Katie Ledecky

Alfred E. Neuman as swim spokesdude: What, Team USA worry?

Alfred E. Neuman as swim spokesdude: What, Team USA worry?

BUDAPEST — In the land before time, when there were no cellphones, those of us of a certain generation were sent out of the house by exasperated mothers who didn’t know the first thing about bicycle helmets and, truth be told, didn’t much care. They just wanted us out until it was dark.

So off we went, baseball cards in our spokes. It was a very exciting day when the new edition of certain magazines would show up in the racks at the Ben Franklin five-and-dime store. It was super-exciting when Mad magazine would show up, with stupid Alfred E. Neuman on the cover, grinning, “What, me worry?”

Now that these 2017 FINA world championships are in the history books, can we finally acknowledge Alfred E. Neuman as Team USA’s unofficial spokesdude?

No Michael Phelps, no Ryan Lochte, no Missy Franklin. No worries.

Phelps and the shark or, like, a great swim meet?

Phelps and the shark or, like, a great swim meet?

BUDAPEST — Did you know, my 18-year-old daughter said to me over FaceTime, she in California, me here in Budapest at the FINA world swim championships, that Michael Phelps raced a shark?

Did you also know, she went on, that it wasn’t really a real shark? And Michael had a monofin? And Michael went 38.1 seconds and the shark 36.1 seconds? He was close!

So, I said to the darling daughter, now that you have told me everything about Michael and, as it were, the ultimate example of jumping the shark, what can you tell me about what’s going on here? Because, I said, this is a great meet.

To switch animal gears, or something, here was her response: crickets.

Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the existential dilemma of Olympic sport in 2017.

Katie Ledecky is (gasp) not perfect and -- it's (more than) OK

Katie Ledecky is (gasp) not perfect and -- it's (more than) OK

BUDAPEST — If you listen closely, very closely, to Katie Ledecky this week at the 2017 FINA world championships, you can hear — appropriately — a college sophomore-to-be.

Someone who sees that there is a big world out there beyond swimming, that swimming is just a piece of a long and meaningful life as part of a loving and supportive family. Who also sees that many of the big stars on the American team who have come before her in recent years have wrestled with some big issues and maybe — probably — could have benefitted from some quality time between Olympic Games.

If you were Katie Ledecky and you had done pretty much everything there is to do at the highest levels, and now, after Wednesday, in the women’s 200-meter freestyle, you were proven human after all, which in its way is the lifting of an incredible burden, might you be inclined to maybe think of 2018, or at least some portion of it after the college swim season, as, well, me time?

As a constructive and positive stroke all around?

Midwestern values, Olympic values -- what kind of values here?

Midwestern values, Olympic values -- what kind of values here?

BUDAPEST — Lilly King grew up in Evansville, Indiana. I grew up near Dayton, Ohio. They’re about four hours apart via a combination of interstate highways. In the summertime, you can see a lot of green and a lot of fields along those roads. We are talking serious midwest.

Maybe Lilly King and I learned a different set of midwestern values.

Where I grew up, I was taught to walk a mile in someone else’s shoes. To think long and hard about circumstances and perspective when someone makes a mistake. To consider the notion of a second chance.

To know that the most profound of all virtues and values, indeed the greatest American story of all time, is redemption, because we are all flawed and imperfect, and our world is fragile and broken, and the greatest gift we as Americans can give the world is to pass along that humility in service to try, just try, to make things better, little by little, day by day.

Nevertheless, the IOC persists

Nevertheless, the IOC persists

BUDAPEST — Amid the rocking splendor of the 2017 FINA swimming championships, there are three parallel threads that dominate conversations at the Duna Arena and the riverfront hotels where Olympic, swim and other international sports personalities have clustered.

Isn’t Budapest awesome? (Yes.)

Isn’t Katie Ledecky awesome? (Yes.)

Why is the International Olympic Committee seemingly so set on giving the 2024 Summer Games to Paris and 2028 to Los Angeles?

Aha.

To be clear, the 2024/28 arrangement is not — yet — a done deal. Nothing in life is certain until it is, and as is widely known by now, the IOC has given itself until its next general assembly, September 13, in Lima, Peru, to finalize the double allocation.

