Saturday, December 29, 2007

Courage Under Fire

Sprinter Oscar Pistorius (far left) & Martyn Rooney in Sheffield, England

Paralympic track star Oscar Pistorius, nicknamed “Blade Runner”, is living his life without limitations. That is the motto of Ossur, the manufacturer of his prosthetic blades.

Rocking sleek, curved prosthetic legs that appear straight out of a sci-fi movie, sprinter Oscar Pistorius has been burning up tracks and leaving controversy in his wake. At issue is whether those carbon graphite appendages give the 20-year-old South African double amputee an advantage over able-bodied runners.

The questions persist: do the prosthetics simply level the field for Pistorius, compensating for his disability, or do they give him an inequitable edge via what some call techno-doping?

This is an issue that has yet to be determined as he makes a bid for the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. No - say prosthetic manufacturers, other amputee athletes and researchers. Maybe - says the International Association of Athletic Federations, the governing body of world track and field, which continues to study the matter before making a ruling.

Test results are in and have been sent to Blade Runner’s representatives. IAAF is officially mum on the matter, choosing not to make any announcement over the matter until January 10.

Pistorius’ biggest obstacle may be qualifying standards. To reach the Olympics, he would have to run 45.95 seconds before the July 2008 qualifying deadline. His best time is 46.56. In comparison, world champion Jeremy Wariner posted a personal best of 43.45.

Earlier this year, Pistorius placed seventh at a race in England, running the 400 meters before being disqualified for going outside his lane. But he had already grabbed attention for holding world records in the Paralympics. Although he's not the first disabled athlete to compete against able-bodied athletes, he is the first double amputee who may make the crossover.

I hope the controversy doesn’t obscure the real story – Pistorius’ victory over his limitations. Pistorius was awarded the Helen Rolloson, which goes to an athlete showing courage in the face of adversity, at the BBC Sports Personality of the Year show.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Track Town, USA

There is a new American track and field mecca. And it’s not in Texas or Philadelphia.

Our hats are off to the Oregon Track Club, the University of Oregon, local and state governments, and the businesses and citizens who are making this track and field dream a reality.

After a 28-year hiatus, the U.S. track and field Olympic Trials will return to Eugene, Oregon. The world will be watching June 27 to July 6 as these important trials determine the Americans who will be our U.S. track and field team at the 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, China.

Who says track doesn’t pay? The Trials alone are expected to attract 17,000 people each day while injecting $18 million in direct spending related to the competition in Eugene.

Local business leaders and track enthusiasts have built the nation’s new “track capital.” Nearly $8 million in improvements are underway at Hayward Field, including a new infield, track surface and television-quality scoreboard– ultimately establishing Hayward as a premier international track and field venue.

Not to be outdone by spectacles familiar to fans at Texas or Penn Relays, Eugene will pull out all the stops, including The Eugene ’08 Festival. This will be an event-long exposition and entertainment experience with local food, beer, wine and performers. The festival, which will be free to the public, will also have video boards showing the competition in real time.

Eugene has also been awarded four other elite track meets that will make the city another $22 million in direct spending.

This development is a huge opportunity for track and field. It’s a chance to attract families, engage children and meet the high expectations of the experienced track fan. The world will be watching – but will your neighbors?

Future Track Meets Scheduled for Hayward Field

  • 2009 USA Outdoor Championships
  • 2010 NCAA Championship
  • 2011 USA Outdoor Championships
  • 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Allyson Felix: The Graduate

Congratulations, Allyson!

Sponsors take note: Allyson Felix is continually proving she is role model material. Even while she was running around the world setting records and winning medals, she kept her nose in the books.

That’s right – one of my favorite Glamour Girls of track and field is getting ready to graduate from the University of Southern California with a degree in Elementary Education.

Adidas is one sponsor who took note early. While many athletes finish paying for their educations by running on the college circuit, Felix cut to the chase. She turned professional out of high school and let Adidas pay for college.

