Sunday, June 26, 2016

Who's that guy on the mike??

So there's Awesome Molly, who runs events in town...I volunteer a lot for her stuff, 'cause it's fun and she pays well.

For example, she gave me this little gift in lieu of my requested box lunch...


Anyhow....USA National Duathlon Championships were coming to town, and the organizers wanted a second person to help with the announcing chores. They asked the local tourism board, who promptly asked Molly...

who promptly volunteered me, saying I'm the right person for the job.

uh, thanks...except I've never done any race announcing.

Is this what it feels like to lie on a resume? Except it was her lie, not mine!

I was somewhat apprehensive, but they had me at "We'll give you a shirt, food, and $200."  Besides, I needed to push my limits a bit. And they told me I'd simply have to read the names of the finishers, and maybe some sponsor plugs. I can do that.

They didn't need me there until 0700 on Saturday, and the venue was less than a mile from my house, so I took my time getting ready. Of course, I heard the first public address announcements starting at 0530; no doubt my sleeping neighbors heard that as well!!

Typical Oregon forecast: 38F in the morning and climbing to 80F. One of the staffers at the announcer's booth was shivering while dressed for the warmer temps, so I gave her my fleece: i had 3-4 layers on and was already warmed up.

The road crew did a great job with setup:

Lots of expensive bikes in the transition zone:

The head announcer is a great guy named Tim, very well organized. He gives me the drill...and part of my job now includes working the sound board!

See that iPod on the right? Yes, it's an iPod Classic, probably 10 years old. Anyway, Tim has lots of race playlists ready to go. While he gave instructions to the racers on the starting line, I cued up the tunes, then let 'er rip two minutes before the gun.

My apprentice gear...

Announcer Tim is perfect for the job; huge enthusiasm, great radio voice, and he knows all the top racers by sight...he sees many of them on a regular basis around the world. And he looks just like Frank Underwood....or Kevin Spacey! Tim also has the energy of basketball announcer Dick Vitale. 

He walks down to the starting line about 100 yards away and gets the waves moving. I'm sitting next to the timing guy, who starts to look confused. And i realized what happened: Tim started one wave 5 minutes early....the six waves all had varying intervals between their starts: 10 minutes, 15, 10, 10, 15. The timing guy had to do some quick reprogramming, but all was right with the world in short order. 

The race format is 10k run, 40k bike, 5k run. Leg-sapping hills on all segments, too. These folks are going to be hurting...but the race leader does the first hilly 10k in 35 minutes; he's going to pay for that later. 

Sure enough, he fades back into the field, while local favorite Matt Lieto crushes the bike and cruises thru the final run portion. 

Oh, the announcing....I thought i was simply there to read off the prompter. Uh uh...after talking with the lead announcer before things got going, he realized that i could converse without tripping over my tongue, i have a pretty deep knowledge of sports information, and I'm some kind of an athlete myself. So he engages me in conversation over the open mikes...."So Nick, it looks like our racers will have their work cut out for them today. What do you think?"

Pause. Seemed like hours, but it was only a couple seconds. Ok, I'll dive in. Pretty soon, I'm talking about the first Ironman Triathlon back in 1978 and the possibility that Bend resident Jesse Thomas will shortly become the first American winner in Hawaii since Tim DeBoom fifteen years ago. 

I love this!   NBC, the color man...

After Lieto wins and regains his senses, I see him walking behind our platform. I say to Tim that 'we' should interview him. 'We' meaning, Tim said, "Great idea! Go do it."  So there I am, the neophyte, interviewing a newly crowned national champion for all the world to hear. 

Or at least the ones within audible distance. 

A couple of Molly's co-workers come walking up. They wanted to see what the commotion was about...and they wanted to know what idiot woke them up at 0530 with his microphone....nope, wasn't me. And yes, the race organizers had a permit!

As the racers finish, we read their names off the laptop: 

Announcer #1: "Spike Johnson, a Bend cardiologist!"
Announcer #2: (loud whisper) "That's MY cardiologist!"

