Journalism vs PR

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed; everything else is public relations.

The above quote is generally attributed to George Orwell but it appears that he never said or wrote it. It feels Orwellian though, and if someone newsworthy is hiding something from the public then there must be a reason, right? Or so goes the general thought, especially for when the subject is someone in business or politics or some other field in which they exert power over the public.

What about in sports? Today the conflict between “journalism” and “public relations” is in sharp focus after the press conference for tomorrow’s Diamond League meet in Monaco.

Before the floor opened up to questions for sprinters Carmelita Jeter (U.S.A) and Shelley-Ann Fraser-Pryce (Jamaica), the press conference director announced the athletes would not answer any questions about doping. The request was made by each athletes’ manager.

It would be Simon Hart of the Daily Telegraph, who attempted to phrase a question enough to get around the confines put on the media present. His question was directed at Fraser-Pryce to share the atmosphere of the Jamaican camp in Lignano and how the athletes who didn’t test positive are handling the news.

He would not get his answer. The press conference director reaffirmed the rules set for questions, which resulted in several journalists asking “Why?”

Jeter decided to respond by taking the microphone saying “Thank you” and walking out. A few moments later, Fraser-Pryce would follow as well.

Let me make this clear, as I’m not sure it is from the above: only Jeter and Fraser-Pryce refused to answer questions about doping. Brigetta Barrett, Christian Taylor and Sally Pearson already had discussed the issue, and others did later in the press conference, including Justin Gatlin.

Let’s ignore for a moment whether you believe either or both of the athletes in question are in fact using any performance-enhancing drugs. In my view, this is just terribly bad form for an athlete, especially in track and field. Professional athletes cannot make a living without fans and public support. Period. It is a totally unequal relationship. We like to watch them, they need us to pay their bills. There are always other female sprinters, so if they want to walk away, well, there are dozens of others ready to take their place.

In general, sports or otherwise, is a press conference “journalism” or “public relations”? A little bit of both. Whoever puts on the press conference clearly wants PR. I mean, The Onion didn’t run the headline Well, Time To Go Out In Front Of A Bunch Of People And Lie To Them, By Jay Carney, White House Press Secretary for nothing. And Carney wouldn’t need to lie to the press if they didn’t keep asking him things he didn’t want to answer.

It’s also important to note that this isn’t Jeter’s first issue with tough questions about doping. A year ago, LetsRun.com discovered that banned agent/coach Mark Block was given a VIP pass at the Olympic Trials and was in Monaco for this very same meet. He was (and possibly still is) closely associated with Jeter, and she gave an icy non-answer to LRC’s Weldon Johnson when he asked about it in an Olympic press conference (one where we might now wonder if IOC rules forbade her from walking out).

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A Tale of Two Colleges

Over the last seven days I’ve met with two relatively new college coaches, or at least new to my little corner of Ohio, to talk about ways to give our sport a higher profile. I’m very happy to report that both of these two have no shortage of ideas or ambition.

Toledo

I just had a lunch with Linh Nguyen, the new head track and cross country coach at the University of Toledo. The New York native was recently hired away from UNC-Greensboro to replace the train wreck that was Kevin Hadsell; here is the official release.

He's a Toledoan now -- just had his first taste of Tony Packo's

By all appearances Nguyen understands that he’s not just a coach of a team, but a coach of a university team and what that means. If he is representative of a new generation of track and field coaches, ones who share his kind of vision, then things might turn out OK for us and our sport.

First off, I should say that part of me is his mortal enemy. I ran at rival Bowling Green, just 25 miles away, and my once-fanatical support for my Falcons has been rekindled in the last few years. So I have the urge to bring out my inner Iron Sheik and yell Bowling Green number one! Falcons number one! Rockets – hack-ptooah!

But I also love my hometown of Toledo and want only the best for it, and of course I want track and field and cross country to claim their rightful spots as high-profile sports. So I welcome a formidable opponent.

