Monday, December 31, 2007

2007 in review...


Okay, I’ve taken some time off to enjoy the holidays. However, as 2007 enters the homestretch of the final lap of the year and gets ready to pass the baton to 2008, I thought I’d give you my personal highlights of this year, in a semi-chronological order:

INDOOR TRACK AT THE DEMPSEY: As the public address announcer for the University of Washington, I had the opportunity to call some great races and field events starting with Nick Symmonds’ first sub-four minute mile on January 13th, running 3:56.74. In that meet, Brad Walker began his quest for world superiority by jumping 18-8 1/4. Those in attendance also saw the emergence of Husky freshman vaulter Scott Roth, as the youngster showed the track and field world that he wasn’t a prep flash in the pan.

Other highlights of the indoor series at the Dempsey included US Olympic marathoner Jen Rhines dropping all the way down to the mile to beat Lauren Fleshman; an oh-so-close 4:00.37 mile by Oregon’s AJ Acosta, one of the most entertaining personalities in college track; Sally Kipyego’s sub 9:00 run in the 3000 meters, running 8:56.72; steering the crowd towards Husky fan favorite long/high jumper Norris Frederick; calling Arizona State’s Amy Hastings’ MPSF win in the 3000; and Alex Harcourt’s upset win in the 400 over Olympic 4 x 4 relay gold medalist Darold Williamson, which was probably as loud as the Dempsey got in ’07!

CROSS NATIONALS IN BOULDER: Probably the best cross nationals I’ve seen in a while, with nearly all the major players showing up at the same time, thanks to some heavy recruiting by race director Pete Julian, and some good ol’ peer pressure within the Boulder running community.

Even the queen of American cross country, Deena Kastor, who hadn’t competed in this meet since her last victory in 2003, deemed Boulder important enough to make an appearance and emerge victorious.

WORLD CROSS IN KENYA: Despite all the worrying about the safety of the American team, and the stifling heat and humidity, this was perhaps the most gratifying trip I’ve taken as part of Team USA. We knew that this wasn’t the best team this country could’ve fielded, but those who made the trip to Mombasa, which started in Detroit, with stops in Amsterdam & Nairobi, chose to make the best of it.

I’ve never seen such an enthusiastic crowd for a cross country meet in my life, with an estimated 30000 people on hand in 90+degree heat and 60-plus humidity.

The trip the team took to visit St. Peter’s the Rock school for developmentally challenged students where we donated shoes, was perhaps the most eye-opening part of the trip. I don’t think that anyone on Team USA had ever witnessed the type of poverty we saw en route to the school.

JUNE ON THE CIRCUIT: June took me to Sacramento, Eugene, and Indianapolis for the NCAA, Prefontaine, and US nationals, in short order. The performances at those meets, by Washington affiliated athletes such as Brie Felnagle (NCAA women’s 1500), Brad Walker (USA pole vault), and Bernard Lagat (USA 5000m) made those trips worth it, beyond the fact that I had to be there because of my television obligations (not to mention the meetings in association with those meets I had to attend).

MY HIGH SCHOOL REUNION: What relevance does a 30-year high school reunion have on a blog about track and field? Plenty!

The years I spent at Seattle’s Franklin High School were the years in which I developed my hunger and passion for this sport. I was fortunate enough to be mentored by Don Bundy, and Jack Pfeifer, two men who had a passion for the sport, and who also had the foresight to see the sport from a larger perspective beyond that of most high school coaches.

The friends and teammates that I ran with at Franklin were also very influential and inspirational in the pursuit of excellence in the sport.

OSAKA WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS: The daily blogs I sent from Japan say it all!

It was a pleasure to stay up until 2 or 3 am nearly every night, and get up early the next day to cover each session of competition at the world championships. The live blog of Uli Steidl’s progress in the marathon was certainly a learning experience, as it was something that I’d never attempted!

The 2007 world championships had the most number of Washington-affiliated athletes competing (11), and gold medals earned (3, two by Bernard Lagat, and one by Brad Walker). Thanks to the magic of Skype voice-over-internet telephone service, I was able to talk to some of the loyal readers and communicate my excitement over the day’s events.

COLLEGE CROSS COUNTRY: For the first time in several years, I was able to attend the Pac-10 and NCAA regional cross country championships, and witness the rise of the University of Washington’s women’s cross country team.

In addition, I also witnessed the emerging talent of Seattle Pacific’s Jessica Pixler, a former soccer standout, who with the guidance of American distance running legend Doris Heritage, won her first NCAA division II cross country title this fall.

