Taking a Page from Letsrun: USA Quick Thoughts

By Jarrett Felix

The U.S. Championships are in the books and what a championships it was! Here my three quick thoughts on each event. Feel free to share your own thoughts as well!

1. Nick Symmonds is a Brooks Beast
Yes, that was a lame pun, but let's look at his weekend. He ran three straight season bests, ending with a 1:44 mark and a gold medal in the U.S. Final. Now it may not have been a loaded field, but the fact that Symmonds could 360 from completely toast to back in the World Championship medal discussion that quickly amazes me. I'm a big Symmonds fan and am rooting for him to have success in Beijing although things will get a lot trickier for him at Worlds. That field should be very crowded with talent and his World Finals streak will be in jeopardy.

2. Rounds Matter
Symmonds highlighted this afterwards and it's extremely important to remember. Navigating each prelim is tricky and you need strength to go with speed in order to maintain your performance from round to round. 3 hard 800ms in 4 days while still trying to be tactically sound and conserve energy for the finals is absurdly tricky, especially for rookies and that left guys like 1:43 man Boris Berian on the sidelines while Symmonds was grabbing gold.

3. Clayton Murphy is a name to remember
The true soph from Akron finished an impressive 4th in the championships and, like Symmonds, ran three straight season bests to do it. He was closing hard on Cas Loxsom thanks to what he has proven is a phenomenal kick (he utilized this kick to sneak through in both rounds as well as his NCAA prelim). 

The dude went from 1:50 to 1:45 in a blink and, considering his age and the lack of depth in the event, Murphy is arguably a favorite for the 2016 Olympic team. The dude has killer range (has run 30 minutes for 10k on trails) and clear his strength pays dividends over the course of 3 rounds. 

Rumor is, however, he may move to the 1500 next year. That could be fun.

1. "Everything is Fine Mom, Just Got A Little Excited"
I was at home watching the NCAA championships on TV in 2011 when Robby Andrews went from last to first in an epic 800m final against Charles Jock, running a 1:44.71. That was a thrilling night that featured me yelling at the TV and my mother being very concerned we were getting robbed.

Thankfully, no one was home on Saturday night. Robby does it again with another absurd kick to hawk down Blankenship and Manzano and edge his way onto the team. With 125 to go he just hit another gear and blasted off through the field, it was amazing and it was classic Robby.

He left the field way too much room and had to get a little lucky the last stretch as Blankenship was doing a bit too much looking around and not quite enough racing. 

The key for Robby this time around was timing things better. He has run like this basically his whole life and it can be effective in the right setting. In 2012, he tried to pull a similar move but went way too hard from 400m to 200m, tried to pass on the outside, got stuck on the turn and was spent for the last 50. This time, he was patient on the turn (maybe too patient) and waited to burst until he could slingshot wide off the turn. 

It worked out a bit better this time around.

2. We Still Have Some Work To Do
Neither Manzano nor Robby has the "A" standard of 3:36.20 that they need to guarantee their spot to Beijing meaning that neither is locked in to a spot just yet. So even though Ben Blankenship is likely heartbroken and hopping fences, he could still end up on the team.

Now I would be very surprised if Leo didn't get that 3:36, but Robby is a bit more of a question mark. I'm optimistic he can do it, but I believe he has only run that kind of mark once before in his life (2012 Oxy) so it's far from guaranteed. 

3. Ducks on the Pond
How about this for a stat, Oregon alumni/current students in the final included Centrowitz, Wheating, Geoghegan, Winn, Alexander and MacNamara, which accounts for half the final. And all those guys you could argue had amazing weekends.

Centro looked absurdly good, incredibly smooth while still running a 52.0 last lap. It's not crazy to think he's the favorite for gold in Beijing. I don't think it's true, but it's not crazy. 

Wheating rebounded for 5th after a bit of a shaky season, good news for him looking ahead as he tries to build off this. Geoghegan was up in the mix for an impressive amount of the race considering he has been focused on longer distances all spring/winter (he sees himself as a miler). And then Winn and Alexander had huge days as well, especially considering Alexander didn't even make NCAAs. This race for Winn coupled with his post NCAA 1500 that got him here in the first place, has to feel great.

3k Steeple
1. US Steeple is the best it's ever been
3 guys under the meet record at the meet with another two around 8:20. It's crazy that Jager, who appears to be in the best shape of his life, was pushed for so much of this race by excellent runs by Cabral and Huling. Huling has become something of the Manzano of making teams in this event as year after year he is there at the front. Cabral is making big steps forward and returning to the promising state he was at for 2012. Could we get three guys in the final at Worlds to challenge the Kenyans? 

Misleading question, the Kenyans will likely roll over our boys considering they have at least the top 2 steeplers in the world, but we could still get three guys into the finals of things break right. And Jager is without a doubt a medal threat.

2. Where Does Cory Leslie Go Next?
I'm probably one of the only guys interested in this, but I'm curious what Leslie will decide to do looking ahead. He has run 3:34-3:35 type marks almost consistently in the 1500m and although that doesn't get you much, it's arguably a more impressive performance than he has been able to throw down in the steeple to date. The 1500 on the U.S. Scene is very deep, but the steeple is arguably tough to crack as the pace tends to be honest and the top three have been head and shoulders above lately.

Plus Kebenei and Bayer are just getting started on the pro steeple circuit and already have massive potential.

3. I feel bad for Stanley
Dude has had some unfortunate falls. Add this to the list. He wasn't going to make the team in all likelihood but he could have grabbed a PR and first alternate position (you never know what happens between now and then). 

I felt worse for Leah O'Connor but this won still makes me upset. Fall down seven times ....

