Friday, November 30, 2007

Asafa Powell Going Down Under

The maneuvering by track and field athletes, coaches and managers has begun. They are hoping the proper strategy will deliver a berth to Beijing.

Otherwise, those reservations for Beijing won’t be necessary.

The road to Beijing 2008 Olympics has officially begun with Asafa Powell’s love affair with boisterous Australian track fans.

Yesterday, Powell and his manager, Paul Doyle, announced his first race in 2008 will be the Sydney Athletics Grand Prix on 16 February.

Five days later he will run at the IAAF World Athletics Tour meet in Melbourne (21 Feb). Meanwhile, more and more runners are skipping the indoor track and field season all together and opting for races in warm weather climates.

Asafa and his crew will travel to Australia on February 9 with coach Steve Francis.

Powell has been criticized by track legend Michael Johnson and others for his lackluster performance at this year’s World Championships 100-meter final race. He was beaten by American Tyson Gay and Bahamian rival Derrick Adkins.

Asafa resurrected his season by lowering his own World Record to 9.74 seconds in September. The race still could not quiet murmurs that Powell disappears on the major stage.

MJ contends that Asafa is not a competitor at all—that he can’t win the big races, and his fast times are in races with nothing on the line.

Powell has been unfazed by his critics, and his eyes are locked on getting things started in Australia

By Jay Hicks

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Gay & Defar Named IAAF World Athlete of Year

Tyson Gay and Meseret Defar’s pockets are fatter. $100,000 fatter to be exact. The money is part of the prize for being named male and female World Athlete of the Year.

Gay added hardware to his trophy case on Sunday. He has left space in his case for a little bling: Olympic gold. In the mean time, this will do until next summer.

The setting was stunning. Gay stood in front of his peers, Jeremy Wariner, Xiang Liu, Tommy Smith, Lee Evans and Carl Lewis in Monaco at the prestigious World Athletics Gala to be recognized as the male World Athlete of the Year .

The star-studded audience also included International Assocation of Athletics Federations (IAAF) Foundation Honorary President HSH Prince Albert II of Monaco.

Gay acknowledged that holding the World Record is important to his legacy to be considered among the greats at the end of his career.

The World champion sprinter and middle-distance runner Meseret Defar took home female World Athlete of the Year. The special night was only fitting for her history making season.

Defar is the first Ethiopian woman to win the award, and she was proud to accept the accolades. In 2007, she set the two mile World Record while going undefeated for both the indoor and outdoor seasons.

Last years recipients were Asafa Powell and Sanya Richards.

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

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Sean Taylor - R.I.P.

Today’s most talked about headline is the death of Sean Taylor.

He leaves behind his girlfriend and 18-month-old baby.

The Prerace Jitters staff sends our heartfelt condolences to the family of Sean Taylor.

Sean Taylor was 24 years old.

By Jay Hicks

Monday, November 26, 2007

Americans Just Don't Get It...

Liu Xiang has insured his legs for a cool $13.3 million. Say what?

By definition, insurance is protection coverage against specified loss. Normally losses would include fire, flooding and major accidents.

More and more celebrities are taking out policies for their most bankable body parts – Heidi Klum’s legs are worth $1.96 million, J Lo’s body is worth $1 billion – so why not high-performance athletes?

The 110-meter hurdle world record holder and world champion is prepared for the worst case scenario. A recent story says that a sponsor took out the multi-million dollar policy for Liu Xiang.

In other words, Liu is worth stacks of cash. At a glance the policy appears extreme, but a closer look reveals that it’s a brilliant idea.

Millions of Chinese nationals are expected to watch their countrymen race in the 2008 Beijing Olympics. Any catastrophe keeping Lui off the track would cost him millions and alter his career off its meteoric path. This way he gets paid one way or the other.

Americans just don’t get it. In the U.S., these sort of sweetheart deals are reserved for Tom Brady and LeBron James. The average American has no clue about how big track and field is on the international stage.

Internationally track and field is wildly popular – and not just during Olympic years when most Americans have any real exposure to the sport.

