Thursday, January 31, 2008

PRJ Insider: 101st Millrose Games Preview

Bernard Lagat won the 1,500 for his first world championship and the first U.S. Olympic or world title in the event since 1908.

Track fans have plenty to be excited about this week, and that goes double for distance fans. Bernard Lagat and Craig Mottram face one another in the meet’s legendary Wanamaker Mile, New York City is always a welcome stop on the schedule, and we get a sneak peak at match ups that have implications for this summer.

Clear your schedule for Friday night or Saturday afternoon, you’re going to need a couple hours of viewing time.

Lots of big names show up in the meet’s legendary Wanamaker Mile . If you’re betting against Bernard Lagat, at least do it in a meet he doesn’t care about. The indoor track at Millrose Games is one of the most Lagat-friendly you’ll find, tight curves that favor his shorter body frame. Bernard’s resume on this track is unreal: five wins in a row.

Mottram would be the clear favorite in a Lagat-less field—just last week he shredded the competition at Reebok Boston Indoor meet running a stunning 7:34.50 in 3,000 meters. That was fast enough to be the make and break for the USA-all comer record that Haile Gebrselassie held. Mottram will be ready to run the curves on Friday.

Another hot match up: Jenn vs. Stacey in the women’s pole vault. Jenn Stuczynski doesn’t have much of a history here, but her jump to break the American record last summer was impressive. Stacy Dragila, considered by many the pioneer of women’s pole vault, returns in a highly anticipated clash with the new kid on the block.

Bershawn Jackson is another runner who looks to run well at this meet, however he will have his hands full with U.S. double lap champ Khadevis Robinson in the 600. Robinson is a bomber down the home stretch and will probably try to avenge the slow time run from last week’s victory in Boston.

Other athletes towing the line are Joanna Haynes, Kara Goucher, Carmelita Jeter, Miki Barber, Reese Hoffa, Leroy Dix, Amy Acuff and Dwight Philips.

Don’t miss the action. The third event of USA Track & Field's 2008 Indoor Visa Championship Series, the Millrose Games will be televised live Friday night from 7-8 p.m. Eastern Time on ESPN2 and Saturday on NBC from 2:30-3:30 p.m. ET.

It will also be Webcast by Sportnet next week, available via link from

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

Kenyans' Training Suffers As Violence Continues

Kenya's Ezekiel Kemboi wins the Sydney gold medal of the men's 3,000m steeplechase final

The East African nation of Kenya is embroiled in post-election violence over a dispute in a close presidential election. The violence has already claimed the lives of marathoner Wesley Ngetich and Lucas Lang, a former Olympic 400-meter competitor.

Violence is mounting over the legitimacy of President Mwai Kibabi’s narrow victory over Raila Odinga in late December. Kibaki, from the majority Kikuyu tribe, announced victory while it was reported that Raila Odinga, who is from the Luo tribe, was ahead in the polls.

The ethnic violence, previously rare in Kenya, is reminiscent of the strife that led to the genocide in Rwanda in 1994.

More than 50 Kenyan athletes have become targets in their homeland and have received death threats, including former World Steeplechase champion Moses Kiptanui. Rumors continue to circulate that the athletes were involved in stirring up ethnic killings, and the athletes have been forced to cut training.

Some runners are concerned that they will struggle at the World Cross Country Championships in March and Beijing in August.

Ezekiel Kemboi, the reigning Olympic 3,000m steeplechase champion, said yesterday that he was training only once a day instead of the usual three times. "You can't run here now unless it's fully light," he said. "I know my chances of Olympic success are going down, but I have seen the cuts on Lucas Sang's body."

Kemboi isn’t alone in his hesitation to train. Running has ground to halt in Kenya. Sports officials have cancelled two Kenya Federation cross-country races scheduled for January. Some runners have been unable to go to competitions abroad, including 13 Kenyans who were absent from the Rock 'n' Roll Arizona Marathon and Half Marathon scheduled in Phoenix.

Running camps sponsored by retired Kenyan stars and shoe giants Nike and Adidas were closed for several days because it was too dangerous for people to venture outside. These camps have begun to reopen over the last week as athletes slowly returned.

We hope Kenyan leaders negotiate a peaceful ending to this violent political conflict. People are dying and lives are being irrevocable changed.

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

Jeremy Wariner Has New Coach

Jeremy Wariner won the Men's 400m in a personal best time of 43.50 on August 7 at the DN Galan Meet in Stockholm, Sweden.

