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

Pre Trials, Trials, Next the Games

Jul 20th, 2021
11:51 am PDT

This has been one of the most exciting years ever for track and field. Thank you Covid-19. After all, the Covid virus has had an affect on everything that has happened on this planet for the better part of a year and a half – and continues to do so! It basically shut down the 2020 season of track and field. In effect forcing everyone to have a much longer “pre-season” to 2021 than normal. While the initial feelings by all were of sadness and despair, the unintended consequences seem to be the creation of stronger and better bases for training. The ultimate result being a season so far that has created more outstanding marks than I can ever remember seeing in any season in my lifetime.

The early season, dominated by the collegians, saw young people producing a plethora of world leading marks. Including the emergence of Athing Mu (TxAM) who set Collegiate Records in both the 400 and 800. Terrance Laird (LSU) whose sizzling 19.81 had everyone talking about a possible collegiate mark in the 200. Tara Davis (Tx) who set a Collegiate Record in the LJ (7.14m/23’ 5“). And the emergence of HBCU North Carolina A&T as a national power. As they finished in the top 5 in both the men and women’s NCAA’s with the men running the #2 collegiate time ever in the 4×4 (2:59.21). Throw in the occasional elite athlete testing the waters, and the early spring was HOT.

Of course, the big boys and girls had to come out to play eventually and then things got even hotter. As they came out a few weeks before the Trials were set to begin. The majority of good marks came out of warm weather Florida, as the sprinters and hurdlers gave an indication that they were going to be heard from in a big way. So, going into the Trials, I was expecting to see one of the best Trials ever.

The athletes did not disappoint. Putting on a show rarely seen in a single meet anywhere outside of the Games themselves. Think 1968 and athletes like Jim Hines, Tommie Smith and Lee Evans. Or 1988 with Carl Lewis, Butch Reynolds, and FloJo. That’s the type of competition that fans were treated to at the end of June. The Trials opened with Ryan Crouser doing what he did indoors – setting a new WR in the Shot Put. Let me rephrase that. He obliterated the old WR, taking it from 23.12m/75′ 10.25“ to a HUGE 23.37m/76′ 8.75”! And the scary thing, is that he made it look easy and effortless. Dare I say that there is a lot more in him.

The sprinters were right, they were heard from. The men’s 100 had 4 men finish under 9.90! Trayvon Bromell continued his winning ways taking first at 9.80, but the surprise was Fred Kerley – yes, the quartermiler Fred Kerley. He dropped down to run the sprints and took 3rd in the 100 – earning a trip to the starting line in Tokyo. In the deuce, 17 year old Erriyon Knighton beat the adults during the rounds – looking like Noah Lyles and Michael Norman in 2016. In the Final, Lyles reminded everyone that he is the defending World Champion, winning in a world leading 19.74. Knighton twice broke Usain Bolt’s WJR finishing third in 19.84 and earning himself a trip to Tokyo – first high school sprinter in the Games since 1976! Speaking of the 200, Gabby Thomas became #2 all time with her 21.61 win, as she lead 4 women under 22.00! Athing Mu ran the #2 time ever by an American in the 800 with her 1:56.07 win. And on the final day of competition, Grant Holloway scared the WR in the 110H with a 12.81 victory. Then, not to be outdone, Sydney McLaughlin DID set a new WR in the 400H with a HUGE 51.90 win of her own!

Those were the highlights of a meet that had nothing but highlights. Things didn’t slow down after the close of the Trials however. The world is ready to compete in 2021. So, while Bolt is gone in Jamaica, the women were ready to be heard from. Result. Shelley Ann Fraser Pryce doubled up at 10.63/21.79 – making her #2 all time in the 100. Dutch hurdler Femke Bol ran 52.37 to make herself #4 all time in the women’s 400H. And “The Viking” Karsten Warholm, did the seemingly impossible and took down the men’s 400H WR with a sterling 46.70!

Oh yes, there are distance events in the sport, and they‘ve been on fire as well.. Faith Kipyegon going 3:51.07 in the 1500, beating Siffan Hassan in the process – who “only” ran 3:53.60. A big deal since Hassan had broken the 10,000 WR earlier with a 29:06.82. Which set a record as the shortest record ever, as two days later it fell to Letsenbet Giday’s 29:01.03! Jakob Ingerbringtsen took the world lead in the 5,000 at 12:48.45 – a European Record. Putting himself in position to take the title away from the African contingent in Tokyo!

