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Des Linden is a unique athletic archetype in our American running culture. Well liked, with a self-deprecating sense of humor, keen observation skills and a work ethic surpassed by only Joan Benoit Samuelson in her heyday, Linden took all of those skills and built a win today in Boston yesterday. Her win was the result of a combination of her skills and her desire.
 
A digression.
 
The 1968 Olympic decathlon champ, Bill Toomey, gave me the following theory. The one who wins an athletic competition is the one who covets the event the most. In 1968, Toomey practiced the high jump in the rain in Santa Barbara, telling himself that it might rain in Mexico City. Sure enough, it did. His vault poles were lost in transist, but that was another story.
 
Des Linden has run five Boston marathons. That experience helped her in her sixth Boston marathon. She had ground out some serious miles and workouts. She had run some cold, long runs in Michigan, and she probably had some runs that beat her utp more than Boston in 2018. Perhaps most of all, Linden coveted this race—his crazy race from Hopkinton to Boston—more than anyone else in the elite field.
 
David Hunter gets that across as he builds the argument that Linden put all of her talents together to win the 2018 Boston Marathon. When later asked if his athlete could have won Boston if it had been better conditions, Coach Kevin Hanson, the zen master of coaching, noted, “But the conditions were not better.” Enough said.
Published in Marathons
 
 
 
 
 
By Dave Hunter (Sept, 10, 2017, London)
 
Although the IAAF World Championships in Athletics concluded almost a month ago, it will always be enjoyable to look back and savor those special moments. While your favorites may well differ, here are my top ten moments - in ascending order, of course!
 
 
10. Amy Cragg’s Gutty Bronze Medal Marathon Performance.
 
There is a moment of truth in the marathon when every racer faces a pacing challenge. It is then the athlete must make a decision: Do I back off? Or do I persevere? Perhaps no one knows this any more thoroughly than veteran marathoner Amy Cragg, given her devastating 4th-place finish in the 2012 United States Olympic Trials. And in the final 10 kilometers of the World Championship marathon, Cragg - running just off the podium and hanging on in 4th behind Filomena Cheyech - faced that moment once again. The 32-year-old American athlete stayed cool, kept her poise, and went to work: tucking in behind the Kenyan, holding ground, and covering all moves. Patience also was required, and Cragg had it. Dead even with her African rival at 40K, Cragg waited until the final 300 meters to unleash one final gear shift in her quest for a medal. It worked. Cragg [2:27:18] gapped Cheyech [2:27:21] and nearly caught Edna Kiplagat [2:27:18] at the line. Cragg’s 2nd half in 1:11:36 - the fastest of all competitors - gave her a negative split by over 4 minutes. Only 10 seconds separated the top 4 finishers, but Cragg claimed her World Championship marathon bronze medal - only the 2nd world championship marathon medal captured by an American and the first in 34 years [Marianne Dickerson, Helsinki, 1983].
 
 
9. Karsten Warholm Defeats Kerron Clement For 400H Gold.
 
Many thought the final of the men’s 400 meter hurdles might produce a piece of track & field history with reigning Olympic champion Kerron Clement becoming the first man ever to capture 3 world 400H titles. But Norway’s 21-year-old Karsten Warholm had other ideas. In the rain-marred final, the young Norwegian got out quickly and built a backstretch lead over Clement. The indoor 400 meter record holder began to move in the 3rd 100 meters and was closing the gap on Warholm. The Norwegian kept his poise down the homestretch while Clement’s hurdle form - always an Achilles heel for the American - began to unravel. Warholm [48.35] crossed first, while Turkey’s Yasmani Copello [48.49] slid past a disheartened Clement [48.52] for the silver. Once across the line, the disbelieving new world champion displayed his best impersonation of fellow countryman Edward Munch’s "The Scream" - an image from these championships that will long be remembered.
 