It didn’t take very long. Jeremy Wariner has switched to Baylor assistant coach Michael Ford—who coaches Wariner’s training partner and former teammate Darold Williamson.

Coach Clyde Hart announced yesterday he split with Wariner because of a contract dispute.

An official contract with Coach Ford has not been signed but the decision is not surprising. The move allows Jeremy to remain in Waco at the Baylor track and train in the system that has made him successful.

Coach Ford was a standout 400 meter runner at Baylor and has been an excellent track coach at the university for eight years. Ford is prepared to coach the planet’s fastest 400 meter runner.

Sure, this is a distraction today. It is likely that very little will change in the long run. Jeremy has a talented management team to steer his career that includes agent, Michael Johnson, and manager, Deon Minor, who was a two-time indoor NCAA 400-meter champion at Baylor.

Next week Wariner is headed to Beijing on Olympic publicity work, and then he is back to the Baylor track to work on winning Olympic gold and breaking the world record.

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Wariner & Hart Splitsville

Jeremy Wariner clocks a time of 43.35 seconds to win 2004 Olympic Games

In a sport not known for break ups over money, Jeremy Wariner and long-time Coach Clyde Hart are no longer working together. The end of the relationship comes as the two parties are unable to settle on contract terms only seven months before the Olympics.

Labor disputes about compensation are commonplace in other sports, but these kinds of disputes are rarely heard about in track & field. While specifics were not released, Coach Hart reportedly was offered a less lucrative contract than in years past.

A coaching change may be a blow to some runners but Prerace Jitters believes that Jeremy’s passion to run and access to coaching guidance will probably not alter his Olympic year performance and overall career.

Meanwhile, Coach Hart undoubtly will have his hands full preparing Sanya Richards for her highly anticipated solo run at 400 meter gold in Beijing.

Disputes like this show the world how much money is at stake at the most elite levels of track & field. In this case, however, Prerace Jitters thinks that all involved parties will land on their feet.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Prerace Jitter’s Last Lap

Bernard Legat wins the men's 1,500 meters at Norwich Union International meet

1/27/08 - News & Views on the Fast Life!

Saturday’s Norwich Union International in Glasglow.
World champion Bernard Legat's commanding win over Kenya’s Shadrack Korir in 1,500 meters MSNBC

Russian Winter Meet in Moscow
World indoor high jump champion, Yelena Slesarenko, produces season’s first jump over 6 feet,6.8 inches. IAAF

New Year, New Coach for Kerron Clement
In a stunning move, World Champion 400 meter hurdler, Kerron Clement, to work with coaching legend, Bob Kersee runblogrun

Presidential Candidate Enters Boston Marathon
It’s official. The former Arkansas governor will join Team Hoyt, a local charity which strives to integrate the physically challenged individuals into everyday life. Huckabee, 51, shed 110 pounds after being diagnosed with Diabetes in 2003 while governer. He has run four marathons. youtube

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

Friday, January 25, 2008

The Reebok Boston Indoor Preview

Tirunesh Dibaba sits next to her World record figures in Boston last year

The Reebook Boston Indoor meet is the second meet on USA Track & Field’s Visa Championships Series and arguably one of the best indoor meets.

The Reebook Boston Indoor meet is legendary for stellar distance races, in part because of the array of talent the meet attracts, and also because of the 200 meter Mondo indoor track at the Reggie Lewis Center.

Bitter Ethopian rivals Tirunesh Dibaba and Meseret Defar, two of the world’s best will take the track in Boston – unfortunately, not in the same race. Defar is slated to run the Two Mile, in which she is currently the world record holder. Dibaba, the 5,000 meter indoor record holder, is stepping down to run 3,000 meters.

Up and coming sprint star, Shalonda Solomon, the 2006 NCAA Champion at 200 meters is debuting her first professional indoor meet.

In the field events, Reese Hoffa and Adam Nelson are competing in the men’s shot put. Jenn Stuczynski, the new pole vault queen, is competing in the Nutrilite Women’s Pole Vault.

The men’s 800 meters is certain to be a fireworks show. The U.S. national champion Khadevis Robinson and #2 nationally ranked 800 meter runner, Nick Symmonds, will go head to head on Saturday.

The men’s 3,000 meters looks to be hotter than fish grease. The line up includes defending champion Craig Mott of Australia, New Zealand’s Nick Willis, Ethiopia’s Tariku Bekele and American phenom Galen Rupp, who has not run against these elite athletes. This race is certain to have implications for later in this Olympic year track season.