What do I mean when I talk about what it means to coach a university team? It means more than just winning and losing, and even more than winning and losing and having a high GPA. It means an educational mission, both for the athletes and the community, and it means creating and strengthening bonds between the team and UT alumni and the city’s residents. Universities have far more to offer than just degrees and seats in a stadium, and it’s too easy to forget that.

In short, Nguyen wants his team to get out into the community and he wants the community to come support his team. One example: the athletes will be volunteering at road races with regularity. In any city this is a great way to get ordinary Joes and Josephines interested in your program, but especially so in Toledo

The “Glass City” has an extremely active and well-organized road runners club, one that specializes in race organization. We have tons of racing opportunities that are highly varied, inexpensive, and efficiently run. We have a lot of runners around here and they’ll get to know the athletes by seeing their faces at water stops or packet pick-up or the finish line, but there’s more. By adding to the core group of club volunteers and offering some relief to those who shoulder too much of the load in putting on races, the UT teams will probably get big support in return from the area’s greatest proponents of long-distance running.

Another idea Nguyen has is to send his team out to the local running stores’ evening training runs and have them split up among the various pace groups. “Pro-am” events at pro golf tournaments get people to pay big money to for this kind of experience while runners can get it for free. But Nyugen sees this as very much of a two-way street: adult runners are overwhelmingly college graduates, ones who have made their way through the workforce in many of the same fields that his athletes are studying in the classroom. Opportunities for this kind of informal mentoring, done through chatting while running down the road, are educational gold.

Yet another idea is an old one but a good one: a series of early-summer all-comers meets at the university’s track. I told Nguyen that in heavily family-oriented Toledo, he’ll be inundated with parents looking for an inexpensive activity to do with their kids. I also told him something he apparently didn’t know, that a summer all-comers meet series was one of the ways in which Bill Bowerman initially bridged the gap between “town and gown” and helped make Eugene into Track Town, USA.

One thing I did not discuss with Nguyen, although I should have, is the university’s desire to host another Great Lakes cross country regional and to pursue hosting the NCAA cross country championships. I presume the administration still has interest in these things (as they did under Hadsell), and the university will need the full support of the community to make them a success.

If Nguyen does turn out to be as successful at the University of Toledo as I suspect he will be, then the Falcon fan in me can at least take comfort in the thought that he won’t stay in the Mid-American Conference, “triple-A” of college sports, for all that long.

Bowling Green

Last week I sat down for a cool refreshing beverage with Lou Snelling, who is entering his third season as the head coach at my alma mater. The Falcons were a significantly improved team last season and the incoming class of recruits looks good too. I had some ideas for improving presentation of home events and other things, and I was happy that he liked what he heard. Here’s a brief list of my thoughts.

I always push for tighter scheduling at track meets. We have too much dead time between events. Lou was willing to work on that.

Recognizing that some down time between events is inevitable, I want to fill that time by interviewing coaches and athletes–but not the breathless immediate post-race crap we get on TV. Rather I wanted to interview them well after they were done or before they even started, when both I and they could come up with some deeper thoughts. Lou is all for that.

I suggested a kids’ sprint race at a home meet or two to get the community involved, and Lou said that was already in the works. I said we should then send them to get autographs from a few athletes, maybe with preprinted “autograph cards” (like oversized trading cards) or mini-posters. This way they would stay at the meet a bit longer and feel like it was any other real sporting event, plus have something to take home with them (and maybe show off to their friends). Lou thought this was a good idea and doable, given the great cooperation the track team now has from the Athletics Communication department.

Intramural sports have huge participation on the BG campus, and I suggested figuring out some sort of tie-in with that at an indoor meet. I had no specifics but I thought it was worth thinking about. (To give you an idea of how big intramurals are, the spring flag football championship games are played at halftime of the varsity spring football game.)

For the revived outdoor dual meet series with Toledo, I suggested a pre-meet tailgate party for students, alumni, and/or community. Lou really liked that, pending coach Nguyen’s interest in keeping the series going (which he told me today he wants to do).

