Sunday, September 30, 2007

Goucher sets American half-marathon best...


On the roads…American half-marathon best for Kara Goucher

It was meant to be a comeback show for Paula Radcliffe but Kara Goucher from Portland, Oregon gatecrashed the party on Tyneside this morning as the American won the Great North Run half marathon in north east England in 66:57.

Goucher produced the fastest half marathon in the world this year and the fastest ever by an American, her time quicker than Deena Kastor’s 67:34 US record from Berlin last year.

The World Championships 10,000m bronze medalist had never run a half marathon before, but when she began to pull away from Radcliffe in the seventh mile she literally never looked back.

Goucher not only ran the fastest ever half marathon by an American, but her times at 15km (47:36), 10 miles (50:59) and 20km (63:33) were also quicker than any US athlete has run before.

Goucher was as amazed as anyone. “The furthest I’ve ever raced before was 10k,” she said. “My coach [Alberto Salazar] told me to run 5:10s and to stay with the leaders as long it wasn’t under 5:05s.

“I didn’t even know what the US record was – it’s just a shame this won’t count,” she added, referring to the downhill nature of the course which debars it for official records. “I really didn’t know how fast I was running.

Geb breaks marathon world record...

Meanwhile in Berlin, Haile Gebrselassie finally fulfilled one of his biggest dreams: The 34 year-old Ethiopian broke the World record at the real,- Berlin-Marathon, clocking 2:04:26.

Running in near ideal conditions, Gebrselassie knocked 29 seconds from the previous record, 2:04:55, set by Kenyan Paul Tergat over the same course in 2003.

“It was something very special today, the spectators gave me more support than last year,” Gebrselassie said. “I have to say thank you Germany! Today the weather was perfect.”

Running an even pace Gebrselassie was guided by a group of pacemakers until 30 k. He left behind his other rivals soon after the start and then passed half way in 1:02:29 and always on course for the record. After the last two pacemakers had dropped out at 30 k Gebrselassie increased the pace, clocking his fastest kilometer split of 2:50 at 35 k.

Kenyan Abel Kirui took second with 2:06:51 and his felllow countryman Salim Kipsang was third in 2:07:29.

Busy weekend for Cougars & Eagles at Griak; Dawgs at Dellinger...


Washington State men's cross country team was led to a seventh place finish by seniors Andrew Jones and Alex Grant at the Roy Griak Invitational in Minneapolis, Minnesota Saturday. Jones finished 13th and Grant crossed the line just a few spots back in 16th.

Jones finished the 8,000m course in 24:52 and Grant clocked in a second later at 24:53 at the Les Bolstad Golf Course.

WSU junior Drew Polley finished 34th (25.23) and was the third Cougar to complete the course. Also scoring for the Cougars was senior Chris Williams placing 54th (25:54) followed by sophomore Dominic Smargiassi placing 68th (25:51), sophomore Dan Geib finishing 75th (26:00) and freshman David Hickerson in 98th (26:21) place. Senior Chris Concha (105. 26:27), sophomore Sam Ahlbeck (127. 26:45), and Woody Favinger (169. 27:40) did not count toward the team score.

For Eastern Washington, junior Paul Limpf led the team with a 30th-place finish and a time of 25:12 in the 8,000-meter run. Rounding off for the men were freshman Alex Smyth (65th, 25:51), sophomore Tyler Justus (120th, 27:00), freshman Bowe Ebding (125th, 27:10), freshman Graham Vaux (132nd, 27:27) and senior Andrew Marks (137th, 27:46).

No. 19 Northern Arizona edged out Arizona State 84-88 in the 23-team competition with runners finishing first and second in the race. No. 29 Iowa State finished third with 99 points. WSU's 185 points placed the Cougars ahead of No. 23 Michigan State's 255 points. The Eagles finished 16th with 472 points.

Lopez Lomong of Northern Arizona was the individual men's winner in 24:05.

In the women's race, Cougar sophomore Sara Trané finished 22nd (22:39) and junior Meghan Leonard finished 32nd (22:13) helping the Cougars to a eighth-place finish in the 26-team competition with 213 points. Seniors Collier Lawrence (22:21) and Isley Gonzalez (22:28) placed 37th and 41st respectively. Rounding out the WSU scorers were sophomores Lisa Egami, 93rd (23:26), and Chelsea VanDeBrake, 102nd (23:29), joined by freshmen Ashlee Wall, 104th (23:30), and Amanda Andrews, 125th (23:53).

Eastern Washington's Eagles finished fifteenth in the women's team competition with 423 points.

Junior Mattie Bridgmon led the Eagles with a time of 22:24 to finish 38th. Other runners included senior Samantha Modderman (48th, 22:36), senior Kiri Garruto (93rd, 23:33), senior Amber Nickelson (121st, 24:08) and junior Monica Prunty (123rd, 24:09).

Virginia's Emily Harrison was the individual winner in 20:52 for the 6k course.

Number 8 Minnesota claimed the team title with 97 points. No. 6 Arizona State finished just behind with 100 points to take second place, and No. 9 Michigan State came in third with 109 points.

Dellinger recap...

The 17th-ranked Husky women (93 points) took third in the 15-team field behind host-school and 24th-ranked Oregon (65), and fourth-ranked Arkansas (90). Three ranked teams trailed the Huskies in the next three spots: No. 21 Colorado State in fourth, 18th-ranked BYU in fifth, and 15th-ranked Georgia took sixth place. The Huskies also distanced themselves from Pac-10 rivals UCLA, who finished 11th, and Oregon State, which placed 13th.

UW sophomore Katie Follett turned in the performance of her career with a second-place finish in a personal best time of 20:17 over the 6,000m course.

Early race leader Anita Campbell, who surged out to a 40-meter lead in the early stages before being caught at the two-mile mark, followed Follett. Campbell finished sixth in 20:32.