The Reebok Boston Indoor meet, the second stop on USA Track & Field’s Visa Championship Series, can be seen Sunday on ESPN 2 at 3:00 p.m. – 5:00 p.m. EST. Check your local listings.

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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Olympic Hopeful Inspires Grammy Nominated Song

Olympic hopeful Delilah DiCrescenzo has been made popular by a song that has become a part of pop culture. The song, Hey There Delilah, was inspired by DiCrescenzo, a Columbia University graduate and assistant track coach at Pennsylvania’s Bryn Mawr College.

Delilah is a nationally ranked 3,000 meter steeplechase runner training for the 2008 Olympic trials. In 2006, she placed 3rd at outdoor championships in the event, earning an alternate spot on Team USA for the World Championships.

Despite the lyrics, White T’s singer, Tom Higgenson, and Delilah have not previously dated, however the couple have a date to attend the Grammy’s next month in Los Angeles. Higgenson was inspired to write a song about Delilah soon after they were introduced by a mutual friend. The 2005 NCAA All-American had the following to say about her new found fame.

“What I really hope through all of this is that it spotlights track and field, and it gives the sport a face, which is really important to us athletes in an Olympic year,” the muse of the two-time Grammy nominated song told TODAY co-hosts Meredith Vieira and Matt Lauer on Wednesday.

The song, written five years ago, struck a chord with fans and became a summer smash. It topped the charts in late July and is still enjoying heavy air play. The song also turned Delilah DiCrescenzo into a nation wide star.

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

New Track & Field Commercials

Prerace Jitters is excited to bring you the latest -- a new television commercial featuring American pole vaulter, Jenn Stuczynski.

According to Prerace Jitters’ sources, The Nutrilite Concentrated Fruits & Vegetables ad will air on ESPN 2 during the coverage of the Reebok Boston Indoor Games.

The Reebok Boston Indoor meet airs Saturday, January 26th on ESPN 2 at 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EST. Check your local listings.

Click here to check it out!

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

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Carmelita Jeter Off To Quick Start

U.S. Sprinter Carmelita Jeter

This year's inaugural USA Track & Field's 2008 Visa Championship Series meet brought out runners that typically do not compete indoors, such as Allen Johnson. This was the first team-scored meet in series history. Athletes from 12 nations created a global team, which took on a team of American athletes. Both squads included former Olympians.

The meet, held at Fresno State's Save Mart Center in California, is the brainchild of Fresno State track coach Bob Fraley and is held in honor of the Martin Luther King, Jr. holiday. It is the second running of the meet, which last year was held on the wooden track used at the L.A. Invitational. The meet was cancelled for 2007.

The meet did have its’ share of highlights.

Carmelita Jeter, a preseason selection of Prerace Jitters “6 Runners You Oughta Know By Season’s End,”
narrowly edged out hometown favorite and 2005 Visa Indoor champion Angela Daigle-Bowen in the women's 55m dash, crossing the line in 6.84 to Daigle-Bowen's 6.85. A win is a win, no matter how slim the margin.

One false start and one call back was not enough to throw off the game of hurdler, Allen Johnson. The permanent fixture on the track scene easily won the 55 meter hurdles in 7.21 over 2001 NCAA Indoor Champion Aubrey Herring who finished in 7.27.

Two lap U.S. outdoor champ, Khadevis Robinson, proved he is in top shape to start the season and took the lead with one and one half laps to go and never looked back, winning the 600 yards, in 1: 09.97. Jamaican Olympian, Michael Blackwood narrowly edged out Bernard Jackson for second place running 1:10.58 and 1:10.61 respectively.

The world's top shot putter, Reese Hoffa, put on a show heaving 21.06 meters or 69 feet, 1.25 inches to defeat Dan Taylor's second place throw of 19.99 meters or 65 feet, 7 inches.

Team USA ran men's and women's 4x400 meter relay, winning both events.

Visa Athlete of the Week went to veteran high jumper Amy Acuff. The three-time Olympian jumped 1.95 meters or 6 feet, 4.75 inches after three near misses at the Indoor American record.

"I wanted to put the bar up for Fred Arnold, and for this track to have a record," Acuff said of the longtime track and field patron who donated $1 million for the Fresno track. "It's a really world-class facility. My goal for the season is to be steady and consistent and not jump myself to death."