Every meet is an event – millions watch on tv, thousands pack the stadiums and countless sponsors fork over big bucks to be down with track.

U.S. Track fans are waiting for a track revolution. A time when we can watch sport while we eat grossly over-priced food in luxury suite boxes in gaudy track stadiums financed by tax payer dollars.

A time when one of our own gets their legs insured for almost as much as Heidi Klum’s.

A man can dream…

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Track’s G-Girls: Young, Rich and Beautiful

Sanya Richards. Allyson Felix. These women are two of the world’s most famous female athletes, and they are today’s G-Girls of professional track and field.

What’s a G-Girl? She stands out in a crowd, she is attractive – even sexy – and her accomplishments speak for themselves. She’s a Glamour Girl and a standout in her world – and in the world of us ordinary folk.

Their enviable lives and show-stopping looks set the standard for what millions of women – and not a few men – think is attractive. Millions of dollars in shoe contracts and product endorsements ride on their every performance. They make it all look easy.

Salaries for female track runners has grown from amateur status in the 1970's to appearance fees up to $100,000 per race.

G-Girls aren’t new to track and field. Remember the 1980's? Flo Jo – with her one-legged running outfits, flowing hair and long, flashy fingernails – was the original G-Girl of track. She hit the track looking more glam than any woman athlete before her, but really captured the attention of the world with her speed, grace and charm.

She wasn’t all about nail polish – Flo Jo earned the title “World’s Fastest Women” when she struck gold at the 1988 Seoul Olympics. She built on this success by becoming an eloquent spokeswoman, sharing her expertise and passion for fitness with the world.

Flo Jo also set the standard for glamazons in other sports – take a look at Serena Williams, Lisa Leslie or Gabby Reese. They’ve all got a little Flo Jo in their game.

Today, Sanya and Allyson have picked up the G-Girls torch. They are not the girls next door – they are the girls who stand out in a crowd.

Sanya, a 22-year-old Jamaican native, has movie star looks and a phat house. She’s dating New York Giants cornerback Aaron Ross. She’s dressed for success – she nearly lost a $20,000 diamond brooch given to her by a sponsor when it fell off during 200-meter rounds at World Championships. Ooops.

At age 21, Allyson’s svelte figure is the kind that inspires envy and lets her look like a supermodel. Her smile is electric and her fans feed off the energy she brings to the track. She’s been at the top for a long time, signing her first shoe contract at age 16 – a six-figure contract with Adidas.

Allyson hits the books at University of Southern California (which she’s never run for) and will graduate next month. And did I mention, she’s the reigning 200m World Champion.

For both women, life means a different city, a different country, every week. They are jetsetters, running and being known in Osaka, Rome, Stockholm, Oslo and London. Their job? Being cheered by fans in packed European stadiums.

They look and sound like they are living the glamorous life, but, like any legit G-Girl, their glamour doesn’t overshadow their innate talent.

These G-Girls are on track to worldwide fame – not just track and field fame – as they get ready for the 2008 Beijing Olympics. But don’t get it wrong – they may find their names in the same sentences, and their bodies on the same medal podiums, but Sanya and Allyson are far from being BFF’s.

While their feud may not be as long-standing as Lindsay Lohan vs. Hilary Duff, it’s also not made-for-TV like Paris and Nicole. In interviews each express respect for the other’s skills, but they plainly admit that they aren’t friends, either.

The rivalry is brewing, and each could find themselves competing in anything from the 100 to 400 meters.

For starters, Allyson runs glamour events—the 100m, 200m, and 400m. Currently, the 200m is her strongest event. They could collide in the 400m, which Sanya has dominated.

Allyson is leading 1-0 in the 400 meter head-to-head meeting, Sanya’s signature event. But don’t let that fool you – Sanya fought illness throughout the entire season, so we never quite saw her best. Don’t forget, she broke a 22-year-old U.S. record in the 400 meters and already holds an Olympic gold medal.