1. Rupp can't do the 5k
Not sure if it's the fact that he's always doing 10k-5k doubles or if he just doesn't have enough speed, but the dude has struggled kicking on the Diamond League Circuit as well when he has fresh legs plus he owns a 3:50 mile PB. Run on sentence aside, I'm just not sure I get it.

I mean this thing was definitely slow and the dudes had a long week, but it's tough to see him get his doors blown off in the 5k when he just torched everybody with a kick in the 10k. I'm confused.

Dudes had a hard week so you gotta respect the fact that he still made two teams with everybody and their mom asking him how much he cheated.

2. Ryan Hill is legit
Although Rupp is probably still our best bet to place well at Worlds, Ryan Hill is no fluke. The dude has quietly been producing in a variety of races against top competition. Prior to today it had been mostly indoors, but the guy is just a racer and his mile background helps him kick off a slow pace (2013 he also closed sub 4). He has made a world championship final before and handled it well and that was a long two years ago. He has grown a lot as a professional since and now he has the confidence that comes with US gold. Look out.

3. Sorry Garrett Heath and David Torrence
These guys are pretty unlucky. They have been excellent over the years, running killer times everywhere from 800 to 5k but neither can find the right event to make a team. They had tried in the 15 in the past but couldn't quite navigate the kicking mess to the finals. So they move up this year, battle hard, but neither can quite get on the team. Unless Rupp decides to scratch the 5k (highly unlikely, but not impossible) or True doesn't grab the 5k A standard (he's probably gonna get it) then Heath gets on the team.

It's hard because I want our best guys in Beijing representing the red white and blue, but I also want guys like Heath or Torrence to be rewarded every once in a while for their hard work. I'd love to see Heath in China even if it means he is bounced in the prelims.

1. Rupp is light years ahead of the rest of the country
If you watched the race, you saw it too. I'm sure you did. My friend and I were just texting about it the whole time. Another runner (I think Tyler Pennell) stepped on Rupp's shoe and he decided, screw it in done with you kids and then bang it was immediately over. Wow.

2. True Wants to Scratch
If you are a Shadrick Kipchirchir fan, I have great news for you! Assuming True gets the A standard in the 5k, he has said he will scratch the 10 to focus on the shorter distance. 

That's an intriguing choice and also means 4th place finisher Kipchirchir (formerly of OK State) will be rewarded for pushing all the way to the line. He has a brilliant close and is most likely going to have to pack some travel bags for Asia.

Shadrick fans go wild!

3. Hassan Mead makes a team!
I've heard lots of great things about this guy, who is a good friend of my ex-coach. I once got a snap chat from Mead indirectly through my coach right before he destroyed the Payton Jordan 5k. So naturally because I'm that guy, I wanted him to become as famous as possible so I could float that line.

Plus the "I heard he's a great guy from a bunch of people" thing. I suppose that too.

The Etrain 11: Family Matters

By Jarrett Felix

In basketball, one player can dominate a game. We are fresh off an NBA Finals where Lebron James dominated the series, nearly carrying a team of misfit toys to the title. Against a team that was one of the best, most efficient and deepest teams of all time. And I'm not just saying that because they have Steph Curry. Although that helps.

In track we have seen some similar Herculean efforts to carry a team with one man and there have been successes from it. But ultimately, it seems all too often that we are reminded that this is truly a team sport and each member contributed equally to team success (unless you are talking about the "team" state championship which one person can do all by him/her self, but that's a rant for another day). 

Think about it, in basketball one player can dominate the ball. In football, you run plays for one special athlete over and over. In a relay like the 4x800m, no matter what order you trot your runners out in, each still has to run the exact same distance. There is no spreading of the distance around so one guy runs less. 

In Cross Country, each of the 5 runners finish is recorded and each runner runs the same distance. In dual meets you can get by with three guys, but in Invitationals you need all 5. Sometimes we forget that but we could have been reminded as recently as this past fall. 

But what I find interesting, is that despite these facts each team and relay is still different. There are different ways to achieve success. Look no further than the 2015 AAA and AA 4x800m champions. 

Pennsbury, the AAA champs, ran one of the fastest marks in state history at Shippensburg, running 7:38 for gold. Pennsbury's team was built around two studs: Alek Sauer and Sam Webb. Both had individual state medals around their necks from the previous year and had been a part of Pennsbury's previous two state medal winning squads. These pillars were crucial to the team's success. In fact, for three straight years Webb ran second leg for PB and Sauer ran 4th on their state 4x8. This final year, they split the team's two fastest legs and both times broke the race open in favor of the Orange men.

It wasn't all easy for Pennsbury. Although they had an historic year on the track as a team in 2015, their school year started with heart break in XC. Despite being one of the top teams in D1, at Lehigh they suffered a close call in a loaded field and ended up out of the state qualifying picture. Alek Sauer, who had broken 16 a year before, had an uncharacteristic off day and ended up failing to qualify individually in a big twist. It was a heartbreaking turn.

But while some teams would have let this bring them down, Pennsbury used it to build themselves back up and Sauer came out with a vengeance during indoor track. Always a strong and gutsy relay runner, Sauer recorded a mind blowing 1:52 split indoors at the Armory. He also recorded a huge 1:51 split at the Penn Relays, running an incredibly impressive 2nd leg to pull the team to first in the COA. Then, to close things out, Sauer split what our own Caleb Gatchell clocked at 1:49.7 to anchor Pennsbury to the state title in epic fashion. Without a doubt, Sauer is one of the best relay runners the state has ever seen.

Sam Webb was, in my opinion, always more of a distance man than a sprinter. He was excellent at the 3200m for his entire career, a state contender since his sophomore year. He ran 9:08 in 2014 despite the fact that he spent the spring recovering from injury. He was poised to be a sub 9 contender in a loaded field. Individual glory could have been his.