The Reebok Boston Indoor meet is the next stop on Visa Championship Series and can be seen on ESPN 2 at 10:00 a.m. – 12:00 p.m. EST. Check your local listing.

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

Wesly Ngetich - RIP

Wesly Ngetich

Wesley Ngetich is dead. He was killed with an arrow during fighting in his home region of Trans Mara in western Kenya, a region of the country embroiled in the post-election violence plaguing this country.

The 31-year-old champion marathoner made his mark in races around the world, including winning Grandma’s Marathon in Duluth, Minnesota, in 2005 and 2007 – a world away from his African hometown.

Most recently, Ngetich was planning on running the PF Chang’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Arizona Marathon, but withdrew from the race with about a dozen other Kenyan runners because of the strife in his home country.

Scott Keenan, executive director of Grandma’s Marathon expressed shock upon learning of Ngetich’s death. “The city of Duluth kind of adopted him, and he kind of adopted the city of Duluth, and we were expecting him to return and defend his title.”

This story reminds us of how small the world can be and how the politics of distant nations can hit home. Ngetich’s death is a somber reminder that no matter how fast you are, sometimes the outside world catches up.

The Prerace Jitters staff sends our heart felt condolences to the family of Wesley Ngetich.

By Jay Hicks, a.k.a Track Evagelist

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Standout Runner Disqualified Over Muslim Clothing

Prep runner Juashaunna Kelly recovers from a 5K race during a cross-country meet Oct. 5, 2007, in Washington

Sports and uniforms go together like peanut butter and jelly. Juashuanna Kelly, a practicing Muslim and Washington, D.C., high school senior, has the fastest mile and two-mile times in the D.C. area.

In order to compete and still recognize her religious beliefs, Kelly’s uniform includes a unitard and hood that help her to conform to the Muslim belief that forbids women from showing any skin other than her face and hands. Over the unitard, she wears the same blue and orange t-shirt as her team mates.

The variation seems to have been just fine with everyone until this week, when she was disqualified from the Montgomery Invitational meet in Montgomery County.

The Montgomery meet is important for Kelly and other runners. This venue is the only opportunity for many of these athletes to qualify for the New Balance Collegiate Invitational in New York. The New Balance Invitational is attended by many college coaches from across the country and provides great visibility for a talented young runner looking to continue both her education and her sport. The kind of runner we should probably support, right?

Well, not so fast. After running in last year’s Montgomery Invitational – and her entire track season – in her unitard, event organizers have now decided that it is a big no-no. They say that she is out of compliance with their uniform specifications. They say that by complying with her religious beliefs, she is violating national competition rules.

It’s not like the girl visited BALCO. She’s just following her faith – a faith that may be under fire by the more paranoid Americans among us, but is one of the biggest religions in the world.

So, it was OK last year. What’s wrong with it this year?

Is it fear? Does some hard-boiled patriot want to make sure no “Muslim girl” gets his little girls’ college scholarship?

Last I checked, religious freedom is one of the founding tenets of this country. Shouldn’t this extend to allowing an observant Muslim to follow her faith while also excelling at her sport? Is this part of our country’s 9-11 hangover?

I, for one, think this is ridiculous. I think it smacks of racism and is shamefully myopic. This country was once a “melting pot”. Isn’t it our responsibility to uphold that ideal?

I also think that Kelly’s team should rally behind her. They can all rock the unitard. I bet Tina Knowles – Beyonce’s mama – can come up with something both aerodynamic AND Bedazzled!

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

Friday, January 18, 2008

Marion Jones Runs to Oprah

Marion Jones

Leave it to Oprah to bag the exclusive. First, she gets Tom Cruise jumping up and down on her couch. Now, she’s got fallen track star Marion Jones on her couch – via satellite this time. In her first interview since sentencing, Jones opened up about the pain of her lies and cheating on her family. For her part, Oprah pressed Marion on lying. Maybe not as hard as she went on author James Frey, but she had a few questions . . .

"It's been a long journey," Marion said. "The weight and the baggage of many years of knowing that. I've been blessed with a super amount of talent but I could not go on any more with this baggage, lying to the world, lying to God.”

Marion Jones’ plan for a return to good graces has just begun. She faced the steroid story head on and “told all” about her mistakes. Her charisma makes it hard to continue disliking her. Oprah’s loyal followers are sympathetic to Marion and want to reach out.

Maybe USA Track & Field should hire Marion’s publicist to improve USA Track & Field’s image problem.