Ok. Everything hasn’t been sunshine and rainbows. I wish. There have been down sides. World 100 meter Champion, Christian Coleman missed the Trials due to a suspension related to missed Whereabouts tests. At the last minute, the same was announced for World 400 Champion Salwa Eid Naser, suspended over missed Whereabouts. The Trials started with the announcement that AR 1500 Holder, and my favorite mid distance runner, Shelby Houlihan, tested positive for a banned substance that she says she ingested in a burrito. And the Trials ended with Trials 100 Champion Sha’Carri Richardson testing positive for Cannabis (pot/weed) and being removed from the team – though her suspension is of the 30 day variety so we will see her afterwards.

All bad news was not drug related, however. Defending Olympic TJ Champion Christian Taylor ruptured an Achilles and missed the Trials. Shamier Little and Sean Burrell, both favorites to make the 400H squads, didn’t because of bad 8th hurdles. Justin Gatlin pulled up in the final of the 100, ending his bid for another Olympic berth. And Donovan Brazier, Olympic favorite in the 800, simply ran a “shitty race” in his own words – failing to qualify for the Games. Such is sport. Yes, there is sunshine and rainbows and meets that are stellar. There are also violations of the rules, and performances that disappoint.

That’s what we’re looking like heading into the opening ceremonies of these Games. Well, all of that, and a call by some to cancel them again. Why? Because Japan has called for a state of emergency due to increased cases of Covid-19. There are those that say that sport is not more important than people’s health. That it is irresponsible to continue on with the Games. I’m going to say, that as usual, the people with the loudest voices are those that tend to be the least informed!

In my humble opinion, the Games should and must go forward – and not because I’m eagerly anticipating them! I’m going to say some things that may upset some of you. So if you are easily upset by the truth, stop reading.

I will start by saying that sport is NOT the problem. As a matter of fact, sport just may be the answer! For the length of the Covid Crisis, the one area of society that has led the way in showing how we can ACTUALLY live with and get past this virus is sport – of all kinds. It has been sport that has shown us how to create “bubbles” to allow people to perform what they do safely – be it athletics, or work, or whatever. Sports of every kind have been functioning just fine during this crisis. As a matter of fact, the athletes that have qualified for the Games, have all gone through various qualifying activities/tournaments. And guess what? There aren’t all of these people getting sick and dying that people crying for Games cancellation are screaming about! Quite the opposite. Are there “cases” of Covid being identified here and there? Yes. But a “case” is simply someone that carries the virus. They have all, to my knowledge, been asymptomatic – meaning they aren’t sick, let alone in the hospital or dying! Way too much hype over these things in my humble opinion. By the way, do you have any idea what viruses YOU have in your system this very moment? Because we are NOT virus free at any given moment in time. Many that could kill you if you didn’t have immunities in your system – which is why the big deal about getting inoculated against Covid. Just saying.

That said, the athletes are isolated from the people of Japan. Which means the Japanese people have nothing to fear from the athletes, and the athletes have nothing to fear from the people of Japan. So what is all the hub bub about? Why does having them in Japan create a problem for anyone? Seriously? They are isolated in the Olympic Village and not allowed out. There are mask mandates for them and they are not allowed to “touch” during celebrations! During their stay in Japan they are among the most restricted people on the planet. So what’s to fear from them?

I mean, if I’m being honest, the people that should really be upset are the athletes because they are being given half of an Olympic experience! They don’t get to see the sights and sounds of Japan! They don’t get to experience the various foods and cultural activities that Tokyo and Japan have to offer! It’s a “partial” experience for them. Limited to the venue that they will be competing in – my same argument for Eugene as a major holder of meets in America by the way! Yes, competing in the Games is still a big deal. But the Olympics are as much about the EXPERIENCE as it is the competition.

Which brings me to my, Shame on You Leaders of Japan! This was not dropped in their laps at the last moment, They’ve known about their responsibilities for the Games for nearly a decade. And they’ve known about Covid for almost two years. They had ONE JOB – get ready for this – and they’ve had ample time. Even more importantly, however, is the fact that they have a responsibility to THEIR PEOPLE that they seem to have seriously let fall by the wayside!

