Over the past few weeks, I've received several notices about the University of Minnesota dropping their track program. There have been some impassioned pleas to find ways of keeping it as well as condemnations from former Golden Gopher athletes and track coaches from other universities. Here is my way of looking at the problem. Nothing new here but gives me a chance to vent on the age of cost cutting provoked in part by our little virus that is altering life around the world. Who would have thought a year ago that something we cannot see under a light microscope would have brought us to our knees in this world?
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Wednesday, September 23, 2020
Two men who influenced track and field a bit, one more than the other, passed away recently.
The first was Mel Hein Jr. a former USC Trojan and world record holder in the polevault at 16' 5 3/4" .
Here is an obituary on Mel Hein Jr. from the Los Angeles Times July 9, 2020 by Eric Sondheimer.
Gayle Sayers in his more familiar role
The other recent passing was that of Gayle Sayers, and you may wonder why we mention an NFL legend. Well, it's because Gayle Sayers ran track at the University of Kansas, and though he was not an All-American in that sport he was still an active participant who showed the way to many others when he competed. He was so good in football that he didn't have to run track, but he did. In high school in Omaha, Nebraska, he led the nation in the long jump going over 24 feet in 1961. His brother, Roger Sayers, was a very good sprinter for the U. of Omaha, and represented the United States in several international meets.
Gayle Sayers Jumping in High School
In 1964 while at the University of Kansas, Sayers led the Big 8 indoor standings in the long jump, 60 yards, and 60 hurdles. Unfortunately at the Big 8 indoor championships he had a bad night and did not win any of those events. But to me the highlight of that indoor season was when my Oklahoma Sooners went up to Lawrence, Kansas for our annual dual meet. The Sooners had a very controversial All American football player in Joe Don Looney, who to avoid spring football, decided to run track, both indoors and outdoors that year. He had led the nation in punting in the 1963 football season and was the star running back on the Sooner team. He weighed 220 pounds and was our top sprinter that indoor season. Big into weightlifting as well and some would say even bigger in egocentricity. So there was a lot of pre-race publicity about Joe Don and Gayle the two All Americans going head to head in the 60 that night. A much larger than usual crowd showed up that weekday evening to see the two go at it. As a miler, running a lot of dual meets I wasn't used to seeing a lot of people come into the arena to watch our team compete, so I was really getting fired up for my race which would follow immediately after the Looney-Sayers race, which was the first or second event of the night.
The two grid stars were lined up side by side in the middle of the track. The people in the stands all got quiet and seemed to be holding their collective breath as the starter's pistol was raised. The gun went off, and Sayers left Looney sitting in the dust looking more like a steam locomotive trying to get going while Don Garlits in his Double A fuel dragster burned rubber all the way down the track.. It was no contest. The Kansas crowd cheered and then went home. They had only come to see Looney get whipped by Sayers. I was in the next event, and suddenly I realized that no one had come to see the mile run or the rest of the meet for that matter. They had to get back to their studies or to the pubs. It was quite a let down, but still that night I ran my personal best mile indoors although I was edged out by one of a string of Kansas milers who took turns beating me over the years.
George, I ran my personal best in the Indoor 880 that night too. But the highlight of the night was not the 60 yard race itself. It was the moment Sayers and Looney stepped out from under the stands after taking their sweats off, and the crowd saw Looney’s physique, and a loud awed moan erupted from the stands as they saw what he looked like in track togs. He did weights big-time before it was fashionable, and you must remember that build. There were no others like him in those days. But Sayers dusted him pretty good that night. Walt Mizell
It should be remembered that Mr. Mizell set a Fog Allen Field House 880 record that night which stood until a youngster named Ryun took it down with a world indoor record on that same track. The vertical support beams came straight down along the inside lane of the track, so a guy running fast could not lean over even an inch or he would bang his head on them. The track in that fieldhouse is gone but the beams are still there and can be seen when you go through the sports museum under the stands.