Allyson and Sanya are bringing sexy back. The Glamour Girls of today are standing tall in an era when their counterparts in other glamour industries are drunkenly crashing their cars and forgetting their dignity – and their pants. Track and field’s new G-Girls are capturing the fans’ imaginations.

It’s exactly what the sport needs.

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

Friday, November 23, 2007

Marion Got What She Deserved

The IAAF, track’s governing body, just made Roger Goodell look soft on crime. Track officials in Monaco announced that Marion Jones is banned for two years, she will be erased from all competitions from September 1, 2000, and they want all the dough back.

At the age of 32, this ruling spells the end of her career.

Unfortunately, the check is not in the mail because Marion is reportedly bankrupt. The lesson to be learned is that cheaters are severely punished in track & field. Dopers do so at their own peril!

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

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

A Fan's Track Manifesto

A frenzied rant. One man’s insane vision for the sport. This is the unleashing of my inner Ted Kaczynski.

I’m dropping my Track Manifesto –- the gospel according to the Track Evangelist. It’s my list of 27 profound track and field beliefs.

As track fans, we have one thing in common: A passion for the world’s most exciting sport – a passion that keeps us coming back for more, no matter how frustrated we get.

So, with no further delay—and in no particular order—here are the 27 top reasons I’m back in the arms of the greatest sport there is.

  1. I believe that I’m done explaining why I am an enthusiastic track fan. But that’s not going to stop me from writing about it religiously.

  2. I believe track and field is the greatest sport on the planet. Yes, it’s even better than the International Strongman Competitions on ESPN. Hard to believe, huh?

  3. I believe track athletes are the toughest athletes in the world. What we call a sport, other athletes consider punishment.

  4. I believe that it is my right to purchase $7 beers at all professional track meets. Beer and sporting events are as American as apple pie. Just because the Visa Series Championship meets are held on college campuses is no reason to keep me from fermented hops.

  5. I believe that if Atlanta is “Chocolate City” then Texas Relays is “Track Mecca”. The stadium is electric – it’s a car show, a fashion runway, the hottest nightlife and a stunning display of athletic prowess all in one weekend. Texas Relays – it’s what track can be in America if we all put our passion behind it.

  6. I believe that Kanye West would make ‘em say the sport must become socially relevant to go to the next level. Cuz it’s all ‘bout goin’ to the next level, right?

  7. I believe the sports’ future is Lindsay Lohan. Attracting hot, young, out-of-control fans is what it’s all about. A sexy NASCAR for people without beer bellies. Panties optional.

  8. I believe that track must be like Halle Berry. Entertaining and engaging. And pregnant – with possibilities, that is…

  9. I believe Marion Jones is the Jay Leno monologue of track -- a joke that’s not particularly funny. Track fans wish she would stop talking and go far away. Enough said.

  10. I believe anyone who doesn’t watch the World Championships is seriously missing out. With each step around this massive global stage, athletes are leaving their footprints in the pantheon of track history.

  11. I believe Flo Jo may be the greatest track athlete name EVER. It’s got style, meaning and flash all in just five letters.

  12. I believe Jackie Joyner-Kersee is the greatest all-around female athlete ever. She scored 1,000 points during her UCLA hoops career and struck Olympic gold in the heptathlon, long jump and 100m hurdles. All without “flaxseed oil”, Marion.

  13. I believe the penalty for testing positive should be a meeting with Joe Clark and his bat in the principal’s office.

  14. I believe Mike Conley, Jr. would contend for the 100-meter title today if track was his thing. Amazing! He dribbled as fast as defenders could run alongside him during 2005 NCAA March Madness.

  15. I believe Jesse Owens is the best-remembered Olympic star of all time. Not because he ran faster than any of Hitler’s Aryan army, but because he ran better than anyone else ever. He ran right into history without choking.

  16. I believe indoor track should have only one track size. Burn the rest. Track is about running – not math. Get rid of the time adjustments. It’s just confusing and is another way the sport keeps itself from being accessible to the casual fan.

