Max Siegel

On the start line now: 11 years, big upside

On the start line now: 11 years, big upside

LONDON — Somewhere, some 8- or 9- or 10-year-old kid is in her or his backyard, throwing or running or jumping and dreaming big dreams about maybe someday being, say, Allyson Felix, lithe and elegant, or Tianna Bartoletta, fast and focused, or maybe Christian Taylor or Ryan Crouser, guys who produce when the spotlight is brightest.

Never, perhaps, has track and field found itself at such an intriguing intersection, indeed one suddenly filled with potential.

There are the kids, and their dreams. There is the sport, with its many documented woes. There is also, genuinely, because of the award of the 2024 and 2028 Summer Olympics, opportunity, and particularly in the United States.

Haters: cheerfully taking your $69.99 now

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For years and years, NBC has had the Olympics. Then the network doubled down, obtaining the rights to, among other events, the track and field world championships. Then it tripled down, getting the rights to track and field's global series, what's called the Diamond League.

For the past five years, under the direction of chief executive Max Siegel, USA Track & Field has been building out its own digital presence. It is now far and away, at least as U.S. sports federations go, the digital leader in the Olympic space at its destination, USATF.tv.

The natural — but nonetheless forward-thinking — next step: the direct-to-you livestream “track and field pass” announced Wednesday by NBC. For $69.99, or roughly $7.75 per month from now until December, you get unprecedented access to pretty much every professional track and field event that matters.

Haters are going to hate, sure, but now even the haters are very likely going to be throwing down their $69.99 because, in the American Olympic space, Max Siegel is doing stuff that no one else is. This is the future, people. You want it? Here it is:

The Boston Marathon (this weekend). The London Marathon. The Berlin and Amsterdam Marathons.

The IAAF World Relays from the Bahamas (next weekend).

The highest profile USATF events, including USA vs. the world at the Penn Relays. The Drake Relays. The Pre Classic. The USA Outdoor Championships. All 14 Diamond League stops. All 10 days of the IAAF world championships from London.

Even the USATF Hall of Fame Black Tie & Sneaker Gala in November and the December Jesse Owens Awards.

For that $69.99, you can watch it live and on demand — on your phone, your tablet, your computer. Deep breath: on your Apple iOS, Apple TV, Android, Amazon Fire TV, Chromecast and, of course, at NBCSportsGold.com.

In December, USATF and NBC announced an eight-year partnership. Again, the progression: forward if obvious and natural.

"Never before has so much track and field content been available in such a condensed package," said Adam Schmenk, USATF’s managing director of events and entertainment properties/broadcasting, the executive behind USATF.tv's growth. "Thanks to NBC Gold and USATF.tv, track fans have in store viewing like nothing else."

What makes all of this doubly interesting is Thursday’s announcement after two days of meetings (in London, if you're keeping score) from the IAAF, track’s international  governing body. Here is chief executive officer Olivier Gers, saying that the sport’s “product offering is strong” but “may need some repackaging,” the IAAF now “trialling lots of new initiatives” and “looking at different sport presentations and will be having discussions on how we evolve the sport over the next few years.”

Hello? This is one sure way forward. Everyone is on their phones, and pretty much 24/7.

You like track and field. You want to see track and field. You have been complaining seemingly forever that the NFL, NBA and MLB are there for the watching but track and field isn’t. Aren’t you now likely to pay to watch track and field?

Just like if you are a baseball fan and you want to watch baseball?

Soccer and soccer?

Whatever?

More: isn’t this a way as well to test what might work, and not, in terms of reaching new track and field fans? The 2021 world championships are in Eugene. That’s the next tipping point for the sport in the United States with the possibility — stress, possibility — of a Summer Olympics in Los Angeles in 2024 or, perhaps, 2028.

"NBC Sports is committed to serving passionate sports fans and we know track and field fans fit that description," said Portia Archer, the NBC Sports Group vice president in charge of the direct-to-consumer product line. Noting that the "track and field pass" is an extension of the Olympic Channel in the United States, she also called it "perfect for fans who follow track and field and for those beginning to discover it, whether at home or on the go ... no matter what platform they may be using."