OLYMPIC MARATHON TRIALS IN NEW YORK: The host New York Road Runners demonstrated to the country what can happen when you stage the Olympic Marathon Trials in the media capital of America.

Fairly or not, despite Ryan Hall’s Olympic Trials record run of 2:09:02, and the strong finish by blue-collar runner Brian Sell to grab the final spot on the Olympic team, this race will also be remembered for the tragic death of Ryan Shay at the 5-mile mark.

With 2008 itching to grab the baton from 2007, what do we as fans have to look forward to?

Obviously, the build up to the Olympic track & field trials in Eugene in late June, and the lead in to the Beijing Olympics in August.

There will be some other sub-plots in the next several months leading to the trials:

--Can the University of Washington’s Amy Lia, the 2006 NCAA champion in the 1500, recover from an injury plagued 2007, and unseat ’07 champ Brie Felnagle of Tacoma and the University of North Carolina?

--Will the Huskies’ Norris Frederick get that elusive NCAA title in the long jump?

--Will the Huskies’ Alex Harcourt, who was so brilliant in defeating Olympian Darold Williamson indoors in 2007, make another step towards becoming one of America’s top quarter-milers?

--Will 2007 Washington State grad Diana Pickler, who ended this year ranked number one in the heptathlon by Track & Field News, be ready to step up to the next level, and gun for a top 10 or 12 finish at the Olympics, assuming she makes the team?

--How will world champions Bernard Lagat & Brad Walker fare in 2008 under the increased scrutiny that the sport receives in the Olympic year in the United States?

Hopefully, we will have clearer answers to these and other questions all of you have about the 2008 season when the competition gets underway in just a few short weeks.

Before signing off with the final post of 2007, I want to personally thank you for visiting my blogspot site. I started this site this year in order to give you the opportunity to see the things and read about the topics that I can’t cover in Northwest Runner, due to space constraints.

I set a personal best in 2007 for most miles traveled at 77,406, as my journalistic pursuits of this sport took me to Osaka and Mombasa, along with three trips across the USA from the little corner called Seattle. Hopefully, the miles I flew in '07 translates into seat upgrades for '08 (travel hint--always ask for the exit row seat, preferably on the aisle--most leg room in coach!).

Also, I want to thank the athletes, coaches, and others in the track & field/running community who helped make this possible.

Happy 2008!

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Καλά Χριστούγεννα


...or Merry Christmas to all!



And remember, "see the cat-be the cat!"

NOTE: Photos courtesy pet-fun.blogspot.com

Monday, December 24, 2007

Huskies ranked #2 in USTFCCCA men's pre-season rankings...


The University of Washington men's track team is ranked #2 behind Florida State in the USTFCCCA pre-season rankings, the highest ranking a Husky track team's ever received, according to the UW Sports Information office.

The Huskies tied for seventh at last year's NCAA Indoor Championship meet with 22 points, a program best finish. Washington returns five indoor All-Americans including five-time All-American long jumper Norris Frederick, and four-time All-American mid-distance runner Austin Abbott.

"We are very excited for the upcoming season, and the ranking just goes to show the level where our standards have risen to," said sixth-year head coach Greg Metcalf. "Obviously it is not where you start but where you finish on March 15th at NCAA's that counts. We felt capable of winning a title last season but didn't quite have our best performance at Nationals. It was a learning experience that should help take us even higher this year."

Florida State is ranked first, followed by Washington, Tennessee, Florida, and LSU. The Seminoles finished second to Wisconsin at the 2007 NCAA Indoors and won the title at NCAA Outdoors. No. 7 Stanford, No. 13 Oregon, and No. 19 Arizona State are the other Pac-10 schools in the early forecast.

The USTFCCCA Division I indoor track and field rankings are compiled solely from NCAA descending order lists. The preseason rankings are based on the final descending order list of the previous season. Washington's previous high was a No. 4 ranking in Trackwire last season, and No. 5 in USTFCCCA.

The Husky women are unranked with LSU owning the top spot.

NOTE: The University of Washington sports information office contributed to this report.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Bernard Lagat seeks 6th Wanamaker Mile Title...

Bernard Lagat (left, wearing hip #7 /photo by Paul Merca), 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, according to meet organizers

He will be challenged by Australia's Craig Mottram, the 2005 World Championships bronze medalist at 5,000 meters who last year battled Lagat in a Wanamaker duel that came down to the final lap. It is a rematch that took shape just moments after that race, when Lagat told the media: "I love New York and I love running in this competition. So why not come again and try for a sixth one? Hopefully, my friend Mottram will be there."

