Allyson Felix

The track and field calendar is a shambles, ugh

The track and field calendar is a shambles, ugh

Mike Rodgers ran the 100 meters in 9.89 seconds in the preliminary rounds of the U.S. track and field national championships Thursday in Des Moines, Iowa.

It was the fastest 100 meters, anywhere in the world, so far in 2018.

This raises several questions.

Why is Rodgers running that fast in — the prelims? 

Why, moreover, is a 33-year-old Mike Rodgers running in the 9.8s again after a 2017 that saw him run a best 10-flat and a 9.97 in 2016?

Rodgers ran 9.92 in Prague on June 4. And — here is the inexplicable thing about professional track and field — it has to be asked: why he is running that fast in 2018? For what reason?

Pride gets no one paid. Respect is awesome, and 9.89 is respectfully quick. But, again, track is a professional sport. 

And this is what in track circles is called an “off-year.” There’s no Olympics, no world championships. 

'The Meet,' London July 2018: one night, two hours, nine events

'The Meet,' London July 2018: one night, two hours, nine events

In life, you have to capitalize on momentum and opportunity. Think of it like running a relay in track and field. It’s a lot easier to succeed when you have a running start.

Track and field is at such a moment, coming out of the 2017 IAAF world championships in London, which featured sell-out crowds at Olympic Stadium, breakthrough performances by the British relay teams and, as well, a U.S. team that won a record 30 medals, including a historic 1-2 finish in the women’s steeplechase that went viral on social media.

With that as backdrop, British Athletics and USA Track & Field on Wednesday announced a one-night, your team against my team throw-down next summer, back at Olympic Stadium.

Organizers are calling it “The Meet.”

Appreciating genuine greatness when it -- she -- is right in front of us

Appreciating genuine greatness when it -- she -- is right in front of us

LONDON — It can be difficult sometimes, living as we do in the here and now, to appreciate the gift of genuine greatness when it — more accurately, she — is right in front of us.

There are so many demands on our attention, so many cries that so-and-so or such-and-such is the next big thing, the coming huge star. We whipsaw from this to that and back to this again, mesmerized, tantalized, titillated by the paparazzi-hounded, TMZ-stylized comings and goings of the larger-than-life, the outlandish, the can-you-top-this, the freak show at the club at 3 in the morning or maybe was it 4, dude, I forget.

When we say we want our kids to grow up and be someone like Allyson Felix.

On the start line now: 11 years, big upside

On the start line now: 11 years, big upside

LONDON — Somewhere, some 8- or 9- or 10-year-old kid is in her or his backyard, throwing or running or jumping and dreaming big dreams about maybe someday being, say, Allyson Felix, lithe and elegant, or Tianna Bartoletta, fast and focused, or maybe Christian Taylor or Ryan Crouser, guys who produce when the spotlight is brightest.

Never, perhaps, has track and field found itself at such an intriguing intersection, indeed one suddenly filled with potential.

There are the kids, and their dreams. There is the sport, with its many documented woes. There is also, genuinely, because of the award of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics, opportunity, and particularly in the United States.

What's really what: from Doha, LA's why

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In the aftermath of last week’s U.S. presidential elections, the news has been filled with, among other things, journalistic autopsies: how did so much of the media miss something so obvious?

Same Tuesday in a different political arena — the race for the 2024 Summer Games, and the first presentations by the three bid cities to significant numbers of International Olympic Committee members amid a meeting in Doha, Qatar, of the 205-member Assn. of National Olympic Committees.

Los Angeles, Paris and Budapest got their 20 minutes apiece, and the focus afterward in media accounts from all over was on the LA presentation and U.S. president-elect Donald Trump.

Evoking the same regrettable horse-race style coverage that dominated the election reporting, that made for “news” tied to the first major Olympic gathering since last Tuesday’s balloting.

So what? It had nothing to do with what really happened.

Be sure key Olympic officials, and others with a sense of the dynamics of bid-city campaigns, understand this all too well.

Every Olympic bid has to have two essential qualities — how and why.

LA on Tuesday put forward its why.

A little background first about the how:

— There’s nothing in memory like the LA how. With the IOC confronting widespread dissatisfaction in Europe and Asia over the ballooning costs of the Games, the LA proposal is simple: with the exception of a canoe venue, everything else is or will be built in a city already alive with dynamism, downtown in particular exploding with construction cranes. That means no crazy infrastructure costs.

Atop the spire that's now the tallest building west of the Mississippi River, Korean Air's $1.2 billion Wilshire Grand // Korean Air

Mayor Eric Garcetti at a recent event, the LA Times building in the background // Gary Leonard

— Further, LA mayor Eric Garcetti is a real person. He for sure is one smart dude. He also is personable and relatable. A recent picture of the mayor on a skateboard is surely a first in the history of Olympic campaigns.

For LA, how was thus always the easy part.

The hard part, seemingly: the why. On Tuesday, the LA people made that easy, too, and by taking on the really hard stuff:

America is not perfect. Far from it. The Games — they can help.

To expand:

The United States is a nation of immigrants. Most came willingly. A significant number, not. We are all in this together, the LA bid made plain Tuesday — a connection with the very essence of the Olympic message in our world.

An African-American athlete, Allyson Felix, the most decorated U.S. female track and field star in Olympic history, offered up real talk Tuesday, no spin, about the most vexing dilemma that has been at the core of the American experience from the beginning.

Allyson Felix at the lectern // ANOC and LA 24

Here is the gist of her remarks and because they are of such import, at some length:

“I’m here,” she said, “to talk about America.

“I want to tell you about the America that I love, and the America that needs the Games to help make our nation better — now, more than ever.

“America is diverse. We are a nation of people whose descendants came from all over the world for a better life. 

“But we’re also a nation with individuals like me — descendants of people who came to America not of their own free will but against it. 

