Sergey Bubka

Portland 2016: a track and field innovation lab


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.”

Coe in charge, track at an inflection point


PORTLAND, Ore. — Let’s get the joke out of the way early. For a sport savaged by months of doping stories, it turns out there’s a legal marijuana store literally across the street from the Oregon Convention Center, site of the 2016 track and field world indoor championship, which features a groovy, granola-crunchy green track. Can’t make this stuff up. Seriously, now: track and field arrives for the 2016 world indoors, a four-day run that got underway Thursday night, at an inflection point.

Since Sebastian Coe was elected president last August of track’s world governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations, the headlines have mostly been grim. Claims of rampant corruption in the regime of former IAAF president Lamine Diack — allegations that Diack's administration was ripe with conflict of interest, graft, money for cover-ups. And, of course, doping, doping, doping. Russians, Russians, Russians. Oh, and how about the Kenyans, Ethiopians, Moroccans and more?

Wait — what’s this? UK Anti-Doping announces Wednesday a life ban against a track coach there, Dr. George Skafidis, in the wake of nine, count them, nine anti-doping violations, all relating to sprinter Bernice Wilson. In Britain? What?

The focus Thursday shifted to the sport itself, with the IAAF and local organizers, led by Vin Lananna, giving the first night of the championships over entirely to the pole vault. France's Renaud Lavillenie won the men’s event, setting a world indoor championships record, 6.02 meters, or 19 feet 9 inches. The world record, which Lavillenie set two years ago, is 6.16, 20-2 1/2. On Thursday, he made three attempts at a new world record, 6.17, 20-2 3/4. No go. American Sam Kendricks took second, clearing 5.80, 19-0 1/4. On the women's side, the U.S. went one-two, Jenn Suhr winning in a championship-record 4.90, 16-0 3/4, Sandi Morris taking second in 4.85, 15-11. As evidence of the upswing in women's pole vaulting, Thursday's competition marked the first time four women in the same competition cleared 4.80, 15-9.

"I think the Summer Olympics are going to be pretty crazy," Morris said afterward.

Jenn Suhr, the 2012 Olympic champion, winning 2016 world indoor gold // Getty Images for IAAF

London 2012 gold medalist and current world record-holder Renaud Lavillenie of France making his into to the 2016 indoor worlds // Getty Images for IAAF

The rest of the field jumping, Lavillenie waits to start -- part of the mental game in pole vault. He entered at 5.75 meters, or 18-10 1/4 // Getty Images for IAAF

Lavillenie after a scary end to his second attempt at 6.17: "I was just able to manage it and fall safely. It’s not so often I do something like that. It happens. Pole vault is very dangerous and very intense. That’s why we love it." // Getty Images for IAAF

Lavillenie, after, meeting the media. Track junkies: in the blue warmup jacket beyond Lavillenie, that's Dan O'Brien, the 1996 Olympic decathlon winner

As the vaulters did their thing, KC and the Sunshine Band could be heard belting out their mid-'70s anthem, “That’s the way (I like it),” just one of the musical numbers featured on a loop that played over the convention speakers. In another twist, the vaulters got individual introductions — each athlete running in turn into the arena down a ramp, his or her name in lights.

Medal ceremonies: back downtown at Pioneer Courthouse Square, with more music and that Portlandia hipster vibe.

Attendance Thursday at the convention center: a robust 6,924.

It's like track and field was, you know, making a genuine effort to be more interesting. And, even, innovating.

Pioneer Courthouse Square: set up to be the 2016 world indoors medals and party center

This is the reality of what is happening with Coe, in particular, and that is particularly worth noting at the start of these championships, the first world indoors in the United States since 1987.

“The USA has historically been the powerhouse of track and field,” Coe said earlier Thursday at a sun-splashed news conference in that square. “Yet given its great economic power, it is still a country where the general perception of track and field is low. The regeneration of that is taking place here in Oregon and I genuinely believe this will be a reawakening of track and field in this country. This is a new and exciting chapter in the history of our sport."

Sebastian Coe at Thursday's news conference, flanked by the husband-and-wife team of Canada's Brianne Theisen-Eaton and American Ashton Eaton, both multi-event stars // Getty Images for IAAF

Let's be real: that's going to take time.

Things were broken. Now they have to get fixed. Coe is the guy to fix them. New chapters, regeneration, reawakening — whatever label you like — don’t just happen overnight.

Which is why the many cries for Coe’s resignation are seriously misplaced.

As Coe said at that news conference in that square, “Our sport is still strong. Not to deny we haven’t gone through challenging, dark days.”

Later, asked specifically whether he believes there are clean Russian athletes, a ridiculous question in its own right, as if an entire country of 140 million people can’t produce one soul that competes without drugs, he said, “I’m sure there are. But the reality is we need to get the athletes,” wherever in the world they might be, “back into systems that people are trusting.”

That's half of what's what. Here is the other: doping is not just a track and field problem (hello, tennis star Maria Sharapova, swim champion Yulia Efimova and others now looking at meldonium issues). It is not just a Russia problem.

“We are responsible for our sport,” Coe said. “We are not the world’s policeman.”

A World Anti-Doping Agency-commissioned report — the first part delivered in November, the second in January — suggested that Diack ran a closely held conspiracy to cover up certain doping results, mostly in Russia.

Diack and his longtime lawyer, Herbert Cissé, are said to be facing criminal inquiry in France.

Last week, the IAAF’s policy-making council met in Monaco, the federation’s longtime base.

Process isn’t sexy. Process takes time. The press loves (even a hint of) negativity.

At the same time, Coe was duly elected after a hard-fought campaign, defeating the former pole vault legend Sergey Bubka. That means Coe earned — better, deserves — the opportunity to effect change.

The council was met with 51 measures. It approved 51.

It’s a measure of how into-the-21st century the IAAF has to go, alternatively an indicator of how Diack ran the federation for 16 years as more or less a personal fiefdom, that a good number of the 51 deal with basic, albeit essential, governance items.

For instance, things like getting double signatories on checks. Or job descriptions. Or standard HR controls.

Any institutional change is a combination of change wrought from without and within. Coe is — this is key to understand — a change agent.

So, too, Stephanie Hightower, the USA Track & Field president who was elected last August to the IAAF council.

As the USATF board said in December 2014, in a statement when it went with Hightower instead of the longtime U.S. representative to the IAAF, Bob Hersh:

“Change is difficult for any organization. It is especially difficult when it involves long-serving officials. In 2015, there will be significant, structural change at the IAAF – with their leadership, with their direction, vision and politics. This is a different era and a different time. We think Stephanie Hightower provides us with the best chance to move forward as part of that change.”

From 2011-15, Hersh had been the senior IAAF vice president, Coe one of three other vice presidents.

Once Coe was elected, he immediately turned in part to Hightower and to Frankie Fredericks, the former sprinter from Namibia who for years has been making a new career in sports administration.

Some have groused, and loudly, that as an IAAF vice president, Coe “must have known” what was going on with Diack.

Using that same logic, why aren’t the many critics of the USATF process by which Hightower was selected to run for the IAAF council asking the same about Hersh?

This, understand, is a rhetorical question — not what Hersh did or did not know. But those who have been often been the loudest in their criticism are not being consistent. You want to criticize Coe because he was vice president — but think it was somehow wrong for USATF not to re-appoint Hersh, who as the No. 2 man, the senior VP, should have been most closely involved with the organization and with Diack?

Indeed, the suggestion that Coe “must have known” itself betrays logic.

The IAAF council met maybe three or four times a year. That’s roughly 10 days of 365. Coe had been an IAAF vice president since 2007; from 2005-12, he was thoroughly occupied as boss of the London Olympics.

It’s a little bit like being vice president of a school board and getting asked why you didn’t know the high school basketball coach was stealing from the travel fund.

Was there talk at the council during Diack’s latter years about doping in Russia? Obviously: there were public records of sanctions. But if the word from the top was that Russians were being caught because of advances in blood passport work, precisely what more should any of the roughly two dozen on the council have done?

To reiterate a point made in this space before: the point of a conspiracy, which is what Diack alleged to have run, is to keep it hidden from those not part of it.

Coe’s “must have known” is one of four apparent points of objection that have been raised over these past several months, in tiresome fashion.

Coe at Thursday's opening ceremony, with Portland 2016 local organizing chief Vin Lannana and Portland mayor Charlie Hales // Getty Images for IAAF

Objection No. 2:

When he succeeded Diack last August, Coe called Diack the “spiritual leader” of the sport.

Given what we know now, Coe could have used a different phrase, for sure. Hindsight is always 20/20.