Indeed, this initiative comes amid much discussion — see the Bloomberg Businessweek cover story last week on the impact of cord-cutters on ESPN — of how the TV and sports landscape is going to be shaped in the years ahead.

Who else in the U.S. Olympic scene is doing this kind of initiative? (In fairness: NBC also offers a "rugby pass," and a "cycling pass," which includes the Tour de France. Significant American influence in either? It's not 2005 anymore, and we all now know Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs. Back to reality.)

You want to know why it's Siegel?

Because when he took over a in 2012, this is precisely what Siegel said he was going to do — find new, inventive and creative ways to package and market a sport that needed exactly this kind of jolt.

Siegel can't fix the Diamond League itself. But he can fix the way you watch the Diamond League. Now -- for real -- you can watch it without having to find something called beIN sports. Or knowing somebody's cousin from Slovenia who had hooked up Eurosport on some weird remote cable or computer thingy that required expertise in VPNs, time-shifting and other matters best left to those who operate best in their pajamas under the influence of Doritos and Red Bull.

Siegel said,  “We recognized several years ago the fans wanted more track and field content and the way they consume it was changing. 

"That’s why we invested in our digital platform to bring more of the sport to our fans in the most accessible way.

“There is no one better at producing and distributing Olympic content than our partner NBC. So,” he said, “expanding our collaborative relationship into the digital space was an easy decision for us.”

31 medals (at least), all with class and character

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RIO de JANEIRO — For a generation, USA Track & Field has been chasing an elusive goal: 30 Olympic medals.

Here in Rio, in a run at Olympic Stadium that underscores the major up-pointing trend in the American track and field scene, the Americans have — through Saturday night — won 31. The men’s marathon is yet to come Sunday. Those due to run include Meg Keflezighi, silver medalist at Athens 2004 and winner of the 2014 Boston Marathon.

After the women's 4x4 relay

On Saturday night, Matthew Centrowitz Jr. won the men’s 1500m in a front-running, tactically savvy 3:50 flat — the first gold for the United States in that race since 1908. In the men’s 5000, Britain’s Mo Farah won, completing the 2012 and 2016 5000m and 10,000m distance double, the American Paul Chelimo crossing the line second. Moments later, Chelimo was disqualified for a lane infringement; then, later, in the evening, he was reinstated, the first U.S. men’s 5k medal since Tokyo 1964.

Those were medals 28 and 29.

Then came the women’s and men’s 4x400 relays. Both American teams won, medals 30 and 31, Allyson Felix anchoring to a sixth straight Olympic victory for the U.S. women, all four thereafter carrying around the stadium a banner that said, “Thank you, Rio.”

To read the rest of this column, please click through to NBCOlympics.com: http://bit.ly/2bcINiF

How to make the Trials (even) better

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EUGENE — Now we know exactly how many super-hard core track geeks there are in this little college town, the self-proclaimed track capital of the United States: 2900. That’s how many people showed up Wednesday to watch the women’s hammer throw inside historic Hayward Field.

For the men’s hammer, later Wednesday, the crowd swelled to 4200.

Look, they tried. Again, the hammer throw took place inside Hayward. That’s called thinking out of the box.

Women's hammer champ Amber Campbell at the Trials // Getty Images

As these 2016 U.S. Olympic Trials move past the halfway mark, the meet — indeed, the experience — has by almost any measure not only met but surpassed expectations. Until a cloudy and then rainy Thursday, even the weather had cooperated — Oregon’s high blue skies providing a brilliant canopy for the tableau below, and performances like Justin Gatlin’s best-in-the-world-in-2016 9.80 seconds in the men’s 100 meters.

Even so, with the spotlight on for the second half of the meet, now is not the time to declare that all in the track and field universe is well.

Because these Trials, aiming toward the 2016 Olympics and beyond, to the 2021 world champioships back at a refurbished Hayward, are just the start.

Now is precisely the time, amid the glow of these Trials, to think about how — in the interest of making track and field that much more viable — to make the next editions of the Trials, in 2020 and 2024, that much more attractive.

