Sunday, June 10, 2018

A Final Hurrah at Hayward Field

The NCAA Championships will be the last track meet in Eugene before the stadium is leveled and rebuilt. Lots of controversy over the planned design. Then again, Nike founder Phil Knight is footing the considerable bill, and he grew up running on this track, so I have to believe he'll keep the Hayward mystique alive. And he has to make the stadium work for the 2021 World Championships, so he knows what is at stake. He won't let the project fail as his final legacy.

Drive to town: my last 250 mile round trip for a couple of years? It's been a decade a making the journey 6-8 times each spring and summer.

Matthew Knight Arena is the location for gear pickup and the official's meeting. I'm assistant chief umpire, which means more work and less play.

Lots of familiar faces. One of the starters is also the finish line marshal at the Boston Marathon. He says winner Desi was borderline hypothermic when she finished, uncontrollable shivering. Worst conditions he's ever seen.

Later, a catering dinner at the track above the Weights and Measures building. Best view in the house!

Wednesday morning: a nice swim at the Amazon Pool. I didn't feel like a hard workout, so I skipped the Masters group and simply did my own thing.

And a beautiful day for a track meet!

But I have to question our chief umpire's choice of venue for the briefing...

Lots of equipment that will be useless when demolition begins, so I'm starting a list of things to pilfer: Pole vault supports? Hurdles for the living room? A steeplechase barrier?

First day was men's semis, plus the 10k final. Young Ben Flanagan from Michigan is slightly gapped with 200 to go, but he's motoring. He keeps jamming and absolutely explodes over the homestretch to steal the win with a smoking 56 final lap. Best of all: his first words to the camera are, "Where's my mom?"

Anyone remember Miruts Yifter? Short little Ethiopian Yifter won the 5/10 double at the Moscow Olympics, and had a ridiculous ability to change gears rapidly with 300 to go. He earned the nickname 'Yifter the Shifter.' Flanagan's burst in the stretch reminds me of that.

Aside (for track junkies): is anyone else sick of people named Flanagan winning races all the time?

Me neither.

Two decathletes side by side in the men's 100m  were high school teammates. Pretty cool.

Somebody took a few screen shots for me...

I see my buddy Chuck, a former national-class runner. He's here with his big camera, shooting the action. Because it's men's day, I say to him, "why are you here? There's nothing good to see."

Then we both laugh. He's here because his daughter has a shot at her own NCAA title on Saturday. Same event, too.

He says some of his photos might get picked up by a major publication. So I ask if he's ready to quit his day job?

We both laugh, again. He's an MD.

I love track. And Chuck: for the record, I still don't like Sydney Maree.

Men's 4x100 relay; the athletes can mark the track with tape to show their starting point. Most of the athletes use yards and yards of multi-layered tape, so they must be blind. They look to see where they can leave the extra rolls: I grab the excess and say it'll be available later on eBay.

I'm not supposed to make 'em laugh, am I?

On the walk home, I spot a Hawaiian food truck. By now, they are out of most entrees....then I spy this:

Are you kidding me? Yes, please.

So good.

Second day: women's semis. But not before an epic hour and forty minute roller ski session from the Autzen Stadium footbridge to Marist High and back on the downtown side, essentially the last 10 miles of the Eugene Marathon course. Note to self: sharp pole tips are best on soft asphalt and lousy on hard concrete.

Body is shot the rest of the day. But my physical therapist will be happy to know that my glutes took most of the abuse, which means I'm doing it right.

Since I'm policing the far end of the track, I get the athletes set in the final exchange zone for the 4x100m relay. An ominous call on my headset: "Zone 3, hurry up!" Yesterday, the meet ran a little overtime, due to multiple false starts and an injury. Today, the TV folks are all over us.

Then there's a scoreboard closeup of the lead-off Oregon runner, with her nails painted exactly like candy corn. And every Halloween nightmare of my youth resurfaces.

Oft-injured Alice Knight of New Mexico leads for the first three miles of the women's 10k final, then loses contact. Gutty race....but she decides she's not finished yet. She hunkers down, grits her teeth, and squeezes out 4th place in a mad sprint.

Bummed for Stanford decathlete Harrison Williams. He sets 3 personal bests on the first day, then crashes into hurdle 10 and hits the deck hard. His meet ends early.

Next year, guy.