But three notes here:

One, when you succeed someone, you generally say nice things.

Two, Coe would never — repeat, never — have used those words if he’d had even an inkling of what is alleged to have gone down. Coe is not only a smart guy, he has had a career in the hard-knocks school of British politics.

Three, there has been zero suggestion from law enforcement linking Coe to any misconduct or wrongdoing, and you can believe he has been in contact with French agents.

Objection No. 3:

Again in Beijing upon election, Coe gave a legalistic response, rather than one more PR-savvy, when asked about his longtime ambassadorial role with Nike, saying in essence his relationship was well-known and -documented. Coe has since relinquished the position.

This was an optics problem, and nothing more.

Those who would savage Coe cried, conflict of interest! Coe was affiliated with Nike for nearly 40 years. That run included the years he oversaw the London 2012 effort. Where were the critics — particularly in the British parliament, where he regularly appeared for status reports for 2012 — during all that time?

Objection No. 4:

Upon the publication early last August of a story in The Sunday Times that claimed more than 800 athletes, and a third of all medalists in endurance events at recent Olympics and world championships had suspicious blood results not followed up by the IAAF, Coe called the allegations “a declaration of war” on the sport.

In turn, that more or less prompted many, particularly in the British press, to declare a war in print with Coe.

Here it is worth referring to Part II of the WADA-commissioned report:

The “database” on which the story revolved was “in reality, no such thing,” but a “compilation of various test results.” The three-member panel, headed by Canadian lawyer Dick Pound, the first WADA president, said it “would not have been legally possible to bring a successful sanctioning process against any athlete based on the values in the IAAF database.”

Also: “The [commission] was provided with no explanation for the differences in approach and cautions expressed … in previously written scholarly publications on the subject matter and the opinions expressed in the work commissioned by The Sunday Times. The differences are quite significant.”

Going forward, it’s worth emphasizing that in significant measure the announcement of new doping cases — specifically in Kenya and Ethiopia — marks the results of basic anti-doping standards finally being applied to, or adopted by, the rest of the world.

Which, in its way, is what Coe observed at that sunny news conference.

He said, “People want immediate action. People want immediate results. People want immediate change.

“It takes time.”

A historic "road map" for Russia?

Track and field’s governing body, the IAAF, did what it had to do Friday in provisionally suspending Russia after shocking revelations of systemic, perhaps state-sponsored, doping.

The IAAF action followed by a few hours a step taken by a World Anti-Doping Agency panel. It, too, did what it had to do. Among other things, it found Russia non-compliant with the World Anti-Doping Code.

What it all amounts to is this, the real story: a historic opportunity is now upon us, all of us, that may not come again quite some time, to get Russia — if you will — to behave, and stay behaving.

And not just in track and field. Across all sports.

Russian president Vladimir Putin earlier this week in Sochi with sports minister Vitaly Mutko // Getty Images

To reiterate an important point: Russia is not inherently any better or worse than anywhere else. But when evidence emerges of a doping scheme that may well have been state-sanctioned, evoking memories of the notorious East German system in the 1970s, that’s a call to significant action. That was the take-away, loud and clear, in a report made public Monday by a WADA-appointed independent commission.

The twin messages that emerged amid Friday’s action were also manifest:

— One, there is recognition, admission, acknowledgement — use whatever term you want — from the Russians. None of this happens — hello, Mr. President Putin — without the Russians recognizing that, for real, they are up against it.

On Wednesday, Putin, ordering an investigation into the WADA-appointed report findings made public Monday, had said there ought to be “professional cooperation” with international anti-doping bodies.

His coded language makes plain: the Russians realize they have to play ball.

Again, after everything set out in Monday’s report, there is no other option, particularly with the 2018 FIFA World Cup yet to come. You’re naive if you don’t think emissaries further emphasized — at senior levels within the Russian sports and government infrastructure — that this was, indeed, the message.

Message received, the Russian sports minister, Vitaly Mutko, telling the R-Sport news agency on Friday, "We're prepared for broad cooperation." He also said he has asked WADA president Craig Reedie to provide a "road map" Russia could follow.

All the other stuff Mutko is saying? Allegations that the IAAF concealed more than 150 doping cases, mostly from countries other than Russia? Maybe. The British anti-doping system held “zero value” and was “even worse” than Russia’s? Come on.

Look, within international politics at its keenest, which is indisputably what this is, face-saving can be an important skill.

— Two, and this is the challenge in front of WADA and the IAAF: how to push the Russians — hopefully, themselves — into putting new systems in place that can survive both the short and long term?

Of course there is going to be push-back.

Here, for instance, was Yelena Isinbayeva, the Russian pole-vault queen, the 2004 and 2008 Olympic gold medalist:

“To ban innocent … athletes from competing in international events and [the] Olympic Games in Rio is not fair,” she wrote in a letter published on the Russian track federation website hours before the IAAF met via teleconference.

With all due respect, Isinbayeva’s logic proves too simple.

If one runner in a relay tests — and proves — dirty, everyone’s medals get taken away. The entire team has to deal with the sanction.

Same here, just on a systemic level.

Because this is, as the WADA panel’s report made plain, a systemic problem.

The clean athletes in Russia — a note on behalf of skeptics: assuming, indeed, there are any — ought now to be just as eager for change in the Russian track and field system as everyone anywhere else.

Otherwise, the clean Russians don’t get to take part in the world indoors, in March in Portland, Oregon, and in the Rio 2016 Olympics in August.

That ought to make for internal leverage.

The external leverage came Friday from the IAAF, which voted, 22-1, to provisionally suspend the Russian track and field federation.

It’s not clear who the sole holdout is. Talk about being on the wrong side of historic change.

An intriguing issue before Friday’s IAAF teleconference was whether the Russians would declare themselves unfit or, for a variety of political reasons, let the IAAF do it — which ended up being the course.

Make no mistake: the clear intent of the IAAF and WADA actions Friday, all around, is to give the Russians every opportunity to get things fixed, if not by Portland, then for sure by Rio.

As Mutko told Associated Press, “We may miss one or two competitions. But for athletes to miss the Olympics and world championships would be real stupidity.”

The full WADA board will meet Wednesday in Colorado Springs, Colorado, presumably to ratify what has already been done and then — prediction — deliver a study group on the notion, suddenly pushed by the International Olympic Committee, of an independent body that would be responsible not just for drug testing but sanctioning, too.

Observations: the last thing world sports needs is a new layer of structure. Give WADA significantly more means and commit to its authority. If you want someone independent to run the doping scene, that’s sensible. But look to WADA, already with 16 years experience.

WADA, for the record, already deserves significant congratulations.

It had the cajones to set up an independent commission in the first place; it fully authorized commission head Dick Pound and his two associates, Canadian law professor Richard MacLaren and German law enforcement official Guenter Younger, who along with staff proved relentless; and it had the will Friday to act decisively in finding Russia non-compliant.

You know who else deserves kudos?

Seb Coe, elected in August the IAAF president.

No, really.

Coe has taken withering media heat this week, with many, particularly in the British press, suggesting he was — because he served for eight years as an IAAF vice president — part of the problem and thus neither can nor should be part of the solution.

There has been, and repeatedly, the suggestion that because Coe was vice president he must have known what the former IAAF president, Lamine Diack, who stepped down in August after 16 years, was up to. French investigators allege that Diack accepted more than $1 million in bribes to allow at least six Russian athletes to compete, including at the 2012 London Olympics.

Also under investigation are Diack’s legal adviser, Habib Cissé, and the former head of the IAAF anti-doping department, Gabriel Dollé.

The figure at the center of all this is probably one of Diack’s sons, Papa Massata Diack. Interesting how he has known in recent days to avoid France.

Ask yourself: would Coe really have been in the loop?

During 2011 and 2012, what was Coe’s focus? Yes, he was an IAAF vice president. At the same time, this is what he was really doing: he was running the London Olympics.

Further, there were — and are — four IAAF vice presidents.

What we know from French authorities is not complete. Nonetheless, the suggestion is that Diack was part of a conspiracy. The only way a conspiracy works is for those involved to keep it, you know, quiet. Do you think Diack called the four 2011-15 IAAF vice presidents — Coe, Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, Qatar’s Dahlan al-Hamad and the American Bob Hersh — and said, hey, guess what I’m up to, fellas?

Further: French authorities interviewed Coe in recent days. Have they since said anything about Coe being a target of any sort? No.

A side note for those who intently follow USA Track & Field: Hersh was the senior IAAF vice president from 2011 until elections this past August. The USATF board opted last December not to re-nominate him for an IAAF role but to put in his place Stephanie Hightower — even though USATF membership, which typically knows next to nothing about international track, had voted overwhelmingly for Hersh.

