Amantle Montsho

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.

A lifetime ban for athletes for doping is a non-starter, and other cultural differences

A lifetime ban for athletes for doping is a non-starter, and other cultural differences

LONDON — The marathon course here at these 2017 IAAF world championships started and finished at Tower Bridge. Just a few steps away, of course, is Tower Hill, where the likes of Anne Boleyn met her fate.

It’s fascinating, those historical and cultural markers that, in turn, frame — consciously or otherwise — national identity.

In Britain, one might argue, right is right, wrong is wrong, rules are rules, black is black, white is white. When you make a mistake, it’s off with your head. You wonder why the Pilgrims wanted out? The United States, by definition, is a land of second chances. The American national narrative  — the founding national story, told over and again — is redemption.

To be clear: find fault all you want with these oversimplifications. Detail, if you please, the countless exceptions.

Straight talk about Qatar


They held a track meet Friday on a typically warm and balmy evening in Doha, the opening Diamond League event of the 2013 season. It was sensational. American long jumper Brittney Reese, the 2012 Olympic gold medalist, sailed out to a personal best, 7.25 meters, or 23 feet, 9 1/2 inches. It was the best jump by an American in 15 years.

Another London gold medalist, David Rudisha of Kenya, won again, in 1:43.87, considerably slower than his world-record 1:40.91 at the Games. That was to be expected for an early-season outing. Even so, he beat Mohammed Aman of Ethiopa -- who had beaten him last year in Zurich -- by more than half a second.

In the women's 400, Amantle Montsho of Botswana defeated Allyson Felix in a rematch of their thrilling encounter at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea; Felix hadn't lost in Doha in 10 races but, then again, hadn't run the 400 in a meet since Daegu. Montsho crossed Friday night in 49.88, Felix in 50.19. Britain's Christine Ohuruogu, the London silver medalist, took third, in 50.53.

In all, there were 11 world-leading performances. More than two dozen Olympians made the meet.

The focus Friday in Doha was on track and field. Nothing else. It just goes to show -- again -- that when given a chance, the Qataris know how to put on a big-time sports event where the athletes are front and center.

It's a mystery why so much of the world -- still -- views what is going on in Doha with such suspicion.

It's as if having money is a bad thing.

Like, why?

That is stupid thinking and ought to stop.

This is not naiveté.

If there is evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing, then it should be produced, and examined for everyone to see.

If there is not, then what is at issue is stereotyping, or worse -- and that really needs to stop. Because, as Fahad Ebrahim Juma, the director of planning and development for the Qatar Olympic Committee said in a recent interview in Doha, "Believe it or not, the Middle East is part of this earth."

One day, there are going to be Olympic Games in the Middle East.

Maybe they will be in Istanbul in 2020. The International Olympic Committee is going to vote this September on the 2020 site; Istanbul is in the mix, along with Tokyo and Madrid.

If Istanbul doesn't make it, Doha -- which bid for 2016 and 2020 but was cut -- will surely bid for 2024. Maybe even if Istanbul does make it. Who knows?

Of course, Qatar will stage soccer's World Cup in 2022.

Again, if there is documentable evidence of misconduct or wrongdoing in the Qatari World Cup bid, bring it on.

Until then, here is some of the evidence of what is actually going on in Qatar:

The country is being developed, and rapidly, according to a "National Vision 2030" plan that includes sport as one of its key pillars.

Part of the strategy involves international outreach. In 1993, Qatar staged two international sports events. In 2002, 10. This year, 40. The 2020 objective, 50.

Next year, it will stage the world swimming short-course championships; in 2015, the world handball championships; in 2016, the road cycling championships.

The Qataris announced Friday they intend to bid for the 2019 world track and field championships; they tried for 2017 but lost to London.

Another element of the 2030 plan is an internal focus. An Olympic program in the country's schools drew 5,000 students in 2008 -- 1,500 girls and 3,500 boys. This year, roughly 21,900 students -- 7,555 girls, 14,345 boys.

At the London Games, Qatar sent women to the Games for the first time -- four. But it's not as if there aren't Qatari female athletes. More than 200 Qatari women competed at the 2006 Asian Games. The Qataris are, for the most part, trying to get their female athletes to the Games by qualifying them the way every other nation does, not just by accepting wild-card invitations in swimming and track.

The nation's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony in London: female shooter Bahiya al-Hamad.

Yes, you can see women in veils in Doha. But, this spring at the QMA Gallery at Katara, near the upscale West Bay development, you could also have taken in the "Hey Ya!" photo and video exhibit -- shots of Arabic women in swimsuits; gymnastics leotards; sports bras, shorts and track spikes; whatever.

You could also have taken in a production across town of the Greek tragedy, "Medea," put on by Northwestern University in Qatar. Northwestern is one of several leading institutions with branch campuses in Qatar -- others include Texas A&M, Carnegie Mellon, Virginia Commonwealth, Georgetown's foreign service school and Cornell's medical school.