“But we’re not a nation that clings to our past, no matter how glorious – or how painful. Americans rush towards the future.

“We just finished our presidential election, and some of you may question America’s commitment to its founding principles. 

“I have one message for you: please don't doubt us. America’s diversity is our greatest strength.

“Diversity is not easy.

“Diversity is a leap of faith — that embraces all faiths. 

“And that’s why I believe LA is a perfect choice for the 2024 Games, because the face of our city reflects the face of the Olympic movement itself.”

This had — correction, has — zero to do with Trump.

Yes, Felix acknowledged the election.

No, she did not mention Trump.

If Felix had wanted to say the words “president-elect” or “Trump,” she surely could and would have. How do you know this?

Because from among dozens of Olympic bids over the past 20 years, there have been a grand total of two that have cut the BS and told the members straight-up what was what. If you really insist on U.S. presidential politics, to borrow from John McCain and 2008 — the Straight Talk Express.

The first such bid: Almaty, two years ago, which straightforwardly made its case for the 2022 Winter Games, losing narrowly to Beijing.

And, now, LA.

If Garcetti — a political veteran — had wanted to mention Trump, he too surely could have. Instead, Garcetti said:

“… What I’m going to say is a little bit radical, and I’m pretty sure it’s the first time you’ve ever heard it from an Olympic bid. 

“We believe our campaign isn’t just about the Games in our city in 2024.  We believe this bid is about ensuring that the Games are sustainable beyond 2024 as well.

“In other words, this bid isn’t only about LA’s future – it’s about our collective future. This is a stark and unique difference about our bid.”

Look, most bids feature warm and fuzzy videos along with officials and politicians talking about kids and dreams and getting a couch filled with kids off that comfy couch. No one says what’s really what. This, not incidentally, is how the IOC got in the mess it’s in now — with cities all over western Europe abandoning Olympic bids for 2022, 2024 and even 2028.

Here is where this column acknowledges one more obvious piece: I live in Los Angeles. But I have no — zero — affiliation with the bid. At the same time, having covered every Olympic campaign since 1999, it's time now to get to it plainly. Here is what's what:

— This 2024 bid is it for Los Angeles and the United States. The time is now. If the IOC opts to go to Paris or Budapest, good luck, and enjoy the run afterward of Games in places like Doha and Baku, because the Europeans are already squeamish, the next three Games are in Asia (2018, 2020, 2022) amid financial and other challenges and the Americans won’t be coming back for a long, long time — not if the IOC were to turn down the three biggest cities in the United States, New York (2012), Chicago (2016) and then, in sequence, LA.

“We have learned many lessons from our previous bids,” USOC board chair Larry Probst said at Tuesday’s meeting, “and failure can be a great teacher.”

— Unlike in other nations, an American bid has no government money. None. It must all be privately funded. With that in mind, there is no chance — zero — that Casey Wasserman, the LA bid leader, can go back to the assorted business leaders who in just a few days donated the likes of $35 million toward this 2024 effort and gin up enthusiasm for another round.

— Oh, and if LA gets dinged, good luck with sponsor and broadcast interest going forward, too.

These things are by no means threats. There’s no gauntlet. But unless we are all willing — together — to speak, and hear, the truth, the IOC and Olympic movement assume serious if not critical danger of losing their relevance.

That is the real news from Tuesday in Doha.

When he was 13, Garcetti told the ANOC assembly on Tuesday, the 1984 Olympics came to LA. Here is what he said next, and again at length, because these words are not just heartfelt — they need to be heard:

“I saw the face of the world on the streets of Los Angeles and I became a believer in the power of the Olympic movement to transform the world. 

“I still believe that today, more than ever. My first act as mayor on my first day serving,” three years ago, “was to write a letter to the IOC to pursue the 2024 Games.

“My vision of America is a country that is informed by that vision.

“I see an America that is outward-looking, ready to play its role alongside the community of nations to address our world’s most pressing challenges.

“Choose LA 2024 and help us show a new generation of Americans that our strength is being with the world, not turning our backs to it.”

31 medals (at least), all with class and character

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RIO de JANEIRO — For a generation, USA Track & Field has been chasing an elusive goal: 30 Olympic medals.

Here in Rio, in a run at Olympic Stadium that underscores the major up-pointing trend in the American track and field scene, the Americans have — through Saturday night — won 31. The men’s marathon is yet to come Sunday. Those due to run include Meg Keflezighi, silver medalist at Athens 2004 and winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

After the women's 4x4 relay

On Saturday night, Matthew Centrowitz Jr. won the men’s 1500m in a front-running, tactically savvy 3:50 flat — the first gold for the United States in that race since 1908. In the men’s 5000, Britain’s Mo Farah won, completing the 2012 and 2016 5000m and 10,000m distance double, the American Paul Chelimo crossing the line second. Moments later, Chelimo was disqualified for a lane infringement; then, later, in the evening, he was reinstated, the first U.S. men’s 5k medal since Tokyo 1964.

Those were medals 28 and 29.

Then came the women’s and men’s 4x400 relays. Both American teams won, medals 30 and 31, Allyson Felix anchoring to a sixth straight Olympic victory for the U.S. women, all four thereafter carrying around the stadium a banner that said, “Thank you, Rio.”

To read the rest of this column, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/2bcINiF

Weird, easy, fun: a one-off relay run-off

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RIO de JANEIRO — Some people love, in their lives, to create drama. Allyson Felix is not one of these people. She is calm, steady, composed, even-keeled. Pretty much all the time.

Some mysterious karma, however, seemingly delights in connecting the Olympic experience and Allyson Felix with weird mega-drama.

Morolake Akinosun, English Gardner and Allyson Felix after qualifying in the re-run // Getty Images

“Why me?” Felix said Thursday evening with a smile.

Referring to her brother and manager, Wes, she said, “I was laughing with my brother about it. Sometimes you just have to laugh. Yeah … it’s just very, very strange.”