 
8. Taylor, Claye Go 1-2 In mTJ. 
 
The men’s triple jump final showcased yet another spirited battle between Americans Christian Taylor and Will Claye. The final featured 5 lead changes between the two former University of Florida teammates with Taylor - the defending champion, American record holder, and the reigning Olympic champion - finally prevailing: 17.63/58¼" to 17.63/57'10¼". It is invigorating to realize that 27-year old Taylor and the 26-year-old Claye could continue this rivalry - inspiring each other to even greater performances - for years to come.
 
 
7. Kendricks Prevails In Strategic PV Battle. 
 
The pole vault final was a 5 man chess match when the bar went up to 5.89m/19'3¾". American Sam Kendricks - sailing along in an undefeated storybook season - kept his card clean with a first attempt clearance. Passing from a lower height miss, Poland’s Piotr Lisek also made a first attempt clearance while his countrymen Pawel Wojeiechowski went out. '12 Olympic champion Renaud Lavillenie made it over on his second attempt while China's Changrui Xue - flawless until this bar - went 3 and out. At 5.95m/19'6¼", the 3 remaining athletes all missed their first two attempts. On 3rd attempts, Kendricks made a critical clutch clearance while Lisek missed - but retired in 2nd place. Lavillenie faced a choice: a final jump clearance at 5.95m would move him from bronze to silver; or should he pass to 6.01/19'8½ for a shot a possible gold? The Frenchman immediately passed. After Kendricks sustained a first attempt miss at the new height he had never before cleared, Lavillenie had one final jump for the gold. And when Renaud missed, Sam Kendricks had his first world championship medal.
 
 
6. Stefanidi Outduels Morris For Pole Vault Gold. 
 
The women’s pole vault final highlighted another great rivalry between young, blossoming athletes. USA’s Sandi Morris - who entered the competition at 4.45m/14'7¼ - jumped cleanly through 4.75/15'7". Olympic champion Katerina Stefanidi - who came in at 4.65m/15'3" - did so as well. The 25-year-pd Morris' 1st attempt miss at 4.82/15'9¾ opened the door for her Greek opponent who took full advantage with her 1st attempt clearance at that height. When Morris passed and subsequently went out at 4.89m/15'9¾", Stefanidi had the gold with only 4 jumps! With the crown already in hand, the 27-year-old Stanford graduate added a 1st attempt clearance at 16'1¼ just for good measure. While her 3 attempts at 5.02/16'5½" were unsuccessful - Stefanidi had her first world championship title and with it likely clinched this year’s #1 world ranking.
 
 
5. The Great Battle in the Women’s LJ. 
 
On a chilly evening, the deep field in the women's long jump final engaged in the fierce battle for the world championship medals. Olympic finalist Darya Klishina was the early leader with a 1st round leap of 6.78m/22'3". In the second round Serbia's Ivana Spanovic popped out 6.96m/22'10" to move into 1st. By the 3rd round, reigning indoor and outdoor long jump champion Brittney Reese had solved the tricky winds and stretched out 7.02m/23'½" to take the lead. In the final 3 rounds, Russia's Klishina jumped 7.02/22'11¾" in the 5th round to move into 2nd and bump Spanovic to 3rd. And in the final round, Olympic champion Tianna Bartoletta bulled her way onto the podium with a leap of 6.97m/22'10½" to slide into 3rd and push the Serbian off the medal stand. The riveting competition concluded with the top four performers finishing within .06m/'2¼" of one another.
 
 
4. Isaac Makwala Emerges From Quarantine To Make 200m Final.
 
In the flurry of daily stunning performances at these world championships, it was easy for many to overlook the trials, the tribulations, and ultimately the inspiring performance of Botswanan sprinter Isaac Makwala. Troubled by the quick onset of a stomach virus in the middle of these championships, the 200m/400m specialist was initially denied the opportunity to compete in the opening round of the men's 200 meters as well as the final of the men's 400 meters where he was expected to challenge world record holder and Olympic gold medalist Wayde van Niekerk. After a period in enforced quarantine [!], some closed-door lobbying, and IAAF reconsideration, it was determined on the day of semi-final round of the men’s 200 meters that Makwala would be given a solo opportunity to qualify for the semi to be held later that evening. Makwala could advance if he ran his solo heat in 20.53 or faster. Buoyed by cheers from the stadium throng, Makwala trudged out amidst a driving rain to make his attempt from his assigned lane: lane 2. Alone in the darkness, the Botswanan sprint star powered around the curve and splashed through puddles to cross the line in 20.20. Ecstatic upon seeing his qualifying time, Makwala immediately dropped to the ground and proceeded to fire off 5 textbook pushups to affirm his recovery - and his joy. 3 hours later, Makwala - now in lane 1 - ran 20.14 in his semi-final to earn an automatic qualifier for the 200 meter final. Few will ultimately remember that Isaac Makwala finished 6th in the men's 200m championship race two days later. But legions will remember the unorthodox and difficult pathway he successfully navigated to make the final.
 