You could have gone shopping at the Villagio mall. It has an ice rink in it. And a food court. And every shop-'til-you-drop outlet you can imagine. It's right next to the Aspire complex, with a 50,000-seat stadium and a sports-specific hospital. They put on the 2010 world indoor track and field championships at Aspire.

Or -- and this is where the Qataris got their latest round of bad press -- you could have taken in the "Olympics: Past and Present" Exhibit in a temporary hall close to the Museum of Islamic Art. The show will run there until June 30; it's due eventually to be housed in a Qatar Olympic and Sports Museum.

The exhibit, which opened in March, is split into two parts, one highlighting ancient Olympia, the other the modern Games. On display are some 1,200 items, including over 600 from Greece and international museums.

There's a mini-Olympic stadium. There are Olympic posters and mascots. There is every Olympic torch -- including the super hard-to-find Helsinki 1952 torch.

The display, put together by Dr. Christian Wacker, a German historian, is genuine. It is engaging. Most important, it doesn't skirt the truth -- it confronts the honest realities that, for instance, the Games have had boycotts and been shadowed by doping problems.

All that, and the one thing that the European press bothered to write about -- which then made the English-language wire services -- is some nude statues?

A compromise -- a fabric six feet in front of the statues -- didn't suit the Greek Culture Ministry. So the antiquities were a no-go, and reportedly shipped back to Athens, where it somehow became a story.

Why? Because cultural sensitivities in Doha are, on some level, different than in Athens? Who got together and decided that cultural standards in Athens make the world go around?

The controversy is all the more incredible given that this exhibit is -- again -- literally in the shadow of one of the world's finest exhibits of Islamic art.

Beyond which -- there is nudity in the exhibit, including a lovely small bronze.

Four Olympic champions, meanwhile, were among those touring the show on Wednesday: Felix, Reese, American triple-jumper Christian Taylor and Jamaican sprinter Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce.

It was normal.

Then they, and a bunch of other top athletes, went out Friday night and ran. Normal.

"I love racing in Doha," said Kellie Wells, the London bronze medalist in the women's 100 hurdles, who finished second Friday, behind London silver medalist Dawn Harper-Nelson.

Harper-Nelson ran a world-leading 12.6; Wells ran a season-best 12.73. "It's always great to run here," Wells said. "Every single time."


Sanya's Super déjà vu times two?

Four years ago, after David Tyree had somehow super-glued the football to his helmet and the New York Giants escaped with a crazy 17-14 victory over the New England Patriots in Super Bowl XLII, it all seemed possible under the stadium tunnel that Arizona evening for Sanya Richards-Ross. Her husband, Aaron Ross, a Giants defensive back, was now and forever a Super Bowl champion.

And she was on her way to the 2008 Beijing Games, the IAAF's 2006 female world athlete of the year with an American-record 48.7 in her specialty, the 400-meters. Nine times in 2006 she ran under 50 seconds. That year she literally went undefeated.

Ross' Super Bowl ring had to be an omen, right? Surely she would now be an individual Olympic gold medalist herself?

Fate works in funny ways.

Sanya Richards-Ross is indeed an Olympic gold medalist. She would go on to win gold in the 4x400 relay in Beijing with a stirring anchor leg.

The thing is, she had already won Olympic gold in that same relay, in Athens in 2004.

In the open 400 in Athens, she was not favored to win, and didn't, coming in sixth.

In the open 400 in Beijing, she absolutely was favored to win but did not. She came in third. She went out of the blocks hard, too hard. She was overtaken down the stretch by both Christine Ohuruogu of Great Britain and Shericka Williams of Jamaica.

In 2009, however, at the world championships in Berlin, Sanya won the open 400 decisively, in 49 flat.

Again, though, fate works in funny ways.

This past summer, at the 2011 world championships in Daegu, South Korea, Sanya struggled to even make the 400 final. She was hurt. And there was a lot on her mind -- a lawsuit with a former agent, contract issues, distractions.

In that Daegu 400 final, Sanya finished seventh. Amantle Montsho of Botswana won the race, in 49.56; American Allyson Felix came in second, just three-hundredths of a second back in one of the most thrilling finishes of the 2011 championships.

Sanya came home in 51.32.

Underneath the tunnel that night in Korea, Sanya vowed 2012 would be different.

A couple days ago, running indoors at a little meet in Fayetteville, Ark., Sanya opened her season with a 23.18 in the 200 and a 51.45 in the 400. Both were world-leading times, though Vania Stambolova of Bulgaria would run a 51.26 three days later in Vienna in the 400.

It's not that important that Sanya's times are world-bests in January. Nobody's giving out Olympic medals in the dead of winter.

What's telling is that she's turning out fast times while bearing a heavy training load -- the same way swimmers like Michael Phelps or Ryan Lochte can win races in mid-winter even while churning out thousands of yards.