(I was announcer #2)

Hard race with the hills and wind. Winner Lieto said that he hid in the trees about a half mile from the finish and tried to relieve his knotted hamstrings. Fortunately, he had a lead of several minutes. 

Did i mention the swirling winds? The entire finish line gantry came crashing down at the end of the second race, and the first couple of finishers had to cross the line and shimmy their way through the fence. 

Didn't get a real-time picture of the damage, but all this stuff was a pile of rubble

At packet pickup the day before, one of the athletes posted disdain for his fellow competitors who picked up their race numbers while decked out in tri gear, Ironman tattoos, even aero helmets! Then I noticed that the same guy posted paragraphs about his racing experience for the announcers to read at the finish line. Hmmmm...

Announcer Tim's wife ran track at the University of Oregon, and both of them will be going to the Olympic Trials there in a week. I hope we can get together for dinner!

Highlight of the day: Sister Madonna Buder of Spokane, 86 years young, finishing yet another race. She's a world record holder: the oldest person ever to finish a full-distance Ironman Triathlon. She been quoted as saying, "I train religiously."   Oooof!

Very neat day. 9 hours without sitting down, so i decided to skip my run. 

Good call. 

Sunday, June 12, 2016

2016 NCAA Championships

Another day, another championship track meet in my backyard...


Eugene, Oregon locked up the NCAA Championships from 2013 until 2021. This meet is as profound as the Olympic Trials, though in a slightly different way. The Trials are all or nothing, an individual against the field, and a top three slot gets you a trip to the ball.

NCAAs are a team event, where even a single point in 8th place can have huge ramifications. And the electricity for both events is similar. During NCAA events, the teams screaming in the stands for their runners can reach eardrum-bursting levels for a poor umpire stationed in front of them on the backstretch.


A flag for every school...
After our Tuesday night briefing, we had a nice catered BBQ dinner on top of the Weights and Measures building. Hadn't been up here before: it's a great place to be a spectator!

From not so high above the track... 

Even an extra video board

Before the events started, I was walking the track as usual. Officially, I'm looking for debris and things like that. Truthfully, I love walking on an empty track and breathing it all in.

A husband and wife standing along the fence asked what time things begin, and I said, "4:30."

The guy looked at this program and confirmed, "Yes, 4:30."

I said, "Oh, I was just guessing."

His wife roared with laughter.

I love track.

Three very important people in the picture below. One is an Olympic Gold Medalist, the first one I remember watching on TV as a young buck...the VIP is now one of the national officiating leaders. Another man is the coordinator of officials for major meets: he's the guy who makes the final call about the folks who want to work at big events. Lastly, the Meet Operations boss for the University of Oregon. Good people, and I want to be on the right side of them.


Did I mention that if Los Angeles gets the 2024 Olympics, I might be on the short list by then? Better keep living the clean life.

Had a nice swim the next morning at the Amazon Pool. Good to occasionally let the running muscles relax a bit.

All suited up and ready to go. The runners wear hip numbers so we can identify them easily, and I figured umpires should do the same.

Some yoga mats were set up under the West Grandstands, and our officials are good at making best use of their time...

I'm stationed at the start/finish lines...during the 4x100m heats, I'm watching for fouls in the final straightaway, and from behind me, I hear the yell,  "HAT!"   Oops...I'm inadvertantly blocking the photographer pool, and they want head-on shots of the finish. The 'hat' they admonish is that big straw thing perched on my cranium. 

A pole vaulter from Mizzou clears a big height with a half-gainer, triple twisting maneuver. I had to do a double-take on that one. 

 Oklahoma State's John Teeters in the 100m sprint: he appears to be from the Paul Bunyan/John Belushi School of Personal Grooming.

Mr. Teeters

UW's Izaic Yorks cruises thru his 1500m semi, and he's my pick for the final. However, his impressive 'fro runs out of juice, courtesy of a buttery smooth Clayton Murphy from UAkron.