Guess that USATF board decision is looking pretty good right about now.

At any rate, a 22-1 vote makes clear the IAAF council is in Coe’s corner.

In an IAAF statement, Frank Fredericks of Namibia, the former sprint star who is now chair of the IAAF athletes’ commission, said the council was “100 percent in support of President Coe and believe that he is the leader that our sport needs to instigate the necessary actions swiftly and strongly.”

A vote of 22-1, meantime, also spotlights a fact of life in international sport that came up time and again at a conference last week in New York sponsored by the Qatar-based International Center for Sport Security:

International sport is big business. Far too often, the governance structures in international sport have not caught up to that reality.

The focus for most now is on Russia, and whether the Russian track and field team will get to Rio. But if you’re paying attention:

The IAAF council, for example, currently stands at a full 27. That’s too many. It should be more like 15. That’s the number on, among others, the International Olympic Committee executive board, the U.S. Olympic Committee’s board of directors and the USATF board.

Further, if the IAAF was too often run by Diack and, before him, Italy’s Primo Nebiolo as expressions of autocratic power in word and action, now is the time for the IAAF to put in place a chief executive officer, and empower him or her to run the thing day to day.

Coe for sure seems to be paying attention, another reason he deserves to be cut some slack. In our 24/7 world, everyone seemingly wants answers now. But process and governance take time.

The IAAF statement announcing the 22-1 vote also included a note about what was called Coe’s “reform program,” Coe’s No. 2 at the London 2012 organizing committee, Paul Deighton, appointed to oversee a far-reaching review, to be carried out by Deloitte.

The plan is to feature, among other facets, a “forensic” accounting and, as well, the creation of an “integrity unit.” The unit, to be made up of a board and review panels, would oversee issues relating to anti-doping and more.

Coe, in the IAAF statement:

“Today we have been dealing with the failure of ARAF [the Russian track federation] and made the decision to provisionally suspend them, the toughest sanction we can apply at this time. But we discussed and agreed that the whole system has failed the athletes, not just in Russia, but around the world. 

"This has been a shameful wake-up call and we are clear that cheating at any level will not be tolerated. To this end, the IAAF, WADA, the member federations and athletes need to look closely at ourselves, our cultures and our processes to identify where failures exist and be tough in our determination to fix them and rebuild trust in our sport. There can be no more important focus for our sport.”

Sport at the crossroads: Seb Coe wins IAAF presidency


BEIJING — With track and field at a historic crossroads, the IAAF membership on Wednesday elected Great Britain’s Seb Coe president.

Coe defeated Sergey Bubka of Ukraine, 115-92, two great champions of and advocates for the sport facing off in an election that reflected on track and field’s past but, more important, its future.

After the two men exchanged congratulations at the dais, an emotional Coe said, “I think for most of us in this room, we would conclude that the birth of our children are big moments in our lives, probably the biggest. But I have to say that being given the opportunity to work with all of you, to shape our sport, is probably the second-biggest momentous occasion in my life.”

Post-election news conference: IAAF spokesman Nick Davies; president Lamine Diack; president-elect Seb Coe; general secretary Essar Gabriel

Bubka, graceful, said, “I am a happy man and I am sitting in front of you because I love athletics,” what track and field is called everywhere in the world but the United States. “This is my life. Nothing has changed in my life. I will continue to serve athletics with dignity and deep passion, as I did before.”

A few minutes later, Bubka was elected vice president, along with representatives from Qatar (Dahlan Al Hamad, head of the Asian confederation), Cameroon (Hamad Kalkaba Malboum, chief of the African confederation), and Cuba (the legendary Alberto Juantorena, the 1976 Montreal 400 and 800 meters champ, now a key figure in his nation's sport hierarchy).

The 2019 world championships will be held in Doha, Qatar.

In another key development, USA Track & Field president Stephanie Hightower was easily elected to the IAAF’s ruling council. She secured the most votes, 163, for the six seats reserved for women on the board, more even than Olympic gold medalist Nawal el-Moutawakel, the IOC member and overseer of the 2016 Rio Games, who drew 160.

Stephanie Hightower // photo courtesy USATF

Hightower said she was "humbled and thrilled to have been selected to serve."

The 2021 world championships are due to be staged in Eugene, Oregon; the 2016 world indoors, next March in Portland.

“I congratulate Lord Coe on his election as IAAF president, and I am excited to continue to work with him on the important projects that our organization began with president Diack,” TrackTown USA president Vin Lananna said in a statement.

He added, “Together with our friends at the IAAF and USA Track & Field, I am confident that we will create a lasting legacy for the sport.”

Four more Americans won key posts Wednesday, too, signs of emerging USATF strength at the international level: Anne Phillips was elected chair of the federation’s women’s committee, Maryanne Daniel one of the two female members of the race-walking committee. Bill Roe was elected to the cross-country committee, David Katz re-elected to the IAAF technical committee.

In all, USATF went an unprecedented five-for-five -- an emphatic rebuttal to domestic naysayers who had been hugely critical of the nominees put forth last December in Los Angeles by the USATF board.

Hightower, Phillips and Daniel emerged as the top vote-getters in their categories.

“Putting these candidates forward was a strategic decision by our board to be a leader rather than a follower in the IAAF’s new era,” USATF board chair Steve Miller said.

"None of these outcomes was guaranteed. Our election success was the result of a lot of hard work by our candidates, our staff and by our closest colleagues in the IAAF congress. Today’s elections are simply the start of what will be many months and years of hard work at the IAAF level.”

Voting for the IAAF’s 27-member ruling council showed the emerging strength of the Middle East in world sports. In addition to Al Hamad, the IAAF elected representatives from the United Arab Emirates, Ahmad Al Kamali, and Saudi Arabia, Mohammed Bin Nawaf Al Saud.

Spain’s Jose Maria Odriozola, meanwhile, took over as treasurer from Russia’s Valentin Balakhnichev.

The presidential vote total, 34 years to the day after he set a then-world record for the mile in Zurich, 3:48.53, reflected Coe’s strength around the world: Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and North America. South America, with its 13 votes, was always a Bubka redoubt.

Svein Arne Hansen of Norway, president of the European athletics federation, issued a statement that said, “I would like to congratulate my friend Sebastian on bering elected as president of the IAAF. I am looking forward to working closely with him over the coming years for the good of our sport.”

Coe formally takes office on August 31, at the end of the 2015 world championships.

The winning margin, 23 votes, also may prove significant as things go forward: comfortable enough for Coe to claim a commanding mandate but not so large as to, in any way, embarrass Bubka.

Outgoing president Lamine Diack, who served for 16 years, said, “For me, it’s a dream come true that I can pass on the baton to a new generation, to Sebastian, who has been prepared for the job. And I think we can say that our sport is in safe hands …

“The white-haired generation,” Diack said, “has done what it could. Now over to the black-haired generation.”

Track and field has, of course, long been the centerpiece of the Summer Games.

As Coe noted at a post-election news conference, “Track and field is the No. 1 sport. I am absolutely delighted to be president of the No. 1 sport. I will do everything within my human capabilities to make sure our sport maintains the values, maintains the strong legacy and the very firm foundations president Diack has left me.”

At the same time, track is increasingly being challenged by, among others, swimming and gymnastics; moreover, survey after survey suggests young people may increasingly be interested in sitting on the couch and playing video games.

And track seems chronically to be beset by doping scandals — headline after headline in recent weeks, for instance.

During the campaign, Coe aggressively defended the IAAF’s anti-doping efforts.

“As you have seen,” he said to delegates from the more than 200 federations just before ballots were cast, “I will always be in your corner.

“Your fight is my fight.”

This proved consistent with his all-along strategy, which emphasized not only who he was — relationships in Olympic sport can be everything — but, even more so, a plain-spoken program of rich content.

In contrast, Bubka — who also ran a spirited campaign — was more apt to turn to the relationship aspect.

Sergey Bubka, presidential runner-up, IAAF vice president //  Getty Images

Two days before the election, for instance, Bubka sent out an email blast that linked to a photo album from stops along the campaign trail.

There is no question — zero — that Bubka, the 1988 gold medalist in the pole vault who for 10 years has been head of the national Olympic committee of Ukraine, is both personable and eminently likable.

In the end, however, the IAAF decided it wanted, and needed, more.

Time and again, Coe would go back not just to his record of achievement — Olympic gold medalist in the 1500 meters in Moscow in 1980 and Los Angeles in 1984, chief of the enormously successful London 2012 Games — but to the manifesto he put forward several months ago.

