track and field

Rainbow fingernails stir it up

There was a terrific track meet Thursday at Luzhniki Stadium at Moscow. But the central action came -- unsurprisingly -- courtesy of Russian pole vault diva Yelena Isinbayeva, underscoring the controversy over Russia's new anti-gay law. It all started when Swedish high jumper Emma Green Tregaro posted an Instagram picture of her fingernails painted "in the colors of the rainbow," with the hashtags #pride and #moscow2013. Also, Swedish sprinter Moa Hjelmer ran in the heats of the 200-meter heats with her nails painted in rainbow colors as well.

Isinbayeva, who got her gold medal Thursday after Tuesday's captivating pole-vault action, told reporters, in English, "If we allow to promote and do all this stuff on the street, we are very afraid about our nation because we consider ourselves like normal, standard people. We just live with boys with woman, woman with boys.

"Everything must be fine. It comes from history. We never had any problems, these problems in Russia, and we don't want to have any in the future."

Green Tregaro is one of the world's best jumpers, a consistent top-10 performer; she is due to return to the track Saturday for the high jump finals. Isinbayeva said even painted fingernails were out of place.

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Six

"It's unrespectful to our country. It's unrespectful to our citizens because we are Russians. Maybe we are different from European people and other people from different lands. We have our home and everyone has to respect (it). When we arrive to different countries, we try to follow their rules."

Isinbayeva's comments in defense of the Russian law, which prohibits the promotion of homosexuality to minors or holding gay pride rallies, need to be fully understood in context.

Who thinks that someone of her stature made such remarks without the full support beforehand of the leading authorities in Russia? After all, she is due to be the honorary mayor of the Sochi 2014 Winter Games athletes' village.

This, too: the demonstration by the Swedish athletes makes for an interesting test. There were no immediate reports of Green Tregaro being arrested. Nor, for that matter, Hjelmer.

Back to the track:

In the same way that Isinbayeva captivated fans Tuesday night with her victory in the pole vault, the men's high-jump thrilled fans Thursday, with Ukrainian Bohdan Bondarenko coming out on top in a duel with Qatar's Mutaz Essa Barshim, Canada's Derek Drouin and Russia's Ivan Ukhov.

For the first time since 1995, a 2.35-meter clearance in the high jump -- 7 feet, 8-1/2 inches -- would not even be good enough for a medal.

Bondarenko's winning jump: a championship-record 2.41 meters, or 7 feet, 10-3/4 inches.

Barshim and Drouin tied for bronze last year in London; here, Barshim took silver, Drouin, bronze. Ukhov, last year's gold medalist, settled for fourth. American Eric Kynard, the 2012 silver medalist, took fifth.

With a huge contingent of fans from Ukraine on hand, in their blue and yellow shirts, Bondarenko, seventh last year in London, made three tries at a new world record -- 2.46 meters, or 8 feet, 3/4 inch -- but no go. It was quite a spectacle; he wore one yellow shoe and one red.

In the men's 3,000-meter steeplechase, Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi continued his dominance with an 8:06.01 victory.

14th IAAF World Athletics Championships Moscow 2013 - Day Six

If track and field were more of a mainstream sport, particularly in the United States, Kemboi would be a dream. As it is, in many precincts, he is a virtual unknown. Amazing, considering he has two Olympic golds and, now, three world championship golds.

For this race, Kemboi showed up with a Mohawk. He is a character and celebrated his win -- which he ensured with his typical kick into overdrive down the homestretch -- with, per usual, a dance, using the Kenyan flag as a makeshift skirt.

Under his singlet, it turned out, he was wearing a shirt that proclaimed he was wearing his victory -- he had a certain confidence, apparently -- to Kenyan president Uhuru Kenyatta and deputy William Ruto, "my heroes my kings I love Kenya."

Kenya's Conseslus Kipruto -- he's just 18 -- took silver, in  8:06.37, and France's Mahiedine Mekhissi-Benabbad bronze 8:07.86.

As a measure of their county's dominance in the event, check out the rank of Kenyans in top 10 in the order of finish: 1, 2, 4, 7.

Meanwhile, Evan Jager of the United States ran fifth in 8:08.62, the best finish for an American man since Mark Croghan in 1993. Jager's marked the fastest fifth-place time, ever, in a 3,000-meter steeplechase at a world championships.

Jager now has the three fastest 3k steeple times in American history. And he has only run the event 12 times.

"I'm definitely happy with how far I've come, and I'm excited for the future," Jager said. "But I really wanted a medal. I wanted it real bad."

