Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Film Major: "We Grew Wings"

Just about every American Track fan could tell you about Steve PrefontaineAlberto SalazarBill Bowerman and the Men of Oregon. But how many could tell you about the Women of Oregon? "We Grew Wings" does that and is required viewing for any true fan of the sport.

Ellen Schmidt-Devlin produced the film and introduced it to the media at the Track and Field Writers Association breakfast during the Olympic Trials. It debuted that week at historic McDonald Theatre in Eugene and was released on DVD this week.

Schmidt-Devlin's film introduces many to the stars of the 1985 National Champion team and the early stars of the Oregon Women's program; including Grace Bakari, Claudette Groenendaal and Leann Warren. The film also underscores the 40th anniversary of Title IX and its positive effect on Women's Track and Field.

Prior to the film, I was unaware of Leann Warren's excellent career at Oregon and her surprise qualifying for the 1980 Olympic Team in the 1500. Like Christian Smith in 2008, she was one of the last in, and would qualify in the third spot behind the heavy favorite, Mary Decker (Slaney). Slaney would be featured in much of the film as well, as she told of when she was a 14 year old prodigy, Prefontaine himself took her under his wing and told her "if you want to be good, come to Oregon." She didn't attend the U of O, but now resides in Eugene.

English Gardner competes in the 100 meters at the
 2012 Olympic Trials alongside Jeneba Tarmoh
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
The film also features the evolution of the Women's program at Oregon, specifically on the 2011 team and focuses on Jordan Hasay, Jamesha Youngblood and English Gardner. I had the pleasure of meeting Gardner's father on my flight from Charlotte to Portland this year before the trials and it was exciting to see her evolution as an athlete on film. Her and Youngblood are part of the "new Oregon" movement that includes more than just distance runners and are led by the sought after coach (and former Appalachian State star) Robert Johnson.

The film is very well done and is directed by the filmmakers of "Fire on the Track" and "There Is No Finish Line." As mentioned earlier, "We Grew Wings" is now for sale at and you can check out the film's website: and follow the film on Twitter @WeGrewWings

Check out the trailer below:

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Friday, August 17, 2012

Evan Jager runs fastest flat 3000 meters ever by an American Steepler

Evan Jager; good over land and sea
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
Evan Jager's "absolutely incredible dream of a season"continued in Stockholm, Sweden today as he ran 7:35.16 for 3000 meters; becoming the 9th fastest American ever at the distance (video highlights here). More importantly, Jager became the fastest American ever that primarily runs the Steeplechase. This makes sense, as he set the American Record earlier in the season in Monaco, running 8:06.81 for the 3000 meter Steeplechase.

After the race, Jager told Flotrack's Kevin Liao "I'm very pleased with how it went. I'm really happy." Jager would finish 6th overall, as Kenya's Isiah Koech would take the win in 7:30.43.

Jager will now run a few 1500's to look to improve on his 3:38.33 PR from 2009.

Jager's company on the American All Time Top 10 list for the flat 3000 meters is a who's who of the best American distance runners ever. If he continues on at the pace he has this season, he'll be remembered in the same way.

Top 10 Americans All Time at 3000 Meters
1. 7:29.00 Bernard Lagat
2. 7:30.84 Bob Kennedy
3. 7:31.00 Matt Tegenkamp
4. 7:33.37 Sydney Maree
5. 7:33.45 Galen Rupp
6. 7:34.32 Chris Solinsky
7. 7:34.96 Adam Goucher
8. 7:35.08 Alan Webb
9. 7:35.16 Evan Jager
10. 7:35.32 Dathan Ritzenhein

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Sunday, August 12, 2012

Meb Keflezighi closes out a strong American showing in London

Meb Keflezighi streams the flag down the homestretch
(photo: The Oregonian)
Going into the final "Athletics" event Sunday, the United States Track and Field Team had earned 29 medals; only one short of Doug Logan's lofty goal of 30. All eyes were on fan favorite, Ryan Hall, to compete and potentially get that 30th medal. Needless to say, that didn't happen. Hall, along with Abdi Abdirahman, would both drop out just after the 10 mile mark. The man that came in with little fanfare nearly delivered #30 to a man that's no longer in office.

The word on the street, specifically from Meb Keflezighi's longtime coach, Bob Larsen, was that Meb had been injured and that he was under trained. With that knowledge available, no one gave much of a shot to the 2004 Athens Silver Medalist. And sadly, once Hall and Abdi dropped, I feared Meb may too. Luckily, that outcome was not in the cards.

Instead, Keflezighi slowed worked his was way up from 17th at the halfway mark to 14th at 25k to 10th at 30k to 6th at 35k, and finally, to 4th at the finish line. He was never in medal contention and finished 1:29 behind third placer, Kenya's Wilson Kipsang, but his run further validated his return to glory, after a disappointing 2008 Olympic Marathon Trials, one where he would break his leg and finish 8th, off the Beijing Olympic Team.

