Once Upon a Time in the Vest

Friday, July 30, 2021

V 11 N. 53 Stalking a World Class Runner

 At the end of our last post, I mentioned I would bring to your attention the story of another serious battle that women athletes sometimes encounter during their careers.  It's not just the athletes but girls and women in all areas and strata of our society.  In this particular case which was reported by ESPN (see link)  the US distance runner  Emily Infeld was stalked and hounded by a man who himself had a lot of mental health problems.  Certainly not everyone with mental health problems is a danger to others but only to themselves, however in Emily's case, the man, Craig Donnelly put his victim under unbelievable stress and fear which certainly added to the regular pressures an athlete undergoes in the best of circumstances.  For years Emily had to endure Donnelly's rantings and online messages.  He went so far as to tell her he had arranged their wedding and sent her packages via UPS prior to his 'scheduled nuptials', which she wisely refused to sign for.   

While living in Oregon and training with the Bowerman team, she had to leave town and move to Atlanta to get away from her tormentor.  She was notified by police that he had moved within ten minutes of her residence.  Donnelly was able either knowingly or unknowingly to evade stalking laws because of the jumble of different laws varying from state to state.  He did finally slip up and was arrested on a federal warrant and is currently being held on stalking charges.  But he got away with his acts for so long, it was hardly a relief at the time to think that he would not be out again soon and continuing with his behaviors.

Emily has long been a very gifted and dedicated runner from her days in the Cleveland, OH area at Beaumont  high school along with her sister Maggie, then on to Georgetown University where she was an All American distance runner and then to a professional career.  In 2016 Emily made the US team and placed 11th in the 10,000 meters at Rio in 31:26.94.   In 2017 she placed sixth in the same event at the World Championships.   Despite Donnelly's  efforts and continuous harassment, Emily was able to make it back to the US team trials in Oregon last June.  Unfortunately she was not able to get back on the team finishing a remarkable sixth place despite all that she had been through.  

I can speak from experience that these things go on regularly at all levels of our society.  In my coaching career, I know of one instance where a former runner had to leave graduate school because of a stalker.  If you are the parent, grandparent, cousin, or sibling  of a young girl, the odds of this type of thing happening to them are not very encouraging.  So do your best to be supportive to people you know this is happening to.   Here is ESPN's story.  It is not light reading.   .    Emily Infeld, Stalked

Wednesday, July 28, 2021

V 11 N. 52 Is Tokyo 2021 Becoming the Mental Health Games?

 July 28, 2021

For all but the least informed, we were all affected in various ways by the news that a highly favored gymnastics competitor Simone Biles, walked away from the competition in the early stages of her event.   And that was also accompanied by the news that the Japanese tennis player Naomi Osaka lost in the early rounds after having already bailed from the French Open citing mental health concerns.  

I was struck by several different feelings.  One was disbelief that anyone could work so hard and have been through so much previous competition and pressure that they could not hold up for one more competition.  But it was clear in the early efforts that Biles made that she was off her game.  In two of her best events she went off the mat in the floor exercise and almost fell in her landing on the vault.   

For the past year more and more stories have brought  our attention to the struggles that people have with mental health.  Indeed, we all struggle to some extent.  It's part of life.  But some definitely have more challenges than others, and we tend to believe that those who can overcome those mental health challenges are the ones we call successful or 'winners'.  

Simone Biles had been through the mill including the sexual abuse put on her as a child by a sports physician.   She had family difficulties as well.  When she became famous, she must have reaped a lot of financial rewards, because we were bombarded by commercials in which she appeared leading up to this Olympic Games.  But with the money came even higher expectations.  I can just imagine the meetings yesterday at the ad agencies after she walked off.   Can we go on showing these ads?  Will people think our product is defective if they continue to associate with her?   Is there a clause in her contract if she gets out of line?  Where's her damn agent?  

Simone did come back to shout encouragement to her teammates who still performed well in coming in second to the Russian Olympic Committee team.  What kind of pressure were those Russian girls under back home?  

I'm sure there are differing forms of pressure and they can hit us in different ways at different times in our careers.  For example in the women's road cycling event, an unheralded Austrian cyclist Anna Kiesenhofer went out with the breakaway group, which every knowledgeable cycling fan knows will fall apart and the great riders with the help of the slipstreaming in the peleton will eventually overcome the breakaway leaders.  But in this Olympics that Kiesenhofer, completely on her own, and under the pressure of the  peleton catching her, refused to give in and stayed in front.  The mental pressure was there, but maybe the pressure of high expectations was not.   But I'm sure that in her next race there will be a lot more pressure on her to repeat that performance  Will she do it or will she fail?  Is that not part of sport?

So now we are more sensitive to those mental health concerns and the abuse many of these young gymnasts and swimmers have gone through at the hands of predator coaches.  A lot of this is just coming out.

But I am also reminded of a story that Abe Lemons, the old hard-nosed Texas and Oklahoma City University basketball coach once told at the expense of Notre Dame U.

He commented about Digger Phelps the Notre Dame basketball coach bemoaning what incredible pressure an 18 year old athlete at Notre Dame is under, having to perform at a high level and high expectations of the alumni.   Lemons replied,  "I bet that 18 year old Marine Corps private lying face down in the sand at Iwo Jima with incoming artillery and bullets flying over his head already filled with the screams of the wounded and dying is thinking to himself,  "Gee, I'm sure glad I'm not a freshman football player at Notre Dame under all that pressure."   Yes, life sometimes puts us under tremendous pressure and often at times when we are not prepared for it and when the consequences can be fatal.   And some who are both lucky and strong do survive.   

In sport you can walk away a winner if your timing is good.  Or like most  we walk away losers.  Or the third option is we never walk away win or lose.  They carry us off the field on our shields.

In our next piece I will write about a track athlete who refused to walk away when under threat.


Comment:  from Bill Schnier

 Only Simone Biles feels her unique pressure because it is so personal.  As we all know, some people are able to handle incredible pressure without missing a step whereas others are devastated by trying to decide which cereal to eat each morning.  Abe Lemons' analogy, although logical, would not meet the test of time because many of that theoretical Marine's peers at Iwo Jima cracked on the spot, many cracked later in life, and many never seem to be affected.  We all have our threshold and nobody can predict what that level is.  Those able to endure a high level of stress have been blessed with a gift, a gift which they probably didn't earn but was simply a gift.  It will serve them well all their life.
   Simone had several problems during her childhood which could have set her up for difficulties later in life.  They are called Aces, a listing of ten major problems which have the potential not only to lead to severe problems but even shorten lives.  Dropping out of the Olympic competition might well have been an indicator of Aces in her childhood, factors which could lead to much greater problems in the future.  Of course this is only speculation because we simply do not know nor can predict the future.
   Was Simone's mental problem so great that she took on a blank stare, drooled all day long, was unable to sleep for days at a time, or had suicidal efforts?  That did not seem to be the case but it still did not mean she was without a problem.  Instead she felt that her ability to perform at her expected level was nowhere near what she was able to do.  If we take her word for it, trying to do so would have caused worse problems for both her and her team.  Dropping out of the Olympic team competition reminds me of those unfortunates criticized for taking their lives:  they were selfish and only thinking of themselves - look at the damage they did to their family and friends.  A cry for help on the highest public stage could not have been easy and I, for one, take her at her word and pray for her health.

