Marvin Bracy

On Justin Gatlin: 'The man is just good'

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

Or, not.

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

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

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

Justin Gatlin celebrates his Trials victory // Getty Images

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USA Track & Field explains:

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

Moving along:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tyson Gay took fifth, in 10.03.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bolt at the Jamaican Trials // Ayako Oikawa

Not counting the 200 or relays:

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

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

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

In 2012, Gatlin got bronze.

In 2013, silver.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Of course he will be selected.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But wait.

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

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

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

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

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

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

No.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all a logical disconnect.

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

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

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

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

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

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

To be blunt: a botched handoff is not armageddon.

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

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

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

That is thoroughly unrealistic.

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

In this instance, especially: respect.

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

USATF high performance director Duffy Mahoney // photo courtesy USATF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of it is just nasty and wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, and sticking with the men’s 100:

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

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

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

On top of which:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Championships, gala -- or what?

SOPOT, Poland — Let’s say you dropped into Sunday’s final day of the 2014 world indoor track and field championships. Further, you were a stranger to the sport, maybe kinda-sorta checking it out, a local from here in Sopot or Gdansk.

The program started at 2:50 in the afternoon. It wrapped up a little past 7 in the evening. That’s just over four hours. In those four-plus hours you saw — deep breath now — 14 events, two semifinals and 12 finals, as well as 17 medal ceremonies.

Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba winning the women's 3k // photo Getty Images

Essentially, you went to the circus. All that was missing was lions, tigers and bears.

This has to change.

At one instant Sunday, long jumper Erica Jarder of Sweden, the 2013 European indoor bronze medalist, launched herself into the pit exactly as, at the other end of the infield, Polish pole vaulter Anna Rogowska, the 2009 world champion and 2004 Athens bronze medalist, was going up and over the bar. Bad timing for Erica Jarder. She might as well have been invisible.

Later, the gaggle of guys running the 3000 meters circled the track as, again, Rogowska jumped at 4.7 meters, or 15 feet, 5 inches, the crowd clapping for her, paying the guys little if any attention. The 39-year-old defending champ, Bernard Lagat of the United States, had been shown pre-race on the big-screen. But what about the 21-year-old sensation Caleb Ndiku of Kenya, who would go on to out-kick Lagat and, you know, win?

A few moments later still, as American Chanelle Price, Poland’s Angelika Cichocka and Marina Arzamasova of Belarus were taking their victory laps -- Price the first American woman to win an 800, indoors or out, at a senior IAAF championship -- the guy high jumpers were, one after another, doing warm-up leaps over the bar. Halfway through that 800 victory lap,  the medal ceremony for Saturday’s men’s 60-meter dash broke in, the strains of “God Save the Queen” ringing out for Britain’s Richard Kilty, the photographers framing him just so with American Marvin Bracy and Qatar’s Femi Ogunode.

Everyone connected to track and field recognizes this problem. It is the deep, dark secret. A day like Sunday merely underscores the challenge, if you prefer a more connotatively neutral word.

Are the indoor worlds in particular a championships, or a gala? Like, what?

To frame it differently: why is pole vault a straight final but not high jump, which involved a qualification round?

Track and field is the the leading sport in the Olympic movement. But other sports — swimming, in particular — are gaining ground, and fast, which is why the International Olympic Committee last year elevated swimming and gymnastics into the top tier of Olympic revenue-sharers; the IAAF used to be alone in that top tier.

One of the main reasons: those other sports have made major changes in their presentations to the viewing public.

By contrast, track and field has pretty much stayed the same. A track meet in 2014 is essentially like going to a track meet in 1994 or 1974.

This has to change.

Of course, the essence, the beauty, of track and field is that it has an amazing tradition, including records from way back that you can compare to today’s athletes. (Let’s put aside, for just a moment, doping controversies and certain 1980s seemingly never-to-be-matched records.)

Track still has the capacity to produce amazing athletes from the world’s four corners. Genzebe Dibaba of Ethiopia is a marvel. The world record-holder in the event, she won the women’s 3000 Sunday, dropping everyone else like they were irrelevant, winning in 8:55.04. The Kenyan champion, Hellen Onsando Obiri, was more than two seconds back, in 8:57.72.

How best to spotlight a race like the 3k with a talent like Dibaba in it? While the women’s pole vault and men’s high jump are going on simultaneously?

The very last event on the program, the men’s 4x400 relay, produced a new world indoor record, 3:02.13, set by Americans Kyle Clemons, David Verburg, Kind Butler III, Calvin Smith Jr.; there was so much going on that any announcement was lost in the general din.

The IAAF on Sunday thoughtfully provided a stapled results package from both Friday and Saturday to the members of the press. Friday’s ran to 41 pages. Saturday’s, 42.

On the one hand, this was glorious for stat freaks.

On the other, this highlighted the magnitude of what’s at stake.

Why so many events? So much stuff?

Every sport has to evolve, and track is way, way too slow to get with the program.

Now — right now — is the time to do so.