Friday morning: still tired. My body just doesn't recover like it used to. No workout, just work work on my laptop before the heptathlon high hurdles at noon. But my old bones start feeling better, so I hustle down to the pool after the hurdles and swim for around 40 minutes. A little sluggish, as expected. Until I rip off a 40 second 50m rep. Even if it was with paddles, I'm pretty happy with that.

Back to the track for the evening session, I arrive at the agreed upon briefing time of 4:45, only to find no umpires anywhere. Hmmmmm.....turns out they're already on the track. Due to inclement weather, the powers that be decided to run the heptathlon 200m earlier. So I had a few more minutes to myself while everyone else stood out in the rain.

I did think to pick up some produce bags from Market of Choice. The bags slip over the socks, helping keep feet dry during wet meets.

I think of everything.

And then, it rained...

While waiting, I slip into the Media Tent and say hi to Kevin; he does the House of Run podcast with his buddy Jason. They were at the Olympic Trials a few years back, and hosted some morning runs for their rapid (rabid?) listeners. And they're quite into running trivia, so I try to throw them some occasional gems. But don't bother trying to stump them on Without Limits trivia or anything Prefontaine! ("Way to go, Bob.")

House of Run dude Kevin

Setting up my exchange zone for the men's 4x100m relay final, I make sure the guys are ready. Then I say, "Good luck, gentlemen. Someone is going to set a collegiate record today."

I was right. Many times over.

Houston storms (bad pun) thru the race with an NCAA record 38.16, breaking a three decades old mark. Of course they do: their anchor is the son of Olympic Gold Medalist Leroy Burrell, who was the teammate of Carl Lewis. And Houston's current coach is....Carl Lewis, with a dresser drawer full of his own Olympic Gold Medals.

The 1500m final looked like either a prize fight or a NASCAR race; bodies flying everywhere. Oregon's Mick Stanovsek nearly face-plants in front of me. Later, I run into Sam Prakel, the Pac-12 Champion, also of Oregon. He says Mick sprained his ankle on that stumble, only 150m into the race, and still finished. But his ankle blew up to grapefruit size very quickly.

Ugh. Men's steeplechase. Houston kid is destroying the field and has the race well in hand. Until he does a massive stutter step with 300m to go and absolutely chunks it over a barrier. Wow, he hit the track HARD. The Minnesota kid trailing in second is handed the victory, and he's completely overwhelmed by his good fortune.

The stadium is due to be leveled this year; lots of people are against the project, citing the history of Oregon track and field. Some guy in the stands has a 'Stop Phil, Keep the Magic' shirt....Phil Knight, founder of Nike, is using his considerable wallet to renovate the stadium so Eugene can host the 2021 World Championships. Later in the meet, the bozo (not Phil) jumps onto the track and takes a lap before police suggest a different line of work.

Chief Clerk Wade Bell walks by. I nod, then ask him his PR from 1968 when he made the Olympic Team. "1:45," he says. That's on a cinder track, thank you very much.

Men's 400m: I saw Michael Norman jog the last 150 at Pac-12s while winning easily, and figure he's going to lay it down today. Know who else thinks similar? Fred Newhouse, 1976 Olympic Gold Medalist in this event, and a guy I looked up to since I saw him run in Montreal. Now he's the meet referee, and I report fouls to him. Before the race begins, I wander over and tell him that there is a slim chance that Norman will run faster than Fred's 44.40....Fred and I both laugh, because we know the race will be insane.

And it is. The awesome time of 44.13 is only good for 3rd Place. Norman runs 43.61, the sixth fastest time EVER. He broke Michael Johnson's Hayward Field record, which is no easy get. And on a wet track. That young man is going places....and he's going fast.

400m Hurdles; Norman's teammate Rai Benjamin follows suit with the second fastest time IN HISTORY. World Record Holder Kevin Young had better get himself a good lawyer.

My new favorite athlete, for several reasons, is Arkansas sprinter Kenzo Cotton. First of all, great name. Secondly, he's built like Eric Heiden, with massive thighs. Third, he works his tail off: he runs the 100, 200, 4x100 relay, 4x400 relay. And he's received academic honors back in his home state. The kid should apply for overtime.

Final men's event, the 4x400m relay. I holler at Fred again; we both expect USC to run under 3 minutes. Mike Norman takes the stick at 2:15, right on schedule. As he comes past me with 150 to go, he's not moving with his characteristic alacrity, so I think maybe he's tired.