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

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Atleast He Tried

The IAAF has ruled that Oscar Pistorius can not compete in the Beijing Olympics or any another able-bodied sanctioned meet but that will not stop Nike from running this South African commercial.

He won't stand down. Oscar Pistorius is fighting not only for himself but also for other disabled athletes. As we originally thought, he will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. Pistorius is a man fighting to live his dream.

Check it out!

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

Celebrity Steroid Scandal

Rapper 50 Cent

It's not only athletes. Just days after Marion Jones’s six-month prison sentencing for steroid use and fraud, celebrities have been injected into the enormous steroid scandal.

According to celebrity blogger, Perez Hilton, The Times Union of Albany is reporting that "Timbaland, Mary J Blige, 50 Cent and Wyclef have been named in a steroid investigation."

Unless we've missed something, roids don't help you rap. And if the allegations are true, they don't help you win a bogus record-selling battle with Kanye. Read more...

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

Monday, January 14, 2008

A Dream Likely Deferred

Oscar Pistorius and his "Cheetah Flex Foot" blades.

Oscar Pistorius will not be allowed by IAAF officials to compete in the Beijing Olympics.

Tensions between the South African sprinter and IAAF has been rising all last season. For months, the double-amputee has been waiting on test results on whether his prosthetic legs provide additional benefit to him. But no more.

We’re told the official word was expected Thursday and was changed on Saturday to give Pistorius and his managers time to respond. The dream isn't over, yet.

It is very likely that Pistorius will challenge the decision to a higher authority.

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

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Should Marion Jones Serve Jail Time?

Marion Jones Sentenced

After months of water-cooler speculation, Marion Jones was sentenced yesterday to six months in prison. I am torn about whether she should serve time, and here is why.

First, for the record, Marion did wrong. She lied to federal authorities about her use of performance-enhancing drugs while under oath, and about involvement in a bank fraud case with her former boyfriend. Both of these are serious charges – but are they worth sending Marion to jail? Or is there another, more fitting, punishment to be had?

Not helping matters is that Marion Jones is not a sympathetic figure. Her “I cheated, lied and sullied the sport that made me wealthy and famous” conjures up very little sympathy.

Marion’s lawyers certainly think there is a more appropriate punishment. They recently filed court documents requesting that she not serve jail time. Instead, they offer, Marion should serve probation. But their rationale falls flat – they propose that the humiliation that she has suffered is jail enough. That, publicly shamed, probation will be punishment enough.

I am certainly not trained in lying law, but that doesn’t seem like much of a legal strategy. It’s completely lame. Being embarrassed shouldn’t get you out of your punishment. If that was the case, almost no one would be sitting in our prisons. Plenty of those folks were probably embarrassed when they got caught, too.

Marion is certainly financially ruined by her actions and is admittedly embarrassed by getting caught. More than that, Marion should be embarrassed for her outrageous behavior and the damage she’s done to the sport. But I’m not sure that is enough to keep her butt out of jail.

So, do I think she should go to jail?

No freakin’ way.

Unless the federal government is going hound and charge Roger Clemens, Andrew Pettitte, Rick Ankiel and all the other athletes outed by the Mitchell Report, it seems tremendously unfair to send Marion to jail.

The Mitchell Report even suggests that past offenses should be water under the bridge and everyone should look to the future.

It’s not that Marion is worthy of special treatment. She should be treated like other out of control celebrities and professional athletes who get caught afoul of the law. At least she finally told the truth.

Marion should be chalked up as someone who may be good in certain parts of their lives, but made terrible, illegal mistakes. No one is served by sending this woman to jail – her crimes were essentially victimless and have proven to be, more than anything, crimes against herself. The chance of recidivism is pretty low – especially since she won’t be running competitively again in this lifetime.

Her penance should be to speak to young athletes about how doping can ruin your sport and life. Now that’s real talk.

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

Friday, January 11, 2008

Our Favorite Commercial

The new Nike television commercial featuring 100-meter world record holder Asafa Powell is hot! Clearly for the European market, though.

Why the heck isn't a similar ad running in the states? Soccer is growing fast here, and what a creative way to market a great sprinter.

Also -- 190 grams for the shoe. That's a light shoe.

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

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Millrose Games Tickets
Go On Sale

Laban Rotich (l) & Bernard Legat (r)

Tickets for the 101st Millrose Games are available. The Friday, February 1 meet at Madison Square Garden is part of USA Track & Field's Visa Championship Series.

