Tuesday, July 29

Gina and I have just returned home from a week in Omaha. It was a good trip with dual purposes: time with Erin and officiating the National Junior Olympic meet. During the day I would be at the track and Gina and Erin would hang out, shop, go to a movie, etc. On the two days Erin had to work, Gina worked on school stuff and other projects. Then, in the evenings, we would have time to spend together. We got to spend some time with Rick and spent an evening with his parents and aunt. The meet also had some special events planned that we were able to take part in - a dinner and evening at a local museum and a dinner and evening at the zoo. It was a good week all the way around.

Officiating the Junior Olympics (this is my second one) is a far different thing than the Olympic Trials. The Trials have a lot of down time with smaller fields, fewer competitions, more days, and more officials - 10 officials for 10 competitions over 8 days. The JO's had larger fields with 20 competitions over 6 days with 6 officials. Working with the 9-10 year olds is always fun - they are so attentive and so eager to compete. And there are some great efforts and great athletes. Many of this year's Olympians once competed in this meet. We had a 12-year-old girl set a national record in the high jump by going 5' 6 1/2". The previous record was held by Jacqueline Johnson, who will be competing in the heptathlon at the Olympics.

Check out this article and test your "Pole Vault IQ".

I found this website off another blog, so I'm gong to do the One Hundred Push-up Challenge. Want to join me?

Saturday, July 19

Final Trials Installment - And Another World Record

Saturday, July 5

There were two major (in my mind) happenings on this last Saturday of the Trials. The first was our last high jump event - the men's final. It had the promise to be a wide open event with several of the athletes having jumped over 7'6" this year. But when it came down to the competition, only one cleared 7'6 1/2" on this day - Jesse Williams. Jesse was a four-time NCAA champion at USC. Andra Manson and Jamie Nieto tied for second with jumps of 7'5 1/4". But, of course, it wasn't quite as simple as that.

As I've mentioned earlier, an athlete has to have the Olympic "A" standard (since Jan. 1, 2007) to make the team - not just finish in the top three. There were six athletes in the competition that had the "A" mark - 2.30 meters, or 7'6 1/2". And though Nieto had won the 2004 Olympic Trials and finished fourth at the Olympic Games in Athens, he wasn't one of them. When the competition ended, the six who had the mark had finished first, tied for second, tied for sixth, ninth, and eleventh. So we began to do a jump-off to determine the last spot on the Olympic Team. The jump-offs were purely administrative and didn't effect the placing. First, we had Manson and Nieto jump-off their tie for second in hopes that Nieto would get his "A" standard (which was where their jump-off started). Unfortunately, he didn't make the height and, in retrospect, it probably wouldn't have counted if he had since it was not part of the competition per se and just administrative. The next two athletes with the "A" standard were tied for sixth (Dusty Jonas and Scott Sellers), so they had a jump-off for the final Olympic spot. Dusty won the position. He has had a great season, with the world's leading jump at 7'8 3/4".

The other major happening of the day was Tyson Gay's crash in the 200 meter quarterfinals. You have probably seen it on TV. He had a leg cramp and went down hard. You could hear the entire stadium groan. Fortunately, he should be healthy in time for the Olympic Games and he has his spot secured in the 100 meters. But he won't be able to run the 200 (where he is the defending world champion and has the second fastest time in history) since he didn't finish in the top three at the Trials.

Sunday, July 6

Those of us on the high jump crew got to spend the last day of the 2008 Olympic Trials in the stands. It was a great final day of competition - and a good day for those with Razorback ties as three more made the Olympic Team.

The first was Christin Wurth Thomas in the 1500 meters. When I watched Christin run during her first two or three years at Arkansas, I had no idea that she would ever reached this point. But she has worked extremely hard and has improved so much as an athlete.

The second was Wallace Spearmon in the 200 meters. Man, I wish he would learn to run the first half of that race! He had to come from way behind to finish third and make the team.

The third was April Steiner Bennett in the pole vault. Before this, she was often more well-known for winning Fear Factor. But now she is an Olympian. Check out her website. There is a great clip from a Little Rock TV station on her and her job as a middle school PE teacher. You can also contribute to the fund to help her parents and husband make the trip to China.