These figure to be the last years of Usain Bolt’s reign. Since 2008, he has been — pretty much by himself — the face of track and field everywhere in the world.

Bolt doesn’t do the indoors. That right there — despite the fact that Sopot 2014 was, legitimately, the most important international meet of the year, because there are no world outdoor championships — tells you things need to be looked at closely.

Bolt isn’t even here for ceremonial purposes. Why not?

These are also the final years, presumably, of Lamine Diack’s years as IAAF president.

Now is the time to lay the groundwork for the big changes that have to happen, beginning with the next Olympic cycle in 2016 — and, better yet, before, with the 2015 worlds in Beijing and the 2016 indoors in Portland.

The IAAF, to its credit, recognizes it has issues. That’s why it is launching the world relays, the first edition in Nassau, Bahamas, in May.

Giving some more credit — the IAAF mobile-phone app is the best on the Olympic scene. Flat-out.

But more, much more, needs to be done.

If you go now to a major swim meet, you see the way it can be done.

In theory, a swim meet should be the most boring thing imaginable. What could be more dull than watching eight or nine people swim laps with their heads at or under the water?

Instead, USA Swimming in particular, and FINA, the international federation, have made swim meets electric. At the U.S. Trials, there are fireworks. Indoors. As a matter of course, the athletes now come out from behind curtains to be introduced individually, with spotlights and to the beat of rock music. It generates a sense of competition and drama.

There’s nothing like that at a major track meet. The internal TV camera feed goes down the line as racers stand in front of the blocks. But only Bolt has understood over the years how to really play to the camera — that is, to play to the crowd. And because there are way too many competitors there’s no time for individualized music.

It’s not just the indoors meets at which there’s too much happening. At last summer’s world championships in Moscow, or on an average night at an Olympic Games, there typically are seven or eight events going on over two-and-a-half or three hours, sometimes longer.

On Day 6 of the Moscow 2013 worlds, for instance, one of the great men’s high jump competitions in history had to compete for attention with the heats of the men’s 4x400 relay; the women’s triple jump final; the women’s 200-meter semifinal; and, then, in succession, finals in the women’s steeplechase, women’s and men’s 400-meter hurdles and, finally, the women’s 1500 meters.

Absolutely, some leading voices within track and field recognize the issues — among them Sergey Bubka of Ukraine and Seb Coe of Great Britain — and are mindful of the need for change.

Bubka’s mid-winter pole vault-only meet in Donetsk, Ukraine, for instance, with its rock-and-roll back beat, offers an intriguing model. What if, for instance, a particular world championships session was one discipline only?

Or: what if the qualifications were set beforehand and, say, a particular discipline at a world championships was limited to eight or 12 competitors? Couldn’t the current Diamond League system, if it were tweaked, offer a way to make that happen?

Most critically: how do you get geeked-up teenagers and 20-somethings to want to come to track meets all stoked out like at slopestyle and snowboard events? No -- seriously.

The International Olympic Committee is taking 2014 to undertake studies leading to potentially wide-ranging reform; an all-members assembly has been called for Monaco in December.

What if the IAAF undertook a similar process?

All reasonable ideas ought to be on the table.

Now.

 

Is winning gold ever 'failure'?

SOPOT, Poland — Over two days, the drama and excitement built, Ashton Eaton chasing his own world record through seven events of the heptathlon. It came down to, ultimately, the final event, the 1000-meter run. To set a new mark, the math tables said he needed to run a time that was, actually, one second slower than his personal best.

He started off great. The announcer said he seemed on his way. The crowd roared. His wife, Brianne Theisen Eaton, who herself had won silver in the pentathlon the night before, was in the stands, cheering. On the bell lap, he seemed to be digging deep.

He crossed the line. Everyone turned to the clock.

No.

He was one second slow.

Ashton Eaton crossing the finish line in the heptathlon 1000, one second too slow for a world record // photo Getty Images

“I wish I could have gotten the record,” he told the crowd moments later, adding, “I’m not a robot. But I try.”

This all makes for a fascinating case study in success and “failure,” all neatly encapsulated in the person of Ashton Eaton, who — let us all acknowledge — is the gold standard, the most consistent thing going right now in American track and field.

If USA Track & Field were smart — this is a huge if — it would wake up, smell the Courier Coffee (Portland reference, get with it, people) and make Eaton the focus of, like, everything between now and the 2016 world indoors (oh, in Portland) and then the Summer Games later that year in Rio.

The guy is the real deal. He is solid. In every way.

In “failure,” Ashton Eaton should have inspired kids everywhere to ask their high school coach about the heptathlon or the decathlon or, at the least, to want to be a lot like him. For emphasis: everyone should "fail" like this. This was what it is like to test yourself and find that that even when you are best in the world, like Ashton Eaton, you can still discover things about yourself to become better still for the next test.

Because life always holds a next test.

Eaton is the London 2012 Olympic and Moscow 2013 world decathlon champion; he is also the Daegu 2011 silver medalist. He holds the decathlon world record.