But Webb was a unique runner. He is one of the best doublers the state has seen and he was willing to make a huge sacrifices for the relay in 2015, choosing a tired effort in the mile over a chance at history in the 3200. All during that process he transformed himself from a 4:20/1:58 type to a 4:12/1:53 type.

Throw those two guys at the top of the itinerary and things are looking pretty good. That's a duo that can get you on the medal stand. But to be a state champion takes something more. It takes four guys. Or, in Pennsbury's case, you can argue it took five.

One of the biggest developments was that of sophomore Eric Kersten. He started the indoor season as something of a bubble guy for the stacked relay. He ran some solid individual races at Lehigh and slowly worked his way into the line up. Once he was there, he established himself as a natural lead off leg and an unflappable 800m runner.

Leading off the 4x8 is one of the most difficult tasks in the business (trust me, I've failed it a few times myself) and Kersten was only a sophomore racing in some of the biggest meets in the sport. He led off indoor states, penn relays trials and finals, and outdoor states. And he did a great job in each of them, splitting 1:55 at states and, most importantly, putting his team in excellent position to compete.

The final pieces were Matt Mulvaney and Zach Yeger. Although neither one was getting the accolades of their stat teammates, but runners spent the entire year behaving like champions. Both men fought hard for the final spot on their state relay and neither was a poor sport or team chemistry breaker. They sacrificed when it was important for the good of the team. 

And they had their moments to shine. At Penn Relays, Yeger took the stick from Sam Webb in a battle for first place on the anchor leg. He held his own in the stacked race and helped the team run a blazing fast school record. Mulvaney also delivered in a big spot on the third leg at states. He too got the baton from Webb in the lead and then ran a poised third leg, despite some blazing fast opening 400m around him, keeping the team at the front of the pack and getting the baton to Sauer in perfect position for a victory.

Both men were consistent sub 2 minutes in the two lapper, performances that would make them stars at most schools, but instead they shared a smaller role on a great team and were rewarded when it counted. Kinda like Andre Iguodala.

Wyomissing, the AA champs, came into states as the fastest team in AA. But they still had something to prove. The previous year, the team suffered a near miss for state gold and that squad graduated stud runner Andrew Miller, the outdoor champ at 400m in 2014. It would be hard to replace Miller's 1:55 open 800m speed, especially when so many teams were focusing all their energy into the relay, including a slew of teams that beat Wyomissing's time from district.

Instead of building around two returning stars like PB, Wyomissing was tasked with building a new identity. They had an extremely well balanced squad, with 4 runners who had the potential to break 2 minutes in the line up. They had no weak legs that their opponents could attack and that proved to be the difference at Shippensburg.

The team was aided by the development of its two best distance runners, Jack DiCintio and Kyle Shinn. Both men had run extremely clutch races down the stretch in XC, including a 2-5 finish at Hershey in the biggest race of the year. The team finished 7th at cross states after so called experts predicted they wouldn't be able to make it out of District 3. This big time running set the tone for the track season.

Shinn continued to roll indoors, adding a 7th place finish in a record setting mile field at states to his accomplishments. By the spring, he and his teammates were training again at a high level and clicking extremely well. Freshman Joe Cullen, the team's #3 man from XC, had become an individual sub 2 minute runner as only a freshman. Heriberto Colon joined with DiCintio and Shinn to round out a squad that would finish the year each holding PRs sub 2 minutes.

At states, despite the fact that they had a variety of pieces doubling, they showed no signs of fatigue or being spread too thin. Frosh Joe Cullen was assigned the lead off role in the state finals as just a freshman. That's high praise, especially considering he had never done it before. He delivered, handing off to Colon in the lead pack.

Colon blasted the second leg, taking things out hard. As a successful 400m runner, Colon knew he could get out harder than the rest of the field and he broke the race open for third leg DiCintio. That was crucial because DiCintio was doubling off a very quick 3200m.

Turns out DiCintio didn't need much of a cushion as he continued to hold the lead. His race was even more impressive when you consider that he had to run completely alone with very tired legs, moments after the 32. He got the baton to Kyle Shinn and from there it was over. Shinn cruised to a 1:57 type split and crossed the line in first to earn state gold.

Shinn had his own impressive double at states, turning around to run 4:19.14 for 3rd in the 1600m in a loaded field that included four time state champ Dom Peretta, two time champ Griffin Molino and sub 16 at Hershey man Sebastian Curtin.

Both teams had unique stories, as did many of the teams at states (more on that to come). But each squad has the same goals and aspirations. However, the key to success is more than just each leg running fast, it's about becoming more than the sum of the parts. 

Think about the sacrifices each runner had to make for their squad, whether it was sacrificing their individual goals or sacrificing their time or, most importantly, sacrificing their body by running all out in one of the most grueling events in track and field: the 800m (editors note: Jarrett was an 800m runner during his career).

There is more to being a good relay or a good XC team than simply individual success. It's about having a group of guys who would do anything for each other. I can't tell you how many times I've read an interview after the race and the first quote, middle quote and last quote is "I was struggling, but I knew I had to do it for these guys ... No matter what I couldn't let my teammates down."

Looking back, my teammates are like my brothers and together, we were a family. And that appears to be the case with these squads.

And nothing is stronger than family.

Controversy Revisited

By Jarrett Felix

With the U.S. Championships beginning June 25th, people should be eagerly anticipating the races that will decide the team going to Beijing. However, the cloud of doubt and suspicion hanging over the nations best distance athlete and his coach have obscured these races from the spotlight, instead casting our sport into darkness at a time when it could potentially be its brightest to outsiders and new fans.