For emphasis, these Trials have left little to be desired. Don’t have a ticket? Come watch on the big screen behind Hayward and listen to a live band. Not in Eugene and want to watch? Livestreams galore.

Even so, the U.S. track and field Trials could be so much more.

For starters, this meet not only could — but should — be six days, not 10.

For another, fairness and decency — along with TV appeal — demand a review of any number of standards, in particular field sizes and qualifying procedures, both for the Trials and the Olympics themselves.

Case in point:

Rudy Winkler, a 21-year-old college kid from Cornell who competes in Clark Kent-style glasses, won the men’s hammer, with a throw of 76.76, or 251-10. He does not know whether he will be invited to go to Rio. That’s not only counter-intuitive but insane.

The reason: the complexity of track and field’s rules. At the Games, there’s a field of 32, per the sport’s international governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations. No American thrower, pre-Trials or at the meet, met the Olympic qualifying standard. Now Winkler, and the 2-3-4 finishers, must wait to see whether they get a Rio invite.

Another example:

In men’s javelin, both Cyrus Hostetler and Curtis Thompson broke the meet record in going 1-2. Hostler is Rio bound. Thompson — not.

Normally, of course, it’s top three.

But Thompson doesn’t have the Olympic qualifying standard, 83 meters, 272-3. He threw 82.88, 271-11, a lifetime best. And 12 centimeters short.

Riley Dolezal was third, 79.67, 261-4. Third is good. But not, in this instance, good enough for the Olympics.

Hostetler went 83.24, 273-1. So he’s good.

So is Sam Crouser, who took fourth, with 78.06, 256-1. He had the standard coming in.

Who else is good? Sean Furey, who took 11th, with 69.45, 227-10. That’s nearly 45 feet back. But Furey met the standard in June 2015.

So — first, fourth and 11th are en route to Rio.

How is any part of that supposed to make sense to the average person or the would-be fan?

A couple more examples:

But for a handful of athletes, the women’s hammer throw amounted essentially to an all-comers meet. That’s fine for an all-comers meet. But not the Trials.

On Thursday, they ran three first-round heats of the women’s 1500. This gets a little complicated.

There were three flights of 10. Three dropped out before the start, for various reasons — Kate Grace won the 800 and passed on the 1500, for instance. So 27 women raced for 24 spots in Friday’s semifinals. One of the three who ended up not making it: Sarah Brown, who gave birth just four months ago, seemingly her every move here being documented by a film crew.

A crash in the first heat knocked down Alexa Efraimson and Rachel Schneider. They got up and ended up qualifying on time, 4:14.4 and 4:22.94. Brenda Martinez, who got tangled up with Alysia Montaño in Monday’s 800 and didn’t make top-three in that event, won the second heat in 4:23. Then came the absurdity of the third round: 10 women, each of whom had run 4:10 or faster just to make the Trials, had to run just 4:22 to advance.

In sum — that third heat of 10 eliminated no one.

That’s beyond silly.

As for the three heats Monday in the women’s 3,000-meter steeplechase — after just two laps in each round, a sizable margin had opened up between the leaders and stragglers. Again, these are the Trials, supposed to be a test of the best.

What needs to be struck: the balance between the Trials between a culminating high-performance event and the kind of thing where people get to go home and say, I took part at the Trials.

The approriate revisions could, would, should and ought to bring all the drama of the Trials to the place it should be — the Trials.

Emma Coburn crossing the line in the steeplechase // Getty Images

Shot put champ Michelle Carter // Getty Images

Brianna Rollins leading her 100 hurdles heat // Getty Images

Like Thursday’s women’s steeple final. Emma Coburn won, in the sixth-fastest time ever, 9:17.48. At the bell lap, Stephanie Garcia had been second. She ended up tripping on the final barrier and finished fifth. Courtney Frerichs, 9:20.92, and Colleen Quigley, 9:21.29, went 2-3.

Like the women’s shot put earlier Thursday: Michelle Carter, one of the sport’s class acts, won on the final throw, 19.59 meters, 64 feet 3 1/4 inches, to qualify for her third Olympics.