On that same trip we stayed near a YMCA and Looney wanted to go over there and see their weight room. We ended up playing pool next to the weight room and for some reason Looney banged his pool cue into the door going into the room and some behemoth came out in a show of strength to see what the noise was all about. He made some threats and Looney stood up to him and said that "size isn't everything in a fight." The big dude asked him who he was, and Looney told him his name. The guy didn't say anything, did an about face, walked back in the weight room and politely shut the door. George Brose
If you care to read a bit more about Gayle Sayers and the recruiting process to get him to Kansas, that can be seen on the link below. One of the interesting little side lights was when Sayers went to visit the University of Iowa, he never met the head coach of the football team, because he was too busy hosting Henry Carr that weekend. Carr ended up going to Arizona State, not playing football, and winning the 200 meters gold medal in Tokyo in 1964.
George, there are a number of good things when you note the passing of the men and women who led the way for us. Among them are:
The great human interest stories.
The humor that existed midst all that competition.
The photos of dirt and cinder tracks that bring back so many memories.
The pride in knowing that we participated with and against some great athletes.
You do good work, George.
Those are two fine stories. I remember that Joe Don Looney played briefly for the Detroit Lions back in the mid-1969s. The coach asked him to carry a play into the huddle for the quarterback to call and he refused, saying something to the effect that he wasn’t “an errand boy.” The Lions got rid of him shortly afterward, although he had some good runs for them.
Following is a note from my college roommate, Mike Hewitt.
George, you may not (may not, most certainly not) recall, but in the OU/KU winter indoor meet at Lawrence, I beat Sayers! We were in lanes right next to each other. The gun goes off, and he is creating a gap between us rather rapidly. He hits the first or second hurdle and I "zoom" right by him. Zoom is a relative term.
Sunday, September 20, 2020
The Story of Sam Chelanga, Kenyan and American
By Paul O’Shea
With the Wind:
Finding Victory Within
By Sam Chelanga
Morgan James Publishing
114 pp., $13.75
I’m always interested in books about runners and coaches. Recently, two entries came on the scene, Born to Coach by the self-important Bill Squires, and the well worth your credit card number Running the Dream by marathoner Matt Fitzgerald.
A third entry came into view a short time ago: With the Wind: Finding Victory Within, the autobiography of Sam Chelanga, one of the accomplished Kenyan runners who have had an impact on American distance running in the past two decades.
Sam Chelanga won back-to-back NCAA cross country titles in Terre Haute, setting the still standing LaVern Gibson course record of 28:41.2 in 2009. On the track he won the collegiate 10,000, also in record time. After gaining U.S. citizenship, he represented this nation in the 2017 World Cross Country Championships, finishing a creditable 11th, the first American.
Chelanga, whose brother Joshua finished third in the 2001 Boston Marathon, was a Paul Tergat discovery in 1990s Kenya. When Fairleigh Dickinson University offered the young runner an athletic scholarship, Tergat played a key role in getting the Kenyan out of Nairobi and into the United States.
A visa snafu almost kept Sam Chelanga at home. After his fourth attempt to contact the U.S. Embassy failed, he asked the two-time Olympic bronze medalist for help. Tergat called the U.S. Embassy and successfully lobbied for his protégé. Chelanga boarded a plane out of the country and a few days later, representing Fairleigh, won an invitational at Van Cortlandt Park.
That first cross country season in America was an athletic success, as he placed 16th in NCAA Division One at LaVern Gibson, a venue he would continue to find profitable. But Chelanga was unfulfilled at Fairleigh. Despite his achievements, “I found what I thought I wanted, but there was still a vacancy for happiness. Happiness did not lie where I thought it had.” At the indoor nationals he met Liberty University’s Josh McDougal and it was a university-changing event.
McDougal had won the NCAA individual cross country crown a few months earlier. The Kenyan transferred to Liberty, and in the 2008 cross nationals, Chelanga finished second, five seconds behind Galen Rupp. The next two years Chelanga won the national championship he’d been targeting since he was a freshman. All three victories by McDougal and Chelanga were under the direction of Liberty’s Brant Tolsma. Before leaving Lynchburg, Virginia and turning pro, the author won four national cross country and track titles.