In my last post, I mentioned that my home town of Ft. Scott, KS had recently set a couple of world records in the area of putting down rows of pennies - one for the fastest time to lay down one mile of pennies and another for the longest row of pennies (over 40 miles). I've had a couple of responses to that. Trevor, being Trevor, was motivated to get out is calculator and figure out how many pennies were needed for those efforts. John, however, was amused that I would brag about such things or a town that did them. But then, John lives in Cane Hill, AR - a town that makes Ft. Scott look like a metropolis!

It has also come to my attention that another record was set in Ft. Scott that weekend. A young man names Sean Durnal, age 17, ate five McDonald's quarter-pounders with cheese in less than three minutes.

What a town.

Friday, July 11

Olympic Trials (Part 4) and two world records in my home town!

Thursday, July 3

Something that you didn't notice if you watched the Track & Field Olympic Trials on TV was the amount of security that accompanies this meet. I also officiated the 2004 Trials, but the level of security in Eugene seemed even more intense that it was in Sacramento. Every night, the stadium and grounds were "swept" by bomb-sniffing dogs. Everyone who entered the stadium - fans, officials, and athletes - had to go through an airport-like security line with bag searches and metal-detectors. (Fortunately, we got to keep our shoes on!) Not only that, but in various places around the perimeter of the stadium were sniper nests! Security was intense.

One of the events on Thursday was the qualifying round of the women's pole vault. I mention it because it had three current or former Razorback athletes in it. In fact, there were at least four events during the Trials that had three athletes with Razorback ties - the women's pole vault, the men's 100 and 200 meter dashes, and the men's 1,500 meter run. There were at least 21 current or former Razorbacks (men and women) competing in the Trials. I don't know if anyone counted, but I doubt if there were many schools with that many representatives. When it was all said and done, there will be seven Razorbacks on the US Olympic Track and Field team (Tyson Gay, Wallace Spearmon, April Steiner, Nicole Teter, Christin Wurth Thomas, Amy Begley, and Deena Kastor) and at least two others representing other nations (Veronica Campbell Brown of Jamaica and Alistair Cragg of Ireland).

One of the upsets of the Trials occurred on this day as LaShawn Merritt defeated defending Olympic and two-time world champion Jeremy Wariner in the men's 400 meters.

Friday, July 4

One of the characters of US Track & Field - and one of the stars of the sport - is Breaux Greer - also known as "Hurricane" on American Gladiators. Breaux is by far our best javelin thrower and the only one we have who is really competitive on the international scene. But Breaux has had numerous surgeries on his knees and shoulder - the latest being rotator cuff surgery about six months ago. Because of that, Greer was unable to even make it out of the qualifying round this year.

Friday also was our first high jump final. The women's final went pretty much according to form with Chaunte Howard winning, Amy Acuff in second, and Sharon Day in third. Chaunte took last year off to have a baby and came back to win and make her second Olympic team. This will be Amy's fourth Olympics.

My home town of Ft. Scott, KS set two world records this week. One was for laying out a mile of pennies in the fastest time ever. The second was for laying out the longest row of pennies - over 40 miles worth! You can read the details here.

Tuesday, July 8

A break from the Trials and flying in a lawn chair ...

The US Olympic Track & Field Trials have eight days of competition with a two day break in the middle.

Tuesday, July 1
On Tuesday, the officials working the Trials loaded up in buses and went to the Pfeiffer Winery outside of Eugene. We were there as guests of the Men's and Women's Track Committees. The evening featured wine tasting and a very nice banquet, all underwritten by Nike. We also had a chance to meet the coaching staff of the Olympic teams.

In many ways, these have become the "Nike Trials." Nike, of course, is based close to Eugene and is a major financial supporter of USA Track and Field. But their presence was more obvious than normal and wasn't always appreciated by some. The conspiracy theorists felt that they had too much influence on some of the decisions on who got into the meet (see Adam Goucher). For us who were officials, we received Nike shoes to wear, as well as other clothing items. In fact, we weren't allowed to wear our usual uniform shirts because they didn't have a Nike logo. We were issued new shirts to wear, with the "Swoosh." That wasn't too well received.

Wednesday, July 2

On Wednesday, Bobby James (another official from Arkansas) and I spent the day driving up the Oregon coast. It's a beautiful drive - much like the coast of Central California - with lots of cliffs, sea lions, and some lighthouses. We also were able to see a whale when we stopped by the little town of Depoe Bay.