Also Thursday, the heats in the women’s 100 hurdles. Coming into the U.S. Trials, 11 of the top 15 performers this year had been Americans. Keni Harrison, the American record holder (12.24 here in Eugene in late May), went 12.57 in the first heat. In the fifth, 2013 world champion Brianna Rollins, the former record holder (12.26, 2013 U.S. championships), went 12.56.

Whether the 2020 Trials are here in Eugene remains an open question. The 2000 and 2004 Trials were in Sacramento; the 2017 national champioships will be there, too. Even so, in preparation for 2021, the odds would have to favor being in Eugene in 2020 — just as in 2008 and 2012 as well.

For 2024, much depends on whether Los Angeles wins those 2024 Summer Games. The International Olympic Committee will pick the 2024 winner in September 2017 at a meeting in Lima, Peru. Also in the field: Paris, Rome and Budapest.

Looking ahead, the big-picture audience is not Eugene. Or, just to be obvious, those 2900 people.

The mission has to be how to grow track and field beyond the geeks.

This has been the avowed goal of both Max Siegel, chief executive of USA Track & Field, and Vin Lananna, president of the local Eugene organizing entity, called TrackTown, who is also head coach of the U.S. 2016 men’s track and field team.

As Lananna put it, it’s to “really grow the awareness of today’s track and field heroes” nationwide.

Siegel, in a news conference Tuesday, noted that when he took over four years ago, he had two overarching goals for USATF — organizational stability and driving innovation.

Stability: USATF’s annual budget is now $36 million, twice what it was four years ago.

Now it’s time to delve, big time, into the innovation.

Part of this involves changing the three-ring circus atmosphere that attends far too many meets, including the Trials.

On Thursday, for instance, the men’s triple jump prelims, with 2012 Olympic champion Christian Taylor, were being run at the same time as the heats — over on the track, literally a few feet to the right — of the women’s 100 hurdles. Same issue later Thursday: on the track, women’s 400 hurdles  and, in the infield, men’s discus and run-throughs for the women’s triple jump.

Pick a day, almost any day, and it’s the same challenge: on Sunday, the men’s long jump competed for attention with the women’s high jump, featuring 32-year-old Chaunte Lowe and teen sensation Vashti Cunningham.

For the average fan, this presents a logical dilemma: where to look, and when?

Part of the solution: tighter scripting of the show flow. That's what this is. It's a show.

Part of it, too, involves reconfiguring the meet as entertainment. Again, that’s what it is. The purists are still going to show — how about a little 21st-century reach-out?

The swim Trials, just concluded in Omaha, featured fireworks, a waterfall, a sound-and-light show, individual athlete introductions, rock music and showtime bits on the big screen that the sold-out audience ate up — ongoing banter between pool-deck hosts (and former Olympic medalists) Brendan Hansen and Kaitlin Sandeno and, most nights, a crowd dance-off.

Here — brief athlete intros, yes. The rest? Why not?

At NFL games, there’s a flying camera. Here, no. Why not?

Track and field is statistics-heavy. Like football, baseball and, in the Olympic context, swimming. Yet at the swim Trials officials make readily available a day-of-event listing that provides individual athlete biographies as well as essentials such as records and Olympic histories.

The track Trials — no such thing. Why not?

Moreover, there is no iPhone or Google Play app that would make, say, such stats and results immediately availble to fans in the stands. Why not? It’s 2016, not 1972.

And then the production glitches that you’d think should be so obvious — at these Trials, the loud music from that soundstage frequently drowns out news conferences in the media tent just feet away. All sports, and particularly track and field, depend on story-telling. How to tell those stories when you can’t hear a word?

This problem was exactly the same in 2012. Complaints must have fallen on deaf ears. Maybe from that music.

For all these observations, the biggest thing that needs to be assessed is the length and scheduling of the meet.

This means both the daily and overall runs.

An evening at the swim Trials runs to two hours, maybe just a little more.

Consider Thursday’s Hayward schedule. It is profoundly unrealistic to expect the average fan — maybe with kids in tow, and track and field assuredly wants to reach out to young people — to show up at 3:30 p.m. and stay until roughly 8 p.m., when the women’s steeplechase wrapped up.