Broadly, Coe’s vision sketched out for the IAAF a platform rooted in integrity and credibility; creativity and change; enhanced transparency; the imperative of bringing in more sponsors, and doing more with existing corporate partners; increased financial and administrative support to the members; deeper connection with governments; intensified engagement with track’s current and potential audience, notably young people; and a far more robust communication strategy, both within the federation and out.

“Everything you do in the sport is underpinned by trust,” Coe said at that post-election news conference.

He also said, “This has been a very, very long, hard, tough campaign,” asserting it had “given the sport a chance to pause for breath, to review itself, renew itself, think about what the next 30 or 40 years look like.”

That the time for change is now had become crystal clear.

Even Diack himself said so, in the congress: “Perhaps you shouldn’t have elected me in 2011. I had already decided to leave,” adding a moment later, “But we decided to continue working together, and to pursue the path that we followed.”

That path has been a slow walk, the last few years of Diack’s presidency seeing the sport launch the World Relays in the Bahamas but otherwise stagnate in significant ways; the presentation of a track meet, for instance, pales in comparison to that of a world-class swim meet.

At the same time, Diack leaves the IAAF with what Coe called “an extremely strong foundation.” In 2016, the federation’s revenue projects out to $81.9 million, including a $40 million payout due from the IOC. IAAF reserves at the end of 2014 totaled about $74 million, up $12 million from just four years ago.

That said, as a financial report made public Wednesday underscored, the IAAF is hugely dependent on television rights fees — $27 million of its roughly $59 million in income for 2014 — and needs to figure out how to grow that pie.

Indeed, that’s the apt metaphor for track and field itself: it’s strong but there is so much sleeping potential there.

That, in a nutshell, is the theme Coe tapped into.

As he said at the news conference, “Our product is athletics but our business is entertainment.”

Coe at the IAAF congress // Getty Images

During the campaign, Coe also had some influential help.

It was known in closely held circles that the IOC president, Thomas Bach, would not have minded — not one bit — a Coe presidency, even though Bubka has for several years been a member of the IOC’s policy-making executive board.

Same for another key personality in the Olympic and international sports scene, Kuwait’s Sheikh Ahmad al-Fahad al-Sabah.

John Coates of Australia, an IOC vice president, issued a statement calling the vote a “great day for athletics and international sport,” adding, “Seb was clearly best qualified for the presidency as not only an Olympic champion, businessman and politician but as a person of the very highest integrity and character who has organized a most successful Olympic Games.”

The British government assuredly played a role in supporting Coe’s campaign. Hugh Robertson, the 2012 Olympics minister, served as a lead advisor.

The British prime minister, David Cameron, took to Twitter:

Diack, at least publicly, remained studiously neutral during the race. But it was an open secret that he had been piqued two years ago when Bubka ran for the IOC presidency that Bach won; Bubka’s candidacy prevented Diack from publicly supporting Bach. Did any of that linger?

Coe logged over 700,000 kilometers in the air since Christmas, criss-crossing the world several times over to meet with track and field officials virtually everywhere.

On the flight to Beijing for this history-making 50th IAAF congress, three members of his team were asleep “before the wheels left the tarmac,” Coe said. A flight attendant said to Coe, wow, they sure seem relaxed. He said, “No, no, no — they’re absolutely knackered.”

He also said Wednesday about the marathon effort: “I would also like very briefly to thank my teams — because when I was asleep, they were still working hard into the night,” including the veteran strategist Mike Lee, who can now claim another victory.

Coe went on to note that credit was truly due his wife, saying she had "borne the brunt of most of this over the last year." He quipped, "I will be meeting her outside the main congress hall with a photograph of me, just to remind her what I look like.”

Coe gambled big-time Wednesday, standing only for president. Bubka put his name in for both the top spot and for vice-president.

Everyone thus understood at the core that if Coe lost, he was out of town on Thursday, and very likely out of the sport for good. Did track and field want to run the risk of losing his experience, expertise and more?

“Congress, friends,” Coe said in remarks before the balloting that would name just the sixth president in IAAF history, dating to 1912, “there is no task in my life for which I have ever been better prepared, no job I have ever wanted to do more and to do with greater commitment.

“With confidence and affection, my friends, I place myself in your hands today. If you place your trust in me, I will not let you down.”

USATF: 12-1 is one more than 11-1


The USA Track & Field board of directors voted Saturday by 12-1 not, repeat not, to rescind its December decision to nominate Stephanie Hightower for a spot on the IAAF council. Meeting in Santa Monica, California, the USATF vote ought to put to rest the controversy that has lingered since the annual meeting in December in Anaheim. Then the vote was 11-1 in favor of Hightower following a 392-70 floor vote for current IAAF vice president Bob Hersh.

Plain math: 12-1 is one more than 11-1. The dissenter Saturday was one of the athlete representatives, Curt Clausen.

It’s time to move on, people.

USATF board chair Stephanie Hightower after Saturday's vote

“Change is just tough,” USATF board counsel Larry James said afterward, adding a moment later, “As we get to that 90 percent, the last 10 percent is the most painful.”

He also said, “Leadership has to lead.”

The 75-year-old Hersh said afterward, “I don’t want to comment at this time,” adding, “Obviously I have some misgivings about the whole procedure.”


Just to speak hypothetically, what would you make of someone who would suggest at a public board meeting that a woman had no chance of being elected an IAAF vice-president? Seriously? When women have for years now been International Olympic Committee vice-presidents? Should that person really be representing the United States of America? In 2015?

Again hypothetically, what would you make of someone who might suggest, also at a public board meeting, that Cubans don’t like Americans? In an era in which change between Cuba and the United States is plainly in the air?

At a time in which several of USATF’s seemingly most vocal critics are asking for enhanced transparency, what would you think if someone might hypothetically suggest that a discussion that has attracted keen interest over the past four months be held in executive session?

How about this:

Let’s dial back the wayback machine. It would be fascinating to give Hersh a dose of truth serum and ask: four years ago, did you say to Hightower, give me one final term and I will mentor you, even get you on IAAF committees, and then stand down?

Or if that truth serum was still going: last summer, in a private meeting, were you, Bob, asked in a private meeting if you would mentor Stephanie, and did you say, “I could but I won’t?”

Because Saturday, publicly, Hersh once again committed to mentor Hightower, if only he could get four more years.

As if.

To those critics who decry age-ism: the IOC in December affirmed its mandatory retirement limit at age 70. As a matter of best-practices governance, isn't it common-sense that the IAAF is going to enact a similar provision, and soon?

The winds of change are coming this summer to the IAAF. Either Seb Coe or Sergey Bubka is going to be elected federation president. Both are in their 50s. The USATF board decided in December that Hightower, 56, a contemporary of both Coe and Bubka from their time together as athletes and now as sport executives, would be a better choice as USATF nominee than would Hersh.

This U.S. debate about who ought to get the IAAF nomination has run its reasonable course.

For emphasis: there is nothing good that can come of continuing a dialogue, or debate, on this point any further.

The decent thing now would be for Hersh to concede. In politics, there are winners and losers. He has lost. Now he should do the decent thing, and the sooner the better, for the sake of the sport -- and the organizations -- he purports to love.

There is so much going now on that is good about USATF: financially, grass-roots investment and, of course, the prospect of a great summer at the world championships in Beijing followed by epic performances at the Summer Olympics next year in Rio de Janeiro.

This is the first time in maybe forever that all these things can be said about the state of affairs at USA Track & Field.

You just have to step back to see the big picture.

Those who prefer to dwell in divisiveness and name-calling are living in a past that is rapidly receding.

It’s over, people. Get on board.

Is USATF perfect? Hardly. No institution is or can be.

Does USATF deserve criticism when warranted? Absolutely.

That said, is USATF way, way better than it has ever been?

You bet.

Why? Because Hightower and the board have empowered chief executive Max Siegel to do his thing. She is not, repeat not, a dictator. She has grown into the job — as she would readily admit — and Siegel and the staff are doing what they do. That is how a $13 million business grows into $30 million, and it’s only getting started.

So, as this space has repeated several times: the time is now for civility, tolerance and decency. Of course, to reiterate, disagreements are fine. But, big picture, let’s stop the noise and the over-the-top lectures about history and democracy.

We — Americans — do not live in a democracy. We live in a representative democracy.

On the matter of the IAAF nomination, this representative democracy has now spoken, not just once but twice.

USATF should rightfully be the gracious leader among the nations in track and field. It’s time for everyone to get together so that USATF can humbly assume that role as a partner with others around the world — without unnecessary and unproductive personality politics that contribute nothing.