There are some who feel that the US way of picking their track and field Olympic Team - based on performances in this one meet - is not the best way. That maybe the team should be selected by a committee or by a series of meet set up over several months. Their thought is that one bad meet or one minor injury can keep your best athletes off of the team or that it causes athletes to peak for this meet rather than the Olympic games.

But I like the "do-or-die" nature of the Trials. Athletes have to peak at the right time and learn how to perform under pressure when it counts the most. There is no politics and no committee to complain about. You either perform or you don't. If you don't make the team, there is no one else to look to but yourself and your performance.

Here is a great article from the NY Times that deals with that.

A few months ago, I posted an article about a man from Oregon who attempted to fly to Idaho in a lawn chair that was carried along by about 150 helium balloons. He didn't make it.

BUT he recently attempted the feat again and this time succeeded. You can read about it here.

Monday, July 7

Olympic Trials, Part 3

Day Three - Sunday, June 29

There were a couple of highlights on this first Sunday of the Trials. The first was the men's pole vault. Though I am the chief high jump official at this met, I officiate about as much pole vault as I do high jump. So I always watch those events (as well as the combined events, which I do quite a bit as well) with special interest. The best vaulter in the world over the past couple of years has been Brad Walker. In fact, he set an American record of 19' 9 3/4" here in Eugene just a month or so ago. But he just finished third at the Trials. The real story was Jeff Hartwig, who finished second. Jeff (pictured) lives and trains in Jonesboro, AR and held the American record until Walker broke it. I have worked with Jeff (and Derek Miles, who won the event) several times over the past few years. One interesting thing about Jeff is that he collects and raises snakes. He has over 200 of them. And an amazing thing is that he is 40 years old and still vaulting over 19' and making the Olympic team.

The other highlight was the men's 100 meter dash final. When we left Tyson Gay, he had finished an eventful Saturday with almost failing to advance out of the preliminaries and then setting an American record of 9.77 seconds in the quarterfinals. The world record was set just a few weeks ago at 9.72 seconds by Ussain Bolt of Jamaica. Tyson responded on Sunday. When the gun went off, he left the field behind. Over 20,000 fans rose to their feet and gave an audible gasp when the time flashed on the scoreboard - 9.68 seconds! Unfortunately, there was too much wind so it didn't count as a world record. But it was the fastest time ever run in any conditions!

Our high jump crew ran the decathlon high jump on Sunday. I really enjoy combined event athletes (decathlon and heptathlon). They tend to be very laid back and very supportive of one another. It is more of a competition against themselves and the event rather than against one another.

Day Four - Monday, June 30

We began the "open" high jump events on June 30. About 24-26 athletes are allowed into each of the field events and they go through two rounds of competition. On this day, we had the women's qualifying. The 26 jumpers were divided into two groups who jumped simultaneously at the same heights. The competition continues until the field gets down to about 12 athletes and then we quit. Those 12 (plus ties) then come back a couple of days later for the final and we start the competition again. The event went smoothly and everyone who should have advanced did.

The decathlon also finished on Monday, with Bryan Clay (pictured) winning another national championship and finishing with the second highest total in US history. Clay isn't your typical decathlete. He is about 5'10" where most of the better ones in the world are 6'3" or 6'4". But he is a great thrower and works hard at all of the events. Trey Hardee finished second and Tom Pappas finishing third.

Lastly, the men's 800 meters was an exciting raise, especially in this atmosphere. It had a decidedly Oregon flair to it as it was won by Nick Symmonds (who went to an NCAA Div. III school out here) in his usual "come-from-behind" style. But right behind him was Andrew Wheating, a sophomore at Oregon who has come out of nowhere over the past couple of months to make the Olympic team. Then here were two men diving for the finish line and the third spot. It went to Christian Smith who went to Kansas State but now lives and trains in Eugene. Needless to say, the crowd went nuts at the end of the race.

Friday, July 4

Olympic Trials, Part 2

The US Olympic Trials schedule is modeled after the Olympic Games, so they stretch over ten days - four days of competition, two day break, and four more days of competition. They are also being broadcast every day on either USA or NBC. Hopefully, you are watching them! But if you're not, here are some of the highlights of what you've missed...

Day One - Friday, June 27

Day One is mostly qualifying and preliminary rounds. Our high jump crew had the women's heptathlon event. And in the 5,000 meters, one of the guys from my track Bible study ran. James Strang didn't advance to the finals, but ran well. Plus it is just a thrill for any athlete to be a part of this competition.