 
3. Farah's WC 3-Peat In 10,000.
 
Racing Mohammed Farah in a championship setting is always difficult. But going up against Sir Mo - a man who had not lost a world championship distance race final in 6 years - in London's Olympic Stadium before 66,000 adoring British fans was likely to be bordering on the impossible. Farah's East African opponents - who had done little to unnerve Farah in earlier championship settings - decided this time to attempt to make him uncomfortable. Right from the opening gun, the pace was quick [2:39 for the 1st kilo] and the cat and mouse tactics of the past were discarded as an honest-paced final emerged. The two-time defending champion stayed calm: covering all moves and not seizing the lead until 2 laps remained. At the bell, Farah was followed closely by Joshua Chetegei, Paul Tanui, and Bedan Muchiri - 4 superb athletes fighting for 3 medals. As the bunched quartet approached the backstretch, the crowd gasped as Farah was soundly clipped from behind. Only an impulsive ballet-like move by the Olympic 10,000 meter champion prevented another Rio-like fall. The trip seemed to energize Farah who accelerated down the backstretch and opened a gap. Clocking 56 seconds on the final circuit - stumble and all - Farah completed the race with a punishing 5:07 final 2000 meters to stop the clock a 26:49.32 - his fastest championship clocking and his 2nd best 10K mark ever. And it earned him his 3rd consecutive world championship 10,000 meter gold medal.
 
 
2. Two Americans Defeat Bolt in 100m. 
 
In the men’s 100 meters, the seemingly-invincible Usain Bolt showed signs of vulnerability in the first two rounds. Was Bolt just playing possum? Or was the greatest sprinter of all time really on the ropes? In the final, the sprint legend - who has employed cautious starts ever since his 2011 false start ejection in Daegu - got out horribly, was all over the lane, and trailed the fast-starting Americans Justin Gatlin and the early-leading Christian Coleman. The long-striding Bolt closed with a vengeance, but it was not enough, as Gatlin - in lane 8 - hit the line first in 9.92, followed by his countryman [9.94] and the Jamaican two-time defending champion [9.95]. Undoubtedly disappointed, Bolt was nonetheless most gracious in extending congratulations to the winner. He embraced the American victor who looked equally relieved and exuberant with his unexpected victory. The capacity crowd- disappointed that they had not viewed Bolt's final individual championship victory - unleashed a torrent of boos upon the new champion. The hooting did not appear to bother Gatlin who now had won his second world championship 100 meter gold medal 12 years after his first one.
 