Chelanga devotes a chapter to his national collegiate 10,000 record, and the workout that almost prevented him from the mark. Stanford’s Payton Jordan Cardinal Invitational is an early-season focus for distance runners. Looking to beat the American record Nike Oregon Project coach Alberto Salazar asks Chelanga to pace Rupp. Despite suffering from an injured foot, Chelanga’s a supporting player to Oregon’s leading man. Instead, at the finish Chelanga is two seconds ahead of Rupp, runs 27:08.49, a collegiate record, but it is Chris Solinsky who captures the American record with 26:59.6.
Since becoming a citizen in 2011, Chelanga had wanted to earn a U.S. vest and compete at the world majors. His opportunity came in 2016 when he toed the line in the Olympic Trials 10,000. Unfortunately, 90-degree Eugene heat drained him and he trailed badly in the early miles. Laps later, the temperature took its toll on his competitors. Chelanga re-groups and picks off runners. Working his way through the field he finishes sixth. Because two runners ahead of him elect to run in other Olympic races, Chelanga is fourth, the alternate on the team.
Heat again was an enemy a year later at the World cross country in Uganda. With three of his sisters seeing him race for the first time, he was the first American to finish at Kampala, in eleventh place. But a Twitter message goes ass over teakettle. He posts: “I wouldn’t recommend racing in Africa. Super thankful for eleventh place overall.”
“Somehow,” he writes in his book, “my sarcasm was lost in translation. Instead of what I thought was just a simple social media post to say thank you and to show appreciation for a great day in Uganda, I was bombarded by negativity and hate.”
Four notable mentors and runners, Jerry Schumacher, Ben True, James Li and Scot Simmons, coached him in the professional years. Turning pro, he signed with Nike, but the pressure to perform at the elite level was daunting. “I had a difficult time separating the life as an elite and the love of running I knew that was in me. The contract, expectations, schedules, money and all that I was supposed to live up to was overshadowing all I thought the life of an elite would be.”
He had just won the national 25 kilometer title, and finished as top American at the world half marathon. Surprisingly, he then left world class running at age 35 and turned to the military where he enlisted and became an officer at Fort Jackson in South Carolina.
With the Wind gets off to a slow start. Before his story is recounted in 114 autobiographical pages there are six pages of Advance Praise, encomiums from fellow athletes Emma Coburn, Carrie Tollefson, Molly Huddle, and LetsRun’s Jonathan Gault. Then, approval from Liberty University President Jerry Falwell (Junior). Next are two pages each of Content, Preface, Acknowledgements, and Introduction. Finally, a single-page epigraph. That’s an 18-page tempo run just to get to the starting line. Unfortunately, I don’t believe your endurance is fully rewarded.
While Chelanga’s book is capably written, especially when compared with the dross that emerges in much of the running canon, this reader wanted more. More rewarding would have been a deeper dive into his other races. With national records, major college wins and international meets on his resume, there are certainly stories to be told. In these pages, we find too few.
There is so much more Chelanga could tell us. What was it like to run for the elite coaches? What were the differences in training philosophies, workout schedules? The performance enhancing scourges that infected Kenyan and other world-class athletes calls out for examination and comment by the author. How does he feel about major medals won by doping athletes, the loss of income by runners who watched the tainted win accolades and bonuses?
Yes, Sam found victory by going within, but he’s left something in the call room.
Paul O’Shea follows athletics (track and field and cross country) from Fairfax, Virginia.
Sunday, September 6, 2020
V 10 N. 66 Duplantis beats Kendricks in a Street Fight and Farah and Hassan Break WR's in One Hour Run and Women's Half Marathon Goes As Well
Sunday September 6, 2020
This weekend saw two events on the continent result in an American record in the polevault, or did it?
As well the one hour run World Records for women and men were surpassed.
Also not to be overlooked. The women's half marathon record for races with women only was
beaten on Sunday in Prague by Peres Jepchirchir of Kenya in 1 hour 5 min. and 35 seconds.
This surpasses the previous record set by Ethiopean Netsanet Gudeta in 1 hour 6 min. 11 seconds.
Our first report comes from Bill Schnier and Bruce Kritzler who witnessed the polevault from Lausanne on their computer or tv screens.
