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August 23, 2016 | Issue 41
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My soon-to-be backyard. It's not a bad place to play with friends. instagram.com/mariofraioli

Good morning! The Big Show in Rio wrapped up over the weekend and I have a few brief sentiments to share. I’m not going to cover all the bases so apologies in advance for the things I might have missed. I’ve also got a handful of non-track related anecdotes at the end I think most of you will appreciate or at least find interesting. Enjoy!

Men’s 1500m: Or should we call it the 500m time trial? Regardless, it was a gold medal performance for an American runner, so I think it’s as good a place as any to start. Matthew Centrowitz blitzed the last lap of the men’s 1500m final on Saturday night to land himself atop the podium against what on paper should have been a fast field. To say it was a tactical race is obvious; calling it slow would be a gross understatement. In a race like that, the guy who’s driving the bus when the bell tolls is at a huge advantage over everyone else and Centrowitz did a textbook job at protecting his position on the rail. Like him or not, the 26-year-old is the most tactically sound middle-distance runner this country has seen in a long time. He has great genes and better instincts, even if his associations are questionable. 

Men’s Marathon: Some might argue that he needs a world record to his name first, but for my money Eliud Kipchoge is the greatest marathoner of all-time. Period. And it was the slowest marathon of his career this past Sunday that sealed the deal for me. The way in which he tightened the screws on everyone else in the field from 35-40K was impressive for a guy who’s only run rabbited marathons to this point in his career, but not totally surprising given his cross-country and track resume. Kipchoge knew what he was up against with a finely tuned Galen Rupp hoping for a kicker’s race and he made sure that it didn’t come to that with a barrage of low and sub-4:40 miles after 30K. Rupp is going to be a great marathoner someday but it was something else to watch his smooth stride shorten as quickly as it did on Sunday. The scene reminded me of a boxer stumbling around the ring for the final few rounds of a championship bout after taking a stiff one to the chin in the tenth. 

  • Jared Ward didn’t medal but he proved his mettle with a sixth-place finish and new PB of 2:11:30. "You save your cards until the end," he told the Salt Lake Tribune after the race. Behind Kipchoge’s convincing win, it was Ward’s race that impressed me most. When it comes down to the numbers on the clock, he’s not particularly fast. But man is he a master at executing his own race, especially when the chips are down. In his last three marathons, he’s whittled down his personal best while placing top-10 at the Olympics, finishing third at the Olympic Trials and winning a U.S. title. Reminds me a lot of Des Linden: keeps a low profile and just gets the job done.
  • In what was surely his last Olympic Games, things didn’t go Meb Keflezighi’s way, but he kept battling despite losing his breakfast on multiple occasions and falling off the lead pack just past halfway. For all Meb’s successes over the past few years, it’s the handful of races that didn’t go so well for him that really stand out to me. Why? The way he carried himself at the finish line each time: grabbing Mike Cassidy’s hand at New York in 2014, doing the same with Hilary Dionne at Boston in 2015 and, finally, blasting out a few pushups and then acknowledging the appreciative crowd after slipping just before the finish line in Rio. The lessons here? 1. It’s important to finish what you start. 2. You can still set a good example for others on a less-than-your-best day.
  • Kudos to Chris Chavez of Sports Illustrated for getting this story on Ethiopian silver medalist Feyisa Lilesa’s finish line gesture. It was the Black Power salute of these Games and a move that could cost Lilesa his life if he goes back home. For all its marketing foibles, the Olympics remains a powerful platform for sending a message when the rest of the world is watching. 

Women’s 1500m: Part of me is still in disbelief that Genzebe Dibaba didn’t run away with this race and the other half of me wonders how much of a toll her coach getting busted for having a hotel room of EPO two months ago had on her Olympic performance. We may never know but my guess is that it rattled her just enough to cost her the world title. What we do know—or, more accurately, were reminded of—however, is that Jenny Simpson knows how to close out championship races. Despite the race’s slow start, she bided her time until the final straightway and kept Shannon Rowbury in the rearview mirror to win America’s first ever medal in the event. Much like when she won the world title in 2011 and took silver in 2013, Simpson’s ability to respond at just the right moment is what sets her apart. “My coaches told me, when somebody jumps to the front, look at where the medals are and go get ‘em,” Simpson said after the race

  • There was a lot of hullaballoo (here and here are two examples) after the women’s steeplechase about Emma Coburn draping her New Balance spikes around her neck to give her powerless sponsor some Olympic exposure. What none of the articles I came across mentioned, however, was that Coburn—who trains with Simpson as part of Mark Wetmore’s group in Boulder, Colo., was actually taking a page out of Simpson’s book from the 2011 world championships.

Please put the safety back on. 

