a coaching genius who understands all the ins and outs of periodization (the plotting of competitive peaks), but I first started grumbling about the timing of the U.S. Trials meets relative to the OG/WC three decades ago. I think there’s just too much time between the big domestic show and the big-big meet.

While other nations are finalizing their teams 2–3 weeks out, here’s what the U.S. does: Beijing ’08 was 6 weeks; Berlin ’09 was 7 weeks; Daegu ‘11 will be 9 (!) weeks; London ’12 will be 5 weeks.

As I wrote here back in ’03, “The way the system is currently working, USATF goes out and builds the best looking damned car on the block in June but when August rolls around there just isn’t much gas in the tank and the body definitely needs a polish-job.”