A job well done for the veteran. One of many inspiring performances from the American distance squad at the 2012 London Olympics.

Here are a few more of my favorite American Distance Moments of the 2012 games:
  • Galen Rupp following his teammate, Mo Farah, to the promise land to earn a Silver Medal in the Men's 10,000 meters (story here).
  • Leo Manzano kicking furiously over the last 100 meters of the Men's 1500 to take the Silver Medal, while Matt Centrowitz battled to within .04 seconds of the Bronze (story here).
  • Duane Solomon (1:42.82) and Nick Symmonds (1:42.95) going 4,5 in the best 800 final of all time; one where David Rudisha would break the World Record (1:40.91).
  • Shannon Rowbury's strong rally for 6th in the Women's 1500; the same race where Morgan Uceny's fall made every distance running fan in America feel sick to their stomach
  • Evan Jager finishing 6th and Donn Cabral 8th in the Men's 3000 meter Steeplechase. Strong runs by both in an event where the US hasn't done anything in a very long time.
  • Emma Coburn's continued improvement in the Women's 3000 meter Steeplechase. Her 9th place finish would net her another PR (9:23.54).
  • The Men's 5000. It's been a long while since the United States had three men in the final. All three held their own and a trip with 100 meters to go is the only thing that kept Bernard Lagat off the medal stand.
  • All three American's setting PR's in the Women's 10,000. Being your best on the biggest stage is what the Olympics are all about!
And if you're enjoying this Track & Field thing, DN Galan aka Diamond League Stockholm is this Friday, August 17th!

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Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Leo Manzano, American Olympic Silver Medalist

Leo Manzano took the Silver and Matt Centrowitz
was a very close 4th in the Olympic 1500 meters
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
The resurgence of American Distance Running is alive and well. First, Galen Rupp runs the race of his life for the Silver Medal in the 10,000, and now Leo Manzano has matched him in the controversial Men's 1500 meter final.

Manzano stormed the last 100 meters at a furious pace to close on eventual winner, Alegerian Taoufik Makhloufi, finishing second in 3:34.79, 0.71 second away from Gold. 2011 World Championship Bronze Medalist, Matt Centrowitz, wasn't far behind in fourth. He would finish just behind Morocco's Abdalaati Iguider in 3:35.17.

Makhloufi has been the talk of the games, with his unbelievable finishes through the rounds, and once again in the final tonight. He's also been infamous for his brief exit from the games for not trying in Monday's 800 prelims.

Put Makhloufi's name into Twitter and you will see another reaction; one that sends you down the Rashid Ramzi rabbit hole. Time will tell if these allegations are founded or misguided.

Regardless of speculation, a 2,4 finish in the Olympic 1500 final is phenomenal for the United States. We didn't have anyone in the Olympic final in 2008! Now we are keeping the Kenyans off the podium.

Well done guys.

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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Galen Rupp stole my voice

Mo Farah takes gold, Galen Rupp takes silver and a dejected Kenenisa Bekele stares down at the track in defeat

It's a good thing I'm typing this and not telling you, because my voice is gone. Over the last 500 meters of that memorable Men's 10,000 meter Olympic Final, I yelled, I screamed, and I probably had my neighbors debating on whether or not to call the cops on the guy next door that has been getting up very early this weekend for some odd reason.

It was that good. No. That great. Inspiring for many and validating for Alberto Salazar and his Galen Rupp, ahem, Oregon Project.

For the English and the American fans out there, the race went about as well as it could have. Maybe even better. How did these two guys that train in Portland, Oregon beat up on back-to-back Olympic 10,000 Champion, Kenenisa Bekele? his brother Tariku? and a load of excellent Kenyans? A ton of hard work, that's how.

Now I wonder if Salazar will give them the night off. One would think that they earned it after the Pre Classic, when Farah took the 5000 win in 12:56.98 and Rupp would break the 13 minute for the first time in 12:58.90. No chance. Olympic Finals were their goal, not early June. After the meet ended and many of the journalists were finishing up their stories, Rupp and Farah emerged onto the track to rattle off eight 75 second laps before calling it a day. It wouldn't surprise me that after the fans file out of Olympic Stadium tonight, they'll do the same.

Post-race workouts like this have been more the standard and not the anomaly over the years, as Salazar has crafted Galen Rupp from wunderkind to world class. And think what you want, but adding Farah to train with Rupp over the past few years was just another piece to that puzzle. It has been extremely mutually beneficial to both.

And lucky for us, they'll be toeing the line again Wednesday, August 8th in the 5000 heats, and likely again in the 5000 final on Saturday, August 11th; the final day of track competition.

