Carl Lewis

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.

Track and field World Cup: 'fixture' or one-off?

Track and field World Cup: 'fixture' or one-off?

LONDON — Keep it simple, stupid, Bill Clinton would have advised, and here is the problem with track and field, exemplified with this weekend’s first Athletics World Cup back at Olympic Stadium

This meet sought so desperately to be so many things — too many things — to so many people on so many levels. 

Organizers tried to put together a world-class meet in about six months though the schedule of world sport is already jammed to the max, the calendar of track and field is itself a mess and, maybe, most of all, it’s unclear how a meet like this can draw the world’s best runners, jumpers and throwers in a way that everyone — and in particular, a wide range of athletes — can make money. Real money.

That last bit requires a further set of questions, all fundamental. Track and field is a professional sport. What is a reasonable payday? For a star? For someone who is in his or her first pro meet? For someone who, say, runs the open 400 meters as opposed to someone who runs but a leg in a relay? For someone who pulls double duty? Should the pay standards be different for track athletes and those in the field events? 

Switching gears: who thought a trophy should cost $400,000, and why?

So many threads. Pull, and it’s clear why the tapestry of track and field is at once so beautiful and so frayed.

Who is America's most famous Olympic athlete?

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After doing this now for nearly 20 years, when asking casual (American) fans of the Olympics to name the most famous Olympic athlete who first comes to mind, the answer is invariably one of two:

Michael Phelps. Or, more likely, Carl Lewis.

It’s in this context that one is urged to take in the first in a series of promotional videos — featuring both athletes and venues — from the LA24 bid committee.

Released this week, this first mini-movie features Lewis at the scene of arguably his greatest triumph, the LA Memorial Coliseum, where in 1984 he won four Olympic gold medals. He has, over his Olympic career, nine golds and one silver.

Sports Illustrated named Lewis the Olympian of the 20th century. That list includes Jesse Owens, Jim Thorpe, Mark Spitz, Nadia Comaneci, Paavo Nurmi, Emil Zatopek and many more. Track and field's international governing body, the IAAF, named him male athlete of the century. The International Olympic Committee named him "sportsman of the century."

It would make for a long and fascinating discussion about why, despite his many achievements, Lewis is — still — viewed with something like suspicion in some quarters of the media. It’s a mystery, really. Ben Johnson is the guy who ran with stanozolol in Seoul in 1988, a steroid that turned his eyes yellow. If you have questions about Lewis’ stimulant tests back in the day: Lewis didn’t violate any rules then, and the levels wouldn’t be considered anywhere near a positive now. And, fast forward, maybe there are questions and maybe there aren't about clenbuterol and Jamaicans in Beijing in 2008.

So?

Carl Lewis sang the national anthem. He ran for office. Neither proved glorious. So what? Wasn't it Teddy Roosevelt who said it was the guy who was out there trying who matters? Lewis sometimes speaks his mind. Like last year, at a pre-Rio Games media summit, when he talked about Team USA relay drops. So what? Wasn't it Jack Nicholson who once said we couldn't handle the truth?

People: Carl Lewis has 10 Olympic medals. Nine are gold. And that's just the starting place. Some appreciation and respect, please.

When — not if — you watch this video, consider:

Phelps has won every single one of his 28 Olympic medals overseas. You can argue back and forth about whether Phelps is the greatest Olympic athlete of all time (yes) but this is just fact: eight medals in Athens, eight in Beijing, six in London, six in Rio.

Lewis stands at a different place in the collective imagination. Why? This has zero to do with Phelps, who over the years has come to represent consistent, if not amazingly ferocious, excellence. With Lewis, it's even more layered, and this is where things get even more interesting, and this is another reason why the Olympics -- despite all their problems -- matter, and a lot.

Lewis won those first four medals, again all gold, in LA: the 100, the 200, the long jump and the 4x100 relay, matching the four golds that Owens won in the same four events in Berlin in 1936. The Coliseum is where Rafer Johnson lit the 1984 cauldron, another on a list of enduring memories. The Coliseum was center stage not just for the 1984 Games but the 1932 Olympics, too. Of course, it represents, as Lewis says in the video, history. It's more, really: you can hear and feel there the echoes of history because the building has been around so long. That’s the point: as everyone who knows the first thing about the Olympics and track and field knows, the Coliseum is nothing less than sacred ground.

Our world could use a lot more of what the Coliseum is and always was. It is good, especially in the Olympic context, to walk on sacred ground. Better still to run.

Bolt the "legend," and the joy of six

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MONACO — Once again, here was a pack of journalists circled around Usain Bolt. Here came the familiar sorts of wacky questions: Was he interested in doing bobsled like the Jamaican “Cool Runnings” team that went to the 1988 Winter Games? (No.) Could he see himself playing NFL football? (No.) And more.

Bolt, the self-proclaimed "legend," has said — many times — that he intends to retire after the 2017 International Assn. of Athletics Federations world championships in London. If so, the clutch gathered Friday around Bolt at the Fairmont Hotel, in advance of the evening’s IAAF awards gala, where he would — for the sixth time — take home the trophy as best male athlete, was both familiar and melancholy.

Track and field has a storied history that stretches back into the dawn of time. Even so, it is quite possible there has never been anyone quite like Usain Bolt. As Seb Coe, the IAAF president, said at Friday night's awards shoe, referring to Bolt's third Olympic sprint triple in Rio this past summer, "Usain Bolt dazzled us with his brilliance once more."

For his part, Bolt said, "I live for moments when I walk into the stadium and there's a loud roar."

Will such brilliance -- will anyone quite like him -- pass this way ever again? Will that roar ever be the same? Can it, without Bolt?

Bolt on Friday in Monaco // Getty Images

“If you accomplish your goals, there’s no reason to stay around,” Bolt observed Friday. “You got what you wanted. Let’s move on.”

It has been Bolt’s destiny to stand as the upside of the sport in an era in which so much has gone bad — the sport beset by, in particular, chronic doping and staggering allegations of corruption within the prior generation of the sport's top international governance circles. Indeed, the IAAF is due Saturday to convene a special assembly at which Coe, elected IAAF president in 2015, is pushing a wide-ranging reform plan.

To be blunt, track and field needs that reform.

It also needs more joy. It needs more Bolt, and the way he plays to and with the crowd, almost all of whom invariably have come to see one guy, and one guy only: him.

Asked Friday night what his next act could be, he said maybe TV, adding with a smile, "I look good in a suit."

Or maybe the big screen. "I definitely think," he added, "that I would be a great action star. The next Jason Bourne.

"I'm not," he said, "a Bond guy," and the crowd ate it all up.

Too bad. Bolt in a re-make of "The World is Not Enough," the 1999 Bond flick? Can someone take a meeting?

In the meantime, there's track and field, at least for one more season. And then? When Bolt steps away, who -- if anyone -- can take over his role as the sport's leading man?

Maybe the South African Wayde van Niekerk, winner in Rio of the men’s 400 in a stupendous world-record 43.03 seconds, who has trained with Bolt and observed Friday, “We are all just people wanting to achieve a dream out there.”

This, in essence, is what Bolt — along with Michael Phelps — brought the world: the idea that you not only should but can dream big and that big dreams can become real.

There are similarities and parallels but, of course, distinct diversion in what they have done and what they stand for.

For one, as Bolt said Friday, he absolutely, positively will not retire and then un-retire, like Phelps. This even though Bolt has those nine Olympic golds,  and Carl Lewis has 10, nine gold and one silver, and would it really be all that hard for Bolt to take a little time off, then come back and run, say, the relays in Tokyo in 2020?

No way, Bolt said, declaring his longtime coach, Glen Mills, had warned him about just this sort of thing.

Mills, Bolt said, told him, “ ‘Do not retire and come back to the sport. Don’t ever do that. You have to make sure you’re [ready] to retire.’

“This is why,” Bolt said, “I’m taking it a year a time to make sure I’m ready when I’m ready,” adding, “For me, I think track and field is very difficult, you know what I mean? If you leave track, you put weight on, you pretty much do no running — to come back two years from that and compete, it’s not going to be the same.”

Phelps is living proof that hard work — super hard work, ragingly difficult — can make your dreams come true.

The difference between swimming and track, however, is elemental. For literally millions of people, swimming remains foreign. That is, they can’t swim. Often, they can’t possibly imagine how people move through water.

In contrast, virtually everyone has run. And so almost everyone on Planet Earth has felt at least a glimmer of what it must be like to be Bolt — to feel the wind on your face, the pain in your legs as you try for that top gear.

Bolt, though, doesn’t make it seem like work. He is emblematic of pure joy.

This was what the former International Olympic Committee president, Jacques Rogge, didn’t quite understand when Bolt burst onto the Olympic scene in Beijing in 2008, saying, "I understand the joy. He might have interpreted that in another way, but the way it was perceived was 'catch me if you can'. You don't do that. But he'll learn. He's still a young man."

Bolt turned 30 on August 21, the day before the close of the Rio Games.

There he gave us all more joy — not just the three golds, wrapping up that neat nine in all since Beijing, but the fantastic moment in which, during a men’s 200 semifinal, he and Canada's Andre de Grasse chatting and laughed it up as they crossed the finish line, just two dudes running faster than everyone else but looking for all the world like they were hanging out together at Starbucks.