Lagat and Mottram will be among the headliners on the Madison Square Garden track as "A New Century Begins" on Feb. 1 for the Millrose Games, which last year celebrated its 100th anniversary.

With his fifth victory last year (2001, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2007), the Kenya-born American moved into a tie for third-most Wanamaker titles. A 2008 victory would put him just one win away from tying the legendary Eamonn Coghlan's record of seven. In 2005, Lagat broke Coghlan's 24-year-old meet record.

The 101st Millrose Games, the third stop in USA Track & Field's Visa Championship Series, is set for Friday night, Feb. 1, at Madison Square Garden. Tickets are now available at Ticketmaster (call 212-307-7171, visit www.Ticketmaster.com or at Ticketmaster outlets); or at the Madison Square Garden box office. USATF welcomes you to pay with your Visa. Watch soon for the launch of the event website, www.Millrose-Games.com.

NOTE: USA Track & Field's Tom Surber contributed to this report.



Sunday, December 16, 2007

Why?

Here's an article on people and their continuous running streaks:

http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/eticket/story?page=streakrun


As 1992 US Olympian PattiSue Plumer said at the USATF National Podium Project seminar in Las Vegas, the miles you run must have a purpose.

Please let me know what the purpose of running every day for 30+ years is...

Eugene nabs 2012 US Olympic Team Trials-Track & Field, along with two USA championships...


EUGENE, Ore. - USA Track & Field and the U.S. Olympic Committee on December 12th announced their intent to host the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field in Eugene, Oregon, USATF CEO Craig Masback announced. The announcement was made at an afternoon press conference on the University of Oregon campus.

Eugene, which next year will host the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team Trials - Track & Field, also will host the 2009 and 2011 USA Outdoor Track & Field Championships, Masback announced.

For the full story, see it here...

The Portland Oregonian's take on the news can be read here, and the Eugene Register-Guard's front-page story can be read here.

For track and field fans, especially from the Pacific Northwest, this is nothing but great news!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Off to the Podium Project seminar...

paulmerca.blogspot.com will attend the USA Track & Field Podium Project Seminar in Las Vegas.

The Podium Project gathers the coaches of many of America's elite athletes in an effort to provide specific scientific information and analysis of our best athletes to ensure that the United States dominates the podium at the Olympics and World Championships.

I hope to gather some interviews with some of the top coaches this week.

Hey there, Delilah...


Over the weekend, I attended the USATF National Club Cross Country Championships in West Chester, Ohio.

The national club cross country championships is perhaps the largest event for developing post collegiate or second-tier runners; i.e., those who are not quite national caliber runners, but are generally on the verge of reaching that level.

At the national club championships are also a masters' mens 10 km and a womens' 6 km races.

The winner of the women's open 6 km race was Delilah DiCrecenzo (center, competing in the 2006 USA nationals /photo by Paul Merca), the former Columbia University steeplechaser and current assistant coach at Byrn Mawr University outside Philadelphia.

Racing on a flat-but- slow/slushy/muddy course at Voice of America Park, the 2004 Columbia grad pulled away from Julie Culley in the last 200 meters to cross the line in 20:31 for the biggest victory in her career.

She told me afterwards, "It's a great feeling. The conditions were tough, but I felt like I was suited for the course with the way I run. I didn't slide as much in the mud. I was surprised at how well I felt, given the course conditions. I just tried to stay patient until the last quarter."

"Nobody really wanted to push the pace, and I was pretty confident with my speed, so I was just biding my time until the end."

"I'm good friends with the guys from Plain White T's. They called me a few days ago to let me know they've been nominated for two Grammys, so I'm really excited for them. It's a very unique opportunity, and a funny set of circumstances, but I'm glad to be associated with the song."

To read my story on Delilah's victory, go here.

If you're a music fan, you'll recognize her as the inspiration for the Plain White T's Grammy nominated hit, "Hey There, Delilah". Here's the video:



Amby Burfoot of Runner's World, who competed in the masters' race, has a nice interview with DiCrescenzo, which you can read here.

By the way, props go to Seattle's Club Northwest for winning its second straight national cross country title in the men's 50+ age category.

Wednesday, December 5, 2007

Adam Goucher needs his phone!


Adam Goucher lost his Nike jacket along with his cell phone sometime before the Nike Team Nationals cross country race on Saturday December 1st in Portland, Oregon.

Kara Goucher appears quite upset at the loss of his phone.

Here's the link to the video...

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