In what is widely believed to be an unprecedented Olympic relay do-over, the U.S. women’s 4x100m team — with Felix pulling the second leg — ran Thursday morning in a tangled mess, then got the chance Thursday evening to run again, in a time trial, to try to qualify for the relay final back here Friday night at Olympic Stadium.

To read the rest of this column, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/2bMU9xs

The ups and downs of 'hardest team to make'

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EUGENE — As Sunday’s final-day action at historic Hayward Field got underway, the crowd was told — this is the mantra of the 2016 Trials — that the U.S. Olympic track and field team is “the hardest team to make.” It’s not. The swim team is way harder. But more on that in a moment.

What is indisputably true: the 10-day run of the Trials is a study in emotion. One, two or three in Eugene is typically cause for joy. What, though, about four, five or farther down?

Amid all the celebrating, and there was plenty of it Sunday with nine finals that saw the likes of teenager Sydney McLaughlin (third place, women’s 400 hurdles, first 16-year-old on the U.S. team in 40 years) and 21-year-old Byron Robinson (second, men’s 400 hurdles) secure Rio spots, the real story of the Trials is, and always will be, disappointment.

And how to handle it.

Track and field’s global governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, had reconfigured the Rio 2016 schedule so that Allyson Felix could try for the 200-400 double. Here, Felix won the 400. On Sunday, though, she finished fourth in the 200, one-hundredth of a second out.

Just after the finish in the 200: Tori Bowie, left, is the winner; Jenna Prandini, on the ground, is third; Allyson Felix, in blue, fourth; Deajah Stevens, right in green, second // Getty Images

“Honestly, I’m disappointed,” Felix said. “All year I planned for this race, and for it to end here, it’s disappointing. But when I look back and see everything that happened,” in particular an ankle injury this spring, “I still think it’s quite amazing that I was able to make this team. I feel like everything was against me.”

The tension and drama of the Trials makes for a once-evey-four-years study in how to handle what life gives you — or throws at you.

As Jenny Simpson, the Daegu 2011 world championship gold medalist who on Sunday won a ferocious women’s 1500 in 4:04.74, put it, “On the starting line, you have that balance of confidence and doubt,” adding that track and field is, and has to be, a "really selfish sport — it’s you against the world.”

She added, “The selection process makes you go through the fire,” adding in a reference to the Trials, “The gift we get from this really horrible and brutal experience is that when we get to the Games we have a sense we have done something difficult already and we are prepared.”

Erik Kynard, the 2012 Trials runner-up in the high jump, went to London and won silver. Here Sunday, he won the 2016 Trials. Asked what he learned from 2012, he said, with a laugh, “Jump higher.”

Robinson, after the 400 hurdles, “I’m shellshocked. I’m overcome with joy.” He also said, “I just wanted a chance, you know?”

Generally speaking, top-three at the track and field Trials go to the Games. Everyone else stays home.

With all due respect to Charles Barkley, and his assertion that sports stars are not role models — sorry, they are. That’s the case all the more in track and field; participation in track and field in high school and college remains robust.

“Knowing we’re doing it right, knowing we’re doing it the right way — hopefully we’re inspiring young women,” said Shannon Rowbury, the Berlin 2009 worlds bronze medalist who took second in Sunday’s women’s 1500 in 4:05.39.

Math makes plain that roughly nine of 10 of those who showed up here to compete in Eugene will not be heading to Rio. But it’s even harder to make the U.S. swim team.

Some numbers:

The swim Trials, in Omaha this month, held 52 spots. In swimming, moreover, qualifying is, again speaking generally, not top-three; it’s top two.

Because of doubles or even triples — the likes of Michael Phelps, Katie Ledecky and Maya DiRado will each compete in multiple events in Rio — the field of 52 going to Rio will actually be 45.

That’s out of 1,737 entries, according to USA Swimming.

Math: 2.5 percent of those in Omaha are heading to Rio.

In track and field, there are 141 spots, including relays.

Not all spots get filled because Americans will not have met qualifying standards set by track’s global governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations.

By meet’s end, per USA Track & Field, there were 1,077 declared entries, 879 individual athletes.

To make the math as apples-to-apples as possible, and acknowledging that 141 is a loose number — 141 over 1,077 is 13.1 percent.

When you’re part of that magical 13 percent, it’s easy.

“I couldn’t ask for more,” Tori Bowie, the women’s 200-meter winner, said after Sunday’s racing. She took third in the 100, and now gets to double in Rio.

“I can’t believe this is happening right now,” the teenager McLaughlin said, adding a moment later, “My mind was on finishing the race and eating a cheeseburger.”

When you’re not?

Compare and contrast:

In the women’s 800 last Monday, Alysia Montaño fell on the final backstretch. She wailed. She fell to her knees. She cried.

This made for great TV.

At the same time, if a junior-high or high school athlete did this, what would the likely reaction be from his or her coach?

Meeting the press after with 2-year-old daughter, Linnea, in tow, Montaño said, “This is it, you know. You get up and you’re, like, really far away and your heart breaks.”

From there, it turned into something akin to a therapy session, Montaño saying her “biggest struggle this year” had been “finding peace and why I’m even trying for an Olympic team,” calling it all that “emotional baggage.”

Montaño was justifiably lauded two years ago when, 34 weeks pregnant, she ran the 800 at the U.S. national championships — a role model, for sure, on many levels.

Here?

“Eight years of my life as a professional runner, my entire professional career, has been a farce, basically,” she said. “Now everyone’s talking about the Russians not running in the Olympics but they’re missing the point. The IAAF is a corrupt institution that is still running the Games.”

It wasn’t until a day later that Montaño — who is active on social media and says her fans help her “pick up the pieces” — filed this to Twitter, congratulating Kate Grace, Ajee’ Wilson and Chrishuna Williams, who finished 1-2-3 in the race:

https://twitter.com/AlysiaMontano/status/750476446796124160

The sequence that sent Monaño to the track also took out Brenda Martinez. She won bronze at the 2013 Moscow worlds in the 800.