The highlight of Day One was the women's 10,000 meter final. It seems strange to think that a 6.2 mile race was exciting and a highlight, but this definitely was! And it was so exciting because of the woman who finished in third place - Amy Yoder Begley, a former Razorback.

One thing you have to understand is that it takes more than just a top-three finish at the Trials to go to the Olympics. You also have to have the Olympic qualifying standard. It is possible for someone to finish in the top three and not go to the Games - or for someone who finished behind them but has the Olympic standard from an earlier meet to go in their place. Amy didn't have the qualifying standard coming in to the race and, though she had third place pretty well assured early on, her trip to China was in question. But she ran an incredibly fast last lap, with 20,000 people on their feet cheering her on, and collapsed across the finish line. She made the qualifying mark by less than two seconds. It was the most exciting distance race I've seen.

Day Two - Saturday, June 28

One Day Two, the women's heptathlon ended with Hyleas Fountain (pictured) dominating the field. The fun part about this event is that most of the athletes I've known for a few years, including all of our Olympic team. In fact, the third place finisher and her twin sister used to come to Fayetteville from Texas as high school students to compete.

But the men's 100 meter dash provided most of the fireworks. In the first round, defending world champion Tyson Gay (another former Razorback) misjudged which line was the finish line and pulled up too soon, almost failing to advance. But he came back in the next round to run a new American record of 9.77 seconds. I've always liked Tyson. He is not the stereo-typical sprinter. He is quiet and humble and polite. And very fast.

Wednesday, July 2

For the past few days (and the next few) I'm in Eugene, OR helping to officiate the 2008 US Track and Field Olympic Trials. This is the second time I have been selected to work the Trials - which is the best and most important meet in the US. I'm serving as the chief high jump official, which means that I and my crew of nine are in charge of all the high jump events during the meet. That includes the women's heptathlon, men's decathlon, women's and men's qualifying rounds, and the women's and men's finals. All but the last two are done on two simultaneous pits, so our crew is divided between the two.

I want to set the record straight up front that officiating high jump is more than just putting the bar back up when it falls off! Of course, neither is it rocket science. But there is more to it than appears from the outside. For example, here is a sample "schedule" for the high jump crew for a 7:25 start time:

4:25 - The set-up crew (five of us) meet at the venue to prepare both pits. That will include making sure the standards are vertical and square and marking their location so that they can be quickly replaced if moved; properly placing the mats to provide adequate room for each athlete's approach; putting down a 10 meter white line at each pit to indicate the plane of the crossbar; examining, measuring, and marking at least three crossbars per pit to make sure that they meet USATF specifications and that they are as close as possible to the same on each pit.

5:25 - The entire crew meets in the Officials' Tent to review specific assignments (which were made about a month ago), discuss any issues from previous events, and talk through procedures.

6:00 - The crew goes to the venue to make sure everything is ready and to work with the media on where photographers and television cameras, etc. can be located, set up timing clocks and chairs, and check the calibration of the standards.

6:25 - I go to the clerking area to give instructions to the competitors and escort them to the venue.

6:40 - Warm-ups begin and last until 7:20. This is often the most difficult part of the whole process, especially with large fields. Each athlete likes to warm-up differently, so trying to accommodate them all and let each be prepared as they wish for competition can be a challenge.

7:20 - Athlete introductions

7:25 - Start the event, which will usually run for about an hour and a half.

So, for a major championship such as this, we will put in about four and a half hours for each competition. And the biggest thing in officiating field events is dealing with people - athletes, coaches, media, meet management, and other officials.

We are very fortunate with our crew. Though they come from New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Minnesota, Oregon, Colorado, Nebraska, Kentucky, and Arkansas I have had the chance to work with all of them over the past three years. So I know their personalities and strengths. And though each of them has been a chief high jump official at national championship meets, there has been very little problem with ego. The crew works well together and enjoys working with one another. In fact, no other crew at the Trials will spend as much time together socially as we will.

Before I close this post I also want to say that there isn't a better place for a meet like this than Eugene, OR. Even though the signs entering Fayetteville say that it is the "Track Capital of the World", it doesn't match Eugene. Hayward Field is a special place. For the Trials, it seats over 20,000 and the fans are knowledgeable and enthusiastic. They are on their feet and loud for every event. And they have had a lot to cheer about at this meet. I'll try to hit some of the highlights in the next few days.