Millrose Games is one of the world’s longest oldest continuously run sport events. The meet, which was born in 1908 as a competition between employees of the John Wanamaker department store has grown into the highlight of the world's indoor season.

Its heart and soul for 81 years has been the Wanamaker Mile. The race is held at 10:00 p.m. every year and features some of the world’s best milers.

U.S. miler, Bernard Legat, who last summer became the first man in history to capture gold medals at both 1500 and 5000 meters in the World Championships, will return to defend his Wanamaker Mile title at the 101st Millrose Games, organizers announced.

Last year’s meet featured Bernard Legat, Gail Devers, Reese Hoffa, and 2004 Olympic Gold medalist Shawn Crawford.

Of course, USA Track & Field would love for you to pay with your Visa... Read more

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

Missing American Sprinter?

Shawn Crawford, middle, beat teammates Bernard Williams, right, and Justin Gatlin in the 200-meter finals at 2004 Olympic Games.

Has anyone seen the 2004 Olympic gold medalist in 200 meters? Shawn Crawford is reportedly missing from European Golden League meets and the top five rankings.

If anyone finds the once great sprinter, there is a cash reward if he’s running under 20 seconds. Meet directors will pay travel costs and appearance fees.

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

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

It’s Official: Masback Leaving USA Track & Field

Former Track & Field CEO Craig Masback

After 10 years at the helm, Craig Masback has resigned as Chief Executive Officer of USA Track & Field. He leaves his post to become Director of Business Affairs for Nike's Global Sports Marketing Division. This move is not particularly surprising to people who have been watching – there reportedly has been friction between Masback and his board of directors.

The timing of Masback’s departure is interesting. January marks the beginning of the USA Track & Field indoor track season, and it is not clear who will lead the organization past the Marion Jones doping scandal.

Masback, a former world-class miler, leaves the organization in better shape that he found it. Craig increased revenues, incorporated a no-tolerance drug policy, attracted more corporate sponsorships and boosted attendance.

With all that he did achieve for the sport, Masback’s biggest downfall may have been failing to address the doping scandal squarely. Fans and critics wanted to hear directly from him, and it seemed awkward that the man responsible for the sport’s no-tolerance policy stood silent as one of the sport’s most recognizable names admitted to using performance-enhancing drugs.

The specter of the doping scandal will always hang over the Masback era for U.S. Track & Field. But, it’s important when considering his legacy to remember that he set a sound financial stage and built an internal infrastructure that will help the sport achieve a wider audience and greater prominence on the world’s athletic stage – and for that we thank him.

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

6 Track Runners You Oughta Know By Season’s End

Bahamian Donald Thomas on the way to winning World Championship gold in the high jump

Every season, thousands of enthusiastic fans watch track meets, guessing which elite runners will separate themselves from the pack.

The difficulty for fans is separating pretenders from contenders. New talent is always coming out of the college ranks, and some existing professional runners may have break-out seasons.

Prerace Jitters has the list of the hottest new and upcoming track runners that will pop their collars in this year’s season. Check out these unsung runners now, or run the risk of being left in the dust when they blow up.

  1. Natasha Hastings - 400 M
  2. Some runners are born great, others just have to work harder. Hastings, a University of South Carolina alum, proved by winning indoor and outdoor NCAA Champions and placing second at U.S. Nationals that she is an elite quarter-miler. The only question is whether Natasha is prepared to take on the challenge of facing 400-meter sensation Sanya Richards. We’ll find out this season if she’s a natural – or a talented hard worker.

  3. Donald Thomas - High jumper
  4. Donald “No Spikes” Thomas has accomplished more in under two years since picking up high jumping than other folks dream of doing in an entire career. This Bahamian native, who trains at Auburn by way of Lindenwood College, near St. Louis, has come a long way in a short period of time. This 2007 World Champion cleared 7 feet-8 ½ inches during a fairy tale season that left us imagining what he might do when he gets out of pole vault shoes and starts jumping in high jump shoes with spikes in the heel.

  5. Carmelita Jeter - 100 M
  6. Jeter’s debut on the international circuit made two things clear: First, she has played it cool and fought through a chronic problem with her right hamstring. Next, female sprinters have been put on notice. As good as she ran last season, it is now clear that a sub-11-second race is around the corner. Her 2007 bronze medal at Worlds may be the prelude to much greater things.