Jehue Gordon of Trinidad and Tobago became the island nation's second-ever world champ -- behind sprinter Ato Boldon, now an NBC analyst -- winning the men's 400-meter hurdles, in 47.69, the fastest time in the world this year. American Michael Tinsley finished in a personal best 47.70.

Both men ended up sprawled on the blue track just after the finish line, the race too close to call for a few moments.

Serbia's Emir Bekric, the European under-23 champion who almost seems too big and too tall to be running track -- he looks like a linebacker for the Green Bay Packers, or something -- took bronze, in a national-record 48.05.

Felix Sanchez, the 2004 and 2012 Olympic champion, got fifth, in 48.22.

In the women's 400 hurdles, Zuzana Henjova of the Czech Republic, who had served notice all week that she was the one to beat, came through for the gold in 52.84, the best time in the world this year.

Americans went 2-3, Dalilah Muhammad catching Lashinda Demus at the line for the silver. Muhammad finished in 54.09, Demus in 54.27.

Caterine Ibarguen's win in the triple jump marked Colombia's first-ever gold medal at the worlds.

Finally, in the women's 1500 -- the start of which was held for 10 minutes while the men's high jump wrapped up -- Sweden's Abeba Aregawi kicked past American Jenny Simpson, who had led for most of the race.

Aregawi -- who ran for Ethiopia at the 2012 Olympics, finishing fifth -- crossed in 4:02.67, Simpson in 4:02.99. Ethiopia's Genzebe Dibaba took their in 4:03.86.

Simpson's silver proved emphatically that her victory in the event two years ago at the worlds in Daegu, South Korea, was no fluke.

"I think the last 200 I was almost unconscious," Simpson said. "I just kept telling myself, just run as hard as you can."

Mary Cain, the 17-year-old from Bronxville, N.Y., finished 10th, in 4:07.19.

She said, "I think later tonight I'm going to be really, really angry in a good way, and I think I'm going to be really motivated. I think you guys are probably a little scared. Normally you see me like, 'Oh, ducks, puddles,' but I'm going to go home and I'm going to get into this. I think this is going to motivate me so much for next year.

"Next year there are no worlds. It's just me and learning how to race."


USATF drops Logan - but why?

Anyone who has ever studied a little history discovers the "star chamber," the ancient English panel. It purported to deliver justice. In fact, its verdicts were often rooted in petty politics and court intrigue. Now comes the dismissal of Doug Logan, chief executive  at USA Track & Field. The action was announced Monday after a meeting over the weekend in Las Vegas of the USATF board of directors.

Sayeth the privy counsellors, figuratively now: Off with his head!

Um, for what, exactly?

It's not at all clear.

Which is why it's so perplexing.

And why it deserves to draw the most intense scrutiny -- from the U.S. Olympic Committee; from track and field's worldwide governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations; and from anyone and everyone who cares about what traditionally has proven the No. 1 sport in the Summer Games.

USATF has been riven for years by a welter of competing agendas.

Certain personalities have long exercised a disproportionate influence in the way things get done.

Complicating the situation, the division between the volunteer board and paid staff  has not been always respected and, indeed, observed.

A reform plan -- launched at the 2008 USATF annual meeting in Reno, Nev. -- was supposed to have gone a long way toward solving all of that.

But the board's action over the weekend is bound -- and ought -- to raise questions about whether, in fact, that is the case.

Logan, with extensive experience in promoting sports and music, was hired 26 months ago to be a change agent.

What, you hire a guy to effect change and he effects change and you don't like it because he effects change? Is that, simply put, what happened?

The USATF-issued statement announcing Logan's departure was preposterously vague, board chair Stephanie Hightower saying in it that the board had decided it was "in our best interests to engage different leadership to move the sport forward."

In a telephone interview Monday, Hightower said, "Just give us a fair chance."

Asked why the board had opted to take the controversial move of cutting ties with Logan, she said, "I wouldn't categorize it as a controversial decision.

"I would categorize it as the board has a fiduciary responsibility and oversight responsibility to make sure the organization is moving forward in an aggressive and accelerated manner."

Hightower is exceedingly intelligent. She is an accomplished professional. Taking her at her word and giving her, and the board, a fair chance: what does what she said mean?

Specifics, please.

If it's the case that Logan was deemed to have failed in regards to USATF's financial stewardship, how so?

Because he didn't bring in sponsors left and right? In only 26 months?

If that's the basis of the decision, is that really a valid point given that the listless American economy is drawing comparisons to the 1930s?

Is someone else supposed to do better? With not even a year to go before the world championships in South Korea? With under two to go until the 2012 London Olympics?