 
1. USA’s Coburn and Frerichs Grab Steeple Gold and Silver. 
 
While others might certainly have different #1 moments, if you are a dyed-in-the-wool Team USA fan there could hardly be another top choice. Although the American squad sustained a blow in this event when Colleen Quigley was disqualified in the heats for a controversial lane violation, the first round buzz in the mixed zone was all about how well the U.S's other two athletes performed. Olympic bronze medalist Emma Coburn looked completely relaxed and easily advanced in her opening heat. And automatic qualifier Courtney Frerichs confided in the mixed zone that her first round race "was the easiest 9:25 I've ever run" and that during her WC buildup she had "been PRing in workouts." The final was a strange one. Shortly after 400 meters, early Kenyan leader Beatrice Chepkoech failed to duck off the track toward the initial water jump. Backtracking, the Kenyan corrected her gaffe, rejoined the lead back, and ultimately finished 4th. The race adopted a solid, but not crazy, cadence as Bahraini Ruth Jebet - the world record holder - split 1K in 3:02 with the Americans right in the hunt. The real racing began after 2K’s [6:03]. Veteran Coburn - with upstart Frerichs covering her elder's every move - made a decisive move with 250 meters to go. It was a break to which the Kenyans did not - or could not - respond. With smooth, aggressive clearances over the final water jump, the two Americans were 1-2. Avoiding disaster down the homestretch, Coburn [9:02.58, AR, #6 all-time] and Frerichs [9:03.77, PR, then #7 all-time] crossed 1-2, both bettering Coburn's American record, defeating the world record holder and the top 3 performers on the world list, and grabbing the first-ever USA medals in this event. The twosome's spontaneous post-finish line celebration was pure, incredulous joy. Upon reflection, no one coming to London could have honestly believed that the United States would win more World Championship steeplechase medals than Kenya. But - as the saying goes - that's why they run the races.
 
Published in Track & Field
By Dave Hunter (August 1s, 2017; London)
Even with the 66,000+ fans who packed London's Olympic Stadium setting new decibel records in exhorting on their beloved countryman, Muktar Edris was not to be denied as the Ethiopian did something no man has been able to do in 6 years: unleash a finishing kick strong enough to defeat the incomparable Mohammed Farah in a global championship track final. The capacity crowd - which came in droves to witness what Farah has repeatedly stated will be his final big track competition - roared during Farah's introduction and then settled back to watch what they hoped who be yet another global championship for the Brit they call Sir Mo.
 
Unlike the 10,000 meter championship race 8 days ago where the pace was spirited from the gun, the early tempo in the 5000 final was funereal. Farah and USA's Paul Chelimo - the gold and silver medalists from Rio - raced to the front at the opening gun. After a spritely circuit in 62 seconds, the Rio medalists dialed it way back with a second lap in 70, ultimately leading the bunched field of 14 through 1 kilometer in 2:48. With Edris, Kenya's Cyrus Rutto, and Great Britain's Andrew Butchart joining the leaders, the tempo actually slowed further. Continuing a dawdling pace that has historically favored Farah and his torrid finish, the entire field - packed more tightly than the Underground's Central Line at rush hour - trotted past 2 kilos in 5:48. Farah fans were not worried. They had seen this movie before.
 
Soon thereafter, Ethiopia's 17-year-old Selemon Barega moved past co-leaders Farah and Rutto to take the lead and up the pace. While the 3rd kilometer was faster - a 2:44 - it was punishing no one. Shortly after 3K, Australia's Patrick Tiernan spurted into the lead and quickly pushed out to a 7-8 meter advantage over the others. Hey, mind the gap! But they didn't. With the reigning NCAA cross country champion up front, the man who thwarted Edward Cheserek's bid for 4 consecutive XC titles still had a 10 meter lead when he split 4 kilos in 11:09.
 
With 2 laps remaining, surely the 3-time defending champion would soon impose his will upon the field. But it did not happen. Farah seemed content to let this championship race go right down to the very end. Approaching the bell, Yomif Kejelcha - yet another Ethiopian - nursed a slight lead as he was closely followed by Edris and then Farah. The medal contenders were in full flight on the backstretch. Coming around the final curve, Edris's top gear was too much for Kejelcha who started tying up as he drifted away from the curb. Farah seized the opportunity to pass Kejelcha on the inside with a move that seemed capable of lifting him to victory. But Edris was too far gone. Chelimo passed Kejelcha on the outside but couldn't catch the Brit. A jubilant Edris crossed first in 13:32.79 followed by Farah [13:33.22]. Chelimo [13:33.51] grabbed the bronze while the fading Kejelcha [13:33.51] finished out of the medals.
 
After the race, the Ethiopian victor displayed his pre-race confidence. "I was highly prepared for this race and I knew I was going to beat Mo Farah," said a resolute Edris. "After the 10,000 he was maybe tired so he did not have enough for the last kick. I was stronger," declared the new champion. "Mo has many victories but now I have one. I am the new champion for Ethiopia. That's why I did the Mobot," he said. "I have won the gold in front of his home crowd. I didn't have much support but we did it. I did the Mobot out of respect as well for him."
 