In the homestretch, he absolutely ignites and flies away. 2:59 flat. Another NCAA record. I don't know: that finish might have been more impressive than his 400m win. Regardless, the world record will be threatened many times in the next decade.

Georgia handily wins the men's title. How? I didn't see much of them on the track. Turns out they take most of their points in field events and the decathlon. Whatever works. Interestingly, the pre-meet newspaper had interviews with some coaches about the (un) fairness of having NCAAs in Eugene every year. One coach says he'd love to see the meet move around to more locations, but he absolutely loves the energy here, and so do his athletes.

The coach cited in the paper? Petros Kyprianou, head coach of Georgia.

A sorely needed dinner afterward...

Tom Yung: extra spicy!

Saturday morning, final day. No workouts, just errands. Who knew Eugene/Springfield has three Home Depots? And Best Buy is next to the hotel I used when I ran my first half marathon: the adjacent room was partying all night long, so I finally had to ask them to tone it down before my 0400 wakeup. They didn't comply, and the front desk was no help, except to tell me the miscreants were from 0430, coffee in hand, I found one car in the parking with California plates, and my mind began to contemplate the possibilities.

But I digress....

Plenty of time before the meet, so I outfox the parking nazis and find a spot two blocks from the track. Not easy in a college town.

Another potential theft target...

though I'm pretty sure it (he) won't fit in my car. 

Oregon Soph Jessica Hull runs away with the 1500, and I'm reminded why this place is special: the noise.

The bozo with the 'Stop Phil' shirt offered $20 to another official to wear that shirt on the track. The official laughed and walked away, suggesting that his next track assignment would be Antarctica. Maybe for $20,000, though...

The skies opened up again, just biblical. With the wind changing direction, the meet announcer proclaimed that the sprints would be contested not on the homestretch, but the backstretch. Wild applause from the East Grandstands, where the occupants rarely see the sprint finishes up close.

In the final event, the 4x400 relay, USC needs to win the race in order to take the overall title. I'm at the water barrier, and on each of the four legs, I write off USC as being way too far behind. Anchor Kendall Ellis disagrees, and a mammoth finishing effort gives the Trojans a team victory by inches. 

Post-meet, and more rain.

One last look at the Mile starting line.

Lots of very fast feet came across these numbers...

Later that night, I have dinner with friends Dave, Jeanne, and young Summer. While Jeanne and I were drowning on the track, Dave and Summer created the ultimate rendition of the historic East Grandstands!!


 Look at the detail work! To wit:
  1. The signature architecture of the roof
  2. The pillars obstructing views
  3. The spectators banging on the wall as the runners pass
  4. The water jump, complete with magnolias
  5. The legal baton pass in the exchange zone, though the umpire in the white chair is waving a yellow flag
  6. The umpire's bullhorn: this is a GREAT idea!
  7. The Weights/Measures building
  8. Best of all, a five year old's interpretation of the future Bowerman Tower (or Bowerman Towerman, as the House of Run guys would say)

I hope the new Hayward Field ends up like this! Just fine art.

Dave and Jeanne visited the Bill Rodgers store in Boston years ago before it closed. They broke this mug handle soon after purchasing, and decided that it simply looks more like your typical runner's swag that way.

How fitting!

More of their home decor:

Sigh. One last drive down Agate Street:

See you in a few years. It's been an amazing decade since I first landed here. 

Up next: 2021 World Championships. 

Sunday, February 25, 2018

Some spicy food (and a track meet)

Track season has begun with a bang....and a habanero.

Indoor National Championships in Albuquerque, same as last year. A nice track set up in the Convention Center, the hotel connected via underground walkway, and the best Mexican food I've had in a long time!

A nice Mediterranean lunch in the airport courtesy of Priority Pass...

I used PP to also pick up dinner from the Capers Marketplace; basically, a lox/bagel package without the bagel. I'll eat it in the Oakland airport on my layover. Priority Pass = $0 out of pocket.

Two words: Sa-WEET!!

Flying Southwest Air for the first time in awhile, so I have to drive to Portland. I pay the $15 for Early Bird boarding, and it's worth it to find an aisle seat.

But that lunch is so filling that I skip eating in Oakland in favor of a little nosh on the final flight.