Thursday, Day Seven, at Hayward

After nearly a week of brilliant weather, the rain arrived Thursday in Eugene. That didn’t help. But it rained during the 2012 Trials, too, and it’s simple common-sense that rain in Oregon is always a distinct possibility.

In non-Olympic years, meanwhile, the U.S. outdoor championship runs to only four days.

The Trials go on for 10, with a formal off-day in the middle.

If the reason for that is to benefit hotels, restaurants, bars and the Eugene Chamber of Commerce — that’s not a good reason. This is a track meet, not a convention.

If the idea is to mimic the Olympic schedule — the four-day meet produces world championship teams that win plenty of medals over the more-extended run.

These Trials started, sort of, last Thursday with a 20-kilometer walk in Salem, the state capital. The formal opening ceremony took place last Friday here at Hayward.

So: Friday, Saturday, Sunday, Monday.

Off-day Tuesday.

Wednesday: hammer throw, women’s and men’s.

Now the final four days: Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.

If four days is unrealistic for a Trials, there’s no good reason not to consider shrinking 10 days to six. Doing so would considerably reduce costs for virtually all stakeholders: athletes, fans, officials, the local organizing committee, USATF, TV, media and, not incidentally, law enforcement and security.

Six days is eminently do-able. Here is one plan of how it could work:

Day One and Two: 100, 400 as well as prelims in 800. The 10k could go on One, heats of the 5k on Two.

Day Three and Four: 400 final, 400 hurdles prelims, 200 prelims, 1500, 800 finals.

Day Five and Six: 200, 400 hurdles, 1500 and 5k finals.

Decathlon: Days One and Two. Heptathlon: Four and five.

Steeple: Days One and Three, Four and Six (men’s/women’s, or vice-versa).

Javelin:  One and Three, Four and Six.

Discus: Two and Three, Four and Five.

Hammer: One and Two, Five and Six.

Triple jump: One and Two, Three and Four.

High jump: Two and Three, Five and Six.

Long jump: Three and Four, Five and Six.

Pole Vault: One and Two, Four and Five.

Shot put: Five.

This does not need to be rocket science. Track and field is a sleeping giant. But like most things, it would work better with a heaping dose of common sense.

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?”

The incredible Aries Merritt, and more

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

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

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

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

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

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

Every sport needs heroes. Not just legends.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The real question is: what should be the rules?

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

It’s all about testosterone levels.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because, in recent months:

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

Texas, 15 years, Nike $250 million.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For now, this will suffice:

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

Why?

Because it’s a re-run.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

7. Switching to 2024 bid news:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Again: just curious.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stupid.

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

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

In Brazil, meanwhile:

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

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

 

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

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

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

To be blunt: a botched handoff is not armageddon.

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

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

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

That is thoroughly unrealistic.

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

In this instance, especially: respect.

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

USATF high performance director Duffy Mahoney // photo courtesy USATF

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Some of it is just nasty and wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Next, and sticking with the men’s 100:

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

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

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

On top of which:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

USATF chief executive, staff targeted in racially charged emails

Sport, as the International Olympic Committee president Thomas Bach likes to put it, is supposed to be all about building bridges, not walls. That is the theory. Real life can be considerably different. Sometimes, it’s still ugly, indeed — a signal, despite the fact a black man has twice been elected president of the United States, of how far we still have to go, and how difficult it can still be in our increasingly technology-dependent world to track those who would traffic in breathtakingly hateful invective.

Max Siegel is the African-American chief executive of USA Track & Field. He and Renee Washington, USATF’s chief operating officer, who is also African-American, are among the very few senior executives of color in the entire U.S. Olympic scene — a list that also includes Ron Galimore, chief operating officer at USA Gymnastics, and D.A. Abrams, chief diversity & inclusion officer at the U.S. Tennis Assn.

Siegel has been on the job for nearly four years.

Max Siegel, USATF chief executive // Photo USATF

In that time, USATF has recorded any number of significant accomplishments:

Just some: revenues have skyrocketed; a deal announced in recent months paves the way for members of the national team to make real money at being track and field athletes; and at the 2015 elections of the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, track's world governing body, USATF secured far more influence, including the election of Stephanie Hightower — also an African-American — to the ruling IAAF council.

