Track and field

Redefining the notion of women's distance running

Redefining the notion of women's distance running

DOHA, Qatar — After all the noise the past few days over Alberto Salazar, finally, Sifan Hassan was free Saturday night to run.

She ran hard, she ran fast, she ran angry. She ran to make a statement and history.

Wow, did she make a statement — that the four-year doping ban handed Salazar late Monday was not going to be a distraction, that she was here on a mission and, people, get out of the way. 

What Sifan Hassan did here at the 2019 IAAF track and field championships may be nothing less than redefine the way we think about women’s distance running.

The first track championships in the Middle East

The first track championships in the Middle East

DOHA, Qatar — Like the sun rising in the east, some things are entirely predictable. 

1. Some number of athletes, particularly those from Europe, bitching about conditions at a world track and field championships. Observation: ’It’s hot.’ (Captains of the obvious!) Followed by hyperbole: a ‘disaster.’ 

2. The see-saw relationship with the press and track and field’s governing body. A few days into a championship, the press writes sky-is-falling stories. (Empty seats! It’s hot! A catastrophe!) The authorities naturally feel compelled to push back, IAAF president Seb Coe telling Associated Press in a story posted Wednesday that the complainers need to move along

“Can I just be a bit blunt about this?” Coe, elected here to a second four-year term as head of track and field’s world governing body, asked rhetorically. “The athletes talking about externalities are probably not the ones who are going to be walking home with medals from here. I have much, much bigger commitments and visions for our sport than to turn and head for home because we take an event into an area that poses problems.”

These 2019 IAAF world championships, now heading into the final weekend, seem destined to mark one of the most complex — and yet one of the most intriguing — legacies of any major championship from these first years of the 21st century. 

No Semenya: Uganda's Halimah Nakaayi, in 1:58.04, wins women's 800

DOHA, Qatar — It was 10 years ago already that Caster Semenya announced herself to the world. Just 18, a virtual unknown from South Africa, she won the women’s 800 meters at the IAAF world championships in Berlin. 

Since, the Semenya story has captivated, educated, intrigued, inspired, enraged and so much more, a debate over on, the one hand, the worth of every single person on Planet Earth to not only be who she or he is but the best she or he that he or she can be matched against, on the other, the fundamental question of what is fair tied up with the obligation of international sports authorities to be fair to everyone, not just someone.

There is no right or wrong in the complex mosaic of issues presented by the matter personified by Caster Semenya and, as it turns out, others with what has come to be called “differences of sexual development,” including the two other medalists in the women’s 800 at the Rio 2016 Summer Games, Francine Niyonsaba of Burundi and Margaret Wambui of Kenya.

To reiterate, there is no — speaking figuratively — black or white here. This is a matter subject to interpretation. It is all greys. This is why the debate, the politics, the posturing has been — is — so ferocious, and from so many sides. Just to pick one of many, many comments on the matter, this from U.S. racer Brenda Martinez here in Doha: “I’d rather race against an intersex athlete than a drug cheat.”

It’s also why Monday night’s championship final at the IAAF 2019 world championships marked either the end — 10 years later — of the Semenya story in track and field or, perhaps, a pause, just another  chapter, now amid a contentious legal process before next summer’s Tokyo Olympics.

Christian Coleman, and recasting the media narrative

Christian Coleman, and recasting the media narrative

DOHA, Qatar — The day after 23-year-old Christian Coleman became The Man, king of the 100 meters, the biggest deal in track and field, he was still the same guy he had been, always was, a grounded and sensible young man from a great American family.

As he made the rounds Sunday at the Team USA hotel, this was the Coleman ‘entourage’: his mom, Daphne, who holds a Ph.D. in education and is an instructional coach in the Atlanta schools; his dad, Seth, who is the media relations manager for the Atlanta public school system; an agent; and a manager. 

Where was the wacky scene so long associated with Usain Bolt? Where was the commotion? Where was — all of that?

People, don’t misunderstand. 

Christian Coleman is not Bolt, and the time has come for everyone to understand that is a good thing. 

The time is also now for everyone to understand that Coleman has been nothing but a good dude, and that the media narrative that has enveloped him to a significant degree over the past several weeks — totally unfairly — needs to be recast, particularly because Coleman’s victory Saturday at these IAAF 2019 championships arguably makes him the face of track and field heading into the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics.

Christian Coleman has something to prove -- and proves it, in 9.76 seconds

Christian Coleman has something to prove -- and proves it, in 9.76 seconds

DOHA, Qatar — There really wasn’t any doubt Saturday who was going to win the men’s 100 meters at these IAAF world championships.

Christian Coleman was it, in a runaway.

The only question, especially after Coleman came out blazing sub-10 in the prelims and went sub 9.9 in the semis and in that race ran hard for only 85 meters, was in what time and by how much.

Coleman, who burst onto the scene two years ago with a world championships 100 silver, dominated the late Saturday night final. He literally did run away with it, in 9.76 seconds, fastest in the world in 2019. It was his personal best time and the sixth-fastest in history.

Justin Gatlin, the London 2017 gold medalist, the man who dethroned Jamaica’s Usain Bolt in Bolt’s final championship 100, scraped into Friday’s final after coming in third in his semifinal. Incredibly, he then took second in the championship run, in 9.89. Andre DeGrasse of Canada got third, in a personal best 9.90.

