Wednesday, December 31, 2008

The first annual "Mercanator" awards...

As we get set to sing "Auld Lang Syne" in a few hours to usher in 2009, 2008 was a great year for paulmerca.blogspot.com, as we covered, among major events this year (in chronological order), the USA Cross Country Championships in San Diego; the IAAF World Cross Country Championships in Edinburgh, Scotland; the Nike Beijing Summit in Beaverton; the Pac-10 Track & Field Championships in Tempe; the Nike Prefontaine Classic in Eugene; back to Eugene for the US Olympic Trials; the Chicago Marathon; the run by the University of Washington women’s cross country team at the Pac-10s, NCAA regionals, and the NCAA national championships; and, the USA Track & Field Convention in Reno, where a new president was elected.

In keeping with the spirit of the holidays, I’ve decided to hand out the first annual “Mercanator” awards in recognition of some of the performances and performers that we’ve chronicled in 2008.

To some of the athletes receiving this award, winning a “Mercanator” award may not necessarily get you an extra bonus from your shoe company contract, but you will get the recognition from the readers of the mighty blogspot for a job well done this season, and a “BOOM! SHAKA-LAKA!” from yours truly.

For those of you who don’t get an award or feel you’ve been jobbed out of a “Mercanator”—there’s 2009!

Enjoy, and thank you to all the readers for your support of the mighty blogspot!

Disclaimer—Mercanator awards are generally limited to athletes who have affiliations with the state of Washington—either they were born in this state, currently reside in the state, or attend(ed) school in the state.

THE MERCANATORS

**Crowd pleaser award—Norris Frederick, University of Washington. Since the Dempsey Indoor facility opened up a few years ago, few athletes, including Olympians, have managed to captivate audiences like Washington senior long/high jumper Norris Frederick.

Frederick was responsible for raising the roof off the Dempsey at the MPSF Championships in the long jump when he sailed a personal best 26-7 3/4 to win the event and set a new facility record, causing the crowd around the long jump to go absolutely nuts, and causing the public address announcer (me!) to yell into the microphone, “BOOM! SHAKA-LAKA!”

**Athlete perspective award—(tie) Katie Follett, University of Washington & Kara Patterson, Purdue University. Katie and Kara were gracious enough this year to share their personal thoughts and perspective to the readers of this blog on what it was like to compete at the Olympic Trials in Eugene, and Olympic Games in Beijing.

**Media relations award—(tie) Jacie Prieto, (Nike); Mike Bruscas (University of Washington); Linda Chalich (Washington State). In order to cover a sport as diverse as track & field, you really need the help of the media relations people, as they’re the gatekeepers. Jacie, Mike & Linda were extremely helpful to the blog this year in helping obtain interviews with athletes this year.

An honorable mention should go to the entire media relations staff at USA Track & Field (all year long), Anna Legnani of the IAAF (world cross), and to Greg Walker and Geoff Thurner from the University of Oregon (Olympic Trials & Pac-10 XC). We’d almost have to retire the award with these folks (and we just started handing them out!).

**Big tip award--All the unnamed inside sources in Beijing who tipped us off to the fact that Churanday Martina was about to be disqualified for a lane violation in the men's 200m final at the Olympics. paulmerca.blogspot.com was the first to break the news on Martina's disqualification before the major news agencies.

**”I can’t believe I just made the Olympic team!”—Diana Pickler. The 2007 WSU grad ran a personal best in the final event, the 800 meters, and stayed close to GiGi Johnson to earn the final spot on the team by 10 points. She also caused this writer to get chided by Seattle Times columnist Steve Kelley for the hug she gave me in the mixed zone while waiting to interview her…oh, well.

**Comeback award—Jessica Pixler, Seattle Pacific. Pixler came back from a stress fracture in her back that knocked her out of the track season to win her second straight NCAA Division II cross country title in November.

**Top performer-men’s sprints: Jeshua Anderson, 400 hurdles. The Washington State freshman, a true diamond in the rough, won the NCAA title, along with the world junior championship, and just missed making the finals at the Olympic Trials. Anderson ran 48.68 at the world junior championships.

**Top performer-men’s distances: Bernard Lagat, 1500/5000 meters. Despite a bum Achilles tendon that shot down any hopes of following up his double gold at the 2007 world championships with a pair of golds in Beijing, the former Cougar still was clearly the best at 1500 (3:32.75), 3000 (7:34.65), and 5000 (13:16.29).

**Top performer—men’s vertical jumps: Brad Walker, pole vault. Walker, like Lagat, is a regular on the blogspot, as the former Husky set an American record at the Prefontaine Classic of 19-9 3/4, and finished second at the world indoor championships. The 2007 world champ was ranked fourth in the world by Track & Field News, with his only blemish a no-height at the Olympics.

**Top performer—men’s horizontal jumps: Norris Frederick, long jump. The Husky senior finished second in the NCAA indoor, and sixth in the outdoor NCAAs, and earned a US #10 ranking by Track & Field News.

**Top performer—men’s throws: Ian Waltz, discus. In a year in which the US was down (as in no world rankers on the T&FN top 10), Waltz was clearly the best American. Waltz, a former WSU standout, threw 226-0, the fifth furthest throw in the world in 2008, but did not shine on the world stage.

**Top performer—women’s distances: Kendra Schaaf, cross country. The Husky freshman had an outstanding season, winning the Pac-10 championship, and finishing 12th in the NCAA championships in Terre Haute. For most of the season, she was clearly the leader of Washington’s national championship harrier squad.

There were strong cases for Washington teammates Michelle Turner (NCAA West Regional champ at 1500) and Katie Follett (Pac-10 champ at 1500) to get this award, but Schaaf gets the nod for the impact on the team.

**Top performer—women’s throws: Aretha Thurmond, discus. Aretha’s only win of significance in 2008 was at the Olympic Trials, where she threw a season best of 213-11. She was consistently in the hunt in every meet she competed, and finally got over her failure to make a final at the Olympics or world championships, finishing tenth in Beijing. Thurmond, the former Husky, was ranked tenth in the world by Track & Field News in the recently released issue.

**Top performer—women’s multi-events: Diana Pickler. This was an easy choice. Pickler finished third at the Olympic Trials with a personal best score of 6257 points, and third at the IAAF Multistars meet in Italy, scoring 6190 points.

**Team of the year (not): Oklahoma City Thunder. Forty-plus years of NBA basketball in the city of Seattle went down the toilet when the franchise formerly known as the Seattle Supersonics officially left town in July after Seattle mayor McCheese (aka Greg Nickels) accepted a buyout from owner Clay (I am a man possessed) Bennett to move the franchise.

Other folks culpable for this mess include former Sonics owner Howard Schultz, NBA commissioner David Stern, Washington governor Christine Gregoire, and the entire Washington state legislature.

**Team of the year: University of Washington women’s cross country team. In a year that can only be described as the worst in Seattle sports history, the Huskies ran roughshod over the competition to win the NCAA cross country title in Terre Haute, Indiana in November, despite not running their best team race.

The best performance by this undefeated team was at the Pac-10 Championships on October 31st, when the Huskies went 1-6, in recording the first perfect team score of 15 in conference history.

To all of you who won the award, click on the little video interview courtesy of media partner Flotrack:

Track and Field Videos on Flotrack

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