Martinez would say after the 2016 Trials 800, “I felt great but I got clipped from behind. That’s track and field. I’ve got to get ready for the 1500. Some days it doesn’t go your way. Today it was me.”

Left to right: Shannon Rowbury, Brenda Martinez, Jenny Simpson after the 1500 // Getty Images

Instant-karma department: on Sunday, Martinez got third in the 1500, by three-hundredths of a second, finishing in 4:06.16. She got there with a finish-line dive.

“However people want to take it,” Martinez said. “I feel like it had to happen for a reason. That’s the way I believe life works, you know: you’re going to get tested. If people can see what I went through, then maybe they won’t doubt themselves the next time something happens to them.”

Make no mistake: Martinez’s third was very popular, with the crowd, with Rowbury and Simpson and with many others.

Simpson made a point of saying she had reached out after the 800 to Martinez. And for all that there is in, and justifiably, in being “selfish,” Simpson said, “I went to the starting line with a little bit more love … and a litttle bit less selfishness than in the past.”

Emma Coburn, the steeplechase winner here, posted to Twitter:

https://twitter.com/emmajcoburn/status/752293842729054208

In London four years ago, Leo Manzano won silver in the men’s 1500. He was the first American to medal in the 1500 since Jim Ryun in 1968.

On Sunday in the rain, Manzano, battling Ben Blankenship for the third and final spot in the 1500, reached for a gear he had often found before. It wasn’t there. Manzano took fourth, in 3:36.62 — not even half a second behind Blankenship, 3:36.18.

Matthew Centrowitz won the race, and easily, in 3:34.09. Robby Andrews got second, 3:34.88.

The race proved the fastest Trials 1500 ever, Centrowitz breaking Steve Scott’s 1980 Trials mark, 3:35.15, and the top-four putting down the Trials’ quickest top-four times.

In the London 1500, Centrowitz took fourth. “I'm ready for whatever they throw at me in Rio,” he said Sunday. “If it’s a 3:33 race, I’m ready for that.”

Manzano: “I wish the result had been different. Unfortuantely, it’s not. You’ve got to face the facts, and congratulte your teammates. They fought hard today. It wasn’t my day today.”

In the men’s 110-meter hurdles, Aries Merritt won bronze at last year’s world championships in Beijing, running on kidneys that were so bad he underwent a transplant — his sister the donor. Merritt is the 2012 London gold medalist and, as well, the world record holder in the event, 12.8.

In Saturday’s 110 hurdle final, Merritt finished fourth — like Felix in the 200, exactly one-hundredth away from third. He crossed in 13.22 seconds. Jeff Porter and Ronnie Ash went 3-2, both in 13.21; University of Oregon star Devon Allen ran away with the event, 13.03.

Merritt afterward: “Given the circumstances, I did the best I could with what I had and I came up a little bit short. I’ve come to grips with it. But it couldn’t be worse than being told you’ll never run again. I’ve been to the Olympics, I’ve won the Olympic Games, I’ve broken the world record. I mean, someone else can have a turn.”

In that same race, Jason Richardson finished fifth, in 13.28. He is the London silver medalist and the Daegu 2011 world champion.

His reaction:

https://twitter.com/JaiRich/status/751951488054808576

Jillian Camarena-Williams, a two-time Olympian, is 34. She and her husband, Dustin, 38, who will be the head trainer for the U.S. track team in Rio, married after the Berlin 2009 world championships. They moved to Tucson after the 2011 worlds. Their daughter, Miley, was born on the very day of the women’s shot put event at the 2014 championships in Sacramento.

“Our relationship is all about track meets,” she said, laughing.

The thing is — it’s not.

Camarena-Williams herniated her back at the London Games. She needed surgery. Then she had to decide — should I try to come back? If so, why?

The answers:

“I missed the sport and the people that are in it, the people that have helped me throughout my career,” she said in a quiet moment Sunday.

She also talked about what she called “my journey.”

Track brought her a husband and now a family: "It’s more about the places we were able to go, people we were able to meet than the outcome. I have talked to young people and brought my medals,” including a third in Daegu in 2011, the first medal of any kind for an American woman in the shot in the history of the track worlds.

“I love these medals. They represent that journey to me. But they just sit in my drawer. They don’t hang in our house. We’re porud of them. But we’re way more exicted about the things we were able to do along the way than the actual hardware.”

After the third throw — of six — here, in the rain, Camarena-Wiilliams stood third. But she knew it wouldn’t be enough.

Dustin, Jillian and 2-year-old Miley

Heading out for her final throw, in round six, Camarena-Williams’ sister, 36-year-old sister, Christi, a nurse in Sacramento, told her, “Just smile. Go out there and enjoy yourself.”

Michelle Carter, on her sixth and final throw, won, in 19.59 meters, 64 feet, 3-1/4 inches. Raven Saunders and Felisha Johnson finished 2-3. Camarena-Williams ended at 18.81, 61 8-1/2.

A lot of family was here in Eugene for Jillian and Dustin. Her mother. Two of her three siblings. A cousin with her two daughters. His brother. Two sets of his aunts and uncles.

Coaches.

And, of course, 2-year-old Miley.

“It’s a village that supports us to get [to the Olympics] in the first place,” Rowbury would observe. “It’s a commitment to trying to be the best you can be, a commitment to the people who support you along the way and a commitment to honor your country.”

"No matter what I do in life," Robinson said, "if the people back home aren’t proud of me I know that I didn’t really live up to expectations. Knowing that they are behind me, I know I can achieve anything."

After Jillian Camarena-Williams' final throw, no tears. She went looking for her husband and their daughter.