  7. Jaysuma Saidy Ndure - 200 M
  8. Who says Norway has no chance to medal in Beijing? Well, whoever it is, they obviously have never heard of Jaysuma Saidy Ndure. The Gambian-turned-Norwegian national may keep the 200-meters in Beijing from being a U.S. vs. Jamaica duel.

    Jaysuma smashed the Norwegian 200-meter record running a blistering 19.89 seconds in Stuttgart to win the World Athletics Final. He did not get cleared to run for Norway until after the 2007 World Championships in Osaka. With that matter now settled, he may be the sprint medalist in Beijing whom you’ve never heard of . . . until now.

  9. Asbel Kiprop - 1,500 M
  10. Only 18, Kiprop is heir apparent to the Kenyan distance dynasty. The 1,500-meter specialist has been described as “brilliant” and “essential” by those in the know. He won the World Junior Cross Country title, the All-Africa Games 1,500 meter crown and took 4th at the 2007 World Championships, where he beat American Alan Webb. Now Kiprop has become a “senior” athlete and is ready to take over the 800 and 1,500 meters in Beijing.

  11. Craig Mottram - 5,000 M
  12. Craig Mottram is not a new face to die-hard track fans, but he is relatively unknown to the casual fan. Mottram is looking to change that. At the 2005 Helsinki World Championships, he became the first non-African to medal in the 5,000 meters since 1987. Last year, he posted some blistering times and while earning the respect of usually territorial Kenyan and Ethiopian runners, who are known to team run to cut an impudent challenger down. Earning this new found respect is a remarkable feat. But a hamstring injury slowed him to place 13th in the 5,000 meters at the 2007 World Championships in Osaka.

    The big stage of the Olympic Games has been known to swallow athletes whole. Mottram has shown flashes of brilliance since 2004, but questions remain about whether he can have a brilliant season when it matters most.

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

Monday, January 7, 2008

Meseret Defar to Compete at Reebok Boston Indoor Games

Meseret Defar (l) & Shalene Flanagan (r)

Red Sox fans are legendary for their fervor. What most people don’t know is that Boston track fans can be every bit as rabid about their passion, braving brutal weather to cheer on their favorite runners throughout two major, prestigious running events: the Boston Marathon and the Reebok Boston Indoor Games.

On January 26, the Reebok Boston Indoor Games will be a track meet to behold. Last year’s event produced a women’s world record in the 5k, Alan Webb’s fastest indoor mile race and a complete show by distance runner Craig Mottram.

Casual fans may not know that since the Reebok Boston Indoor Games began in 1996 the indoor track meet has attracted elite runners from around the globe to compete.

This year is no different, and a star-studded line up is set to compete. The Reebok Boston Indoor Games is the second stop on the Visa Championship Series, which is the indoor professional track circuit hosted by USA Track & Field.

Among the stars competing are Meseret Defar, the reigning Olympic gold medalist and world champion at 5,000 meters, who was named World Athlete of the Year in the sport.

Defending champion Craig Mottram of Australia, New Zealand's Nick Willis, Ethiopia's Tariku Bekele and American phenom Galen Rupp lead a top international field for the men's 3,000-meter run at the 2008 Reebok Boston Indoor Games on January 26, organizers announced Thursday.

Tickets for the 13th annual Reebok Boston Indoor Games are on sale now at the event website,, or by calling 1-877-TIX-TRAC.

Of course, USA Track & Field would love for you to pay with your Visa.

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

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Should Charles have Opted for the NFL?

Texas running back Jamaal Charles

Jamaal Charles is leaving the University of Texas early for greener pastures of the NFL. He has received word that his stock is trading “good” among NFL scouts and wants to get paid for gridiron action.

The junior running back and track star racked up 1,619 yards and 18 touchdowns this season. Charles joined Ricky Williams, Cedric Benson and Earl Campbell as the only Longhorns to rush for over 1,500 yards in a single season.

Charles was just as fast on the track as on the gridiron. The four-time All-American blazed 10.23 seconds in the 100 meters and placed fifth in the NCAA Championships. Jamaal won the Texas 5A state championships in the 110m hurdles and 300m hurdles as a senior in high school.

This year’s draft is loaded with running back talent. Darren McFadden of Arkansas, and Steve Slaton of West Virginia have also declared for the NFL.

Darren McFadden is a lock for one of the top couple picks, but the rest of the group - though accomplished - probably won't test out as well as Jamaal.