In addition, at last month’s world indoor championships in Portland, Oregon, the U.S. team dominated, with 23 medals. Runner-up Ethiopia took five.

USATF helped stage not just those 2016 Portland world indoors but, as well, the 2014 IAAF world juniors in Eugene, Oregon. The 2021 world championships are set for Eugene, the first time the IAAF outdoor worlds will ever be in the United States.

In sum:

For years, it was the case in American Olympic circles that there were two superbly run national governing bodies, swimming and skiing, with gymnastics also deserving significant credit. In large measure, important numbers of the others arguably suffered from various degrees of dysfunction, with USATF perhaps the most dysfunctional.

Now USATF is doing big stuff, and poised to do even bigger and better.

Last October, Siegel opened his USATF email to see not just one but two reprehensible emails laced with threats and hate-filled invective, including the repeated use of the n-word.

One of the emails that went to Siegel

Another email sent to Siegel

Other racially charged emails went out that very same day to a range of USATF staff, black and white. Some included just a subject line. Some included more.

The sender seemed to know, meantime, which USATF staffers were — or might be — black, and which white.

“Paul Concert” and “paulgconcert@gmail.com,” the "sender" names, appear to be aliases.

An email that went to a black employee held the subject line, “All white team champions.”

To a white staffer: “Support white community programs.”

To a black staffer: “Nigger not a Youth.”

To another black staffer: “Niggers off the team.”

To yet another black staffer, two emails. One: “Fat slow loser nigger fired faggot.” The other: “All athletes must shower daily to be on the team.”

To two different white staffers, emails with subject lines and more.

On one, the subject line said, “Integration separates girls from boys.” The body: “Men from monkey niggers.”

On the other email, the subject line read, “Niggers can’t have money.” The body:

“Niggers can’t have showers

“Niggers can’t have electricity

“Niggers can’t have houses cars nor TV

“Niggers can’t have school

“Niggers can’t have buses

“Niggers can’t have churches

“Niggers can’t have sports”

Then an open line, and:

“2020 29 million monkey niggers dead in plague.”

Upon receiving this barrage of messages, USATF immediately launched an investigation and notified local law enforcement authorities in Indianapolis, where the federation is based.

"When you are called to an assignment, not all people agree with your vision or who you are," Siegel said. "As long as your motive is pure and you stay focused on the outcome, you can endure the difficult times. We will take the high road and not stoop to the ignorance of those who have hate-filled hearts."

“The whole episode was very disconcerting,” Washington said. “It is discouraging in today’s world that Max would receive an email that not only talks about his race, questions his last name and threatens to shoot him — or suggests he be shot.

“Really, for me,” she added, “the final straw was when it started going to our employees. And it started targeting employees.”

In the months since, the existence of the emails has been something of a closely held secret in certain track and Olympic circles. Even so, at the USATF annual meeting in December, though enhanced security for all USATF matters was in the air, there was no open discussion of the emails. Partly, this was owing to Siegel’s style; he tends to deflect public attention, good or otherwise. In addition, it was thought that staying quieter longer would give the investigation the advantage of time.

It’s now nearly six months since the emails arrived.

There have been no arrests. None appear imminent.

“We investigated initially,” Captain Rick Riddle, the Indianapolis Metropolitan Police Department spokesman, said in a recent telephone interview, “and we did not develop any definitive subjects.

“As with any case, if suspect information is determined or even found by our victims or their organization, that information is passed through our detectives. We certainly can reopen cases and follow back up.”

At first, it was thought the emails might have been sent from servers in Oregon and California. A few days ago, the possibility emerged they might have been sent from Texas.

Should more leads develop, an arrest could lead to hate-crime charges, perhaps in federal court.

In January, Lloyd Crowe joined USATF as chief security officer. He had recently retired from the Indianapolis police department after 30 years, reaching the rank of assistant chief.

Crowe has a lot to look after in the next few months, including a range of potential security issues at the U.S. Olympic Trials in Eugene and then working with others connected to the U.S. team on security matters at the Rio 2016 Olympics.

Even so — these emails, so troubling, stand out as a priority.

“It’s unfortunate this has occurred,” Crowe said, adding a moment later, “If someone were making a direct specific threat … that would be worse. But this is still bad.”

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.”

USATF bids for kumbaya, for real

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INDIANAPOLIS — For years, USA Track & Field was arguably the most dysfunctional of the major sports federations in the American Olympic scene. Personality politics ruled. Budgets stayed flat. Almost every decision seemed to be met with argument or that more basic question: what’s in it for me?

As any business or management expert would affirm, culture change is maybe the hardest thing ever.

Underway now at USATF, for anyone not stuck in the past and willing to look with more than a glancing pass, is a profound culture shift for the better.

Instead of being combative — first, last and always — USATF increasingly finds itself on the road to collaboration and cooperation.

USATF chief executive Max Siegel, left, and board chair Steve Miller

A session Saturday at an Indianapolis hotel room underscored that reality amid a master’s class in leadership from Steve Miller, the USATF board chair, and Max Siegel, the organization’s chief executive.

Siegel came dressed for the meeting in an untucked business shirt; Miller, in a black polo and black loafers with no socks. Ties and jackets? No way. Disarming? To the, well, max.

Siegel called the session Saturday a “conversation” among “key stakeholders.”

Miller said, “Together we have a chance to change the sport. Separately, we have no chance.”

At another point, Miller said, “We are in this together. We have a chance to move the organization forward. We have a chance to do some things that have never been done before. We have a chance to end the repetitiveness of the five-year, the 10-year, the 20-year conversations,” the loop that inevitably led to accusations, drama, friction and more, almost none of it constructive.

Under the direction of Siegel, chief executive since May 2012, USATF has made significant financial strides. Its 2016 budget is a projected $35 million, about double what it has been in recent years — and that is without the benefit of the roughly $500 million 23-year Nike deal, which kicks in the year after.

USATF’s logical next step: streamlining its governance.

In the wake of a meeting three weeks ago at which USATF and its Athlete Advisory Committee agreed in principle on a revenue distribution plan that will deliver $9 million in cash to athletes over the next five years, the session at Indianapolis’ Alexander Hotel was called to bring together nearly 50 people — from all over the country — to discuss “law and legislation” changes.

That is, governance.

As Duffy Mahoney, USATF’s chief of high performance, said Saturday, there’s a big difference between governance and politics.

Politics is important, of course, and grabs headlines.

Governance gets stuff done.

No one cares about governance until, actually, they do care.

The close cousin of governance is process. Process is not sexy. No one cares about process.

Again, until they do care.

Example A: the process by which the USATF board last year chose Stephanie Hightower, now the USATF president, to be the federation’s nominee to the IAAF council, the sport’s international governing body, in place of Bob Hersh, who had served for 16 years.

Hightower would go on in August to be the highest vote-getter at IAAF elections in Beijing.

The process, which played out at last year’s USATF annual meeting in Anaheim, California, called first for a general assembly vote.

Most importantly, though arguably not well-communicated, that vote was merely a recommendation to the USATF board of directors — who could overrule it, by two-thirds vote.

Hersh won the floor vote.

The board, though, selected Hightower, believing in her and in a new direction amid major changes coming up at the IAAF, including the election of a new president to replace Lamine Diack of Senegal, who served atop the international federation for 16 years.

In August, the IAAF picked Britain’s Seb Coe as its new president. He defeated Ukraine’s Sergei Bubka.

On Saturday,  two activists spoke at length in favor of proposed rules changes -- Becca Peter, who lives near Seattle, and David Greifinger, a Santa Monica, California-based lawyer.

Greifinger returned time and again to the same theme: democracy.

"That has worked in this country for a long time," he said at one moment.

For sure.

But the United States is not a pure democracy. It is a representative democracy.

As Miller observed, "The popular vote in our country does not always elect the president."

Moreover, democracy is not the same as leadership. And what nations, companies and non-profit sports organizations such as USATF need way more of is less pure democracy -- the USOC slimmed its board down from 115 to 15, and USATF is also down to 15 from 32 and, before that, over 100 -- and more leadership.

"It's one of those things about leadership," Miller said. "You don’t get elected and [suddenly] know everything about leadership."

Nothing at Saturday’s meeting will in any way prove binding. Indeed, the entire thrust was to set the stage for this year’s annual get-together, in about five weeks in Houston.

Two proposals -- both sparked by the process that saw Hightower picked for the IAAF -- may well show up in Houston:

The first, advanced by Peter: to bar the IAAF council member from simultaneously serving as USATF president or CEO. In Saturday’s straw poll, that got two votes.

“You have to get the best person for the job,” the agent Tony Campbell said. “If the best person is wearing two hats, so be it.”

The second: to provide that the USATF general assembly elect the IAAF rep. Straw vote: one in favor.

“Why change this now?” asked Robin Brown-Beamon, the Florida-based association president. "It worked.”

To laughter in the room, Sharrieffa Barksdale, the 1984 Olympic hurdler, said, referring to Greifinger, "If you have ever seen the movie ‘Frozen,’ David — let it go!”

An even-better cultural touchstone, referred to indirectly several times by Miller: "We're all in this together," the pitch-perfect tune from the 2006 hit movie "High School Musical."

This was the theme three weeks ago, at the meeting with the athletes that led to agreement.

And that set the tone for Saturday’s get-together.

Reminding one and all that the metric that matters most is how many medals the U.S. team collects next summer at the Rio 2016 Games, Moushami Robinson, a gold medalist in the women's 4x400 relay at the Athens 2004 Olympics, said, “It’s time to move past the residue so we can get done what we need to get done.”

Added Dwight Phillips, the 2004 Olympic and four-time world long jump champion who is now chair of the Athletes’ Advisory Committee, “It has always been competitive: ‘Let’s fight, let’s fight, let’s fight.’ How about, ‘Let’s compromise, let’s come to an agreement.’ And we’ll see progress.”

To be sure, disagreement and discussion are always part of any institutional process. And that’s totally healthy.

At the same time, USATF’s long-running dysfunction, the temptation to immediately and vociferously wonder if the sky is falling, and now, often bore echoes of the same woes that for years beset the U.S. Olympic Committee — until the USOC, too, made needed governance changes (slimming down that board of directors) and putting people in place who know what they’re doing (in particular, chief executive Scott Blackmun, in early 2010).

Now it’s USATF’s turn to look forward — to acknowledge that while discussion and dissent have a place, so, too, do compromise and turning the page.

Another proposal advanced by Greifinger:

— The USATF board now numbers 15. Six are representatives of what’s called “constituent-based” groups, including youth, officials and coaches. The current reps are selected by a process that includes nominations and slates and further complications. What if those six reps were elected by their constituents?

The consensus Saturday: fine.

Even so, it was also generally agreed, whoever gets put up for any of those six slots must pass some sort of vetting. Details obviously remain to be worked out but it's common-sense they would include a background check, drug testing and, to be obvious, a passport for the international travel that track and field demands.

And this notion, put forward by Rubin Carter and Lionel Leach:

— Make the CEO “confer and agree” with volunteer leadership on a variety of decisions.

Confer? Sure, as appropriate, Siegel said.

Secure agreement? Not workable, Siegel said, to widespread assent.

How could he sign off on this deal or that if he had to secure the OK of volunteers who might -- or very well might not -- hold particular expertise?

Siegel also noted the unintended consequence of such a provision: “no accountability for my performance.” If everything had to be run by volunteers of different stripes, how in the real world to gain an accurate measure of what Siegel did, or didn't, get done?

This, of course, is exactly the move the USOC made -- away from volunteer leadership and toward empowerment of a professional CEO and staff.

Houston and the annual meeting await.

For the first time in a long time, maybe ever, the focus at USATF is not on what happened before -- the recrimination attendant to reliving and rehashing the past.

As Miller said, “We are in this together. We have a chance to move the organization forward.

“We have a chance to do some things that have never been done before," on the track and and off: "We have a chance to end the repetitiveness of the five-year, the 10-year, the 20-year conversation.”