The CHill Zone of T&F: Conway's View From the Finish Line

News Ahead of the Start of the Games

Jul 26th, 2012
2:26 pm PST

Turn Start MenI’ve been very very busy outside of track and field the past couple of days. Doctor’s appointment; kids to the fair; trying to catch up on non track work/stuff. Have to clear my plate so I can focus on the Games with the opening ceremonies TOMORROW!

Yet as I step away for a couple of days, the news/happenings of the sport seem to increase in volume. And so many things I’m compelled to comment on. Usually I prefer to give items individual attention – and I may do that later on with a few topics – but trying to keep pace with what is certainly going to be an exciting Games, let me take a minute to address some rapidly developing topics.

Before I go any further, however, let me say that if you haven’t downloaded the NBC apps for your tablet or smart phone, you need to do so. I’ve been playing with both and I can tell you that everyone here is going to go crazy with me walking around constantly linked into the Olympics. Especially with the NBC Olympics “Live” app which will allow you to stream events as the happen from any sport going on at the time. Sweet. I’ve been waiting for something like this since grade school – and that was a very long time ago! The other app, NBC Olympics, doesn’t provide streaming but does have lots of valuable information on athletes, events, current updates and information. This is definitely going to be the Internet Olympics – and that’s making news too.

So let’s get on with “current events”:

Doping Suspensions

I’ve learned to try to stay away from the topic of doping, because as soon as you  bring it up people want to try to figure out who you’re talking about. And frankly it’s a big negative for the sport no matter what you say about it. Doping is one of those topics that’s just deadly for track and field and I wish we could get away from it. But as long as there are dopers it is going to have an effect on this sport, because we “want” to be “pure”, so we make a big deal out of catching dopers – which becomes a win/lose proposition for the sport. It’s a win because it shows that we are making an attempt at cleaning the sport up – though I’ve often questioned to what degree. It’s a lose because we constantly remind the public that we do have dopers in our sport – which leads to the public perception that the sport is rife with dopers. So damned if you do, damned if you don’t. But that is something we need to take a look at moving forward – how we use doping as a positive marketing tool instead of a constant reminder that we “have a problem”.

That said, there have been several “busts” in the last week or so that have resulted in athletes being dismissed from the Games before they begin including Greek World Indoor high jump champion Dimitris Chondroktukis, and Moroccan 1500 meter time leader Mariem Selsouli. WADA is touting that these, and others, were caught via Blood Testing and Blood Passports – definitely a step in the right direction. However, since the substances detected were “old school” – Stanozolol and a diuretic in the cases of the aforementioned athletes – I can’t help but feel that what we’re catching are a crop of “dumb dopers”. And that true progress will be made when we are getting to the sophisticated dopers using “designer”/”undetectable” drugs. Of course that can’t happen unless we are using Biological Passports, so as I said at least a step in the right direction. Now if we can just figure out how not to make it a negative for the sport!

Greek Athlete Dismissed Over Tweet

As I mentioned earlier, this is going to be the Internet Games which means a heavy dose of social media applications: Facebook, Twitter, Live Streaming, etc. On the one hand this is a very good thing for the general public as we have the greatest access ever to what’s going on at the Olympics. Everything from live access to each and every event as it happens, to access to the private thoughts of the athletes themselves. Personally I think that’s a great thing – one of the best marketing tools available to the sport. But already we’ve seen the “Tweet Police” attempt to limit the volume of tweeting that the athletes do.

Now, I do think that some athletes tweet a little more than they should – but that’s their choice and something that should be discussed/dealt with between them and their coaches/managers/etc. Because as a coach, or part of the athlete’s “team” I would want to make sure that the athletes are not distracted and are focused on the task at hand. That said Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou was removed from the squad and sent home over a post she made on her Twitter account, as they deemed it to be racist and against the Olympic ideal.
I hesitate to comment because I’m sure to be blasted one way or the other. However I think that this takes things to a bad place for the athletes and therefore I am going to give my two cents. .