Another idea I have that Lou likes is a Terry Fox Run, most likely in the fall. (If you have no idea who Terry Fox is, educate yourself.) These are noncompetitive 5k and 10k fund-raising runs that are ubiquitous in Canada but also held in other countries such as the USA. BG has a lot of ties to Canada: its strong hockey tradition, a sister city in Ontario, and a Canadian Studies department. I suggested that a few sprinters/jumpers/throwers could work with other campus organizations to put on the run. It would not only be a great thing for the campus and the Terry Fox Foundation but give some student-athletes a chance to learn about event organization, fund-raising, and so forth.

One thing I forgot to talk to Lou about, but I think he’d like, is to name some of the races at home meets in honor of past BGSU greats. Call them the Sid Sink 5000, the Dave Wottle mile, the Bernie Casey hurdles, the Huina Han triple jump. When one of your selling points is history, don’t miss a chance to bring it up.

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Men’s High Jump Statistical Analysis

Earlier today at the Daily Relay I mentioned the unusual depth of talent in the men’s high jump this year, most of it young, and wondered if it was among the best ever. After running some numbers, the answer is “not yet”.

Bohdan Bondarenko jumped 2.41 meters today, pushing Mutaz Essa Barshim’s 2.40 down to #2 on the world list. This is only the fourth season in history in which two men have gone over 2.40 meters. If (more likely when) Erik Kynard gets over 2.39 meters, then it will be only the second season with three men over that height.

So what are the deepest years, at least by heights cleared? It was the period from 1988 to 1991. Here are the seasons with the most different jumpers over various heights.

Most over 2.42: 2 (1988 – Javier Sotomayor, Carlo Thränhardt)
Most over 2.40: 3 (1991 – Sotomayor, Hollis Conway, Charles Austin)
Most over 2.39: 4 (1991 – Sotomayor, Conway, Austin, Ralf Sonn)
Most over 2.38: 5 (1988 – Sotomayor, Thränhardt, Patrick Sjöberg, Gennadiy Avdeyenko, Sergey Malchenko)
Most over 2.37: 9 (1988)
Most over 2.36: 12 (1988)
Most over 2.35: 13 (1988)
Most over 2.34: 18 (1990)
Most over 2.33: 21 (1990)
Most over 2.32: 26 (1990)
Most over 2.31: 35 (1990)

What about young jumpers? Here is the all-time U23 list (athletes were 22 or younger for the entire calendar year):

2.44 Javier Sotomayor CUB 1989
2.42 Patrik Sjöberg SWE 1987
2.41 Igor Paklin KGZ 1985
2.40 Mutaz Essa Barshim QAT 2013
2.39 Hollis Conway USA 1989
2.39 i Ivan Ukhov RUS 2007
2.39 Zhu Jianhua CHN 1984
2.38 Dragutin Topic SRB 1993
2.38 i Linus Thörnblad SWE 2007
2.38 i Steve Smith GBR 1994
2.38 i Wolf-Hendrik Beyer GER 1994
2.37 Andrey Silnov RUS 2006
2.37 i Artur Partyka POL 1991
2.37 Eric Kynard USA 2013
2.37 Jacques Freitag RSA 2002
2.37 i Jaroslav Bába CZE 2005
2.36 Aleksander Walerianczyk POL 2003
2.36 Dusty Jonas USA 2008
2.36 Gerd Wessig GDR 1980
2.36 Michal Bieniek POL 2005
2.36 Sergey Zasimovich KGZ 1984
2.35 Darrin Plab USA 1992
2.35 Dietmar Mögenburg GER 1980
2.35 Gennadiy Avdeyenko UKR 1985
2.35 Ján Zvara CZE 1985
2.35 Mark Boswell CAN 1999
2.35 Sorin Matei ROU 1985
2.35 Tim Forsyth AUS 1993
2.35 i Volodymyr Yaschenko UKR 1978

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Attendance analysis update

I just recently got word that the numbers I used for my USATF Championships attendance analysis are, in a word, bogus. They in no way represent the actual number of people in the stadium. These tweets were from Drew Wartenburg, the head coach at UC Davis.

Another party independently confirmed the basics of Wartenburg’s claim. Figure on more like 5,000 people actually in-stadium. Obviously this puts the attendance analysis in a completely different light and a much more negative one.