If you prefer it more plainly:

Complain and scheme if you want. Fine. But here’s the deal: you risk being left behind. Way behind.

At USATF, there are a lot of smart, progressive people now running the show. For real. Change is all around. If you step back and take a look, it’s right there. Is it going to happen in a day? Nope. Over time? Yep. It is happening now, and already? Absolutely.

Hightower, after the vote, had it right. She said, “This for me is about how we move the organization forward.”

USATF: a letter from Italy


A letter from Italy, from one of the most influential strategists in track and field, to Bob Hersh, currently an IAAF vice president, makes clear what many here in the United States fail to understand: Hersh is an eminently decent man but his time near the top at the IAAF has come to a close. Hersh should realize that.

“Personally,” writes Luciano Barra, whose career in track and field and Olympic circles has seen him both wielding and observing power and its nuances for decades, “I think that you are spoiling your career in the world of athletics trying to remain in the IAAF council also on this occasion,” a reference to this summer’s IAAF elections.

Luciano Barra, then with the Torino Games organizing committee

“Life goes for each of us and time is a severe judge. You are 75, the IAAF will have [drastic] changes in Beijing and you should have understood that this was the right time to leave in glory, being appointed IAAF honorary life vice president.”

Barra prefaces the entire letter by saying, “It was a pity that we did not find the possibility to speak in Prague,” at last weekend’s European indoor championships, and adds, “I must say that many of the things I am writing are shared by many people I spoke with in Prague.”

The letter is most notable because Barra, as Hersh would well know, is close — and has been for years and years — to IAAF insiders.

To recap just some of Barra’s resume:

He was general director of the Italian Olympic Committee from 1984 to 2003, its sport director the final 10 years. He was chief operating officer of the Torino 2006 Winter Games. He is an honorary life council member of the European Athletic Association and has been around track and field, and the organization of its events, virtually his entire life.

Barra is far from unfamiliar with the United States and Americans, incidentally. He served as an adviser to the Chicago 2016 Olympic bid.

It is amid all that context that he wrote Tuesday’s letter to Hersh, mindful that in Beijing either Seb Coe or Sergey Bubka will be elected IAAF president and that USA Track & Field will nominate a delegate to the IAAF spot.

In December, USATF opted not to re-up Hersh but to nominate Stephanie Hightower, the USATF chairwoman.

Within the U.S. track and field community, there continues to be misunderstanding about the dynamics of the 392-70 floor recommendation for Hersh and then the 11-1 board of directors vote for Hightower. A follow-up Feb. 7 board letter sought to explain why the board went the direction it did.

This letter from Barra ought to further make plain to those within the United States why Hightower is the choice.

To emphasize, Barra’s opinion not only matters; it reflects an important current of thinking in key IAAF circles that ought to be better understood in the United States, particularly with the USATF board meeting this weekend in Los Angeles.

Hightower is now 58. When he, Barra, was 58, he wrote, he retired after 18 years in the European athletics council because the Italian track and field federation had a new president and that new president wanted to represent Italy: “It was a normal ambition for him.”

“The same I did in the Italian Olympic Committee at 62 … after 15 years as sport director general (with 110 medals in five Olympics [as compared to] 55 … before) [so that I could become] deputy CEO of Torino 2006 Olympic Games.”

“For this reason,” Barra writes to Hersh, ”I cannot understand your position and your continuous quest of support also internationally. I do not know, and I do not want to know, the formal aspect of what has happened inside your federation, but if legally this has been possible, what can you say?”

Barra goes on:

“I have understood that you have been claiming the important achievement you have reached in these years inside the IAAF. Surely you have good score even if I have been critical on two of your main [activities]: the one of Technical Delegate and the one of Chairman of the Diamond League group.

“I do not want to come back on my e-mails about the time table you have ‘painted’ for Moscow and London, I am only happy to see that those who have taken the baton from you have not followed many of your ‘best practice.’ You know what I am talking about because I have written open letters on it.

“As far as the Diamond League is concerned you should know that many people in the World Athletics consider that activity as the [worst] ever run by the IAAF on many [points] of view. Financially [it] is not positive, from [a] television point of view [it] is even worse, but most of all [it] has allowed athletics to be totally in the hand of the managers. To pursue athletics based on money and records has also made the doping a major issue.

“You chaired a group in Marrakech to discuss about the need to make athletes recognize the one day meeting (the vest problem) and in spite of a report of many pages (43?) you were not able to arrive to any proposal. Should I go on?

“So why not finish in glory and take the positive aspect of what you have done? The alternative is to be challenged on the substance of what you have done, independently to the formal aspect of your queries.”

At the end the letter says, “PS it is possible that I will circulate my thought,” and indeed it is now circulating worldwide.

Why Stephanie Hightower is up for IAAF council


Political and organizational culture can be a famously difficult thing to articulate. But as U.S. Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart famously said in a very different context, you know it when you see it. What’s coming this summer at the IAAF, track and field’s international governing body, is a “climate of monumental political change,” according to a memo sent out Saturday from the USA Track & Field board of directors. And that, it says, is why Stephanie Hightower, not Robert Hersh, is unequivocally “the best candidate for 2015 and beyond” to be nominated for the U.S. seat on the ruling IAAF council.

The three-page memo went out to USATF association presidents, zone representatives and committee chairs. The next USATF board meeting is March 14, in advance of the Los Angeles marathon.

The memo marks the next step in what has been a controversial, and misunderstood, process stemming from the 2014 USATF annual meeting in Anaheim, Calif.

The memo attempts to clarify, as well as bring some much-needed context, to the process.

IAAF president Lamine Diack, left, alongside vice-presidents Robert Hersh and Dahlan Jumaan al-Hamad at the 2013 world championships in Moscow // photo Getty Images


At issue: who should get the USATF nomination for a seat on the policy-making IAAF council.

At the Anaheim meeting, delegates voted 392-70 to recommend Hersh for the slot. Key word: recommend. The board then heard from both candidates, Hersh and Hightower. It voted, 11-1, for Hightower.

The backdrop:

Hersh, who turns 75 this coming Thursday, Lincoln’s Birthday, has been the U.S. rep to the IAAF since 1999. He is an accomplished lawyer and expert in the rules of track and field. If Hersh got four more years, he’d see 79 before the end of his term.

It was also in 1999 that Primo Nebiolo of Italy, who had been IAAF president since 1981, died. Lamine Diack of Senegal, the acting president, took over. Diack subsequently has been re-elected president — unopposed — in 2001, 2003, 2007 and, somewhat unexpectedly, in 2011.

Diack is now 81. He will turn 82 on June 7. He has announced that this is his final term.

The election to replace him will take place Aug. 18 in Beijing, immediately before the world championships at the Bird’s Nest Stadium, site of the 2008 Olympic Games.

The list of serious contenders to replace Diack is expected to be two: Britain’s Sebastian Coe, the famed middle-distance runner of the 1980s who led the hugely successful London 2012 Games, and Sergey Bubka, the pole-vault champion who now heads Ukraine national Olympic committee and is, as well, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s executive board.

There are four IAAF vice presidents. Coe and Bubka are two. Hersh is another. The fourth is Qatar’s Dahlan Jumaan al-Hamad.

Hersh, at the most recent IAAF elections, in Daegu, South Korea, in 2011, was given the No. 2 IAAF position, the senior vice-presidency. Saturday’s USATF memo does not say this but this space will: this was not owing to Hersh’s accomplishments or achievements but very likely due to political expediency. Everyone within IAAF circles knew full well by then that Coe and Bubka were lining up for the presidency. Hamad had other battles to wage — see Doha’s bid’s for the 2017 and 2019 world championships (in 2011, an American bid for the world championships was a pipe dream). Who was left? Hersh.

Coe is 58.

Bubka is 51.

Hightower, the USATF chairwoman, was a champion hurdler in the 1980s. She is 56.

USATF board chair Stephanie Hightower at the 2014 IAAF board meeting in Eugene, Oregon // photo Getty Images

Put in plain terms: Hightower, Coe and Bubka are peers and contemporaries. As the memo says, she “enjoys especially good relationships with them, making her a very strong candidate.”

She has strong relationships “throughout the IAAF, and especially among women and federations in the Caribbean, Africa and the Middle East,” which also helps advance her candidacy. She has a “strong track record of advocacy … at the international level.”

This, too: the IAAF has a “demonstrable need for more women and women of color.” Hightower is African-American.

But, the memo says, “the biggest issue [the board] discussed was the current state and future direction of the IAAF and its leadership, and it is the topic on which we must speak most strongly in this memo. It is the decisive reason why we chose Stephanie Hightower as the best candidate.”