Just out for a happy little jog, Rio men's 200 semifinal // Getty Images

After the Rio 200 final // Getty Images

And then the selfies with the fans -- all of whom were screaming like Usain was the 2016 version of John, Paul, George or Ringo.

Who in the sports world does that?

Bolt. Only Bolt.

“That’s who I am,” he said Friday afternoon, adding a moment later, “It’s just my personality. It just comes out. People really enjoy it. I can be myself.”

The thing is, Bolt, like Phelps, has worked like a dog to do what he has done. He acknowledged as much Friday in saying that he learned a hard lesson after the 2007 IAAF worlds in Osaka, Japan, where he was beaten by Tyson Gay. There he asked Mills what he had to do to get better. Get stronger, Mills said.

Let’s be candid here. Because of his outsize personality and super-big fun quotient, Bolt has largely gotten a free pass from much of the media, and the big world beyond, in regards to doping. If it were anyone else saying this Friday, alarm bells would go off, Mills telling Bolt as Bolt relayed the memory, “You’re slacking off at the gym. If you want to win you have to get stronger,” Bolt adding, that “from then on” he got after it. How, exactly?

Over the years that Bolt has been on top, Jamaica’s anti-doping protocols have been laughably weak. He has gotten hurt, a lot, and made quick recoveries. The sport has been riddled with doping, the men's sprints in particular, and yet Bolt is by significant measure better than everyone else.

All this is by way of observation, not -- to repeat for emphasis, not -- accusation. Bolt has, for the record, been strident in his remarks about the Americans Gay and Justin Gatlin, both of whom have done doping-related time off, even if he has been far more gentle in matters involving allegations around other Jamaicans.

At the same time, it’s also the case that time reveals all and it’s best — particularly in the case of super-human exploits — to be cautious.

Even if Bolt makes anyone reasonable jump up and go, wow — did you just see that?

With the exception of Bolt’s first world record breaker, a 9.72 in the 100 in New York in June 2008, it has been a great privilege to sit on press row for every one of Bolt’s records — indeed, all his Olympic and world championship moments.

For that matter, there was the quiet time spent with him in 2006, in and around Kingston, when Asafa Powell was the Jamaican sprint star and Bolt, barely 20, was the farthest thing from a big name. No pressure. Bolt played soccer with school kids. He goofed around. He readily agreed to pictures up in the hills. He was new to this whole interviewing thing, a game at which he has come to excel, revealing just as much as he wants and no more, when -- as was the case in London in 2012 -- he partied after one victory with three women from the Swedish handball team and was then asked at a news conference if he might be interested in meeting some of the Norwegian women's handball players. (Like, that's a question?)

Bolt in 2006 in Jamaica -- identified in the photo records as a "200 and 400 sprinter" // Getty Images

At his peak, on the blue track at the 2009 IAAF worlds in Berlin, Bolt — 9.58 in the 100, 19.19 in the 200 — simply re-invented the limits of what human beings had thought possible. 

In Daegu, South Korea, at the 2011 IAAF worlds, Bolt was memorably disqualified for a false start in the 100. Since then, his races have followed a familiar pattern — a careful start, the long stride opening up and then thanks for coming, everyone, it’s over, let's get ready for the signature to-di-world pose. In the 100, Gatlin in recent years has proven a tough challenger over the first half of the race but Bolt just too strong over the final half. In the 200, there is no one — no one — who has ever run the curve better than Bolt.

For all these moments, perhaps the most iconic is the 100 at the Moscow at the 2013 IAAF worlds. At the precise instant Bolt crossed the finish line, a lightning bolt flashed in the sky outside Luzhniki Stadium.

100 final, Moscow, 2013 // Getty Images

Who does that happen to?

Bolt. Only Bolt.

With Bolt, the unthinkable has played out for the world to bear witness.

“Not to brag or anything but a lot of people at 30 have not accomplished everything I have accomplished,” Bolt said Friday, adding, “For me, I’m going to end my career at 31. That’s pretty good.”

Did he ever think, Bolt was asked, about being literally the fastest person on Planet Earth? In all of human history?

He laughed. Of course. Here came the joy, the fun, all of it that will be so absent when he steps off the stage:

“Not at that level,” he said.

“But I always make fun with my friends of such things. One thing I try to do is, if someone tries to run [away] from me," as if anyone could make like a cheetah, maybe, and get away from the one and only Usain Bolt, "I look at them weird — like, what are you doing?”

The incredible Aries Merritt, and more

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A dozen musings on track and field, on the 2024 Summer Games bid race and more:

1. At a news conference Friday in Eugene, Oregon, before Saturday’s line-up of events at the 42nd annual Prefontaine Classic, the question went out to Aries Merritt, the 2012 London men’s 110-meter hurdles champion who is also the world record-holder, 12.8 seconds, in the event: on a scale of one to 10, where did he fall?

Heading toward the U.S. Trials in a month and, presumably, beyond to the Rio 2016 Summer Games, Merritt has probably the most unbelievable, incredible, authentic story in track and field. He had a degenerative kidney condition. With almost no kidney function, he somehow won a bronze medal in the hurdles at the 2015 world championships. Thereafter, with his sister as the donor, he underwent a kidney transplant. It required not just one but two surgeries.

Aries Merritt showing off his kidney transplant scar at a pre-Pre news conference

So — one to 10? “Ten,” he said. Which means that the hurdles, always one of the best events at the track, figures to be that much better. And, America and beyond — get ready, via NBC and every outlet out there, for the Aries Merritt story. He deserves every bit of good publicity he gets.

2. With all due respect to the sainted Steve Prefontaine — no snark or sarcasm intended, only a full measure of respect — a significant chunk of the problem with track and field in the United States is Steve Prefontaine.

Every sport needs heroes. Not just legends.

The elements of the Prefontaine story have been well-chronicled: the U.S. records at virtually every middle- and long distance event, the fourth in the 5k at the Munich 1972 Games, his life cut short in a car crash at 24.

The legend of Prefontaine, and appropriately, has had a longstanding hold on the U.S. track and field imagination.

Steve Prefontaine racing in London in September 1972 // Getty Images

But imagine if, say, baseball was stuck in the Roberto Clemente era. Or the NBA fixated on Reggie Lewis, Len Bias, Malik Sealy or, for that matter, Drazen Petrovic. Or the NFL on Junior Seau and others.

One of the major challenges with track and field now is that there is no 2016 version of larger-than-life Prefontaine. No one is that guy (or that woman). Ashton Eaton could be and maybe should be. But who else? Merritt? It's anyone's guess.

Most Americans, asked to name a track and field star, will answer: Carl Lewis.

It has been roughly 20 years since Lewis made any noise on the track itself, more than 40 since Prefontaine was alive. Meanwhile, fourth-graders all around the 50 states can readily debate (pick one) Peyton Manning or Tom Brady, whether Derek Jeter was the best Yankee ever, whether they would start an NBA team with (pick one) LeBron James or Steph Curry.

Every sport, to repeat, needs heroes. Not just legends.

3. Earlier this year, the former 800-meter world champion Caster Semenya made even hardened track geeks go, whoa. She raced, and won, three events — on the same day — at the South African national championships, the women’s 400 (personal-best 50.74), 800 (1:58.45) and 1500 (4:10.93, outside Olympic qualifying time).

So much for the theory — oft-advanced by track freaks who never bother to, say, watch swimming — that a world-class athlete can’t race, and win, multiple events on the same day.

From start to finish, Semenya ran the three races in about four hours.

She went 1:58.26 to win the Doha Diamond League meet in early May, winning by nearly an entire second.

On Sunday, and she wasn’t even really going all out, Semenya ran 1:56.64 for the win at the first IAAF Diamond League meet in Africa, in Rabat, Morocco. She won by more than a full second.

For comparison: on Friday night, on Day One of the 2016 Prefontaine Classic at historic Hayward Field, American Alysia Montaño-Johnson won the women's 800 in 2:00.78.

 Caster Semenya of South Africa celebrates her May 6 victory in the women's 800 at the Doha Diamond League event // Getty Images

Semenya doesn’t deserve to do anything but get to run, and run as fast as possible. At the 2009 world championships in Berlin, she ran away with the 800, in a crazy-fast 1:55.45. Then it was disclosed that she had elevated testosterone levels. The gender testing — and, more, the shaming — that she endured thereafter proved unconscionable.

The rules are the rules. The rules say she can run in women’s events.

The real question is: what should be the rules?

Because it’s perhaps not that difficult to explain why Semenya is — after silvers in the 800 at the 2011 worlds and 2012 Olympics and then injuries and subpar performances since — running so fast again now.

It’s all about testosterone levels.

Because of Semenya, track and field’s international governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, as well as the International Olympic Committee, put in place a new policy: you could run in women’s events if your testosterone levels fell under a threshold of 10 nanomoles (that’s what it’s called) per liter. In scientific jargon: 10 nmo/L.

Context: as the South African scientist and writer Ross Tucker points out in a brilliant Q&A on what is called “hyperandrogenism” with the activist Joanna Harper, 99 percent of female athletes registered testosterone levels below 3.08 nmo/L.