Now I don’t pretend to be up on Greek humor, but my reading of the tweet is that it was a bad “off color” joke similar to thousands told by Americans of every persuasion. And just like I do with many of those jokes, I’m inclined to say that it/they are typically in poor taste and would ask that they not be told “in mixed company” if you will. After all, you can’t legislate an individual’s feelings, but we can determine what’s acceptable in a public setting. That said, should athletes be removed from the Games if they are caught out telling off color jokes in public – or tweeting them over the Internet? You make the call, but I think we start to go down a slippery slope when we attempt to control every aspect of the athlete’s lives – # of tweets, what they can tweet, etc. What happened to the days when some things were dealt with behind closed doors? Perhaps sometimes we go a bit overboard in our attempts not to offend. Just something to think about.

Athletes and Money

Speaking of tweets, Sanya Richards Ross’ tweets regarding the financial status of track and field athletes seems to be gaining traction/momentum. As I watch the Twitter world, it seems that the majority of athletes out there are in general agreement that they are getting the short end of the stick – and I totally agree. However, I’ve also seen several articles out there that say that this type of movement has been seen before, and decades later there has been zero progress – and I agree with that as well. From Prefontaine, to Carl Lewis, and now to Sanya Richards Ross, there have been those athletes that have stood up and voiced their opinion regarding the status of track and field and the lack of money in the sport – and the other athletes around them have nodded in agreement. Unfortunately it will take more than nods of agreement to affect change in the sport. That will require that at some point the athletes band together to take a stand for their rights – and so far that hasn’t happened. Why?

Well, in my opinion because that will require sacrifice among the athletes as a group. It means that they may have to hold out, boycott, refuse to accept the status quo. And to get the athletes to do so en mass is difficult for two reason. One, those athletes that are barely surviving in the sport have been in the past, and probably will be moving forward, hesitant to give up what income they have – a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush, especially if you’re hungry. Two, those athletes that are doing well have been, and will continue to be moving forward, reluctant to push for any change that could reduce their immediate earning power – i.e. they aren’t going to want to miss any immediate large potential paydays, and they may be reluctant to work towards change that could reduce their short term earning power as current funds are redistributed to bring everyone else up!

There lies the dichotomy. At some point the athletes will have to band together as “ONE” and may have to close down some competitions in order to compel change to be made. Until they do that, complaining and silent agreement is not going to get them very far. IMHO.

The IAAF “softens” the False Start Rule

Perhaps the most anticipated event at this year’s Games is the men’s 100 meter dash. With that the next few news items I talk about are related to this event, starting with, well the start. Because in case you haven’t heard, the IAAF says it’s making a change to the rule ahead of the sprints starting competition next week. And change is that no longer will moving in the blocks be cause for disqualification! We’re not talking about coming out of the blocks prematurely, we’re talking about a foot movement, twitch, wiggle, or otherwise move in the blocks ahead of the gun.

I’m sorry, but am I the only person upset about this? Not that they are making the “change”, but that making the change is necessary! Because that says that we’ve been throwing people out of races, not because they actually false started, but on a technicality – there was too much movement in the blocks. The rule “now” allows movement in the blocks as long as the hands do not leave the track or the feet the starting blocks! Duh. Isn’t that what the starters have been looking at all along? Or have we really been throwing people out of races when they haven’t really left the blocks – which in my humble opinion should always have been what constitutes a false start, you exit early!

Whenever I talk about the false start rule I get angry, because what seems to be lost on this sport is WHY there is, or should be, a false start rule in the first place. Because ostensibly the idea behind having a false start rule is to ensure that everyone starts equally – or as equally as one can provide given human differences in reactions, hearing, etc. What this sport continues to prove however, is that somehow the idea of “fairness”, has taken a back seat to the obsessive belief that sprinters and hurdlers are cheaters by nature who need to be contained and reeled in. Primarily because they, and they alone are responsible for “screwing up” television time for the sport.