When Hersh went on the council in 1999, the memo says, that was part of the “political shift that look place as part of a new era of IAAF leadership.”

Now a new shift is underway.

“With Mr. Diack leaving office this summer, many others will also be leaving their positions of power of authority, just as had transpired after Nebiolo’s death and Mr. Diack’s ascendancy. Regime change at the top brings with it regime change at all levels. At the IAAF, a change in the presidency carries with it huge shifts in political climate and power structure, as well [as] changes in staffing, appointees, voting [blocs], elections, policy, rules … a top-to-bottom change is afoot, on a very broad scale.

“Given this climate of monumental political change at the IAAF, and given how closely Mr. Hersh is connected to the tenure and administration of the outgoing presidency, the board believes USATF would compromise the United States’ political position at the IAAF if we were to nominate a candidate for Council who is part of that past, outgoing power and leadership structure.”

Also this, and it has to be noted, because Hersh is indeed the senior vice-president, even as it should also be noted Hersh has not — repeat, not — been accused of any misconduct or wrongdoing:

“The IAAF is under considerable scrutiny at the moment as the handling of doping protocols and charges of corruption related to certain business dealings within the highest level of the organization are currently under investigation. USATF is not a party to those investigations and, like the rest of the world, awaits the outcome of the investigations.”

The memo continues on page three:

“Even though [Hersh] has served ably since 1999, there is no guarantee of Mr. Hersh’s re-election,” and it says in this space that this point must be emphasized.

“If USATF were to put him up for election amid all the change cycle, we are more likely to be perceived as backward-looking to the previous administration rather than forward-thinking to the next administration.

“Bob has served actively since 1999, but since that time there has not been a specific action at the IAAF that has actively advanced the interests of American athletes or teams,” and the opinion in this space is that this assertion is indeed the case. Through the Sydney, Athens, Beijing and London Olympics; through world championships in Seville, Edmonton, Paris, Helsinki, Osaka, Berlin, Daegu and Moscow; through BALCO and other doping scandals, including the most recent one that has now taken out the immediate past chair of the USATF athletes’ advisory council and one of the leading sprinters in recent memory, the essential question has always been — what is Bob Hersh doing?

The memo continues:

“With a new IAAF president about to be elected — and all that goes with it — whatever ability Mr. Hersh may have had to [effect] positive action at the IAAF for American athletes is gravely mitigated by the new IAAF circumstances and the changes that will happen this summer. We are not saying Mr. Hersh has done anything wrong. We recognize simply that a new leadership structure and IAAF organizational structure — one that Ms. Hightower has close ties to and excellent relationships with — will soon be in place. As [a] result of all the above considerations, Ms.Hightower is the best candidate.”

The memo observes that in its deliberations the board “openly discussed the [392-70] vote on the floor … and took that recommendation very seriously.” It also “listened to presentations” made by both Hersh and Hightower that were “markedly different in respect to future advancement of the sport.”

The memo says, “The facts we based our decision on were not those that had been discussed — and perhaps not even known — by Annual Meeting attendees in the days leading up to the [vote]. Mr. Hersh had addressed many committee meetings to present the case for himself as USATF’s IAAF Council nominee. It is our understanding that the political changes taking place at the IAAF, and how USATF could most effectively be part of them, were not part of those discussions. Those, however, were the considerations that were the crux of our decision.”

It also says, “We fully understood that our choice of Stephanie Hightower would not be popular among the delegates who voted for Mr. Hersh. We fully understood that our selection was in direct conflict with the recommendation, and that some people would be (and are) very upset by the fact that we didn’t simply accept the recommendation. But we also fully understood that our function was to select the best — and not necessarily the most popular — candidate based on everything we know.”

USATF voices: a call for passion, civility and common sense


Eight years. That’s what Jon Drummond got Wednesday for multiple doping violations. Where are the howls now — and where have they been, because everyone had to know something of this magnitude was coming — from the athletes who filled the room just two weeks ago in Anaheim, California, at the annual USA Track & Field athletes advisory committee meeting, where Drummond was improbably still the chair of that very committee? There’s been silence, mostly, and that is just incredible. No, not incredible. Wrong. Where is the outspoken condemnation? For real? Where is it? Contrast that with the criticism and anger that emerged from some, if not many, at the end of that very same USATF convention. The USATF board voted to put forward federation chairperson Stephanie Hightower for the IAAF council slot at elections next year despite a floor vote for Bob Hersh. This produced raw emotion. Why? Sexism? Racism? Petty personality politics? Some combination of all three? Or something altogether else? The intensity is all the more mystifying given USATF’s fantastic financial performance and the wholesale changes underway at the IAAF level.

USATF board chair Stephanie Hightower at IAAF meetings this past July in Oregon // photo Getty Images

Big picture:

USATF, after years of putting the fun in dysfunctional, finally appears to be on the right track under the leadership of Hightower and chief executive Max Siegel.

For some — if not many — in track and field and the broader Olympic scene, that is a hard sentence with which to come to grips.

The evidence is right there, though, plain as day, and the critics have better start dealing with it.


Because the change is here, now in the United States, and it’s coming internationally, and the opportunity is there for USATF, Hightower and Siegel — repeat, USATF, Hightower and Siegel — to play a hugely significant role in the coming years in the governance of international track and field.

There’s room for everybody who cares about the sport, who loves it, to have an opinion. No problem there.

But here is a call for the discussion to be ramped down to levels of civility and tolerance.

This reminder: the Olympic values, in shorthand, call for excellence, friendship and respect.


Distance standout Lauren Fleshman’s website proclaims, “Dwell in positivity — it’s worth the effort!” She is now the mother of an 18-month-old. Would language like this be acceptable at any Mommy and Me class — Fleshman writing at that very same website, recapping the annual meeting: “I don’t know enough about Stephanie Hightower to know if she would be good at the job or not, or better than Bob, etc. But I do know that at this meeting she was full of s***, so that’s not a good start.”

Here is a quote published at Flotrack from USATF activist Becca Gillespy Peter, who also attended the annual meeting:

“Bob is the most upstanding person ever, and what kills me is that he’s not an ass-kisser like Stephanie and he doesn’t play these political games, I mean obviously he knows politics, but a lot of this stuff with USATF is just beneath him. It’s not his style to go on the offensive against something like this.”

The Orange County Register ran a column that said Hightower’s “lack of professionalism and questionable ethics have long been evident,” going back to long-distance telephone calls made in 1992 (22 years ago, come on, really, and more to the point, as the Register noted, the state agreed not to seek repayment). The paper also chose to note that the Columbus, Ohio, school district — she lives there — enrolled Hightower’s child at a sought-after school even though she had not filed the proper paperwork, citing the Columbus Dispatch.

Let’s pause for a moment.

All public figures know that criticism goes with the territory. But making a professional matter personal — by bringing up family business, working in the child and the school, and relying on another newspaper to do it? To allegedly prove favoritism? Isn’t that something of a stretch to insinuate that’s the smoking gun that gets her but good when it comes to that proposition about professionalism and ethics?

To reiterate, everyone with an interest in track and field and in USATF ought to dial down the rhetoric from an 11 — using the Spinal Tap scale — to, say, an eight. Disagreement is fine. Cable-channel nasty name-calling is not. It needs to stop. Moreover, the snark needs to stop, or at least be toned way down. If you think you're the smartest person in the room, or on the message board -- you're not, guaranteed.

Now: who legitimately thinks anyone gets to be the senior vice president of a major international sports federation without playing politics?

Let’s not be naive, people.

There is little question Hersh is the senior IAAF vice president right now because Britain’s Sebastian Coe and Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, who are also vice presidents, are going to run for the presidency next August, and Hersh was — in 2011 — the very excellent compromise candidate for the No. 2 spot.

All of you who would profess to be so in the know about the IAAF and its ways, and whether Hersh has wielded magic for the United States over the years: if you, like me, were in Daegu, South Korea, for the 2011 elections, let’s reminisce together about that weird technical glitch in the electronic voting system that almost cost Bubka his vp slot.

All right, then.

I have covered the Olympic movement since 1998. Hersh has been on the IAAF council since 1999.

Hersh is now 74 years old, turning 75 next Feb. 12. Lamine Diack, the outgoing IAAF president, is 81. If Hersh were to see four more years, he’d turn 79 before the end of his term.

Coe is 58. Bubka is 51. Hightower is 56. They are all contemporaries, elite athletes from the 1980s (and in Bubka’s case, ‘90s) who are now in their prime as executives.

If, like me, you attended the International Olympic Committee’s 5th World Conference on Women and Sport in Los Angeles in 2012, you would understand the movement is actively looking to bring more women, and in particular women of diverse backgrounds, into positions of management and leadership.