“Track and field never misses an opportunity to shoot itself in the foot. Everything else is handled badly. On the track it’s sublime—off the track it’s amateur hour. Drives me to distraction.” No, those aren’t my words but rather those of Malcolm Gladwell. His assessment of the state of the sport on the most recent House of Run podcast was on the money. I also found myself nodding in agreement at many parts of his most recent exchange with New Yorker editor Nicholas Thompson. And while I don’t always agree with Gladwell’s take on track-related things, I do respect his enthusiasm for the sport and willingness to change his mind on occasion. “I used to be something of a doping/natural-advantage skeptic. But the deeper I get immersed in the world of athletics—and the more seriously I take track and field—the more of a purist I’ve become,” he said in an earlier exchange with Thompson. “Sports is the voluntary acceptance of unnecessary obstacles. If athletes can’t accept that fact, they should try another sport—like, say, football, where getting busted for doping apparently makes not a whit of difference to coaches or fans.”

The bubble needs bursting. 

“The Olympic Bubble's comprehensiveness illustrates just how little the IOC is concerned with anyone but themselves—and how blithely, even happily indifferent the entire Olympic ‘movement' is to the waste and corruption it fosters, and the human wreckage it leaves in its wake.” Related to what I wrote a few weeks ago about “the Movement” going backward, Aaron Gordon of Vice gives a sobering on-the-ground look at the harsh realities of the Rio Games and the entire Olympic experience in general. 

  • Exposing the wide disconnect between the Olympic Games and the people who watch them, Clio Chang at The New Republic writes that the IOC and its media partners failed to reach a younger audience, further lessening the appeal of the archaic modern event. “Their attempts to engage young viewers often result in a balancing act between a desire to appear cool and an impulse to retain total control. The rub is that those two things are contradictory.” And, whether the powers that be want to admit it or not, it showed: TV ratings were way down and at many of the events themselves, empty arenas and half-full stadiums (if I’m being generous) were not an uncommon sight.

Congratulations! Uncle Sam wants some of your prize money.

Winning the gold medal at the Olympics should be a priceless moment in an athlete’s career, right? Not necessarily, says the U.S. government. According to the BBC, earning the top place on the podium at the Olympics will cost a guy like Matthew Centrowitz about 10 grand in taxes. Ridiculous, right? Even if you disagree with who Marco Rubio is supporting for president, you may find common ground with him on at least one issue. "We can all agree that these Olympians who dedicate their lives to athletic excellence should not be punished when they achieve it," Rubio said in 2012.

Quick Splits

— As a coach, being process-oriented rather than outcome-focused is something I’m constantly preaching to my athletes. Why? Because unlike outcomes, you have control over the process. And by consistently checking off process goals, the better chance you give yourself to achieve a desired outcome. Brad Stulberg touched on this topic recently for NY Magazine, sharing a recent example from Olympian Brenda Martinez, who didn’t make the team in her primary event, the 800m, but came back a few days later to qualify in the 1,500m. “I just quickly let go of what happened in the 800m and got back to my routine,” she told Stulberg, “to focusing on all the little things I could do that would give me the best chance of running well later in the week.” Or, as Stulberg put it, “She wasn’t focused on making the Olympics. She was focused on the process of making the Olympics.”

— As I’ve written about many a time in this space, the media landscape is in a constant state of flux, and the way in which publishers go about generating revenue is certainly no exception to that generalization. That said, good journalism isn’t cheap, and therein lies its existential struggle: readers appreciate top-notch work but many don’t want to pay for it. Mother Jones is trying to shift that paradigm. “Stories that truly reveal something about the way power works are not going to happen in this framework,” CEO Monika Bauerlein and editor-in-chief Clara Jeffery wrote last week. “They take time (way more time than can be justified economically) and stability. They take reporters and editors who can trust their jobs will be there, even if money is tight or powerful folks are offended. They are driven by a desire for journalism to have impact, not just turn a profit.”

— I enjoyed listening to this Running On Om podcast yesterday with Scott Douglas, whose essay “Don’t Waste Good Time” I linked to a few weeks back. Scott’s an interesting guy who has been running and writing for a long time. I read his “Scott Speaks” column religiously when I first got into the sport in the 1990s and some many years later, he was one of the first editors ever to give me a paid assignment. Back in 2009, when I committed to making a go of it as a freelance running writer, Scott generously hosted me for a day at his home in Maine and let me pick his brain for way too many hours. All that said, I learned a lot about him in this most recent interview and took great interest in listening to him describe his relationship with running and how he got into writing about the sport. What jumped out to me the most, however, was hearing about his dysthymia, which has fueled an interest in writing a book about the relationship between depression and running. I’ve long thought that’s a book that needs to be written and Scott, better than anyone else I know, would do it right. “I think there’s some section of the running community who maybe has a propensity toward self-destructive behavior and so there could be an overlap there,” Scott says in the interview. “Self-destructive in a few different ways like substance abuse… [Running] can attract people with addictive-type personalities and those personality traits can also play out in other ways.”

That’s it for Issue 41. If you liked what you read here, please forward this email along to a friend or two (or 50!), or open the web link in your browser and share it on your social media channel of choice. You can also accost me directly by replying to this email or trying your luck on Twitter.

Thanks for reading, 

Mario

P.S. How do you enjoy the morning shakeout each week? Show me and other readers by snapping a photo, tagging it #theamshakeout, and posting it to Instagram or Twitter! I'll call out some of my favorites in a Medium post and share it here in an upcoming issue 

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