Biles has a 35 city "Gold Medal Tour" scheduled for October $$$ - Bruce Kritzler

And from Richard Mach

Simone was against repeating her successes in 2016 a year ago in an interview and I thought she was closing up that shop; then that turned to ambivalence, then she caved. And went against herself.  Succumbing to pressure.    If she is ‘off’ in a highly technical and complex maneuver, she is looking at a possibly grievous outcome. I believe her mind in the midst of the floor and vault exercises simply said ‘No!’.  Not any more.   And the Japanese giant killer, Naomi Osaka’s lead made it possible for her to walk away.  With superstars that include the likes of Michael Phelps himself,  we are looking at how their lives, their training and even their self image are disrupted by collectively immense social, emotional, financial and psychological forces the often young, impressionable minds are not yet ready nor capable of truly coping with.  Can you imagine successfully negotiating w someone whose agenda is their money while earnestly telling you it is your health they are concerned with.  And you are but about 20.  

 And, meanwhile,  the word on the street is NBC is taking a bath. Viewership is down 36% over Rio in ‘16 thus far. 

The female Dutch cyclist favored to win the OLY road race thought she had passed the leader who’d gone off the front with two others earlier and was cruising to a victory. Thus her finish line celebration before she found out she’s miscounted and a math whiz and a middle of the peloton Austrian rider had beaten her to the line. So in the TT today she left nothing to chance and grinding it out, blasted to nothing less than a convincing win. And her country woman coped the silver.    The winner suffered an sickening crash leading the Rio road race 5 yrs ago and I saw it — made me instantly ill. Fractured spine. And she crashed as well in the same race in Tokyo. 

From Tom Pagani:
As usual, Bill Schnier’s comments are spot on.
Negative comments about Simone Biles decision to discontinue competing in the Games is is foolishly inappropriate. 
She has put in years of hard work, discipline and preparation for participation at the highest level. She has already passed the most difficult test, that of making the Olympic team, all the while courageously completing moves that were thought to be impossible, and so difficult, they were considered “dangerous”. No one does this without paying an extremely high price. 
I can only hope that she is able to face the demons that are confronting her and that she will be able move forward and seal her place as the greatest of all time.   Tom Pagani

Saturday, July 24, 2021

V 11 N. 51 Finally the 2020 Games Have Begun and Who Was the First American Olympian to Compete?

 Even though the posters around Japan are calling this Tokyo 2020, most of us know this is 2021.  Finally, Finally, Finally.   The opening ceremonies came off okay and TV viewers hardly knew the stadium was empty.  Many athletes and sometimes whole delegations were violating the masking rules but what the hey, they're the youth of the world.  They've inherited what we've left behind. Hopefully they will make something better of it.

A week or so ago I wrote about Michael Woods, the Canadian and U. of Michigan four minute miler who was riding in the Tour de France.  Yesterday, Woods finished 5th in a brutal 259 kilometer race through the countryside around Mt. Fuji.  Richard Carapaz of Ecuador broke away from the field with 6 kilometers to go and won in dominating fashion.  Like many road races, the following pack of riders were all within a second of each other fighting for the remaining two medals and Woods, though he was credited with the same time as the medalists, finished 5th.

Many of those guys had just completed the Tour de France less than a week ago.  This year's Tour winner Tadej Pdoagar, only 21 years old from Slovenia finished third. It was his second Tour win.

Here are the first nine finishers:

1. Richard Carapaz, Ecuador                        6 hrs 5 min 26 sec

2.  Wout van Aert, Belgium                           6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

3.  Tadej Pogacar, Slovenia                            6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

4.  Bauke Mollena, Netherlands                     6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

5.  Michael Woods, Canada                            6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

6.  Brandon McNutly, USA                             6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

7.  David Gaudu, France                                  6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

8.  Rigoberto Uran, Columbia                          6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

9.  Adam Yates, Great Britain                           6 hrs 6 min 33 sec

Sorry, readers, I know this is a track blog, but I just couldn't help myself.

Tonight in Portland, OR , Matt Centrowitz will be making an assault on the American one mile run record currently held by Alan Webb at  3:46.91.     I'm sure those who need to know won't have to wait for us to post the result of that attempt.

                            So Who Was the First American Olympian?

Of a more historical context,  yesterday I received a copy of an article in the Dayton Daily News by writer Tom Archdeacon.  In it Tom writes about the Olympians with a Dayton area connection.  We all know of Edwin Moses and Bob Schul, Tonya Buford-Bailey, LaVonna Martin Floreal, Joe Greene, Ed Cook and current 800 star Clayton Murphy.  However in Archdeacon's list of approximately 60 Olympians with a Dayton connection, I saw two names that were not familiar.  One of those names Francis 'Frank' Lane turned out to be the first American ever to participate in the modern Olympics. He lined up in the first heat of the 100 meters in 1896 and won it, thus claiming that honor.  In the final he finished third.

Interestingly, Lane's cousin Albert C. Tyler also competed in Athens that year and won the silver medal in the pole vault.    Both men had graduated from Franklin High School about 20 miles south of Dayton.  Neither of them was born in Franklin, but they ended up going to high school there.

The following data on the lads is taken from the olympedia website and wikipedia.

                                                                Francis 'Frank' Lane

Francis Adonijah "Frank"•Lane
Used nameFrank•Lane
Born23 September 1874 in Chicago, Illinois (USA)
Died17 February 1927 in Chicago, Illinois (USA)
Measurements170 cm / 69 kg
AffiliationsPrinceton Tigers, Princeton (USA)
NOC United States


It’s safe to say that Frank Lane is unknown by today’s generations of sports fans, but he has an exalted place among United States Olympians. Lane was a member of the first U.S. team that competed at the 1896 Olympics in Athens. On 6 April 1896, he toed the line in the first heat of the 100 meter dash, winning the heat, and becoming in the process the first American to compete in the modern Olympic Games. Lane went to the finals of the 100 m but finished only third in his only Olympic event. Frank Lane competed in the first Olympics while in his junior year at Princeton. Of the four Princetonians on the first U.S. Olympic team, Lane was probably the one least well known athletically, as he never won any sort of major championship. After graduation in 1897 he went to medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. He practiced medicine as an ophthalmologist, becoming the head of that department at Rush Medical College and the Presbyterian and Illinois Central Hospitals in Chicago.