It’s all paying off. In addition to her college degree, Felix just came off the best season of her life. In September, she won three gold medals at the 2007 World Champions in Osaka with victories in 200 meters, 4 x 100 meter relay and 4 x 400 meter relay.

Allyson will accept her degree in May 2008 . . . only a few short months before the world finds out if her good decisions and hard work will pay off in gold at the 2008 Olympic Games.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Monday, December 17, 2007

Silly Barry Bonds Trial

Barry Bonds at the Federal Building in San Francisco

You could care less about baseball, steroids or Barry Bonds, but the sight of the government charging a famous individual with perjury is a farce. At the very least, it is desperate. It doesn’t take a Harvard law degree to know that perjury is difficult to prove – even for the government, who, of course, never lies.

I get it – Barry Bonds is not popular. His “I have a recliner in the clubhouse because I can” routine, abrasive personality and failing to show up for team pictures has proved beyond a reasonable doubt that he’s a jerk.

That’s fair.

But on this blogsite Barry Bonds is innocent until proven guilty. Barry has never tested positive and publicly denied taking drugs. Barry Bonds isn’t a sympathetic figure—but he at least deserves equal treatment under the law.

Prerace Jitters has covered the MLB steroid issue that has been brewing below the surface for more than two decades. Baseball owners sat back and cashed their fat checks knowing the steroids issue needed to be addressed. The home run record chases and nightly ESPN highlight brought attention back to the sport as it suffered under post-1994 lock-out fan apathy.

Shame on the owners. They failed miserably. They are charged with protecting the game on the way to depositing their cash in the bank. At least track and field took away Marion Jones’ Olympic medals and has a long track record of punishing anyone else that tests positive.

The Barry Bonds perjury case is thin. The government’s two witnesses are an ex-girlfriend—who we must note knowingly dated a married man – and a disgruntled business partner who feuded with Bonds over memorabilia sales figures.

You’re kidding? Five years of investigating and tens of millions of dollars down the drain, and that is as good as it gets?

My only questions is: Where are Rafael Palmeiro and Jason Giambi? Everyone from the Steroid Era should go down—not just the high-profile "Bad Guys."

The problem, of course, is prosecutorial bias. The original BALCO investigators have themselves admitted that the case was spurred by their hatred of Bonds. The Feds – and a lot of the baseball public – don’t like Bonds, so Bonds was the one to take the fall.

The silly Barry Bonds trial must end soon. All bets are off the table when the legal system becomes a forum for personal grudges. Who's next?

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Major League Disappointment

Roger Clemens

Major League Baseball got away with one. The Mitchell Report on the widespread drug use in MLB by former Senator George Mitchell was more hype than the Spice Girls reunion. It was an even bigger letdown.

The biggest surprise is the small number of names, and big names in particular. The report was not intended to be exhaustive. And it is not. Mitchell lacked subpoena power, and ultimately, only had access to players who cooperated.

Outside of Roger Clemens and Andrew Pettitte, who cares about the other names? The others were guys who have already retired or have already been the target of speculation and rumor.

It seems most of the report is based primarily on the testimony of former New York Mets' clubhouse attendant Kirk Radomski and Brian McNamee, the former New York Yankees strength and conditioning coach. All Mitchell did was collect some old articles, television stories and admitted use by retired players and put it in one report.

If the feds didn't bust Radomski and force him to cooperate with this "investigation," the whole report would be recycled information.

In Mitchell's defense, it seems like he got very little cooperation throughout the investigation. Shocker, huh? One thing came across very clear to those in denial, MLB is as much to blame as anyone in this. Major League Baseball did nothing to curb the steroid issue that was already a problem for football and track. I thought Mitchell would hammer Commissioner, Bud Selig, and MLBPA head, Donald Fehr, more than he did, but he got his point across, I guess.

Obviously, the guy with the big L on his forehead is Clemens. He was the one no-brainer Hall of Famer on the list that you didn't know about for sure. For Bonds-haters that wanted to keep Barry Bonds out of Cooperstown, you better feel the same way about Clemens.

