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August 16, 2016 | Issue 40
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Your loyal scribe, fired up and type-tapping away on Twitter while watching the women's 10,000m final last Friday. Thanks to my lovely wife for the candid photo.

Good morning! Where do I even start this week? Given last Tuesday’s pre-Rio rant on doping, let’s kick things off this time around with some positive Olympic-themed talk, shall we?

Bronze looks good on U.S.

Big day on the track yesterday for the United States as both Emma Coburn and Clayton Murphy captured bronze medals in the women’s 3,000m steeplechase and men’s 800m, respectively. Coburn is so clutch when the chips are down and yesterday’s final was no exception as she stuck her nose in it from the start and almost came away with silver. I’m having a hard time racking my brain trying to remember the last time she had a bad race. Murphy, running in his first Olympics, is riding a wave of momentum this season and most certainly not regretting his decision to leave college early and turn pro right before the Olympic Trials. The 21-year-old rookie races with the poise of seasoned pro and it’s so fun to watch. He reminds me a lot of Nick Symmonds for his seemingly uncanny ability to close hard in the final 100 meters, which has served him well a couple times this season. While Symmonds’ career seems to be winding down a bit (thought I wouldn’t write him off just yet), I think the future of U.S. men’s middle distance running is bright, with Murphy and fellow Olympian Boris Berian (8th yesterday) leading the way. Hopefully Olympian Charles Jock, who did not qualify for last night’s final, along with 2012 Olympian and sub-1:43 man Duane Solomon, will stick around for another go at Tokyo in 2020.

The point is to find out. 

There were no American marathoners at the medal ceremony on Sunday, but the trio of Shalane Flanagan, Des Linden and Amy Cragg had every reason to walk away from the finish line with their heads held high. If it were a cross-country meet—which the Olympics needs to add to its Athletics program, in my opinion—the U.S. would have won the team title in convincing fashion as the only nation to place all three of its runners amongst the top-10 finishers. But it wasn’t, and while I’m quite certain that on some level each of those ladies is disappointed not to be going home with a medal in their carry-on luggage, the confidence in which they competed with and the grit they displayed from start to finish was equal parts admirable and inspiring to anyone who was watching. “I felt like I worked every inch of that course,” Linden told Sarah Lorge Butler of Runner’s World. “I don’t know what I would have changed. I felt like I gave everything out there. If that’s as good as I am, that’s the point—to find out.” Such a fundamental, powerful lesson about racing that any runner can relate to on his or her own level. Another lesson that was on display in that race this past Sunday? You fight for every spot. Why? Well, because that’s what racing is all about, but at the Olympics, doing so may very well pay off for you a few years down the road. That’s not to accuse anyone in particular of any wrongdoing but recent history shows that delayed glory at the Olympics is not an uncommon occurrence.

Trust is hard to come by these days. 

David Walsh, chief sports writer for the Sunday Times who was instrumental in exposing Lance Armstrong’s cheating as a cyclist, Tweeted the following on Friday: “Almaz Ayana's 29mins17secs for 10,000m. We can't accuse because there's no evidence and we can't believe because there's no trust.” Walsh’s words are poignant and he accurately summed up the sentiments of so many track fans and others who follow and report on the sport, myself included. That said, my own Tweets during the women’s 10,000m final on Friday were certainly full of bias and I make no apologies for anything that I sent out. Here’s why: I have an incredibly hard time believing in the purity of Ayana’s performance. Yes, the race went out fast. Yes, a lot of runners ran personal bests. Yes, race conditions in Rio were more favorable than they has been at previous Games. But to destroy the deepest 10,000-meter field ever assembled by smashing a longstanding world-record that was admittedly fueled by a state-sponsored doping regime? By running a second-half negative split that’s faster than the 5,000m Olympic record and would have won three of the last five Olympic 5,000m finals? While everyone behind you, even those who ran significant personal bests, ran a slight negative split (Cheruiyot -3), or, in most cases, positive splits (Dibaba +6, Nawowuna +21, Saina +18 sec, Huddle +21, Can +47, Burka +42)? As Steve Magness pointed out, the “most amazing thing was the 2:13 800m and 4:14 1500m thrown in at halfway.” It doesn’t add up for me. It doesn’t make sense. What made the least sense to me was that Ayana looked like she had just completed a moderately paced tempo run when she crossed the finish line, meanwhile most of the women behind her looked as if they were about to keel over and die while they still had a lap to go. Ayana has never tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs. I don’t know who she’s associated with but when you live and train in a country where out-of-competition doping control is virtually non-existent, I’m going to maintain my suspicions. Is any of this actual evidence that Ayana cheated? No. It’s all admittedly circumstantial at best but it’s enough for me not to believe in what I saw, and that’s the sad reality of our sport today.