Four more years for Coe, and first female VP in 107 years

Four more years for Coe, and first female VP in 107 years

DOHA, Qatar — So much to unpack from two hours of voting here Wednesday at the IAAF congress, so let’s get to it:

1. Seb Coe was unanimously re-elected as president. He gets four more years.

In 2015, Coe ran a tough race against Sergey Bubka of Ukraine. This time, Coe ran unopposed. 

He got 203 votes, out of 203.

This was a secret ballot. So for any of you who thought there might be even a single dissenter in a world body that over Coe’s first four-year term has seen multiple controversies — among them, the Russian doping matter and a legal dispute over differences of sexual development personified by the South African 800-meter champion Caster Semenya — think again.

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

Coleman case out because USADA doesn't do basic it demands of athletes: know the rules

It boggles the mind, truly, that the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency proved so inept, or something, that it moved Monday to announce it had “withdrawn” action against the world’s No. 1 sprinter, Christian Coleman. 

Was its official conduct negligent or more —was it reckless? Why the aggressive advocacy bordering — in recent months increasingly typical of the agency — on religious-style zealotry? Why the arrogance? 

How — seriously, how — could USADA not understand the rules? 

USADA’s basic mission, fundamentally before all else, is to understand the very rules that it says, time and again, over and over, that athletes must internalize, or else. 

And yet — because of USADA’s inability to understand the “whereabouts rules,” it very publicly brought a case against Coleman and, on Monday, embarrassingly — let’s be clear, embarrassingly, shamefully — dropped it.

Someone owes someone something, and before the very serious topic of money damages gets addressed, and that is a legitimate topic for discussion, because these past few weeks have been the height of the European professional track circuit, what there should be first is a very public apology, because — this was wrong.

Very, very wrong.

Just because the sports car is red doesn’t mean it’s gonna go fast

Just because the sports car is red doesn’t mean it’s gonna go fast

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Along with death and taxes, we experience other certainties.

LIfe also brings us American DQs — and other gruesome weirdnesses — in high-profile relays.

Why this is so remains an enduring mystery. Well, not really. It’s institutional and cultural. But as Sunday night’s close to the fourth edition of the IAAF World Relays proved yet again, it is very much so — so much that after two more DQs and a loss in the men’s 4x1 the happiest person in the U.S. track and field scene, as the jest in the press room went, in a nod to the politics that chronically beset American relays, was assuredly Carl Lewis.

Good news:

It’s May. The world championships aren’t until the fall, in Doha, Qatar, and all of 2019 is but a prelude pointing toward the big show, Tokyo and 2020. t’s eminently possible this can — could, should — get sorted out by this fall and, presumably, by next summer. Ronnie Baker isn’t here. Christian Coleman isn’t here. 

Bad news:

When it comes to the United States in the relays, as literally episode upon episode has made plain, Groundhog Day can happen anytime.

World Relays: at an inflection point

World Relays: at an inflection point

YOKOHAMA, Japan — Journalism is storytelling, and storytelling necessarily involves tension, and from the get-go an irreconcilable tension dictated the way local organizers and track and field’s international governing body approached this fourth edition of the IAAF World Relays.

The Japanese hosts necessarily and understandably viewed these Relays at 72,327-seat International Stadium — site of the 2002 World Cup soccer final that saw Brazil defeat Germany, 2-0 — as a test event for next summer’s Tokyo Olympics. Tokyo is maybe 35 minutes away. At a Friday news conference, Hiroshi Yokokawa, president of the Japanese track and field federation and member of the IAAF council, said, “The road [on which] we are now standing is heading straight to the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Koji Murofushi, the 2004 Athens hammer throw gold medalist who is the Tokyo 2020 sports director, called the Relays a “milestone for the Tokyo 2020 Games.” Even the athletes understood the direction, Ryota Yamagata, who ran on the Japanese men’s silver-medal 4x100 relay at the 2016 Rio Games, declaring at that same briefing, “We want to have a good start to the Tokyo 2020 Olympics and 37[-plus] seconds is a good benchmark.”

Compare to the words of IAAF president Seb Coe.

The Relays, Coe said at that very same news conference, make for a “suffusion of fun and innovation.”

In the matter of '46 XY DSD' cases: the IAAF is right

In the matter of '46 XY DSD' cases: the IAAF is right

In the complex, emotionally charged matter of 46 XY DSD cases: the IAAF is right.

There. I said it.

If you already feel like sending hate mail, roger. But, and for emphasis: the IAAF is right.

Let’s be straight-up: Caster Semenya’s many vocal supporters have sought to focus the story on Semenya alone. That’s not right or fair. There are others similarly situated, including for instance — as was recently acknowledged — the Rio 2016 800-meter runner-up Francine Niyonsaba. So the IAAF is hardly targeting Caster Semenya. 

What seeking to make this matter all about Caster Semenya does, however, is what a great deal if not almost all of the reportage about this matter has done: cast Semenya as the sympathetic if not profoundly empathetic protagonist in a classic narrative thread, the individual against the institution. 

What’s often missing completely from that storytelling — or buried way, way down at the bottom, because in today’s overheated social media-driven cauldron of outrage, very few want to speak up — are other voices, those who have their own dreams, too, literally millions of girls and women around the world, and here is where the IAAF is 100 percent dead-on right to go to court to ask, what about them?