USATF Prepares for New Heights
in Dynamic Olympiad
Edwardo Torres, USATF Men's Long Distance Running
(Part 4 in a multi-part series)
by Mark Winitz
Jorge and Edwardo Torres, Matt Gabrielson, Pre Classic 2009,
photo by PhotoRun.net
Edwardo Torres (who also goes by "Ed") was elected to a four-year term as Chair of USA Track & Field's Men's Long Distance Running Committee in December 2012, succeeding Glenn Latimer. He had previously served as an athlete representative on the USATF Men's LDR Executive Committee since 2008. Torres grew up in Illinois, and is the twin brother of Jorge Torres, a 2008 U.S. Olympian at 10,000 meters.
Edwardo had an outstanding athletic career at the University of Colorado where he was a 6-time All-American (cross country and track) and helped the Buffaloes win their first NCAA team title in 2002. He represented the U.S. on three Senior men's squads at the IAAF World Cross Country Championships (2003, 2008, 2009), and on the U.S. marathon squad at the 2009 IAAF World Track and Field Championships in Berlin. Now retired from racing, Torres owns personal records of 13:57.91 (5,000m), 28:17.87 (10,000m), and 2:17:54 (marathon).
Edwardo and Jorge own and operate PR Medal Engravers, based in Chicago and Boulder, which supplies on-site medal engraving services for running events and triathlons.
We interviewed Edwardo on two separate occasions for this article: In mid December, 2012 (barely two weeks after he was elected as USATF's new MLDR Chair) and again last May.
MW: What are your top three goals and priorities for LDR during the next four years?
Glenn (Latimer) did a heck of a job for the sport of long distance running. I just want to keep the ball rolling over the next four years. There's definitely a lot of work to be done, but if we can get one or two key (programs and initiatives) into play, it will be a great help.
One of my priorities is to get U.S. men on the Olympic marathon podium in 2016 in Rio. I think the key to that for any athlete is having excellent coaching and the financial resources to live on while pursuing the demands of the marathon. What can USATF do to facilitate these things? We can only try to make the connection for the athletes and agents and educate them: Let them know what it means to take the big money up front [from a sponsor] and getting performance cuts if you don't perform. A lot of these athletes don't realize that it's a cutthroat business out there. Money just doesn't come to them like water flowing in a river. So, we need to make sure our athletes know what their agents should be asking of sponsors to protect themselves over a long-term commitment, not for just a one- or two-year deal.
Let's face it, distance runners get hurt. You might have to take a year off, and that's usually when you get the axe from your sponsor. So, we can help agents and athletes with the basics of negotiating a long-term relationship with a sponsor, as opposed to a one-chance-and-you're-done type deal. If we offered, say, a class at the annual meeting for rookie distance runners just out of college about how to negotiate a sponsor contact, I think they might attend. Maybe they might want to wait and attend the class before signing a contract. This is relevant education for athletes in many disciplines, not just distance runners. These are self-employed people, and they need to know how to run their own business.
Will this, alone, get our athletes on the Olympic marathon podium? No. It's a challenging task. But if I can implement just one significant thing in this respect before my four-year term as Men's LDR Chair is over I'll be happy.
MW: Give me two other significant things you'd like to accomplish, priority areas.
I want to get more of our top performers from the past involved in mentoring our young, talented athletes. This may be through coaching, educating athletes about the challenges of getting to the top and how to tackle them, etc. I aim to encourage our top alumni to give some of our current athletes a call occasionally and give them a little advice. Help them make the correct decisions.
My third goal is to offer more competitive opportunities for distance runners. I'd like to have more U.S. road championships so athletes have a variety to pick and choose from. In particular, I'd like to add a four- to seven-mile distance race to the USA Running Circuit/Championship series in the late summer timeframe. This would give athletes gearing up for a fall marathon a break in their marathon training, and a low-pressure race where they could possibly make a little extra [prize] money. Also, it would offer a road racing opportunity for our 5K and 10K athletes who are finishing up their track seasons and are still in good shape.
Also, we want to start looking for new championship locations. In particular, I'd like to see a championship on the west coast. Many of our best athletes train there. Let's give them some championship opportunities closer to home.
M.W: How about our USA Distance (training) Centers? Have you set priorities there for the next four years?
There are a lot of good, young athletes right now who have the same kind of potential as Ryan Hall, Dathan Ritzenhein, and Meb Keflezighi. They have the fire and the tools to become world class athletes. We need to provide them with a structure: competitive clubs to train with, and favorable training locales. There's no reason that we can't continue to have marathoners go under 2:10 and win medals at major championships. We have guys like Jason Hartmann getting fourth at the Boston Marathon (two years in a row, 2012 and 2013 - Editor). This is just a taste of what we'll be seeing over the next eight years.