Paul Chelimo thought team tactics played a role. "I think the Ethiopians had a plan because I think Kejelcha was out there to push the pace early and try and dampen Mo Farah's kick. Edris was just waiting and waiting to see and sitting by in the last 200 meters," offered the American medalist. "In the last 50 meters I thought 'There is no way I'm coming out without a medal here.' I had to fight and dig deep to get the bronze. To go home with a medal is not bad. I'm happy with performance. It's my second championship and a medal. I'm taking over next year. 2019 - I am after that gold."
 
Following this his last championship track race, Mohammed Farah provided his account of the final. "Tactically, I was trying to cover every move. They had the game plan: one of them was going to sacrifice themselves. That's what they did tonight, and the better man won on the day. I gave it all, I didn't have a single bit left at the end," admitted one of the greatest championship racers of all time. Before departing, Farah offered some final thoughts on this the conclusion of his magnificent track career. "It's been amazing. It's been a long journey but it's been incredible. It doesn't quite sink in until you compete here and cross the line - I had a couple of minutes to myself - that this is it."
Published in Track & Field
By Dave Hunter (Aug. 8, 2017; London)
The current confederation of the world's elite men pole vaulters is a highly-competitive, yet strangely collegial group. The legion is an assemblage of ambitious, focused, and talented athletes to be sure. But almost to a man, the top performers also possess an authentic and refreshing team spirit: occasionally engaging in friendly banter and encouraging each other onward to clear higher and higher heights. And on a raw and blustery London night, USA's Sam Kendricks - the fraternity's head cheerleader - strung together a magnificent series of jumps to win the world championship.
 
The weather played a role in the nighttime final. The vaulters could be seen bundling up between jumps to fend off the damp chill. Stocking caps and winter coats were easily spotted within yet another capacity crowd at Olympic Stadium as London's August weather took on a distinctly San Francisco flair.
Published in Track & Field
By Dave Hunter (Aug. 6, 2017, London)
It is difficult to believe that just two years ago, Aires Merritt - the then-reigning Olympic champion and world record holder in the 110 meter hurdles - was, in essence, fighting for his life. Arriving in Beijing to compete in the 2015 IAAF world championships, the American hurdler at last went public with the news release that he had been battling chronic kidney dysfunction and would be speeding back to the States after the Worlds competition to receive a kidney transplant from his sister Latoya Hubbard. Somehow, someway, Merritt - suffering from collapsing focal segmental glomerulosclerosis and competing with a dangerously low level of kidney function - found a way to string together 3 consecutive seasonal bests, including a clean 13.03 in the final, to capture the bronze. After the final, a beaming and somewhat incredulous Merritt proclaimed to the media, "This medal will shine brighter than my Olympic gold medal."
Published in Track & Field
Aug. 4, 2017, London
By Dave Hunter
 
On opening night of the 2017 IAAF World Athletics Championships, the rabid British track & field fans - and indeed most of the capacity crowd that packed London's Olympic Stadium - got their wish as the incomparable Mo Farah fended off a multi-national assault by a squad of African athletes and utilized a blistering finish to win his third straight world championship 10,000 meter crown.
 
After a tantalizing undercard which included the Bolt-featured opening rounds of the men's 100 meters, the restless audience was sufficiently amped for the only final of Day One, the night's closer: the men's 10,000 meter final. As the 24 distance warriors were led out onto the track behind juvenile standard bearers, the athletes walked with determination up the homestretch. All except one. Farah - who has never lost in this stadium - joyfully skipped into lane three. Almost giddy, the two-time defending champion waved his arms to exhort on his legion of adoring followers as he danced to the starting line. One thing was clear: he was ready to roll.
 
As the runners towed the line, many observers reflected on the dominant question: Would Farah's opponents allow the pace to linger, desperately clinging to an ill-advised championship strategy that had never led to a Farah defeat? Or would one or a group of his adversaries be bold enough to employ a different upbeat tactic, one inclined to push the Brit out of his comfort zone.
 