Personal Best: 100 – 12.2 (1896).

Further information from Wikipedia

Francis Adonijah Lane (September 23, 1874 – February 17, 1927) was an American sprinter who competed at the 1896 Summer Olympics in Greece.[1]

At the time of the 1896 Summer Olympics Lane was in his junior year at Princeton University and was one of the four from the University that made up the American team of 14 competitors, the 16 day journey to Athens didn't help Lane, and he arrived in the poorest condition after suffering from sea sickness.[2]

Lane competed in the 100 metres, and when he won his heat in 12.2 seconds, he became the first American to compete at the Olympic Games and the first ever person to win a 100 metre race.[3] In the final, he ran 12.6 seconds and tied for the third place with Alajos Szokolyi of Hungary, and both are considered as bronze medalists.[4][5] At those games the champion was honored with a silver medal, an olive branch and a diploma, and the second athlete with a bronze medal, laurel branch and a diploma. Nothing was given to the third-best man.

Lane's cousin Albert Tyler was also part of the 1896 United States Olympic team and won a silver medal in the pole vault.[6]

Lane was a member of the Franklin (Ohio) High School Class of 1891. In 1897 Lane graduated from Princeton University and went to the medical school at Washington University in St. Louis. He later became the head of ophthalmology departments at Rush Medical College and the Presbyterian and Illinois Central Hospitals in Chicago.[5] Lane is buried at Greenwood Cemetery in Rockford, IL.

                                                                       Albert C. Tyler

Albert Tyler lettered in track, football, and baseball at Princeton, but he was primarily known as a pole vaulter. His best finish in a major meet was the Olympic silver; otherwise, he finished third in the 1897 IC4A championships. He graduated from Princeton later in 1897 and became a school teacher and also a well-known football official. In 1945 he was teaching math in Philadelphia, but died of pneumonia while on vacation in Maine.

Personal Best: PV – 3.30 (1897).

The first modern Olympic gold medalist was James Connoly, (Triple Jump) who was from Harvard.  In order for him to be absent from his studies, Harvard told him that he would have to resign and then re-apply after he returned with no guarantee of readmission.  They told him that they thought he was just going on a lark, since the Modern Olympic games were new and not very significant.  Joe Rogers

Yeah,  Harvard could get away with that when there wasn't an NCAA looking over their shoulder and NBC writing the checks.  George

Even more remarkable than being Olympians, is that Lane and Tyler were accepted at Princeton after graduating from Franklinl, Ohio HS.  Bruce Kritzler

The first modern Olympic gold medalist was James Connoly, (Triple Jump) who was from Harvard.  In order for him to be absent from his studies, Harvard told him that he would have to resign and then re-apply after he returned with no guarantee of readmission.  They told him that they thought he was just going on a lark, since the Modern Olympic games were new and not very significant.  Joe Rogers

Good ole Harvard.   Glad I didn't go there.   How bout Oklahoma and Texas looking at going to the SEC?
Money talks.   George Brose

 I wonder if Craig Whitmore knew about Frank Lane and Albert Tyler?  Those are exactly the type of people he enjoyed discovering and nominating for halls of fame.  Almost single handedly Craig made the OATCCC Hall of Fame a legitimate organization.  Before that average coaches nominated each other for the honor and filled it with mediocrity before Craig started his quest of making it legitimate.  Have you ever seen Craig's book on the history of Ohio T&F?  It is quite a compilation of data, written in a stream of consciousness yet filled with valuable information before the digital age, making it hard to document all the details.  Bill Schnier

I'm not actually planning to watch this Olympics. I've been losing interest in and respect for this event for years. This particular Olympics is a model example of all the excesses of the games, including having them when every shred of common sense says cancel them. They are a travesty.   Stephen Morelock

Friday, July 16, 2021

V 11 N. 50 Milka Singh Obituary Appears in "The Economist"

It is not always that a track and field athlete is honored by his obituary appearing in such a distinguished journal as The Economist on July 3, 2021.  Milka Singh the 1960 Olympic 400 meter runner from India earned it (45.73 on cinders, 4th place).  Apologies that the image runs into the right edge, but a smaller setting would have been difficult to read.  Thanks to John Cobley for bringing this article to our attention.   George

Our earlie post on Mr. Singh can be seen at this link:  Milka Singh, R.I.P.

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

V 11 N. 49 A Book on The Kansas Relays by Joe Schrag Reviewed by Kevin Haskin

 Many years ago I spent some fun weekends in Lawrence, Kansas running in the Kansas Relays, the middle jewel in the crown of Midwest relays along with the Texas and Drake Relays.  The following is a review of the book   "The Kansas Relays: Track and Field in the Heartland" by Joe Schrag appearing in the Topeka Capital Journal on May 9, 2014.  Thanks to Mike Solomon for making this known to us and introducing us to Joe Schrag, the author.

Once news broke that every rake, hurdle, pit and stop watch would be carted out of Memorial Stadium, the Kansas Relays was no longer spinning along an oval as much as it was stuck at a crossroad.

This spring his historical account of the Kansas Relays was published, and sub-titled, "Track and Field Tradition in the Heartland."  The book was released at the same time as the inaugural running of the meet at its new home, Rock Chalk Park.

"Nothing had really been written about the Relays," Schrag said.  "I was just afraid after 86 years that when they moved to a new spot, they were going to lose a lot of that tradition with the Relays in a new place.  There had just been too many significant happenings going on to let that happen."

Frankly, Schrag had concerns over preservation of the Relays, which was first contested in 1923.   

"I was a little worried about that.  My nostalgia got the better of me sometimes,"  he said.  "But track has been so successful for KU, the deserve their own place.  Now they've got it, and there's a lot of pride in the facility.

"I was one of the naysayers early on and wondered why would we take it out of such a nice setting.  But the reality and the economics of it is, in the new park, hopefully they can sell advance tickets so the place can be full and there will be a lot of energy."

The slick, hard-bound book is essential for any track and field enthusiast.  For that matter, the historical accounts, as well as the pictures and artwork, make the book a fantastic read for anyone.  

For KU fans--heck, sports fans-- the work would make the perfect addition to any den or man cave.  The pictures are that good, the writing that comprehensive.

Schrag, a longtime coach at Topeka West High School, remains heavily involved in track and field as a meet official.  He worked at the Relays this year as events coordinator.  On Friday schrag again attended the City Carnival, a track meet that has since been renamed after him.