“Sometimes,” she said Sunday, holding the baby, “you are overtaken with emotion. So much can happen. I feel like I’m in a really good place with our family and where we’re at. It was disappointing, but I have to put a smile on my face and be grateful for what we have, outside the track.

“And we have a lot.”

 

Change for better at USATF: believe it

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EUGENE — Jackie Joyner-Kersee is arguably the greatest female American track and field athlete of all time. Competing across four editions of the Olympics in the long jump and the heptathlon, she won six medals, three gold. Before Max Siegel took over as chief executive of USA Track & Field, Jackie Joyner-Kersee had never — repeat, never — been invited to USATF headquarters in Indianapolis.

Let that sink in for a moment.

“I don’t want to believe the design was to leave people on the outside,” Joyner-Kersee said here amid the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials. “It was just business as usual. It became normal. You think that is the way it is supposed to be.”

Culture change is about the most difficult thing there is to effect, all the more so in the Olympic sports sphere.

Max Siegel, USATF chief executive, at Tuesday's news conference // Errol Anderson

At work now — in real time — is a profound culture shift for the better at USATF, which is, as Siegel put it Tuesday, both the economic engine and the governing body of track and field in the United States.

Of course there are critics, non-believers, doomsayers.

All constructive criticism is more than welcome, Siegel observing that such observations can “point out our weaknesses” and thus be “really healthy for us.” He added, “People should continue to express their criticism, their concern and hopefully their praise for the organization.”

To be sure, USATF is far from perfect. No institution is perfect. No institution can ever be perfect.

At the same time, praise where praise is due:

USATF, long the most-dysfunctional federation in the so-called U.S. “Olympic family,” has — in the four years since Siegel took over — taken concrete, demonstrative steps to become a leader in the field.

True — by virtually any metric.

Joyner-Kersee: “Change is hard. Most of the time, you don’t see change until years down the road. But there are certain things that are being put in place where, at the beginning, you might not understand why. But when the moment comes, you see it’s working out.”

For the first time in recent memory, these 2016 Trials are what they should be: a commemoration of the sport’s vibrant past as well as a well-run production at go time with an eye toward the future, in particular the 2021 world championships, back here at historic Hayward Field.

The evidence is all around Hayward, and Eugene:

Here was John Carlos, the legend from the 1968 Mexico City Olympics, singing autographs.

One of many pics from John Carlos' Sunday at Hayward // John Carlos Facebook page

Here was Adam Nelson being presented the 2004 Athens Games shot put gold medal in a Hayward ceremony. Nelson, who had initially finished second, was moved up to gold when Ukraine’s Yuri Bilonoh was, to little surprise, confirmed a doper. In 2016, Nelson got what he deserved — a ceremony before thousands cheering for him, and for competing clean. Then he went out and tried to qualify for the 2016 team, making the finals and finishing seventh. All good for a guy who on Thursday turns 41.

https://twitter.com/AdamMcNelson/status/748907838584463362

https://twitter.com/ryanmfenton/status/750129069384019968

Here, during the next-to-last lap during a prelim in the men’s 5,000, came the javelin champion Cyrus Hosteler — waving an American flag, racing exuberantly down the curve and the homestretch in the outside lane while the pack zipped by on the inside.

Here, too, behind Hayward have been hundreds, maybe thousands, of kids racing in the “little sprinters” section. Or outside the stadium — kids and grown-ups trying their luck at throwing the shot.

All of it amid the county-fair smell of kettle corn, and under brilliant blue skies.

Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown, the local organizers, who is as well the 2016 U.S. Olympic track team men's head coach, said much strategizing had gone into what he called two “common themes — bringing the athletes into close contact with the fans and introducing as many boys and girls to running, jumping and throwing as possible.”

He also said, “It is my hope that by shining a spotlight on certain events, by working hard to attract boys and girls to the sport, and by celebrating the amazing heritage of our athletes at these 2016 Olympic Trials, that we’ll really grow the awareness of today’s track and field heroes in the mind of Americans.

“And I hope that by 2021, when the world comes to Oregon for the IAAF world championships, the stars of Team USA are household names. I’m sure that on the final night of these Trials we’ll be strategizing about what next steps we can take to make that happen.”

At this point, the skeptic cries — wait. NBC sent Bob Costas to Omaha last week for the swim Trials. There Costas interviewed the stars Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky.

Is Costas in Eugene? No.

Then again, on Sunday alone, U.S. athletes set seven world-leading marks; the hashtag “#TrackTown16” trended globally on Twitter; the USATF production team launched its first Snapchat story; and three of the five top trending items on Facebook were the U.S. track stars Allyson Felix, LaShawn Merritt and Justin Gatlin.

USATF will send a team of roughly 125 athlete to Rio, roughly a quarter of the entire U.S. delegation. Halfway through these Trials, 50 track and field athletes have been named. Of those 50, 35 are first-time Olympians. In these disciplines all three qualifiers will be first-timers: men’s and women’s 800; men’s pole vault, men’s long jump, women’s discus.

It’s all quite a change from four years ago.

Siegel had just taken over just weeks before as CEO. The 2012 Trials were marked by a bizarre dead-heat in the women’s 100 that became a worldwide source of ridicule. Plus, there was the weather.

As Siegel said Tuesday in a state-of-the-sport news conference, “It is a lot different for me. It was raining and I was in the middle of a dead heat a couple weeks on the job.”

Lots of things are indisputably a lot different.

Watching the Trials: either from the Hayward stands or picnic-style

Welcome to the team -- the athlete reception room for USATF Rio processing

Trying on uniforms -- here at team processing

First and foremost, USATF used to run with an annual budget of roughly $16 to $18 million. This year, it’s $36 million — the product of 17 new deals in the past 48 months, including 12 new corporate partnerships.

Has USATF figured out how to make track athletes the kind of money NFL or NBA players get?

No.