From the science department, part I: “hyper” is science talk for what in ordinary speech might be described as “way, way more.” The primary and probably most well-known “androgen” is testosterone.

Part II, simple math: the upper limit of 10 is more than three times higher than for 99 in 100 women.

Last year, in a decision that pleased human rights advocates but left knowledgable track observers puzzled (to say the least), sport’s top court, the Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport, ruling in the case of sprinter Dutee Chand from India, said the IAAF (and IOC) could no longer enforce the testosterone limit.

In real life, and particularly as we look toward Rio, this means what?

The IAAF and IOC are trying to come up with a new policy.

In the meantime, Semenya, “plus a few others,” as Tucker writes, “have no restriction.” The erasure of the limit has “utterly transformed Semenya from an athlete who was struggling to run 2:01 to someone who is tactically running 1:56," Tucker goes on to say, adding, "My impression, having seen her live and now in the Diamond League, is that she could run 1:52, and if she wanted to, would run a low 48-second 400 meters and win that gold in Rio. too.”

He also writes that Semenya is “the unfortunate face of what is going to be a massive controversy in Rio” — my words here, not his, about who is a “female” and gets to run in “women’s” events. He writes, "It won’t be any consolation to Semenya, [that] the media, frankly, have no idea how to deal with this – nobody wants it to be about the athlete, and it certainly is not her fault.  However, it is a debate we must have, and I want to try to have it from the biological, sporting perspective, and steer clear of the minority bullying that so often punctuates these matters.”

Tucker is right. The debate — calm voices only, please — needs to be held, and in short order.

4. UCLA, per a report first from ESPN, landed the biggest college sports apparel deal ever, with Under Armour. Terms: 15 years, beginning in July 2017. The deal is believed to be worth $280 million.

Biggest-ever is likely to be relative, depending on what comes next.

Because, in recent months:

Michigan, 11 years (option to extend to 15), Nike, $169 million,

Texas, 15 years, Nike $250 million.

Ohio State, 15 years, Nike, $252 million.

Boosters of these schools, and others, typically tend to react with glee at these sorts of numbers.

Rhetorical question, part I: why, when USA Track & Field chief executive officer Max Siegel scores a $500 million, 23-year deal with Nike, do some number of track fans bemoan Nike’s influence as a death star of sorts and claim the federation is verging on stupidity if not recklessness?

Rhetorical question, part II: how is it that dismissive claims about the USATF/Nike deal become gospel among the disaffected when track athletes actually get paid to run for a living but college athletes, as UCLA quarterback Josh Rosen noted in a Tweet that quickly got deleted, don’t — and likely won’t —get to see a dime of any of those millions?

Just a thought here: maybe Siegel was, you know, ahead of the power curve.

5. More on USATF, now on the dismissal this week per 11-1 vote of the federation’s board of directors of the Youth Executive Committee and its chairman, Lionel Leach:

Many, many things could be said here about Leach and the conduct that led to this action.

For now, this will suffice:

This is a movie whose ending we can all know, and now.

Why?

Because it’s a re-run.

What’s at issue, at the core, is a power struggle between the volunteers and professional staff.

Here’s news: the professional staff is going to win. As it should.

It used to be that the U.S. Olympic Committee found itself consumed by precisely this sort of petty, personalized politics. That changed when governance reforms became real; when the board empowered the chief executive to run the show; and when the chief executive proved professional and hugely competent (USOC: Scott Blackmun, USATF: Siegel).

It's a fact that USATF has a long and contentious history. But this is a fact, too: Siegel's first four years have shown dramatic, and consequential, improvement for the federation, and the sport.

6. Moving along, to an international sports federation president who also gets it, even if the IOC often doesn't want to admit so: Marius Vizer, president of the International Judo Federation.

Vizer, in advance of the start Friday of a major IJF event in Guadalajara, Mexico, spent about two hours doing a live Q&A on Twitter.

https://twitter.com/MariusVizer/status/736270089708703744

Imagine: actually doing exactly what the IOC says it wants to do, to reach out to young people in those ways, like Twitter, by which young people connect with each other.

Far too many federation presidents might have something resembling a panic attack at the thought of entertaining questions about whatever from whoever. Vizer, who has never had anything to hide and has consistently been a forceful voice for accountability and change (to the IOC's chagrin), made it plain: bring it on.

Indeed, Vizer ended by saying more such Q&A's would be forthcoming.

https://twitter.com/MariusVizer/status/736291453161246722

7. Switching to 2024 bid news:

If you might be tempted to look past those potentially significant developments related to the allegations of Russian doping — first, a potential U.S. Justice Department inquiry and, second, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency chief Travis Tygart’s bombshell of an op-ed in the New York Times — it was otherwise a good week for the LA24 bid committee, at least for those things it could and can control.

Los Angeles, behind a bid headed by Casey Wasserman, who is also in charge of LA24, won the right to stage the 2021 Super Bowl.

Plus, a rail line from downtown to Santa Monica opened, to real excitement and big crowds. Roll that around in your head: LA. Rail. It’s real. Really.

8. Still a long way to go in the 2024 race, which the IOC will decide by secret ballot in September 2017 at a meeting in Lima, Peru. Three others are in the race: Paris, Rome, Budapest.

It’s a proven that what wins Olympic elections are, first, relationships, and two, telling a story that will move IOC members emotionally.

Right now, only two of the four are telling a real story: Los Angeles. And Budapest.

9. Turning to the 2020 Summer Games campaign, won by Tokyo:

The Japanese Olympic Committee announces a three-person investigation of allegations of bribery. This from the same place that brought you the burning of the Nagano 1998 books so as to avoid embarrassing the IOC.

Let’s all wish for really good luck in getting a genuine answer.

Why in the world would you need to send $2 million to Ian Tan Hong Han, a consultant based in Singapore, who is close friends with Papa Massata Diack, son of Lamine Diack, the then-president of the IAAF, when virtually no one in the Singapore international sports community knew of Han or his firm, Black Tidings?

Black Tidings had precisely what know-how to provide such high-level consultancy services?

More: those who were there for the Singapore 2010 Youth Games know there had to be external help when Singapore was bidding for YOG. Curious.

10. Russia uses sports as an instrument of what’s called “soft power,” meaning president Vladimir Putin has sought to use sports to project a Russian image of strength, not only abroad but, crucially, within Russia itself.

The United States, which under President Obama has clashed with the Kremlin over issues ranging from the disclosures of the activist Edward Snowden to the composition of the formal U.S. delegation to the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, has if not unparalleled then at least significant resource available to its spy agencies.

How is it that Sochi 2014 lab director Gregoriy Rodchenkov could flee Russia and end up so quickly in the United States? No one in the American spy apparatus would want to embarrass the Russians, would they?

Again: just curious.

11. What a surprise! The London 2012 doping re-test positives became public on a Friday!

The numbers: 23 athletes from five sports and six countries, based on 265 re-tests

More numbers, 32 doping cases from London 2012, 57 for Beijing 2008. Previous high, according to IOC figures: 26, Athens 2004.

To reiterate a central point: you have to be frighteningly stupid to get caught doping at the Olympic Games themselves.

It’s one thing to be caught in no-notice, out-of-competition testing. But at the Games?

You know there are going to be drug tests. You know the samples are going to be kept in the freezer for (at least) 10 years to allow for advances in testing.

It has been said many times but is still worth repeating: failing a drug test at the Olympics is like failing an IQ test.

Stupid.

12. If you’re thinking of going to Rio, don’t. Sorry to say so but — don’t. Watch on TV.

The pictures will be beautiful and the only danger in overloading on TV is breathing in that funky orange-red Doritos powder.

In Brazil, meanwhile:

The case of the Spanish sailors getting held-up at gunpoint, lucky to escape with their lives, underscores the No. 1 challenge ahead of these Games. More than dirty water, or maybe even Zika, or presidential politics, or corruption scandals. More than anything. To compete, or to be at, the Games in Rio, you have to deal with life in Rio as it is. Maybe — maybe even probably — it will be fine. But one wrong misstep, even with no fault, and you might well find yourselves in a scene evoking Tom Wolfe’s 1987 masterpiece, “Bonfire of the Vanities.”

Who wants that? Be a master of your TV universe.

 

Can't we all just -- lower the volume?

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Attention, all you sanctimonious, moralistic, smarter-than-everyone-else know-it-alls who traffic in rumor, half-truth, character assassination and worse when it comes to USA Track & Field, and in particular the effort to win Olympic and world relay medals. Do yourselves a favor, along with everyone who values civility, dialogue and tolerance: give it a rest.

Under the guise of anonymity, the stuff that gets said, and in particular written, about USATF and — now, in the aftermath of last week’s Penn Relays, where one of two U.S. men’s 4x100 teams again had a problem exchanging the baton — is way, way, way beyond the bounds of decency, fair comment and constructive criticism.

To be blunt: a botched handoff is not armageddon.

Tyson Gay, in red, struggles to hand off to Isiah Young at the 2016 Penn Relays // photo courtesy Penn Relays

Nearly 18 years of writing about the Olympic movement has led to a great many track meets. Across those years, U.S. relay difficulties have been duly noted. At the same time, fans and self-professed experts rarely understand or appreciate the real-world difficulties that go into executing the relays, especially a bang-bang event like the 4x100.