"I'm proud of my dad for writing the first book on the KU Relays," remarked Schrag's son, Myles, "I tink it's long overdue and enjoyed immensely the process of working with him on it.  I really believe it's one of those situations where the absolute perfect person to write a book on a subject did dso, but I admit, I'm biased."

Myles was instrumental in convincing Joe to write the book.  As an acquisitions editor for Human Kinetics Publishers, Myles was deeply involved in the project.

"In short, the book would not have happened without him," Joe said.  "It was kind of humbling to have the son tell the dad what to do, but it wouldn't have worked any other way."

Schrag's association with the Relays began as a high school distance runner for Norwich.  As a senior in 1957, he captured the mile run in the smal-school classification, though he clarifies that he was in the "slow section."

"I was from a small school and I pretty much ran on dirt tracks,"  Schrag said.  "They didn't have cinders on a lot of them.  So it was a big deal, simply because there was a lot of athletes there and we were going farther than we'd went before.  It was a big deal to me.  They even had lodging underneath the stadium, just kind of barracks.  They put kids and coaches there in the same rooms."

When Schrag began competing in high school, the world's top milers were bidding to crack the 4-minute barrier.

One chapter in his book is devoted to the feat, which observed it 60th anniversary earlier this week.  

The chapter features KU standout We Santee, and his quest to attain the elusive mile standard first recorded on May 6, 1954, when England's roger Bannister was clocked in 3:5.4.  

"I really enjoyed doing th part about Santee, because that was my era and I was hooked on the 4-minute mile business,"  Schrag said.  "But I also did not know about the early years and the promotions by (John) Outland and (Phog) Allen, and how they tried to get the thing off the ground.  It was interesting to me."

Together the pair became know as the father (Outland) and the founder (Allen) of the Relays.  The high jump champion at the first relays was KU's Tom Poor, who went on to compete at the 1924 Olympics in Paris.

Since then, scores of Olympians passed through...along with many aspiring high school contestants.

Schrag, a three-timeKCAC champ in the mile for Bethel, obtained his masters degree at KU, then went on to become a longtime coach beginning in 1962.  He took over as West's head coach in 1972.  Schrag was named the honorary referee for the Relays in 1977 and was inducted into the Kansas Relays Hall of Fame in 2 those days a lot, and the suc007.

"I can still visualize two of the races Winston Tidwell ran when he set the 800 record, which was since broken by (Olympian) Leo Manzano, "Shrag said.   :And then there was the Hazims, particularly Sharrieff, who had the record in the high jump for a while.  I liked those days a lot, and the successes our teams had there."

Read the book and you get the impression any day-rain or shine- was a good day for Schrag whenever it involved the Kansas Relays.   Kevin Haskin

Monday, July 12, 2021

V 11 N. 48 Why Has the Progression in World Records in Track and Field’s Middle and Long Distance Races Stagnated? by Richard Mach

 July 12, 2021   Sometimes the editorial staff at our humble blog put in  a piece by a guest writer who has something of importance to say or in this case to ask.  Today is one of those days.  What,  with all the unpredictable variants and goings on in pre-Olympic Tokyo, can we expect in two weeks when we tune in to the not-to-be-directly-viewed Games?  My guess is that athletes in these modern times will be geared and tuned  to perform at high levels regardless of the absence of cheering fans.  They have the advantage of knowing they will be financially rewarded for their efforts, and good performances on the Olympic stage mean bigger payoffs now as well as down the road.   Maybe the most affected by fan absence  will be the pole vaulters who seem to rely on the crowd to pump them up before their jumps?  The short racers will probably be least affected by the absence of the crowd as there is little time to consult with fans in the stands during a 9 to 19 second race.  The distance runners may indeed be the ones to take notice when they need a boost if their momentum starts to fade.   Our guest today Richard Mach, former Western Michigan distance runner and now clinical psychologist looks at a bigger question of why the best all time distance performances may be lagging.  Enjoy Dr. Mach's analysis.  And please respond if you have some thoughts on the questions he poses.   George

Why Has the Progression in World Records in Track and Field’s Middle and Long Distance Races Stagnated? by Richard Mach

With the Olympics now fast approaching, a quick review of the US’s very recent Olympic Trials offers the real possibility of a number of new world records being set in our sport.  Three of those world’s best ever records have already fallen in just the past two weeks with both 400 m hurdle racers, Norway’s Karsten Warholm  and America’s Sidney McLaughlin, dipping under what has ever been run before.  And the 31 yr old shot putt record held by someone who was found dirty a scant 2.5 months later — as well as his being suspended from competition for life 8 yrs later for drugging — has finally been eclipsed in the small circle by the Big Man and Oregonian, Ryan Crouser, at 6’7”, 320#.   Mondo Duplantis from Louisiana jumping for Sweden is setting the bar at 20’ 31/2 inches in his last two DL meets in Oslo and Stockholm, a centimeter higher than his current WR and US’s Grant Holloway, a Virginian, in a near perfect — and legal  —12.81 came within .01 sec in his semi in the USOT of tying Aries Merritt’s superb WR in the 110 HH.  

With Timothy Cheriuyot, the finest 1500 m man in the world the past 4-5 years now, left off the Kenyan Olympic team, the anticipated possible race with Norway’s phenom, 21 yr old Jakob Ingebrigtsen to eclipse Hicham El Guerrouj’s now 23 yr old WR 3:26.00 may be off.  And with Michigan’s’ Donovan Brazier in hopefully a temporary slump and not traveling to Tokyo, the current WRH, Kenya’s David Rudisha’s record—  that’s two sub 51 second 400 m splits — seems safe.  As does South Africa’s Wayde Van Niekerk’s blazing 43.03 WR of five years vintage.  The kind of talent today in the 5000 m and 10000 m races does not preclude a new WRH in both.  There’s Uganda’s Joshua Cheptegei, the current WRH or his fellow countryman, Jacob Kiplimo, or one of the stellar Kenyans or the Ethiopian, Yomif Kejelcha {WRH in Men’s indoor mile} or a certain hardly more than kid from Norway ready to burn the track up and run under 4:03 or 4:13 mile pace, respectively, for those two distances.  