But, working in collaboration with its athletes’ council, chaired by long jump champion Dwight Phillips, for the first time an athlete who makes the U.S. national team gets $10,000 along with bonuses of up to $25,000 for Olympic gold medals. That’s all in addition to dollars that can come from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

Does that automatically make a track star a millionaire? No.

Is it a start? Yes. Just “scratching the surface,” Siegel said.

And, as Siegel pointed out, it’s reasonable to ask whether it’s fair to compare, on the one hand, track and field with, on the other, the NBA or NFL.

The pro leagues are for-profit enterprises. Moreover, they are unionized.

USATF is a not-for-profit entity. Plus, its charge is to serve not only elite athletes but also a variety of grass-roots programs.

“The conversation gets a little cloudy when people have whatever their personal definition is about sharing money with athletes,” he said. “If you host an event that gives an athlete a platform, some would say that’s not money in the athlete’s pocket. But someone needs to fund those things.”

Which leads directly to the central point.

When he took over, Siegel said, he saw two primary objectives: to effect organizational stability and to drive innovation.

Another innovation nugget: Wednesday’s hammer throw competition, to be held inside Hayward, will be available via desktop, tablet, mobile and connected TV devices. Here is the livestream link for the women's competition. And the men's.

Most important:

For the first time in maybe ever, USATF can pronounce itself stable.

Nothing — repeat, nothing — is possible without that stability, and anyone who is being reasonable would have to acknowledge that much of the criticism that attends USATF comes from those who for years have accepted intense variability as part of the landscape, often seeking to leverage that instability in the pursuit of petty politics or otherwise.

Before Siegel took over, Nelson said, “No one trusted the leadership,” adding, “When that trust is broken, a power grab goes on.”

He also said, “There is a culture change happening. There have been major changes at work at USATF in the last four years.”

Hawi Keflezeghi, the agent whose clients include Boris Berian, runner-up in the men’s 800, recently sent Siegel an email — quoted here with permission — that said, in part, “Your commitment to elite athletes through the high performance program is evident & greatly appreciated,” adding, “Thank you for all your efforts & leadership.”

Keflezighi, in an interview, said, speaking generally about the state of the sport, “If you are quick to criticize, be quick to acknowledge the good that is going on, too. Be objective enough to see it.”

Nelson, referring both to track and field generally and USATF specifically, said, “This is a family, and I genuinely mean that — even when a family fights, even when a family disagrees.

“But for a family to survive, you have to find ways to break down those barriers and re-establish communication.”

This is the key to Siegel’s style. And why USATF is on the upswing.

For students of management, he alluded to four different facets of his way in his Tuesday remarks.

One: “My style is not to discuss [in the press] things that are happening or resolutions that need to be made in the privacy of business.”

If you think that means he’s not transparent — wrong. All in, Siegel spent 50 minutes Tuesday at the lectern, half of that answering any and all questions. Beyond which, the USATF website holds the answer to almost every organizational or financial question.

Two, he and chief operating officer Renee Washington place a tremendous emphasis on — as much as possible — working collaboratively with the many stakeholders in the USATF universe.

The athlete revenue distribution — or sharing, if you like — plan?

“We worked collaboratively and painstakingly and long, and put in a collective effort with [the athlete council] … to come up with a system that was fair,” Siegel said, adding, “We continue to work in a fluid manner to improve it.”

Three, Siegel and Washington are quick to credit others.

USATF staffers, he said, “work tirelessly, are equally as passionate, care about the sport and wake up every day trying to do the best job possible.”

At Tuesday’s event, he singled out, among others in the room, Duffy Mahoney and Robert Chapman in the high performance division; and the four-time Olympian Aretha Thurmond, who has the complex job of overseeing logistics, travel and uniforms for international teams.

Too, he said, “I can not say enough about our partners at TrackTown and the city of Eugene.”

Four, Siegel can approach problems with either a macro or micro approach — whichever is, depending on the situation, most appropriate.

Micro: “We have been trying really hard to pay attention to small details that people don’t see,” he said, down to the way team uniforms get packed in the bags, with care and attention, evidence of “what it feels like to be treated with dignity and respect and the kind of importance that an athlete deserves.”

Macro: “For us as a community, for all of us who really love track and field, who would love to see the sport grow, it is not rocket science: people have to want to consume the product. You have to have people who are willing to buy tickets to the event, sponsors who are willing to spend money, people who are willing to spend merchandise.

“As a community, I would love to change the tone of our conversation. To figure out, OK — true, this is where we are falling short. But what do we do as a community to make sure that our sport is front and center with all the other properties out there?”

Change can be hard. But it can also be good. When it's right in front of your face, you just have to see which way it's pointing, Joyner-Kersee saying, “With that change, now you have athletes wanting to know: where is the office?”

On Justin Gatlin: 'The man is just good'

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EUGENE — Justin Gatlin cruised Sunday to victory in the men’s 100-meter dash at the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials, setting in motion the next chapter in a long-running drama about the interplay of reality and perception mixed with the unlimited possibilities and enormous potential of redemption.

Or, not.

Gatlin, who is 34, ancient by sprint standards, ran 9.8 seconds to defeat Trayvon Bromell, who turns 21 next week, and Marvin Bracy, who is 22 and a former Florida State wide receiver who three years ago gave up football to run track. Bromell is the 2015 world bronze medalist; Bracy is the 2014 world indoor silver medalist at 60 meters.

Bromell ran 9.84, Bracy 9.98. The outcome was never seriously in doubt. Gatlin got off to his usual solid start and ran clean and hard through the line.

“I have new peers,” Gatlin said. “I have to be able to evolve with that. These young talented guys keep pushing me and I keep pushing them.”

Justin Gatlin celebrates his Trials victory // Getty Images

Justin and Jace Gatlin, Trayvon Bromell and Marvin Bracy after the race

The 100-meter final highlighted a series of finals under brilliant blue skies and before a solid crowd of 22,424 at historic Hayward Field.