Turning in another outstanding run was freshman Marie Lawrence, who finished 13th in 20:48. Lawrence debuted at the Sundodger Invitational two weeks ago and has gone under 21-minutes in both of her outings thus far.

Rounding out the top-seven for the Huskies were Amanda Miller in 22nd place (21:03), Trisha Rasmussen at No. 50 (21:28), Lauren Saylor at No. 53 (21:29), and Danielle Schuster in 63rd place (21:37).

The Husky men, ranked 30th, placed seventh out of 15 teams, upsetting 22nd-ranked Cal Poly in the process. Every team that finished ahead of the Husky men was ranked in the top-21 of the current coaches' poll. Third-ranked Oregon took out top-ranked Wisconsin for the title, 54 points to 73. The Huskies finished with 176 points.

Leading the Husky men was sophomore Kelly Spady as he placed 21st in a time of 23:57. Junior Jon Harding followed up his record win at the Sundodger with another strong showing, placing 27th in 24:01. Senior Carl Moe ran third for the Dawgs, placing 33rd (24:07) while freshman Max O'Donoghue-McDonald took 44th (24:20). Riley Booker (51st), Brian Govier (66th), and Adam Shimer (74th) rounded out UW's top-seven scorers.

Winning the men's 8,000m race was Matt Withrow of Wisconsin in 23:20. First place in the women's run went to Oregon's Nicole Blood in 20:04.

The competition gets tougher for both the Cougars and Huskies. The Pre-National meet in Terre Haute, Ind. on Oct. 13 is held at the site of the NCAA Championships and features a loaded field of teams trying to maneuver for possible at-large spots. Eastern Washington will stay home and host their own invitational on the 13th.

The sports information offices of Eastern Washington University, Washington State University, the University of Washington, and the media services department of the IAAF contributed to this report.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Brad Walker named USATF Athlete of the Week...

INDIANAPOLIS - Brad Walker (left, /photo by Paul Merca) has been named USA Track & Field's Athlete of the Week after winning the men's pole vault at the 2007 World Athletics Final in Stuttgart, Germany on September 23rd.

The reigning World Indoor and Outdoor champion, Walker won the men's pole vault with his clearance of 5.91 meters/19 feet 5.75 inches, topping the rest of the field by 5 cm. Walker, who owns the top two clearances in the world so far this year, equalled the #3 performance with his winning effort at Stuttgart.

Now in its sixth year, USATF's Athlete of the Week program is designed to recognize outstanding performers at all levels of the sport. USATF names a new honoree each week and features the athlete on the USATF website. Selections are based on top performances and results from the previous week.

Release courtesy Vicky Oddi, USATF Communications.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Dawgs at Dellinger; Wazzu at Griak Saturday...


The University of Washington cross country teams, led by Canadian Anita Campbell (left, /photo by Paul Merca) head south to Oregon to compete in the high-powered Bill Dellinger Invitational in Springfield on Saturday, while other members of the Husky harrier squad will run in the Willamette Invitational up the road in Salem.

Besides the Huskies (12th) and the host Ducks (fifth), the Dellinger’s 15-team men’s field features five other teams that competed in the 2006 NCAA Cross Country Championships – Wisconsin (second), Cal Poly (13th), Portland (18th), UCLA (23rd) and Alabama (31st) – and will be joined by Colorado State, Duke, Georgia, Marquette, New Mexico, Ohio State, Utah State and UTEP.

In the just-released USTFCCCA college coaches polls, Wisconsin is ranked #1, with Oregon #3, UTEP #6, Portland #11, Alabama #17, UCLA #21, Cal Poly #22, and the Huskies staying at #30.

Saturday’s 15-team women’s race field features five top-30 NCAA team finishers from 2006, including No. 4 Arkansas, last year’s meet champion that later finished fifth in the NCAA Championships. Additional returning 2006 NCAA Championships women’s team qualifiers include Georgia (15th), BYU (22nd), Colorado State (24th) and Wake Forest (27th).

In the recently released USTFCCCA poll, the No. 24 ranked Ducks are one of six top-30 ranked women's teams that will be on-hand Saturday. The high-caliber field features No. 4 Arkansas, No. 15 Georgia, No. 17 Washington, No. 18 BYU, and No. 21 Colorado State, Other teams slated to compete include Marquette, Montana, New Mexico, Oregon State, Portland, UCLA, Utah State, UTEP and Wake Forest.

While the majority of the Husky team will run in Springfield, another group of UW runners will run in the Willamette Invitational, competing against other Northwest colleges, including Central Washington, Pacific Lutheran, Puget Sound, Seattle University, Spokane CC, Everett CC, Gonzaga, and a partial team from Washington State.

The majority of the Cougar cross country team will head east to Minneapolis to run in the Roy Griak Invitational, one of the country’s top invitational meets.

NOTE: The sports information offices of the University of Oregon, University of Washington, and Washington State University contributed to this report.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Great article on Flocasts.org on the "Black Cactus"...


If you've been around the American distance running scene, you can't help but walk away with a smile whenever you are around Abdi Abdirahman.

In contrast to the quiet, introverted, almost too-serious demeanor that most elite distance runners present themselves as, he's a refreshing face in American distance running.

Abdi's (left, /photo by Paul Merca) a serious contender for one of the three spots on the US Olympic marathon team. The Olympic marathon trials are November 3rd in New York.

For a great interview with Abdi, aka "Black Cactus" at flocasts.org (I'm now a contributor to flocasts, so I've gotta promote it), check it out here...

BTW, if you go through Flocasts hard enough, you'll find a video interview with Abdi before the men's 1500 finals in Osaka (he's an occasional training partner of Bernard Lagat), and a clip of him running the American flag down to Bernard after his victory in the 1500!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Brad Walker's decision to pass pays off at WAF...