Alberto Salazar, the Coach of the Nike Oregon Project, and his star athlete, Galen Rupp were the focus of a recent ProPublica/BBC investigative piece that examined suspected illicit drug violations that would give Rupp a competitive advantage. The man behind the reports is David Epstein, the man who famously exposed convicted doper Lance Armstrong.

Rupp, the 2012 silver medalist at 10,000m, holds the American Record in the 25 lap race with a 26:44, a mark roughly 15 seconds faster than any other American athlete in the country's history. He is going for a seventh straight US title in the event tonight and, in many ways, is just as important to the sport on the national stage as Armstrong was (although admittedly he has not transcended into popular culture in anywhere near the same extreme as Lance). Salazar also coaches the multi time global champion Mo Farah from Great Britian and two time global medalist and blossoming star Matthew Centrowitz. He is likely the most famous track and field coach in the world today.

Salazar released his own extensive response to the allegations online, denying the reports and providing evidence to super his case. The two pager can be found here (it's a big read, took about an hour for me to get through it this morning).

With both sides officially having made a case, I will now do my best to give what I hope is an unbiased account of the story to date. Afterwards, I will share my own personal thoughts. I am by no means an expert on this event or many of the underlying details but I have done my best to be as informed as possible before writing. I would sincerely appreciate comments and other pieces of information from the readers to help fill in gaps or correct any mistakes I may make. With all this in mind, let'sbegin.

For starters, although Salazar coaches and has coached a multitude of elite athletes, these allegations are against none of his athletes besides Galen Rupp. This may be because the sources do not feel they have the same amount of evidence on the other members of the NOP to prove their wrongdoing or it may be because the others are clean and Salazar has chosen to only push the boundaries with Galen. This, like many pieces of the current story, is open for speculation.

Salazar and Rupp have a special relationship. Alberto started coaching Galen when he was still in HS and helped him grab an American High School record in the 5000m, running 13:37. In college Rupp excelled at the University of Oregon and then transitioned smoothly into the Nike Oregon Project where, still under Salazar's care, he continued to gradually improve. Rupp's resume to date and his progression do not show the massive leaps that are usually indicative of doping or drug use.

Because Rupp has been Alberto's main project since high school, it seems natural that the two are close. However, it also seems like there is a certain layer of secrecy surrounding Rupp. Multiple sources have said something along these lines and mentioned his "separation" from the group at large. 

Salazar is paranoid about keeping Rupp from being sabotaged or testing positive inadvertently. Both sides of the case have confirmed that Salazar tested his own sons with Androgel, the gel that Justin Gatlin famously claims did him in. Salazar claims he wanted to see how much of this gel would be required to set off a positive test. He says the testing confirmed that it would take a noticeable amount to push someone over the legal limit and therefore he did not feel this was something to be concerned with going forward. The Epstein camp claims that this was an attempt to circumvent the drug testing rules. If Salazar knew how much gel it took to set off a positive test, he could apply a smaller amount to his athletes and avoid being caught while still gaining a marginal competitive advantage.

It's hard to say either way, but let's point out that sabotage is not unheard of in the sport. Ben Johnson, the Canadian Sprinter who beat Carl Lewis in the Olympics and ran a then world record of 9.79, was busted for drugs at the games. Later, after headmittedly to his steroid use, he pointed out that the drug he tested positive for was not one of those that he used during training. He believes one of his drinks may have been spiked so that the drug would be in his system and he would test positive at the games. More on this can be seen in the telling documentary 9.79*.

Even if there is no foul play involved, the behavior is at the very least odd. Salazar's background in the sport also suggests potentially shady business in his past, which has likely played a role in the suspicions people have towards stories like the one above. As an athlete Salazar was involved in his own share of performance enhancing drug issues including some rumors surrounding Prozac use and his return to world class running after a physical and mental breakdown.

Perhaps the biggest mark on Salazar's record is athlete Mary Decker. Decker had an illegal T:E ratio at the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and was subsequently banned from competition in June 1997. Decker claimed the positive was triggered by her birth control pills she was taking and said the test was flawed, but her case was shot down in arbitration. Decker was 37 during the 1996 games. 

Salazar's questionable prior incidents are almost definitely playing a role in some members of the track communitiesopinions of him. But it is important to note that unlike Decker, Galen Rupp has never failed a drug test despite the fact that he is widely considered the most tested athlete in track and field. More so than convicted drug cheat Justin Gatlin who is facing his own share of scrutiny after running faster times now than he did on drugs earlier in his career. However, it is also important to note that Lance Armstrong also never tested positive despite his admitted doping.

Passing a drug test doesn't mean that you are clean, it just means you aren't dirty. There are ways to beat the system or skirt around the rules. It's possible to reside in certain safe zones that are above average but not illegal. And, most importantly, there is much more money and incentive behind beating the test than making the test.

The accusations around Salazar mainly center around this idea. Whether you read Salazar's report or Epstein's, it's very clear that Alberto has an intimate knowledge of the drugs and medication his athletes are using as well as their effects and legality. He is very invested in this part of the training process. 

In the BBC/Pro Publica report testimonies from Steve Magnessand Kara Goucher imply that Alberto was violating the spirit of the competition by getting asthma prescriptions, thyroid drugs and more for his athletes who did not actually need them for medical advantages. He also been accused of abusing the TUE system that gives a therapeutic use exception to athletes who need to take certain illegal drugs for health purposes rather than performance enhancement. Goucher says she herself was prescribed a drug Cytomel that she did not need to help her try and lose weight after her pregnancy. Magness claims Salazar was shipping pills to Rupp in hollowed out books to avoid detection from the authorities. 