If the result is not gold, there’s typically just a lot of yelling and name-calling. It’s as if the United States ought to win every single time simply because that is the American way.

That is thoroughly unrealistic.

And the time has come for everyone to take a deep breath and appreciate the three core Olympic values: friendship, excellence and respect.

In this instance, especially: respect.

Five of the six U.S. relay teams at the 2016 Penn Relays were winners. Five of six.

USATF high performance director Duffy Mahoney // photo courtesy USATF

That sort of mark underscores the goal, as articulated by Duffy Mahoney, USA Track and Field’s chief of sport performance:

“We are trying to build a better mousetrap. We are trying to take a difficult situation and do the best job we can, or a better job, at optimizing the chance of medal attainment,” in particular at the Olympics and world championships.

As the International Olympic Committee notes in a new promotional series, "Sport is respect. It's not all about winning."

Since he took over as USATF chief executive four years ago, Max Siegel has expressly sought to lower the volume of the conversation in and around the sport. He has preached, and practiced, dialogue and cooperation.

So, too, the current board chair, Steve Miller.

The results of Siegel’s first four years are, by any measure, remarkable:

Up, and in a big way: annual budget (to more than $35 million in 2016), federation assets, prize money for elite athletes, partnership agreements, merchandise sales, USATF.tv users and page views.

You can’t be creative at the leadership level when, as the sport used to continually find itself, you’re figuratively scrounging from paycheck to paycheck. A 23-year Nike deal, worth in the neighborhood of $500 million, means the federation finally has financial stability.

USATF chief executive Max Siegel at a news conference in Portland, Ore., in advance of the 2016 world indoor championships // Getty Images

As it happens, beginning in 2016 roughly $1.8 million is due to be distributed to athletes over and above USATF tier and development funding, and other programs. What that means: $10,000 for making the Olympic team as well as bonuses of $10,000, $15,000 and $25,000 for Olympic medals. A top-tier athlete who wins a national title and competes for the national team but does not medal: base pay, $45,000. That same athlete, with an Olympic gold: USATF support of $95,000.

Internationally, the USATF board of directors made the right call in nominating Stephanie Hightower for the policy-making executive council of the sport's international governing body, the IAAF, in place of Bob Hersh. She led a USATF sweep at IAAF balloting last August that also saw the election of Britain’s Seb Coe as president.

Track and field is not — repeat, not — the NFL. Nor the NBA or MLB. Nor even the NHL.

Athletes are not unionized. They are independent contractors. You want the American way? Every athlete is, to a significant extent, his or her own brand — with the exception of certain national-team events, such as the Olympics and, recently, the Penn Relays, where it’s entirely reasonable for Nike to want to appropriately and reasonably leverage its sponsorship. That’s one of the elements it’s paying for, right?

The disconnect is fundamental: track and field is perhaps the only sport in the U.S. Olympic landscape in which there remains a dissident cohort seemingly hell-bent on destroying anything and everything in the pursuit of precisely the sort of petty, personality-oriented politics that used to wrack the U.S. Olympic Committee before a 2003 governance change.

Some of this is tied to the very same underlying issue that for years vexed the USOC: the battle for authority between paid staff and volunteers.

Some of it, especially in the relay landscape, involves rival shoe companies vying for influence, position or an uncertain something vis-a-vis Nike.

Some of it is just nasty and wrong.

Siegel, who is the only African-American chief executive of a national governing body in the U.S. Olympic picture, was targeted in recent months by racially charged emails. So were others at the Indianapolis-based federation. The matter has drawn the attention of law enforcement.

It’s intriguing to draw a contrast between, on the one hand, the almost-total lack of public condemnation from some of the sport’s most outspoken activists after those emails were published and, on the other, the loud voices that proved keenly critical of Siegel and USATF in the aftermath of a rules violation at the 2014 U.S. national indoors.

Further disconcerting: what gets written on message boards at sites such as Lets Run and a Facebook page entitled “I’m tired of USATF and IAAF crippling our sport.” At least on Facebook there are names attached to the comments. The stuff on Let’s Run is so frequently laced with such venom, almost always posted via pen names, that it’s a wonder some enterprising lawyer hasn’t already thought to ask what’s appropriate.

At this year’s Penn Relays, U.S. runners Tyson Gay and Isiah Young could not cleanly execute the third, and final, hand-off in the men’s 4x100. This led to a Let’s Run message-board string relating to the U.S. relays coach entitled, “Fire Dennis Mitchell Now.” The site highlighted the link on its homepage; as of Thursday, five days after the race, the link still sat on the page.

The Let's Run link to a message string sparked by the men's 4x1 at the Penn Relays

In and of itself, the message-string headline is innocuous. But the discussion underneath veers off to allegations of various sorts about Mitchell. Some of it is arguably the worst kind of hearsay. Almost none of it deserves to be aired in a public forum without corroboration and real evidence.

Late in his career as an active athlete, Mitchell served time off for doping. That fact tends to enrage his detractors. Typically, they fail to note, or to care, that the Olympic movement’s rules when it comes to doping make expressly clear that everyone deserves second chances. Especially a guy who was team captain at the 1996 Atlanta Games.

Moreover, in 2008, Mitchell testified for the federal government in its case against North Carolina-based coach Trevor Graham, one of the central figures in the BALCO scandal.

As Mitchell said in a 2015 interview, “I was a witness for the good guys. I wasn’t prosecuted. I wasn’t threatened. I wasn’t put on trial for lying. I was a 20-minute witness for the federal government to tell everything about my life and his life that would incriminate him. That’s what I did.”

Mitchell said, referring to the coach-athlete relationship, “I want my athletes to understand I am the caretaker of their dreams. I have no options. It’s all due to what I have been through. It’s because I have been with a coach who has been the opposite — who doesn’t care about your life, your family, your dreams.”

He also said, “I am on this earth to fulfill a life of servitude,” adding, “I am here to coach. I am here to be a beacon to others who are lost. I am comfortable with that. My job is not to be a CEO. I am a nuts-and-bolts guy. That is what God has given me … he didn’t give me the great ability to be other than I am. I have embraced it. It hasn’t come easily. At one time, it was taken away.”

At recent Olympic Games and world championships, the list is long of U.S. relay missed handoffs, disqualifications and other errors. Indeed, after the 2008 Beijing Games, USATF went so far as to commission a report that in significant part sought to identify root causes and fixes.

In the 2008 relay program, on the men's side, of the six guys who ended up in the 4x1 relay pool, only one had run his leg in any of the three relevant meets (Stockholm, London, Monaco) before Beijing: Darvis "Doc" Patton, who ran leg three, and then only in two of the those preceding meets. At the Games in the semifinals, Patton and Gay, anchoring, could not compete an exchange.

It's worth observing that Patton and Gay were not at the relay practice camp prior to the Games. This goes to the issue squarely confronting the American program now: getting together to practice and compete as much as possible.

In essence, Mitchell is, at least through the 2016 Games, a big piece of the fix.

USATF hired him in a bid to bring winning structure and order to a scene that should be simple — getting the stick around the track — but, in fact, is layered with complexities.

Despite the well-publicized glitches, there are signs the U.S. relay program can, genuinely, meet expectations.

Dennis Mitchell at the 122nd Penn Relays last month at Franklin Field // photo USATF

The gold medal-winning U.S. 4x100 men's relay team at the 1992 Barcelona Olympics, left to right: Dennis Mitchell, Leroy Burrell, Mike Marsh and Carl Lewis // Getty Images

For instance, the 2015 Penn Relays showed real evidence of development: Notre Dame grad Pat Feeney stepped in on short notice to run a 44.84 anchor to give the U.S. 4x400 team a win over the Bahamas.

At the 2015 World Relays a few days later in the Bahamas, a U.S. foursome — Mike Rodgers, Justin Gatlin, Gay and Ryan Bailey — went 37.38 to take down Usain Bolt and the Jamaicans.

There are also signs of just how difficult putting, and keeping, together such a program can be.

Bailey, struggling with his hamstrings, has essentially been MIA since last June’s U.S. nationals in Eugene, where he false-started out of the 100 and then withdrew from the 200.

It’s also the case that, in the relays, stuff happens. At those 2016 Penn Relays, Gay and Young could not connect; the year before, Rogers, Gatlin, Young and Bailey beat the Jamaicans (without Bolt), winning in 38.68.

After this year’s Penn misfire, former U.S. standout Leroy Burrell declared it “might be time for a bit of regime change with the leadership,” adding a moment later, “There’s no reason we shouldn’t be able to get the stick around. I saw thousands of relay teams yesterday — maybe not thousands but hundreds of relay teams get it around. But the professionals can’t. That ’s just not good for our sport.”

His comments came after this from Carl Lewis, the 1980s and 1990s sprint champion, at the USOC media summit in Beverly Hills, California: “America can’t cross the line so something’s going on here. Nine-year-olds never drop the stick.”

A note: Mike Marsh, Burrell, Mitchell and Lewis made up the four who ran a then-world record 37.4 to win gold in the 4x1 relay at the 1992 Barcelona Games. The current mark: 36.84, run by Bolt and the Jamaicans in the London 2012 final.

