So, we asked Jeff Benjamin to pick his top five moments of 2016, and he came back with ten moments with 2016! Jeff Benjamin has written for us for three decades plus. He is both fan and writer and that is what I enjoy about him.
So, here it goes....
The Best of 2016! By Jeff Benjamin
Many out there are more than happy to say goodbye to 2016. To say the year is ending on many down notes may be an understatement. Yet with bad times comes good ones as well. Despite some negatives about the Sport we all love, one could make the solid argument that the Sport may be on the most solid footing we've seen in recent times, culminating with great and historic performances in Rio. Say what you want, but one can make a strong argument that under Seb Coe, a solid plan has been put out there to move the Sport forward.
As both writer/fan I am humbly submitting to all of you my top 10 great moments which I was lucky enough to observe and in some, participate.
#10- The Rio medal performances of Clayton Murphy, Paul Chelimo, Jenny Simpson, Galen Rupp and Evan Jager!
-What great performances by these five! Although not winning the Gold, these five all sent a strong statement that American mid-long distance running is near the top of the world. Each of them ran gutsy, disciplined races, gambled on using their strategies and were each rewarded with a place in the medal podium.Also keep in mind that a few of these champions above are still quite young!
#9--The continual rise of the New Jersey-New York Track Club!
-Yeah, it is biased since I live in the neighborhood, but heck it's my list!
Besides how can one not say that the NJ-NY TC founded by Coach Gags is not on the rise? Quite a few of their members competed very well all season and at the Trials. Donn Cabral competed tough in the Rio Steeple final as well. Now as HOKA HOKA ONE, thanks to Mike McManus, has jumped into sponsorship of the club, rising Assistant Coaches Tom Nohilly and John Trautman will have more resources to work with. Three athletes on the team in particular may have an interesting 2017. 2012 Olympic Steepler Ashley Higginson has been toying with some road races recently, leading one to wonder if a Rod Dixon-like transition to longer distances are awaiting. Then there's Johnny Gregorek, who seems to be a miler possibly on the rise. Also don't forget that Colby Alexander ran a 3:50 mile down 5th Avenue. Stay tuned!
#8--The potential of Robby Andrews!
--At only 25, and with fans on watch noting not only his 3:34 1500 Outdoors and solid Millrose Mile performance (3:53) but also his near-miss world indoor medal and Rio DQ, the sky is still the limit for the Vigilante-Coached athlete. Sure, he suffered Olympic disappointment, but Andrews can study the history of the Sport and read of other great runners replete with failures in their careers. Or he can just look at who the 4th place 1500 London Olympic finisher was and what that guy did about it in 2016. His name? Matt Centrowitz!
#7--The Poise and Grace of Allyson Felix!
-Even after her frustrating loss in the 400 in Rio to a diving Shaunae Miller, Allyson Felix STILL had the Class to speak with fans, sign autographs and take pictures in the Rio stadium right after her performance. That kind of Karma went right back to her in the 4X100 qualifier where, after a shocking loss of the baton, Felix knew that regardless of the outcome the rules stated that the team had to finish the race. And that's what she did, as she led the team to finish so they could appeal their performance, were reinstated, then ran a solo qualifier for the final, then took the Gold running in lane one!! Good for her!
With Allyson Felix the day after the victorious 4X100. Pic by Tony Gulotta
#6--Time ran out on Eric Jenkins!
--So what does one do when they try really hard in both the Olympic trials 10K and 5K, fail to make it to Rio, and then just go back into training? How's about beating the Olympic Champion by running 3:49.5 down 5th Avenue in NYC? Eric Jenkins' time is quite fast (as a matter of fact the fastest 5th Avenue Mile since 1995!) and yes it's a road Mile but his list of victims aside from Matt Centrowitz does include Clayton Murphy, Robby Andrews, Leo Manzano, Chris O'Hare and Ben Blankenship to name a few. But alas, the 2016 season for these guys all on that day, so we'll have to wait and see what plans Coaches Alberto Salazar and Pete Julian have in store for him in 2017!