Salazar has responded to these allegations with well documentedevidence that he cleared Rupp's drugs, allergies, etc with the necessary authorities. He also confirmed that he did indeed send drugs to Rupp in a hollowed out book, but it was a spray, not pills, and it was known by the US Drug/Doping and meet officials that he was sending this to Galen. He hid it in a book because he was worried customs would confiscate it and then Galen would not get it before his race, but he wasn't concerned about hiding the drug use from the relevant track and field authorities, meaning there were no violations with his actions. 

Salazar has also attacked the credibility of Epstein's two lead sources: Steve Magness and Kara Goucher. Essentially, Salazar writes that Magness, a former assistant coach with the Oregon Project, was fired from his job because he was not a good coach and was having a physical relationship with one of his female athletes. There is no insinuation or inference, he states it openly in his response. What is implied is that Magness is bitter and using what little half truths and rumors he picked up in his days as coach to discredit AlSal and try and tarnish his reputation.

Pro Publica has responded by posting a link to a mutual termination document between Salazar and Magness, implying they left on even terms. It should be noted that it is fairly common workplace protocol to have a mutual termination agreement for legal reasons even in the case of a firing. It also helps protect the individual fired, especially if they are a coach, to help him/her find another position without the stain of a previous failure.

Salazar also points out that he was very happy with Goucher'sweight after pregnancy and has the documented emails to prove this. He said the Cytomel in question was administered after the fact for a non weight related reason and also has the proper documentation for this. Salazar and Kara were very close while training together and they have what both sides have called a "loving" relationship, however, Alberto's relationship with Adam Goucher is rocky at best. Adam, Kara's husband, butted heads with Alberto over coaching philosophy with regards to his wife. Adam claims he did not like Alberto's methods while Alberto claims an angry outburst from Adam forced him to tell Kara he did not want to coach her if her husband was going to continue to interfere.

Perhaps the most shocking allegation is Magness's claim that Galen Rupp has been on illegal testosterone boosting drugs since he was in High School (15-16 years old). Magness'sevidence is a doctor's graph that says Rupp was on "testosterone medication" since 2002. Salazar has claimed that this was misprint by the doctor and Rupp was taking certain legal drugs to help combat his allergy medication for his chronic allergies (which are, by now, well documented). The drugs had some testosterone boosting qualities but were not drugs that violated any WADA rules. 

It is important to remember that a doctor documenting this for Galen Rupp could have no idea that the 16 year old would one day become a world contender and U.S. Champion so he was likely not too concerned with his wording or possible long term doping allegations some 13 years later.

The US will be conducting an official investigation of these accusations and have already interviewed a dozen or so individuals. A variety of people, both anonymous and not, have come forward in the press to share their suspicions or experience. Although few have any outright doping allegations or hard evidence.

Simply put, we are still waiting on the smoking gun.

That is, essentially, my best attempt to describe the evidence, rumors and articles I have read on this subject to date in an unbiased way. Now I will transition into my own thoughts, which are mainly speculation.

So over the years following the sport I've become more jaded about things. I know there is a dirty level here and I know basically all the world records that I used to memorize and prize when I was younger are aided by some drug or another. If you look at the 1500 times from the late 90s they are practically "cartoon times" with how fast some of those races were and how many of those marks are impossible to touch even 20 years later. If you look at the 5k marks that followed they are equally and amazing and perhaps even more so unmatched. The main cause of this was the drug EPO which was untestable for a while on the circuit and almost certainly was abused before the testing had caught up.

And if you look at some of those women's world records? Oh my ...

But I also know I can't simply be suspicious of people because they are the fastest or are doing things others have yet to do. It'shard to walk the line between freak of nature and freak of science. These guys, regardless of drug use, are the best in the world at what they do and our in the 0.1% of human specimen. Lebron James is a physical freak unlike anything we have ever seen before. How much of that is crazy genetics, work ethic and diet vs potential drug use? 

Combining these thoughts, I have learned to be on guard. I prefer to enjoy the sport as given to me and assume people are clean until proven otherwise, but I'm prepared for anybody, ANYBODY, to be dirty.

Ever since I started really diving into the rumor mills and drug scandals, the man at the top of the list seems to consistently be Salazar. His reputation around circles is far from flattering. As a result his prime students Farah and Rupp have been dragged into the realm of suspected wrong doer quite quickly. Rupp's progression is at least fairly gradual (although if he has been using since high school that might be a moot point), while Farah made a huge jump from world finalist to unbeatable world champ and, perhaps craziest of all, became a 3:28 man for 1500m in 2013, one of the top 10 athletes ever in that event despite being an aging 5k-10k guy.

But here's the thing, Salazar is super tuned into the system. He'snot worried about what the perception of a drug is or its intended use, it seems like he knows what's legal, what's not and what's going to make you better without getting you in trouble. Is it clear to me that he and at least some of his athletes are operating in a "gray area"? Yes. Do I think in some cases the "spirit of the sport" has been violated? Yes. Do I think that there will enough to get him or his athletes in any sort of real trouble? Do I think that they have, technically speaking, violated the rules? Not really. I certainly don't see anything in the Epstein report that is going to throw him under the bus.

Salazar's response is pretty thorough and pretty convincing. It'spretty well documented and seems to rely a bit less on the "he said, she said" talk than their opposition. It doesn't hurt that he likely has access to the Nike money and the Nike attorneys.

That's the thing, Nike has one of the top facilities in the world and has a ton of money. The NOP has a ton of resources at their disposal and they are willing to push the limits in training and in the lab to put the best product on the track possible. If they color within the lines, no one is going to admonish them. And really should they? All these limits are just arbitrary for what is “natural” in the human body. Most of us take vitamins to help our health. Are these not, technically speaking, performance enhancing drugs? A lot of people drink coffee or other caffeinated drinks. Caffeine has been proven to be a performance enhancer as well, but nobody thinks twice about who is using it because it is a popular part of the culture and it’snot illegal. 

I’m not trying to justify cheating or skirting the rules, I’m just trying to get you thinking a bit about what your definition of “clean” vs. “dirty” is. There are two courts in play, the jury of public opinion and the actual governing bodies. It’s possible to win one and lose the other. 

So what happens next? Well, now we wait to see if this investigation turns up anything big enough to put an end to the Nike Oregon Project’s reign. Keep in mind that there are many layers to this investigation, beyond the obvious fact that Rupp is the best US Distance runner in history. Nike has a lot on the line here as an organization. They are the most important shoe company in track and field by far and have something of a strangle hold on the USATF. They have the money and people to do everything in their power to make sure that the NOP comes out of this on top and is likely preparing a defamation lawsuit already. 

With Nike’s well documented presence among the nation’s governing track body, there is serious potential for a cover-up or some type of scandal, a piece of the puzzle worth monitoring going forward.

As far as I’m  concerned the only way to break this case open is for someone to come forward as something of a sacrificial lamb from inside the NOP organization and admit completely to serious, obvious doping allegations. This could potentially be Kara Goucher. If in fact Salazar is a dirty operator, it’s unlike that Goucher, a bronze medalist in the world championships and very successful runner under Alberto, was somehow exempt from all the cheating around her. If she is willing to lay all her cards on the table and admit to a high level of cheating, then there is a good chance Salazar and company would officially topple.

However, that does not appear like it is going to happen. Either Goucher was not violating the rules or she will not come forward because she has a personal reputation to protect in addition to sponsorship deals and a world championship medal. She loses a lot of money if she gets busted as a drug cheat so there’s not a ton of incentive for her to come forward. Of courseI want to repeat, all this only matters IF she actually cheated. I have no way of knowing if she did or did not and don’t want to make any allegations on the subject.

So hopefully this has given you something to think about as we continue to monitor this ever developing story. Feel free to share your thoughts below and provide insight where appropriate! 

The 2015 NCAA Outdoor Track Zatlin Awards

By Garrett Zatlin

Yes ladies and gentlemen, it is that time of the year again. It’s the time of the year where this season’s greats are praised and the duds are verbally assaulted. Who knows? Maybe some big name will find this and post it to his twitter account *cough cough Craig Lutz*… With all of that said, here are your 2015 Outdoor Track Zatlin Awards!

Note: Performances are based on the entire outdoor season. Indoors do not count and NCAA’s is not the total focus. 

The “Who is that?” Award (Best Breakout Runner)
Winner: Thomas Joyce (Cal.)
Other Nominees: Justyn Knight (Syracuse), Matt McClintock (Perdue)
Why: The first name that came to my mind was Thomas Joyce and for a good reason. Joyce threw down a nasty 3:39 in a duel meet against Stanford where he beat out McGorty and Olson. He also doubled back that same day in the 3000 to defeat Maksim Korolev. Joyce would eventually run a 3:58 mile and a 13:34 5k. At one point in the season, he was 7-0 with victories over some of the biggest names in the west. Unfortunately, Joyce would have a poor championship season and would not make the 1500 finals at NCAA’s. Others like Knight we’re already known, but I believe he truly established himself this season especially after his 3:39 1500 and All-American performances. Matt McClintock didn’t run anything that would categorize him as elite, but a solid 10k and big wins got him recognized.

Can’t See The Haters Award (Fan Favorite)
Winner: Eric Jenkins (Oregon)
Other Nominees: Justyn Knight (Syracuse), Thomas Awad (Penn), Cristian Soratos (Montana St.), Jordy Williamsz (Villanova)
Why: This is just the perception that I got, but Jenkins seems to be the golden child of the NCAA. He was the guy that everyone was pulling for to beat Ches and you just felt bad that he had to live in the shadow of The King. Put a Nike label and you can’t help but be a fan. Williamsz definitely gets love for doing what Jenkins couldn’t; beating Cheserek. Knight had a very humble attitude and won an ACC title with one shoe. It’s impossible not to like someone like that. 

The 24/7 Award (Most Consistent)
Winner: Anthony Rotich (UTEP)
Other Nominees: Edward Kemboi (Iowa St.), Matt McClintock (Perdue)
Why: Rotich was just the man. The guy raced nearly everything and didn’t falter when he stepped onto the track. Rotich grabbed a total of NINE wins this season in individual finals. NINE wins! That is crazy when you consider that the average collegiate at his level have six to seven races in a season. The only losses he had were against Thomas Joyce and a loaded 5k field at Stanford where he finished third overall (2nd collegiate to Sam Stabler). His times were always impressive and a win over Kebenei only helps his case. Besides Rotich, Kemboi was clutch in the post season by not losing a prelim or a final. His racing tactics were excellent and executed to perfectionMcClintock consistently placed well and never had a race where he really faltered. For that, I’ll give him some attention.

The Living Machine Award (Runner With the Best Racing Range)
Winner: Edward Cheserek (Oregon)
Other Nominees: Thomas Joyce (Cal.), Thomas Awad (Penn), Anthony Rotich (UTEP)
Why: Predictable, I know. But when Cheserek takes the track he can run down anyone. Being an NCAA champ in the 5k and 10k shows that he’s the King at the longer distances. He added an “easy” 3k win at the Oregon Twilight meet with a 7:57 as well as top finishes in the DMR and 4xMile at Penn Relays (where he was outkicked by Jordy). He simply can beat anyone at any distanceYou all know the story with Joyce and Rotich. Joyce had seven wins while Rotich had nine. They both had wins in the 1500, mile, 3000 (or 3000St.), and the 5000. I throw in Awad due to his ability to attack in all kinds of race situations no matter the distance. He can take advantage of a slow pace but still hang tough in a race for time. His ability to do that in a 1500 and a 5000 puts him on the list. 

The Qdoba Award (Most Underrated Runner)
Winner: Brandon Doughty (Oklahoma),
Other Nominees: Craig Engels (Ole Miss), Will Kincaid (Portland)
Why: This was a tough one for me. All three had a case to be named most underrated. However, I feel that Doughty deserves it more. If you’re looking at the entire season, Doughty has the numbers. His 3:45 1500 is decent but nothing stunning. It’s when you add that he ran an 8:38 steeplechase (10th fastest in nation) that you realize how sneaky good this guy was. Did I mention that his 8:38 got him fourth place in a very deep NCAA finals field? On top of that, he ran a 13:39 5k which was the 13th fastest time in the nation. I never really talked about him much, and I’m now regretting that. Kincaid gets some love mainly because of his gutsy 5000 at NCAA’s where he made a bold move on the back straightaway to challenge the Oregon duo. His resume this season includes a 13:48 5k, 4flat mile, and a 3:43 1500. He never ran anything jaw dropping, but his times were solid all around the board. Engels had some recognition from indoors but wasn’t too relevant until he dropped big times like a 1:46.13 800 and a 3:40.28. Unfortunately, he wouldn’t make it out of the prelims at NCAA’s. 

The Chipotle Award (Most Overrated Runner)
Winner: Sam Penzenstadler (Loyola Ill.)
Other Nominees: Izaic Yorks (Washington), Tanguy Pepiot (Oregon), Andres Arroyo (Florida)
Why: I had someone ask me why I named this the Chipotle Award. My answer is mainly because Chipotle seems better than it really is while Qdoba is the place to be. Just my opinion, but if you disagree then you’re wrong. Back to track…Yes, I did have Penz as a nominee for this “award” last season, but kept him off of it because of his excellent mile performances. The guy won a strong ND Meyo invite and then eventually popped off a sub-4 running 3:58. Although he had a poor indoor nationals showing, Penz still had eyes on him going into this season. Unfortunately for him, his 1500 wasn’t faster than 3:44 which wasn’t even close to his 3:39 PR. His 800 was sub par and the only thing somewhat relevant was his 13:58 5k. Penz would eventually finish 23rd at regionals to cap off his disappointing outdoor season. Other guys like Yorks and Arroyo weren’t clutch in the post season (Yorks got into NCAA final on DQ technicality and finished last in the finals) while the All-American Pepiot from Oregoncouldn’t even get a win this season or make the NCAA finals. 

Most Likely To Lose to Garrett By 1 Point In A Prediction Contest (Self Explanatory)
Winner: Alex Fox
Other nominees: There are none
Why: 49-50 (lowest score wins). If that doesn’t say it all I don’t know what does. Even after Fox correctly predicted all five NCAA distance champions, he still couldn’t overcome the deficit he was in. Fox will argue that I sabotaged his predictions by hyping up Joyce (who did not make the NCAA final). Maybe next year Fox!

The Comeback Kid Award (Runner That Has BestOvercome Adversity)
Winner: Peter Callahan (New Mexico)
Other Nominees: Craig Lutz (Texas), Jesse Garn (Binghamton), Blake Haney (Oregon)
Why: As a runner that has had every injury, illness, and bad series of races, I feel like this is a pretty important award to give out. Peter Callahan has struggled with injuries all throughout his time at Princeton and this past indoor season with the Lobo’s. For him to drop a 3:40 and 1:48 after a season of injury is impressive. A fourth place, All-American spot is a nice reward after a tough winter. Speaking of fourth place, All-American finishes, Craig Lutz did just that. His 28:33 10k at Stanford was a bit unexpected and he PR’d in the 1500 with a 3:44. His convincing nationals performance established that he was a contender in the NCAA once again. Garn didn’t really struggle last season, but a DQ in the 800 at indoor nationalsleft him hungry for revenge. Garn went after that revenge and finished third in a deep 800 field at NCAA’s. Blake Haney didn’t have much of an indoor season after a disappointing 4:16 mile performance at Rod McCravy. Since then, the frosh has stormed back and ended his outstanding season with a 3:40 1500 PR and a third place finish at NCAA’s.

No Guts No Glory Award (Gutsiest Runner)
Winner: Craig Lutz (Texas)
Other Nominees: Brandon McBride (Miss. St.), ThomasCurtin (Virginia Tech), Kemoy Campbell (Arkansas),
Why: What? You thought I wasn’t gonna give an award to Lutz? Lutz has really turned it around this season and it seems that he’s done that by adopting a more headstrong approach to his racing. He even proclaimed in an interview that he “likes to grind” and has shown that mentality bypushing the pace at the Penn Relays 5k, taking turns leading the regionals 10k, and putting on a nice surge in the NCAA 10k. He leaves it all out there so I have to commend him for that. McBride and Curtin will always be the ones to take it hard from the gun no matter the race (except for McBride at NCAA’s). They have no fear and attack the race from the gunAs for Campbell, every time he has raced the Oregon Ducks this year he has tried to take the lead and make them work for it. Campbell also ran 13:20 earlier this season so you know the guy is willing to grind out a tough pace.