Another note: three of four on that U.S. 1992 relay were members of the famed Santa Monica Track Club: Marsh, Burrell and Lewis. That leaves -- who?

One obvious follow-on: Marsh, Burrell and Lewis, teammates, could — and did — run together regularly in practice and competition.

The starting place for any elite-level relay discussion has to be this: the Olympics and worlds are not high school or college.

It’s one thing to execute when a men’s 4x1 relay is 45 or 50 seconds. It’s another at the highest level, when the time drops to 38 or even 37-ish seconds.

“I’m tired of people who have been part of Team USA take shots at Team USA,” Gatlin said in response to Burrell’s remarks. “To put us in the same boat as high schoolers is insulting.”

Added Rodgers, “People keep pointing their fingers and downing us, but nobody has ever tried to come out there and help us. Nobody from the past. Not Carl or Leroy. They haven’t been out there. I can’t really respect their opinions because they’re supposed to be leaders in our sport and in the USA, and they’re not coming out there to drop some knowledge on us, so I don’t care what they have to say.”

The next variable: in a perverse way, the U.S. program suffers from a luxury of too much talent. Other countries know all along who the top five or six runners in the 4x1 or 4x4 might be, because there are only that many, and so they can run together, repeatedly. Obviously: practice makes perfect.

In 2015, the United States saw 33 men and 37 women meet the Rio 2016 Olympic qualifying standard in the 100. For men, that’s 10.16; for women, 11.32.

At those 2015 World Relays, who took third in the men’s 4x1? Japan. There are not 20 guys in all of Japanese track history who have run 10.16.

Next, and sticking with the men’s 100:

For the 2016 Olympics, there will be six guys in the U.S. men’s relay pool. But officials clearly can’t know until the evening of July 3, after the U.S. Trials men’s 100 has been run at venerable Hayward Field in Eugene, who the first four guys across the line are going to be.

The other two spots? Officials similarly have to wait until other events are run; those two spots might be filled, after discussion, by another 100-meter place finisher, 200-meter runner or even a hurdler or long or triple jumper. Whoever.

Because there’s probability but there literally cannot be certainty about who the top four guys might be, that makes it a virtual impossibility to practice, practice, practice together.

On top of which:

It’s unclear what gets accomplished — other than disruption — when athletes who are sponsored by shoe companies other than Nike get pulled from U.S. national-team relays, and particularly on short notice.

Five years ago, Ato Boldon, the 1990s Olympic sprint medalist who is now widely considered the sport’s premier television analyst, put forth a list of six “rules” he suggested the U.S. program adopt. A number still deserve solid consideration today, including:

“Rule 3 is managers/agents stay the $%&* out of practice/discussions. What YOUR client ‘wants to run’ means nothing.”

The week of the 2015 Penn Relays, adidas pulled no fewer than eight athletes out, citing uniform issues.

At the 2015 Diamond League meet in Monaco, U.S. officials weren’t told that Trell Kimmons, who also is sponsored by adidas, wasn’t going to run until he was literally in the tunnel about to compete.

After the Monaco meet, USATF, working in conjunction with its’ athletes’ advisory committee, worked out an entirely workable compromise, the details of which went out to all involved in late March or early April of this year, meaning everyone had more than ample notice:

In general, athletes would be free to wear what they wanted — both to and from meets, and in practice. The exception: one domestic and one international relay competition, typically USA v. the World at the Penn Relays and Monaco or a similar summer event. At those two events, on the day of competition, athletes would have to wear Nike to and from, and of course at the meet.

On the men’s side in the 100, six of the top 10 Americans run for Nike: Rodgers, Gatlin, Gay, Young, Bailey, Remontay McClain. Strike Bailey. So down to five. All five sent word they were in for Penn.

Wallace Spearmon, who is now unattached, also said he would be in. So, six.

Treyvon Bromell, the 2015 worlds bronze medalist in the 100, is a New Balance guy. USATF got told he would be a no-go.

Kimmons and Marvin Bracy are adidas. No-go, USATF was informed.

On the track, Rodgers, Gatlin and Gay had staked the Americans to the lead before that missed final handoff, Gay to Young.

“I can’t fault them for wanting to sell shoes,” USATF high performance director Mahoney said.

But, he said, “In this case, it’s almost penny-wise, pound-foolish. What are they trying to accomplish?”

Red, white and maybe feeling blue?

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BEIJING — Coming into these 2015 track and field world championships, it looked for — and to —  all the world like this could be the meet when the American team finally reached that elusive 30-total medal count.

With the meet now at its (just-past) halfway point, that looks exceedingly unlikely. The question now is more fundamental: is this 2015 performance a blip or a precursor for next year’s Rio 2016 Summer Games and, indeed, beyond?

Coming into Wednesday, four nights into the nine-day meet, the United States had exactly as many golds as Canada: one.

The American Joe Kovacs won the men’s shot put; the Canadian Shawn Barber, the men’s pole vault.

After Wednesday, the United States still had -- one. 

The Brits? Three. The Americans' new political friends in Cuba? Two.

Overall, Kenya led the medal count, with 11, six gold; the Americans were next, with nine (that one gold, three silver, five bronze).

Kenya is not just marathoners anymore. Julius Yego won the men's javelin Wednesday night with the farthest throw in 14 years, 92.72 meters, or 304 feet, 2 inches.

Meanwhile, the IAAF announced earlier in the evening that two Kenyans, Francisca Koki and Joyce Zakari, had tested positive after providing samples on August 20 and 21, respectively — that is, immediately before the meet started. These “targeted tests were conducted by the IAAF at the athlete hotels,” the federation said in a statement. No other details were immediately available.

The run-up to the 2015 championships has been marked by waves of media reports alleging doping positives and cover-ups in the Kenyan track and field scene.

Zakari had run second in her 400 heat in 50.71, then proved a no-show for the first of Tuesday’s three semifinals.

Koki, in the 400 hurdles, ran 58.96 in her opening round, second-slowest in the entire field.

For the U.S. to prevail in the medals count next year at Rio, as it did in London 2012, with 103, China next at 88, the weight rests on its track and swim teams.

In London, the swim team won 30 medals at the pool, 31 including Haley Anderson’s silver in the open-water competition. The track team: 29.

A few weeks ago at the 2015 world swim championships in Kazan, Russia, the U.S. team ended up with 23 medals, eight gold. That’s arguably misleading, though, because two of those medals came in the mixed relays, which would be new Olympic events. So: 21.

Of course, Michael Phelps did not swim in Kazan and threw down three world-best performances that same week at the U.S. nationals. Even so, it was arguably the American team’s poorest performance at a worlds dating to 1973; in 1994, the Americans went home from Rome with 21 medals, four gold.

For the track team, expectations had soared before this meet in Beijing, the U.S. sending arguably its deepest team ever.

To be sure, the Americans have had some successes. In the women’s 10,000 meters, for example, U.S. runners went 3-4-6, Emily Infeld passing Molly Huddle at the line for the bronze, Shalane Flanagan taking sixth.

Shamier Little, with a bright green bow in her hair, and Cassandra Tate went 2-3 Wednesday night in the women's 400 hurdles. Zuzana Hejnova of the Czech Republic, the Moscow 2013 champion who had spent most of 2014 recovering from a broken bone in her left foot, dominated again in a 2015 world best 53.50. Little ran 53.94, Tate 54.02.

Shamier Little after winning silver in the women's 400 hurdles // Getty Images

Cassandra Tate and Little a few moments later // Getty Images

The final events Wednesday night, however, proved hugely emblematic of American performance:

Only one American, Justin Gatlin, had even made it through the heats to the semifinals of the men’s 200. He ran an easy 19.87 to move on to the finals, that 19.87 the second-fastest semifinal time ever at a worlds; Francis Obikwelu ran 19.84 in 1999.

Justin Gatlin's 19.87 in the men's 200m semi tonight was the second-fastest semifinal time ever at the World Championships. The fastest: Nigeria's Francis Obikwelu's 19.84, in 1999.

In the next heat, Usain Bolt, who defeated Gatlin in the 100 Sunday night by one-hundredth of a second, ran a season-best 19.95, chatting with South Africa's Anaso Jobodwana in the next lane, second in 20.01, as they crossed the line. 

In the women's pole vault, American Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champion, afforded a huge opportunity because Russia's Yelena Isinbayeva was not jumping (the all-time pole vault diva gave birth last June to a daughter), managed a tie for fourth, at 4.70 meters, or 15 feet, 5 inches -- along with another American, Sandi Morris, a rising college star, and Sweden's Angelica Bengtsson.

Cuba's Yarisley Silva won, with 4.90, or 16-0 3/4. Brazil's Fabiana Murer took second, at 4.85, 15-11. Greece's Nikoleta Kyriakopoulo got third, at 4.80, 15-9.

Silva made three attempts at 5.01, 16-5, but did not clear. Isinbayeva holds the world record, 5.06, 16-7, set six years ago.

Yarisley Silva of Cuba on the way to winning the women's pole vault // Getty Images

Emma Coburn had been a medal hope in the women's 3000 steeplechase. She finished fifth, in 9:21.78. Hyvin Kiyeng Jepkemoi of -- where else? -- Kenya took gold, in 9:19.11. Habiba Shribi of Tunisia came second, 13-hundredths back, Gesa Felicitas Krause of Germany in a personal-best 9:19.25, 14-hundredths behind.