In the women’s 400, Allyson Felix, running on a bum ankle, blew by the other seven women in the homestretch like they were standing still to win in 49.68. Phyllis Francis went 49.94, Natasha Hastings 50.17.

The call on NBC — “Here comes Allyson Felix! Felix just goes right by them!” — hardly does justice to her finishing kick. It was just — outrageous. As she crossed the line, she said, “Thank you, lord.”

“That’s why she’s great,” the NBC analyst Ato Boldon said. “Because somehow she always finds a way.”

“It’s up there,” Felix said afterward when asked to rate how the race ranks in her career. “I don’t think I’ve ever gone into a race with so much against me.”

Felix’s quest to qualify in the 200 as well gets underway with prelims Friday: “My goals haven’t changed at all.”

Allyson Felix running to victory in the 400 // Getty Images

In the decathlon, Ashton Eaton earned the chance to go for back-to-back Olympic gold. Never really threatened, he took first with 8750 points. With Trey Hardee out because of injury, Jeremy Taiwo took second, with 8425. Zach Ziemek got third, 8413.

The men’s 400 saw LaShawn Merritt go 43.97, the eighth time he has broken 44 and, as well, fastest time in the world this year. Gil Roberts took second in 44.73, David Verburg third in 44.82.

In Rio, Merritt, the Beijing 2008 gold medalist in the 400, likely will resume his rivalry with Kirani James of Grenada, the London 2012 winner. “I trained very hard for this season,” Merritt said. “I wanted to go out there and win another Olympic Trials.”

The 32-year-old mother of three, Chaunte Lowe, won the women’s high jump, at 2.01 meters, or 6 feet, 7 inches — Rio will be her fourth Olympics. The 18-year-old Vashti Cunningham, the 2016 world indoor champion, took second, at 1.97, 6-5 1/2; she becomes the youngest U.S. track and field Olympian in 36 years. Inika McPherson got third, 1.93, 6-4.

“The high jump has never had this much depth,” Lowe said. “I had to train my butt off every day.”

In the men’s long jump, Jeffrey Henderson ripped off a fourth-round jump of 8.59, 28-2 1/4, for the win. In the next round, Jarrion Lawson went 8.58, 28-1 3/4.

Will Claye, the London 2012 long jump bronze medalist (and triple jump silver medalist), took third, with a fifth-round 8.42, 27-7 1/2. The Buffalo Bills wide receiver Marquise Goodwin finished seventh.

Marquis Dendy matched Claye’s jump but Claye held the second-longest jump tiebreaker. Dendy, meanwhile, pulled up limping after Round 4 and passed on his last two jumps.

Even so, and this makes for emphatic evidence of why the rules of track and field can be so trying for the average fan -- while Claye is the third-place finisher, Dendy is the third Rio qualifier.

USA Track & Field explains:

"Will Claye and Marquis Dendy each had marks of 8.42m/27-7.5 today with Claye holding the better secondary mark to secure third place. However, Claye’s best jump today was wind-aided and his best legal mark since May 1 of last year was an 8.14m/26-8.50 from the Trials qualifying round on Saturday, which is one centimeter away from the Olympic standard. There is no standard chasing at the track & field trials, thus Dendy is the third qualifier for Rio."

Moving along:

In a women’s 100 final that saw five of the eight go under 11 seconds, English Gardner ran to victory in 10.74. Tianna Bartoletta and Tori Bowie crossed in 10.78. Bartoletta on Saturday had qualified for the Rio women’s long jump, taking second behind Brittney Reese.

At the line, left to right: Gardner, Bartoletta, Bowie // Getty Images

“Honestly, I remember 2012,” Gardner said, recalling her seventh-place finish here at Hayward four years ago, when she ran 11.28. “I sat in the car. And I cried my eyes out. I came to the realization I never wanted to feel that feeling again.”

“I have to conquer myself,” Bartoletta said. “One of the things I studied between jumps and between rounds is that conquering myself is the only victory that matters.”

She also said, “It really comes down to mental preparation or execution. Physics does not care how you feel or if you’re having a bad day emotionally. All you have to do is execute.”

Gardner added with a smile, “Our relay is going to be nasty,” and in this context “nasty” means good.

Justin Gatlin can far too often be portrayed in the worldwide press as nasty, and in this instance nasty means nasty.

Nothing could be farther from the truth. At the celebratory news conference, he brought his son, Jace, who just turned 6. The proud father said, “I’m glad my son is here.”

The victory in Sunday’s 100 sends Gatlin to his third Olympic Games and, presumably, his fourth major championship run against Jamaica’s Usain Bolt.

In the semis, Gatlin ran 9.83, the fastest time in the world this year. In the next heat, Bromell answered with a 9.86.

In the final about 90 minutes later, Gatlin, in Lane 3, was fully in control. He knew when he had crossed that he had won, flashing a left-handed No. 1 to the crowd.

Tyson Gay took fifth, in 10.03.

Lawson, having just taken second in the long jump, lined it up just a few minutes later in Lane 1 of the 100 final. He got seventh, 10.07.

When he was 22, Gatlin won the 2004 Athens Olympic 100.

By then, he had served a year off after taking Adderall. He took it to help stay focused for midterms at Tennessee. A stipulated agreement — between Gatlin and the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency — declared that Gatlin “neither cheated nor intended to cheat.”

In 2006, Gatlin — training with Trevor Graham, who would emerge as one of the central figures in the BALCO scandal — tested positive for testosterone.

To make a very long story as simple as possible, Gatlin would serve four years off for this second strike — even though he and supporters have long insisted, with sound reasoning, that the Adderall matter ought not to be held against him in a significant way, and even though it has long remained unclear how Gatlin came to test positive in 2006 for testosterone.