The Juggernaut Award (Best Distance Squad)
Winner: Oregon
Other Nominees: Villanova, Stanford, Syracuse 
Why: Not really any surprises and I don’t really need to explain myself. Eight Oregon distance guys went to NCAA’s…that’s just incredible. Besides the Ducks, Nova was arguably the best mid distance program in the nation that was led by Jordy Williamsz. A thrilling last 200 meters at Penn Relays would put Nova on the podium over the favorites from Oregon and make the Wildcats the stars for a couple weekends. As well look at the other programs, you’ll see how impressive the depth for Syracuse and Stanford is. When you look at the number of top 50 times Stanford and Syracuse have at each event, it’s pretty impressive…

Lefebure (26th)Knight (8th)
McGorty (14th)Knight (6th)
Olson (33rd)Hehir (8th)
Coyle (40th)Bennie (47th)
Olson (10th)Hehir (2nd)
Keelan (18th)Lennon (10th)
McGorty (23rd)Kamyszek (11th)
Sweatt (50th)
Sweatt  (14th)

Stanford had a bit more depth all around while Syracuse had better placing at the longer distances.

Pumped Up Kicks Award (Most Impressive Performance)
WinnerStanley Kebenei 8:23.93 (@ Payton Jordan),
Other Nominees: Jason Witt 27:54 10k (@ Payton Jordan), Kemoy Campbell 13:20.39 (@ Payton Jordan)
Why: Kebenei’s time is 12th all-time in the NCAA. Witt’s is 18th and Campbell’s is 9th. So by that logic, Campbell has to get it right? That answer is no. Don’t get me wrong, his performance is outstanding and to run that time should be considered a milestone in his running career. However, what he didn’t do, was run an all-time best AND beat an entire field of established pro’s like Kebenei did. To run the time he did and WIN is huge. It makes you think he could’ve gone faster. Since 2000, Kebenei’s time is the 6thfastest while Campbell’s is still 9th and Witt’s is 16th. So what does that mean? It means that in this generation of racing, Kebenei’s race had more of an impact that the other two.

Batman and Robin Award (Best Racing Duo)
Winner: Cheserek/Jenkins (Oregon)
Other Nominees: H. Hernandez/J. Hernandez (Texas A&M), Futsum Z./Matt McElroy (N. Arizona), Henry Wynne/Mike Marsella (UVA), Kyle Graves/Simon Holden (Wake Forest)
Why: Let me first say that while there are definitely better duos for the other nominees”, I wanted to focus on duos that consistently raced together and had the same event focus. It makes comparisons easier. With all of that said, it’s nearly impossible to not pick Jenkins and Ches. Not only do they both go 1-2 at the 5k AND 10k, but they also run it like they’re cruising. They leave some of the best competition in the dust and then cross the line like it was just another workout. Duos like the Hernandez brothers are a favorite of mine for their consistency at the 800. The WF duo also did very this seasons as they capitalized on their fitness from indoors and threw down some excellent times.

PA Don’t Play Award (Best Season by Pennsylvania Alumni)
Winner: Ned Willig (Brown)
Other Nominees: Tom Coyle (Stanford), Ben Ritz (Columbia), Matt Fischer (PSU), Glen Burkhardt (PSU), Nate McClafferty (Duke), Chris Sanders (LaSalle), Ryan Gil (Georgetown), Luke Lefebure (Stanford)
Why: I know, I know. I can already guess what you’re thinking... “Ned? The guy you ran with for two years? Your bias is really getting to you Garrett”. I know but just hear me out. Ned has run some out outstanding times this season, which includes a 3:44 for 1500 metersBut big whoop right? McClafferty ran 3:43 and Coyle ran 3:42.How can Willig match that? Well while those are impressive, neither of those two had the 800 times that Ned did. Willig has now run 1:48 three times this season. McClafferty and Coyle focused solely on the 15 and struggled in the 8 when they did try it. A close 1500 plus a much faster 800 gives Ned the edge. Although those three are the main focus in my mind, I have to give a S/O to Ryan Gil and Glen Burkhardt for making NCAA’s!Hopefully we’ll be having more than two distance guys in the next couple of years. 
How Do You Spell That? Award (Coolest Name)
Winner: Ole Hesselbjerg (E. Kentucky)
Other Nominees: Malachy Schrobilgen (Wisconsin), Futsum Zienasellassie (N. Arizona), Tanguy Pepiot (Oregon), 
Why: I understand that there will be an argument for Futsum, but come on…the guys name is literally “Ole”. How sweet is that? The best part is that I can actually spell his last name without too much struggle where as with Futsum I have to jump back and forth between tabs 30 times to get his name right. Malachy has an awesome first name but I’m not sure how to pronounce his last name…Pepiot is just so much fun to say. 

You Da Real MVP Award (Most Valuable Runner in the NCAA)
Winner: Edward Cheserek (Oregon)
Other Nominees: Eric Jenkins (Oregon), Edward Kemboi (Iowa St.), Anthony Rotich (UTEP), Stanley Kebenei (Arkansas), Chad Noelle (OKST), Jordy Williamsz (Villanova)
Why: Do you see the other nominees? How crazy is it that none of these are an obvious favorite for this award? The firepower there is unbelievable but they all fall in comparison to The King. Yes, Jordy did outkick Ches. But if you put those two in an honest racewho are you taking? I understand that Cheserek didn’t race much this season and I also understand that his races were just to make regionals. I get that. However, when you not only win, but CRUISE to a double gold against the best talent in the NCAA, it kind of gives you an automatic bid for this award. Cheserek is the best and there isn’t really an argument. Here’s to two more years of watching a legend.

That, ladies and gentlemen, is the end of the Zatlin Awards. So what did I get right and what did I get wrong? What were your own awards that you’d like to see? Let me know below. I will also be trying to get out an article on PA’sgraduating (high school) seniors and maybe take a deeper look into the PA alum at smaller schools. Look out for that in the next week or two! 

Run on,