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

Day One, two golds, Ledecky is ... 'incredible'

BUDAPEST — It’s only Day One of the swim action of these 2017 FINA world championships, and here is the dilemma.

How many different ways are there to say Katie Ledecky is great?

In the first final in a meet she is expected to — strike that, absent something freaky, will — dominate, Ledecky set a new championship record in the women’s 400 freestyle, winning by more than three seconds.

Like life itself, no one owes you anything

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Welcome to 2017. My friend of many years, Gianni Merlo, the Italian president of the international sportswriters association, keeps telling me to write shorter. In that spirit, here are 12 three-sentence nuggets (OK, some of them are long sentences):  

1. The 2016 and 2012 Olympic decathlete champion Ashton Eaton and his wife, Brianne Theisen-Eaton, the Rio heptathlon bronze medalist, announce their retirement. Great athletes, better people and congrats to them and their world-class coach and first-rate human being himself, Harry Marra. The hug Ashton and Brianne shared after she won the pentathlon at the 2016 IAAF world indoors in Portland, Oregon, is the moment of the year in the sport, if not the entire Olympic scene.

2. Nick Symmonds, the U.S. 800-meter runner, announces he’s going to retire, too, and the likes of my longtime colleague Tim Layden of Sports Illustrated assert Symmonds’ activism will be missd in a sport that “has been ruled by bureaucrats and shoe companies that have successfully suppressed athletes’ earning power and voices,” Tim adding that Nick has been “the most willing to place his career and earnings at risk.” That’s one point of view, along with Tim’s assertion that Nick, sponsored by Brooks, was “excluded” from the 2015 Beijing worlds team amid a dispute over when and where to wear Nike gear. The truth: Nick opted out because he refused to sign and it’s far from clear how far, age 31 that summer, he would have made it in the 800 rounds at the Beijing championships.

Nick Symmonds after taking silver in the men's 800 at the 2013 IAAF world championships in Moscow // Getty Images

3. Symmonds is a relentless self-promoter and provocateur who has failed significantly at the core notion some percentage of those who cover track and field for some bizarre reason seemingly keep wishing (or at least suggesting) he is something of a success at: getting other national-team athletes to go along with his act or significantly and constructively influencing corporate or federation policy. Tim writes, “There is not another Symmonds on the horizon, and that is an enormous loss.” Hmm — maybe if more people thought Nick had a point worth pursuing, there would be lots and lots more Nicks on the way, the 2004 Athens shot put champion Adam Nelson telling the New York Times, “It would have been great if he had found more ways to involve more athletes.”

4. In 2014, when he switched from Nike to Brooks, Nick wrote this in a piece that was published in Runner’s World: “In the past few years I have been very vocal about athletes’ rights, and Brooks’ support of professional runners for the health of competitive running is squarely in line with what I have been advocating.” Fascinating — tell that to Jeremy Taiwo, the U.S. decathlete. In March 2016, Brooks announced it had signed Taiwo to a deal, declaring Taiwo was part of the company’s “Inspire Daily” program, a “group of athletes and coaches around the country who lead by example and inspire the love of running every time they lace up and head out”; after the U.S. Trials in July in Eugene, the company hailed “Brooks Beast Jeremy Taiwo” for his second-place finish, behind Eaton, saying, “Brooks sponsors athletes like Taiwo to inspire runners everywhere, and supporting them on and off the run is central to that goal"; in Rio, Taiwo finished 11th; a few days ago, Brooks acknowledged it had dropped its sponsorship of Taiwo, declaring it was a “running-only company.”

5. Here is the unvarnished truth about the economics of track and field (and by extension the Olympic movement) in the United States, as popular or not as it may be: like life itself, no one is owed anything. The athletes are independent contractors, there is no union, no collective bargaining agreement, no teams, no league. Indeed, track and field is the essence of what most Americans say since kindergarten is what they believe in: self-determination, becoming what you dream you want to be, in short the ability to make money off your own talent, skill and enterprise.