STUTTGART, Germany--In a scenario similar to what he faced three weeks ago in Osaka, reigning world pole vault champion Brad Walker from Mountlake Terrace's gamble to pass a lower height paid off, as he cleared 19-4 3/4 (5.91m) and departed Gottlieb Daimler Stadion with the victory in the IAAF World Athletics Final, along with the $30,000 first prize money.

Walker was mired in fourth place after early misses at 18-4 1/2 (5.60), and 18-10 3/4 (5.76). After Germany's Bjorn Otto cleared 19-2 3/4 to take the lead (5.86), and Walker followed with a miss at that height, the former Washington Husky elected to pass and move on to 19-4-3/4, as a make at 19-2 3/4 would do no good in the standings.

Australia's Steven Hooker and Germany's Danny Ecker were in the same predicament, and followed Walker in passing their two attempts remaining at 19-2 3/4.

Walker was the only man to clear 19-4 3/4 on his second attempt, forcing Otto to pass to 19-6 1/2 (5.96) in order to retake the lead.

Otto failed in his one attempt at 19-6 1/2, giving Walker the win. Walker took a shot at 20-2 1/2 (6.16), the first such attempt at Sergey Bubka of Ukraine's 1994 outdoor world record mark of 20-1 3/4 (6.14) in competition since Tim Mack attempted the same height at the 2004 WAF in Monaco.

Otto took second at 19-2 3/4 (5.86), with Hooker third, and Ecker fourth, with both clearing 19-0 3/4 (5.81).

Walker made two good attempts but couldn't get his grip right on the third, jogging through the pit and then thanking the crowd for their support.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Rome 6th, Waltz 8th in Stuttgart...


STUTTGART, Germany--Former Washington prep standout Jarred Rome from Marysville-Pilchuck HS finished sixth, while training partner and Washington State alum Ian Waltz (left, /photo by Paul Merca) placed eighth in today's discus competition at the IAAF World Athletics Final, held at the Gottlieb Daimler Stadion.

In an event won by recent world champion Gerd Kanter of Estonia with a throw of 218-4 (66.54), Rome spun the disc 203-7 (62.05), while Waltz had a toss of 200-7 (61.14).

For their efforts, Rome earned $4000, while Waltz walked away with $2000.

Brad Walker competes in the men's pole vault tomorrow.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Brad will vault on Sunday; Bernard apparently shuts it down...


Pole vaulter Brad Walker is one of eight men on the start list for Sunday's pole vault competition at the IAAF World Athletics Final, which starts Saturday in Stuttgart, Germany.

You can watch both days of the meet online at wcsn.com.

Meanwhile, Bernard Lagat has called it a season, and has opted not to run in what essentially is a home meet for him, as he's based in nearby Turbingen.

Although admittedly, this is the end of the season and athletes are dragging, there's $3 million in prize money to be had.

For a look back at my coverage of this meet last year, check it out here.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

A Brad Walker article from the last place you'd expect...

Brad Walker revels in the fruits of victory after winning the world pole vault title in Osaka earlier this month. /photo by Paul Merca

Here's another article on pole vaulter Brad Walker. It comes from a very surprising source, given that they've rarely given Olympic-sport athletes any coverage, but there's an article on hunting for cougars every so often!

Check it out at the Seattle Weekly site, or go directly here...

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

Sundodger Invitational on Flotrack...

Jessica Pixler of Seattle Pacific and cross-town rival Mel Lawrence of the University of Washington race during the Sundodger Invitational in Seattle on September 15th. /photo by Paul Merca

You can watch highlights and interviews from last Saturday's Sundodger Invitational cross country meet at Lincoln Park by going here...

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Lagat & Walker both defeated in Berlin...

Bernard Lagat spoke to the press two days after his victory in the 1500 in Osaka, Japan. /photo by Paul Merca

BERLIN, Germany--Former Washington State University star Bernard Lagat finished second in the 1500 meter run at the Berlin ISTAF Golden League meeting today, running 3:34.79 behind winner Daniel Kipchirchir Komen of Kenya's 3:34.09 .

Komen, who was one of the pre-meet favorites to win the global title that Lagat claimed in Osaka, didn't make the finals of the world championships.

Former Auburn High School standout Chris Lukezic didn't finish the 1500 race.

Pole vaulter Brad Walker from Mountlake Terrace another world champion with Northwest ties, finished third in his event, clearing 19-0 3/4. Danny Ecker of Germany, third in Osaka, emerged with the victory, jumping 19-2 3/4 while countryman Bjorn Otto took second at 19-0 3/4.

Portland's Kara Goucher set a huge personal best in the 5000m, running 14:55.02 in finishing third behind Vivian Cheruiyot of Kenya's 14:50.78, and Meselech Melkamu of Ethiopia's 14:53.89.

Both Walker and Lagat are slated to compete next at the IAAF World Athletics Final in Stuttgart on Saturday and Sunday.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

Jon Harding sets course record in winning Sundodger Invitational...

Jon Harding of the University of Washington cruises to victory in the Sundodger Invitational cross country meet at Seattle's Lincoln Park. /photo by Paul Merca

SEATTLE--University of Washington junior Jon Harding of Issaquah emerged victorious in the Sundodger Invitational cross country meet Saturday at Seattle’s Lincoln Park, crushing the course record for the eight-kilometer (4.97 miles) distance by six seconds.

After running with his teammates through most of the first loop of the four-lap course, Harding took command midway through the race, and cruised to victory, running 23:36, beating the meet and course record of 23:42 set by Paul Kezes of Western Washington University in 2002.

Paul Limpf (23:46) of Eastern Washington University finished second, while Andrew Jones of Washington State (24:02) placed third.

The host University of Washington Huskies placed three other runners in the top ten, including sophomore Kelly Spady (5th, 24:14), freshman Max O’Donoghue-McDonald (6th, 24:15), and senior Carl Moe (8th, 24:20).

