This is the first interview of the three candidates for USATF President, Dee Jensen, Bob Bowman and Stephanie Hightower. Ms. Hightower has sent me a note that she is working on the questions. I have heard nothing from Ms. Jensen. I will continue to follow up for her.
This is a very, very important job. Bill Roe will be a tough person to replace. The President of USATF will need to be able to work with the new CEO, the IAAF, the IOC, and the USOC, as well as 90,000 plus USATF members.
The art of politics is an art. The new president of USATF must, in my mind, be able to work well with others, and that includes knowing when to comment and when not to comment.
How did you get started in our sport?
I got started in the sport in high school, where I ran the mile and high jumped. I became a big fan of track & field, read Track & Field News, and went to many big meets in Southern California in the 50’s and 60’s when track & field was a covered like a major sport by all the media. I also tried race walking in high school but didn’t decide to concentrate on it until I was a senior in college.
What it your first memory of our sport?
My first memory of our sport is watching20the 1956 Olympic Games on television when I was a kid. I can still name most of the champions from that Olympics. Some years later, I got to meet some of those athletes and even became friends with a few like Hal Connolly and Al Oerter. I also was fortunate to meet Jesse Owens when I was a freshman in high school, my first year of running track. He gave a talk at a school in my home town of Pomona, California and was fantastic. He became my hero. I was so impressed with him that I wrote a school paper on the 1936 Olympic Games. Years later I came in contact with him several times and even had lunch with him at the 1966 Commonwealth Games along with Harold Abrahams, the 1924 Olympic champion at 100 meters. What an experience! I was especially impressed by how patriotic Jesse Owens was despite the racism he experienced growing up.
What was your first coaching, officiating, or volunteer position in our sport?
I actually helped coach my high school distance running teammates since our head coach was a football coach assigned to coach track. While still a competing walker, I began officiating local race walking events as the need arose. I also served as Chair of my local AAU Association race walking committee while still competing as an
athlete in Southern California.
Tell us about dealing with the IAAF?
I’ve been involved with the International Association of Athletic Federations (IAAF) since 1981 when I was first elected to the IAAF Race Walking Committee. I was elected as chairman of the Committee for two terms (1991-1999) and also served as a delegate to the IAAF Congress on several occasions when one of our regular delegates couldn’t make it. On one of those occasions, I introduced legislation to require at least two women to be on the IAAF Council. That legislation passed, ending an 80-year span when only men served on the Council. However, my most challenging times dealing with the IAAF came when I was Chair of the IAAF Race Walking Committee and we had a cheating incident ;by an international race walk official from Italy at the 1993 World Championships. The IAAF president at the time, Primo Nebiolo, was from Italy and was an ego-driven dictator of the sport while president from 1981 until 1999 when he died in office. He attempted to block my investigating the cheating incident and we battled it out until we eventually had a hearing which resolved the matter. Basically, he wanted me to go along with the cover-up he had engineered. After I refused, he attempted to rig the next election against me. I won by a big margin even though he tried to blackmail delegates into voting against me. After that, he stayed clear of me while I was Race Walk Chairman.
Tell us about how you can make USATF better?
USATF can be a much more effective organization with leaders who will work in the best interests of their constituents and our sport to achieve our goals domestically. I believe I have the experience and insights to provide that leadership. I have a long history of executive experience at every level of our sport–local, national and international. I was the first person to introduce strategic planning to USATF and, if elected president, I will reintroduce this valuable tool to improve every area of our organization. This includes increasing our revenue streams, developing our weaker events, improving our National Championships and Olympic Trials, increasing our membership, providing more and better support for our grass roots programs, and developing a more effective relationship with the USOC and IAAF. Leading a newly restructured Board of Directors will be the key to us achieving these goals.
How do we get more USATF members?
One thing we can do to get more members is to learn how youth soccer dramatically increased their membership. For example, in Northern California there are 300,000 youth soccer players and 3000 youth track athletes. We must demonstrate to our constituents that they receive value for their membership fee. That means our local Associations providing more and better opportunities to participate in track & field, cross country, road running, race walking, and M.U.T. (mountain/ultra-distance/trail running) at every level of our sport. Right now, that isnâ€™t happening in many of our 57 Associations. We need to provide those Associations with assistance and incentives to do that, and our national officers and national office needs to make that a priority.
How can the sport bring in more dollars?
Even during these tough economic times we can increase our revenue by increasing our membership and renegotiating the monies we receive from the USOC, which I believe is extremely low ($2.2 million out of $180M USOC budget in 2007). We also need to renegotiate the rights fees for the 2012 Olympic Trials, which the current Board awarded for almost nothing and is one of USATF’s most valuable event assets. We also need to greatly expand the presence of our sport on television to be able to attract more corporate sponsorships.
