Breathe in, Breathe out: Observing some of the fastest runners in the world: some thoughts on the USATF Outdoors, by Larry Eder

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Tracktown USA, June 2015, photo by

I wrote this at the end of June, and played with it for a while. I then had Pat Neary, an experienced reelance editor (former training partner and on 1980-81 Santa Clara Cross Country Team with me, when I was a much younger human). 

I was sitting in San Jose, at Cafe Frascati, and, after all the sports crisis that have happened this week, thought it might be a nice piece to ponder. This piece was written to go out just before my European tour.

I still am not sure how the any of the current issues in our sport will work out, but I wanted to try and put some in perspective. 

I am off to Beijing on August 17, 2015. Watch for the Beijing Diary to begin on August 18. 

Breathe in, Breathe out: Observing the Fastest Runners in the World, Some thoughts on the USATF Outdoors...

The last week of June in Eugene, Oregon was not without some controversy. The cloud of the BBC Panorama broadcast, a program that fell short of my expectations, was cast over Hayward Field. The haters still hate and the others wonder what the hell is going on. 

Here is how I consider L'affaire Salazar: If there is truth to it, then NOP athletes will tell the truth under oath. One is not stupid enough to lie under oath. And USADA is questioning athletes, per newspaper reports.

And, if Nike stock is affected, meaning public perception of cheaters hurts the value of the $31 billion behemoth, then Mr. Knight and Mr. Parker will be visiting said coach before Bowerman turns him, from on high, into a pillar of salt. 

Mr. Salazar's' missive or, as it should be called, the 98 theses, has many believers. There are big differences between pushing envelopes and cheating. 

Again, haters still hate, and the others wonder what the hell is going on...

It is one thing to push the envelope, which I believe many elite athletes and coaches do. It is another to outright cheat, and violate WADA and USADA rules. It is in the gray area that scares many.

The gray area is also where the confusion comes in. Since no one can quantify, in said gray area, is everyone behaving poorly? 

The ironic thing is, U.S. and British athletes do better on the world stage when testing is tougher. My semi-educated thought is that majority of cheaters are caught. 

Big money and big sneaks are on so-called watch lists but not caught as of yet. 

The Salazar affair also shows vitriol and bad feelings among haves and have nots. Athletes have a sense of justice and fair play. I am confused over athletes, who, after sponsorships, gripe about how poorly they were treated. 

The other issue is, well, track exhaustion. In the months of May and June, there have been way too many events in Eugene this year. Be careful what you wish for, someone once said. I think the not completely full stands during the US championships was, well, track exhaustion and empty pocketbooks.

The meet was wonderful with the exception of heat and humidity normally found this time of year in Laos and Cambodia.

Most track fans love the sprints. Rounds of the sprints are teasers. 

Sprinters need to race, and in subtropical Eugene with global warming winds, the times were epic--9.76 for men in wind of nearly 30 miles an hour (a slight exaggeration and "serious windage," as Dave Johnson might say), and 10.76 for women. 

English Gardner flew down the track with a look that could peel paint. Tori Bowie charged down the track leaving world champions and an Olympic medalist in her wake. In the final, it was Bowie and Gardner away from the field, with Bowie showing why coach Lance Brauman smiles every time he speaks of her.

English Gardner is a redemption story and her running in 2015 is superb. Jasmine Todd, the Oregon long jumper and Pac-12 100 meter champ took third, with two Duck-related athletes in the top three. Hats off to Duck sprint coach Curtis Taylor and John Smith (now coaching Gardner). 

I have interacted with Oregon Coach Robert Johnson a few times, and enjoy his demeanor and communication with his athletes.  I spotted him speaking with Jasmin Todd during her long jump foray over the weekend.

The men's 100m was the Trayvon Bromell story. Bromell was fresh off his NCAA performances and showed his stuff in the rounds. Ryan Bailey false-started, but the real story seems to be injuries with an athlete who has much to show our sport.

Justin Gatlin was a "Bye!" in the 100m and is the fastest man, currently, with his ungodly 9.74 in Doha, which I viewed in rapt attention. I recall earlier notes in my tablet on Gatlin: "Stay quiet and run." In Doha, he spoke, and in 45 minutes, was thoughtful and fairly open. Amazing what happens when one is not suggested to be a boot-dragging drug cheat who kicks children and dogs (again exaggeration for effect). 

Gatlin's 200 meters blew all of the fans away. Haters or not, most of the ten thousand fans on Sunday were in rapt attention as Justin came off the turn, running to win, which he did.  

The press conferences at Birmingham and the Eugene USATFs were a travesty or perhaps, high theatre. I am not sure that some of the media want answers from Justin Gatlin; the video controversy sure brings viewers to their sites. In Birmingham, I am sure that many in the media wanted to see Mo Farah godsmacked; of the 37 questions, two were about track and field, the rest, of course, were on alleged drug use.

If I was managing Gatlin, I would have had the sprinter offer one hour to Weldon Johnson and others with questions, requesting that they listen to the answers without interrupting. A civil conversation? What would the world say?

Gatlin will always have the stench of drug offenses following him since he is so damn fast. My take is that he is complicated by his years away from the sport. All Justin Gatlin seems to want to do is run. He does that quite well. 

In the end, I'm not sure about drugs helping after Gatlin stopped training, or his first two years back, where he totally stank, would have been much different. 

Again, what is rumor, and what is real?That is the damage that the stench of drugs has on our sport. 

Past drug cheats have WADA and USADA so far up their backsides that "cavity check" does not come close to describing the intimate level of interest from these drug cheats' nemeses. My big beef with USADA and WADA: Take marijuana off the banned list. My life experience suggests that a few hits from the proverbial dream stick and I put Cypress Hill on constant replay. No competition after some Larry-ogi (actual brand name).

Tyson Gay is a sprinter of much more complication, in my mind. His positive pained me personally. I found Gay to be a young man who worked hard and just did not do stupid things. Well, that changed in July 2013. But, he admitted his wrongdoing and repaid $500,000 to meet directors. Gay is running well this season. 

His win was not from performance enhancement but from racing as a wily veteran of the sport. It was nice to see race tactics winning a race. 

I believe the USA team could win the 100m and 200m in the men's and women's competition in Beijing. I also think that the US men's 4x100m team looks quite good. If I do bits on BBC radio as I did in Eugene (quite fun, track belongs on radio), the commentator will have to mention that three athletes on the men's side have had drug offenses and that a relay coach is also in that category. 

How do I respond? I can try and do my global overview, and also note that cheating is part of our culture. That does not explain it, though. 

Deep in thought, I walk around an empty stadium on Sunday, after the end of the meet.

I sit up in the east stands in Hayward Field. Through my clouded eyes, I see a guy of about sixty in an Oregon hoodie, with a mustache grayed by the years, with his Taco Bell burrito in one hand, and his ever-present Coors in a paper bag, in the other, smiling. 

Then, I hear his voice. "Always going to be cheats with money and global sports. All you can do is put in your honest effort, and after the race, grab your competitors in a bear hug, go to the Duck and tell bullshit stories of how it was in 1974. In all truth, I would have raced my heart out for a damn T-shirt or a cheap medal. Give me 12 guys on the track for 12.5 laps or Wilkins throwing that damn discus. It is all about the great efforts, and putting it all on the line."

The lovely Lufthansa stewardess gently wakes me up as I land in Frankfurt. 

I am not sure it was all a dream.

Off to my athletic pilgrimage. Your athletic pilgrim, with his memories clouded by years of late nights, quiet confidences and moments of coherence, continues his quest for the perfect track meet. 

This summer, the quest will be long...

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