In the team scoring, the Huskies took home the team title, scoring 31 points over Washington State’s 52, with UC-Davis finishing third with 116 points.

While Husky coach Greg Metcalf admitted in an interview on gohuskies.com that the rankings are a bit insignificant early in the season, the victory by the Huskies (ranked 8th in the West pre-season polls) over their cross-state rivals may possibly vault them over the Cougars (ranked 6th in the West pre-season polls) when the next US Track and Field/Cross Country Coaches Association (USTFCCCA) polls release.

NOTE ON RANKINGS (added at 10 pm): The University of Washington men's team is ranked #30 nationally in the USTFCCCA pre-season polls, and the women are ranked #19 nationally.

Where I see a problem with the rankings (granted it's pre-season, and those who vote probably are basing logic on last year's results, returning lettermen, etc.) is that in the men's polls, the UW is only ranked #8 in the West region polls, while Washington State is ranked #6 in the West in the same poll.

If you follow this logic, shouldn't Washington State be ranked higher nationally? Or is there a separate coaches poll for both regional and national? If someone out there knows the answer, please let me know!!!




Washington junior Anita Campbell (#521 above; /photo by Paul Merca) from Vancouver, BC ran away with the victory in the women’s invitational race, covering the six-kilometer (3.73 miles) course in 20:20, which was a seventeen-second victory over teammate Katie Follett (20:37).

Freshman Mel Lawrence from Reno, Nevada, the 2006 USA national junior champion in the steeplechase and a member of Team USA’s national cross country squad at the 2006 world junior championships, made her Husky debut, finishing third in 20:58, overtaking Seattle Pacific sophomore Jessica Pixler (21:04), the Pan-Am junior 1500 meter champ for fourth on the final loop.

Commenting afterwards, Campbell said that despite the absence of some of the top teams from this meet, "It was a fun and positive experience and I'm looking forward to seeing what else this season brings for me. Katie and Mel ran great and Dani (Schuster, 10th overall) finished really good...all positive things that our team can bring away from Saturday."

In the open men’s 8-k race, John Riak of St. Martin’s College was the winner in 24:35, while Spokane Community College took team honors with 64 points. The women’s open race was won by Emily Timmer of the University of Puget Sound in 21:30 for the 6-kilometer course, while Simon Fraser University took the team title with 50 points.

The Huskies, who entered the season ranked third in the West region USTFCCCA pre-season polls, took home the team title with 27 points. Idaho finished second with 76 points, while the University of San Francisco placed third with 104 points.

The Washington men’s and women’s teams next compete at the Bill Dellinger Invitational, hosted by the University of Oregon in Springfield, Oregon on September 29th. Other team members will compete that same day at the Willamette Invitational in Salem, Oregon.

To view photos of Saturday's Sundodger Invitational, click here.


RESULTS--Sundodger Invitational, Lincoln Park, Seattle WA 9/15/07

INVITATIONAL MEN (8 kilometers)

1 #542 Jon Harding Washington 4:45 23:36 1
2 #102 Paul Limpf Eastern Washington 4:47 23:46 2
3 #565 Andrew Jones Washington St. 4:50 24:02 3
4 #456 Jake Schmitt U-Washington 4:52 X24:11
5 #548 Kelly Spady Washington 4:53 24:14 4
6 #545 Max O'Donoghue-McDo Washington 4:53 24:15 5
7 #184 Diego Moreno Guzman Idaho 4:54 24:19 6
8 #544 Carl Moe Washington 4:54 24:20 7
9 #612 Anthony Tomsich Western Washington 4:55 24:22 8
10 #568 Chris Williams Washington St. 4:55 24:24 9

INVITATIONAL WOMEN (6 km)

1 #521 Anita Campbell Washington 5:27 20:20 1
2 #525 Katie Follett Washington 5:32 20:37 2
3 #528 Marie Lawrence Washington 5:38 20:58 3
4 #358 Jessica Pixler Seattle Pacific 5:40 21:04 4
5 #93 Mattie Bridgmon Eastern Washington 5:43 21:19 5
6 #462 Kim Conley UC Davis 5:44 21:22 6
7 #331 Adriane Puetz Santa Clara 5:45 21:25 7
8 #88 Sarna Becker Club Northwest 5:45 21:25
9 #286 Jennifer Hartford San Francisco 5:46 21:30 8
10 #533 Danielle Schuster Washington 5:48 21:35 9

Monday, September 10, 2007

USTFCCCA pre-season coaches poll released today...

NEW ORLEANS - The Division I Cross Country regional polls were announced today by the U.S. Track & Field and Cross Country Coaches Association. Nine regions represent D-I cross country with last year's men's national champion, Colorado, leading the way as they are the number one ranked team in the men's Mountain regional.

Last year's women's champion, Stanford, starts the year ranked first in the women's West regional.

The 2006 women's national champ, Stanford, returns as the top ranked team in the West. The Cardinal will also be going for the cross country "triple crown" on the women's side as they look to defend their 2006 Pac-10 Conference, West region and NCAA titles. Arizona State comes in at number two followed by Washington at number three. Oregon (no. 4) and UC-Santa Barbara (no.5) make up the top five in the women's West region. Washington State is ranked seventh in the pre-season poll

The Husky men's & women's teams open the 2007 cross country season this Saturday, as they host the Sundodger Invitational at Lincoln Park in West Seattle. Washington State will also send teams to the Sundodger.

The women's team will be led by NCAA championships qualifier at 5000 meters Anita Campbell, and will be backed by a strong group, including 2006 NCAA outdoor 1500m champ Amy Lia; NCAA qualifier at 1500 meters, Amanda Miller; and a strong freshman class, which includes Mel Lawrence from Reno, who competed at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships and World Junior Track & Field Championships in 2006, and Lauren Saylor from Buchanan HS in Fresno, California.