Bonds has to have a big Kool-aid smile on his face. It is kind of vindication for him in a Barry Bonds sort of way. He was by far not the only one taking performance-enhancing drugs, nor was he the only record-breaker that was taking them either. He now has some company as the poster boy for this era.

Bottom line, baseball and Bud Selig got the outcome sought from the beginning – to show Congress that baseball is tough on steroid crime. But, baseball did not take as big a hit as everyone thought it would.

There were some names in there, but outside of Clemens, there were no real bombshells. Baseball will go on, and this will all be forgotten once the season starts again.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Saturday, December 15, 2007

2008 Golden League Jackpot Announced

IAAF Golden League Istaf , Berlin, Germany

Run and tell all your friends. Elite professional track athletes make big bank. The IAAF has announced the 2008 Jackpot is $1 million. That doesn’t include appearance fees paid to big name stars. It may not be A-Rod or Lebron James level of tax returns, but it makes them rich.

The big payday races are on the European summer circuit. While there is not much market for professional track in the United States, Europe is a completely different story. The sport, like soccer, is considered as popular in Europe as football, basketball and baseball are here in the States.

The European circuit, named the Golden League, is made up of 10 total meets that include six for men and four for women.

The Golden League Jackpot is shared between any athletes that win their event in all six Golden League meets. The jackpot is shared between all competitors, men and women, equally.

The winner-takes-all setting creates a frenzied environment. Should no one win all six races in their event, then the winners of five events will split $500,000.

Cities and dates for 2008 – IAA Golden League

Berlin, Germany – June 1st

Oslo, Norway – June 6th

Rome, Italy - July 11th

Paris, France – July 18th

Zurich, Switzerland – August 29th

Brussels, Belgium – September 5th

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a. Track Evangelist

Friday, December 14, 2007

Double Standard?

Sanya Richards(l) finishes ahead of Allyson Felix(r)

Double standard? IAAF deny Felix & Richard schedule change to attempt a Olympic double in the 200 and 400 meters.

The IAAF made a concession for Michael Johnson at the 1996 Olympic games. He became the first man to do so. But that was one year after Michael won the 200/400 double at the world championships.

The timing was not right to grant a schedule change. Beijing organizers have already begun to sell tickets based on the existing schedule. It did not help their case that Richards has never been a world champion in either event or that Felix has not attempted a 200/400 double in a major international track meet. By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Marion Jones' Career - R.I.P.

Marion Jones' Career
7/1997 to 12/2007

X-Man: Fallen Superhero

The recent arrest of Xavier “X-Man” Carter is one of the biggest stories in track and field today. It’s the post-Michael Vick arrest era, so—what was Carter thinking? Arrested for running from police? Nike and his other sponsors can not happy by this news going into the 2008 Olympic Games.

“X-Man” arrived on the scene by becoming the first runner in NCAA history since Jesse Owens to win four titles at the 2006 NCAA Outdoor Championships in the 100m, 400m, 4x100m relay and 4x400m relay.

It is rumored that in 2006, he signed the largest contract ever with Nike for a track athlete coming out of school.

Monday, December 10, 2007

Jeremy Wariner Kicking Off Season In Australia

Jeremy Wariner and his agent, Michael Johnson, recently announced in an IAAF interview, legendary track Coach Clyde Hart – who also guided Michael Johnson – swears this meet does not deviate from Wariner’s training schedule to defend his Olympic title in Beijing next year.

Wariner joins two more prominent runners at the Melbourne meet. Asafa Powell the 100-meter World Record holder announced last week that he will train and compete in the Melbourne meet, as will Darold Williamson, a fellow Baylor alum and member of the 2004 Olympic gold medal 4 x 400 meter relay.

Like other pro track runners the last few years, Wariner has skipped the indoor season entirely. The weather can be hit or miss when he traditionally kicks off his season with low key meets in March.

