David Rudisha

Portland 2016: a track and field innovation lab

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PORTLAND, Ore. — For as long as anyone might remember, the mantra in track and field has been: well, that’s the way it has always been done. The 2016 world indoor championships, which concluded Sunday after a four-day stand at the Oregon Convention Center, offered a different take. Here, it was: let’s try something new.

“Innovation,” Max Siegel, the chief executive officer of USA Track & Field, “doesn’t happen by accident.”

It’s a function, he emphasized, of collaboration and resource: “You have to have a deliberate plan. You have to plan to be innovative, and then when you come up with an innovative idea you have to have an effective plan to execute the idea.”

The track was green. With the house lights down, the athletes entered down a ramp as their names were called out, one by one. The medals were, for the most part, awarded not onsite but at a downtown square that had been turned into a live-music and party venue. During the championships, a (mostly rock) soundtrack kept the beat to what was what on the track and in the field (special shout-out to the excellent DJ who threw Bob Seger’s “Old Time Rock and Roll” out there during the men’s masters’ 800).

The party at Pioneer Courthouse Square // photo TrackTown USA

Siegel at Thursday afternoon's opening news conference, at Pioneer Courthouse Square // Getty Images for IAAF

Did it all work? For sure not. A meet session should be two to two-and-a-half hours, max. Too often it went three-plus.

Did enough of it work, however, so that there’s reason, for the first time in a long time, to think that track and field at least stands a chance — again, a chance — of breaking out of its bubble and emerging over the next few years, particularly in the United States, as more than a niche sport?

For sure.

Even the highlight moment of the championships — Ashton Eaton bounding over in his warmups from the long jump pit to congratulate his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, for winning the pentathlon — was, though thoroughly unscripted, at least allowed for.

Organizers timed it so that husband and wife would be on track at the same time.

“When you know you have these possibilities,” said Paul Hardy, competition director for track’s worldwide governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, “you start thinking about creating a timetable that allows for these special moments.”

He added a moment later, “That’s how we’re now looking at it — how we present the sport.”

He also said, “We need to introduce things. Hopefully they’ll work. If you don’t try anything, you never know if it works. If it doesn’t, you can try for the next time. if it does, hopefully we can improve it even more.”

Even friendly police

The vibe was so overwhelmingly positive in Portland that even the police proved smiling, friendly, accessible.

That, too, was by design.

“Community engagement,” as police nationwide like to call it, is “a huge priority for us right now,” Portland police Sgt. Greg Stewart, the department’s acting spokesman, said in a telephone interview.

“Nationally with the police — it really is a contentious time. Police and community relations are maybe not what they should be. The chief,” Larry O’Dea the city’s police chief for the past 16 months, “is really working to make sure that’s a focus for us.”

When the police are cool, anything’s possible. Even in track and field, right?

Some is just easy: the kiss-cam (or smile-cam, whatever), a staple at other major events? Why not?

But why not think really out of the box?

What about re-configuring the set-up so that, in the same way that fans sit court-side at an NBA game, they can sit immediately along the track?

At the Kentucky Derby, thousands of fans crowd the infield. It’s not because they know the life story of every one of those horses, or could remotely care. Absolutely there would have to be some re-thinking of how that might work in track, since the infield is literally where those field events are competed — but why not turn a track infield into the same kind of party zone?

“No idea is stupid,” Hardy said. “If you don’t get people to throw ideas around, you’re never going to get anywhere. We can take ideas from other sports. We can learn from people who follow the sport. We are definitely open.”

As Vin Lananna, president of TrackTown USA, the local organizers of Portland 2016, said, “You can’t be afraid to think big.”

He observed: “The best example is American football. How many real football fans know everything about football and go to the stadium to watch a football game? A lot of it is social.

“We don’t do it in track. We make it impossible. It’s long. It’s often boring. The announcers don’t relate. There’s no music.

“We’re getting there little by little,” he said of the 2016 world indoors. “This is a good start.”

Lananna at that Thursday afternoon news conference // Getty Images for IAAF

Coe at Thursday night's opening ceremony // Getty Images for IAAF

These championships marked the first world championships with Seb Coe, elected last August, as  IAAF president.

Coe, recognizing that track’s demographics trend older than younger, has preached relentlessly that the sport must innovate — in everything from presentation to social media.

“If you’re going to innovate,” Coe said, “a lot of it is going to work but you have to recognize that some of it is like the Paris fashions — not everything is angular, jagged, outrageous. Some of Paris fashion week is inevitably going to end up on a coat hanger in a retail store. But you do need to start somewhere.

“This for me is absolutely crucial: we must give federations, we must give organizing committees, permission to think out of the box and not sit there thinking, ‘I am going to look silly if it doesn’t come off.’ Because some of it is not going to come off.”

Part Two in a three-piece Oregon trilogy

These 2016 world indoors also made for the second act in a three-part Oregon world championship track and field trilogy keyed by TrackTown, in partnership with, among others, USATF. Understand, for instance, that these indoors don’t happen without the significant financial investment of USATF.

Part one: the 2014 world juniors in Eugene. Part two: Portland 2016. Part three: the 2021 world outdoor championships, back at a rebuilt Hayward Field.

There’s more: the 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials will be back at Hayward.

Plus the NCAA Division I track and field championships — they have been at Hayward the past two years, will be there this year (June 8-11), indeed will be there every year through at least 2021.

This summer is due to see the launch of the TrackTown summer series meets.

Little appreciated amid the first world indoor championships in the United States since 1987: the IAAF had to want to come. One of the reasons it did so: the IAAF meetings around the 2014 Eugene world juniors, thanks to the efforts of USATF chief operating officer Renee Washington, were arguably best-ever. A detail that might seem small but really isn’t, like the translation services — it was made a priority, not not an afterthought.

The IAAF noticed.

“There is no one person who can single-handedly take all these people stuck in the fact that [the sport] has been done a single way,” Siegel said, emphasizing, “It takes a collective effort of like-minded people to effect any vision.”

From the get-go, the point of emphasis from all involved was that the 2016 world indoors had to be more than simply a track meet.

The audacious goal was to stage “the best indoor meet ever held anywhere in the world,” Lananna said last Wednesday with the idea of sparking what Coe on Thursday called a “reawakening of track and field in this country.”

That kind of thing is, by definition, going to take time.

So an immediate verdict is, again by definition, all but impossible.

Attendance figures suggest, however, that something must have clicked — the OCC, capacity 7,000, was essentially sold out for all three night events, and even the Friday morning session, competing against an Oregon State NCAA March Madness basketball game on TV, drew 4,087.