And we have the youngster, Athing Mu from New Jersey running in the low 1:56s @19 in the 800 — seemingly effortlessly — to watch in an Olympic final. Is a low 1:53 possible?  And what kind of a split can be expect from her after posting an open 49.57 in perhaps anchoring the 4 x 400m relay?  With our top women contenders in both the 1500 m and 100 m stricken from this coming competition for less than solid reasons in the former, Shelby Houlihan, and a culture-free decision on the other, we are unlikely to see gold in either; nor, in the case of Richardson, anyone, even Jamaica’s Fisher-Pryce from attacking the 10.49 the dead-at-37 Flo Jo somehow laid down now a solid 3rd of a century ago.  And this is hardly a full scan of the races. Additional performances may crop up within the next few weeks only adding to the drama of this Games finally coming off a solid year late — thanks largely to the checkered responses to the COVID-19 pandemic by most of the world governments, who, in one fell swoop, have revealed the unplumbable depths of their individual and collective incompetence.  

The world records for men from the 1500 m on up on the track have remained remarkably untouched until recently. And then in only the two longest races. In looking over the WRs of the flat races most often run in international top-flight competitive conditions, we find ourselves confronted with these distant dates for the setting of world records in the 1500 m, the mile, the lightly contested 2000m, the 3000m, the infrequently now raced two mile, the 5000 m and the 10000 m track races.    

Below is a table listing the distance, the world record, the date set, the athlete who holds — or in the castoff the 5 and 10 thousand m races, held} the record, the nation they represented, the place the record was set and finally the length to the nearest month since that record was set.  

Distance Time   Date set Athlete                Nation Locus          Length

1500 m 3:26.00 14JUL’98 H. El Guerrouj         MAR Rome           23 yrs 

*Mile 3:43.13 7JUL’99 H. El Guerrouj MAR          Rome           22 yrs

2,000 m 4:44.79 7SEP’99 H. El Guerrouj MAR           Berlin           21y 10 m

3,000 m  7:20.67 1SEP’96 Daniel Komen        KEN            Rieti             24y, 10m

2 Miles 7:58.61 19JUL.’97         Daniel Komen       KEN Hechtel 24 yrs

5,000 m 12:37.35 31MAY’04 Kenensia Bekele     ETH         Hangelo         17y 4 m
10,000 m 26:17.53 ’05 Kenesia  Bekele ETH         Brussels         16y 1m

During that same period between ’96 and 19” or 23 years, the mile record for women remained unbroken and then only by 0.23 seconds strongly suggesting the Russian, Masterkova, was drugging.  And a 26 yr hiatus indoors for women and then a vast improvement of nearly a full 4 seconds, but both competitors performances must be looked on with only faint enthusiasm because Romania and then the DiBaba sisters during those two different periods seemed to be in a  class by themselves, which, too often, spelled PEDs.  

Until the serious advent of the premier Ugandan, Joshua Cheptegei, onto the international scene and his breaking both the 5,000 and 10,000 meter world records this past August and September in the middle of the world wide pandemic.

Incidentally, the Steeplechase WR was set nearly 17 yrs ago in Brussels by Qatar’s ‘Kenyan’ athlete, Saif Saaeed Shaheen aka Stephen Cherono. 

As you can see, the length of times these ‘distance’ race records have been in place against all world class assaults are remarkably sizable.  In fact, one might be tempted to say, incredibly large.

The average for these world records in the seven races — their mean longevity if you will — including stopping counting @ the dates of the two Cheptegei has more recently broken —  is approximately 21 years, 3.5 months.  If we remove the very much less competed 2000 m and 2 mile races, that now 5 race average is pared down less than a year to 20 yrs and nearly 8 full months.  So, as a rule of thumb we might settle on the figure of about 21 years that all distances from the 1500 m to the 10,000 m have, on average, lasted:  

                             Two full decades plus a year.    

The first  question that comes begging for an answer is when in history has there ever been any such a long, unbroken hiatus in record breaking in these races?   After a thorough perusal of the stats concerning the progression of all these world records since the early 30s, some now 90 years, the answer is … well …. never.   This drought — if you will — is quite simply unprecedented.  In fact, in recorded history, there has never been anything like this.  

For instance, in the mile, the longest period any mile record survived in modern times (since 1931} has been a bit under 9 yrs — between Hagge ’45 and Bannister ’54 — along with two other periods of 8 yrs each. And the world during that post-war period was hardly preoccupied with athletics as it pulled itself out of the aftermath of a debilitating world war.   Today, we’re into more than 2 and a half times that long a period with 22 yrs since Hicham El Guerrouj of Morocco set the still standing mark.  For the 5,000 m WR between Hagge ’42 and Zatopek ’54, the single longest period was a bit more than 12 and a half years.  And for the 10,000 m WR there was once a 13 yr hiatus between Nurmi ’24 and Salminen ’37.  Otherwise, the duration across the modern period has been, on average, more like every 2 or 3 years for these three records.    And, back then, the races, and, thus, the records were less frequently contested. If we, as a species, are coming up against our limits, might we not expect the records to fall in smaller increments — perhaps smaller and smaller increments — as well as less and less frequently?   But, that has not been the case either.  

Suddenly enough, until the Ugandan’s cracking two quite incredibly ‘hard’ records of the Ethiopian {4:03 pace and 4:13 pace respectively} after that 9 yr period between ’96 and ’05, all record breaking in these races simply stopped.   Tracks got better over the next nearly two decades.  Real prize money entered the picture through especially the Diamond League. And, quite recently, shoe technology itself ‘seems’ to be contributing to faster times.  And we mustn’t forget the potential value the new technology of pacing lights strung around the track seem to have for fast times beating out the pre-determined pace.  Some have opined that the delta or rate of change in improvement in facilities, in tracks and shoes and even training methods has diminished when compared with the 90s and before, but I am not among them.

During this period from the mid-to-late 90s until today, the political situation across much of the world has done nothing if not worsen while far right wing fascism— playing to the people while depriving them of life liberty and happiness — rises up and threatens to engulf the world.   Which may have a loading on talented athletes seeing their notoriety as assuring their safety and that of their family especially in rapidly changing national circumstances within unstable regimes.  As an example akin to the spate of former Kenyan stars running as quick citizens while members of the US Army, Kenya’s 1500 Oly Champ @ 1500 m @ but 19, Asbel Kiprop, was invited to join the Kenyan police force, where, he, then, was  —reputably —given to exercising questionable reign over the populace.   Kiprop will finish serving his 4 yr suspension for EPO {blood doping} on 3Feb’22 when he is 32 and a half yrs old. 

Ethiopia and Kenya, the origins of so many world class distance runners are brittle democracies at best.  The US Fund for Peace think tank last year ranked as 11th and 32nd most fragile democracies, Ethiopia and Kenya; and Morocco 83 as considerably more stable.  Finland is ranked as most stable at 179th and the US is 143 somewhat less stable than the UAE at 150.  But these rankings in 2020 do not necessarily reflect the conditions in North and East Africa during the record setting years.   Kenya appears to be sitting uneasily on a bomb of sorts there.  Ethiopia, so far, remains mostly under the radar.  And, Morocco is only occasionally issuing a stellar athlete with significant promise.  