  17. I believe Denzel Washington would make a great track commissioner. Man, can Denzel deliver a speech. Do you Remember the Titans? I do.

  18. I believe that the media is piling on. Where is the love? Track has its’ issues, but at least the sport’s athletes are not constantly on police blotters, and track isn’t dogged by accusations that the games are fixed by game officials.

  19. I believe I shall call for Clyde Hart to be nicknamed “The Quarter-Miler Whisperer.” He makes coaching back-to-back 400 meter Olympic champions look easy.

  20. I believe the mile should be run at American meets. Everyone can relate to a mile.

  21. I believe Allyson Felix and Sanya Richardson are professional track & field’s G-Girls. These young, rich and beautiful females are burning up tracks around the world.

  22. I believe that there will never be another Carl Lewis. Carl was a brilliant sprinter and flawless long jumper. He went 10 years undefeated in the long jump. Although he didn’t win over all the fans, he maybe saved his best for last in winning his 9th gold medal at the ripe age of 35.

  23. I believe Penn Relays is the most entertaining track meet. Texas Relays may have the cars, the clothes and the nightlife – but Penn Relays is a carnival that attracts more than 100,000 fans and a sea of proud Jamaican supporters, mon.

  24. I believe Bernard Lagat will establish a new era of U.S. dominance on the middle distance scene. He proved he is for real by winning the 2007 World Championships in the 1,500 & 5,000 meters.

  25. I believe there is nothing more exciting than the countless camera flashes exploding throughout a sold-out stadium in the split-second before the starter’s gun goes off. It’s a singular moment that symbolizes the anticipation, speculation and possibilities of the seconds that will fly by once the runners hit their stride.

  26. I believe Michael Johnson is the Jay-Z of track & field. MJ’s reign over the sport is unparalleled: nearly a decade as track’s top man, a headline-grabbing duel in which he defeated Carl Lewis, a run of sprint domination that outlasted the rest of the pack. Michael retired at the top of his game and arguably as the richest track runner in history. MJ retired and then turned CEO & entrepreneur. Sound familiar?

  27. I believe every able-bodied adult knows that nervous feeling that comes over you as you step up to the starting line – any starting line: Prerace Jitters!

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

Track & Field Lifer: A Love Affair with the Sport

As the son of a high school head track coach, I grew up playing in the sand of long jump pits after school.

I can still hear my mom calling out splits over the bull horn. I am a track & field “lifer”. I have spent my whole life around the game and plan to continue.

I loved growing up in the sport. I watched hundreds of practices and thousands of high school races, daydreaming of the time that I would explode out the blocks and cross the line first.

The event branded into my memory is the feeling of my mom’s team winning the track and field state championship with five girls. Exactly. Five girls. They won by a single point.

We were all elated, rejoicing and hugging my mom and the girls who beat the odds as the final score and team state champions were called out by the public announcer.

Growing up, every Saturday during the spring was spent watching my mom’s team or my brother and sister run high school track.

Twelve years in a row, we made pilgrimage to the state track meet to watch my family perform at the state level.

I vividly recall wishing I was my brother when he was competing at the NAIA National Championship meet. But finally my day came. I won the state championships in the 400 meters.

After those unforgettable days, I was fortunate to run the 800 meters for a storied Division I college track program.

I spent my youth on a quest to hit the big time. That dream never quite came true, but I achieved more than most. I am proud of the success that I’ve had.

But I always assumed that the burning passion for the track & field would eventually come to an end. It hasn’t.

I walked away from the sport after college. I tried golf and pickup basketball, but these activities left me with an almost unspeakable void.

I was a true lover of track and field; it was inevitable that I’d return. Without track and field in my life, where would I get that familiar buzz, that purpose, that joy?

If you know nothing else about me, know this: I plan on track making me happy for a long, long time to come.

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

Marion Fatigue!

Marion Jones was suffering from exhaustion. Following in the footsteps of other disgraced celebrities, she may announce a trip to rehab.

In the end, is this just another situation that can be mopped up with a few tears? Just ask any celebrity or athlete who has made a “bad decision.”