On Saturday evening, demand was so intense that organizers added— thank you, Portland fire marshal for being so accommodating — temporary seats and allowed for standing-room only. The total: 7,173.

Sunday, much the same: 7,191. Friendly ticket “brokers” could be seen looking for business outside the convention center.

The four-day attendance total: 39,283.

A huge boost to the atmosphere: the U.S. team ended up with 23 medals overall. Runner-up Ethiopia had -- five. France, four. Nobody else had more than three.

The fundamental challenge

Putting aside doping and corruption issues, for which the sport has justifiably earned headlines in recent months and years, the fundamental challenge is easy to identify: track and field is arguably the only sport in which multiple events are going on simultaneously.

On Sunday, for example: the men’s long jump, women’s 5k and women’s high jump (won a few minutes later by U.S. teen sensation Vashti Cunningham) were all going on at exactly the same time.

American Marquis Dendy, long jump winner // Getty Images for IAAF

Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia crosses the line to win gold in the women's 5k // Getty Images for IAAF

American teen Vashti Cunningham in the high jump // Getty Images for IAAF

How to best present or package that? Production, story-telling, engaging an audience — particularly newbies or casual fans?

At the same time, track and field is without question the most diverse, most global, sport anywhere anytime. It’s also fundamental. Virtually everyone, at some point, has done the run, jump or throw thing.

The 2016 championships drew roughly 500 athletes from more than 140 nations — roughly two-thirds of the countries in the world.

That’s the good.

The not-so: no Usain Bolt, Justin Gatlin, Allyson Felix, Mo Farah (though he did show up to watch), David Rudisha and, of course, given the status of the Russian team amid doping sanction, the pole vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva.

British distance champion Mo Farah, who often trains in the Portland area, watching Friday night's men's 1500 heats with daughter Rihanna // Getty Images for IAAF

Germany's Kristin Gierisch, a silver medalist in Saturday's triple jump

The convention center pre-track build-out // photo courtesy TrackTown USA

Construction underway: note the wall on the right that had to go // photo courtesy TrackTown USA

Ready to go // Getty Images for IAAF

"Feels Like the First Time" -- thanks, Foreigner

The no-shows missed the transformation of the convention center in just 12 days to a world-class track and field venue.

And, beyond the rock soundtrack (Foreigner: “Feels Like the First Time” during the Friday men’s 1500 heats), a series of other major markers, many of which drew from a series of inspirations.

— The pole vault, men’s and women’s, as a by-themselves package on Thursday night, with hundreds of kids allowed onto the banked 200-meter track to watch.

Organizers were rewarded three times over. First: both winners were London 2012 Olympic gold medalists, the American Jenn Suhr and Renaud Lavillenie of France. Second: for the first time ever in the same competition, four women went over 4.80 meters, or 15 feet, 9 inches, Suhr winning in 4.90, 16-0 3/4. Third: Lavillenie, after setting a new indoor championships record on just his third jump, 6.02, 19-9, made three (unsuccessful) tries at a world record, 6.17, 20-2 3/4, electrifying the crowd.

The Lavillenie victory, moreover, provided emphatic evidence that, for all its challenges, track and field remains indisputably at the intersection of real-world politics and sport -- why it's so relevant in so many nations. French president Francois Hollande, on Friday posted to his Twitter account a message that read, in idiomatic English: "Congratulations to Renaud Lavillenie for his second world title! Here's to a great Olympic Games in Rio!"

In the manner of the pole-vault meet that now-IAAF vice president Sergey Bubka used to run in his hometown of Donetsk, Ukraine, stand-alone events would seem a key to the future of track and field.

USATF, for instance, made the hammer-throw at the 2012 U.S. Olympic Trials a signature event, held — before 5,000 people — at the Nike campus outside Portland. In 2014, the U.S. nationals saw the shot put go down on the California state capitol grounds.

Now: what about featuring that women’s high jump? On, say, the Vegas Strip? Or the Champs Élysées in Paris? Or the riverfront Bund in Shanghai?

— Those athlete entry ramps.

Swimming has long done the athlete intro big-time, with swimmers coming out from behind a partition to lights and music. Track tried that at the World Relays in the Bahamas in 2014, and again last year. Now, the ramps.

Another logistical (and time-saving) advantage: no stripping off the warm-ups in the lanes right before the start of a race.

Coe, noting that the indoor format lends itself more easily to experimentation, said, “Enough [new ideas have] come off here to make a big difference already.”

At the same time, as he noted, and this question about the ramps was rhetorical, not signaling an opinion, “Will that work on a Friday night in London when it’s 48 degrees?”

Norway’s Svein Arne Hansen, president of the European Athletics Assn., emphasizing that he, too, is a big proponent of trying something new, noted with a wry smile about turning down the house lights for athlete introductions: “I cannot turn down the lights at Bislett,” the annual summer stop in Oslo. “It’s sunlight.”

— A digitized scoreboard for the horizontal jumps.

You could see, not just have to imagine, what record a particular jumper might be going for. What a concept.

— Locals operating food trucks as an alternative to arena hot dogs. Voodoo Doughnuts!

— Uber as a sponsor, an example of integrating new, and cost-effective, technology.

Normally, an organizing committee has to find a car sponsor or rent a bunch of cars to create a dedicated carpool system. With Uber — Uber provided the carpool. If you wanted a ride — well, you know how Uber works.

— The make-over of Portland Courthouse Square downtown into the place for medals, music and more.

The nightly medals ceremonies focused on the athletes, a key for Lananna and Coe. Lananna said, “You take youth and connect them to their great heroes. That’s what it’s all about — that next generation.”

A clear logistical benefit to moving the ceremonies offsite: carving time out of the rundown at the track itself.

The offsite medals plaza has many roots — see the Salt Lake City 2002 Winter Games, for instance. Or the party vibe each summer at those Bislett Games in Oslo.

The vibe at the square: Portlandia from the start. At the opening news conference there last Thursday, Coe didn’t wear a tie, the first IAAF event in years at which the president did not wear a tie. Neither did Lananna. Nor Siegel.

Again, all quite deliberately.

“It has been a good event,” Hansen said Sunday as the championships came to a close. “The music. The atmosphere. Excellently organized.”

And, at least for four days, in a nod to the wave of doping and corruption headlines, he said, “We don’t talk about [the bad stuff] anymore.”

Ten deep (sort of, maybe) thoughts

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Not everything that happens is itself worth a stand-alone column, even on the space-aplenty internet.

To that end, some recent news nuggets:

-- U.S. Olympic athletes send letter asking for other Russian sports to be investigated. Reaction: 1. There’s obviously a huge difference between state-sponsored or -sanctioned doping, and what has gone on, and for sure absolutely is going on, here. (If you think there are zero U.S. athletes engaged in the use of performance-enhancing substances, please send me a bank draft for a bridge in Brooklyn I would be delighted to sell you.) 2. The First Amendment says you can say almost anything you want. Have at it. 3. The risk, of course, is that such a letter — in the international sphere — appears completely, thoroughly sanctimonious. Lance Armstrong? Marion Jones? BALCO? Major League Baseball and the steroid era (probably the primary reason baseball is not back in the Olympic Games)? 4. With Los Angeles bidding for 2024, with every IOC member’s vote at issue, does it ever work for Americans to assume a position of such seeming moral superiority?

-- Premise: doping in Russia is bad and something has to be done. Not just in Russia. Everywhere. Reaction: 1. Obviously. 2. Seriously. 3. Now -- who's going to pay to put together a worldwide system that can really be way more effective? Let's start with $25-30 million, enough to more or less double the World Anti-Doping Agency's annual budget to the ballpark of $50-55 million. Where's that coming from? If you are an international sports federation, you don't have that kind of scratch. 4. Not even combined, the federations don't have it. 5. Governments? In virtually every country but the United States, funding for sport is a federal government function. 6. The IOC?

-- LA 2024 drops plans for an Olympic village near downtown, says if it’s picked that UCLA dorms would serve as athlete housing and USC would play host to a media village. Reaction: 1. This saves LA 2024 lots of money and removes an element of uncertainty from the bid file. 2. The biggest knock on LA is that it has played host twice to the Summer Games, in 1932 and 1984. In 1984, athletes stayed in the dorms at UCLA and USC. 3. Sure, the dorms at UCLA are better than you would find at universities in Europe. 4. The trick is convincing the European-dominated International Olympic Committee that 2024 is not a been-there, done-that. Going back to UCLA elevates that risk and is, frankly, going to require a major sales job. 5. The housing at USC is going to be really nice. Like, really excellent. The university is in the midst of a huge construction project that promises a thorough gentrification in its near-downtown neighborhood. But no one cares about the media. Clarification: none of the IOC members do, at least enough to swing a vote one way or the other.

UCLA dorm life // photo LA24

-- LA 2024 gets a $2 billion stadium for the NFL Rams (and maybe another team). For free. Also, pretty much all major venues, and all hotels, are in place. And there’s a multibillion dollar-transit plan in the works that’s going to happen regardless of the Olympics. Reaction: 1. Is any city anywhere better-suited for the Summer Games? 2. Is the IOC ready — finally? — to embrace the Americans again? 3. If IOC president Thomas Bach really wants Agenda 2020 to be relevant, here is a world city that, as he has put it, not only talks the talk but walks the walk. 4. This is the most-important host city election in the modern era, determining the course of future bids. If the IOC keeps rewarding stupidity and waste, you have to ask, seriously, about its direction.

The Rams might -- stress, might -- play temporarily at the Coliseum. This is an artist's rendering of the new Inglewood facility // HKS

-- A Danish survey, measuring and comparing national representation from 2013 to 2015 in international sport, declares the United States is far and away the most influential nation in the world. Reaction: 1. Is this a cosmic joke? 2. No U.S. Olympic bids for 2020 or 2022. Why? 3. Chicago 2016. 4. New York 2012. 5. That soccer World Cup bid for 2022? How'd that work out? 6. The United States is seriously lacking in top-level representation. Everyone in the Olympic world knows this. You've got the newly elected head of the International Tennis Federation, and one member of the IOC executive board -- and a handful of others who are, say, technical directors or even a secretary general. Because of the way IOC rules work, the chairman of the U.S. Olympic Committee board of directors, Larry Probst, is hugely unlikely to himself ever be on the IOC board. 7. The survey methodology: "The data behind the index consists of a total of 1673 positions across 120 international federations. Each position is weighed between 1 and 10 based on the level of sports political power. As an example, the president of the IOC scores 10, whereas a board member in a non-Olympic European federation receives the minimum score of 1." 8. There's an enormous difference between quantity of influence, which this survey purports to measure, and quality. To reiterate, see No. 3 and 4, which is why the USOC, with Probst and chief executive Scott Blackmun in particular, has spent the past six years rebuilding relationships internationally, including the resolution of a revenue-sharing deal with the IOC that had made it all but impossible for the U.S. to consider a bid.

-- Voters in Iowa due to caucus in the next few days, followed by balloting in New Hampshire, and we're off to the races. Reaction: 1. If you want the Olympic Games back in the United States in 2024, you want Hillary Clinton to win in November. 2. Say what? 3. Yep. 4. You really think that Donald Trump, who advocates walls and bans, is remotely on the same page as the Olympic spirit? 5. Hillary Clinton, when she was senator from New York, went to Singapore in 2005 to lobby for New York City’s 2012 bid. In 1996, President and Mrs. Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Atlanta Games, and Bill Clinton formally opened those Olympics. In 1994, Hillary Clinton led the U.S. delegation to the Winter Games in Lillehammer, Norway. 6. Bill and Hillary Clinton have a longstanding relationship with LA 2024 bid chairman Casey Wasserman.

From February 1994: First Lady Hillary Clinton, right, and daughter Chelsea at the Lillehammer Games' opening ceremony // Getty Images

-- Five days in Cuba for the first Olympic sports event there since President Obama’s announcement of a new normal between the U.S. and the island nation. Reaction: 1. You can see how Havana was once lovely. 2. Now it’s just mostly crumbling. Dozens, hundreds, maybe thousands of concrete buildings are literally falling apart in the salt air. 3. You want potholes? You have maybe never seen roads so torn-up. It’s a wonder all those classic cars don’t fall into some of these potholes, which resemble nothing so much as sinkholes, never to plow forward again. 4. Big cars with fins are awesome. No seat belts — not so much. 5. My room at the Hotel Nacional was once the site of a mafia meeting. A plaque on the wall said so. 6. Frank Sinatra once stayed in the room next door. Another plaque. 7. If you get the chance, go to Havana now, before the flood of Americans — and all the corporate investment dollars — show up. It’s incredible in 2016 to go someplace and find no McDonald’s, no Starbucks, no Walmart. Not saying those brands are the zenith of American culture. But, you know, they're almost everywhere. Not Cuba. 8. It rained cats and dogs one night and seawater washed up nearly five blocks inland. Cuba is rich with potential but the infrastructure needs — the basics — are almost staggering: water, sewage, electricity, telephone, internet, roads, bridges and more. 9. U.S. mobile phones work pretty much everywhere in the world now. Not Cuba.

Not-uncommon Havana street scene

George Washington slept here? No, Frank Sinatra

Cuba's Alberto Juantorena // Getty Images

-- Alberto Juantorena, the track and field legend (gold medals, Montreal 1976, 400 and 800 meters), has for years now been a senior figure in Cuban sport. As of last August, he is also one of four vice presidents of track's international governing body, the IAAF, now headed by Sebastian Coe. (Historical footnote: it was Coe who, in 1979, broke Juantorena's world record in the 800, lowering it from 1:43.44 to 1:42.33. David Rudisha of Kenya now owns the record, 1:40.91, set at the London 2012 Games.) Two events in the next few weeks require Juantorena to pass through U.S. customs, one a meeting in Puerto Rico of what's called NACAC, an area track and field group, the other the indoor world championships in mid-March in Portland, Oregon. Juantorena has been granted one (1) visa by the U.S. authorities. That's good for one entry, not two. Reaction: 1. Someone in the U.S. government has to fix this. 2. And, like, immediately. 3. Juantorena or Antonio Castro, one of Fidel's sons, an activist in seeking the return of baseball to the Games, figure to be in the mix when the IOC gets around to naming a new member from Cuba. 4. Nothing will destroy the LA 2024 bid faster than word that it is difficult -- still, 14-plus years after 9/11 -- to get into the United States.

Nick Symmonds at last June's US championships in Eugene, Oregon // Getty Images

-- Run Gum, owned in part by U.S. 800-meter runner Nick Symmonds, files suit against the U.S. Olympic Committee and USA Track & Field, alleging an antitrust claim in connection with logo and uniform advertising rules at the U.S. Olympic Trials. Reaction: 1. Run Gum is a great product. The new cinnamon flavor is excellent. Recommendation: the gum is also great for people with migraines for whom caffeine is, as doctors like to say, medically indicated. Take it from someone who knows. 2. Why, though, the headache of a lawsuit? 3. The antitrust issues are nominally interesting but in the sphere of the Olympics the IOC's rules and, as well, the 1978 Ted Stevens Amateur Sports Act almost always control. 4. So why a lawsuit? You file lawsuits when a) you profoundly disagree about something, b) you negotiate but can't reach agreement and/or or c) maybe you're just looking for publicity. 5. USATF, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, has made tremendous efforts in recent months to not only reduce friction at all levels but to actively promote collegiality. The annual meeting in December was all but a love-fest. Last September, USATF and its athletes advisory council agreed on a revenue distribution plan that will deliver $9 million in cash to athletes over the coming five years. 6. It's all good to make a living at track and field. Every athlete should be able to do so. That's not the issue. 7. Again: it's why a lawsuit and what's the motive? Symmonds, asked about that Thursday, said with a laugh,"I think Nick Symmonds going on a date with Paris Hilton -- that's a publicity play," adding, "Engaging in litigation -- engaging in litigation with the people putting on the freaking Olympic Trials that I have to compete at -- all that pressure on my shoulders, why would I want to do that, unless I care about the sport?" 8. No question Symmonds cares about the sport. Even so, whatever disagreement you might have, you couldn't talk it out? It's January. The Trials run July 1-10. That's more or less six months away. 9. Symmonds, asked whether there had been an in-person meeting or extensive negotiation on the issue before the filing of the case, said, no. He said he had sought via email only to "engage in dialogue" with Siegel and with USOC marketing guy Chester Wheeler but that was "months ago." He asserted, "The goal is to level the playing field. Whether that's done through [pre-trial] resolution or ultimately to trial, I’m not sure. I just know it seems so unfair that only apparel manufacturers, only registered apparel manufacturers, are allowed to bid on that space. It just seems so grossly unfair. We are just trying to level the playing field." At the same time, he said, referring to litigation, "This option allows me to stay in Seattle and focus on training and and focus on making my third Olympic team, and allows lawyers to have that conversation for me. That's a conversation I don't have the time or energy or resources to have. I know my limitations. I'm not equipped to have that conversation." 9. It's intriguing that the case includes the same lawyers that pursued the O'Bannon antitrust matter against the NCAA. Because you're going for scorched-earth or because you're trying to reach a just result? 10. Symmonds likes to say that he is all for advancing athlete interests. Taking him at face value, because he assuredly has great passion about a great many things, it's also the case that lawsuits cost money. This particular lawsuit asks for triple damages and attorney's fees. As for damages -- who would that benefit? As for attorney's fees -- same question. In the meantime, the dollars it's going to take to defend this case -- whose pocket, ultimately, is that money going to come out of? Big-time lawyers don't come cheap. Try $600 an hour, and up. If you were on the USATF athletes' board, wouldn't you want to ask about that element -- in the guise of finding out who, ultimately, is being served?

-- Kuwait appeals court acquits Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah of charges, overturning six-month jail sentence. The sheikh is a major powerbroker in Olympic and FIFA circles. Reaction: 1. What's going on in Kuwait, with various twists and turns, can all be tied to friction between Sheikh Ahmad and the Kuwaiti sports minister, Sheikh Salman al-Sabah. Sheikh Salman ran in 2014 for the presidency of the international shooting federation. He lost. 2. Never bet against Sheikh Ahmad.

Can Justin Gatlin be a hero?

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EUGENE, Oregon — It was 40 years ago Saturday — May 30, 1975 — that Steve Prefontaine crashed his gold 1973 MGB convertible on a curve here on Skyline Boulevard and died. He is by now legend, myth, icon and the man that America wants its track heroes to be. By all rights, amid this year’s running of the Prefontaine Classic, the guy who should be America’s track and field hero is Justin Gatlin. He won the 200 meters here Saturday in 19.68, eighth-fastest in history, a meet record. Gatlin’s challenge is not what he does between the lines. It’s what he says when he’s not performing. And how he handles himself, and his doping-related past.

This is all a reminder that this hero business is hard. And yet not so. A little humility and accountability, and knowing what to say at the right time, can go a long way.

Americans can be so forgiving. There is a deep well of forgiveness just waiting for Justin Gatlin if he can find it in himself to get to that place of honest redemption. When he was introduced here before the start of the 200, there were cheers, not boos. After the race, he spent a half-hour signing autographs and had to be dragged away to talk to reporters on deadline.

Is Justin Gatlin a hero? Can he be? What would it take to really, truly get him there?

Justin Gatlin running away with Saturday's 200 at Hayward Field // photo courtesy USATF

What went down here in Eugene over the weekend is also a reminder of track and field’s niche role in the American scene, and how even an amazing meet like this year’s Pre Classic — which seemingly featured virtually every great track star in the world save Jamaica's Usain Bolt and Kenya's David Rudisha — is but a starting block.

Track and field has to be — and this is the aim of the organizers of the 2021 world championships in Eugene — a sport that goes through the winter and spring and into the summer and captures the public imagination, well beyond Hayward Field, beyond Eugene, beyond Portland, beyond Oregon.

It needs stories and stars.

On Saturday, a sell-out crowd of 13,278 at Hayward Field saw the likes of France’s Renaud Lavillenie, who tried three times Saturday to break the world record in the pole vault — 20 feet, 2 1/2 inches — on an injured shoulder, only to come up just short;  American Allyson Felix, who ran a sophisticated 50.05 to win the women’s 400; Granada’s Kirani James, who ran a breathtaking 43.95 to win the men’s 400; and, of course, the incomparable Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce of Jamaica, the multiple Olympic champion in the sprints, who won the women’s 100 in 10.81.

The field heads into the first turn in Saturday's  Bowerman Mile

It needs the likes of Justin Gatlin.

Gatlin ought to be huge. Not just in track and field but as a breakout star. Like Prefontaine.

Last year, Gatlin did not lose a race. He is the 2004 100-meter champion. He is now back, at age 33, and running ridiculously fast.

At a Diamond League meet a few weeks ago, he ran a 9.74 in the 100 — his best-ever, and the fourth-fastest time of all time. Only Bolt (9.58 in 2009), American Tyson Gay (9.69, 2009), Jamaica's Yohan Blake (9.69, 2012) and another Jamaican, Asafa Powell (9.72, 2008), have run faster.

At the World Relays in the Bahamas earlier this month, Gatlin’s second leg in the 4x100 was so quick that even Bolt, running anchor, had no chance to catch Ryan Bailey, who took it home for the Americans.

You want to know why Nike recently gave Gatlin a new contract?

He wins.

Gatlin is a serious, legitimate, for-real threat to take out Bolt this August at the world championships in August and next year at the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

Bolt — just for the record — runs for Puma.

All this has come for Gatlin, again, at age 33. He has two doping run-ins in his history. The first, in 2001, a positive test for amphetamines, would have led to a two-year ban; Gatlin proved, though, that since childhood he had been taking meds for attention deficit disorder. Then he served a four-year ban, from 2006 to 2010 for a failed test for testosterone — which Gatlin has claimed was due to a massage therapist, Chris Whetstine, who rubbed the cream onto his legs without his knowledge.

This has always struck some as the kind of story that would make for an excellent subject for cross-examination under oath in federal court.

Meanwhile, as the South African scientist Ross Tucker pointed out in an excellent column, Gatlin has to confront “three strikes” in a “world of unprecedented skepticism — he is a former doper, dominating a historically doped event, while running faster than his previously doped self.”

At the same time, it’s also the case that the doping rules are what they are. Gatlin gets to run again.

Also, and particularly in the United States, everyone gets a second chance.

Since the days of the Pilgrims, that is the narrative of our nation. All you history majors: you can look it up. Everyone gets a second chance.

By now, the rules, as even Gatlin himself understands, because he articulated them after Saturday’s race, are quite simple and elegant. You apologize in public, owning what you did, and we all move on.

Gay, for instance, recently served a one-year ban. At the Relays, he apologized. He won Saturday’s 100 in 9.88. (Gatlin did not run the 100 here.)

“You know," Gatlin said, referring to Gay, "I mean, what more can you do? He came out and he publicly apologized for his incident. You know, he asked for forgiveness [from] his fans and his teammates, which is us. You know, what more can you do? He gave back his [2012 Olympic] medal. He gave back money. He’s back in the sport, working hard, just to feed his family, like anybody else in the sport.

“So, you know, I can’t do nothing but forgive him … because I have to focus on my race and my aspects and try to get on the podium myself.”

All of which makes the sustained back-and-forth that erupted at Friday’s pre-race news conference all the more difficult to comprehend.

First it was Gatlin and Jean Denis Coquard of the French newspaper L’Equipe.

The reporter asked Gatlin about a study that asked whether he could benefit — even if he was clean now — about the long-term benefit of steroids:

“I think it’s ridiculous. My situation was 2006. That was a decade ago. If anybody says that can happen a whole decade later, they need to go and see what’s happening in the medical world. Don’t come to me with that, you know. I have been in the sport, I have been injured since then, I have been out of the sport, now I am back in the sport and I am running very well, a lot of people have also been in the same situation I have, so those are the people you need to go ask those questions to.”

Then came a question — referenced in Tucker’s blog as well — about the possibility, suggested in a study on mice, that the positive effects of doping can linger long after doping ends.

Gatlin: “I don’t understand why you would match a laboratory mouse to a human being. That’s unfathomable to me. I don’t understand that. So that’s OK.”

A couple moments later, Weldon Johnson of LetsRun.com entered the fray.

Johnson wanted to ask the same question he had at the Relays: “I asked a question to you and Tyson …”

Gatlin, knowing full well what the question was — how do you assure people you are competing clean? — interrupted, saying, “I think Tyson covered that question,” meaning with the apology.

“I wanted to see if you would answer it.”

“He answered all the questions.”

“I think a lot of people would have more like — you haven’t really come clean about what happened in 2006 …

“There’s no comments. There’s no more comments. There’s no more comments. Do you have a question?” Gatlin pointed to his left. “I said everything I had to say on that. There’s no comment. You can read all the articles.”

“Will you admit to taking performance-enhancing drugs?”

By now the two were talking just not at but over each other.

 

A screenshot of Gatlin at Friday's news conference. In the background is Franco Fava, a longtime Italian reporter // LetsRun.com

“There’s no admitting to it. There’s articles. I had the articles. There’s no admitting to it. You can go back and read it. If you’re a history major, you can go back in the archives, go read those articles …

“So you still stick to the same story, that you’re the one guy …”

“Why do I need to change it? What is there to change?”

“That Chris Whetstine is the one who …”

“What does there need to be to change? Go ask Chris Whetstine?”

“He lives here, right?”

“I don’t know. Does he? You’re the reporter.”

“I’m trying to find out.”

“OK, go do that then. Until then, I’m going to answer these questions over here.” Again, Gatlin pointed to his left.

Johnson, undeterred, tried a new tack, referring to Trevor Graham, the coach implicated in the BALCO scandal: “Did you see anyone else in Trevor’s group doping?”

“… I don’t know anybody in those situations.”

“Do you understand how some of the public might be …”

Again, Gatlin interrupted: “Until then, I’m going to deal with the 200 meters in the Prefontaine.”

“I get that. And it’s amazing what you’ve done after four years off. But …”

“Well, if you get that, then why are you asking these questions that happened a decade ago? You’re not a history major, are you?”

Johnson: “… Because a lot of people don’t believe your story.”