This wouldn’t be the first time that attendance numbers at a track meet were less than representative of the numbers of butts in seats. Often times they are really the number of tickets distributed, and that can mean a lot of things.

The 2012 NCAA preliminary meet held in Eugene released attendance numbers that didn’t match up with what observers saw. Those numbers could have included athletes, coaches and other support personnel, which is a significant number of people at a meet like that.

To see an example of what I mean, check out the 1995 NCAA Championships in Knoxville (see page 7). It shows “paid” and “other”, with “other” at 2,189 each day and “paid” maxing out at 1,638. If you think Des Moines was bad this weekend (and it was), Knoxville ’95 might be the worst on record for an NCAA Championships (which usually outdraws the USATF Championships).

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Des Moines Attendance Analysis

One thing I saw all weekend while following the USATF Championships was that the spectator turnout was awful. Look at all those empty seats on the backstretch! What an embarrassment!

When Friday’s brief thunderstorm with lightning caused the stadium to be evacuated, one wag tweeted Crowd evacuated into a VW van parked outside of Jethro’s.

Are these criticisms warranted? Was the turnout as bad as the critics claimed?

Two things to consider are the layout and structure of Drake Stadium and the weather. Drake is about 25% larger than Eugene’s Hayward Field and with all seats exposed to the midday sun. That sun was excruciating from Thursday through Saturday, and the fans that were there tended to cluster on the home side where some shade was available in the afternoons and evenings. Looking empty on TV (especially in comparison to Hayward Field) and actually being empty are two different things.

What about the numbers? What do they say? Better than you’d think.

There’s no way you could compare this weekend’s meet to an Olympic Trials. Daily attendance of 20,000 or more is the norm for the Trials (regardless of host city) and that’s because “Olympic” means something. Better is to compare to a non-Olympic year championships, and even then the year in the cycle has importance. So let’s compare 2013 to 2009 and 2005. (I would add 2001 and 1997 but I haven’t been able to find attendance data for those years.)

Year 2013 2009 2005
Host Des Moines Eugene Carson
Thu 6,567 8,621 5,237
Fri 7,622 9,134 5,710
Sat 8,638 10,053 10,194
Sun 10,003 10,633 9,802
Total 32,830 38,441 30,943

Des Moines attendance was not as good as Eugene’s, but it didn’t lag as badly as was generally perceived. The biggest difference was early in the weekend and the gap closed with each succeeding day. And on the whole, the turnout in Des Moines was better than that in Carson ’05.

The painful truth is that fan turnout for the national championships has not topped 11,000 in a single day since 1995 (and even then it was an anomaly), and topping 10,000 rarely happens outside of Eugene. Here is the data for recent non-Olympic Trials championships.

Year Host Max Total
2013 Des Moines 10,003 32,830
2011 Eugene 10,812 40,851
2010 Des Moines 9,024 32,048
2009 Eugene 10,633 38,441
2007 Indianapolis 8,525 29,131
2006 Indianapolis 9,276 30,050
2005 Carson 10,194 30,943
2003 Palo Alto 7,698 25,135
2002 Palo Alto 7,564 22,490

(Data from Track and Field News e-newsletter. No day-by-day or total attendance data available for 1997-2001.)

Creating the environment

Eugene has had a strong connection to track and field for maybe a century or so, but it really ramped up under legendary coach Bill Bowerman. He was a very good coach but his greatest stroke of genius was bridging the gap between “town and gown” to get the residents of Eugene involved in and interested in the track meets at Hayward Field. Few other US cities have ever had that kind of strong support for track and field, maybe none, and certainly none do now.

There is one thing, however, that everyone forgets when they talk about this history. They forget that the 1990s were not a good time for track and field in Eugene. Sure, maybe it was still a better time for track in Eugene than anywhere else, but it was definitely not like it is now. Attendance was down from the 60s, 70s and 80s. Interest wasn’t as keen as it is now. Few pros trained in the Pacific northwest. The Duck teams were good but not perennial Pac-12 champions and national title contenders.

All that changed when Vin Lananna was brought into town. The Duck teams are powerhouses again. You can’t go out for a jog without running into top professionals. There is year-round full-time promotion of track and field. And Hayward Field fills up, even for a freeze-yer-gizzard kickoff meet like the Oregon Preview. He knew that all of these things had to be addressed in order for Eugene to live up to its name as Track Town, USA.

If the idea of full-time year-round staff dedicated to track and field surprises you, it shouldn’t. Any individual pro sport based around a tour should expect the same from its host cities. An annual stop on the LPGA tour is held a half-mile from my house, and it has a full-time year-round staff dedicated to its organization and promotion. (It doesn’t have Nike money behind it like Track Town USA does, but it has Marathon Oil and Owens-Illinois money.) That staff, known as Toledo Classic, Inc., has also aided Toledo’s world-famous Inverness Club, host of six majors, in its planning and hosting of tournaments such as the NCAA Championships and US Senior Open. Toledo has become a nice place for a golf fan, and it hasn’t been by accident. It’s been made to happen by people who understand how professional sports work.

Olympic Trials

Des Moines has made no secret of the fact that it intensely desires to win a bid to host the Olympic Trials in 2020. They’d hoped to get it for 2016 but weren’t quite up to the task, at least not yet.

Does attendance at non-Olympic year championships have anything to do with winning an Olympic Trials bid? I’m hardly an expert, but I don’t think it does.

For one, it’s never difficult to sell tickets for an Olympic Trials. The only times the attendance at a Trials hasn’t bumped up against seating capacity were in 1984 and 1996, when they were held in gigantic Olympic stadiums. If anything, Drake Stadium is a bit small.

The other reason I don’t think it matters is what I read recently in a document produced by Mt. San Antonio College, the annual host of the Mt. SAC Relays. They are also interested in hosting the 2020 Olympic Trials. That document outlined some of the things that USATF considers when evaluating bids for the Olympic Trials:”big meet experience”, logistics, weather and facility. Attendance was notably absent. Of course, it’s possible that really is one of USATF’s criteria and Mt. SAC didn’t list it. While I haven’t dug too deeply, I haven’t been able to find any list of criteria from the organization itself.

The fact of the matter is that facilities and infrastructure are more important to USATF than a fan base. The two strikes against Drake Stadium are the long throws being held outside the stadium, and the lack of a proper warm-up facility. Track and field needs human infrastructure like Eugene’s to flourish and grow, but Des Moines really needs brick and mortar infrastructure.

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Owens in Captain America?

The next Captain America film is being shot in Cleveland (partially at least). A lawyer friend of mine who works in Cleveland just sent this via Facebook:

Capt America filming in Cleveland. Scarlett Johansson stunt double. Kiosk changed to read Washington DC. DC apartment guide box swapped in. But statue of Jesse Owens remains.

Whoops! Owens’ lower body is in the center at the top of the photo:

20130612-144049.jpg
(Photo by Judge Mike Astrab.)

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Worst. Announcing. Ever.

Saturday’s live coverage of the NCAA Championships may have seen the worst announcing of all time. I do not believe I am engaging in hyperbole here. The list of errors and their egregiousness is unbelievable.

I’ll admit I’m going off memory here. I watched it live and didn’t record it, so I’ll have to wait for the ESPN3.com rebroadcast to be sure on all of these. But it was awful. The two errors that most require highlighting were so bad that my brother called me up and asked me if he had heard correctly what Dwight Stones and Larry Rawson had just said.

At the finish of the women’s 1500 meters, where Oregon needed major points to have a chance at the team title, Stones said that both Oregon runners scored. He didn’t see Becca Friday in last place for the last 100 meters or so, and even worse, he didn’t see Anne Kesselring stumble and fall on the homestretch. The Duck runners were, in fact, last and second to last.

That was bad. But the last was worse, far worse. Texas A&M led the team competition going into the 4×400 but dropped the baton and came up last. Noting the drop, Stones said that if Arkansas won the relay, they’d win the meet. Except that they wouldn’t, because they were 13½ points behind. But Florida would win the meet if they won the 4×400, which they did.