#5--Honoring an Olympic Legend!
-- 61 years ago Horace Ashenfelter honed his trading and racing skills around Watsessing Park in Essex County,New Jersey. He was rewarded for his hard work with numerous national championships and records, but also with the Olympic Gold Medal in the Steeplechase, defeating Soviet star Vladimir Kasentsev before thousands of onlookers (including his wife Lillian) in a dramatic, last water hurdle surge to give him the Gold. All the more amazing was the dedication of the track this past October in Ashenfelter's honor, with both the Olympic Champion, at the age of 93 along with his wife!
PS- I'm still trying to find out if Ashenfelter is America's Oldest living Track and Field Olympic Gold Medalist!
L-R Jeff Benjamin, Elliott Denman, Horace Ashenfelter, son John Ashenfelter, and 2-time NYC Marathon Champion Tom Fleming. Photo by Ken Christensen.
#4--The success of Michelle Carter!
--How's about scoring an upset by making your last Shot Put throw your best? That's what thousands in Rio and millions around the world saw as Michelle Carter upset 2-time champion Valerie Adams to win the Gold.
Now fast forward 2 months later-as I was going into New Dorp High School to go to my day job who should I see appearing but none other than Michelle Carter! What the students learned from Carter (whose appearance was sponsored by Understood.org, a non-profit group dedicated to helping kids of all ages with disabilities) was that, although shot-putting was in the family as evidenced by her father Michael, Michelle struggled with dyslexia and ADHD throughout her early years, telling students of all the struggles she conquered to stand on the top podium to receive the Gold Medal. A true champion indeed!
#3--"A Miler's Kick Does the Trick"
--I thought I had him. Last April, in a local 5K here on Staten Island, my pal Tony Gulotta and I ran through the race with Kiwi great Rod Dixon. As we traversed along to the final 30 yards, the 1972 Olympic 1500 Bronze Medalist and 1983 Marathon Champion put on a quick burst to nip Gulotta and I to the finish, a la in the style of many of his signature performances over a world-class career which lasted more than 3-decades! "I learned that move from my friend Steve Williams!", said Dixon of the former 100-meter World Record Great. I was hoping to scratch that goal off my bucket list but it was not meant to be. However Tony and I will have another golden opportunity in May, as our race guest will be Olympic Marathon Good Medalist Frank Shorter! Stay tuned!!
#2--A Great Farewell to one of the Greats!
--This past November York High School in Elmhurst, Illinois said farewell to "The Long Green Line's" Joe Newton. Newton, the most successful high school XC coach in history, was honored with a grand ceremony amidst a sea of green shirts everywhere, with some York Alums who attended going back to the late 1950's. The only high school coach selected to the staff of the US Olympic Track and Field team back in 1988, Newton was also acknowledged by longtime friend and IAAF President Sebastian Coe in a video sent by him. What was surprising to me was the appearance of legendary runner Craig Virgin, who drove many hours and endured a car crash to make it to York to pay respect to a Coach he competed against, yet always admired!
Drumroll Please! #1-Matt Centrowitz!
--Need I say more? Being present to watch this historic achievement, along with the subsequent medal ceremony firmly cements this as the #1 moment of 2016. Boldly going into the lead and keeping it at a slow pace for 3 laps, Centro powered home to win America's first 1500 gold medal since 1908's Mel Sheppard!! But there's one last anecdote I'd like to share with you. Watching Centro grow through the years one also saw a kid who "gets it". So, when miling great Jim Ryun sent him a pre-race good luck message, and then Seb Coe presented him with his Gold medal, Centro truly knew and understood the magnitude of what he accomplished, not only for himself, but for his friends, family and country.
A few weeks later at the 5th Avenue Mile, I presented the new Olympic Champion with a small token of my appreciation for what he had done- 2 vintage 1908 cards of Mel Sheppard.
Of course, Centro "got it!" From one Champion to another!