Gatlin: “Are you a history major?

Johnson: “I was a history major, actually,” a 1996 Yale graduate whose thesis, “Female Labor Force Participation in 1880,” won the Charles Heber Dickerman Memorial Prize, awarded to one or more seniors presenting the best departmental essay.

Gatlin, who obviously had no knowledge of any such thing: “Good. Really? Good. Because maybe you should go do that, in a museum, or something. Because I am running track and field today. And tomorrow. And the next day after that. Which is the future. That’s why I’m here.”

At that, he turned around to the rest of the ladies and gentlemen of the press, and said, “Any questions? Any more?”

The Pre — with due respect to organizers of the other Diamond League meet in a few weeks in New York — is the premier international track meet in the United States. Gatlin, and his entourage, have to know coming in that he is going to get these kinds of questions. It’s not just L’Equipe that was here. The BBC was, too. And others.

How hard is it to be patient and polite and say, “I understand everyone’s curiosity but I ask for your understanding and patience. I have moved on and I hope you will, too.”

Or, better yet, to do some deep soul-searching and do what Gay did in the Bahamas.

What a good number of people close to the sport really want from Gatlin is a full accounting. There is a sense — and of course this is going to be hard for him to confront — that the truth remains elusive. That’s why there is such restlessness.

What’s difficult to comprehend, meanwhile, is that Gatlin is surrounded by good people. His agent, Renaldo Nehemiah, and his coach, Dennis Mitchell, are stand-up guys. If you have only a glancing knowledge of the sport, particularly in regard to Mitchell, you might not believe this is the case. But it is so.

Winning Saturday seemed a salve. At least for a while.

“I love the fans,” Gatlin said after the race. “I love that the fans love to see a race. Not just a Justin Gatlin race but just to see track and field, you know. We are not the most popular sport in the U.S. so to see the stands packed out here, you want to give back as much as you can to these fans. They come out to see a race that has action for nine seconds or 19 seconds.

“So a lot of people think, OK, they’re sitting on the stands or they’re sitting courtside for two hours or four quarters. Ours is over really quickly. So you want to give them something.”

He also said, “These fans, this is the home of Prefontaine. He’s a distance runner at the best. For them to be excited to see a sprint race, you know, these are true fans and I’m glad to be able to run out here for these fans every year.”

SAFP: no Jamaica doping problem

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MONACO -- Jamaica does not have a doping problem, sprint star Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce said. Eight Jamaican track and field athletes have tested positive this year, including former 100-meter world-record holder Asafa Powell and two-time Olympic 200-meter champion Veronica Campbell-Brown. The World Anti-Doping Agency, meanwhile, is now reviewing the apparent breakdown by the Jamaican national anti-doping agency in the testing of the Caribbean island nation's sprinters in the six months leading up to the London Games.

"I don't think we have a doping issue," Fraser-Pryce said in an interview with a small group of international reporters. Instead, she said, at issue in Jamaica are cases of individual athletes "neglecting to correctly check the supplements" they are ingesting, adding, "The truth is, it's a minefield."

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She decried a lack of support from both the Jamaican track and field federation and the government, declaring, "Nobody is there to give us guidance and support," and saying the time had perhaps come for the island nation's to unionize: "We as the athletes need a voice."

If need be, unions strike to achieve their goals. Runners run. Would Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce, champion of the 100-meters at both the 2008 and 2012 Olympic Games, winner of three gold medals at the Moscow 2013 world championships, refuse to run, to support a union, to prove a point?

"If it comes down to actually not competing [because] things are not up to par … yeah, I would," she said. "If it means lobbying for the athletes, yeah, I would. And not having our name tarnished, yeah, I would."

Fraser-Pryce's comments came on the eve of the IAAF's annual gala here in Monaco, normally a festive event free of such politics. She is the odds-on favorite to be named the female athlete of the year at ceremonies Saturday night. The two other finalists: New Zealand shot put star Valerie Adams and Czech 400-meter world champion hurdler Zuzana Hejnova.

Fraser-Pryce, typically, is cheerful and understated. Indeed, though she had much to say Friday, she was her usual soft-spoken self -- her comments delivered so quietly that one had to strain to hear her, even with a microphone.

The recently elected president of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach, speaking amid the WADA conference in Johannesburg, this week issued a dramatic warning to nations such as Jamaica and Kenya, saying athletes might be denied a chance to compete in the Games if nations were not compliant with WADA rules.

"The [IOC] charter is very clear that this," meaning expulsion, "can be one of the results," he told the British newspaper, the Daily Mail. "It's not the only one and not the exclusive one. But non-compliance can result in the exclusion from competitions."

There would be a long road before the IOC would consider exclusion. Usain Bolt and Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce -- and Kenya's 800-meter champion David Rudisha -- are huge stars. Even so, the fact that the new president would even mention it as a possibility is noteworthy, with Rudisha since saying, "It is bad. The faster they tackle the matter the better for our country's image. Not all of us are cheats. Some may have been [mis]led into abusing drugs."

Asked Friday about the possibility of Jamaica being excluded from the 2016 Rio Olympics, Fraser-Pryce said Friday, "I am not the one who writes the rules. I can't answer the question. I hope it never gets to that."

Fraser-Pryce herself served a six-month suspension in 2010-11 after a positive test for oxycodone. She said it was for medicine she took for a toothache. Oxycodone, a banned narcotic, is not considered a performance-enhancer or a masking agent.

She has said since dominating the 100 and 200 and running a leg in the winning Jamaican 4x100 relay in Moscow that some have questioned whether she was doping. On Friday, she said, "There is nothing for me to hide," adding of the rash of positive tests affecting other Jamaican sprinters this year, "I don't think it has cast any shadows on my achievements because I know what I have worked hard for."

She also offered incredible insight into what drives her not just to win but to keep winning.

In Moscow, Fraser-Pryce won the 100 in 10.71, defeating second-place Murielle Ahoure of Ivory Coast by a ridiculous .22 seconds.

She won the 200 -- not her favorite event -- by .15 seconds. Again, Ahoure took silver.

She anchored the Jamaican relay to victory in a championship-record 41.29. The Americans took silver, more than a second behind, in 42.75.

When she crosses the line first, Fraser-Pryce said, she does not exult in victory. Instead, she is even at that instant already thinking -- what's next?

"I am not enjoying it," she said, adding a moment later, "“A lot of athletes become so overwhelmed with their success when it happens, they forget about the next year. I constantly try to remind myself that this is just one chapter in my journey. There are many more chapters to write and finish."