See Stephanie Hightower.

If, like me, you also attended the USATF meeting in Anaheim, all you had to do was sit down at that AAC meeting and listen to Siegel for this reality check:

USATF revenue up 79 percent from 2011 to 2014, from $19 million to $34 million. Assets up 472 percent from $3.6 million in 2011 to $17 million by the end of 2014. And more — including a raft of new sponsors, and palpable energy driven by the long-term Nike deal.

“I am just really excited with the progress of our organization since Max has been at the helm,” Olympic 400-meter gold medalist Sanya Richards Ross said upon walking out of the room that afternoon. “I am excited about the transparency and his accountability to the athletes and I am very optimistic for our future.”

Why would this be? Because, in large measure, USATF is following the exact same model as the USOC — the board chair, Hightower, has empowered the CEO, Siegel, to do his job, just the same way board chair Larry Probst has given chief executive Scott Blackmun the authority to run the USOC.

Now — does USATF still have some governance rough patches to address, which the USOC has reminded it of? Absolutely. Are things perfect? Hardly.

At any rate: it’s against the backdrop of a hugely upward and optimistic trend that the next shoe dropped, the 392-70 vote as the annual meeting was coming to a close recommending Hersh for the IAAF slot. The USATF board then heard from both candidates, Hersh and Hightower, and voted, 11-1, for Hightower.

Here is the thing, and this is what seems so problematic for some: that 392-70 vote was a recommendation.

This reminder: unless you live in Vermont, where town hall meetings are the thing, we do not live in a straight-up democracy. We live in a representative democracy. Votes of more than 400 people can far too often slide into a high school-like popularity contest, or something similarly meaningless.

The USOC’s downfall some 12 years ago was that it had a cumbersome board of more than 120 people, its decisions racked by petty, personal politics. Sound familiar? Now the USOC board is down to 15, and it works.

In his appearance before the USATF board, Hersh absolutely had a chance to make his case. To put it another way: he got to compete.

So did Hightower. She got to make her case, too.

Hersh lost. Hightower won.

This happens in sports, and it happens in sports politics.

USATF had a process in place. The process was duly followed.

The time for whining about it, friends, is over. It’s time to move on. There are far more important issues with which to contend — like why the best track and field athletes in the United States did not rise up and ask that Jon Drummond be immediately provisionally suspended as chair of the AAC as soon as it was apparent that Drummond had been implicated in the Tyson Gay matter.

If Drummond had been exonerated, he could have had his position — or an even more promising future in USATF leadership — back.

Instead, he got eight years. From the decision: “A coach must be a watchdog when it comes to prohibited substances.” From Siegel: "We are all deeply disappointed."

Where, now, are the voices — especially those who were in that room in Anaheim two weeks ago — who will rise up in defense of their peers, the clean athletes who in roughly 20 months will put on the red, white and blue and compete in Rio de Janeiro for the United States at the 2016 Summer Games?

You want something to be passionate about? Be passionate about that.

Agenda 2020 change: for real, or not so much?


MONACO — From the department of the obvious: no one spends $601 million over seven years unless they’re serious. The International Olympic Committee is dead-bang serious about the digital television channel its members approved Monday as part of president Thomas Bach’s 40-part “Agenda 2020” plan. As for the other 39 components, which call for shifts in the bid process and the Olympic program? History and common sense teach that expectations ought to be tempered.

The IOC is now 120 years old. For all the talk — big talk among some here in Monaco — about how Agenda 2020 is revolutionary or radical, the blunt reality is that the IOC has talked this sort of talk many, many times before.

The issue now is whether it’s going to walk the walk.

From the back of the room, almost at the end of the  127th IOC session in Monaco

To be clear:

Bach deserves significant credit for putting the IOC to and through a year of asking — with the help of considerable number of world-class advisers — what it is and what it wants to be in these early years of the 21st century.

The IOC absolutely, positively needs to innovate.

Just as an example of the kind of comparison that’s readily out there, one that gets almost no attention in the mainstream media but that draws intense focus within the Olympic sphere because the numbers show so plainly what’s what:

The 2014 Winter Games in Sochi: 88 nations (and one independent Olympic participant), about 2,850 athletes. Cost: widely believed to be $51 billion.

The 2014 Asian Beach Games, just a few weeks ago in Phuket, Thailand: 43 of the 45 national Olympic committees showed up (only North Korea and Saudi Arabia did not), about 2,300 athletes. The entire thing — test event, training, competition, demolition — proved a temporary put-up and take-down that required all of one month. Cost: not anywhere in a galaxy near $51 billion.

A consequence, perhaps intended, because sports politics is not a game for the naive, is that this year bought Bach buy-in from virtually every corner of the Olympic firmament — the dozens of international federations, all 205 national Olympic committees, the IOC athletes’ commission and more.

This stakeholder consensus enabled Bach to run the table Monday — to see Agenda 2020 go a perfect 40-for-40, with the IOC members voting “unanimously” for each and then at the end for the entirety of the resolutions, there being zero no votes even though perhaps not all hands were raised at all times.

The only time the members were not in unanimity was mid-afternoon Monday, when maybe five or six said they might like to take a coffee break but Bach opted to push through.

The last time the IOC went through such a far-reaching institutional exercise was under duress, amid the late 1990s Salt Lake City corruption scandal, which saw 10 members resign or be expelled. That prompted the IOC to enact a 50-point reform plan.

It was all this that Bach assuredly had in mind when, at the opening of the 127th IOC session here in Monaco, he made a play on Shakespeare and Hamlet, saying the IOC had to change or be changed.

The TV channel marks such a change. That’s $601 million talking, and that is big money.

Everything else is incremental change, at best, until proven otherwise.

Because the IOC has been there, done that, many times before.


“It would be very unfortunate, if the often exaggerated expenses incurred for the most recent Olympiads, a sizable part of which represented the construction of permanent buildings, which were moreover unnecessary — temporary structures would fully suffice, and the only consequence is to then encourage use of these permanent buildings by increasing the number of occasions to draw in the crowds — it would be very unfortunate if these expenses were to deter (small) countries from putting themselves forward to host the Olympic Games in the future.”

That is from Pierre de Coubertin, the French baron widely credited as the founder of the modern Olympic movement, and those are words he penned that were published in the Olympic Review magazine in April 1911.

Fast-forward to 2002 and 2003.

Under the direction of Jacques Rogge of Belgium, who had just taken over as president from Juan Antonio Samaranch of Spain, the IOC dialed up an in-depth report, what came to be called the “Olympic Games Study Commission.”

Under the direction of longtime Canadian member Dick Pound, a former vice president who himself had run for the presidency, losing out to Rogge, the panel — just like Agenda 2020 — solicited public input, taking in thousands of suggestions. More than half related to the Olympic program; others were directed to the format of the Games, the bid process, TV coverage, the extravagance of the opening and closing ceremonies and more.

The IOC, according to the report, produced for the IOC’s session in Prague in July 2003, sought “to ensure that the host cities and their residents are left with the most positive legacy of venues, infrastructure, expertise and experience.”

In all, the document contains 117 specific recommendations, each aimed at managing the “inherent size, complexity and cost” of the Games. The IOC adopted all 117.

The upshot:

Beijing 2008 ($40 billion, at least). Sochi (that $51 billion).

And the 2022 Winter Games bid race (numerous cities drop out, only Beijing and Almaty, Kazakhstan, still in and not clear Almaty will stay in).

Monday’s action includes a provision in which the IOC created an “invitation” stage at which applicants will now be urged to discuss how their bids might be a more holistic fit with the Olympic universe.

OK, but look — this is going to take time, probably seven to 14 years, minimum, to figure out thoroughly.

Also, it’s one thing to say, all dreamy-like, you propose, you candidate city you, whether your butterflies and rainbows fit into your vision of the Games. What happens when that lovely little dream gets put to the acid test of a secret IOC vote?

This is the realpolitik of Agenda 2020.

Bach has, on numerous occasions, referred to Agenda 2020 as a “jigsaw puzzle” or “white paper.”

In a news conference here Saturday, before Monday’s discussion and votes, he called it a “strategy paper,” or “wishes for the future of the Olympic movement,” explaining, “We will not be discussing semicolons and bullet points.”

Now, though, the time has come to punctuate the conversation.

For all the headlines that rocketed Tuesday around the world about countries mounting dual-nation bids, those would be allowed only in “special circumstances.” Such circumstances would be few and far between and, again, the odds of any such bid winning a campaign for the Games — even more remote.