There are only two reasonable conclusions to draw: either Dwight Stones can’t add, or he can’t read. I suppose there might be a third conclusion, that he had no idea what was going on and didn’t take the effort to remedy that fact, but that doesn’t seem reasonable for someone employed by The Worldwide Leader In Sports.

There were a litany of other wrongdoings. Kansas clinched the women’s title after Oregon’s 1500 meter fiasco, but the announcing crew appeared completely unaware of that fact. They failed to understand the down-the-line implications in the men’s 5000 meters, as the door was left open by Texas A&M when Henry Lelei dropped off the pace and failed to score scored just one point, and Arkansas failed to take advantage of it due to a late fade by Kemoy Campbell. Rawson even said that Emma Coburn chose to go to Oregon for college and no one else corrected his error because they don’t listen to him if they can at all avoid it.

All of these things require a) doing their homework, which they obviously didn’t do, and b) Larry Rawson’s larynx having some function besides entertaining Larry Rawson, which hasn’t been the case for more than a decade.

It’s just shocking that people ESPN pays to announce a national championship simply didn’t know who won the meet.

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Island Adventure

No phones, no lights, no motor car, not a single luxury.
Like Robinson Crusoe, it’s primitive as can be.

–”Gilligan’s Island” theme song

WARNING: VACATION PHOTOS AHEAD!

I spent this past weekend on Pelee Island, a somewhat remote Canadian island in the middle of Lake Erie. I went with a purpose: the first ever Pelee Island Winery Half Marathon.
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World Power Rankings — Men

Prefontaine Classic edition

Yesterday I posted my women’s power rankings for the events contested at this weekend’s Prefontaine Classic. Now it’s time for the men’s events. Those in bold are entered at the Pre Classic.

100 meters

1. Tyson Gay (USA)
2. Justin Gatlin (USA)
3. Mike Rodgers (USA)
4. Nesta Carter (JAM)
5. Ryan Bailey (USA)
Disabled list: Usain Bolt (JAM), Yohan Blake (JAM), Doc Patton (USA), Asafa Powell (JAM)

Gay is head and shoulders above the rest right now, winning by massive margins. Gatlin is the only other athlete with a pair of major wins (Doha Diamond League, Beijing World Challenge).

200 meters

1. Warren Weir (JAM)
2. Nickel Ashmeade (JAM)
3. Jason Young (JAM)
4. Tyson Gay (USA)
5. Justin Gatlin (USA)
Disabled list: Usain Bolt (JAM), Yohan Blake (JAM), Wallace Spearmon (USA)

Weir has a pair of Diamond League wins in Shanghai and New York. Ashmeade beat Weir at the early May World Challenge meet in Kingston.
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World Power Rankings — Women

Prefontaine Classic edition

Who are the world’s best athletes right now? Here’s a rundown for the women’s events contested at this weekend’s big Nike Prefontaine Classic. Athletes slated to compete in Eugene are in bold.

100 meters

1. Veronica Campbell-Brown (JAM)
2. Blessing Okagbare (NIG)

3. Kelly-Ann Baptiste (TRI)
4. Barbara Pierre (USA)
5. Tianna Madison (USA)
Disabled list: Shelly-Ann Fraser-Pryce (JAM), Carmelita Jeter (USA)

Fraser-Pryce is on the current start list, but the rules of my power rankings are that any athlete who withdraws from a race citing injury stays on the disabled list until a return to racing. Campbell-Brown won her lone 100 meter race this year (Kingston in May), and Okagbare was second to Fraser-Pryce at the Diamond League opener in Shanghai.

400 meters

1. Amantle Montsho (BOT)
2. Christine Ohuruogu (GBR)
3. Allyson Felix (USA)
4. Stephanie McPherson (JAM)
5. Novlene Williams-Mills (JAM)
Disabled list: Sanya Richards-Ross (USA)

The Prefontaine start list has yet to be released. Montsho has not been seriously challenged in either of her Diamond League wins. New Jamaican find McPherson won the World Challenge meet in Kingston in early May but hasn’t done much else since.
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