April 5, 2016 | Issue 21
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the morning shakeout by mario fraioli
Suffer better, together. More running photos and adventures at:

Good morning! Only three entries this week, but they’re rather wordy ones, so take your time digesting. Enjoy!

Anyone know a good repair man?

Track and field needs fixing, says two-time Olympian Nick Symmonds, and I, for one, have a hard time arguing with him. Doping, politics, corruption, and exploitation are some of the major issues facing the sport right now—let’s be honest, they have been for a long while—and the efforts to clean things up both domestically and internationally are non-existent or slow-moving at best.  

“Track needs a total rehaul,” Symmonds told the AP. “It’s broken beyond repair at the moment.”

On a related note, I suggest listening to this podcast New York Times columnist Juliet Macur, which was recommended to me by my friend Sam Robinson. In it, Macur discusses Russian doping, doping in cycling, Olympic politics, FIFA’s corruption problems, NFL concussion coverups and more. In particular, I liked what she had to say about the politics of the IOC and corruption within FIFA, which, even though she didn’t make the direct connection, certainly mirrors what's going on with the IAAF and track and field these days.

“You have to consider the International Olympic Committee is all about old white men who have been trading votes and doing these things for so long and they have their buddies that they’ve been dealing with politically in the IOC for so long,” Macur says in the podcast. “[FIFA] aren’t all old white men, and neither is the IOC, but even if they’re not old and white, they still kind of act like old white men. So there’s still that kind of corruption that goes through generations of people who take these positions and FIFA’s full of them.”

Interestingly, if you substitute the letters “IAAF” for “IOC” and “FIFA,” the same statements hold true. The IAAF has also long been an organization of people who act like “old white men” (figuratively speaking) and as we’ve been finding out, the corruption was/is widespread and rampant. So, given that, someone please riddle me this: Why is Sebastian Coe, who was disgraced former president Lamine Diack’s right-hand man for several years, still in charge of the organization? Has the IAAF not learned anything from cycling’s leadership woes?

“Sebastian Coe is track and field’s version of Pat McQuaid,” Caley Fretz wrote in this excellent piece for for VeloNews in January. “Trust us, you want to move straight to a Brian Cookson. The first perceptible turnaround in cycling came after Hein Verbruggen and McQuaid were both removed.”

I agree with Fretz, and I stand by the statement I made in Issue 1: The entire organization (the IAAF) needs to be demolished and rebuilt from the ground up. Anyone know a good repair man? Or better yet, construction crew?

You have permission be uncivilized. 

“When you pin on a number, you cease to be the civilized 21st century human being you are in everyday life and you become someone else, hard and singleminded. At least until you cross the finish line.” 

Great lines from Andy Waterman, editor of Meter magazine, taken from this piece entitled, “The future of Track and Field? Racing.” While the post itself hits the nail on the head—that racing should be about competition, and the drama embedded in competition is where the entertainment value is in track and field—the above words reminded me of Bill Rodgers, the late Larry Olsen, Shalane Flanagan, Meb Keflezighi, Des Linden and many other great competitors I’ve watched, admired, raced against, coached or reported on over the years. The best competitors are the ones who can flip a switch and literally transform into someone you don’t want to mess with when they step to the starting line. Bill Rodgers, one of the most aloof, affable and nicest guys you’ll ever meet, was an intense animal when he had a bib affixed to his singlet. "Bill is always a gentleman around his competition,” his brother Charlie told Scott Douglas of Running Times in 1996. “What they don't know is that later, we'll be talking about some guy, and Bill will get this look in his eyes, and say, 'I'm going to hammer him.’” Same goes for the late Larry Olsen, a Masters rival of Rodgers and fierce competitor into his 60s who I profiled for Running Times in January 2010. "When I saw him most recently at a race he did not say hello. He asked, 'Is [Bill] Dixon here?' Larry is always looking for a fight,” Tom Derderian told me for the piece. “I came to learn that racing Larry was like being in a fight, throwing punches in the form of unending surges and responses.” When Shalane Flanagan, Meb Keflezighi and Des Linden, three of the most approachable, unassuming and generous people you’ll encounter when they’re signing autographs and answering questions at the pre-race expo, step to the starting line, it’s akin to a boxer walking into the ring for a fight. They are focused on the task at hand and want nothing more than to either knock their opponents out or outlast them all to the finish line. There are so many more examples I can list here but I’ll end with a personal anecdote. One of my biggest rivals in college was Nate Jenkins of UMass Lowell. Off the race course, Nate, like Rodgers, was chatty, goofy and generally enjoyable to be around; on the race course, however, he was a magnificent bastard, a veritable reincarnation of Emil Zatopek, snarling, grunting and fighting his way from start to finish. Even if you happened to beat Nate, which I did on a few occasions, you were sure to walk away with a couple scars and a few bruises. But that’s what made Nate such a great competitor and why he earned the respect of all his rivals—when the gun went off, he wouldn’t give you an inch and he would throw everything he had at you for as long as he could. Afterward, however, he would shake your hand and perhaps even share a few miles with you on the cooldown. The lesson here: Be nice to people and always respect your rivals. But when the gun goes off, flip the switch and come out swinging. 

+ As a brief aside, this article I read last week about the spartan-like training camp conditions of top Kenyan marathoners reminded me of the aforementioned Olsen, who I knew personally and spent a lot of time with when I was reporting for the RT profile. Like the Kenyans, Larry chose to live a simple, uncluttered lifestyle and what little money he made from race winnings almost always got reinvested in the kids he coached. “It's good for running," Olsen said of his monastic lifestyle. "Too many distractions and you can't focus; I used to eat, sleep and live it when I was still in my prime.” World-beater or not, I think we can all benefit from a little more simplicity and unselfishness in our lives.

Integrity is not for sale. 

Tip of the hat to VeloNews editor-in-chief John Bradley, who green-lighted publication of this article last week despite threats from Shimano to pull all its advertising if VN ran the piece. (Full disclosure: VeloNews is owned by the same company that employs me.) Bradley posted this note to his Facebook page explaining the decision, while also highlighting the bigger problem of brands bullying publishers in an effort to influence editorial coverage. “This isn’t a problem with a single brand but, rather, one facing enthusiast media in general,” Bradley wrote. “To focus on a single brand is to ignore the much larger issue.” Marc Sarni of Bicycle Retailer and Industry News had a good take on the situation, writing, “But more importantly, and the bicycle industry is no different than other industries; there is now an ongoing war over who controls content, what content is written, and when that content will be made public. We have the same issue at BRAIN. But over the past few years this notion of who controls the news has gotten out of hand.” From my own editorial experiences and observations, I can say with certainty that this type of brand-publisher behavior also exists in the running media world. Amongst endemic media titles there’s an unspoken (but rather large) fear in publishing stories (and not necessarily just product-related ones) that might piss off major advertisers or partners. Hopefully the VN/Shimano situation, as messy it appears from the outside, will bring more attention to—and help change—the way things operate in the enthusiast media space.

That’s it for this week. If you have any thoughts to share with me, please send them my way by replying directly to this email or Tweeting in my direction.

Thanks for reading,


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