The men's 400 proved super-crazy fast.

The American LaShawn Merritt, the Moscow 2013 and Beijing 2008 Olympic champion, in Lane 8, went out hard early on the way to personal-best 43.65. He got second.

South Africa's Wayde Van Niekerk ran 43.48, unequivocally the fastest time of 2015. Kirani James of Grenada got third, in a season-best 43.78, Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic fourth in a national-record 44.11.

What the camera got at the finish of the men's 400 // photo courtesy Seiko

Van Niekerk's best before Wednesday had been more than a half-second slower, 43.96. His 43.48 makes him the fourth-fastest man ever at the distance: Michael Johnson (43.18), Butch Reynolds, Jeremy Wariner.

The second-, third- and fourth-place finishes? The fastest times for those positions ever at a worlds.

Van Niekerk was taken off the track in a stretcher. His condition was not immediately available.

Merritt's silver tied him with Carl Lewis as the most successful American man in worlds history, with 10 medals. He has five 4x400 relay medals (all gold, dating to 2005) and five in the open 400 (two gold, three silver).

Winner Wayde Van Niekerk of South Africa after the 400 // Getty Images

Watch out going forward, meantime, for Isaac Makwala of Botswana, fifth in 44.63.

Makwala had shown up big-time in the semifinals, with the field’s top time, 44.11, and from the outside lane. With an electric-green sleeve on his right arm, he dropped after the finish line and gave the crowd five push-ups, a signal that the semis amounted to nothing more than a training run.

Botswana's Isaac Makwala after the 400 semis // Getty Images

For literally decades, the 400 has been an American stronghold, dominated by the likes of Johnson, Reynolds, Wariner and Merritt. Indeed, aside from 2011 and 2001, an American athlete had won the 400 at every worlds dating to 1991.

Merritt took second in 2011 when James announced his arrival on the world stage; Merritt was coming back that year from a doping ban, and he and James have since traded off titles, James winning in London in 2012, Merritt in Moscow in 2013.

Any discussion of what this all means, if anything, must start with the acknowledgement that the rest of the world has gotten way better at events that Americans used to regularly be able to count on for production in the medals count.

To take another beyond the men’s 400, consider the men’s 400 hurdles:

Helsinki 2005, for instance: two medals, gold and silver. Osaka 2007: one, gold. Berlin 2009, one, gold.

Daegu 2011: zero, with Britain, Puerto Rico and South Africa 1-2-3, the best Americans sixth and seventh.

Moscow 2013: one, a silver, Jehue Gordon of Trinidad & Tobago winning, Emir Bekric of Serbia taking third.

Beijing 2015: Kenya-Russia-Bahamas went 1-2-3.

The Americans finished fourth (Kerron Clement, the 2007 and 2009 world champion who had spent 2014 battling injuries) and eighth (Michael Tinsley, the 2012 Olympic and 2013 worlds silver medalist, in 50.02, after crashing through the eighth hurdle).

Two Americans had put down the year’s best time before this meet, Bershawn Jackson, 48.09, and Johnny Dutch, 48.13. Neither made it to the final.

For emphasis: Kenya had won 45 gold medals at the worlds, dating to 1983, but none before Tuesday night had come in an event shorter than 800 meters.

Tuesday night’s winner: Kenya's Nicholas Bett, in a national record and 2015 world-leading time, 47.79. From Lane 9, again far on the outside.

Nicholas Bett of Kenya, in lane 9, winning the men's 400 hurdles // Getty Images

“I am happy to win this first 400-meter hurdles medal ever for Kenya,” Bett said afterward. “I am thankful.”

Russia’s Denis Kudryavtsev, in 48.05, took one-hundredth off a national record that had stood for 17 years.

Jeffrey Gibson of the Bahamas ran a national record 48.17. That broke his own record, 48.37, which he had run in the semifinals.

“I am looking forward to more races and more training for the Olympic season,” he said afterward.

It must be acknowledged, as the New York Times pointed out in a story after Tuesday's finals, that U.S. coaches are playing a significant role in the success of other nations, and in events, such as the long jump, where memories of American success — Carl Lewis, Mike Powell, Dwight Phillips — run long.

In Tuesday night’s long jump final, the gold (Britain’s Greg Rutherford) and silver (Australian Fabrice Lapierre) medals went to athletes who train near Phoenix with the American Dan Pfaff; the bronze, China’s first long jump medal at a worlds, went to Wang Jianan, who trains with the American Randy Huntington.

The top American? Jeff Henderson, the 2015 Pan Am Games champion, ninth, one spot out of the finals.

Barber, the Canadian pole vault winner? He goes to college at the University of Akron.

As in any meet, injuries always play a role. The American 200-meter specialist Wallace Spearmon, for instance, scratched out of Tuesday’s heats upon reporting a small tear in his left calf muscle.

Beyond all that, it’s track and field, and stuff happens. Alysia Montaño, one of the best American racers in the women’s 800, in contention for a top-three finish in Wednesday’s heats, fell on the second lap after a tangle. She ended up getting disqualified.

In Tuesday night’s women’s 1500, Jenny Simpson, the Daegu 2011 gold and Moscow 2013 silver medalist, lost a shoe. She finished 11th. Ethiopia’s Genzebe Dibaba, one of the sport’s brightest new stars, won in 4:08.09.

Hopes were high in the men’s steeplechase Monday night that, for the first time ever at a world championship, the Americans — specifically, Evan Jager — might win a medal. Jager led at the bell lap but finished sixth. The Kenyans went 1-2-3-4.

How, meanwhile, to explain the men’s triple jump?

Two Americans, Marquis Dendy and Will Claye, could not summon enough Wednesday morning to make the final.

Coming in, Dendy had the year’s fourth-best jump, Claye the fifth; Claye, moreover, is an incredibly versatile athlete who at the 2012 London Games became the first man since 1936 to win medals in both the long jump (silver) and the triple jump (bronze).

Wendy, afterward: “I can’t be too, too mad, but I am disappointed.”

Claye: “I’m still in shock. I don’t even know what happened. It just wasn’t my day. That’s the only way I can see it. I went out there and gave it my all. It just wasn’t my day. I have to make my rules and get ready for next season.”

Bolt gets crowd love, a dose of U.S. "respect"

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NASSAU, Bahamas — It’s better, as the saying goes, in the Bahamas. They held the first edition of the IAAF World Relays here last year, to resounding success, such success that they resolved to do it all over again. They needed just one more thing, really, to make the show even bigger and better, the biggest star of them all, the guy who is, more or less track and field in these first years of the 21st century, and when Usain Bolt took the baton and kicked it into gear on the blue Mondo track, you would have thought Thomas A. Robinson Stadium was going to lift off into the moonlit sky.

“Success is a powerful magnet,” Lamine Diack, the president of the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, had said Friday, at a news conference, adding that officials were “therefore delighted” that Bolt was on hand for this second edition of the Relays.

Usain Bolt running Saturday in the World Relays // photo Getty Images

Make no mistake — Bolt’s appearance this year is testament not only to his desire to gear up for the world championships in August in Beijing but, as well, to last year’s demonstrated success of the Relays and the word-of-mouth on the circuit of how much fun the event is for all involved.

When the junkanoo band is rocking, as it was for the men’s 4x800, and it’s the last lap and Robbie Andrews of the United States is kicking like his hair is on fire, and he crosses the line in a competition-record 7:04.84, pointing the baton in victory at his teammates, and fireworks go off — this is what track and field not only should be, but could be, all the time.

Same just a few minutes later when the U.S. women — with but one Olympic champion in the event, Sanya Richards-Ross, the 400-meter specialist — blows away the field to set a new world record, 10:36.5, in the distance medley, which goes 1200, 400, 800, 1600. The other three: Treniere Moser, Ajee Wilson, Shannon Rowbury.

Even the losers — well, the non-winners — almost always have a great time at the Relays. The Canadian men’s 4x100 team was disqualified for the tiny matter of not having the baton that they give you at the beginning of the race and insist you have at the end. Said anchorman Justyn Warner: “I didn’t have a stick with me. It stayed somewhere in the beginning of the race. I just ran for fun. It is a great meet!”

Remember, that’s almost always. On the final handoff of what looked like a sure U.S. win in the women’s 4x2, Jeneba Tarmoh and Felix could not execute and both tumbled to the track. Nigeria won, in 1:30.52.

For those keeping score: that’s 2-for-2 for the U.S. women in botched exchanges at the World Relays, one this year and one in 2014. Last year, Katie Mackey fell down after a collision with the Australians.

More scoreboard: of 11 major championships dating to the Paris 2003 worlds, the U.S. woman have had relay screw-ups in five. Add in the retroactive doping DQ from Edmonton 2001, and it’s six of 12. That’s not good math.

Back to the positive: these Relays provide evidence of how a win-win can work all around.

For track and field, it’s evidence of how innovation can spin the sport forward. The IAAF took a chance in adding an event to the calendar — amid grumbling that it was too early in the year, that a relay-only event was too novel, that overall it came with too many risks.