Marion Jones: Liar. Cheat. Fraud. What do her actions mean to the future of our sport?

Tim Layden's recent Sport Illustrated article couldn't be more right on. Best case scenario, Marion has damaged the sport and let her down her fans.

The worst case? It's simple. Miss Jones is the worst thing to ever happen to track and field.


From the earliest moments of her career, fans had every reason to be excited about her sprint onto the scene. Unassuming, approachable, it seemed like the sport had finally found a mainstream star that would bring new fans to the stands -- and sponsors to the bank.

That hope had started to dim since the allegations of doping began as a whisper and grew to a roar.

She tried to play the victim card -- bad things just kept happening to her. Her first husband, CJ Hunter, tested positive for doping. They divorced shortly thereafter, and the whispers grew louder.

Next, her boyfriend, Tim Montgomery -- a "star" in his own right and a felon convicted on banking fraud, also tested positive. Marion denied doping even more vehemently.

Then Marion came clean -- first in a letter to family and friends, then to a judge in a court of law. No, not clean as in a clear urine test. This time Marion really came clean -- she finally admitted what everyone else had simply accepted as true already. She was guilty of doping -- and of repeatedly lying to cover her illegal acts.

But Marion, of course, couldn't be held responsible. It wasn't her fault, it was all the bad people around her. This time, it was her coach, Trevor Graham, who'd duped her into doping -- she could've sworn it was flaxseed oil.

Sure, Marion. And that's why you're crying now.

Don't get me wrong. I didn't want her to be guilty. I wanted to believe that she won those medals clean. The facts just weren't stacking up in her favor. And that's why the Marion sympathizers are dead wrong.

Because of her lying, because of her alligator tears, because it took her nearly seven years to come clean, our would-be mainstream star has burned out, taking the reputation of our sport with her.

Because of her protracted lie, she has cast a pall over every single athlete running around the track today. It will take track a decade to get over this mess.

Allyson Felix, Sanya Richards, Jeremy Wariner and Tyson Gay -- today's generation of gifted American runners -- are left running in place in the face of this long-overdue admission. Marion's legacy could've been one that took the sport to the next level for fans and people who haven't discovered its beauty. Instead, she leaves a toxic cloud.

Fans and sponsors are jaded. Achievements are underscored by the spector of scandal. Because of Marion, every athlete will be under suspicion. Thanks to Marion, our current stars may never gain the commercial success of Carl Lewis and Michael Johnson.

And ultimately that hurts us -- the fans. Jaded sponsors mean less money pumped into the sport. Less money, like it or not, means less visibility.

And the fewer opportunities that we have to see track in the mainstream, the fewer opportunities we have to share our enthusiasm with new spectators -- or with our children.

Marion's tears looked sincere for the television cameras, but will her apology make up for seven years of lies. No. They won't.

Yes, she's returned her five Olympic medals. The IAAF may ask for her prize money back. Her best performances -- some of the best in the history of the sport -- will be erased from the books. These may spell personal tragedy for Marion, but it won't make up for the damage she's done.

Mrs. Jones took more than she gave, and she left the sport on life support.

The track community is suffering from "Marion fatigue" and I pray that she makes the good decision here -- retiring in SILENCE. But if her track record is any indication, Marion Jones is incapable of making good decisions.

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

At Least it isn’t Basketball…

Is track held to a higher standard than other sports? Track may have its issues – but at least it’s not the NBA.

Ben Johnson lost his Olympic medals in 1988 after testing positive. Of course there’s Marion Jones (and her various husbands and boyfriends). The specter of doping (a.k.a. cheating) is always hanging over the sport. But you know what – at least we’re above board about it.

We test, we investigate, we actually talk about it as a governing body. Maybe the sport isn’t as bad off as we think.

Case in point – the NBA. Everyone, except the most fervent fans and na├»ve spectators, believe the NBA is fixed. Of course, the sport doesn’t directly confront this issue eroding the game’s credibility.