We want to continue to support training groups that will provide us with Olympic athletes. We'd like to see our LDR championship events partner with us to help support these training groups. Training by yourself every day is impossible. I was part of a training group (Boulder Performance Group) that helped my brother (Jorge) make the 2008 Olympic team. It's important to have a structure around you, athletes who put in a good effort every day regardless of how they feel.
M.W: Of course, you and Jorge had the benefit of training under the guidance of (former marathon world record holder) Steve Jones. How can we better involve coaches in USATF affairs and work with them to help identify our stars of the future and work with them?
That's a good question. It's an area I want to investigate. Running under Steve, we had a great respect for his running accomplishments. We listened closely to him. The big thing I learned from Steve is that it takes a very dedicated commitment to become a top athlete. The only way you can do that is by surrounding yourself with strong leaders who have strong developmental skills, and a supportive training environment.
But coaches are only one part of the matrix. Proper physical therapy, for example, is also very important. We need to find a way for athletes who have the abilities to perform well for the U.S. in big races to easily access these kinds of services.
MW: What are your three biggest challenges in respect to USATF LDR during the next four years and how will you address them?
I mentioned a goal of having our top "alumni" distance runners from the past serve as mentors for our young up-and-comers. Getting these alumni involved in USATF affairs is a challenge in itself. Many of them have moved on with their lives.
Another challenge is getting race directors to commit to hosting USA road championships. The requirements in our championship contracts can get quite pricey on their end--prize money, drug testing, hosting elites, that kind of thing. If we can bring in previous and current race directors who have hosted championships and have them share the benefits of hosting a championship, we might be able to offset some of these barriers. For example, have them share the local community pride, teamwork, and sense of accomplishment that comes with hosting a U.S. championship.
Right now, I'm focusing on these two challenges. Of course, others will probably be brought to my attention as I get my feet wet in the Men's LDR Chair position.
MW: Based on your experience as an elite athlete, and working as a volunteer on USATF's Men's LDR Executive Committee, where has USATF been lacking in respect to LDR in the past, and what can we do about these areas?
I think in the past there's been this belief among many USATF factions that we could get a large percentage of our business done at our annual meetings of the organization. Max Siegel (USATF CEO) and Stephanie Hightower (USATF President) have figured out that you can't just have an annual meeting and expect everything to be corrected there. In fact, last April the LDR Committee Chairs and Jon Drummond (USATF Athlete's Advisory Committee Chair) were brought to USATF's national office in Indianapolis where we met with the organization's hired administrators. It was a good forum for us to tackle various issues-- to hear about the high administration's projects on the table for the next four years, and talk about how we can work together on them. And now, I have a clearer knowledge about who specifically to contact in the national office about specific concerns or questions.
MW: From your point of view, what are the biggest strengths of long distance running in the U.S.? How can USATF capitalize on these strengths to improve the sport as a whole?
Obviously the volume of distance races, and the number of participants in these races, is huge. Our strength is the huge number of runners who love the sport. Our job as an athletic federation is to reach out to these masses in ways that promote the sport, its physical benefits, and the sense of accomplishment and confidence that people get from running. In particular, our elite athletes are perfect for communicating these benefits. For example, when recreational runners meet and interact with elite runners at race expos (or USATF-organized forums - Editor) it often inspires them to set their own goals and achieve them. This, in turn, inspires others and helps keep our sport vital and growing.
MW: What additional things can USATF be doing that we're not doing now to help young, talented long distance runners bridge from collegiate athletes to the professional ranks?
In college, athletes have the benefit of a coach and a team to help motivate them. The coach tells the whole team to go out and do ten miles and they do it. You get into the routine. When you're out there by yourself it's largely self motivation. You need to fire up yourself. No one can teach that. It needs to come from within. The only thing USATF can do is to help the athlete be less stressed out by the essential things on a professional runner's plate--things like effectively dealing with the business end of the sport, which I've already touched upon. We can give them guidance about where to find a good coach if they aren't planning on staying with their current coach. We also have an excellent network of LDR training centers that athletes can hook into if they have the talent. In fact, good athletes just out of college are now being recruited by these groups, which wasn't the case a few years ago.
MARK WINITZ is a longtime writer for AMERICAN TRACK & FIELD. He sits on USATF's national Men's Long Distance Running Executive Committee and Law & Legislation Committee. He also sits on Pacific Association/USATF's Board of Athletics and is a Certified USATF Master Level Official/Referee.