Shortly after the crack of the starting pistol, the answer was clear. It was so on. The Africans charged to the front with Uganda's Joshua Cheptegei splitting the opening 400 in 61. The crowd roared. This was going to be a bona fide, no-holds barred, 25 lap blood bath. Joining the Ugandan up front were Ethiopia's Adamlak Belihu and Kenya's Geoffrey Kamworor, a long-time Farah nemesis. After an opening kilo in 2:39, the 5-time world championship gold medalist was nestled into 15th place, unfazed by the brisk early race tempo. The tri-national combine soldiered on, passing 2K in 5:25 and 3K in 8:09. As laps rolled by, it was clear that the Ethiopian athletes were the backbone of this African continent assault as Abadi Hadis and countryman Jemal Yimer joined the front-packers pushing the pace.
 
Approaching 4 kilometers, Farah gently revved the engine, easily moving from the back of the pack to join the leaders while the partisan onlookers roared their approval. A 61 second pick-up just before halfway softened up the field and strung out the racers as they sped past 5 kilos in 13:33.
 
At 6K - passed in 16:17 - the lead pack had been reduced to 15. The African combine knew they had to press on. With 8 laps remaining, Cheptegei unleashed another body blow: a 65 second circuit with another 63 second lap that followed. With 1200 meters remaining - the African plan was unshaken: Hadis was flying in the lead with Kamworor in 2nd and Paul Tanui in 3rd . Covering those moves, but still in 6th, Farah was dialed in and appeared prepared for what he knew would be a furious finish.
 
Mo Farah winning 10,000m, photo by PhotoRun.net
Coming up on 2 laps remaining, Farah - knowing it was time to go - moved up into the lead. Controlling the race now from up front, Farah took the bell followed closely by Cheptegei, Tanui, and Kenya's Bedan Muchiri - 4 superb athletes fighting for 3 medals. As the bunched quartet approached the top of the backstretch, the crowd gasped as Farah was soundly clipped from behind, nearly falling. Only Farah's ballet-like balance prevented another Rio-like fall. The tussle seemed to energize the defending champion as he sped down the backstretch. Now in full flight with fans hitting record decibel levels, Farah took one quick backward glance in the homestretch to affirm he was safe. A final stumble-filled circuit in 56 seconds sent Farah across the line in 26:49.53 for the hard-fought victory. With a final 2000 meters in a punishing 5:07, Farah rang up his fastest championship clocking and his second best 10K mark ever. While the bold African race strategy could not deny Farah his third consecutive world 10,000 meter title, the aggressive pace-setters who set up this electrifying race were rewarded as the 28-year old Cheptegei took silver [26:49.94] and Tanui [26:50.60] grabbed the bronze.
 
Later, in the press conference, the re-crowned champion - with an ice bag affixed to his left knee - was gracious with the media. "It was amazing tonight, I had to get my head around it," declared the victor. "I got a bit emotional at the start and then I just had to get in the zone." Farah dispelled any notion that the race was stress-free. "It wasn't an easy race though. It has been a long journey where I have worked very hard on long distance but also speed." Farah, whose global distance domination has spanned nearly a decade, cites his championship race experience as aiding him in his win. "I knew at 12 laps to go when they went hard from there it was going to be tough. It was about believing in my sprint finish and knowing that I have been in that position before. It helped a lot having that experience." Sir Mo did take time to summarize his view on the evening. "What a way to end my career in London. This was very special."
 