At the risk of seeming skeptical after a dozen years of covering USATF, mindful that post-Reno the federation had asserted the intent to be more about boring institutional governance stuff with fewer personality-politics dramas:

If the decision was that someone else simply had to be brought in, wouldn't that necessarily suggest that a new person would face a steep learning curve?

Unless that person is already well connected within track and field circles, right?

Which would suggest, wouldn't it, that he or she might already know well some or all of the important people within USATF?

Now: would those sorts of connections inspire more or less confidence in the ability of the new person to do his or her job without interference or manipulation?

At any rate:

If financial stewardship isn't the central issue in Logan's tenure, what then might it be? That U.S. teams botched the relays at the 2008 Games and the 2009 worlds? Logan put in a plan to fix that. That the U.S. team could and should win more medals in London than it did in Beijing? Logan put in a plan to fix that.

Any reasonable observer knows full well that the performance plan is on track for London and 2012.

What, then, could it be?

Moreover, why take such a dramatic step -- knowing full well that it's bound to raise these sorts of questions -- without providing answers?

You don't have to be an expert in sign-reading to understand the signal of support the IAAF had sent Friday, just one day before Logan appeared before the USATF board in Vegas, the worldwide governing body announcing it had appointed Logan to its "School/Youth Commission."

Who cares whether that commission is effective or even meaningful? The meaning is that Logan had the support of IAAF president Lamine Diack. And USATF wants to take him on because -- why?

In perhaps the same vein:

USOC chief executive Scott Blackmun said Monday in a phone call, "There has been a lot of instability in the Olympic movement -- this is our third Summer NGB to replace an executive director in the last three months," track and field joining triathlon and fencing, "and I'm concerned about that."

For his part, Logan said Monday on the phone that he could say little because he was "in a dialogue with USATF about my separation," and "out of respect for that process I don't want to discuss what's going on."

He did say he truly loved the sport: "I am reminded of the Eagles and 'Hotel California': 'You can check out but you can never leave,' " adding, "I am extremely proud of my record. In the blink of an eye, 26 months, we went through extraordinary change, some of which I thought was lasting … and difficult to go through.

"… I will," he said, "have more things to say at a future time."

One can hardly wait for a full airing. The books, after all, assert that the star chamber is just so much history.

Youth Games and the cousin you'd never met

SINGAPORE -- They say the Olympics bring people together. In this instance, literally.

Josh Hawkins is a 16-year-old hurdler from New Zealand. Devyn Hencil is a 15-year-old soccer player from Zimbabwe.

First cousins, they had never met.

Until they met here, at the first-ever Youth Olympic Games.

"Crazy," Josh said.

"Happy, crazy, everything," Devyn said.

"This is quite unique," the New Zealand team leader, Robyn Wong, said. "I've never heard of this happening before. It's fantastic that Josh is able to meet up with family. You think about the Olympics and the friendships you're able to make -- and now you can say the family you'd never been able to meet."

Josh's mom and Devyn's mom are sisters. The sisters are from Zimbabwe. Josh's dad is from New Zealand.

Josh has a younger sister and a younger brother. They live now in Auckland, on New Zealand's north island.

Devyn has two younger sisters. They live in Harare, Zimbabwe's capital.

Josh's mom is named Sharon, Devyn's Rachel. About three weeks before the start of these Youth Games, the two sisters were chatting by e-mail.

Guess what? Rachel was saying. Devyn is going to Singapore, to play soccer at this Youth Games thing.

That's funny, Sharon replied. Josh is going there, too, to run hurdles.

Devyn said Thursday, "When she told me, it was like, seriously?"

The two boys met up about four days into these Games, in the courtyard of the athletes' village.

Devyn recognized Josh from a photo of his New Zealand cousins that's up on a wall in his Harare home.

Josh recognized Devyn, too, from another family photo. But, he said with a laugh about Devyn, "His head looked bigger than it does in the picture!"

"I've never had family other than -- well, family," meaning his brother and sister and mom and dad, Josh said.

The Zimbabwe team finished sixth in the boys' soccer tournament. Josh made it into the consolation final of the 110-meter hurdles; in that race, he finished fifth.

So no medal for either. But you know what they also say -- when you've got your family, you've got everything.

"It's new generations, new beginnings and that's how life goes," Sharon Hawkins was saying Thursday on the telephone from New Zealand.

"I was over the moon. I cried when I heard Joshua was at the same games. My heart felt like it was going to burst," Rachel Hencil said over the phone from Zimbabwe.

"I've been phoning everyone," she said. "I think everyone in Zimbabwe knows."

Josh already stands an even six feet tall; Devyn is maybe 5-2. They laughed as they posed for pictures Thursday while relaxing in the village, telling their story to a reporter and to a Kiwi camera crew.