On-field collegiate accomplishments help you so much with NFL scouts, however. Professional football scouting is mostly a matter of subjective observation combined with raw numbers testing. How high can you jump? How fast can you run 10, 40, 100 yards? Can you deadlift a Toyota Tercel?

As well as Charles played this season, there's a real chance that his stock is at its all-time high. Whether to return or not is primarily a business decision. When you factor in the risk of injury, leaving now is easily justifiable, if not flat out the right thing to do.

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

Justin Gatlin Can’t Outrun Ban

Sprinter Justin Gatlin

Earlier this week, Justin Gatlin lost his bid to return to the sport, which means he’s likely lost his career in track and field entirely.

Can we all say it out loud: “Who cares?” Justin Gatlin’s sentence was reduced to four years from eight years for testing positive in April 22, 2006. That seems like about as much as he should try to expect from a sport that he willfully disgraced.

The 25-year-old sprinter will not be able to defend his 100-meter title gold at the Beijing Olympics. Too bad, so sad. He maybe should’ve thought twice before greedily using performance-enhancing drugs for short-term gain. Oh wait – he did think twice – it was his SECOND infraction! He’d been banned from international competition for two years in 2001 for testing positive for a stimulant in his ADD meds at his first major U.S. meet.

You can’t blame U.S. arbitrators for taking a hard line in their decision. They explained that they could not go easy on Gatlin because this was his second drug offense.

Gatlin’s rather bizarre legal defense was that he was the victim of sabotage when a massage therapist rubbed testosterone cream on his leg in revenge for not getting a bonus in 2005. Ummm, right.

A second offense could have meant a lifetime ban. Justin was given a reduced sentence for secretly-tape recording his former coach, Trevor Graham, to aid a federal steroid investigation.

His coach, Trevor Graham, is at the center of the BALCO steroid storm as several of the athletes he’s been associated with have been involved in recent doping scandals. Most notable of these is Marion Jones, who confessed to using drugs before pleading guilty in October to lying to federal investigators.

The world is to believe that this is all some terrible mistake. Gatlin’s positive test was not his fault. His masseuse was pissed off and spiked the massage oil. He was coached by the architect of track doping, but he wasn’t involved. This sounds very similar to the Marion Jones defense, except she finally stopped running from the truth and admitted her guilt.

The story does not add up. Justin failed to meet his burden of proof—maybe he should start telling the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth.

Remember today's lesson– always tip your masseuse generously!

By Jay Hicks, aka Track Evangelist

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Why Track & Field Must Upgrade

Track and field is currently an old Magnavox bubble television with rabbit ears. It’s time for a track revolution that involves throwing out that old model and upgrading to a high definition 50” plasma screen. Are you with me?

Runners sign a confidentiality agreement that precludes them from disclosing shoe contracts and appearance fees. This outdated policy needs to be dumped immediately. This old school mentality goes against the grain of American culture.

Why? It’s Un-American. Talking about celebrities and athletes income is a national past time. Americans escape by dreaming of A-Rod’s $27 million a year salary.

All major sports – even Major League Soccer – release athletes’ and coaches’ salaries. Bill Gates’ compensation is readily available, and he’s the wealthiest guy in the universe.

Do you think millions would tune into Survivor if the prize was $50,000 instead of $1,000,000? Like it or not – big money attracts attention.

The casual fan thinks that track runners are earning peanuts, and this perception diminishes understanding and interest in the sport.

There is money in the sport, but fans would never know because the information is not released to the public. In reality, elite sprinters and distance runners are well compensated and have base salaries between $200,000 and $600,000 with hefty incentives for high-place finishes and fast times. Top salaries are in excess of $1 to $2 million. Not bad for four left turns, huh?

Sure, there are plenty of athletes scraping by on low paying shoe contracts, but the top runners are certainly not struggling to pay their bills.

Performances are improving, but track lags behind in popularity in comparison to the NBA, NFL, and Major League Baseball. What has to be concerning to track officials is that traditionally smaller sports such as Extreme Sports, Pro Bass Fishing and Professional Bull Riding have sprinted past track and field in popularity.

The sport needs leadership to re-organize in the U.S. by creating a marketable product that engages and entertains the casual fan. Runners should get increased sponsor attention to replace appearance fees in order to provide guaranteed income. More people will tune-in if big prize money is on the line.

Out with the old and in with the new. Change is never easy. That’s why a track evolution is needed to give fans the product we rightfully deserve. Are you with me?

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