And then there is the very real and rankling issue of covert drug use, wherein estimates of how wide spread performances enhancing drug use actually is vary widely   We need only to harken back to the reign of the Russians and her communist satellite countries in the record books and look at ‘before and after’ pictures of female athletes, who grew muscle like Barry Bonds or Mark McGuire and had the physiques 99 out of every 100 full blooded men dreamed of having to know something was afoot. Czechoslovakia’s answer to Arnold Schwarzenegger, Jarmila Kratochvilova, still holds the women’s 800 m world record in 1:53.28 set now but a mere 38 years ago.   No legitimate outlier is that far ahead of the curve.  Last time I checked, unlike Flo Jo, she is still alive.  But, considerably more diminutive.  

And, yet, on the other hand, while we attempt to coexist along with an ever mounting cognitive dissonance, it is true that when there is a internecine rivalry and particularly when within a single country like, for instance, there was between the Brits, Coe and Ovett, when the WR in the mile was broken between them a total of 5 times with and an overall drop of 2.1 secs within two years — the last three of which took place in one 10 day period — they push one another to beyond what was thought possible; and then when that mano a mano period is over, the record may be destined to languish for some years. 

But, 22 or 23 yrs?  Unheard off.   

And we shouldn't forget Sweden’s dueling twosome — Hagg and Andersson — who, between them set 6 world mile records within 3 yrs.  And dropped the record a full 5 seconds down to 4:01.4 during the early 40s.  And it stayed right there until the man for whom running was more of a part time hobby — caught up in his medical studies he was — walked out on the Iffley Road track with his two mates on a windy day,  in Oxford on a still somewhat soggy cinder track on the 6th of May, 1954 and commenced to crack through what many physiologists saw at the time as an impenetrable barrier.  And no less than certain death.

So we have any number of factors and, ultimately, perhaps uncountable, loading on not only the environmental factors, but sociological, economic, political and psychological circumstances afoot in the world at these times: Factors that contributed to the circumstances allowing or set up for a record to be broken  One question may be how much do often arduous politically driven conditions end up escalating record breaking as it does escalating Nobel prizes in Literature. Both share in common their exceptional and rare status. 

We are looking at the beginnings of what could be a running dynasty coming out of Norway topped by 20 yr old Jakob Ingebrigtsen along with his two world class older brothers.  All coached by their father.  The ‘boy’ will be 21 on the 19th of this September.  He is one of but two human beings on this planet who have run under 3:30 for 1500 m {3:28.68}, under 7:30 for 3;000 m {7:27.05} and under 13 minutes for 5,000 m {12:48}.  The other is the athlete I believe has the single best record on the distance books and that is Daniel Komen the Kenyan lights-out star, who, within a little more than a year stunned the track world with his performances.  Only El Gerrouj has come within a little less than 2.5 seconds of Komen’s blazing 3000 m WR of 7:20.67.   Hard records prove to be so because they stand up against oncoming history and human evolution the longest.  And so we might ask, are the three still held by the Moroccan — Hicham El Guerrouj — so far unbreakable because they are so extended beyond what was before that we all must wait for the rest of humanity to catch up?    

If I might allow myself the temporary moniker of world record prognosticator, I am certain the youngster is after the 1500 m record and the 3000 m as well.  Gjert, his father and coach, may we pray, is not another Cerutty type, who trains his charge into the ground and the fans are consigned to looking @ a burn-out syndrome that never entirely rights itself again.  

We may be sitting at the front end of a wholesale reordering of the record books in track and field provoked, in part, by the conditions imposed on the athletes during that pandemic still underway as I write this.  And these premonitions are certainly sparked by the last few weeks when those three new WRs were set.  Are Cheptegei’s recent breakthroughs as well as the others observed above a kind of harbinger of things to come?  

Record breaking can be contagious.  And we certainly are due in the middle and long distances on the track.  The present flight of athletes are bigger and stronger than ever before.  The technology is advancing at just under phenomenal rates.  The pacing metronomic light system strung around 400 m tracks are relentless metering out the pre-defined pace.  And takes any preoccupation around proper pace out of the picture.   And the lead-out athletes tow the heavy hitters through a predetermined time during a predetermined distance while our stars put their brains in park and simply follow the leader before the lead out peels off and lets the heaters race one another all the way to the tape.  

And, yet, could it be that man has reached his zenith?  Can go no higher?  No faster?  At least for the present.  That the current record setters in the distances are extreme outliers on the continuum of human performance — all members of tribes from the African continent, where the DNA of Homo sapiens has had the longest period to mutate and change?  And where over the millennia this gradual and exclusive evolutionary adaptation to running down large animals over considerable expanses at altitude and in the heat has made them the natural selected elites of our running world today?

But why is any of this so important?  What is intrinsic to the meaning embedded in world record breaking?  And, for that matter, the world records themselves?  What are they telling us?   What can we extrapolate about the future of mankind from these data, the exploits  of the most superhuman amongst us?   What is there intrinsic in the drive within the human race to exceed what have often been thought to be ultimate,  un-tresspassable limits?  What is that telling us about life on this planet, about human capability and about its contribution to what is becoming a more and more uncertain future for our offspring ahead?  

I would be most interested to read the thoughts from any and all the readers of this fine blog.

from Bill Schnier
   Didn't we see last year an onslaught of WRs in the 5K, 10K, and other seldom-run races such as 3K and 2K?  They might have all been by women but they are still WRs.  I suspect the absence of actual WRs recently has more to do with enhanced drug enforcement and drug testing not available 23 years ago.  The EPO types were in full force 23 years ago but might be curtailed these days.  Nevertheless, with extremely enhanced shoes and monetary enticement, I expect the WRs to be broken frequently in these Olympics and especially in next year's World Championships.

Sunday, July 11, 2021

V 11 N. 47 Byron Berline Oklahoma Univ. Javelin Thrower and Bluegrass Music Icon R.I.P.

 July 11, 2021

  George Brose, Mike Hewitt, Byron Berline, Gary Clinton
old OU track Sooners about 2009

It's been some trying times for the U. of Oklahoma track and field family.  Two leading lights in our history have recently passed away.  The first in March was Anthony Watson, member of the 1960 Olympic team and yesterday Byron Berline. We'll focus on Byron in this article.  Much of the following is from my memory of Byron to be followed by what others have written about him.