However, Wariner has shown in the past that he is bold and daring. For example, he has been running the 200-meters in major races to improve his speed to break the world record.

Whether he dips under 45 seconds in Australia’s warm weather will depend on how much training can be done before February.

Running in Melbourne that early in the season will definitely make for a long season but Wariner has already pulled off the nearly undoable triple crown – winning indoor and outdoor NCAA Championships and the Olympic gold medal during his last year at Baylor University.

Wariner plans to put on a show this upcoming season.

Fans will have to wait and see if Jeremy can strike gold again in Beijing and break Michael Johnson’s record of 43.18.

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Friday, December 7, 2007

Mayweather vs Hatton

The man known as the best pound-for-pound boxer in the world, Floyd Mayweather Jr., a.k.a "Pretty Boy Floyd", a.k.a. "The Face of Boxing", has come out of retirement since his victory over Oscar De La Hoya in May.

That didn’t last long, huh?

Saturday’s fight against Ricky “The Hitman” Hatton—the 140-pound British champion, is building up to be a colossal fight.

The championship fight is being promoted as “Undefeated” since the fighters come in with a combined record of 81-0, and 55 knockouts between them.

Mayweather Jr. entertains and makes big bank. Some of the fans are mesmerized with Floyd’s skills, others hate him and watch in hopes that he loses. But they are all watching.

Floyd’s fights may gross over $200 million in pay-per-views revenue in 2007 alone and fill thousands of Las Vegas hotel rooms. He’s on track to make $50 million this year.

Celebrities are flocking to Vegas, Baby--to see and be seen. Any number of parties and concerts are being held to entertain everyone after the final bell rings.

The fight sold out in about a half-hour, ringing up more than $10 million. Already, 18,000 closed-circuit tickets have been sold in Las Vegas.

Sponsors are beating the door down hoping to attach their names to the bout.

Hatton appears to be growing tired of hearing about Mayweather Jr.’s disrespect for his track record and skills.

Ricky wants to knock Floyd the heck out. But this one may go the full distance with unanimous decision going to Mayweather.

Two mega-stars in the boxing community, who both come in with perfect records. It is sure to be one of the best matches in a long, long while.

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Tom Petty to Play Superbowl Halftime Show

Clearly, the NFL is not taking any chances. No wardrobe malfunctions. No guitar-shaped, backlit phallic imagery in the rain. Not even the possibility of cussing.

That’s right, Tom Petty will be lip-synching at the 50-yard-line at this year’s Super Bowl.

As he mumbles – with slightly more enunciation than Bob Dylan – Petty will likely be surrounded by hundreds of rosy-cheeked, smiling dancers prancing on the turf, flashing their best slow-motion jazz hands to the rollicking rhythms of songs like “Free Falling”.

Maybe Britney will make a cameo during “American Girl.” But only if she promises to put on the panties.

For most people, the halftime show is an opportunity to use the bathroom, refill the plate, check on their sideline bets and try to pick up the hot women who came to the Super Bowl party mostly to watch the commercials.

Good luck with the women, playa. Remember, women love a guy who knows all the players' names.

The Super Bowl airs February 3 on Fox.

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Looking to Beijing

Beijing International Airport

There is great anticipation about the 2008 Games – 247 days to the opening games but who’s counting, huh?

Many cannot wait to see the transforming city the media keeps talking about – the once rickety, impoverished city that is now the heart of new China’s booming economy.

Construction is going on around the clock. Signs of economic success are everywhere: a new futuristic business district, new ultra-luxury hotels and a new gigantic airport terminal.

Chinese officials have set ambitious goals for their venues, but those goals are not without obstacles. For instance, smog and haze periodically hover over the city, and fine soil produces dust storms visible for miles.

The world is watching to see if China can shine under the bright light of international attention.

The Chinese want to prove they are a global powerhouse worthy to be considered with the U.S., Europe, and Canada.

Olympic Updates

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist