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≡ THE 5-RING CIRCUS ≡
1. Why the Steeplechase was the most important USATF race
2. USATF Nationals demonstrates U.S. track domination
3. Political fury at Olympic Council of Asia elections
4. Russia rejects declaration for U-23 rowing champs
5. FIFA approves aboriginal flags for Women’s World Cup
The USA Track & Field National Championships in Eugene produced superb performances, but the biggest takeaways from the meet night have been from the two Steeplechase finals and the men’s 110 m hurdles. The performances of Kenneth Rooks, who fell, got up and then won the men’s title, and the upset win for unheralded Krissy Gear are object lessons in how what happens in sport can be a guideline in life. The story of hurdles runner-up Cordell Tinch, who left sports altogether after a year at Kansas, shows the power of family and faith in the future, and once again confirm Jim Valvano’s 1993 inspiration: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.” The USATF results confirmed once again the dominance of the United States in worldwide track & field. American athletes, as of the end of the meet, led the world in 10 of 34 individual events and had 55 top-five positions on the 2023 world list – in 26 events – more than Kenya, Jamaica and Ethiopia combined. Amazing. Olympic insiders were close observers of the Olympic Council of Asia elections last Saturday, in which Sheikh Talal, the younger brother of former OCA President Sheikh Ahmed of Kuwait defeated fellow Kuwaiti (and World Aquatics President) Husain Al-Musallam, 24-20. But the intrigue continues. The head of the Russian rowing federation was the latest to reject a signed declaration to allow his athletes to compete in the World Rowing U-23 Championships in Bulgaria beginning on 19 July, continuing a pattern that demonstrates the current Russian thinking vis-a-vis possible requirements for Paris 2024. FIFA approved the use of aboriginal flags at the upcoming Women’s World Cup in Australia and New Zealand, an important cultural and political issue for the host countries.
● Panorama: Gymnastics (2: Keys wins first U.S. Rhythmic Worlds at Juniors; Nassar stabbed in prison) = Modern Pentathlon (UIPM sets up review board for Russian and Belarusian re-entry) ●
Why the Steeplechase was the most important USATF race
Observed: All the hype coming into the USATF National Championships in Eugene was around the sprints and hurdles and if Ryan Crouser set another world record in the shot. But if the running, jumping and throwing in Eugene taught any lasting lessons, it had to be from the men’s and women’s 3,000 m Steeplechase finals.
The men’s race was wide open, with stars Evan Jager and Hillary Bor both absent, and the early pace was slow, creating a bunched field. On the inside was NCAA Steeple champ Kenneth Rooks of BYU, 23, who was running up on ex-UTEP star and three-time NCAA winner Anthony Rotich, and not wanting to push him over the backstraight barrier, took a somersault over the barrier himself, fell and ended up sprawled on the ground as the pack raced away.
That was at about the 750 m mark and he dropped from sixth to 14th, more than two seconds behind everyone else and more than four seconds back of leader Dan Michalski of the Air Force. Rooks didn’t panic.
He said afterwards he remembered U.S. great – and 1976-80-84-88 U.S. Olympian – Henry Marsh, also a BYU legend, who was notorious for running from the back, but ending up in front. But Rooks was still 14th. But he knew what to do:
● 800 m: 14th in 2:18.54 (70.97 lap)
● 1,200 m: 14th in 3:25.60 (67.06)
● 1,600 m: 12th in 4:32.75 (67.16)
● 2,000 m: 9th in 5:39.90 (67.16)
● 2,400 m: 6th in 6:45.67 (65.77)
● 2,800 m: 3rd in 7:47.21 (61.55)
He finished his last 400 in 60.15 and his last 800 m in 2:04.29, moving from seventh to first in a lifetime best of 8:16.78, improving on his Mt. SAC Relays win of 8:17.62.
His key move from 12th to ninth to regain contact with the leaders came between 1,600 and 2,000 m as he ran his third straight lap in just over 67 seconds. No panic. Concentration. Confidence. Rooks offered a six-minute master class demonstrating legendary UCLA basketball coach John Wooden’s maxim: “Things turn out best for those who make the best of how things turn out.”
This is not the first time such a thing has happened, of course. Long-time observers remember Finland’s Lasse Viren taking a fall in the Olympic 10,000 m final in Munich in 1972, getting up and not only winning, but setting a world record of 27:38.35. That was the start of the Viren legend, winning the Olympic 5-10 double in 1972 and 1976.
Rooks now ranks 18th on the world list for 2023 and won’t be favored to even make the final at the Worlds in Budapest. But we know he won’t ever give up, and he won’t panic.
The women’s Steeple was already a teaching platform, run just before the men. Former World Champion Emma Coburn had won eight straight U.S. titles from 2014-22, and was expected to battle ex-BYU star Courtney Wayment, the 2022 NCAA winner and USATF runner-up.
And Coburn had control of the race, taking the lead with 700 m left. And she was leading with 600 m left, 500 m left, at the bell, and with 300 m to go, with Wayment a half-second back.
But working her way up from sixth with 2 1/2 laps left was Krissy Gear, a 1,500 m NCAA All-American for Arkansas in 2022, now running the Steeple as a pro for the HOKA Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite Team. Like Rooks, she had a plan and that was to position herself for a closing kick, playing to her speed and strength.
She was fourth with two laps left and had moved up to third at the bell. She ran the fastest 100 m in the field on the final backstraight and caught Coburn and Wayment with 200 m to go and then zoomed by Coburn on the home straight to shave a staggering 11.74 seconds off her lifetime best of 9:23.55, and win in 9:12.81. Coburn was second at 9:13.60 and Wayment third in 9:14.63.
Preparation met opportunity, or as Wooden also said, over and over, “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.” Gear was ready.
On this site, there is exhaustive coverage of winners and losers, plotters and politicians and making sense of strategies and subterfuges that make international sport both compelling and maddening.
What Rooks and Gear were teaching in Eugene are life lessons that are timeless, priceless and require only belief and effort. That’s why sport is so great.
This was underlined by the final event of the meet, the men’s 110 m hurdles final. World Champion Grant Holloway had an automatic entry in the 2023 Worlds and won his semi, so he pulled out of the final. That left defending champion Daniel Roberts being challenged by insurgent newcomer Cordell Tinch, a star athlete at Kansas in 2019 who had lost his way.
He won the Big 12 title in the 110 m hurdles as a frosh, but left when the pandemic hit in 2020. He enrolled at Coffeyville Community College in Kansas in the fall, but had left the sport and went home to Green Bay, Wisconsin and was working for U.S. Cellular in sales when some of his buddies from Coffeyville suggested giving Pittsburg State – a Division II school nicknamed the Gorillas – a try.
Tinch, encouraged by his family, was an immediate sensation despite three years off. He shocked the track & field world with a wind-aided 12.87 win at the NCAA Division II meet and then a world-leading 12.96 in Arkansas on 23 June.
In Eugene, he was stride-for-stride with Roberts throughout the last half of the final, closing hard to just miss winning, 13.05 to 13.08 (wind: -0.2 m/s). He’s on his way to Budapest and has turned professional in something he has always loved. The key? He told Jeff Hollobaugh of Track & Field News:
“None of this that I have right now, none of this is possible without my mother. She’s truly the one thing on this planet that keeps me grounded and keeps everything in perspective. She’s my biggest fan, my biggest critic, and I will always love that woman for that. I truly wouldn’t be back in school if it weren’t for me and her talking about it.”
If sports – as a life experience – teaches us anything, it is the late North Carolina State basketball coach Jim Valvano’s immortal line from the March 1993 ESPY Awards: “Don’t give up. Don’t ever give up.”
There were better performances in Eugene, higher up on the world list for 2023, than what Rooks, Gear and Tinch ran. But their stories will resonate long after the times are forgotten, for all the right reasons.
USATF Nationals demonstrates U.S. track domination
Without special fanfare, the 2023 track & field season has been spectacular already, with sensational marks across many events. But following the results of the USA Track & Field national championships last weekend, the extent to which the U.S. is the world’s top nation is staggering.
A review of the worldwide top-20 performers list on the authoritative Finnish statistical site, Tilastopaja.eu, allows a rapid calculation of the national spread among the top-five performers so far in 2023. It’s not perfect since some stars have direct entries into the World Athletics Championships in Budapest – for example, Jamaican women’s 100 m champ Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce – but it offers a sense of where things stand right now.
Let’s check on the U.S. and its usual top pursuers on the Worlds medal chart – Kenya, Jamaica and Ethiopia – across 19 individual track & field events, including the marathons, but not the relays or walks:
● 26 top-5 performers: United States (in 12 events)
● 9 top-5 performers: Kenya (in 6 events)
● 5 top-5 performers: Jamaica (in 5 events)
● 5 top-5 performers: Ethiopia (in 2 events)
The U.S. has 27.4% of the combined 95 top-5 performers on the world lists as of 10 July; the next three combined have 19 for 10.0%.
There are three U.S. world leaders – Noah Lyles in the 200 m, JuVaughn Harrison (tie) in the high jump, and world-record setter Ryan Crouser in the shot – vs. two for Kenya (Emmanuel Wanyonyi/800 m and Kelvin Kiptum/marathon), two for Ethiopia (Berihu Aregawi in the 5,000 and 10,000 m) and two for Jamaica (Rasheed Broadbell/110 hurdles and Jaydon Hibbert (triple jump).