Before leaving to receive a little treatment on his tender knee and to begin preparing mentally for the defense of his 5000 meter title, the incomparable champion took a moment to address the love affair he shares with the British fans. "It makes me proud to be British. This crowd is amazing," he notes. Pressed to explain the secret to his unparalleled success in global championships, Farah is candid. "It's been hard. I guess I'm just mentally strong." It's also helpful if you just happen to be the greatest distance running track racer of all time.
Published in Track & Field
By Dave Hunter (July 30, 2017)
 
In the wide-sweeping mosaic of collegiate track & field, there definitely are recognized pockets of event excellence. When you think about high jump proficiency, you think of Cliff Rovelto's program at Kansas State. The 400 meters? Well, Baylor's Clyde Hart and his one-lap thoroughbreds led by Michael Johnson and Jeremy Wariner certainly come to mind. Top flight hurdling encourages many to reflect upon South Carolina's Curtis Frye and his prodigies Lashinda Demus and Terrence Trammell. And terrific sprinting and horizontal jumping immediately prompt thoughts of Florida's Mike "Mouse" Holloway and his legion of dash men and sky pilots at the University of Flight.
 
Well there may be a new university poised to join this fraternity of event excellence. The University of Akron - with 5 NCAA pole vault championships since 2014 - is making quite a name for itself in this vertical jump and is increasingly being recognized as an incubator of collegiate pole vault superiority. Canadian Olympian Shawn Barber kicked off the current streak when he captured the 2014 NCAA indoor vault crown. German athlete Annika Roloff followed suit for the Zips when she was victorious in the 2014 NCAA outdoor championship vault. Barber kept it rolling in 2015 - his storybook year - when he successfully defended his NCAA indoor title, captured its outdoor vault crown, and later won the world championship pole vault gold medal in Beijing.
Published in Track & Field
by Dave Hunter
 
Last month in Sacramento, the sunbaked fans in Hornet Stadium raised eyebrows as they witnessed a relative unknown - a former Div. II champion in a florescent yellow singlet - uncork 3 consecutive furious finishes in the 3-race 800 meter war of attrition to gain a spot on the U.S. world championship team. For Drew Windle it was the fulfillment of a dream concocted nearly a decade ago. "My senior year in high school I set a goal that you set even though it is super far-fetched at the time,” notes the Brooks athlete as he reflects on that promise he made to himself to make a national team. “We kept working at it. I went to a Division II school [Ohio’s Ashland University] and did really well there - enough to get me a contract with Brooks in Seattle, Washington. The stars kind of aligned on the right day. And it happened. It was kind of a dream come true.”
 
Windle came to track & field in a curious way. Growing up outside of Columbus in New Albany, Ohio, Windle first fell in love with football - and he saw track & field only as a vehicle to secure more gridiron playing time. "In my freshman year of high school, the football coach was my track and field coach and I thought I would do track to maybe kind of suck up to the football coach so I could get some extra playing time later in my high school career. In track I ran the 100 and the 200," reveals Windle, whose calculating plans ultimately were scuttled. “My sophomore year, we got a new coach - my middle school history teacher - and he turned me into an 800m runner. And I was pretty average until my senior year.” But in the final weeks in high school, Windle experienced a breakthrough. “I ended up running 1:51 
Published in Track & Field

by Dave Hunter

June 22, 2017, Sacramento

 

With all due respect to every other event on the track and in the field, isn't there just something special - almost magical - about the 100 meters?

 

The heritage of the 100 meters - the "Century" as it is often referred to by the old-schoolers - is deeply rooted. Our fascination with speed, running speed, goes way back. It is engrained in our culture. From schoolyard squabbles to see who can run the fastest to the quadrennial Olympic finals in the dash, the 100 meters is the battlefield where the argument is finally settled: Who really is the fastest?

 

There is a certain notoriety that accompanies the "Fastest" title. With apologies to the mile, the 100 meters is probably the best known and most embraced track & field event for the expanded population that extends beyond track & field's hardcore fan base. Jesse Owens, Carl Lewis, Usain Bolt - all household names borne from, among other things, 100 meter success.

Published in Track & Field

by Dave Hunter

June 25, 2017, Sacramento

 

It is difficult enough for track & field athletes to religiously hone their craft in the never-ending drive to be among their country's best. But it is only in very rare circumstances when an even more remarkable performer can rise not simply to be among the country's best, but to be the country's dominating performer in that event. Today, steeplechase specialist Evan Jager showed once again that he is such an athlete.

 

After Jager left the University of Wisconsin to turn professional, it took a while for the Illinois native to find his best event. After dabbling with the longer, flat distance events, the young professional decided in 2012 to give the steeplechase a whirl.