Imagine the scene, then, when Rasheed Wallace goes public, saying in a recent interview that he thinks the sport is rigged. A banner day for David Stern and his merry band of referees.

This interview comes on the heels of an FBI probe that alleges that referees bet on NBA games. And then there’s Tim Donaghy. He even ‘fessed up to the transgressions.

But there’s old David Stern, telling everyone that the recent scandals haven’t eroded the game’s credibility. Really, Davey? Really?

The NBA is fighting to regain its’ image. In recent years, the National Brawling Association has also had a UFC style fight with players going into the stands after fans, Kobe Bryant Sexgate Trial, and had to institute a silly dress code policy.

At least track and field is up front about its issues and aggressively goes after the athletes that damage the sport’s credibility. Yeah, track has a doping issue (uh, ever heard of Major League Baseball?), but those mainstream sports don’t even really try to address their credibility issues.

Major League Baseball – home of the magically expanding muscle mass – didn’t take up mandatory drug testing until 2003. You might suspect baseball has a drug problem when overnight players with Popeye forearms hit the ball and it disintegrates into dust on the way out the park.

The sport had to go in front of the federal government because of its doping issues and general denial that there was any issue at all. And heaven forbid someone mention Mark McGuire’s home run record (and record muscle gain). But it’s still America’s Pasttime, kids.

You’ve got to be kidding, right?

Let’s not even get started on the image problems of the NFL. That league reeks to high heaven of over-paid, pampered athletes that are throwing away a good thing. Constant player arrests. Pac Man Jones, Tank Johnson, Michael Vick, the infamous – and infamously titillating “Love Boat” cruise on Lake Minnetonka – the Minnesota Viking’s own foray into pillaging on the open seas.

You’d think this kind of egregious behavior would turn off fans and sponsors alike.

Yet, kids run around the tailgating lots eating bratwurst and throwing a football in their favorite felon’s jersey, and their parents continue to pour money into the league’s coffers. Beer companies can’t wait to align themselves with teams.

What does this rant against the various ills of our mainstream sports mean for track and field? It means it’s time for the sports media to forgive our game and start giving our athletes the recognition they deserve. But this won’t happen without a real push.

A press release simply won’t do. Craig Masback, CEO of USA Track & Field, needs to put on his selling shoes and go on camera to apologize for the latest Marion scandal and express his outrage. He should talk about the actual policing of the game and how it helps keep the urine tests clean and the records legit.

He should then invite viewers to tune in to a new season that will deliver a bigger and better sport – not bigger and better forearms.

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

Felix & Gay Named Athletes of the Year

Track & field got a boost yesterday. A much needed breath of fresh air. Winners of the 2007 Jesse Owens Award were selected by the U.S. track & field media based on their performance within the sport.

The votes have been tallied. No recall is in order. Allyson Felix was been named Female Athlete Of The Year (AOY), and Tyson Gay has been named 2007 Male Athlete of The Year by USA Track & Field.

The fastest way to win the Jesse Owens Award is to win big races on the big stages, and Felix & Gay had break-out seasons.

Felix took it to the next level. She went undefeated in the 200 meters and threw down the gauntlet on the relays. Allyson then ran the fastest legs on the 4 x 100 and 4 x 400 meter relays to win three gold medals at World Championships.

This year she ran the fastest 200 meters since 1999 and was a legitimate contender in everything from 100 to 400 meters.

Tyson Gay has a reason to pop his collar, too. He established himself in a field with great sprinters. He walked down World Record holder Asafa Powell to win the 100 meters finals at World Championships.

Gay struck gold in the 200 meters and 4 x 100 meter relay. Oh, and he also broke Michael Johnson’s 200-meter meet record in the process.

This year Felix & Gray added to their legacy of establishing themselves among the sport’s greatest sprinters, ever!

Others in the running were Breaux Greer, Reese Hoffa, Bernard Lagat, Brad Walker, Jeremy Wariner and Alan Webb. Women's finalists were Shalane Flanagan, Michelle Perry, Sanya Richards, Jenn Stuczynski and Tiffany Williams.

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