● 29 top-5 performers: United States (in 14 events)
● 12 top-5 performers: Ethiopia (in 5 events)
● 10 top-5 performers: Kenya (in 6 events)
● 5 top-5 performers: Jamaica (in 5 events)
The U.S. has 30.5% of the 95 top-5 performers in the world, with the other three combining for 27 across 11 events or 14.2%.
American women are atop the world lists in an amazing seven events: Gabby Thomas in the 200 m, Sydney McLaughlin-Levrone in the 400 m, Katie Moon in the vault, Maggie Ewen in the shot, Valarie Allman in the discus, Brooke Andersen in the hammer and Anna Hall in the heptathlon.
Kenya has world leaders in the 1,500 m (Faith Kipyegon’s world record), 5,000 m (another Kipyegon world record) and marathon (Rosemary Wanjiru). Jamaica has Shericka Jackson at 100 m and Ackelia Smith in the long jump, and Ethiopia has Gudaf Tsegay at 10,000 m.
● 55 top-5 performers: United States (in 26 events)
● 19 top-5 performers: Kenya (in 12 events)
● 17 top-5 performers: Ethiopia (in 7 events)
● 10 top-5 performers: Jamaica (in 10 events)
This is amazing, as the U.S. has 28.9% of the 190 top-5 performers right now, compared to 10.0% or less for Kenya, Ethiopia and Jamaica. In fact, the combined total of those three is 46 total top-5 places, or 24.2%.
Those four countries combine for 53.1% of the 190 top-5 performers in World Championships individual events (excluding walks).
That’s a testament to how good Kenya, Jamaica and Ethiopia are, and how dominant the U.S. continues to be. And this level of achievement amid the continuing angst among many American athletes about their sport’s standing in the U.S. and the difficult path for them to make a living on sponsorship and whatever prize money they can win.
Sha’Carri Richardson’s organizing athletes-only meeting did take place last Wednesday in Eugene, the day before the meet began, and attendees were resolutely close-mouthed about what was discussed. The talking is the easiest part; the doing is harder.
Political fury at Olympic Council of Asia elections
If you’re not tuned in to Olympic politics at the international level, then you neither knew nor cared about the Olympic Council of Asia General Assembly in Bangkok (THA) over the weekend.
But for those who watch closely to try to understand the eddies and currents of international sport politics were fascinated by a wild turn of events that led to the election – by 24-20 – of Kuwait’s Sheikh Talal Al-Fahad Al-Sabah, over fellow Kuwaiti Husain Al-Musallam.
In brief, the back story is that since his father was killed on the first day of the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait in 1990, his son Sheikh Ahmad Al-Fahad Al-Ahmed Al-Sabah – known as Sheikh Ahmed – had been in charge of the Olympic Council of Asia into September of 2021, when he was convicted in Switzerland over a forgery charge relating to a “fake coup video,” which he continues to appeal.
Sheikh Ahmed was well known as a power broker within sports circles and had resigned from the FIFA Council in 2017 over allegations of bribery. While he is not currently serving with either FIFA or the IOC, he has moved up in the Kuwait government and is now the Minister of Defence and Deputy Prime Minister as of 23 June of this year.
Ahmed was assisted at the Olympic Council of Asia since 2005 by fellow countryman Al-Musallam, who became the President of World Aquatics in 2021. As Director General, Al-Musallam was a natural choice to succeed Sheikh Ahmed as the elected OCA President.
But that’s not how Ahmed wanted it. Instead, Sheikh Talal – Ahmed’s younger brother, was put forward as a rival candidate, exceptionally unusual as both candidates were from the same country.
Then Ahmed flew to Bangkok to campaign for his brother at the Congress, drawing a rebuke from the International Olympic Committee – of which he is a self-suspended member – for possible interference in the OCA elections. That matter is continuing and will be a highly-scrutinized issue for the IOC Ethics Commission in the coming months.
The win for Talal is widely seen as a win for Ahmed as the OCA presidency is maintained within the family. What matters is the maintenance of the power structure which Ahmed created and which can now be used once again. As the OCA constantly preaches “unity,” this will likely be seen in bloc voting in the future on issues of all kinds, not the least of which will be the 2025 election of the next head of the International Olympic Committee.
At present, there are 99 members of the IOC, of which 21 are from Asian countries, an important and potentially decisive group on certain issues.
After losing the vote for President, Al-Musallam was unanimously approved as an Honorary Life Vice-President of the OCA.
Russia rejects declaration for U-23 rowing champs
The position of Russia’s national sports federations against signing declarations against the country’s invasion of Ukraine continues, now reaching to the sub-elite level, in specific, the World Rowing U-23 Championships from 19-23 July in Plovdiv (BUL).
Russian Rowing Federation (FGSR) President Alexei Svirin told the Russian news agency TASS:
“On Saturday, we received a negative response from the international federation to our version of the obligation form, which must be signed by athletes, coaches and specialists traveling to the world championship.
