Harry Marrra column
by ELLIOTT DENMAN
MOSCOW – You have to love that guy.
You have to love that Harry Marra.
You can’t think of anyone in the sport who’d deny that Harry Marra is one of the best things track and field’s got going for it right now.
No one would dare.
Or even try.
Certainly not after the goings-on at Luzhniki Stadium the first four days of the 14th edition of the World Track and Field Championships.
To many, the multis are the heart and soul of the sport, the juncture of track and field, at the four-way intersection of muscle and mind, speed and stamina.
Harry Marra’s two best students reached that juncture in near-perfect unison.
Olympic champion and world record-holder spent Ashton Eaton spent Saturday and Sunday winning his first World Championships gold medal for Team USA in the decathlon.
Wife Brianne Theisen Eaton spent Monday and Tuesday winning the silver medal for Team Canada in the heptathlon.
What a couple!
“There’s never been anything like this before,” said multi-events guru Dr. Frank Zarnowski.
“Never?” asked Marra. “Are you sure?”
“Never,” said Dr. Z.
“So, he’s right,” said Marra, at last conceding.
Yes, there have been such great couples in the track and field world as Emil and Dana Zatopek, Olga and Harold Connolly, Bill Toomey and Mary Rand, Flo-Jo and Al Joyner, and lots more. But, always in different events, not always when they were man-and-wife, not ever in the land of the multis.
The A&B Eatons, newlyweds of just a few weeks’ standing, are in understandable concurrence in all matters of mutual importance.
But their most important matter of agreement is that, almost surely, they’d never-ever have climbed their respective podiums (or is podia?) without Harry Marra.
The track and field coaching lifestyle is never a lucrative one. There are apprenticeships to undertake, indignities to accept, hardships to endure. It’s often a wayfarers’ existence.
So Harry Marra’s ties have been to New York, to New Jersey, to Maryland, to California and now to Oregon. Maybe spots in between, too.
He tells you one of the best things that ever happened to him was U. of Oregon coach Vin Lananna’s invitation to coach the multis people of Eugene. (Lananna’s own fortunes have taken him from Long Island/ New York, California and Ohio, to Oregon.)
And once he was established coaching the Ducks, Marra, with some Nike help, was able to segue into the job of guiding the Eatons’ fortunes.
USATF CEO Max Siegel put it this way after Marra was named the national governing body’s coach of the year and appropriately saluted at its national meeting last December in Daytona Beach, Florida:
“Coach Marra’s passion for the sport of track and field goes beyond what he does with athletes on the track. He is a person who truly gives back and works to grow our sport. It was great to see him and the athletes he coaches enjoy the unprecedented success they achieved.”
As an official USATF statement put it, “Coaches in our sport work with athletes for years for the athlete to develop. On the high school and college tracks, track and field and cross country coaches work 46 weeks a year, six days a week, two hours, fifteen minutes a day (at high school level, triple that as a college coach) with the 1.4 million athletes at high school and 300,000 at college level.
“Athletes who continue on, pursuing the elite world of the sport, are focused on their sport for ten to fifteen years. Good coaching, and a strong coach-athlete relationship are key in the success of an athlete.”
Harry Marra, at 65, is key to all the successes of the Eatons.
Their feats have put a new bounce into his step, a wider-than-ever smile on his face, and a special joy for all who know him to behold.
There’s little chauvinism in the multis-world. Come-through performance are applauded by all. The tough luck is shared, as well. And multis competitions are forever full of both.
So it’s understandable why the great ritual of the multis is for all involved to plop down on the track after the final event, the 1500 meters for the dec-sters, the 800 for the hep-sters. And, then after the wakeup calls, the traditional mass-trot around the rim of the arena, to the universal applause of their audience.
These are always some of the great moments of the game.
And only when all the numbers are computed, all the rankings determined, and the medals distributed, time to talk about all that’s gone on.
“Ashton showed it for his two days, and Brianne showed it for her two,” said Marra. “They showed that if you’re steady and you do your thing, it’s definitely going to work for you.
“I’m an emotional guy, but to do what they did this year, in a post-Olympic year (when many Americans would be happy if track and field took a sabbatical) was incredible, phenomenal.
“People who know what this is all about, they stress the trauma that you go through.”
People who know Harry Marra know that his ability to shield the Eatons from much of that stress was likely the biggest factor in all that they did.
Years past, the world’s top decathlete was recognized as the world’s greatest athlete. These days, the world’s greatest multi-athletes have to negotiate the heavy traffic already chock-a-block with the feats of the gymnasts, the beach volleyballers, the X-Games-ers, if they have any chance of getting the recognition they deserve.
Harry Marra was told the Eatons would look great together on a Wheaties box. “Great idea,” he said. “I’ll start working on it.” As if he didn’t have enough on his plate already. Another job for Mr. Multis – a job you might call a Marra-thon.