He is now indoor world champion at both Sopot 2014 and Istanbul 2012.

The gold Saturday means he has now won the Olympic, world and two indoor titles within just two years.

He and Brianne — she competes for Canada — train in Eugene with coach Harry Marra. They comport themselves in seemingly every way with modesty, humility and decency.

Eaton’s prior three heptathlons had produced world records. The IAAF was offering $50,000 for any new world record here. Before the competition got underway, however, he insisted Thursday he truly was not thinking about a new mark.

“It’s all about pushing the limits and seeing where it takes you. The IAAF invites us,” meaning the combined-event athletes, “because they saw our performances and wanted us to compete here. I’m not going for a world record, I’m competing to win and whatever else happens is a cherry on top.”

Friday’s events — the first four of the seven — had left Eaton just one point behind world-record pace.

In Saturday’s morning session, precisely at the stroke of 10, Eaton ran the 60-meter hurdles in 7.64 seconds. That was just four hundredths off his lifetime best. It was also four-hundredths better than he did in Istanbul. That put him nine points ahead of world-record pace.

An hour later, in the pole vault, he cleared 4.90 meters, or 16 feet, 3/4 inch, and made it look easy. The same at 5.0, 16-4 3/4. He skipped 5.1, electing to go straight to 5.2, 17-3/4. There he missed his first two attempts. He cleared the third, seemingly more on will than anything else, veering to the right as he cleared.

As he hit the pad, both arms went up, touchdown-style. He was, still, nine points ahead of world-record pace.

“It was ugly,” he said later. “That’s the beauty of the decathlon. It doesn’t have to be pretty. At that point, it was — screw technique, just get the body over the bar.”

He missed his first two attempts at 5.3, 17-4 1/2. The music started pumping for the third try and he pumped his right fist in time. But he came up well short, indeed under the bar.

That meant he needed 2:33.54 in the 1000 to break the world record. His personal best: 2:32.67, at the 2010 NCAAs.

That, per the schedule, had to wait until Saturday night.

Other American athletes came through with some shining results as the evening wound around: in a major upset, Nia Ali, coached by Moscow 2013 110-meter men’s hurdles silver medalist Ryan Wilson, won the women’s 60 hurdles in a personal-best 7.80, defeating Australian Sally Pearson, the London 2012 100 hurdles champ, who finished second in 7.85; Francena McCorory won the women’s 400, in 51.12 seconds; Marvin Bracy took silver in the men’s 60 in 6.51; Kyle Clemons, who got on a car accident en route to the airport on his way to Poland, took bronze in the men’s 400, in 45.74.

Brianne, escorted by Marra, made it out to the seats about five minutes before Ashton’s race.

He went immediately to the lead and held it at every split but one, at 400 meters. At 800, the timing clock said 2:06.20, and he kicked it into high gear, gritting his teeth, pumping his arms.

He crossed the finish line in 2:34.72.

For sure, it was good enough for gold. Everyone knew that. Andrei Krauchanka of Belarus would end up taking silver, Thomas Van Der Plaetsen of Belgium bronze.

After Eaton saw the time, he slapped his fist in his hand. He shook his head. He took a few steps and then slapped the railing in disgust.

There will naturally be critics who say — that’s sportsmanship?

Attention, critics: Ashton Eaton is competing for two days with the other guys. They enjoy a fraternity and camaraderie. The only guy he was miffed at was himself, for a second, over a second.

We ask our Olympic champions to be real. Here’s real:

“I think,” he said, “I was just mentally weak.”

He also said, “I don’t know. I should be satisfied with the gold medal. But at this point — indoors, if I don’t get a world record, it feels like silver, like a loss.”

And: “I know, it’s kind of awkward. It’s the position I put myself in. I think I expected a lot from myself. I wanted the world record, too,” after the pole vault, when it became apparent it was again attainable. “I’m disappointed.”

This is what he was telling himself in the 1000: “Ashton, you need to be tough.” But: “I just didn’t push myself hard enough. Clearly, I mean, the last lap, I went, and I was like, let’s see what I have, and I had a lot — I was like, you idiot.”

What, then, he was asked, is the lesson from all this?

Good question, he said.

“If I hadn’t gotten silver in Daegu, I don’t think I would have learned from ‘quote’ failure. Not getting a record indoors, that’s a failure for myself. I’m not sure what I have learned yet. But I will reflect and I know I will learn something. Maybe a little bit about myself.”

A good place to start will be with Marra. Ashton and Brianne hugged each other under the stadium as their coach had this to say:

“Bottom line is this: you come to a competition, whoever you are, whatever event, you try to show to the world you’re the best. Ashton Eaton competed well. Bottom line is to win. He put himself in to position to try to go get a world record. You can’t put a damper on that; you can’t put a damper on that. Otherwise, the sport would go down the tubes.

“It’s about head-to-head competition. If you can, you get the world record. Would it have been nice? Of course. But it didn’t happen. OK.

“Solid,” Harry Marra said, “all the way through.”