“This is an event on which we took a chance,” Frankie Fredericks, the great 1990s sprinter from the west African nation of Namibia who is now a member of both the policy-making IAAF council and the International Olympic Committee. “We need to take more chances in our sport.”

Credit Diack, in particular, with pushing ahead.

He said the Relays make for “the latest example of [track and field’s] continued evolution as a sport.”

Last year’s meet saw three world records and 37 national marks. The Jamaican 4x200 team, with Yohan Blake anchoring, lowered the world record to 1:18.63, taking five-hundredths off a mark that had stood for 20 years — by a Santa Monica Track Club team anchored by none other than Carl Lewis.

Blake is not here this year. Bolt is.

The pre-meet news conference Friday — spurred by last year’s success perhaps, maybe by the draw of Bolt — drew double the reporters it saw last year.

For the government and businesses of the Bahamas, meanwhile, the Relays are pure gold.

Last year, the Robinson track had to be resurfaced and various other capital improvements had to be made, Lionel Haven, the managing director of the local organizing committee said. All told, investment totaled $9 million. Balanced against that: a survey done after the meet by a Canadian firm totaled positive economic impact at $26 million.

That is pretty easy math.

Last year, Haven said, was a “unique year,” because of the various start-up investments — which, obviously won’t be required this time around.

You can almost hear the cash registers cha-chinging around Nassau.

At the same time, too much of a good thing is, well, too much. So the third edition of the Relays won’t go down until 2017, again back here in Nassau.

“It’s going to become even better,” year by year, Fredericks said, adding, “Now people realize this is serious.”

And, at the same time, serious fun — the very thing track and field needs.

As Bolt said Friday, “Any time I compete in the Caribbean, I get so much love.”

The scene at Thomas A. Robinson Stadium as Bolt runs in the heats // photo Getty Images

He made his first on-track appearance, for the first heats of the men’s 4x1, at 7:37 p.m.

The crowd, sensing a disturbance in the force, went nuts.

Ever the showman, Bolt played to the audience, walking up and down the backstretch, waving a little bit, before taking up his position at the top of the stretch in Lane 8. When the camera showed him on the big screen, he smiled a big smile and blew a kiss. That drew a big roar.

The locals saved a bigger roar for the Bahamas team, which by unfortunate luck drew Heat 1, against the Jamaicans.

Alfred Higgs of the Bahamas, a 23-year-old who three years ago ran a personal-best 10.4 in the 100, can one day tell his grandchildren he ran against Bolt.

As they lined it up, and Bolt was blowing them that big kiss, the crowd yelled, “242!” — the area code for the Bahamas, showing some local love. Bingo the Potcake dog, the 2015 Relays mascot, sporting a “242” headband, shook it down.

Alas for the men from the Bahamas, they finished sixth in a field of seven, in 39.32, and would not qualify for the finals.

Bolt had an easy jog across the line in first, the Jamaicans finishing a world-leading 38.07.

In the third of the three heats, the Americans — with Mike Rodgers running the first leg, Justin Gatlin the second, Tyson Gay the third, something of a three-way doping redemption tour in under 40 seconds — took back the world lead, in 37.87, Ryan Bailey (no doping issues) way ahead by the time he got the baton for the anchor leg.

This proved a marked improvement over 2014, when the U.S. 4x1 team had been disqualified in the heats, the result of a bad pass, Trell Kimmons to Rakieem Salaam, Man 2 to 3 on the backstretch.

The final saw the same four Americans in Lane 5.

The Jamaicans — the same four as well, Nesta Carter, Kemar Bailey-Cole, Nickel Ashmeade, Bolt — lined up in Lane 4.

As the gun went off, Bolt waited, hands on his hips. The noise in the stadium: 242-style loud.

At 300, he settled into position.

He never had a chance.

Rodgers to Gatlin to Gay had put Bailey in such a commanding lead — through 300, the U.S. was at 28.55 — and then Bailey ripped off an 8.83-second finishing leg. The batons this year have transponders in them so the timing is incredibly precise.

The Americans won in 37.38, Bolt — who, incredibly, was gaining on Bailey — and Jamaicans second in 37.68.

Candidly, both teams executed below-average passes as the stick went around the track. But there were no drops.

Who, meanwhile, was that at the finish line doing a brief exposition of the famed “lightning Bolt” phase? Could that have been Bailey? And was that, at the end, the briefest turn into a throat slash?

“It felt great,” Bailey said.

“I mean, victory always feels good,” Gay said.

Gatlin, whom Bolt had singled out before the race for talking, and a lot, spoke afterward only of how the Americans and Jamaicans had mutual “respect.”

That was for public consumption, of course.

Here was Bolt: “It’s not the first time I’ve come second.”

Here was the real tell: in the news conference, as he listened to questions and answers, Bolt’s body language said more than any words. His arms and legs were crossed. He is angry, frustrated and determined.

Bolt, second from right, at the closing news conference

That is all good stuff.

You think Saturday night was good for track and field?

It was great.

“All it says,” Bolt said when asked what second-place here means, “is we need to go back to the drawing board.

“All it says is we are excited for the showdown in Berlin.” He quickly realized his mistake and threw his hands above his head. “Beijing, sorry.”

 

'Anything is possible': Williams wins juniors 100

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EUGENE, Oregon — Two days ago, after Universal Sports posted onto Twitter a shot of a skinny Usain Bolt racing at the IAAF world junior championships — before a home crowd in Kingston, Jamaica, in 2002 — he told his 3.4 million-plus followers, “Still the greatest moment of my life.” This from a guy who, of course, has gone on to win six Olympic individual and relay medals as well as eight world titles and who holds the world record in the 200 meters, 19.19 seconds, and the 100, 9.58.

For social media purposes this week, meanwhile, that wasn’t all. Bolt followed up on Instagram by proclaiming, “It’s been a journey and a half from world juniors to now,” adding the hashtags, “anything is possible,” and “keep believing.”

On Wednesday here at Hayward Field, Trayvon Bromell was expected to win the men’s 100 meters. He had set the world junior record earlier this year on the very same track. Instead, in one of those upsets that makes track and field eminently watchable, another American, Kendal Williams, won, proof that, as Bolt said, anything is possible.

Kendal Williams crossing the finish line to win the men's 100 at the 2014 world juniors // photo Getty Images

Williams crossed in 10.21 seconds, Bromell in 10.28.

Yoshihide Kiryu of Japan took third, in 10.34

“I’ve been waiting all year for my time to shine,” Williams said later. “It finally came.”

The gold is the first for the United States at these world juniors.

It is also the first men’s 100-meter gold in the world juniors in 10 years, since Ivory Williams’ 10.29 in Grosseto, Italy. Over history, it made for the fourth time a U.S. male has won gold in the 100 at the world juniors.

The women’s 100 also produced a fascinating winner — Britain’s Dina Asher-Smith, who crushed the field with an explosive start and a take-no-prisoners style that makes for great theater down the lanes. She won in 11.23.

Afterward, asked to explain her victory, she said, “I can’t let myself slack.”

Fascinatingly, there were no Jamaicans — men’s or women’s — in either the men’s or women’s 100 final.

The focus heading into the meet had been all about Bromell. He had even been one of the invited athletes at the IAAF pre-meet news conference, and understandably.

On this same Hayward track, at the NCAA championships in June, he ran the 100 in 9.97, the first junior to run under 10 seconds.

The thing is, it’s difficult to know whether junior performances are a predictor of much of anything.

At those 2002 juniors, Bolt won the 200, in 20.61. He didn’t run the 100. Here are your top three finishers in that 100: Darrel Brown and Marc Burns, both of Trinidad and Tobago, and American Willie Hordge.

Bolt was just 15 at that race, about a month shy of 16.

Bromell turned 19 two weeks ago. The grind of a long season was wearing on him. But at that news conference he tried to make like, not.

He said, “Going back to getting my maintenance done on my body, I feel like I can still run fast. I don’t feel like I’m going to run any slower. I feel like my heart won’t let me. So we shall see if history will be made again.”

Here is the thing about history and track and field. It can often turn on a combination of weather and fate. When they combine in your favor, it’s all good. When it’s not that way — that’s why they run the races.

For instance, in May, at the Big 12 championships in Lubbock, Texas, when Bromell ran a 9.77 for 100 meters, that was very, very fast.

Then again, that day he had the wind at his back. The weather, you know. The wind was measured at 4.2 meters per second, which is way, way more than the 2.0 allowed under the rules of track and field.

That race brought Bromell lots and lots of attention.

In fact, for entertainment purposes only, history buffs might want to note that Carl Lewis — whose fastest legal time was a 9.86, in Tokyo in 1991 — ran 9.78 with an even stronger 5.2 wind at his back in Indianapolis in 1988.

So Bromell, at 19, is already faster on a windy day than Carl Lewis.

This is why Bromell got — and is getting, especially from track geeks — lots of attention.

When he ran 9.97 at the NCAAs in June — the wind that day at his back was 1.8, legal but very close — he took four-hundredths of a second off the former world junior record, which he had jointly held with Trinidad's Brown.

American Jeff Demps and Japan’s Kiryu also ran 10.01 but their times were never ratified as world junior records.