Wednesday, September 2, 2020
Jim Thorpe and the "Scoop"
written February, 1973
by Ira Berkow
It is not widely known that Roy Ruggles Johnson wrote what is considered the greatest sports "scoop" of the first half of the 20th Century. But the impact was world-wide and tragic and is still in the news.
Obituaries across the country carried the fact that Johns, who died at age 89, wrote the story disclosing Jim Thorpe's professionalism.
Johnson was the county editor of the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram, when he wrote teh copyrighted story that broke on January 22, 1913. He was tipped off that a man visiting relatives nearby was bragging that he managed Jim Thorpe on the Rocky Mount, North Carolina, baseball team in the Piedmont League. Johnson found the manager, who told him that Thorpe, an outfielder, had been paid $15 a week. Johnson returned to his office, flipped through his Reach Baseball Guide and saw Thorpe posing with a smile in the Rocky Mount team picture.
The story resulted in the Amateur Athletic Union stripping Thorpe of medals and trophies he had won in the 1912 Stockholm Olympics (where he had won, incredibly both the decathlon and the pentathlon).
Thorpe tried to explain: "I did not play for the money. I was not very wise to the ways of the world and did not realize this was wrong. I hope I will be partly excused by the fact I was simply an Indian schoolboy and did not know I was doing wrong, because I was doing what many other college men had done, except they did not use their own names."
His medals were never returned and his name has not been restored in the Olympic record book despite various efforts through the years. Today, a group headed by former Yankee pitcher Allie Reynolds, also an Oklahoma Indian, plans to petition the President to plead the case to the International Olympic Committee. Don Johnson, son of Roy Ruggles Johnson, says that his father supported the idea that Thorpe's name and medals be restored.
"My father felt that the AAU was too strict," said Don Johnson, now an executive with the Worcester Telegram. "There were other athletes playing for money under assumed names in those days, and Thorpe was simply guileless to that."
Did Roy Ruggles Johnson ever regret writing that story?
"I'm sure he didn't, " said Johnson. "The old gent--that's what my brother and I called my father --was a man of rectitude and high moral principle. He felt it was his job as a newspaperman to write the story.
"He never boasted about the scoop. He rarely talked about it. In fact, I didn't know he had written it until I was in college.
"And he never explained it. He never wrote magazine stories about it. A year after the story broke he did get a job with the Boston Globe, but he didn't even get a writing job. He got a desk job, and I'm sure it had nothing to do with the Thorpe story."
It was the lone scoop in Johnson's life. He went on to write some 3,000 columns for the Globe on Yankee folklore. Meanwhile, he followed Thorpe's career, which went from pro football and major league baseball to drunkenness, destitution, three marriages, and finally, death in an obscure trailer at age 64.
Johnson himself a teetotaler, continued to believe in the sanctity of the free press, according to his son.
"I was always glad about one thing for my father. That was what happened when he met Thorpe in 1952, forty years after the Stockholm Olympics. The Boston Globe sponsored a Sportsmen's Show. Thorpe came, since he was a great fly caster. Someone got the idea to bring him up to the office to meet my father. They had never been face-to-face before.
"My father said, 'Jim, I'm proud to shake your hand. I always thought you were the greatest athlete that ever lived.' Thorpe bore no rancor to my father. 'You were only doing your job,' said Thorpe."
Thorpe died one year later.
In Washington, Grace Thorpe, a daughter of Jim's, said, "No, I don't think th e loss of the medals or the fact that his name was taken off the record books made much difference to Dad. He felt that his achievements were proof enough of his abilities.
"But I would like to get the medals back to put in the Indian Hall of Fame in Kansas. And I'd like Dad's name restored in the official books. It would be for Indian kids, something for them to try to emulate."
Editor's Note: Doing a little fact checking I found that the medals were restored to Thorpe's family on October 14, 1982 and are on display at the Native American Museum of the Smithsonian in Washington DC.
Then: I found the following in the July 2012 issue of The Smithsonian. "Why are Jim Thorpe's Olympic Records Still Not Recognized?" written by Sally Jenkins.
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