6. Track and field’s world governing body, the IAAF, says the new “Nitro Athletics” meet next month in Australia, featuring “Usain Bolt’s All-Stars” and other teams, is destined to be “the innovation [track and field] needs.” For sure the presentation of track and field needs innovation. Not clear if a Team Tennis-style format is going to be it.

7. The gymnast Simone Biles is fabulous. But how did the swimmer Katie Ledecky not win every U.S. female athlete of the year award for 2016? She won the 800-meter freestyle in Rio by 11 seconds!

8. The European Olympic Committees is due to make a decision soon on whether to keep next month’s Winter European Youth Olympic Festival (that’s the name) in Erzurum, Turkey. The concern, obviously, is the security situation in Turkey, which really makes it not a difficult decision. If you were a parent — under what theory would you permit your kid to go?

9. Ban Ki Moon steps down as UN Secretary General. He and the International Olympic Committee president, Thomas Bach, are close. Is Ban the next president of scandal-wracked South Korea, and just in time for the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Games?

10. A U.S. intelligence assessment says Russian president Vladimir Putin sought to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign, asserting one of the motives was payback for, among other things, allegations of widespread Russian athlete doping, the report asserting that from a Russian perspective the doping scandal and Panama Papers were seen as “U.S.-directed efforts to defame Russia.” This is the best intelligence the U.S. can produce? Maybe this is why President-elect Trump has been publicly so unimpressed: pretty much everything in that report has been public knowledge for weeks.

11. Thousands of words in that report, yet not even one about President Obama’s politically driven move to very publicly stick it to the Russians on the occasion of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games, nominating to the formal U.S. delegation a number of gay athletes amid the furor over the Russian anti-gay legislation? That is a material omission. Who are the geniuses, exactly, working for these “intelligence” agencies?

12. Here’s what, if you are American, you really ought to be upset about, and it’s not Russia and Putin, because you have to assume hacking is, and has been for years, a fact of life, and it goes both ways. Getting all sanctimonious over a Russian “influence” campaign, meanwhile, willfully ignores the many times the U.S. government has sought to “influence” affairs in other nations. Here’s the dilemma: are the Russians really that much better at cyber stuff than the Americans?

Back in the spotlight

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RIO de JANEIRO — If, like most people, you last paid serious attention to Olympic-caliber swimming in London, when that Michael Phelps dude announced he was retiring, welcome back to the pool for your every-four-years dip, and just in time to catch the one and only race at these Games at which Katie Ledecky was always likely to take second instead of first.  

Katie Ledecky, right, with, from left, Simone Manuel, Abbey Weitzeil, Dana Vollmer after Sunday's women's 4x100 freestyle relay // Getty Images

In the final swim of the final event of the first day of swimming’s nine-day run here at the Rio 2016 Games, Ledecky anchored an American-record 3:31.89 in the women’s 4x100 meter freestyle. It took a world record 3:30.65 from the Australians, who were heavily favored, to win.

Even in second place, the legend of Katie Ledecky just keeps getting better and better. This was the first time Ledecky had ever — ever — raced the 4x100 relay for Team USA at an international level. The last time she swam in a 4x1 was in high school, she said afterward with a laugh.

Please click through to NBCOlympics.com for the rest of this column: bit.ly/2bbuwSA

 

The ups and downs of 'hardest team to make'

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

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

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

And how to handle it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some numbers:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

When you’re not?

Compare and contrast:

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

This made for great TV.

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

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

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

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

Here?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

His reaction:

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

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

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

The thing is — it’s not.

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

The answers:

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

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

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

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

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

Dustin, Jillian and 2-year-old Miley

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

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

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

Coaches.

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

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

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

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

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

“And we have a lot.”

 

Change for better at USATF: believe it

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

Let that sink in for a moment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

At the same time, praise where praise is due:

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

True — by virtually any metric.

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

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

The evidence is all around Hayward, and Eugene:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Is Costas in Eugene? No.

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

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

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

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

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

Lots of things are indisputably a lot different.

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

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

Trying on uniforms -- here at team processing

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Which leads directly to the central point.

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

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

Most important:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Three, Siegel and Washington are quick to credit others.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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