My first recollection of Byron was about 1963 when I was walking past the Washington House dorm where the football team lived,  and I heard this incredible fiddle music coming from one of the open windows.  I thought somebody had his stereo turned way up high.  It rang of the hills near where I grew up in Southwest Ohio.  It was not an uncommon music to my ear. That music travelled up from eastern Kentucky when people moved north during WWII to work in the General Motors factories and other related industry.  The folk from the hills brought their language, culture and music with them to the north in Dayton, Detroit, and other stops on the way. That culture is still embedded in Ohio.   And every weekend they took it back 'down home' with them.  There was a mass exodus on I 75 heading south each Friday after work when families piled into the car and drove back home to Mamaw and Papaw's place in the hollows where front porch music thrived and white lightnin' provided a way to relax after a hard forty hours in the factories.  Families remained close and most of them up in Ohio housed various uncles and cousins hoping to get employment at GM, Delco, Frigidaire, or NCR.   Those who didn't get home on a weekend played their music or listened to it in bars and taverns in those industrial communities.

The music travelled west as well to a place known as  Caldwell, Kansas an old cattle trailhead near the Oklahoma Kansas border to a  ranch where a youngster named Byron learned to play the fiddle at the knee of his father Lou Berline.  Byron told me once he could not remember ever not playing music.  When it came to reading music, it's been said he was illiterate, but he was able to play practically any piece of bluegrass music in a multitude of ways depending on where it originated and who might have played it.  Here's the way so and so plays it, and here's how it was played up in this valley in North Carolina, and this way down near Louisa, Kentucky.  

Byron was not just a musician.  He was also the son of a rancher.  He came back  to school one year with a new Corvair that he earned money for by selling one his steers.   He was also an athlete at 6'3" and over 200 pounds.  He played football, threw the javelin, and was in the high school marching band, not with his fiddle but playing a glockenspiel.  At half time he marched and performed with them.  I don't know if he changed out of his football uniform to do that.  In the spring he threw the javelin for his high school track team.  

Football got Byron to the University of Oklahoma on a full scholarship, so he must have been a fair to middlin' player.  But at the same time he was also making a name for himself sitting in with bands like The Dillards who appeared regularly on the Andy Griffith  Mayberry RFD television show.  Summer jobs?  After his freshman year he went to Los Angeles in the summer and played at The Troubador with the Dillards.  He and his Dad were invited to play at the Newport Folk Festival when he was still in college.  He was there the year Bob Dylan went electric and drove the folkists nuts.   

By his second year Byron decided that he had a future in music playing his violin.  Not just any fiddle, it was made in the 18th century in Cremona, Italy by Giuseppi Guarneri.  Lou Berline had picked it up at an estate auction from someone who had played in  the Chicago Symphony.   To avoid damaging his fingers Byron quit football and switched over to track.   This kid could have started his music career full time, but he decided to stay in school and get a degree and finance it by throwing the javelin.  Some of you know that Garth Brooks also threw the javelin when he was a student at 'the other university',  Oklahoma State, but he wasn't the first javelin throwing musician in the state, Byron Berline was.  

I no longer remember Byron's best meets, but he could get out over 200 feet.  He never won the Big Eight Conference meet nor did he qualify for national meets, but he was a competitor.  He held the school record at 225 feet.  And that was with his bow hand.

Most of all I remember when we went on track trips, Byron must have phoned ahead, because wherever we stayed, all kinds of musicians would show up at the hotel and jam all night.  Violin makers would come to his room and ask  him to try  out their latest instruments and give them his opinion.  In years since then when I had the opportunity to talk to old time fiddlers and ask them if they knew of Byron, some would say,  "I'm still trying to lay down some of those licks like Byron can do."  

When I met Byron playing a benefit concert in Pittsburgh a few years ago, Chris Hillman of the Byrds joined him that night.  Byron played with the The Byrds when they were known as the Flying Burrito Brothers.  

At that concert there was a guy with about thirty LP record albums that Byron had played on, seeking his autograph on each one.  Byron accomodated the man's request.  In that collection were albums by Dylan, Clapton, Elton John,  Rod Stewart, the Rolling Stones and many others.  Byron had lived for years in the L.A. area and worked as a session musician when he wasn't on the road with his own band.  He also gave Vince Gill his first paying job as a musician.  He was even on an episode of Star Trek.  He played in that show as part of a Mozart string quartet, but he said they pantomimed it.  

Byron got drafted into the army after he graduated in 1966.  He was stationed at Ft. Polk, Louisiana and scheduled to go to Viet Nam, but the base commander took a liking to his music and got his orders rescinded and kept him on base to play his music.  

When Byron travelled to play in Europe he had access to famous violin collections in Italy where he was allowed to play some of the classic instruments in the collections.   (see his article below).

I've  talked to people who say they've jammed with Byron in the Shetland Islands.  Well maybe they were fifteen fiddlers down the line, but they did jam with him.  He seemed to have time for everyone.

Byron eventually retired back to the Oklahoma area living in Guthrie, the old state capital,  where he organized an international bluegrass festival and opened a music store  The Double Stop Fiddle Shop in the old Opera House.  There were concerts every Saturday night and often very famous musicians who were travelling through the area sat in on those Saturday events.

Tragedy struck in 2019 when the Double Stop burned down.  Byron lost almost everything including some very, very valuable instruments.   

Byron eventually succumbed to a stroke in his cerebellum which affected his sight and coordination.   He was making a slow recovery but it seemed very unlikely he would ever be able to play the fiddle again.  Complications of Covid also set in and he passed away on July 9, 2021.    

He left a boatload of friends, a wonderful family, and an incredible talent for the ages to enjoy.

You can hear Byron play and talk about bluegrass on some of the following links.

1. Orange Blossom Special Byron, Doug Dillard and Billy Constable

2. Interview with Byron Berline   30 minutes  from "The Power of Ideas"

3. Variety Magazine  obituary

4. Byron Berline: Tobacco Stops With Me  filmed inside and outside his fiddle shop.   4 minutes

5. The Guarneri del Jesu violin 1744   If you would like to know more about the Guarneri violin, this 4 minute video is worth the effort.

Here is Byron describing his trip to Europe in his own words.

The following appeared in The New York Times on July 13, 2021

Byron Berline, Master of the Bluegrass Fiddle, Dies at 77

His updated version of an old-timey approach enhanced recordings by everyone from Bill Monroe to the Rolling Stones.

Byron Berline in performance with the Flying Burrito Brothers in Amsterdam in 1972. He wove elements of pop, jazz, blues and rock into an old-timey approach on the fiddle.
Byron Berline in performance with the Flying Burrito Brothers in Amsterdam in 1972. He wove elements of pop, jazz, blues and rock into an old-timey approach on the fiddle.
Gijsbert Hanekroot/Redferns, via Getty Images

Byron Berline, the acclaimed bluegrass fiddle player who expanded the vocabulary of his instrument while also establishing it as an integral voice in country-rock on recordings by Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and others, died on Saturday in Oklahoma City. He was 77.