Bring it on!

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Thursday, August 2, 2012

Born-Again: Duane Solomon by Jon Gugala

Duane Soloman gives the glory after making the
2012 United States Olympic Team at 800 meters
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
As we dawn on the Athletics portion of the 2012 Olympic Games, a new star has emerged in American Middle Distance running; Duane Solomon. Luckily, my friend Jon Gugala was able to catch up with him after his huge run in Monaco. Check out his story below and follow him @JonGugala

Duane Solomon was cute story at the Trials. But after Monaco he’s grown some teeth.

by Jon Gugala

Death by car in France can come at you from any direction. It doesn’t matter that there’s a little green man illuminated, beckoning you across the intersection, or that it’s a one-way street; as soon as you put one foot into the road, the other one had better be following it—and soon—because the squeal of tires is quick from the side you least expect. The French drive like assholes.

After spending an entire month traveling through the country for track meets, I found myself thinking about this, and what a friend said in January as she was training for the 2012 U.S. Olympic Team Trials. She said that the scary thing about an Olympic year is that it doesn’t matter about who’s been hanging around the previous three; athletes crawl out of the woodwork to contend for an Olympic spot, and you never know where they’re going to come from.

So was the case with Duane Solomon.

Solomon, of Los Angeles, Calif., was one of the Cinderella stories from the trials. Holding on for third in the Men’s 800-meters, he simultaneously broke the Olympic “A” standard of 1 minutes, 45.60 seconds (which he did not have) and PR’ed by almost a second. He would collapse on the rain-soaked track in tears, then embraced by his coach and American record-holder Johnny Gray. It was touching as hell.

Solomon and Coach Johnny Gray embrace at the trials
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
But just like all third-place Cinderella stories, you don’t expect much when it comes to the deep end of the pool, aka Olympic rounds, which start on August 6th. Solomon, just like the feel-good stories that came before him, would play his part by quietly bowing out in heats, and on his mantelpiece forever would be the time he was an Olympian.

Well, not so fast.

Because Solomon went to Europe. Solomon got into a Diamond League race. And then Solomon ran fast as hell.

Solomon didn’t just run fast in Monaco; he ran faster than any American in the last 15 years. He ran faster than every current American competitor, including five-time U.S. champ Nick Symmonds. With Solomon’s 1:43.44—almost two seconds faster than his PR set in 2010—he is now the fifth-fastest American ever at the distance. And that changes everything.

“I was talking to my coach the other day [and] we said the same thing,” Solomon says. “We didn’t expect that time, and we didn’t expect it to be now. We were going to be happy with a 1:44-anything. For me to go out there and perform like that, in that type of condition, I think it’s a good sign of what we can do in the Games.”

It was a race that shouldn’t have happened, he says: he’d just got to Europe, and both he and Gray estimated that the jet lag wouldn’t be conducive to a fast time. Monaco was just a rust-buster first race after the trials. But, he says, the feeling between his last race and Monaco was completely different.

“At the trials I was pretty tense because I knew it was all or nothing in that race,” Solomon says. “This race I went in with really no type of pressure. So I went in very relaxed and just basically stayed on the big dogs, on their shoulders, to test myself, [to] see what I could do.

“It’s kind of weird to say that, but running that time felt a lot easier than when I ran a 1:44.”

Solomon knows no one really expected it; he didn’t even expect it of himself. And now that it’s happened, he knows there will be those who consider it a fluke, a random pop off, never to be repeated. They’re the same people that won’t expect him to make it out of rounds, and “definitely not a medal contender,” he says. But that’s not what he and his coach think, and not what they thought even before it happened.

Solomon has won back-to-back
USATF Indoor 800 meter titles
(photo: TrackAndFieldPhoto)
“We always thought that we were going to have a chance to make the final, even when I ran my last race in Oregon,” he says. “But for me to do what I did now, and the time that I hit, and just how I looked in the race—how I felt in the race—I feel like that’s a big tell of what I can be."

“After running Monaco I think it solidifies that I’m legit and I can contend for a medal. I can get to the final and make something happen.”

What does this mean for the U.S.’s medal chances in the 800 meters? Solomon now has the fifth-fastest time in the world, and while Symmonds has been the medal favorite for so long, Solomon isn’t the heart-warming story any more—he’s just too fast. Solomon is the supplanter, and he could be the contender.

For Solomon, however, the best part is that there’s still no pressure. “It will be the same thing [as Monaco],” he says. “I don’t have to be a hero; I can just hang in there in the front”—just as before—“and then use my strength and my speed."

“Everyone has up and down years, and I definitely had my times, but just to break that barrier was awesome,” he says. “I’m a lot more motivated. I’m disciplined. I’m a changed runner.”

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