Amazing what reduced ambient pressure does to a sealed container, like a bag of potato chips or a pigskin. While I have no football favorites, the whole DeflateGate mess makes me shake my head. Inflate a football to the minimum allowable pressure while in a warm, dry environment, then take said football outside into a cold, wet environment. Pressure goes DOWN. It's like gravity or taxes or death; an inevitability. Those with pre-standing Patriots animus scream the loudest about 'cheating' while ignoring a physical principle that has been  in existing since.....forever.

There is (was?) a blogger called The Food Babe who likens herself a champion of purity while decrying bad 'pressurized air in a plane that 'forces' gases into our bodies, making us feel sluggish after a flight.'   OMG....okay, airplane cabins are indeed 'pressurized' a level equal to around 8,000 feet. In other words, the air inside a plane is higher pressure than the air outside of it (thank goodness!), but much lower pressure than at sea level.

If you're going to quote science, at least know what the heck you're talking about.

In a magazine, my buddy Zendaya...

Looking a little like my other buddy (and daughter) Zoe...

Quality...Sophistication...Style....for a moment, I think this is the title of my upcoming autobiography.

Credential pickup.

Time to figure out the city bus system. An elderly woman exits while pushing a two-wheeled cart; the wheels stick in the gap between bus and curb, causing her to lurch forward into a pending face-plant.

I couldn't save the day, because the two men in front of me do. One grabs her cart, the other grabs her arm in time to keep her noggin from impacting cement. Nice job, guys.

Getting my kicks on Route 66 (aka Central Avenue). Heading west on the 766 Red Line to...

Nice, clean, EMPTY pool. 

Afterward, on the walk back to the bus stop: Lori, some minor swim googles (aka goggles).

Do you see Phoenix in the distance? It's only about 400 miles.

Breakfast the next morning included a walk to..

 Buddy Dave recommends this place for breakfast.

I NEVER refuse chicken tortilla soup, time of day be damned.

Pre-meet briefing:

Before the meet starts, I become painfully aware of a toe blister. Young guy at Medical takes a full 10 minutes to find me one band-aid. Didn't mean to put you out, guy.

 And now, the main event...

(That's USA Track and Field, not US Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms)

Someone must be lost...this ain't NYC and Madison Square Garden (or The Armory)

Back to the Frontier...did I mention the posole...and more chicken tortilla soup? 

Indescribably good!!

I'm in the elevator with 800m runner Donovan Brazier. He broke the 50 year old collegiate record back in 2016.

I tell him I wrote him up for a line violation at Sacramento's Outdoor Nationals last year. Overruled by the referees, to my amazement, because it was clearly a foul coming out of the blocks. 

He says, "I was DQ'd in Eugene (NCAAs) last year for stepping on the line."

NBC: "That was me, too."

DB: "You must not like me."

NBC: "Just stay off the line!"

The next day, he wins the national title at Indoors. 

In Birmingham, England at World Championships, he is once again DQ'd for a line violation. 

Kids today just don't listen. 

Vashti Cunningham wins another high jump title, and receives her medal from dad (and former Eagles QB) Randall. I'm guessing he enjoyed watching this year's Super Bowl. 

Shelby Houlihan completes her second consecutive double at Indoors, winning the 1500 and 3000. The longer race is Saturday: World steeple champ Emma Coburn takes control with a half mile left, but Shelby destroys her at the bell. Next day in the 1500, Shelby is near the back with 1.5 laps to go: i figure she has heavy legs from the day before. Maybe, but she kicks hard and somehow comes around the field on the final turn. 

The women's pole vault has the 2012 Olympic Champion, Indoor world record holder, and last year's World Championship silver medalist. It also has an unknown named Katie Mageotte; all she does is clear her first 8 heights without a miss, including three personal bests in a row, and narrowly misses setting her own world record while beating the entire field. She is somewhat pleased with her performance. 

Meanwhile, from across the pond: Buddy LJ is currently on a Parisian romp and posts one of the coolest pix I've ever seen.

Hurdler Sharika Nelvis breaks the American record and spends the next few minutes dancing on the track. 

The final event is the men's 60m sprint. 21 year old Christian Coleman puts an exclamation mark on the meet with a tidy little world record.

i imagine I'm due some credit, so....

Our stalwart umpire team..

To celebrate the end of the meet, I reserve a table for eight at a Brazilian grill nearby. Lots of animal protein...and Rory does some carbo-loading as well. I believe he suffers a sugar coma shortly thereafter.

In the Las Vegas airport on the way home...

Ugh....sensory overload.

Good meet. More to come this spring!