Perhaps we should have known what was in store when Jager ran 8:06.81 to set the American record in only his 5 attempt at the 3000 meter barriered event. Since then, he has further lowered his American best several times to 8:00.45, been a two-time world championship steeplechase finalist, and made the Olympic steeple finals both in London and in Rio where he captured the silver medal. And today - under Sacramento's blazing sun and in oven-like conditions - the 28-year-old Nike athlete won his fifth national steeplechase title.

 

Thirteen other steeplechasers joined Jager in today's final. It is doubtful any honestly thought they could defeat the Olympic silver medalist. Their focus had to be upon securing one of the two remaining world championship berths. As the race got underway, Saucony's Brian Shrader and Michael ["Not Air"] Jordan rushed to the front to set the early pace. It was a modest tempo as the field respected the oppressive weather conditions. Jager - who two years ago set a 1500 meter personal best of 3:32.97 - was not likely rattled by the lighter cadence and the bunched competitors that surrounded him in the opening lap. In the second circuit, the Bowerman Track Club athlete moved up to fifth and then eventually slid into third within a pack that included Schrader, Haron Lagat, Olympian and American leader Hillary Bor, former Indiana star Andrew Bayer, and Nike's Stanley Kibenei. With just under a mile remaining, Lagat surged to the front, with both Bor and Jager covering Lagat's move. 

 

Just inside 3 laps remaining, Jager decided it was time for him to take the steering wheel as he easily moved to the front. Instead of unleashing a long kick, the American record holder throttled down the cadence as a pack of fully 10 crowded athletes hit the start/finish line together with 2 laps remaining. Jager took command for good with a powerful drive over the penultimate water jump - somewhat separating himself from his pursuers. By the bell, Kibenei, Bor, and Bayer had joined Jager in the breakaway. It had become a game of musical chairs: 4 athletes vying for 3 tickets to London. With half a lap remaining, the final positions remained undecided until Jager unleashed an aggressive, and speedy clearance of the final water barrier - a dramatic tactic reminiscent of the East Africans that drew "ooohs" in the press box. Jager's water jump move sparked his finish for the win in 8:16.88, while the remaining spots were still up for grabs. Teammates Kebenei and Bor hugged the rail over the final barrier, denying a driving Bayer of any hope of an inside pass. A desperate dive by Bayer [8:18.90] at the line proved unsuccessful as Kibenei [8:18.54] and Bor [8:18.83] snared the last two world championship tickets.

 

In the media tent, Bayer recounted those final meters. "The thing that I haven't quite done well yet is learn to kick on the homestretch in the steeple. It's a hard thing to do. I was coming back on Hillary," said Bayer, knowing he was running out of time. "So I went wide and I almost made it by..."

 

Second-placer Kebenei gave credit to his heavier and consistent training regimen. "This is the result of training, training, training. I've gone from running 60 miles a week to running 105 a week. I ran pretty easy today, so I'm thankful. I want to go to London and see if I can come away with a medal."

 

Not at his best in the Sacramento heat, Bor had to really battle to make the London squad. "That was tough. I did not feel good. I did not feel good on Friday. I did not feel good today. That was the toughest race I have ever done in a long time. I think the heat I guess. I think it was because of the heat. I am glad I made the team."

 

The now 5-time national champion offered insight into his race plan in the mixed zone. "The steeple is really coming around, and it just makes it harder to win," declared Jager afterwards. "I knew it was going to be hard. It was a little windy; I didn't want to be in the lead for four and a half laps like last year. So I wanted to wait, kind of trust my speed and my hurdling form and technique against the rest of the guys. I just wanted to stay relaxed as long as possible and when I went making it a hard move and just use the benefits of being in the lead while running fast over the barriers to my advantage." The winner commented on his last two water jump clearances. "Jerry [coach Schumacher] made sure I would stay focused [over the final 800 meters] going over that water jump and be very powerful and very strong when I land and use that as a way to just beat the guys instead of sprinting away from them. It felt really good." Dave Hunter

Published in Track & Field