Washington State will be led by the trio of Haley Paul (Phoenix, Ariz.), Collier Lawrence (Reno, Nev.) and Pac-10 steeplechase champion Sara Trané (Pixbo, Sweden).

With depth, experience, and talent, Washington State cross country coach Jason Drake believes the Cougar women have the potential to be as successful as the men, which qualified for the NCAA championships in 2006.

The Oregon Ducks lead the way for the men in the West region as they return five of their top seven from a year ago. The team finished fifth (tied with Arkansas) at nationals. Following the Ducks at number two are the Stanford Cardinal. Stanford finished fourth last year at the national meet, only one point ahead of both Oregon and Arkansa

Portland (no.3), UCLA (no. 4) and California Poly (no.5) complete the men's West region top five.

Washington State is ranked sixth, while the University of Washington is ranked eighth in the pre-season polls.

The Cougars, who qualified for last year's NCAA championships, are projected to be led by senior Alex Grant, along with freshmen Sean Coyle, from Spokane Valley, and David Hickerson, from Spokane.

The Huskies will be led by 2006 NCAA qualifier Jeremy Mineau from Menlo Park, Calif., along with 2007 NCAA steeple qualifier Carl Moe, and a freshman class led by Seattle Prep's
Max O-Donoghue-McDonald.





Paul runs the media 800 in Osaka...



Here I am hamming it up with David Monti of Race Results Weekly before our heat of the media 800 at Nagai Stadium in Osaka. /photo by Mark Foyer


Okay, we’ve managed to survive five days of sixteen-hour days at Nagai Stadium, and what’s our reward?

We get a day where there’s no morning session (read, we get to sleep in!), and we members of the media get to run on the track!

In conjunction with these world championships, the IAAF and the Osaka LOC organized the fourth annual World Championships Media 800m race a few hours before the start of the evening session.

The sleeping in part of the program didn’t happen, as I was up at 9 am, after going to bed at 3 am, tired from writing the Bernard Lagat 1500 story, editing photos, and making phone calls to the United States.

Six years ago in Edmonton, I ran 2:42 in this race after going through the 600-meter mark in 1:42, when I felt a sharp twinge in my Achilles tendon. I limped home, then endured five weeks of agony, when I had to wear a cast on the Achilles, not to mention the fact that I also had my wisdom teeth taken out. Now how’s that for a how do you do?

Before I left Seattle, I was torn between packing the pair of Nike Zoom Kennedy spikes that former Nike PR whiz Beth Hegde gave me before the 2003 World Championships; the Nike spikes I wore in Edmonton so that I could exorcise the demons living inside those shoes; or a pair of Nike road racing flats sold only in the Japanese market that I bought for $20 at the Nike outlet store in North Bend, 30 miles east of Seattle.

Given my problems with my Achilles, combined with the fact that I hadn’t done any track work, I took the safe route, and went with the racing flats.

I went into the race only expecting to run somewhere in the 2:40s. The only other expectations I had was not to do any damage to my Achilles tendons, and not to die in the last 150.




Well, I’m happy to say I did all three…now the warrior in me was a little disappointed that I didn’t compete (I let a Greek guy, Yannis from the IAAF media staff, who's behind me in this photo, blow past me on the home straight), but I had fun. I ended up running 2:45.64, good for 40th place overall, but I am catching a lot of grief for letting my good friend David Monti from Race Results Weekly beat me in my heat (2:43.77).




Here’s some photos of the race, courtesy of Ayako Oikawa & Mark Foyer.




This is a group photo with the stadium scoreboard in the background. In the front are Stephane Diagana (1997 world champ in the 400h), Steve Ovett (1980 Olympic 800m champ & former WR holder in the 1500 & mile), and Bob Hersh (IAAF Council member from the USA, known affectionately by members of the US media as "The Commish").



Here I am with 1980 Olympic 800 meter champ and former world record holder in the 1500 and mile, Steve Ovett of Great Britain. Even though I've known him for years (he's one of the commentators on the IAAF telecasts) on the TV side, Ovett was one of my heroes when I was growing up and competing, so it was a treat to have my picture taken with him.

For all my Nike+ friends, I did warm up and warm down with my iPod Nano, so I can actually track the mileage I did that day.

Friday, September 7, 2007

Oh, the cuisine in Osaka...

In earlier posts, I talked about places like the Outback Steakhouse, and the Casa Italia as places where I foraged for food during my stay in Osaka.

I ate American early in the meet, going with what I knew--Outback (which is technically Australian), Kentucky Fried Chicken, (left, where I'm hanging out with the Colonel, all decked out in Mizuno Team Japan gear!) and the Hard Rock Cafe. In addition to eating at Casa Italia, I found a pizza/pasta joint within blocks of Nagai Stadium that had some passable Italian food with a Japanese twist.

For the most part, I ate primarily Japanese food, preferring to venture to the many ramen/sushi/teriyaki joints available. Most Japanese staple foods (shushoku, 主食)typically consist of rice or noodles, with a soup, and okazu (おかず) - dishes made from fish, meat, vegetable, tofu and the like, designed to add flavor.

There were several instances where I found myself in trouble at restaurants, notably the ones where you sit on the floor cross-legged, eating off a low table.

But if there was a moment of weakness, it was in my lack of proficiency in the use of chop sticks to eat. I was essentially dead meat; in fact, former Runner's World Online editor Parker Morse had to give me a crash course on the use of chop sticks at the one place we ate at near the stadium.

On one of my grocery runs from the Hotel Chuo, I sucked up my pride and bought two forks; one to carry in my bag, and one to keep in my room for the late night sushi, ramen, and Asahis after the meet while writing stories and editing photos to send to the USA.

Surviving the mixed zone...