“On Sunday, the FGSR presidium recommended that athletes not sign the declaration in the version proposed by World Rowing. Athletes and coaches supported the position of our federation. A refusal to participate in the World U-23 Championships was sent to the international federation.”
“Earlier, we proposed to World Rowing to make adjustments to the text of the obligation in order to adhere to the Olympic Charter and the integrity of sport. In particular, we advocate the exclusion from the declaration of items related to the attitude of athletes to the special military operation in Ukraine, since this is politics, not sport.
“On Saturday, an answer was received that the form of obligation was previously approved by the executive committee of the international federation, and nothing can be corrected in it.”
The Russian team was limited to six athletes, as World Rowing is only allowing entries in the Single Sculls and Pairs without Coxswain. The World Rowing decision on Russian and Belarusian entries as neutrals also included the requirement of:
“a thorough background-check process, implemented by a third party, to ensure that athletes who are associated with the military or war in any form, or have publicly supported the war, will be automatically excluded.”
Svirin said that entries for the World Rowing Championships in Serbia (3-10 September) are not due yet and is waiting for information from World Rowing to see if the same issue will arise.
FIFA approves aboriginal flags for Women’s World Cup
“In each of Australia’s six host stadiums, the Australian flag, Australian Aboriginal flag and Torres Strait Islander flag will be flown, while in each of Aotearoa New Zealand’s four host stadiums, the Aotearoa New Zealand flag and tino rangatiratanga/national Maori flag will proudly be displayed.”
FIFA announced last week that it had approved a request from the Australian and New Zealand football federations, supported by their governments and FIFA’s special, all-female cultural advisory panel, to fly these added flags. Per FIFA President Gianni Infantino:
“This week, during NAIDOC Week in Australia and just before Aotearoa New Zealand’s Matariki celebrations, FIFA has acknowledged the request made by the FIFA Women’s World Cup 2023 Cultural Advisory Panel, Football Australia and New Zealand Football, which was supported by the governments in Australia and Aotearoa New Zealand. These significant flags express a spirit of mutual respect, national identity and recognition of Indigenous cultures for our hosts.”
Both Australia and New Zealand are making substantial efforts to recognize the culture of First Nations in both countries, with the issue becoming a high-profile political question in multiple areas of public discussion.
≡ PANORAMA ≡
● Gymnastics ● USA Gymnastics is celebrating a first-ever American medal at a FIG Rhythmic Gymnastics World Championship as Rin Keys won a bronze medal in the Clubs final at the World Juniors in Cluj-Napoca (ROU).
Keys scored 29.400 to win the bronze, behind winner Liliana Lewwinska (POL: 30.950). Keys also finished eighth in the Hoop final; the U.S. had one other finalist, Megan Chu, who placed eighth in the Ball final.
Infamous former physician Larry Nassar was reported to have been stabbed at least 10 times in a fight at the maximum-security United States Penitentiary Coleman in Sumterville, Florida. A Federal Bureau of Prisons statement included:
“We can confirm on Sunday, July 9, 2023, at approximately 2:35 pm, an inmate was assaulted at the United States Penitentiary (USP) Coleman II, in Sumterville, Florida. Responding staff immediately initiated life-saving measures. Staff requested Emergency Medical Services (EMS) and life-saving efforts continued. The inmate was transported by EMS to a local hospital for further treatment and evaluation.”
Nassar, 59, was reportedly stabbed in the back, chest and neck, and was reported to be in stable condition. He was sentenced to 60 years in Federal prison on child pornography charges, and an additional 40-175 years for his role in sexually abusing gymnasts and others.
● Modern Pentathlon ● The Union Internationale de Pentathlon Moderne (UIPM) is the latest to set up an independent review apparatus to process applications from Russian and Belarusian athletes to return to international competition.
According to a statement furnished to the Russian news agency TASS:
“The Independent Panel set up to review applications from athletes with Russia or Belarus passports who apply to compete as neutral athletes in UIPM Sports has decided on the eligibility criteria, application procedure and timelines.
“UIPM’s application process opens on July 31, 2023 for those who wish to compete in UIPM Sports as Individual Neutral Athletes. No teams of athletes from Russia or Belarus will be allowed to compete, and the individual athlete applicants must satisfy the Independent Panel that they have never actively supported the war in Ukraine, do not serve the Russian or Belarusian military or national security agencies, and comply with anti-doping regulations.
“Very similar rules apply to the eligibility criteria for support personnel (coaches and trainers, medical staff and physiotherapists, etc).”
There was no mention of a declaration from those applying; no further timetable was provided. The UIPM World Championships, the primary Paris 2024 qualifying competition remaining this year, will be held from 21-28 August in Bath (GBR).
For our updated, 651-event International Sports Calendar (no. 2) for 2023 and beyond, by date and by sport, click here!