Friday, July 1, 2011

US Nationals (the flavor)

It's a warm-up to the Olympic year, and everyone is getting into shape. The winners from here go to Daegu, South Korea, for the World Championships.

I'm marshaling/policing the day before the meet starts, and folks are running easy laps to work out the jet lag. A guy nearby is in a heated discussion: I recognize him; he and his prize pupil both have two first names.

Joe Douglas. Founder of the Santa Monica Track Club and long-time manager of Carl Lewis.

I spent the next hour with one eye on the track and two ears listening to the most amazing war stories. How Joe didn't want to work with Carl initially (good thing Joe had a change of heart). How Johnny Gray didn't have the most potential of all the 800m runners Joe trained, even though Johnny still holds the American record of 1:42.6, set in 1985. How Joe would withdraw the entire team from European meets to protest lousy hotel conditions.

Joe had a runner entered this week. I noticed that the SMTC racing outfit has the most brilliant colors; Joe said it's to help him see the runners when they are clear across the track. I chuckled while watching through my own multi-focal lenses.

I asked if Joe had read Carl's autobiography; he hadn't. I said I'd send mine, with the stipulation that Joe sign it and send back. Deal.

Great guy. And he's seen it all.

Next up; I see Laurie Boemker, head women's referee, 19** Pan Am Games sprinter, and head umpire at last year's NCAA finals (where we first met).

Great lady; she's the one who introduced me last year to Fred Newhouse, 1976 Gold and Silver medalist.

When I was a kid, it wasn't about Namath, Seaver, and Bradshaw. No, it was better. It was Pre, Bill Rodgers, Mac Wilkins, and Fred Newhouse. I asked Fred if El Caballo ever sent the gold medal he owed Fred. Mr. Newhouse laughed and shook his head.

Translation: Alberto Juantoreana, or El Caballo, 'won' the 400m and 800m in the 1976 Montreal Games, with Fred a sliver behind in the 400. Juantoreana was a horse, all right; 190 pounds. And he ran the 800 in 1:43. And he was from a country sympathetic to the steroid-producing Eastern Bloc. No one that big runs a half mile that fast without pharmacological help. Fred won the race, period.

While marshaling on the practice track, I met a mom who was helping her junior-level daughter prepare for her first Hayward Field 1500m race. The family was from the East Coast; I guess I miss the accent, being a Jersey boy myself. The daughter wasn't sure about college; UVA looked good, so did Oregon but it's a long way, or maybe UNC.

I told them to hang tight for a minute. Then I ran to where I saw Erin Donohue, another Jersey-ite, 2008 Olympian, and UNC grad. My wife and I saw Erin win the NJ XC State Championship back in '99 while dismantling a friend of ours in the process. Erin was kind enough to speak to the family and answer their questions. A class act.

Not coincidentally, the young lady ran herself to a big PR the next day, well under 4:30. And then went even faster in the final. I think she likes it here.

Next morning, I woke at 3am for some reason. Good for working out, not so good for sleeping. Oh well.  So I stretched for awhile, then jogged to the Amazon Trail at 5am for some mile repeats. The trail's mulch layer was nice and smooth, just perfect. 4 x 1 mile with a 2 minute easy jog, and I was 20 seconds ahead of my triathlon goal pace without trying too hard. That Half-Ironman in August is going to be a blast.

Today's assignment was the Escort Pool. A fellow umpire was assigned here last year (remember, Betty?), and we gave her an endless supply of grief. Our job was to corral the runners after they finished and bring them to the recovery area. No one could enter or exit the corridor in the interim; this is to ensure a controlled environment that won't compromise any potential drug testing results.

How does one find the team captains for the volunteer pool? Simple. Just look for the customized Nikes, courtesy of Kris Redmond, the Volunteer Coordinator.

Bright, almost obnoxiously loud, and migraine-inducing. In other words, my kind of shoe!

The head of the Escorts (no jokes, please) is Valerie, a field general with fists of lead and a heart of gold. She directed the handful of us around the field with the dexterity of an LAX flight controller. I always love watching people who do their jobs with a mechanical efficiency, no wasted effort. Michael Jordan, distance runners, and Madam Val. Poetry in motion.

She puts me over near the 1500m start line for the senior women's race. These petite and highly coiffed runners, many with colorful hair and bright nail polish, all primped and ready to shine. Right before the gun, one of them steps off the starting line and empties the contents of her nose at my feet. Then she looks at me, shrugs her shoulders, and smiles.

I love track. It doesn't get any better than this.

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