They are a DEVELOPED nation, not a third world country. They are a nation with 126 million people that only has 22% of the population vaccinated! This from one of the most technologically advanced nations on the planet. This is ridiculous! Even more ridiculous is that knowing that the world was scheduled to come to Tokyo, they couldn’t get 13 million people (the population of Tokyo) vaccinated above 22% – given at least 6 months to do so! So, while there are lots of people out there saying, “poor Japan they shouldn’t have to have the Olympics”. I say poor Japan, what have your leaders been doing to protect you – period! I mean, here in California, we’ve not been happy with what has been going on with respect to Covid. But we have gotten 23 million people vaccinated in that time frame – and we think our people have been less than competent! Japan can, and should’ve done better!

Even so, the “hype” around the latest outbreak is as much hype as it is real. And no, I’m not saying Covid isn’t real. Let’s stop that comment right now. Because it’s been used to try and belittle anything that anyone has to say regarding Covid that isn’t the end of the world kind of stuff! It’s real, just like thousands of other viruses are. What it isn’t, is the most dangerous, deadly thing on the planet. The most deadly virus out there – the constant killer of the most people – is HIV! Yes, that’s a fact. There’s Ebola, which kills 90% of the people that get infected by it – Covid kills LESS than 1%! Are you aware that Rabies is a virus? Literally destroys the brain – 100% possibility you will die if not treated! But in the developed world we have shots for animals and treatment for humans and we’ve developed immunities that keep us safe. Though it is still a problem in India and parts of Africa – but you don’t care because it doesn’t affect you. Mice carry Hantavirus which is extremely deadly and tbere was a small outbreak in the mid 90’s – but it isn’t passed from human to human, only through mice. Ever heard of Dengue virus? It is an epidemic in over 40% of the world right now. Sickens 50 to 100 million people a year with a 20% mortality rate for those that get it! Who remembers SARS-CoV? Deadlier than Covid with a 9.6% mortality rate! It’s still out there folk. So is MERS-CoV which has a mortality rate of 30%-40%. Confined mostly to the Middle East however. And, by the way neither MERS or SARS have approved treatments or vaccines!

So, yes, Covid is REAL. So are all of the other viruses that I just mentioned – and I didn’t even list influenza because it’s so common that we just don’t think about it any more. Which is my point. We live with ALL of those viruses and others every day. Many of them MORE DEADLY than Covid. Oh, by the way, the thing that I didn’t mention is that “variants” of viruses have two things in common – transmit faster than the original, but are WEAKER than the original! So, the point I was heading to, is that all the hype over Covid is uncalled for! It’s NOT as deadly as other viruses that we are surrounded by. We DO have vaccines and treatment for those that get it. And the VARIANT that is scaring everyone is by definition NOT the original daemon that everyone was afraid of – that we have treatment and vaccines for, for those that get sick!

So, there is NO reason to cancel the Olympic Games, none. As a matter of fact I can think of many reasons TO hold the Games! For one, the reason the Games were created was to promote Good Will throughout the world. If there was ever a time that we need Good Will, it’s now. Even more so, we need HOPE! Hope that this can be beaten. Hope that the world is returning to normal – though slowly. Hope that the divisions on this planet can be healed and that we as people can get along together! THAT is why we need to continue with the Games!

We also need to do it for all those individuals that have sacrificed years of their lives to competing in the Games. They are important too. Taking this away from them HELPS NO ONE. The lives of the people of Japan are NOT going to change if the Games are canceled! The failures of their leaders have been done! Those that have Covid, have it. The athletes that have arrived will NOT have contact with them – sadly. Canceling will be nothing but a STATEMENT. A very sad statement at that – of defeat. Of giving in to hype and pressure from those that have NOTHING INVESTED! Of group think, and bully politics. The crap that runs the world these days!

Let the athletes compete. Let them live out their dreams. And in the creed of the Olympic Games, let them provide a vision of HOPE to the rest of the world! For two to three weeks, let’s all smile and let these Games be our rainbow signaling the impending end to this crisis! Because that is what the Games, THESE GAMES are about!

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