One of the prerequisites of being a half-decent reporter at an event like the world track & field championships is the ability to tolerate the stench of fellow journalists who smell like they have not heard of the word shower, thinking on your feet about the next question you're going to ask a dead-tired athlete on the race they just ran, as you're sticking your arm out with tape recorder in hand, as another reporter tries to sneak under your arm to get better positioning.

Welcome to the world of the mixed zone, where TV cameramen and anchors, radio reporters, print and web journalists jockey with each other to bring you that one insightful quote that will draw attention to their program/paper/magazine/web site.

The way it works is like this--after an athlete's event, he/she is escorted to a maze that starts up front with television rights holders (i.e., Tokyo Broadcasting, NBC/Versus, Eurosport, Canadian Broadcasting, etc.), select non-rights holders (i.e., local TV & radio), then print/web journalists (basically everyone else).

As the athlete goes through the maze, he/she has probably heard the question, "What was your reaction when _insert name of athlete who just outkicked you_ ran by you like you were a statue?" asked in numerous different languages.

The way athletes react to a question is somewhat insightful, depending on how media-savvy they are, varying from the one-syllable answer to a dissertation.

You almost had to feel sorry for Alan Webb after the way he beat himself up after the 1500-meter final where he led early, only to be overtaken at the end.

Talking to a group of American reporters, Webb said:

"I just got beat by everybody. I got myself in trouble last time by staying back, so why get in trouble again. That didn't work, so I'll be in the front. That didn't work either. At one point, I thought I was doing a pretty good job. Somebody took over for me halfway through. I felt pretty good. When the real game time went, I just couldn't do it".

"It was a colossal breakdown. I've changed nothing really. I thought I had more left than I did. I wish I could learn a lesson from that, but I learned nothing. I got nothing out of it. If I wanted to get seventh, I would have run for seventh and gotten seventh, or whatever the hell I got. I didn't come to get seventh, I came to get first. I didn't".

The photo above shows you the world of the mixed zone. British marathoner Mara Yamauchi, who finished ninth in 2:32:55, is being grilled by her country's press corps.

For the superstars of the sport, take that photo and multiply the number of press 4 to 6 times, or in the case of China's great hurdler Liu Xiang, try 10 times. While trying to interview American hurdler David Payne for USA Track & Field, we were overrun by folks from the Chinese media screaming for a quote from Liu.

All I can say is this: Liu Xiang has a lot of pressure, especially with the Olympics next year in Beijing.

Lagat & Walker set to compete in Zurich Friday night...



Double world champion (1500/5000) Bernard Lagat (left, #1113, staking out Uganda's Moses Kipsiro in the final lap of the 5000 /photo by Paul Merca) and pole vaulter Brad Walker are among the headliners for Friday's Zurich Weltklasse meet in the Swiss city.

The Weltklasse, which is part of the IAAF Golden League series of meets, is perhaps the crown jewel of one-day track meets, with a prize money pool of $1.4 million USD.

Lagat, who competed for Washington State University in the late 1990s, will compete in the 3000 meters, which features all the medalists from the Osaka 5000 meter race last Sunday.

Meanwhile, 2005 University of Washington grad Brad Walker, who won the global title last Saturday, takes on German Danny Ecker and Russian Igor Pavlov, third and fourth respectively in Osaka.

Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The world famous football overtakes Osaka Castle...


If there's one constant in my travels to either the World Track & Field or World Cross Country Championships, it's the world famous football.

To recap the history of the world famous football, the football started off as a inside joke between myself and Mark Bomba, who ran on Canada's world cross country team in 2001, after he brought a football to the Seattle Open Cross Country Classic.

I told Mark that I'd bring a football to world cross since he brought one to my race. That football's been a constant in my travels to the last seven world cross country championships, and the last four world track & field championships, and last year's World Cup.

In keeping with the tradition, I took the football to Osaka Castle, the city's signature landmark. I wondered what the Japanese folks who were at the Castle were thinking when they saw me with it?

My guess is that they were thinking that it's one lucky football to have conquered the Acropolis, Osaka Castle, the Stade de France, Mombasa Golf Course, etc.

Where has the football been to? In order--Greece (4x) , Belgium (2x), Canada, Ireland, Great Britain (2x), Switzerland, Denmark (2x), Germany, France (2x), Finland, Japan (2x), the Netherlands (2x), Kenya, and Hong Kong.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Where to find great Italian food in Osaka?


All you folks who wondered if or when I would write about what I did outside the track are in for a treat: This is the first of a series of blogs on my off-the-track activities in Osaka...

Now all of you in cyberland must think that it must be a task just to find half-decent authentic Italian food in Osaka, Japan...well, I found the best Italian food!

It's at the Dojima Hotel, where the Italian national team was staying!

At every world championships, the Italian team throws a lavish lunch and dinner for members of the media at Casa Italia. Thanks to a series of sponsors, they fly in their own chefs to take care of their team, and oh by the way, anybody and everybody with a credential (or at least it seemed that way).



On the last day of the championships, I blew off a run after working the women's marathon to attend a lunch at Casa Italia, where the pasta, vino, and salmon was flowing!

On the stage, they introduced the women who ran the marathon for Team Italia earlier in the day, and showed members of the Italian and international press a rah-rah video of athletes competing, complete with the requisite sponsor plugs.

All in all, a great lunch was had by all! Milli grazie!

Sunday, September 2, 2007

Turn out the lights...the party's over...

This marks the conclusion of my blog and reports from Osaka, Japan and the IAAF World Track & Field Championships. I hope that all of you in cyberland have enjoyed it.

Monday, I'm on a plane to Hong Kong, then home to the USA, then it's time to focus on the upcoming NFL and college football season, not to mention cross country.

I hope to have a gallery of photos set up soon, along with a series of blogs of stuff outside the track that I did while here in Osaka.