What's impressive, too, is that she decided to run in Fayetteville pretty much at the last minute. She hadn't done any real speed work and had, to tell the truth, been planning -- is still planning -- to run next Saturday in the Millrose Games in New York.

"To be ready to run that well, with the load I have right now in my training … is very exciting and it's how I hope to be able to model my entire season," Sanya said in a very quiet voice.

The reason Sanya was speaking so quietly was that she was in a hotel room in Indianapolis, and Ross -- that's what she calls her husband -- was taking a nap, resting a couple days before Super Bowl XLVI, and she didn't want to disturb him.

Ross has been a rock for Sanya, showing her -- yet again -- how to handle the ups and downs of being a professional athlete. This season, for instance, he was benched in Week Two after giving up two big pass plays to Danario Alexander of the St. Louis Rams. But with injuries to Terrell Thomas and Prince Amukamara, Ross got another chance to start. And he has been in the lineup since, opposite Corey Webster.

"It's funny," she said, speaking softly when asked to compare the experience four years ago with this year's Super Bowl week. "My hubby -- he is a man of few words. Nothing really gets to him. That is what I admire about him. He is always a happy camper.

"… That has helped me a lot this season. I am more emotional. I wear my heart more on my sleeve. He reminds me that is a business and that I shouldn't take things so personally. I shouldn't take these things to heart. That has helped me tremendously -- helped me a whole lot, not just going into this year but, I hope, the rest of my career."

Who knows what fate holds? It's a fact that when Sanya Richards-Ross is healthy she's as good as anyone.

"My training is right on schedule," she said, adding with a laugh, not too loud so as to be sure not to wake up her husband, "I don't want to make any predictions. We didn't make any predictions about Ross going to make it this far," and who would have predicted the Giants beating the Patriots four years ago?

"I'm just going to take it easy and have fun," she said. "I really, really want to claim my first individual gold medal. That is my target for sure."

Allyson Felix's audacious 200/400 challenge

DAEGU, South Korea -- Maybe Allyson Felix's audacious challenge yields three gold medals here at the track and field world championships. Or, given the odds and the competition, maybe not.

Felix, long one of the world's premier 200-meter sprinters, has opted here into the 400 as well. She is scheduled, too, to run in the relays.

Given everything else surrounding the U.S. track and field program -- the injuries, the doping-related issues, the general tumult -- it's hardly a stretch to say that the spotlight in advance of these championships, which get underway Saturday, finds itself trained directly on Allyson Felix.

On top of which, it has been drizzling here pretty much non-stop for days. Someone has to be a bright spot, right?

"I'm excited to do something different," she said Thursday morning, reporters pressed in close to hear every word she said.

Again, the chances of Felix succeeding at this task are not particularly robust, and that is not -- repeat, not -- a reflection on her.

The 200 and the 400 are two very different races.

The 200 is 22 seconds of hugely technical power and pain. There's the curve and then there's the straightaway.

The 400, of course, is a full lap around the track. As any high school coach could tell you, virtually anyone can run 300 meters. It's that last 100 that's the killer.

You train differently for the two races.

Yet -- every once in a while there emerges a special talent who can do both at the elite level. Three people have done the 200-400 double:

Michael Johnson did it, twice, once at the world championships in Gothenburg, Sweden, in 1995, and then again at the Olympics in Atlanta in 1996. Marie-Jose Perec also did it in Atlanta. Valerie Brisco-Hooks did it at the Los Angeles Games in 1984.

Allyson Felix can. There's no question she can. She has proven over the course of the IAAF Diamond League circuit that she is world-class in both events.

What Allyson Felix and her coach, Bobby Kersee, want to find out this year -- the year before the Olympics -- is how best to get her ready for both come next July in London.

That's what this is about here in Daegu.

So while they would gladly take three golds in Korea, each said, separately, that what they really want is to find out where she is now and how to get better over the next year.

Kersee, calling it the ultimate challenge," said he has taken to referring to Felix as "Seabiscuit." Like the horse. "I like the way she races," he said.

A bonus: Reuters reported here Thursday that Brisco (as she is now known) will be here in Daegu, to "walk Allyson through what she did."

It's hardly a lock that Felix will win even the 200, her specialty over the years. Veronica Campbell-Brown of Jamaica, the Olympic gold medalist in the 200 in Beijing, awaits. Another American, Shalonda Solomon, has run the fastest time in the 200 this year, 22.15.

Beyond which, the 400 comes first -- the heats get underway Saturday. Sanya Richards-Ross of the United States is the defending champion in the event; Amantle Montsho of Botswana, though 1-12 all-time against Felix, has dominated the Diamond League with five straight victories.

"I know it going to be tough," Felix said.

"To me, when you go to a race your goal is to win. So when you don't win, it's a disappointment -- you're not living up to your goals. For me it's a learning experience. I'm going to take away whatever happens here into next year, and learn from it. I'm just going to try to grow from it.

"Of course," she said, "I'm in it to win it. But I'll be okay if it doesn't end up that way."