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Track and Field Rewind: Michael Johnson, 1993 2

Posted on June 21, 2011 by Rojo Grande

Even the great Michael Johnson had to work his way up the ladder.

The world’s greatest quarter-miler has enjoyed over two decades of respect and admiration. As is true of most iconic sports figures, Michael Johnson has seemingly always been the face of his primary event – the men’s 400 meter run.

But there was a time when Johnson was shunned from the exclusive club of tried-and-true world-class 400m runners.

Fittingly, it was in the magical confines of Eugene’s Hayward Field – and the 1993 USA Outdoor Track and Field Championships – where Johnson paid his dues and entered the club.

Or at least got his foot in the door.

Johnson’s credentials to that point certainly merited attention. He was undefeated lifetime in all his 400m finals races. He was the only human to have broken both the 20-second barrier in the 200m (19.79) and 44-second barrier in the 400m (43.98).

Yet his elite 400m detractors questioned his durability and conditioning. Johnson was regarded as a 200m man who only ran the 400 in single races – without having to endure the grueling qualifying rounds of say, the World Championships or Olympics.

In addition, Johnson’s relatively short physical stature and running style – leaning backward, with short choppy strides – defied the accepted convention for a true 400m runner.

And so, as if to make a statement in Eugene as to his conditioning, Johnson arrogantly burst into a huge lead in his preliminary heat, then casually ambled – almost walked – to the finish line in 45.62.

World record holder Butch Reynolds (43.29), seeing the gauntlet thrown down, kept his powder dry in his quarterfinal heat but then blistered the track in the semis (44.81).

Quincy Watts, the 1992 Barcelona Olympic champion (43.50) also saw Johnson’s display and was determined to overcome an injury-plagued season (only five races) and put the young upstart in his proper place. Read the rest of this entry →

Prefontaine Classic Flashback: 20 Runners Demolish Four-Minute Mile 4

Posted on April 11, 2011 by Rojo Grande

(Zimbio) Not many pleasures in life surpass a good distance race at Eugene's Hayward Field.

You’ve got to be fast.

Opportunities to sneak past the giant and steal his goods are rare…and brief.

So when this giant—normally a vigilant guardian of his treasury—carelessly nodded off for 40 winks, 40 feet scampered past him to loot his vaults of their sacred bounty.

And fast those 40 feet were.

It happened just last year—July 3, 2010 at the Prefontaine Classic (Diamond League) international track meet in Eugene, Oregon. Such an elite field of middle distance runners had been assembled that two separate runnings of the one-mile race had to be staged.

The mile run has remained an iconic race through the decades (in spite of the metric measuring system) simply by virtue of its famous four-minute barrier. Though hundreds of runners have dipped beneath that barrier since Roger Bannister’s epic christening in 1954, to accomplish a sub-4:00 mile is still considered a lofty goal and a worthy feat.

In that sense, the four-minute mile continues to loom as a stingy, hulking giant.

Oh, it’s not all that unusual these days for two, maybe three raiders to pilfer from the giant a few token gold coins. But an entire platoon—in one day, at one location—ransacking his storehouse?

Yes, in two waves they came: Gregson, Acosta, van Deventer.

Torrence, Kithii, van der Westhuizen.

Pifer, Brown, Mansoor Ali and Rupp,  early in the meet in the International Mile.

And then, in the meet’s finale, the Bowerman Mile: Kiprop, Laalou, Gebremedhin.

Komen, Wheating, Kiptanui Kemboi.

Lamong, Moustaoui, Lagat and Keiteny. Read the rest of this entry →

Sergey Bubka: Are the Ukrainian Cosmonaut’s Records Safe? 4

Posted on February 17, 2011 by Rojo Grande

Only the legendary Bubka has breathed the rare air of a 20' vault.

(Opinion)

I’ve learned my lesson.

When Bob Beamon soared almost two feet beyond the existing long jump world record in mile-high Mexico City in 1968, I stood at the front of the line of those proclaiming Beamon’s incredible feat (29′ – 2.5″) as insurmountable.

I was proven wrong 23 years later when Mike Powell amazingly glided 29′ – 4.5″ at near sea level in Tokyo.

Powell’s record has now itself endured for 20 years.

So it is with a bit of fear and trembling that I now suggest Ukrainian Sergey Bubka’s world pole vault records may be among sport’s safest treasures.

Let me explain:

Bubka was simply in a class by himself

With no slight to Bubka’s rivals, the man was a supreme and fearless athlete who completely dominated the vault scene during his tenure. Even after his retirement in 2001, no one has come within nine centimeters (3.5″) of either his outdoor (6.14m / 20′ – 1.75″) or his indoor (6.15m / 20′ – 2.25″) records.

The closest threat to his indoor record has come from Australian Steven Hooker at 6.06m / 19′ – 10.5″. The closest active threat to his outdoor record has come from American record-holder Brad Walker at 6.04m / 19′ – 9.75″.