I want to thank a few folks, including Dean Stoyer at Nike; the folks at the Hotel Chuo, which was our home; Jill Geer & Tom Surber from USA Track & Field, and all the friends that I met here in Japan.

Domo arigato and sayonara from Osaka!

Bernard Lagat adds 5000 meter crown to 1500 meter world title..

OSAKA, Japan—A slow early pace in the men’s 5000 meter run set the table early for former Washington State University standout Bernard Lagat, as he exited Osaka’s Nagai Stadium with his second gold medal at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, winning the title in a time of 13:45.87,

The fifteen men in the finals started the race running the first kilometer in 3:00.35. As the race progressed, the pace picked up slightly, as the group ran an average of 2:47 for the next three kilometers, with Lagat always staying no more than a few steps behind the leader, ready to react to any move made.

Going into the last 800 meters, the pace sharply accelerated, with only six runners falling out of contention. Lagat, who talked at a Friday media session about the confidence he gained from running a 2:16.25 personal best for 1000 meters at the DN Galan meet in Stockholm, Sweden on August 7, used his miler’s speed to run an unofficial last kilometer of 2:23, and an unofficial last lap of 52 seconds to pull away from Kenya’s Eliud Kipchoge, the 2003 world champion in this event, to get the world title.

Former countryman Kipchoge hung on for the silver, in a time of 13:46.00. Moses Kipriso of Uganda nipped American Matt Tegenkamp for the bronze by 3/100ths of a second, running 13:46.75.

Lagat’s double victory marked the first time an American had ever completed the 1500/5000 double at either the world championships or the Olympics, and the first American ever to medal in the 5,000.

Afterwards, Lagat said that, “I think that it was one of the best races I've ever ran in the 5000. I was ready for a fast race, and I was ready for a slow race. All I had to do was to run a smart race, and follow the pace. If people were willing to take it out the last 2 kilometers, I was ready for that also.”

“The double means a lot to me. I'm the first one to accomplish the double, and I feel I'm going to set an example for the young ones. There will be other kids in America who will do what Bernard Lagat did in 2007, no matter how long it will take.”

For more information on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, please visit http://www.osaka2007.iaaf.org.

For more information on Washington state-affiliated athletes competing at the world championships in Osaka, please visit http://paulmerca.blogspot.com.

Saturday, September 1, 2007

A conversation with: BERNARD LAGAT


OSAKA, Japan--On Friday afternoon, Washington State University graduate Bernard Lagat met with a small group of American and international media at Nike’s Osaka hotel.

Sunday, Lagat is one of three Americans entered in the finals of the men’s 5000 meter run, where he is not one of the favorites. Despite that, many observers here in the Japanese city feel that he could be a threat if the race comes down to a one-lap sprint to the finish.

"I feel like the big one is off my shoulders," said Lagat, referring to his win in the 1500 on Wednesday night. "I'm satisfied in a way [with one victory], but this race is still serious. I'm my own favorite for the final, and that's enough.

Lagat, the former Kenyan who owns two Olympic medals at 1500 meters has two goals for himself in tonight’s final, which begins at 7:30 pm, local time. The foremost objective is to win, and Lagat thinks he can do that off either a fast or a slow pace. A slow pace plays to Lagat's strength, and nobody else in the 5,000m final has that kind of speed. Lagat prefers a fast pace which would allow him to "do two things at once"--win a second gold medal, and also break the American Record of 12:58.21 held by Bob Kennedy since 1996. Lagat has a 12:59.22 PR at 5,000m, but even at age 32 he thinks he can go faster.

Bernard had little time to celebrate his victory, as he had to get ready to run the qualifying round in the 5000, where he placed third in 13:46.57.

“The key was to make it into the finals. I'm glad I did it. I need to save as much energy as I can. Of course there was no celebration after yesterday, but I did not have a good sleep, as the film about the 1500m final was running in my head,” Lagat told the IAAF media crew, before being hustled off to the ceremony where he received his world championship gold medal.


Take us through a season. When are you in Tuscon; when are you in Flagstaff, and when are you in Europe?

After the season, I go back to Tuscon, eat a lot, play with my son, and on November 1st, I begin the base training. I’ll start with no more than 20-25 miles per week, then increase it until January 1st, when we get serious because of the indoor season. After the indoor season, we take a few weeks off, then hit it again in Tuscon until April when we go to Flagstaff for eight weeks of hard training.

In Flagstaff, that’s the time when I start training in the morning and afternoon. Once that’s done, there are several races, including Mt. SAC, Prefontaine, New York, and the US nationals. After the US nationals, I go to Germany and stay there for three months until the final Grand Prix meet of the season. Once the season is over, the cycle starts again,

Where is your European training base?

I’m based in Tubingen, Germany. It’s about 20 minutes south of Stuttgart. Stuttgart is easily accessible for us (especially when traveling to meets in Europe); all we have to do is take a short drive up to the airport. Tubingen has a lot of good forests in which you can run; you can run north, south, east, west. It’s good for a runner like me, who likes to run long distances. I stay away from cement. The good thing about Tubingen is that there are a lot of different trails. I can do tempo runs, hill work, I can run on the flat if I want to.

Does your family come with you?

Yes. My family goes with me to Flagstaff. While I’m in Flagstaff, either my sister or my brother takes care of my house in Tuscon. It’s easier for me to train when I have my family with me.

Your title was a long time coming. Was it a product of a lot of experience, because you had to make a lot of tactical decisions at the right time?

Yes. Before the meet, there were a lot of people who were telling me certain people were going to be the favorite. But you know what? I ‘m my own favorite, because I have the experience, and I’ve been training so hard. I’ve been going up against the best athletes in the world, and know how they run.