How do we make the experience of USATF better for high school, open, elite, and masters athletes?
First, Americaâ€™s high school and college track & field programs have done a great job, and participation at that level of our sport is at an all-time high. The USATF challenge is creating the similar opportunities to participate in our sport once athletes leave our school-based programs. To do that, we need to conduct a national campaign to re-energize the USATF Club System.
At the post-collegiate level, we also need to define our sport so that the general public can follow it more intelligently. The lengthy baseball, football, and basketball seasons all lead towards qualifying for play-offs that lead to their respective championships. Track & field, however, is currently a hodgepodge of events that the media regards as â€œpractice competitionsâ€ of little importance. Thatâ€™s because, for the most part, there is no team-scoring, no grand prix points, and no prize money on the line. To elevate the stature of track & field we need to create new high performance events in every major market of the United States. We need to bundle them with the handful of such events we currently have into a series or a circuit that concludes with our National Championships. We need to get sponsors for the entire series, not just individual events, and we need to get that series on television. That is something the media will cover and take seriously, and that is the model that has been used by all the successful professional sports. We also need to bring IAAF Championship events to the United States. Its now been 17 years since we last hosted such an event. I know that because I was the Chairman of its organizing committee.
A national Masters program that includes regional meets should be developed and promoted. This is a wonderful part of our sport that needs to be elevated in importance. These athletes deserve it and we need to include this
in our strategic plan. We also need to attract the world veteran championship competition to be held in the USA.
What was really wrong with Eugene 2008?
Eugene was a great venue for our Olympic Trials and the local organizers did a terrific job. That said, there were some things that USATF could have, and should have done better. The right fees Eugene paid should have included more financial support for subsidizing our officials’ travel expenses. The coaches seating was in the furthest possible area from the athlete warm-up and check-in areasâ€”and coaches actually had to leave and re-enter the stadium to get there. The shuttle bus pick-up/drop-off situation at Autzen Stadium and Hayward Field was a nightmare. A better explanation of the process used for selecting our Olympic Team would have been helpful for the fans and the media. The jumbo-tron could have been used better for posting the fields, results, splits, and current standings.
Why did we have so many ups and downs in Beijing?
For the most part, it was the result of two things: 1) USA Track & Field currently lacks some of the key attributes necessary for a successful world-class track program year in and year out; and 2) the vigorous nature of the sport today works against peak performances and consistency. Both of these factors need to be analyzed properly with necessary adjustments made. To start with, USATF needs to develop our weaker events. For instance, we have never had an Olympic finalist in the women’s triple jump. That should be a priority for 2012. And, needless to say, our relay program is broken and has to be fixed.
What should be the relationship between the IOC, IAAF and USATF?
USATF really has no direct relationship with the IOC. USATF interfaces with the USOC and the IAAF, the international governing body for track & field. Both in turn interface with the IOC. We currently have little influence with the IAAF and a less than ideal relationship with the USOC. Our relationship with the USOC should be greatly improved by our newly restructured Board of Directors that acts in a mature professional way. If USATF meets its medal count goals at the Olympics and Pan American Games, the USOC is pleased because they, in turn, have met their goals. USATF is a partner with the USOC in accomplishing these objectives. An effective partnership is the relationship we need to pursue with the USOC.
As a member federation of the IAAF, it is extremely important that USATF rebuilds its position of leadership and influence within the IAAF. This will help us to affect needed changes in areas of competition rules, drug prevention policies, the awarding of important international competitions, the certification of international officials, and electing USATF candidates to positions of importance within the IAAF. All these actions will have a positive effect on the success of our USA athletes internationally. The relationship we need to pursue with the IAAF is being one of its most effective member federations.
What can you say about your competition for USATF president, Dee Jenson and Stephanie Hightower?
Dee Jensen is a highly ethical and competent technical official within USATF. She has been a very positive and honest volunteer who I have enjoyed working with in the past. I have nothing to say about Stephanie Hightower.
Runblogrun.com encourages you to check out the sites of Shooting Star Media, Inc.: American Track & Field (www.american-trackandfield.com), Athletes Only (www.atf-athlete.com), California Track & Running News (www.caltrack.com), MIssouri Runner & Triathlete (www.morunandtri.com), Latinos Corriendo(www.latinoscorriendo.com), Coaching
Athletics Quarterly (www.coachingathleticsq.com), and USATF Fast Forward (www.usatf.org). All of the above magazine websites can be found at RunningNetwork.com (www.runningnetwork.com).