She also said at other moments, "I feel like if I become complacent, then everything I’ve achieved might fall." And, "I never allow myself to fully unwind or have a vacation." And, "It’s always about doing better and taking advantage of the present."

Others, she said, "become complacent and comfortable and believe they have arrived."

Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce -- never.

Not yet a 'pregnant penguin'

MOSCOW -- The clock said it was a couple minutes past 10 in the evening. All the action on the track was over. The only matter left to be decided was at the pole vault, and there was only one jumper left. Yelena Isinbayeva had all of Luzhniki Stadium to herself. Just the way she likes it.

The greatest female pole vaulter in history, the first-ever in history to clear five meters, won the third world title of her incredible career, the only one in Tuesday's field to clear 4.89 meters, or 16 feet and exactly one-half of an inch.

The world record is 5.07, or 16-7 1/2. Isinbayeva made three tries as the clock ticked past 10. None were really close. No matter. The crowd came to see the Pole Vault Diva, Isinbayeva. They were thrilled, roaring at her every attempt, at what -- for the first time -- felt like a real world championships here at Luzhniki.

"I am so happy the era of Isinbayeva is back again," she said at a news conference that stretched into early Wednesday. "It was never finished."

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Four

Perhaps this is the last of Isinbayeva's world titles. Or not. She says now she is going to take what she called a "small woman's break," intending to have a baby next year. She is due to be the honorary mayor of the athlete's village at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games and said she intends to be walking around -- she really said this -- like a "pregnant penguin" offering the world's skiers and skaters "the traditional bread and salt" like a good Russian host.

The world has never seen anyone quite like Yelena Isinbayeva. And the scene at the pole vault runway -- Isinbayeva's catwalk -- capped a fantastic night of track and field, one that saw the U.S. team win four medals: one gold, three silver.

LaShawn Merritt simply blew away all comers, including London 2012 Olympic champion Kirani James, to win the men's 400 meters, in 43.74 seconds, 2013's best time. Fellow American Tony McQuay took silver, in a personal-best 44.40.

Luguelin Santos of the Dominican Republic -- 19 years old -- finished third, in 44.52.

James? An improbable seventh, in 44.99.

On his way out, James told Universal Sports, "I just died. I don't know what happened."

For Merritt, the 2008 Olympic champion, this marked redemption, and in a big way. He has overcome injury and the embarrassment of a ban relating to the purchase of a male-enhancement product at a convenience store and weathered it all with dignity. McQuay was far from alone when he said at a late Tuesday news conference that he considered Merritt a "great role model."

Merritt said winning Tuesday was a "sweet moment." He also said, "I guess you could call it a comeback. But I don't feel like I ever left. I always continued to work hard and keep faith in my ability -- spiritually, physically and mentally. To come here … I was ready for it."

In the men's 800, Nick Symmonds took silver, in 1:43.55, the best-ever finish in the event by an American and the first medal for a U.S. man since Rich Kenah's bronze in 1997.

Ethiopia's Mohamed Aman won, in 1:43.31 -- the 2012 world indoor champ adding the 2013 outdoor title to his collection. He is just 19. Djibouti's Ayanleh Souleiman took third, in 1:43.76, the first medal for his country since Ahmed Salah won silver in the marathon at the Tokyo worlds in 1991. Souleiman is just 20.

Well before anyone even got to Moscow, the 800 was going to be a wide-open affair. Not one of the three medalists from the 2012 Olympics was here. Gold medalist David Rudisha of Kenya, who set a world-record 1:40.91 in London, was hurt. So was silver medalist Nijel Amos of Botswana. Timothy Kitum didn't make the team Kenya sent to Moscow.

No one in the world had run under 1:43 this year.

In the heats and semifinals, astonishingly, all the Kenyans were eliminated. That meant that -- for the first time in the 30-year history of the world championships -- the men's 800 final would be Kenyan-free.

Symmonds had finished fifth in London; fifth at the worlds in Daegu in 2011; sixth at the Berlin worlds in 2009. He is 29. He had blogged before coming here about how significant it would mean to him personally and professionally to leave Moscow with what he called a "shiny medal" around his neck.

Coming down the stretch, it looked like it might be gold. But with about 20 meters to go, Aman proved just too strong.

"Nothing is impossible," Aman said. "You have to believe in yourself and train."

Echoed Symmonds, "To be a medalist takes a lot of hard work, it takes a lot of luck as well. A lot of experience. At the age of 29 ... it feels like all the hard work and the sacrifice has paid off."

All of that set the stage for the pole-vault drama.

There are three superb female pole-vaulters right now in the world. The American Jenn Suhr won Olympic gold, the Cuban Yarisley Silva silver in London. And then, of course, there is Isinbayeva -- the 2004 and 2008 Olympic champion who won bronze in London.

Isinbayeva is also the 2005 and 2007 world champion. But in Berlin in 2009, she no-heighted. In Daegu in 2011, she took sixth.

Last year in London, she was back to her old ways -- with that third. But for her, third is not -- well, first. And, as she acknowledged after the jumps were all over Tuesday, referring to the last few years, "Sometimes I was desperate … sometimes I thought I should quit."

When all three cleared 4.82, or 15-9 3/4, it marked the first time since 2007 that three women had cleared that height in the same competition. This was, in every way, world-class stuff.

Plus, the crowd was totally into it. The runway and pit were set up in what, in an American stadium, would be a football end zone. The stadium was not filled -- not quite -- but attendance was, because of Isinbayeva, eminently decent. Plus, because of Luzhniki's overhanging roof, the crowd noise was loud, indeed.

Isinbayeva would later say it was the best crowd support she had received. Ever.

"Yes," she said, through a translator in Russian, "that was the best-ever. It was my home crowd. I felt like I was at home. What can you say? Being at home helps you. If we had the Olympics in Moscow [instead of London], the results would be different.

"I've gotten support in other countries. But tonight I knew. Tonight, everyone was behind me. I felt all my emotions. I absorbed it. The support was just colossal."

To have the stadium all to herself? She smiled. In English, she said that was "nice feelings."

Suhr held the lead until she missed her first try at 4.89. Then the pressure was on.

Isinbayeva cleared.

Game over, pretty much -- though the other two women tried to clear, it was not their night.

Suhr took silver, Silva bronze.

Suhr called it a "great competition," adding, "If I was a spectator, that's exactly what I would want to see."

She also said, "When I think of where pole vaulting was and where it is now, you have to thank Yelena for getting us there. making the spotlight, making it one of the premier events to watch. Look at today. Every event was over but everyone stayed to watch it. We have to thank her for really paving the road for that."

People, the era of Isinbayeva is back again. For emphasis, it was never finished.