Next morning, I run about 8 miles down to the River Center footbridge. On the way back, I encounter two adults in Tennessee orange, so I ask if they are related to the kid who won yesterday's pole vault competition. Yep, they were his (very happy) coaches.

Some team support folks prioritized their time differently than others...

One of my fellow umpires commented that her garden was suffering a bit, and wondered if it was due to a lack of nitrogen. I told her that Eugene's air has a lower percentage of nitrogen than other areas.

Uh, not really...

Decathletes are a band of merry men. Ok, maybe not 'merry,' especially when they collapse en masse at the end of the 1500m. But they take a victory lap and then a group bow in front of the homestretch grandstands...they earned it.

In between events, I find a few seconds to keep up with my pullup sets....

The video replay judges who occupied the weight room didn't seem to mind...and I nearly doubled my reps from last week! (ok, so I started still counts!)

Ms. Scott from Arkansas is maybe the first blond Dominique I've seen. Tremendous wheels, too, as she lays waste to the fields for a nice 5k/10k double. When she dropped the hammer with a few laps remaining, no one could answer. 

UO's team drops the stick at my feet in the 4x4 relay and quits on the spot. I write up the violation as their own fault. The team does NOT protest, yet the next day's paper quotes the coach as saying his team was obstructed. Really, Coach? If that was the case, how come no protest? Yes, the BS meter hit the top stop on that one...and oh by the way, the video judges confirmed my call. 

Our meals were good: catered lunches, and dinner at the Dux Bistro on campus. Except one night where we finished on the track at 7:58pm, and the bistro closed at 8:00. Someone didn't get the memo about extended hours. No big...dinner that night was: smoked salmon, lentils, sardines, hummus, and more. 

Final day: girl from Arkansas sets not only an NCAA record but an American record in the triple jump. Very rare for a college kid.

A&M's Donovan Brazier erases the 50 year old (to the day!) collegiate 800m record of Congressman Jim Ryun. By nearly a full second...and he eased up in the final 15 meters....and he obviously learned from his DQ at Junior Worlds, when he stumbled off the starting line and veered outside of his lane, right in front of my prying and disapproving eyes.

UO frosh Ariana Washington nips the field in the women's 100m, and the crowd does crazy, Then she doubles down in the 200m. When did UO become a sprinter's school? Later, Ariana and IH hurdles winner Shamir Little have a joyous wrestling match at the finish line.

The men's 100 final has the top 5 finishers within 0.04. I could easily throw a blanket over all of them at the line.

The meet's best hair goes to Arkansas heptathlete Aliyah Brooks, whose gorgeous auburn mane looks like a bouncing sea anemone when she runs the hurdles.

Sea anemones? Look at these bad boys... Hopefully Aliyah isn't quite as nasty. 

When the 400m runners are set in their blocks for the race start, I hear photographer cameras taking shots on full automatic. That's a no-no, boys and girls; wait until the gun fires!

Footballer Randall Cunningham's son wins the high jump. His daughter won Indoor Worlds a few months back. I wonder what dinnertime conversation at that household is like. 

UO's young Mr Cheserek wins the 5 and 10 (again). For a junior to have 15 NCAA titles is, oh. pretty good. He dusted the 5k field with a final 57/1:59....I guess all the 'experts' who said he was washed up this year were a tiny bit wrong. 

As the starting line umpire, it's my job to ensure the track is ready for the next event, so I check for white flags at all four corners before nodding to the starter. Before the last event, the 4x400m relay, I give this report to the head umpire via radio:

"Sir, the track is clear, and all relay exchange zones are showing white flags."

He cusses me out, then laughs in the manner of the Kentucky boy that he is. It's not exactly a stretch; all 4x4 baton exchanges happen right in front of me, unlike the 4x100m passes, which occur at each corner of the track. 

Ok, I guess you had to be there...

Hands down: the absolute BEST part about the meet? The exquisite parking spot I found on the last day, a mere four (that's F-O-U-R) cars from the track. Simply unheard of in a college town, and all due to my expertise and purity of heart. 

Who's got next?


Answer: me. I'll be at the starting line again in three weeks.

I love track.