In my version of why you have a false start rule, the first goal of the rule is to get the field reset so that the race can be run with a fair start for all. In the event that an individual causes this to happen more than once, he/she is then eliminated from the competition. In the sport’s version of a false start rule, if the sport even thinks that you might be thinking about leaving the blocks early you have been eliminated from competition! Now of course you’re still toast if you make the slightest mistake in the blocks and start a tad early – react to crowd noise; a flinch next to you; clicking camera; hot track; wobble and fall; lose concentration due to an overly long hold; or any of a myriad of other reasonable “non-cheating” reasons that a person may accidentally false start – because sprinters/hurdlers are simply not allowed to make mistakes unless everyone else in the sport. I could say more but I had to get that vent out. This rule is RIDICULOUS, and apparently was even more so before the start of this week. And I am livid to think that athletes have been eliminated from competition because they flinched in the blocks!

Bolt Cleared to Compete by Doctor

Still on the subject of sprinting, and perhaps the most anticipated event of the Games, word just came out that the Jamaican team doctor has given Usain Bolt a clean bill of health. Now the question is how ready will Bolt be when he lines up for the start of the 100 meters. Aside from this proclamation from the Jamaican doctor we know little about the status of Bolt as no one has been allowed to watch him practice, which could indicate that things haven’t been 100% on the track. After all most practices of athletes are open – Bolt’s have been more secretive than the practices for the opening ceremony. Healthy but not at his best I still like my earlier prediction. Healthy and ready to rumble, Bolt is a medalist. But as I’ve said, this is one of the most fluid Games I’ve seen in terms of how rapidly things have and will change.

Gay Healthy But Nervous

On that note, the man that I feel is the biggest challenge to Bolt – if he’s healthy – is Tyson Gay. Yes I know there are some that have a different opinion and they are entitled to that. But Gay has said that he is healthy and aside from some soreness – which he’s had for years – has no ill effects from last year’s surgery. He’s healthy, practices have gone well. And he’s looking forward to competing. I find it interesting that some consider Blake to be Bolt’s stiffest competition based on beating him in Kingston, while Gay has also defeated Bolt, yet given no such acclaim. I also find it interesting that when Tyson beat Bolt days later Bolt said he was injured and would have to stop competing for the season, and therefore most have said it’s only due to injury that Tyson won. Yet Bolt claimed injury both before and after Jamaica Trials, yet Blake is still seen as Bolt’s equal. No matter. A quick look at the chart I did right after Jamaica Trials clearly indicates that Tyson and Bolt are the most consistent of the “fast” sprinters out there on the clock. Both have drop uber fast times when it has mattered. And both have won titles with the best on the track – yes Blake won in Daegu, but the next best man in the race was Walter Dix, and while I like Walter he ain’t no Bolt, Gay, or even Powell. My point simply that Bolt and Gay are both healthy and along with Blake and Gatlin should make for a serious final. Pick your own winner.

Christophe Lemaitre Dropping Out of the 100

I had suggested a long time ago that Lemaitre focus on the deuce. His own decision to do so says that he realizes that medaling in the 100 meters is a near impossibility unless you are one of the top two/three Americans or Jamaicans. I don’t know if a single sprint has EVER been so clearly dominated by two countries.

Coe Wants to Run the IAAF

This week Sebastian Coe – former middle distance great and organizer of these London Olympics – has put it out there that he would like to run to become head of the IAAF. I’m not going to spend a lot of time on this today, but suffice it to say that this could mark a change in the way that the IAAF – and the sport is run in the future. To have a former elite athlete at the forefront of the sport could begin to bring things into a proper alignment. Issues such as money for athletes; rules implementation; and marketing could take on a different sense of “urgency” with leadership that has the ability to see the sport from the eyes of the athlete.

The Games are about to start, and the athletes are going to be center stage – which is why I’ve focused much of what I’ve written today on the athletes – but the fact that Coe has put his name out there could be a good thing. As could the candidacy of someone like Sergei Bubka who I think might also throw his name out there – my thoughts, no confirmation.

So that’s the big news out there up to this moment. The way things are going there could be as much to talk about by this time tomorrow! At the very least the opening ceremonies are tomorrow. And there is still much to discuss as we head into the track and field portion of the meet. So I’m sure I’ll be back here within the next 36 hours or so.

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