Most drug-tested: Ryan Lochte

BARCELONA -- Amid statistics strongly suggesting that American star Ryan Lochte is the most-tested swimmer on Planet Earth, the chairman of the doping control board of swimming's international governing body, FINA, issued a blunt warning here Saturday to all racers on the eve of the swim competition at these 15th world championships: don't take nutritional supplements. Just don't do it, Dr. Andrew Pipe said. Too many supplements are made or marketed in the United States, where the unregulated environment means elite athletes can have no guarantees whatsoever that what's on the label is really what's in the can or bottle, he said.

Pipe said nutrition "gurus" and others suggest that supplements are not only helpful but necessary. For many, he said, "Nutrition isn't a science. It's a religion."

Reality: the anti-doping code makes plain, as track stars such as American Tyson Gay and Jamaican Asafa Powell have learned anew in recent weeks, that athletes bear ultimate responsibility for what's in their systems.

Without making explicit reference to the two sprinters, Pipe said swimming wants to be free of the "scourge of doping that surrounds so many other sports," adding, "We want to demonstrate to the world that we're swimming in clean waters." Racing gets underway Sunday at the Palau Sant Jordi.

The fact is, of course, swimming has in recent years seen its share of notable supplement-related cases.

Two years ago, Brazil's sprint champ Cesar Cielo and three others tested positive for furosemide said to have been included in a supplement. Cielo and two of the others got warnings; the fourth, Vinicius Waked, was suspended because it was a second offense.

Five years ago, American Jessica Hardy lost out at her chance for the 2008 Beijing Games after a positive test for clenbuterol; after proving she had innocently ingested it in a supplement, her suspension was reduced from two years to one, and she would go on to swim at the London 2012 Games.

Pipe's comments come amid the publication of revealing anti-doping statistics from both track and swimming's governing bodies. These facts and figures are readily available on the websites of both federations.

FINA, for instance, conducted 1,859 tests in 2012. Of these, 1,240 -- exactly two-thirds -- were out-of-competition.

Anti-doping authorities love to boast about how many tests they conduct at a major meet. Why? It makes it seem like they are being aggressive.

The truth is, such in-meet tests -- while of course useful as a deterrent -- have to be considered in context. The more sophisticated doper is busy doing his or her thing during training season. That's when the time is optimal to use performance-enhancing drugs to help in recovery or to build mass or strength.

To FINA's credit, it spells out not just who it tested out-of-competition but the actual dates.

That tells you perhaps who is not just high-profile but who might be on FINA's watch list -- for whatever reason. The list does not offer any explanation why a particular athlete might be subject to more tests, or fewer.

So, for instance:

Cielo got tested three times last year: Feb. 14, April 22, Nov. 18.

Hardy, three times, too: Jan. 25, April 12, June 2.

Michael Phelps -- who made a career of saying he absolutely, unequivocally raced clean? Four. Feb. 9, April 14, May 21, June 11.

Missy Franklin -- Four. May 21, June 11, July 12, Dec. 4.

Lochte? Six -- making him FINA's most-tested swimmer in the world. Jan. 18, Feb. 9, March 19, April 17, June 11 and Nov. 28. (He was tested five more times during the short-course championships in Istanbul in December.)

Lochte, it should be noted for the record, has similarly proclaimed that he swims clean and has never offered even a hint of doping-related misconduct. It's unclear why he is the subject of such out-of-competition attention.

France's Yannick Agnel, who swam the stunning last laps in the men's 4x100 relay at the London Games to beat back Lochte and the U.S. team? Four. Feb. 16, March 12, May 10, June 20.

Australian sprint star James Magnussen? Four. Jan. 30, March 7, May 21 and June 25.

Fellow Australian Ian Thorpe, trying to make a comeback? (He announced this weekend it was, finally, over.) Five. Jan. 30, April 11, May 21, July 3, Dec. 19.

Chinese teen Ye Shewin, who won gold in London in the 400 individual medley (in world-record time) and the 200 IM (Olympic-record), her last 400 IM lap drawing comparisons to Lochte? Three tests, two before the Games and intriguingly just once after: Feb. 26, March 10 and Dec. 6.

In all, FINA performed those 1,240 out-of-competition tests on 692 athletes; 64 were in China, and 120 of the 1,240 tests, just under 10 percent; 65 in Japan, and 116, about the same percentage; 68 and 131 in the United States, just over 10 percent; 74 and 146 in Australia, nearing 12 percent.

These figures do not, of course, include testing at the London 2012 Olympic Games, done by the IOC, or any tests carried out by national anti-doping agencies or the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Track and field's governing body, which goes by the acronym IAAF, on July 25 published its own table showing it had conducted more of its tests on Kenyans -- 348, 14.7 percent -- than athletes from any other nation.

As a point of comparison, FINA tested only one Kenyan swimmer, Jason Dunford, on Jan. 23 and again on April 13. A Stanford grad, he finished fifth in Beijing and 12th in London in the 100 butterfly.

Back to track:

Russians were the second-most tested -- 336, 14.2 percent.

Then Americans, 222, or 9.4 percent.

Jamaicans? Fifth on the list, 126, 5.3 percent.

The IAAF does not break down test dates the way FINA does. Instead, in a list updated July 19 it noted only whether an athlete was tested out-of-competition "one to three" times or "four-plus."

Gay? One to three.

Powell? Four-plus. Just like Usain Bolt, Yohan Blake, Veronica-Campbell Brown, Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce and Kerron Stewart -- other mainstays of the Jamaican sprint program.

Another Jamaican gold medal-winning sprinter, Sherone Simpson, who, like Powell, has also registered a positive test? One to three.

Campbell-Brown -- who has long been friends with Gay -- recently failed a test, too.

London 800 meter world-record setter David Rudisha of Kenya? Four-plus, just like several other Kenyan standouts, the list of Kenyan names running across four pages.

The list of Russian names spills onto five.

Turkey's Asli Cakir Alptekin, provisionally suspended in May after abnormalities reportedly were detected in her blood profile and now facing a lifetime ban because she served a two-year suspension for a 2004 doping offense? She was tested four-plus in 2012.

The very first name on the IAAF list, meanwhile, is surprise men's London 1500 meter winner Taoufik Makhloufi of Algeria. How many tests for him? One to three.

 

Straight talk about Qatar

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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."

 

Allyson Felix -- a performance every bit as impressive as Bolt's

LONDON -- David Rudisha provided the signature moment of the track and field meet at these Olympic Games. Usain Bolt rocked the house.

But Allyson Felix turned in a performance every bit as impressive as Bolt's, and if that sounds grandiose -- facts are facts. He will be leaving London with three gold medals and a world record. So will she.

Read the rest at NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/QpVxOT