My coach (James Li) is a master strategist. He really did the work for me. He broke the tape down from the races. We looked at it, we analyzed it, and he told me that you have everything it has to win. He said, ‘you have the focus; you have the experience’. He said to run clear, stay out of trouble.

You had some stomach problems earlier in the season. Are those problems resolved?

Sometimes, it comes and goes. I have my good days and my bad days. On the day of the 1500 finals, I felt some discomfort, but it only lasted a few hours. I’ve made sure to properly hydrate myself, eat good food. (The stomach problem) is a bit stressful because I don’t know what causes it, and it can occur at any moment. I think that it might be because of the stress I put on myself doing hard training.

What went into your decision to double here in Osaka?

Earlier, I was thinking of dropping the 1500 in favor of the 5000. I ran 2:21 for 1000 meters in a workout, and my manager, James Templeton, said ‘that’s pretty good!’ I gained a lot of confidence in that.

Lagat won the 1500 at the London Grand Prix meet on August 3rd, running 3;35.71 then ran 2:16.25 at the DN Galan meet in Stockholm, and those results combined with the way he felt cemented his decision to do the double in Osaka.

For more information on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, please visit http://www.osaka2007.iaaf.org.

For more information on Washington state-affiliated athletes competing at the world championships in Osaka, please visit http://paulmerca.blogspot.com.

The national sport of Japan...

It's about 9 am, and folks are lined up on the streets of Osaka for the women's marathon.

With about 3 kilometers to go, there are eight women still in contention.

With less than two k to go, it's now down to four: Catherine Ndreeba of Kenya, Reiko Tosa of Japan, and the two Chinese, Chunxiu Zhou and Xiaolin Zhu.

I'm running to the track to catch the finish!

Former Washington Husky Brad Walker wins world pole vault title...

Brad Walker holds the Stars and Stripes aloft in triumph after winning the world title in the pole vault at the IAAF World Track & Field Championships in Osaka, Japan. /photo by Paul Merca

OSAKA, Japan—Former University of Washington standout Brad Walker’s gamble to pass at 18-10 3/4 after a first attempt miss paid dividends, as Walker won his first outdoor world championship Saturday under perfect jumping conditions clearing 19-2 3/4 before a packed house at Nagai Stadium.

Walker’s victory in this event marked the first time that an American male emerged victorious in this event at the IAAF World Outdoor Track & Field Championships. Additionally, Walker joins 1500 meter gold medalist Bernard Lagat as the second Washington state-affiliated athlete at these world championships to earn a gold medal.

The 2005 silver medalist and 2007 world leader, who attended University High School in Spokane, Walker cleared 18-1 and 18-6.75 easily on his first attempts, but missed his first try at 18-10.75 before passing on his remaining attempts at the height.

A second- or third-attempt clearance at 18-10 3/4 would have been useless, as Steven Hooker of Australia, Yevgeniy Lukyanenko of Russia and Fabio Gomes Da Silva of Brazil all made the height on their first attempts, and several others had passed the height entirely.

The gamble to pass was successful--Walker cleared 19-0.75 on his first try, putting him back in the medal hunt. Eight men remained in the competition at 19-2.75, including three others - Danny Ecker of Germany, Igor Pavlov of Russia and Romain Mesnil of France - who cleared 19-0 3/4 on their first attempts.

Describing the decision to pass after missing 18-10 3/4, Walker said, “It was one of those good misses. I knew I had the ability to clear 5.81 (19-0 3/4), and the first attempt make at 5.81 put me back in the lead. First attempt clearances in a major championship are a huge thing, and it puts stress on the other competitors. I think the 5.86 (19-2 3/4) first attempt clearance knocked the wind out of some people's sails, and I was lucky to get that jump”.

The knockout punch Walker delivered on the competition at 19-2 3/4 made him the first athlete to make the height. Mesnil was the only other vaulter to clear the height on his second attempt, but he was behind Walker based on a earlier miss at 18-6 3/4, which ultimately proved the difference between the gold and silver medals.


Six men took attempts at 19-4.75, and while a few came close, none prevailed, giving Walker his first gold medal. Mesnil took second and Ecker was third at 19-0.75.

In an interview on Friday, Walker revealed that he had not touched a pole, and was unable to train properly between his last competition in Monte Carlo on July 25th, and Thursday’s qualifying round of the pole vault, due to a lingering problem with two bulging discs in his back.

“I was gassed, and I had to dig pretty deep because my prep going into this meet wasn't exactly the way I would've liked it. I haven't lifted weights, and I'm a lot lighter than what I normally am. I have a couple of bulged discs, and it's been giving me a lot of pain, and I've had to back off the training,” Walker said after the event.

Walker, who continues to train in Seattle at the Dempsey Indoor at the University of Washington, gave a lot of credit to his support crew in attendance in Osaka, including Husky jumps coach Pat Licari, agent Peter Stubbs, his girlfriend and former UW pole vaulter Carly Dockendorf, parents Diana & Thomas, and sister Tanya.

Walker sported a Mohawk haircut Saturday night, along with two zig-zagged lines made to look like a lightning bolt on the side of his head, thanks to the work of fellow American vaulter Jacob Pauli, who didn’t qualify for the finals.

“I have a really good record of jumping well after a haircut. We thought a lot of speedy lines would add some pizzazz. (The Mohawk) can be anything you want it to be”, the University of Washington volunteer assistant coach said.

The final athlete competing with ties to the state of Washington competing will be Bernard Lagat in the men’s 5000 meters on Sunday. That event is scheduled to get underway at 7:30 pm, Osaka time (11:30 pm Saturday night in Seattle). Lagat has already claimed a world title at 1500 meters earlier in the meet.

For more information on the IAAF World Track & Field Championships, please visit http://www.osaka2007.iaaf.org.

For more information on Washington state-affiliated athletes competing at the world championships in Osaka, please visit http://paulmerca.blogspot.com.

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