A real-life Agenda 2020 circumstance has already emerged, and it’s not pretty: the pushback in moving the bobsled run out of South Korea for the 2018 Winter Games?  Already intense. And so predictable, the governor of Gangwon province, Moon Soon Choi saying in a televised address Tuesday, “Sharing the competition with another city is not an option we can consider. The South Korean people would never accept it.”

When they were bidding, and they bid three times for the Winter Games, x million for a bobsled run and y million in annual maintenance expenses were legacy costs the Koreans knew they were confronting. The political and cultural costs of asking them to do something else — how much is that worth? Is that somewhere in Agenda 2020?

Just as challenging, albeit in a different context: the real-world hard work that lies ahead in re-shaping the Olympic program now that the IOC has shifted the focus from “sports” to “events.”

IOC policy, renewed Monday, calls for a cap of 10,500 athletes except in “special cases.” This begs the obvious question: which of the established sports now figures to give up spots to sports such as surfing, skateboarding, climbing or others seeking to gain entry into the Olympic program?

Consider track and field.

Seb Coe and Sergey Bubka — Coe has already declared — are going to be the two candidates for the IAAF presidency. Under what theory does it serve either to suggest, before the presidential election next Aug. 19 in Beijing, that track and field should give up even one slot from its Olympic quota?

Now, aquatics:

FINA launched high-diving at the 2013 world championships in Barcelona to great acclaim. It is experimenting with mixed-gender relays. It is promoting men in synchronized swimming, and has changed the name of that discipline — said to be at the urging of Bach himself — to “artistic swimming.” There’s urgency, in the name of gender equality, to put the women’s 1500 freestyle on the program.

So where does it seem likely that FINA wants to bend?

This can go on and on. Shooting. Rowing. And more.

Actually, there is an elegant solution — if, that is, the IOC wants to confront it.

The Olympic accreditation system gives athletes a placard with a capital letter “A” on it. Some of these “A” placards can feature a lower-case letter as well for others in the athlete camp; there are a variety of different letters. Altogether, the different “A” placards total roughly 10,500.

One of the secrets within the Olympic world is that perhaps 900 of those 10,500 “A” accreditations have not over the years belonged to, well, athletes. They have been assigned over the years to sponsors or, very quietly, to security personnel.

If the IOC wanted to take all of those 900 and move them to a new category, voilà! Problem solved.

Even a third, 300, would go far in addressing the practicalities.

Moving on, because the 2022 campaign remains a real challenge, and Agenda 2020 may well accentuate the matter.

One of the 40 resolutions affirms the IOC’s support for non-discrimination.

“It is not only with regard to sexual orientation,” Bach said at a Monday news conference, referring to the firestorm of controversy triggered by Russian legislation in advance of the Sochi Games. “We will be looking for the guarantee of the host country that the principles of the Olympic charter apply to all the participants during the Olympic Games.”

This ought to go over just swimmingly in either Beijing and Almaty.

Who remembers the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Games? The protests over human rights that marred the 2008 torch relay in London, Paris and San Francisco?

Pound, as the session was drawing to a close Tuesday, dropped the bomb of suggesting the IOC re-open the 2022 race with the newly enacted Agenda 2020 procedures, declaring it would be “leveling the playing field” and “doing our best to promote the Olympic movement.”

No, Bach responded immediately, the IOC’s policy-making executive board had decided a couple months ago that the only cities that could be in the race were those that had applied earlier. “There will be no change in this procedure,” he said.

Thus: the first post-Agenda 2020 Games are now destined to go a non-democratic nation; western protests over human rights would seem an inevitability; and more.

Bring it on, all of you who believe the IOC signed on Monday for big change.

That change, again, is going to take time, and lots of it — if, indeed, it ever manifests itself at all.

The TV channel — that absolutely is for real. Anything else?

Time is the measure of all things.

At that Monday news conference, Bach was asked what he hoped 20 years from now how he would feel about the passage of Agenda 2020.

“When I look from above — this is difficult to say. I hope very much that this then will prove to be an important and positive day for the Olympic movement. I hope very much, I’m confident, I’m sure that today we took the right decisions with a vision for the future of the Olympic movement that we are getting the Games and the Olympic movement closer to the youth and to the people.

“We with this day today and with the Olympic Agenda 2020, we are also fostering our relationship with society at large. I hope in 20 years that I can still live it, first of all. I can look back to this day with satisfaction and happiness and maybe a little bit of relief.”

Coe announces for IAAF presidency


Sebastian Coe, the two-time Olympic 1980s middle-distance champion who oversaw the hugely successful 2012 London Summer Games and has been an IAAF vice president for the past seven years, early Thursday announced he intends to run for the IAAF presidency. Coe, 58, is widely believed to be the front-runner in what is expected to be a two-man race with Ukraine’s Sergey Bubka, the former pole vault star who is also an IAAF vice president and, as well, a member of the International Olympic Committee’s policy-making executive board.

"As I speak to friends and colleagues around our great sport I appreciate that we are entering a very important time for athletics," the term for track and field in wide use everywhere but the United States, "and that it is the right time to open up a discussion about the future," Coe said in a statement issued from London.

It went on: "That discussion needs to focus on how we build on the many achievements of recent years, recognize that we have new challenges in a new era and how we can tackle those challenges with vision and ambition. I believe I have something to offer to that debate and it is why I am today officially announcing my candidacy for the presidency of the IAAF."

Sebastian Coe at an Assn. of National Olympic Committees meeting earlier this month in Bangkok // photo Getty Images

Bubka, who has spent months quietly traveling the world, has yet to formally declare for the presidency. He is expected to do so in the coming weeks. Those close to Bubka say he connects to potential voters on a personal level and insist the race — with many months yet to go — is far from a done deal.

The election to succeed Lamine Diack of Senegal, IAAF president since 1999, is due to take place next Aug. 19 in Beijing.

Track and field sees more than 210 nations participating; its every-other-year world championships are the third-biggest spectacle in world sports, after the Summer Games and FIFA’s World Cup; when track is on at the Olympics, it is, Diack declared last week at the IAAF gala in Monaco, the “soul” and the “heart” of the Games.

Diack, 81, also said, “I soon will be transmitting my stick to somebody who will be able to carry it even better than me.”

Bubka, who will turn 51 in early December, is the 1988 gold medalist in the pole vault; he set 35 world records in the event. He has been active in sports politics for years, with the IOC for instance as a member of the athletes’ commission since 2000; he has been president of the Ukraine national Olympic committee since 2005.

Last year, Bubka ran unsuccessfully for IOC president, making it through to a second round reduced to five candidates but there coming in with the fewest number of votes, four, that saw Germany’s Thomas Bach get 49, enough to get elected.

Coe won the 1500 meters in both the 1980 Moscow and 1984 Los Angeles Games; he took silver in the 800 at both Olympics. He was a member of the British Parliament for five years; private secretary to William Hague, leader of the opposition, from 1997-2001; and in 2004 took over from businesswoman Barbara Cassani the London 2012 bid, seeing it in 2005 to victory over Paris.

In Monaco last week, Coe wrapped up service as head of the IAAF evaluation commission that saw Doha elected site of the 2019 world championships, over Eugene, Oregon, and Barcelona. In a first round of voting, Barcelona was eliminated; in the second round, Doha prevailed over Eugene, 15-12.

Next week, back in Monaco, the IOC meets to vote on Bach’s wide-ranging Agenda 2020 review and potential reform package.

It was far from clear that either Coe or Bubka was willing to seize the time this week — between the IAAF’s meeting in Monaco and the IOC’s assembly there in just a few days — to go public with a presidential declaration.

Tactically, Coe has thrown in, and now it seems obvious why: he is seeking not only to carry forward the momentum from the IAAF’s -- exceedingly positive -- time in Monaco but is bidding at the outset to set the agenda in the presidential campaign.

Beyond the statement, Coe also gave an interview published Thursday in the leading French daily L'Equipe.

In his statement, Coe also said, “Throughout all my sporting roles I have always put the interest of athletics first and been independent enough to do the right thing for our sport. This will be my approach in the campaign and, in full partnership with the member federations, it will be the cornerstone of my presidency if granted the great honor of being elected IAAF president.

“I will set out my detailed proposals for athletics and the IAAF when I publish my manifesto,” giving no indication when that might be.

“It will highlight the importance of our sport embracing innovation and change as we move forward. I want us to have a renewed focus on engagement with young people and a real understanding of the global landscape that is shaping the next generation of athletes and fans.

"If we are guided by these principles as we review and reform our sport then I am convinced that athletics can enter a new era with confidence and ensure a bright and exciting future."