  • Ross Tucker of The Sports Scientists had a good take on this same topic that’s a little more balanced than my own and provides some good historical context. Definitely check it out. 
  • I haven’t forgotten about the men’s 10,000m, but it’s super late as I write this and my mind is turning to mush. I’ll leave you with these thoughts: I’m not sure what the Kenyans’ plan was to prevent Mo Farah from repeating as Olympic champion but it clearly didn’t work. Despite the close finish, that race was set up perfectly for Farah to put everyone away with his patented kick. And Rupp? Any other opinions I might have about him aside, I thought he looked solid in fifth. He could very well win the marathon this weekend. You heard it here first.

Quick Splits

— I think Ezra Klein is one of the most interesting cats in the media world and I like what he’s doing over at Vox. I listened to this interview with him on the Longform podcast on Saturday morning and really enjoyed hearing him talk about his journey from a self-described hobby blogger to widely read columnist. He also outlines the issues many legacy organizations have struggled with in trying to adapt to the modern media landscape while also expressing optimism for the opportunities that exist for new media companies such as the one that employs him. “I see almost no chance that there’s not going to be a set of digitally native media organizations that become huge businesses,” Klein says emphatically. “I would put the odds of that at zero. … I think that if any of these big players collapse, when their obits are written, it’ll be because they did too much. I’m not saying I think any of them in particular are doing too much. But I do think, when I look around and I think, ‘What is the danger here? What is the danger for Vox?’ I think it is losing too much focus because you’re trying to do too many things.”

— Speaking of Vox, I saw Matt Fitzgerald link to this piece he was quoted in about how Olympians eat. “Among the 130-plus elite endurance athletes [Fitzgerald] surveyed, he noticed their eating patterns were balanced and clean. ‘Although they eat everything, they skew toward the highest-quality food types — natural and unprocessed,’ Fitzgerald said.” From what I’ve seen firsthand amongst the world-class athletes I’ve had the good fortune to spend time with over the years, Fitzgerald’s observations generally prove to be true. Most Olympic-level athletes I’ve been around tend to eat a pretty balanced, mostly clean diet. But at the 2012 Olympics in London, which I took part in as a coach for Costa Rica, can you guess which station in the main dining hall had the longest line, no matter the time of day? McDonald’s, and the runner-up wasn’t even close!

— In addition to filling your inbox with what I hope is insightful and entertaining commentary every Tuesday morning, my personal motivation for writing the morning shakeout is to make sense of the things I observe, encounter, read about and listen to over the course of a given week. It’s a deeply satisfying exercise, even if it keeps me up way past my bedtime on a Monday night. (As is the case right now!) Writing has always been my preferred means of expression and while I know it’s not everyone else’s jam, putting words to paper (or, as in this case, to screen) can be an effective way to digest the various types of material your mind consumes throughout the day. Here’s my challenge to you: Next time you finish a chapter in a book, read an article on the web or listen to a podcast on your way to work, take 3-5 minutes afterward to process that piece of content. Scratch some words into a notebook or write a few sentences in a Word document. I save links and excerpts directly to the Notes app on whatever device I happen to be using along with some brief thoughts or key takeaways. Some of those notes eventually get expanded upon and make it into the morning shakeout. You don’t have to share your chicken scratch with anyone. The important thing is that you take some time to think about whatever it is you just consumed and record those thoughts somewhere where you can go back and revisit them. I promise you that doing this will help whatever it is you saw, read or listened to become more applicable to your life.

In Issue 28, I announced that I was leaving Competitor to join an early stage startup in the Bay Area. Well, it’s time to let the cat out of the bag about Ekiden, the company I’m helping build alongside Peter Duyan and Eric Edelson with an early outside assist from our good friend and co-founder, Brett Rivers of San Francisco Running Company. Check out the aforelinked posts from myself, Peter and Eric to see what we’re all about!

— Closely related to the bit of news I just shared, the parable of the happy fisherman (scroll down to #5) is a story I think about often. It brings up two tough questions that I (and many of you reading this, I’m sure) struggle with sometimes: “Is it more important to you to have little, be less traditionally successful, yet be relaxed and happy and spend time with family? Or is it more important to you to work hard, perhaps start a business, maybe even make the world a better place along the way?” I think what’s more important is a completely subjective thing, but man, thinking about it can sure be cause for a lot of angst.

That’ll do it for Issue 40. Share your high praise, low blows or snarky suggestions with me by replying to this email or shouting in my general direction on Twitter

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

P.S. Remember #theamshakeout hashtag I asked you to tag your photos with a couple weeks back? Keep it going and show everyone how you enjoy the morning shakeout each week by sharing the stoke on Instagram!

 

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