Only one word would do to describe it all, and Josh used it a lot Thursday. He kept saying, "Crazy."

Joyful at the track

SINGAPORE -- Before the gun went off in the boys' 100-meter dash, Odane Skeen of Jamaica, standing at the blocks in Lane 5, made a motion with his hand like an airplane taking off. Then he flew down the track, and won. In the girls' 400, American Robin Reynolds turned it on down the homestretch for victory. She knew with 50 meters to go the race was hers: "I was just smiling and jumping for joy inside because I knew I would win gold."

In the high jump, an Israeli, Dmitry Kroytor -- an Israeli! -- won gold at these first-ever Youth Olympic Games. "It's a big deal," his coach, Anatoly Shafran, said. "We have so much problems in our country. We need something to be happy."

There are nights like Saturday when track and field is joyful.

And that's precisely the right word: joyful.

After she had taken fourth-place in the girls' 100 -- and fourth is the hardest place to finish, just out of the medals -- Annie Tagoe of Great Britain was the farthest thing from unhappy. She climbed into the stands and sat down, flashing a big smile while everyone around her applauded.

Australia's Brandon Starc took silver to Dmitry Kroytor's gold. Brandon said afterward, "I"m over the moon."

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, why it can't always be like this?

The talk before these Youth Games was all about how there were lessons for the young athletes here, 14- to 18-year-olds, to learn about cultures from around the world. Maybe the real lesson is for the senior officials of international sport, and in particular track and field's governing body, the International Assn. of Athletics Federations.

Here's the lesson:

This is all supposed to be fun.

International Olympic Committee president Jacques Rogge, speaking in a different context here the other day, said, "I think the Olympic Games are maybe a little bit too serious, there is too much gravitas. To introduce a little bit more of an element of fun would be good."

I second the motion, and when it comes to track and field in particular.

These have not been easy months for the sport.

Last summer brought the controversy at Berlin involving South African Caster Semenya.

This summer's inaugural Diamond League circuit was marked by injuries that limited Usain Bolt, Tyson Gay, Asafa Powell, Sanya Richards-Ross and others. Injuries happen. But track in particular is dependent on star power. Everyone everywhere is clamoring to see Bolt. They didn't get to see nearly enough of him this summer.

The sport's status in the United States is still second-rate. And just in the past few days, Scott Davis, one of the nicest men you could ever meet, a man who embodied all that was right in track and field in the United States, passed away.

USA Track & Field is consistently riven by factions and political infighting.

Worldwide, meanwhile, the IAAF's financial situation is a matter of some delicacy.

It is not, as was widely and erroneously believed in track and field circles a few weeks back, on the verge of collapse. The organization has reserves. It has guaranteed money from TV and sponsors which it can predict for the next four years. It expects a significant boost in the dollars it gets in connection  from the International Olympic Committee in connection with the London 2012 Games when compared with what Beijing 2008 brought.

The dollar's drop against the euro has helped the IAAF, too.

Even so, it has instituted some significant budget cuts, staff reductions (mostly due to attrition) are in the offing and, because of the way revenues come in during the four-year Olympic cycle, the IAAF expects to post an operating loss for 2010.

But -- it expects to break even, more or less, over the four-year 2008-2012 cycle.

Then there's what's going on at the top. Lamine Diack, the IAAF president, is 77. He has been president for some 10 years. He confirmed in an interview in his hotel room here that he's definitely running for election again next summer, at the IAAF's next regularly scheduled balloting.

Diack would seem likely to be elected again. The challenge for the organization is where that leaves Sergei Bubka, Seb Coe and others who might rightly be looking at the job.

It gets even more complicated, actually. Diack said the situation in his country, Senegal, is such that he may well be drafted to be a candidate for his nation's presidency. That would be in 2012. Diack would doubtlessly only agree to be drafted if he knew he was going to win; he certainly has the right, perhaps even the obligation, to respond to a call to serve his nation.

But if that scenario plays out -- where would that leave the IAAF?

It makes your head hurt to think of the various possibilities, and the ferocity of the political jockeying, that would seem all but likely to unfold if Diack becomes president of Senegal.

It would be a lot more fun all around if it there were a lot more nights like the scene Saturday before a packed house at Bishan Stadium.

Odane Skeen, for example, ran a personal-best 10.42 to win the boys' 100. He  posed afterward for pictures with elementary school kids, answered questions from the grown-ups patiently, said and did all the right things.

Undoubtedly, the "next Usain Bolt" stories are already being written.

Odane is just 15. There's a long, long way between 10.42 and 9.58. How about we hold off on Odane being the next Usain and just savor the moment? It was lovely. Joyful, really.