Jeff Novitzky, the federal agent who helped break the BALCO matter, would later testify that he had asked Gatlin if he “used any prohibited substances.” The answer: “His answer was no, never knowingly.” Novitzky added: “… I have not obtained any evidence of his knowing receipt and use of banned substances.”

It was during Gatln’s four years off that Bolt not only burst onto the scene but became the international face of track and field.

Bolt at the Jamaican Trials // Ayako Oikawa

Not counting the 200 or relays:

Bolt is the Beijing 2008 and London 2012 100 champion. He also won the 100 at the world championships in 2009 (Berlin), 2013 (Moscow) and 2015 (back in Beijing).

Over the years, Bolt seemingly could do no wrong. Gatlin, meantime, was often painted — inappropriately — as a two-time loser instead of what he more accurately is: a victim of circumstances.

Bolt and Gatlin squared off In those Olympic and worlds 100s in 2012, 2013 and 2015.

In 2012, Gatlin got bronze.

In 2013, silver.

Last summer in Beijing, Gatlin had the race — but then couldn’t hold his form powering toward the finish line, stumbling just enough to allow Bolt to get by. Bolt finished in 9.79, Gatlin in 9.80.

For years, the British press in particular has savaged Gatlin.

“He’s saved his title, he’s saved his reputation — he may even have saved his sport,” the BBC commentator and former world champion Steve Cram exulted as Bolt crossed ahead of Gatlin in the 100. Many in the British press had painted the race as nothing less than a clash of good and evil.

At the Jamaican Trials, which went down over the past several days, Bolt pulled out with what has been described as a “Grade 1” hamstring tear.

It’s not exactly that his participation in Rio is in doubt. Pretty much everyone in track and field expects Bolt to be there.

The issue is what kind of shape Bolt will be in. Gatlin, here, said he ran through the same injury at the 2013 worlds — managing, he said, to be at maybe 75 percent.

https://twitter.com/usainbolt/status/749076079462277121

“He’ll be very fit to be in Rio,” assuming Jamaican officials select him, Ricky Simms, Bolt’s agent who is in Eugene, said Sunday.

Of course he will be selected.

If Bolt is healthy — enough — to make the Rio final, what if Gatlin — finally — prevails?

Is the world ready to accept Justin Gatlin as he is?

As an intelligent, eloquent guy with deep family ties? Who happily signs autographs and poses for pictures and selfies with kids and grown-ups alike?

As a man who has made mistakes — who hasn’t — but has fought, and hard, to come back.

As a man who not only loves competing for the American team but cherishes the opportunity to do so?

In answering those questions, compare and contrast the case of the whistleblower Yulia Stepanova.

The sport’s international governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, has banned Russia’s track and field team amid explosive allegations of state-sponsored doping.

The 800-meter runner Stepanova and her husband, Vitaly Stepanov, a former Russian anti-doping agency doping control officer, served as the two primary whistleblowers in a German television documentary that in December 2014 brought the matter to worldwide attention.

A few days ago, the IAAF gave Stepanova permission to compete in Rio as a “neutral” athlete.

Rune Andersen, who leads the IAAF task force investigating the Russian matter, in recommending Stepanova’s case be “considered favorably,” had also said, “Any individual athlete who has made an extraordinary contribution to the fight against doping in sport should also be able to apply.”

The matter is far from settled. At any rate, Stepanova might return to international competition as soon as this week’s European championships. She and her husband, and their young son, are now living in exile in the United States.

Consider, meantime, the way the Guardian — which among the British papers has actually been relatively restrained in its descriptions of Gatlin — described the latest IAAF turn in the Stepanova case.

The first paragraph said she “bravely and spectacularly blew the whistle on widespread doping inside her country.”

But wait.

She “bravely and spectacularly” went to the press only after she got tagged with a two-year doping suspension, and then, again to simplify a complex story, after being referred by a World Anti-Doping Agency official.

A report due out in a couple weeks is likely to provide even more damning evidence against the Russian sport structure.

Even so, the Stepanov allegations have yet to be tested in the crucible of any formal inquiry, and in particular on cross-examination. They are living in the United States — who is paying the family’s bills, and why? Vitaly Stepanov sent more than 200 emails to WADA — who sends 200 emails about anything? Wouldn’t a good lawyer love to ask if 200 emails sounds like someone with maybe issues?

Gatlin’s matters, meanwhile, have been thoroughly tested, and under oath.

In 2013, after she found out she had tested positive, Yulia Stepanova stated making secret recordings of her meetings with sports officials. In exactly the same way, as soon as he found out he tested positive in 2006, Gatlin went to the authorities and volunteered to try to get evidence against Graham. To be clear: he cooperated with Novitzky and the feds, in all making some dozen undercover phone calls

It would stand to reason that Gatlin got a break, right?

No.

The majority of the three-person arbitration panel hearing Gatlin’s case took note of the “extensive, voluntary and unique nature” of his assistance.

But the rule then at issue: it had to be “substantial assistance” that led directly to an anti-doping agency discovering or establishing doping by another person.

So — because Graham didn’t cop to anything on the phone with Gatlin, Gatlin got no break.

Compare — because the Stepanovs went to WADA and then got passed on to the press, she gets a break?

Moreover — Gatlin’s current coach, Dennis Mitchell, testified for federal prosecutors against Graham.

Still Gatlin — and, by extension, Mitchell — get no break in the court of public opinion, and Yulia Stepanova is brave and spectacular?

Where are the calls to ban Stepanova for life — like so many would-be moralists have done with Gatlin?

This is all a logical disconnect.

Because if Yulia Stepanova is brave and spectacular, isn’t Justin Gatlin, too?

“Just seeing what he has done over the years, and what kind of person he is,” Bromell said Sunday, referring to Gatlin, “that’s why I would like to have someone like him as a mentor. A lot of people don’t know how good of a man this guy is.”

He said a moment later, “The man is just good.”