While 9 or 10 centimeters may seem minuscule at ground level, it becomes a huge mental barrier when negotiated upside-down at 20 feet in the air.

Indeed, since John Uelses first broke the 16-foot barrier in 1962, there have been 52 new outdoor records set, by an average increase of 2.4 centimeters. Considering that those 52 new records all came within the 32 years prior to Bubka’s mark (18 years ago), that 9 centimeter gap becomes a huge chasm. Read the rest of this entry →

Tyson Gay is the Last Man Standing in 2010 13

Posted on August 24, 2010 by Rojo Grande

Tyson Gay stands alone as Bolt and Powell throw in the towel.

It was supposed to have been the climactic finale – the mouth-watering replay of 2009’s World Championship 100-meter dash in Berlin.

Yes, that race.

The one where Usain Bolt obliterated his own amazing 9.69 world record from Beijing, 2008.

The one where Tyson Gay and Asafa Powell, the world’s next fastest sprinters ever, were sucked along in Bolt’s draft to post incredible yet inadequate times of their own (9.71 and 9.84).

The one which catapulted Bolt into stratospheric realms, beyond the reach of mere humanity.

But that was 2009 and this is 2010 – and since that race, a few million gallons of water has flowed under the bridge:

  • Later in 2009, Gay established a new American record (9.69) in Shanghai in a race he described as “not technically good”.
  • The 2010 season has been the quadrennial “down year” with no global championships, thus many athletes have used 2010 as a year to retreat from intensive training regimens to rest and heal.
  • The new Diamond League series of 14 international meets was launched, promising track and field fans multiple head-to-head showdowns. While there were several extremely talent-laden meets and exceptional performances, many of the elite match-ups failed to materialize because of the down year or debilitating injuries.
  • Gay beat Powell in Gateshead, beat Bolt in Stockholm, and established the season’s best time (9.78) in London.
  • Bolt and Powell have since shut down their seasons, citing lower back (some say spine) problems.

So now, instead of the Big Three getting together in Brussels this Friday in the final Diamond League meet (and that sumptuous re-match of 2009), only Gay remains to give fans a glimpse of the brilliance which might have been. Read the rest of this entry →

Tyson Gay Brings Usain Bolt Back to Earth 2

Posted on August 07, 2010 by Rojo Grande

Like the elusive butterfly, Usain Bolt fluttered about the cosmic regions just beyond the reach of mere humanity. His fame and image took on such lofty levels after his utter demolition of two world records* – not once, but twice.

All along, Bolt had shunned his public deification, insisting he could be beaten, if only on a bad day.

But his followers would hear none of it, exalting him even higher – into aerie territory reserved for the likes of Jordan, Pele, Ali…

Ever the realist, Bolt again left a thin crack in the door, saying 2010 would be his rivals’ best chance at an upset. His primary focus would be on 2011 (World Championships) and 2012 (Olympics).

To American Tyson Gay, who wears the mantle of “world’s second-fastest human” like a dirty rag, the crack in Bolt’s door must have seemed like the gaping maw of paradise. Read the rest of this entry →

Caster Semenya: Has she met her Kryptonite? 4

Posted on July 19, 2010 by Rojo Grande

The damage had been done.

Whether through insensitivity, ignorance, or just plain incompetence, an athlete was victimized in one of sport’s most embarrassing atrocities.

South African 800-meter world champion Caster Semenya was publicly stripped (of her dignity), raped (of her privacy), and disemboweled (of her physiology) by medical experts, governing sports entities, and news media.

Semenya was effectively banned from competition after her stunning 2009 victory in Berlin’s World Championships. Her rapid week-to-week improvement and her impressive world-leading time in the finals (1:55.45) prompted an intrusive gender verification process which left no piece of the champion’s persona hidden.

During the eleven-month ordeal, the black cloud of suspicion and controversy which fell first on Semenya, suddenly moved to cast its shadow on the various governing powers whose charge it was to protect the athlete.

Still, the damage had been done.

But as it is said, “…every dark cloud has its silver lining.”

Yes, after an excruciating delay, Semenya was finally cleared by Track and Field’s governing body (IAAF) to compete as a woman. Read the rest of this entry →

  • Vintage Athlete of the Month

    • Hall of Famer Tony Oliva
      July 17, 2022 | 2:15 pm
      Tony Oliva

      After waiting for 45 years after his retirement, the Sports Then and Now Vintage Athlete of the Month is finally taking his rightful place as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame.

      Before injuries cut short his Hall of Fame worthy career, Tony Oliva was one of the best hitters in baseball and combined with Hall of Famers Rod Carew and Harmen Killebrew to make the Minnesota Twins a perennial American League contender during the late 1960s.

      Discovered on the baseball fields of Cuba by a Minnesota Twin scout, Oliva came to the United States in 1961 and within three years the American League Rookie of the Year. There have been many great MLB players from Cuba, including a new generation of stars today, but it is hard to argue that there has been a better player from the island in MLB than Oliva.

      Read more »

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