His death, in a rehabilitation hospital after a series of strokes, was confirmed by his nephew Barry Patton.

Mr. Berline first distinguished himself as a recording artist when he was 21 on “Pickin’ and Fiddlin’,” an album of old-time fiddle tunes set to contemporary bluegrass arrangements by the innovative acoustic quartet the Dillards. The album features Mr. Berline’s heavily syncopated playing, along with long bow strokes that incorporate more than one note at the same time.

Later in the decade, Mr. Berline’s lyrical phrasing was heard on pioneering recordings by country-rock luminaries like the Flying Burrito Brothers and the duo Dillard & Clark, featuring the Dillards banjoist Doug Dillard and the singer-songwriter Gene Clark, late of the Byrds. He also recorded with Elton John, Rod Stewart and Lucinda Williams, among many others.


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Weaving elements of pop, jazz, blues and rock into an old-timey approach to his instrument, Mr. Berline contributed instrumental selections to Bob Dylan’s soundtrack to Sam Peckinpah’s 1973 anti-western, “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.” He also overdubbed Nova Scotia-style fiddle on the Band’s 1976 single “Acadian Driftwood” and played on the albums “GP” (1973) and “Grievous Angel” (1974) by Gram Parsons, the country-rock progenitor and founding member of the Burrito Brothers.

Mr. Parsons recommended Mr. Berline for what would become undoubtedly his most famous session appearance: the freewheeling fiddle part he added to “Country Honk,” the Rolling Stones’ down-home take on their 1969 pop smash “Honky Tonk Women.” Recorded in Los Angeles, the song was included on “Let It Bleed,” the group’s landmark album released that December.

“I went in and listened to the track and started playing to it,” Mr. Berline said of his experience with the Stones in a 1991 interview with The Los Angeles Times.

When he was summoned to the control booth, he recalled, he feared the band was unhappy with his work. Instead, they invited him to recreate his performance on the sidewalk along Sunset Boulevard, where the Elektra studio, where they were recording the track, was located. Hence the car horns and other ambient street sounds captured on the session.

“There was a bulldozer out there moving dirt,” Mr. Berline said. “Mick Jagger went out himself and stopped the guy.”


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But Mr. Berline was not merely renowned for his work accompanying other artists; he was considered a musical visionary in his own right, providing leadership to, among others, the progressive bluegrass band Country Gazette.

Mr. Berline was just 21 when he drew notice for his work on an album of old-time fiddle tunes by the innovative acoustic quartet the Dillards.

In 1965, after hearing his playing on “Pickin’ and Fiddlin’,” the folklorist Ralph Rinzler invited Mr. Berline and his father, a fiddler himself, to appear as a duo at the Newport Folk Festival.

While at Newport, Byron also had a chance to jam with the singer and mandolinist Bill Monroe, widely regarded as the father of bluegrass, who invited him to become a member of his band, the Blue Grass Boys. Then a student at the University of Oklahoma, Mr. Berline demurred; after completing his degree, he joined the Blue Grass Boys two years later.

Mr. Berline spent only a few months with Monroe before being drafted into the Army, but bluegrass aficionados regard two of the three songs he recorded with him, “The Gold Rush,” written with Monroe, and “Sally Goodin,” as matchless performances.

Mr. Berline was the winner of three national fiddle competitions and a member of the National Fiddler Hall of Fame.


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Byron Douglas Berline, the youngest of five children of Lue and Elizabeth (Jackson) Berline, was born on July 6, 1944, in Caldwell, Kan., near the Oklahoma border. His father worked a farm and played banjo and fiddle at barn dances and other events. His mother, a homemaker, played piano.

Young Byron started playing a three-quarter-sized fiddle when he was 5; he won his first public competition at 10, outplaying his father. Among his early influences was Eck Robertson, the first old-time fiddler to appear on record.

A gifted athlete, Mr. Berline earned a football scholarship to the University of Oklahoma, where he enrolled in 1963, only to fracture his hand that fall. The injury caused him to focus on music, although he maintained his athletic scholarship by joining the track team as a javelin thrower.

Mr. Berline attracted the attention of the Dillards while playing in a campus folk group at Oklahoma. They invited him to play on “Pickin’ and Fiddlin’.” After graduating from college in 1967 and completing his military service in 1969, Mr. Berline moved to Los Angeles with his wife, Bette (Ringrose) Berline, at the urging of Doug Dillard, who recruited him to record with Dillard & Clark.

After three years of session work in California, along with time in the Flying Burrito Brothers, Mr. Berline formed his own group, Country Gazette, and signed with United Artists Records. The band’s bluegrass blend proved influential, and it recorded for almost two decades, but Country Gazette never achieved mainstream success.

Another project, Byron Berline & Sundance, likewise secured a deal with MCA Records. But the group’s three founding members, guitarist Dan Crary, banjo player John Hickman and Mr. Berline — later billing themselves as Berline, Crary & Hickman — fared best in a traditional bluegrass market, releasing records on independent labels like Rounder and Sugar Hill into the 1990s.


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Mr. Berline in 2004 at the Double Stop Fiddle Shop in Guthrie, Okla., which he and his wife, Bette, owned. The shop burned down in 2019; several months later, he opened another shop on the same street.
Credit...Paul Hellstern for The New York Times

In the mid-’90s, Mr. Berline and his wife moved to Guthrie, Okla., and opened the Double Stop Fiddle Shop, its name taken from the fiddle technique of playing two strings at the same time. The shop burned down in 2019, consuming its inventory of antique instruments. Several months later, Mr. Berline opened another shop on the same street.

Mr. Berline is survived by his wife; a daughter, Becca O’Connor; a sister, Janice Byford; and four grandchildren.

Although uncredited, Mr. Berline remarked in interviews that he did more than play the fiddle on Mr. Dylan’s soundtrack to “Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid.”

“He said, ‘Can you sing?,’” Mr. Berline recalled, referring to Mr. Dylan in his 1991 interview.

“I said, ‘Sure.' So I got up and helped sing background vocals on ‘Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door.’”

A version of this article appears in print on July 13, 2021, Section B, Page 11 of the New York edition with the headline: Byron Berline, 77, Dies; Deft Bluegrass Fiddler With Dylan and StonesOrder Reprints | Today’s Paper | Subscribe

George Brose

Wonderful piece, George. I remember one of those jam sessions too. But Byron wasn't A world class fiddler. He was THE world's best fiddler for many years, as was his dad before him. SVM

V 11 N. 53 Stalking a World Class Runner

  At the end of our last post, I mentioned I would bring to your attention the story of another serious battle that women athletes sometimes...