Meanwhile, back in Florida, in May, Williams won the state titles in both the 100- and 200-meter dashes, becoming just the third athlete in state history to win four straight in the 200 (one of whom was Houston McTear in the 1970s). Williams won the 100 in 10.33, the 200 in 20.96. But who noticed outside of a few locals and the coaches at Florida State, where he’s headed?

This week in Eugene, Bromell opened Tuesday with a 10.13. That was a tenth of a second better than anyone in the field, which was what most people here saw.

But not if you were paying close attention: Williams was next, in a personal-best 10.23.

Cejhae Greene of Antigua went 10.27. No one else was under 10.3.

On Wednesday morning, the rain — the weather again — came down hard. The sequence here:  mid-day Tuesday in the sun, then semis and finals Wednesday evening on a soggy track.

“It it was a hot day, you probably would have seen three people go under 10 seconds, man,” Bromell would say later.

Trayvon Bromell and Kendall Williams after going 1-2 in the men's 100 // photo Getty Images

It was not hot. It was decidedly cool, sweatshirt weather, maybe more. A couple ladies were seen Wednesday evening eating popcorn under the Hayward stands wrapped in blankets. One volunteer, displaying awesome local knowledge for summer in Oregon, opted for a black down jacket. It was zipped up.

In the semifinal, Bromell again topped the field, now in 10.29, and in a still wind. He looked sluggish.

And the field crept closer, Levi Cadogan of Barbados in that same semifinal just two-hundredths back, Ojie Edoburun of Britain five-hundredths behind.

In his semi, Williams, ran an easy 10.49 to win.

In the final, Bromell actually got off to a great start, a reaction time of 0.121 off the gun, fastest in the field, Williams going 0.149.

But Bromell just didn’t have more, and by halfway down, it was clear Williams would take the race.

For Williams, that 10.21 was, again, a new personal best. Anything is possible. Keep believing.

“Execution was, I think, priority No. 2 behind mentally staying in the game,” Williams said later. “Not letting anything or anybody else mess with your mojo.”

He also said, “At the end of the day, I’m happy for Trayvon. He has accomplished a lot. He’s a humble kid. I like him. But at the end of the day, I still had to focus on what I had to do. I can’t run Trayvon Bromell’s race better than Trayvon Bromell can do. I had to go out there and run Kendall Williams’ race.”

Bromell said, “I seen the whole race when I came up. I seen Kendall right beside me. He had great knee lift. He was executing well. I was like, man, it’s his time to shine. I’ve had a great run this year. I’m just glad I got through the season healthy. It’s a blessing for him and I’m happy for him.”

He also said, and though these are the juniors these are words of wisdom from someone who is only 19, “You can’t run a fast race every time. You can’t PR every time.”

 

Relay oops -- U.S. does it again, twice

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NASSAU, Bahamas — A Bahamian Junkanoo band rocked and rolled in the end zone. The crowd went jetplane-loud when the local heroes, the Bahamas men’s 4x400 team, went around the track. Two world records went down in about 30 minutes. It was a great night for track and field at the first edition of the IAAF World Relays.

It was also a rough night for the U.S. team, one that ought to raise, yet again, the same tiresome, frustrating questions:

How can Americans be so good at thumbs on a cellphone but manage to be so bad at passing a stick around the track in a relay? Just to pick one team, how can the Jamaicans manage to, you know, get around the track so well and so fast?

Three of the four U.S. 4x1500 racers seeking a quiet moment after the race

There were, to be sure, bright spots for the United States:

The U.S. women won the 4x100 in 41.88 seconds. Sanya Richards-Ross, in a return to the bright lights of track and field after medical woes with her toes, ran a devastating second lap in the heats of the 4x400, opening up a 1.4-second lead on the Jamaicans, to power the U.S. women to victory in their heat. In the men’s 4x400 heats, London 2012 triple jump champion Christian Taylor ran a fantastic anchor leg to hold off Jamaica’s Rusheen McDonald by eight-hundredths of a second.

Yet in a bewildering case of déjà vu all over again, and again, in incidents that awakened the echoes of bungled handoffs and bad passes past, the U.S. team managed not once but twice to screw it up, first in the women’s 4x1500 relay — which seems almost unimaginable — and then in the men’s 4x200.

In the women’s 4x1500, the Kenyans took down the world record by more than 30 seconds. That’s a wow.

The mark had been 17:05.72, set just a few days ago in Nairobi. Everyone knew coming in that the record was soft, and anticipation was high for a duel between the Kenyans and Americans.

Indeed, Heather Kampf, who would run first for the United States, sent out a tweet before the race that said, “Running with a baton is like carrying around the hearts of your teammates while racing. Can’t wait!”

It all seemed to be going so well. And then — boom, Katie Mackey, running the second leg, was on the ground.

“I just did what we did in practice,” Mackey said afterward. “Looked back at Heather,” who was coming in for the pass, “and moved up a little bit to the inside, and next thing I know — the Australian is right in front of me, so I kind of tripped and went down.

“But my first thought was, it is track, anything can happen, you have to get up and try to get back into the race. I think I did it. We love the Bahamas!”

The trip-and-fall cost Mackey at least four seconds. Four seconds meant 25 meters, at least. There went the duel.

The Kenyans crushed the field — by the end, Helen Obiri would lap Romania’s Lenuta Ptronela Simiuc — and the world record, finishing in 16:33.58.

The Americans got up and back into it, beating the old record, too, finishing in an American-record 16.55.33.

“We felt the music throughout the race,” from the marching band, “and we felt the support of the crowd,” Obiri said.

“We are excited to have broken the world record for the second time this year,” Mercy Cherono, who ran the opening leg, said. “I am so happy and proud for my team and the time we ran today. It was important to win for our country.”

About a half-hour later, up came the men’s 4x2. American Curtis Mitchell, passing to Ameer Webb, Man 2 to Man 3, couldn’t swing it cleanly. They wobbled together past the exchange zone and that was that.

Webb, Mitchell said afterward, “had a big stop,” adding, “We almost crashed. I was nearly over him. It was just poor execution.”

Not that it would have mattered much to the result — the Jamaicans, anchored by Yohan Blake, blazed to a world-record 1:18.63, breaking the old mark, set 20 years ago, in April 1994, by five-hundredths of a second.

Unofficially, Blake’s split, and this may be the best we are ever going to do in knowing what he ran on the blue track here: 19-flat. Keep in mind, too, that the 200 world record, held by Bolt, is 19.19, set at the 2009 Berlin world championships.

Of course, Blake had a flying start Saturday night and Bolt had to start from the blocks, so the two are a little bit apples and oranges.

The Jamaican 1:18.63 is particularly notable because it means Carl Lewis' name is now gone from another line in the record books. You can still find the Santa Monica Track Club on the line that says sprint medley, 1985, 3:10.76 -- Lewis led that one off.

It’s notable, too, because, of course, Usain Bolt did not race. He is not here. And, still, the Jamaicans killed it.

The Americans, scoreboard said, would have finished third.

So meaningless.

Saint Kitts and Nevis ended up taking second; France was elevated to third.

“It shows Jamaica’s depth in sprints is spectacular,” Nickel Ashmeade, who ran leadoff, said. “No offense to anyone but there is no one like Jamaica. We have depth all around and keep getting better all the time.”

Bolt has his “lightning” pose. Blake does a “beast” thing. He did the beast thing a lot after the race but tends to speak quietly.

He said, “We just worried about getting the stick around the track. We know we have the speed to take care of everything else.”

This is where the Jamaicans are so different than the Americans.

It’s all mindset.

The Jamaicans genuinely seem to be having fun when they are racing.

Why, in the relays, do the Americans too often seem to be running as if thinking too much? Like they are executing some middle-management strategy?

“We ended up changing the relay last-minute,” Maurice Mitchell, who ran the first leg, said. “But, you know, it is what it is.”

Why a last-minute change, he was asked? “I’m not really sure. It’s coach’s decision.”

Asked to elaborate, Mitchell said, “I’m not really, fully — really know about what was going on. I just tried to do my job on the first leg.”

All of this, the communication issues and confidence woes they can engender, are well-documented in the 2009 Project 30 report — turn to Page 20.

In anticipation of just this sort of thing happening again, however, a few intrepid journalists on Friday did some math:

Since 2001, there have been 10 major championships — Olympics or worlds. The U.S. 4x1 men, as a for instance, have been DQ’d or DNF’d in five. One was for retroactive doping, 2001, so if you want to be picky, the number of field-of-play disasters is four of 10.

Listen to the way the Jamaicans and Americans talked Saturday night, after they had run, about the way each prepared for their races:

Warren Weir, second leg, Jamaican 4x2, half-jokingly: “We stayed home, ate ice cream and played video games.” Then, for real: “No, seriously, we all did our separate preparations because we are in different camps. We just did some baton exchanges on this track to test it out.”

Ashmeade: “We came out here yesterday and did a set of baton passes. That’s all.”

Now, Tianna Bartoletta, leadoff on the winning U.S. women’s 4x1 team:

“I would say we tried to really build trust among one another and communication because there are a lot of different variables between practice and race day.

“We really worked on being loud with our communication, either saying, ‘Wait,’ or, ‘Go,’ or, ‘Stick,’ and being really consistent with that so that under any circumstance or any situation we could get the baton around the track.”

It worked for them, right?